Why can’t a Member resign their seat?

Under a Resolution of the House of 2 March 1623, Members of Parliament cannot directly resign their seats. Death, disqualification, elevation to Peerage, dissolution or expulsion are the only causes by which a Member’s seat can be vacated. Therefore, an MP wishing to resign has to be appointed to a paid office of the Crown, which automatically disqualifies the Member from holding a seat in the House of Commons.

There are currently two nominal offices of profit under the Crown:

  • Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham
  • Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead

MPs can be appointed to these offices during a parliamentary recess, but the Speaker cannot issue a writ for the ensuing by-election until the House is sitting.

Sometimes a vacancy towards the end of a Parliament may not filled until the General Election.

Further reading

See Erskine May: Chiltern Hundreds and Manor of Northstead for statutory basis and footnotes giving precedents.

Further information on the current procedure and its historical context can be found in the Commons briefing: Resignation from the House of Commons.

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