The Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds[a]A hundredAdministrative subdivision of a shire. was an early subdivision of a shire. There are three Chiltern Hundreds: Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, all in Buckinghamshire. is a procedural device allowing members of parliament to resign before a general election, which they have been forbidden to do since 1624; the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead serves the same purpose. Both of these ancient offices have been retained for the sole purpose of giving MPs a way to resign. Neither imposes any duties on the incumbent, or offers a salary or stipend; they exist only to meet the requirements of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975.
A resolution passed by parliament on 2 March 1624 prohibited MPs from resigning their seats. The reasoning was that serving as an MP was often regarded as an obligation to be accepted reluctantly, rather than a position to be sought, therefore voluntarily relinquishing that honour was to be discouraged. Another resolution, passed in December 1680, prohibited MPs from holding “any Office, or Place of Profit, from the Crown”, as it was supposed that members receiving a salary from the Crown might not subject the actions of the Crown to sufficient parliamentary scrutiny.
The first use of the Chiltern Hundreds as a procedural device to allow the resignation of an MP is believed to be that of John Pitt on 17 January 1751, the MP for Wareham, who wanted instead to stand for election as the member for Dorchester.[b]Pitt won the election, unopposed. Other nominal offices of profit under the Crown formerly used for the same purpose as the Chiltern Hundreds include the Stewardships of the Manors of Old Shoreham, East Hendred, Poynings and Hempholme.
A member of parliament wishing to resign submits a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer applying for either the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds or Northstead, which is invariably successful. The member retains that role until either he or she resigns, which most ex-MPs do immediately,[c]On 17 December 1985 fifteen Ulster Unionist MPs were able to resign in a single day. or the Chancellor appoints another applicant to either post, which automatically releases the previous incumbent. The stewardships of the Chiltern Hundreds and the Manor of Northstead are usually granted alternately, allowing two members to resign simultaneously.
|a||A hundredAdministrative subdivision of a shire. was an early subdivision of a shire. There are three Chiltern Hundreds: Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, all in Buckinghamshire.|
|b||Pitt won the election, unopposed.|
|c||On 17 December 1985 fifteen Ulster Unionist MPs were able to resign in a single day.|