What is the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds?
Unlike most jobs, Members of Parliament (MPs) cannot simply hand in their notice when they wish to resign. Instead, thanks to a Resolution of the House of Commons dating back to 1624, MPs can technically not ‘resign’ their seat at all – to get out, they either must die, hold a job that is incompatible with being an MP, or be expelled.
This is why, when standing down from the House of Commons, MPs are given a new job – either as Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, or Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.
These are not real jobs – instead, they are offices of the crown from hundreds of years ago which were appointed by the monarch. But holding either of these positions is incompatible with being a Member of Parliament, as it’s thought that MPs cannot scrutinise other Crown Offices whilst holding one themselves. This means MPs effectively agree to give up their seat upon being appointed as Crown Steward and Bailiff.
MPs will be appointed by the Chancellor to either of these offices, and upon appointment leave their position in Parliament. Their exclusion from Parliament is noted in the Votes and Proceedings of that day. The resigning MP then holds the office until another MP is appointed to it; in August 2023, for example, Nadine Dorries took over from Boris Johnson (the last MP to resign before her) as Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds.
As the seat represented by the departing MP is left vacant, a by-election must be held. The writ for one (i.e., a legal document authorising a by-election) will therefore be issued following the Chancellor’s appointment, providing Parliament is in session. If it is in recess, however, the writ can’t be issued until the House gathers again.