Gerard Adams, Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead – Updated

The UK Treasury confirms what the Prime Minister, David Cameron, told the Commons today.  From the Treasury’s press notice

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has this day appointed Gerard Adams to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

And, while Adams’ spokesman may be suggesting otherwise to the BBC and to UTV, here’s the significant section of the House of Commons Disqualification Act – which I linked to previously.

8 — (1) No person being a member of the House of Commons, or for the time being nominated as a candidate for election to that House, shall be required to accept any office or place by virtue of which he would be disqualified by this Act for membership of that House, or for membership of that House for the constituency for which he is sitting or is a candidate. [added emphasis]

And that means that the Sinn Féin president, Gerard Adams, or any other MP, cannot be appointed to an “office of profit under the Crown” against his will.

Update  Just when they thought you were out, you pull yourself back in…

Responding later, Mr Adams said in a statement: “The only contact I have had with the British Parliament is a letter I posted to them last Thursday.

That letter said: “A chara, I hereby resign as MP for the constituency of west Belfast. Go raibh maith agat. Gerry Adams.

“When I was told of the British prime minister’s remarks today this was the first I heard of this development. I understand Mr Cameron has claimed that ‘the Honourable Member for West Belfast has accepted an office for profit under the Crown’.

“This is untrue. I simply resigned. I was not consulted nor was I asked to accept such an office. I am an Irish republican. I have had no truck whatsoever with these antiquated and quite bizarre aspects of the British parliamentary system,” Mr Adams said.

Which, since he cannot be required to accept the “office of profit under the Crown”, should mean that he is not, yet, disqualified as an MP…

Adds  Or maybe not…  From the updated BBC report

A Treasury spokesman said on Wednesday: “Gerry Adams has said publicly that he is resigning from Parliament.

Consistent with long-standing precedent, the Chancellor has taken this as a request to be appointed the Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead and granted the office.”  [added emphasis]

So the denials are too late?  Gerard Adams is the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead?

Perhaps that resignation letter should have been more specific…

Final Update From a BBC report which includes Gerry Adams’ claim that the Prime Minister’s private secretary had apologised for today’s events.

Following a point of order from Labour’s Thomas Docherty in the House of Commons on Wednesday night, Mr Bercow said: “I can inform the House that I have received formal notification from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Gerard Adams has been appointed to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.”

He said that under the Disqualification Act 1975, Mr Adams was “therefore disqualified from membership of the House”.

Final Final Update From Hansard (permanent link)

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that at lunchtime the Prime Minister informed the House that the Member for Belfast West (Mr Adams) had resigned his seat. After checking my copy of “Erskine May”, I have discovered that it states on page 57 that

“a Member…cannot relinquish his seat”

and must therefore accept

“office under the Crown, which legally vacates his seat and obliges the House to order a new writ.”

It continues:

“These offices are…purely nominal and are ordinarily given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to any Member who applies for them.”

It is my understanding from press releases by Mr Adams that he neither applied for nor has accepted either of those two offices of the Crown. Can you confirm therefore that no such resignation is in order and that the Prime Minister has—inadvertently, I am sure—misled the House?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his point of order.

I can inform the House that I have received formal notification from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Gerard Adams has been appointed to be steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. Under the terms of section 4 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, for the purposes of the provisions of this Act relating to the vacation of the seat of a Member of the House of Commons who becomes disqualified by that Act from membership of that House, the office of steward or bailiff of Her Majesty’s three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, or of the Manor of Northstead, shall be treated as included among the offices described in part III of schedule 1 to the Act.

The hon. Member for Belfast West is therefore disqualified from membership of the House by virtue of section 1 of that Act. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, in referring to pages 57 and 58 of “Erskine May”, causes me to comment on the matter to which he referred. “Erskine May” describes the course of events in cases in the past, but as I have ruled, the law is clear. Appointment to one of the two offices to which I have referred, under section 4 of the Act, results in disqualification. With reference to the observation that the hon. Gentleman made about the comments of the Prime Minister, I am sure that the Prime Minister would never intentionally mislead the House, but the point has been heard on the Treasury Bench and perhaps the Leader of the House will wish to reply.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): May I reiterate what you have just said, Mr Speaker? Of course my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would never intentionally mislead the House. The House will be aware that the only way to enact a resignation is to appoint the person to one of the relevant positions. The Prime Minister was aware of the process to appoint Gerry Adams to be steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. It might have been better for my right hon. Friend to have said “is being appointed” instead of “has accepted”, and I am happy to make that clarification for the record.

Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. No doubt the fact that Gerry Adams has now departed this place will be greatly welcomed, given that he will no longer be able to claim the large amounts of money that the Government said he would not be allowed to claim, but that he nevertheless went on claiming as a result of being in office here.

A Treasury statement today says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken the public statement by Gerry Adams that he is resigning from Parliament as a request to be appointed as steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead and granted him that office. As a result, there arises a question about in what circumstances the Chancellor may take a statement or other indication of resignation as an excuse or reason to make such an appointment—[ Interruption. ] These are serious matters, because the normal procedures have not been followed, in that Mr Adams did not apply in the normal way and did not accept in the normal way. Can you, Mr Speaker, investigate the role of the Northern Ireland Office and other agencies in this matter?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has exercised his responsibilities, and I do not think that it is either necessary or seemly to dilate upon how he has done so. He has done so in an entirely orderly way. I would simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that I think that the House will want to rest content with the thrust of what has been said to it. It is not necessary to get ahead of ourselves and engage in hypothetical scenarios. We do not need to do that. However, I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman with the care and respect with which I always listen to him.

Thomas Docherty: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On the specific issue of whether Mr Adams has accepted an office of the Crown, can you confirm that this is the case? As of late this afternoon, Mr Adams was still claiming that he had not accepted the office, which was so graciously offered to him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr Speaker: I have ruled on the matter. The appointment has been made; the disqualification is a fact. Beyond that, I do not think that I can realistically or reasonably be expected to elaborate.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There is quite an important issue here about the nature of an application, because if, for the sake of argument, a Member were to express the view that they might feel like resigning from the House, the Chancellor might then appoint them and they would find themselves disqualified. Surely there must be a clear procedure for making it transparent that the Member in question has applied for the Chiltern Hundreds. The question that is being asked—a question to which the House would like an answer—is: was an application made in this case specifically for the Chiltern Hundreds which then led the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the appointment, and was it accepted?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for his point of order, but the matter to which he has just referred—whether an application for the Chiltern Hundreds has been made—is, I am afraid, not a matter for me. The matter has been addressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the execution of his responsibilities, and this is one of those occasions on which it is right for me to communicate the facts of the situation, but not to wallow in the realms of metaphysical abstraction, if I can put it that way.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. “Erskine May” makes it quite clear that someone should apply for an office under the Crown. Should I, as the Member for East Antrim, in a fit of despair when I see who will replace Gerry Adams, express publicly the view that I wished that I was not a Member of a House that contained such a person, would the Chancellor take that as an indication that I should no longer be a Member of this House and therefore appoint me to an office of the Crown? That seems to be the implication of the ruling that you have made.

Mr Speaker: Once again—I fear that I am being repetitive, but it is necessary for me to be so—let me say that I have made the factual and legal position clear. The hon. Gentleman has raised a point of order, and it seems to me that the matter that he has raised—a matter relating to what could or could not now ensue—is essentially a hypothetical matter upon which it is neither necessary nor possible for a ruling to be made this evening. I believe that the position is clear: the disqualification has happened. If there are Members who are dissatisfied with the procedure—a very senior Member and others have indicated some level of dissatisfaction—it is perfectly open to them further to pursue the matter through other quarters, on other occasions, but I do not think that there is profit in dwelling further on them this evening.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Much has been said in the past 12 months and more about modernising the House of Commons. You made great reference to this yourself in your campaign speech. I hope that this will not seem too revolutionary, but would it not be appropriate for the Procedure Committee to look into these matters? Why should it be necessary, in the 21st century, to apply for an office of profit under the Crown? Why should not it be possible for an hon. Member to resign his seat? I suggest that there is a case for this matter to be looked at. People watching this might consider it rather farcical.

Mr Speaker: I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I hope that he will understand that I respect what he has said, but that it is not for me to speculate from the Chair on what the future position might be. It is absolutely open to the hon. Gentleman and to any other hon. Member to request that the Procedure Committee study this issue and make recommendations. I am not in any sense dying in the ditch as a matter of principle in favour of the status quo; nor am I arguing for a change to it. I am exercising my rather limited responsibility to report to the House what has happened and the facts of the situation. I hope that that is helpful.

Mr Winnick rose—

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is indicating that he wishes further to pursue the matter; I respect that.

Mr Winnick: I shall write to the Procedure Committee.

Mr Speaker: I note what the hon. Gentleman has said from a sedentary position.

Sammy Wilson: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You are absolutely correct to say that, whatever the future might be, things could be different. Can you confirm to the House now, given the shabby way in which this has been handled in order to avoid the embarrassment of Sinn Fein, that it is now no longer necessary for a Member to apply for an office under the Crown if they wish to resign?

Mr Speaker: The short answer is no, I am not confirming that at all. What I have done, and what I am doing again, is reporting the facts of the situation and the appointment that has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of which I was, perfectly courteously, notified.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It appears that a major constitutional change is taking place, and I feel sure that the House would welcome a statement tomorrow from a Minister, so that we can question them about this matter.

Mr Speaker: I note the point of order. It will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and it is a matter for any Minister to make a statement if he or she so wishes.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will have heard with respect everything that you have said, and will have been interested to hear your view that you are neither defending the status quo nor advocating a change from it. I know that people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), will say that a constitutional change has occurred to the point at which people will roll their eyes and smile, but this is a very serious matter. The eminent father of the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), used to say that people thought procedure was boring but that it is not; it is our safeguard. If what appears to have happened today is confirmed as being an acceptable way forward, that would mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could decide whether someone should be a Member of Parliament or not, without their say-so. That is not acceptable.

Mr Speaker: I do not think that I should make any further comment beyond what I have said about the appointment that has been made, the communication of it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to me, and my communication of the reality of the matters to the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman is as articulate a spokesman for his point of view as can be found, and he has given further evidence of that this evening. We are grateful to him for that, and he might even wish to join in making representations to the Procedure Committee. That is a matter for him. I really do feel that these matters have been exhausted this evening—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am grateful for that sedentary assent to that proposition.