By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday saw Gerry Adams appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead – an office of profit under the Crown that therefore disqualifies him from remaining an MP.
But a row has broken out over how the appointment was made.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said earlier in the week that it "couldn't give a toss" about the formal procedure required of an MP wanting to resign. And after David Cameron told the Commons at PMQs that Adams had accepted that office of profit under the Crown, the Sinn Fein President issued a denial:
“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… I have spoken to the Prime Minister's Private Secretary today and he has apologised for today’s events… The only contact I have had with the British Parliament is a letter I posted to them last Thursday."
The Speaker announced to the Commons last night:
"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."
And the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, then clarified what David Cameron said earlier:
"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."
The formal appointment was indeed announced by the Treasury yesterday afternoon since it is made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But if Adams did not request the appointment, could George Osborne technically disqualify MPs without their permission? This was the subject of 15 minutes of points of order last night, with Tory MP Richard Bacon concluding:
"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."