These are motions set down supposedly for debate on ‘an early day’. They are printed in the Vote Bundle (in a separate section on blue pages) and provide an opportunity to register an opinion and gather support on almost any subject. They are useful for drawing attention to specific events or campaigns and demonstrating the extent of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view. However, EDMs are almost never debated, and no-one tabling them expects them to be. However, while it is extremely rare, an especially significant EDM with an exceptionally high number of signatories may be debated.
EDMs may be tabled by any MP, though most often they are used by backbenchers – there is an unwritten rule that Ministers, Government Whips and Parliamentary Private Secretaries will neither table nor sign them. This is because the EDM generally calls on the government to do something, and collective responsibility means that all ministers are responsible for all government actions – so if a minister signed, (s)he would, confusingly, be calling on him/herself to do something.
Different types of EDM:
- EDMs against statutory instruments – generally the only type of EDM that leads to a debate.
- Internal party groups – put forward by party members to express a different view on an issue to the official party position.
- All-party EDMs – usually promote an issue, such as animal welfare, across party divides. Generally, only all-party EDMs attract a large number of signatures.
- Critical – occasionally EDMs are tabled criticising another Member of the House, or a member of the House of Lords.
- Promotion – of an outside campaign or report (often by the voluntary sector).
- Constituency issue – drawing attention to and commenting on. Often used by MPs to demonstrate to their constituents that they are ‘doing something about it in Parliament’. As a staffer, look out for these opportunities, once the EDM is tabled you can send out a press release to your local papers with a link to the EDM.If you do this, make sure your MP garners enough support for the motion that your local press don’t follow up with a piece about how the MP’s action was an embarrassing damp squib.
- Commenting on deficiencies in other parties’ policies – often by government MPs as they can’t criticise the Opposition at question time.
No matter what the purpose of an EDM, it has to abide by the following rules in order to be tabled:
- Not over 250 words;
- no criticism of other Members, Peers, judges or members of the royal family except as the main subject of the motion;
- no reference to matters sub judice (information which would bias a court procedure);
- no unparliamentary language;
- no irony;
- titles must be purely descriptive.
EDMs should be handed in or sent to the Table Office, and (unless handed in by a Member) must bear the signature of at least one Member. Names can be added by signing and sending or bringing to the Table Office a copy of the motion, or a signed note of the numbers of the relevant motions. A list of names to be added must be signed by the Member submitting it. Names cannot be added by phone, fax or e-mail. Names added after 10.30 p.m. on Mondays, 7.30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 6.30 p.m. on Thursdays and 3 p.m. on Fridays are deemed to have been added on the following sitting day. Relevant interests must be declared, even if only adding a name to an existing motion.
Amendments must not increase the motion’s length beyond 250 words. Names of Members signing an amendment are automatically withdrawn from the main motion.
If the Member in charge of an EDM (i.e. the first signatory or ‘sponsor’ wants to withdraw an EDM, he/she can, even if other Members have signed it. Individual names may also be withdrawn.
EDMs are printed in the Vote Bundle the day after they are tabled; reprinted on each day during the rest of that week and in the following week if names are added; and reprinted on any Thursday thereafter if names have been added during the preceding week. After the first occasion, only the first six names and the new names are printed, together with the total number of names.
Lists of those who have signed EDMs are available on POLIS and can be requested from the Table Office.
An average of around ten EDMs are tabled per sitting day, which amounts to between two and three thousand per session. This fact, and the triviality of many EDMs, has led some critics to refer to them as ‘parliamentary graffiti’. Some favourites from the past few years:
- Jim Sheridan calling for Peers who inflicted defeat on the government in the Lords to be awarded a win bonus- 12/13: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/1061
- Andrew Rosindell MP congratulating Winnie the Pooh on his 80th Anniversary – 05/06. This EDM congratulates Winnie who ‘successfully challenged characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Sleeping Beauty to be named the best Disney character of all time’ and ‘looks forward to another 80 years of tales from the 100 Acre Wood.’ http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2005-06/2639
- Andrew Pelling MP commiserating with Rick Stein over the death of his pet Jack Russell, Chalky – 06/07,http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2006-07/685
- And finally, the brilliant ‘pigeon bombs’ tabled by Tony Banks MP in 03/04 which, referring to humans, ‘looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.’ http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2003-04/1255
On the whole though, EDMS are useful for MPs to express views and test support, and for the whips to keep tabs on who’s thinking what.
At the end of a session, all EDMs fall but can be introduced in the next session, though the signatures will need to be collected again.
Contact: Table Office, 3302, 3303, 3305.
The EDM database is at: http://www.parliament.uk/edm