The Evening Standard’s Craig Woodhouse blogged last week that Early Day Motions are being threatened with abolition in the House of Commons, in advance of an adjournment debate tonight on the subject of “reforming EDMs”.
Early Day Motions are often referred to by their critics as “parliamentary graffiti”, since several thousand of these motions are tabled by MPs every year in Parliament but are never debated: they are merely printed alongside other Commons business papers the day after they are tabled, and reprinted on future days whenever they attract new signatories.
They can cover virtually any topic, and MPs often use them as a way of highlighting a local issue or cause, after which they can tell their local papers that they have “tabled a motion in Parliament” on the issue of the day in their constituency. You can see that recent entries on the current list of EDMs includes one celebrating the Golden Anniversary of Livingston New Town and another wishing good luck to the Northern Ireland football team, for example.
Those examples are clearly quite parochial, but the motions can equally apply to national or international issues, and on a positive note, they offer MPs a way of setting out their stance on free vote issues or getting a head of steam behind a particular campaign. No one could doubt that getting a couple of hundred MPs’ signatures in support of an EDM is a good way of demonstrating strength of feeling on an issue. However, if truth be told, very few of the EDMs ever reach that level of support. Instead, most languish with a couple of dozen signatures and are forgotten very quickly.
The big problem with EDMs is their cost, as cited in Craig Woodhouse’s blog. He wrote that they end up costing £290 each – equivalent to £1 million a year – which is quite clearly an exorbitant amount.
But I would not want to see EDMs abolished altogether: as I said above, occasionally they can be a useful tool for demonstrating strength of feeling on an issue and one such example was the Save General Election Night campaign I ran in a previous life. The EDM on that issue in 2009 attracted 220 signatures from across the political spectrum – the 20th-most signed of the 2,424 EDMs in 2008-09 – and helped build support for a change in the law.
I’m pretty sure that the lion’s share of the cost of EDMs must go in the paper, ink and administration of the daily printing of the EDMs, so I suggest that in order to save money they should not be printed as a matter of course. Instead, EDMs should become an MPs-only version of the Government e-petitions site: it would surely cost a fraction of the current system to administer, but would not remove that potentially powerful mechanism from an MP’s armoury.
What’s more, if you want to make EDMs more meaningful, topical and relevant, the BackBench Business Committee should be encouraged to take note of the most popular EDMs when deciding which issues it wants brought to the floor of the House in backbench time.