What Role Do EDMs Play In Parliament?

parliament logoLast week saw the tabling of an Early Day Motion in Parliament in support of the Back Britain’s Charities campaign. The motion, tabled and supported by members of all of the major political parties in Parliament, acknowledges the struggles that charities are facing, applauds the work of the Back Britain’s Charities campaign in aiming to improve the giving environment for charities, and calls on the Government to ensure that charities are provided with support.

But what exactly are Early Day Motions?

Early Day Motion (EDM) is “a colloquial term for a notice of motion given by a Member for which no date has been fixed for debate.” During the early years of Parliament there was little need for EDMs, a Members were given a large part of the House’s time to put forward their bills and motions. However as it was sometimes difficult to allocate a future date for the debate of a motion, MPs began to give notice that they intended to raise matters at a future, unnamed date.

By 1865 the Notice Paper included a section dedicated to “Notices of Motions for which no days have been fixed,” which included topics intended for debate, and others used to express opinion. Sometimes MPs would collaborate to table similar motions in order to demonstrate the importance of an issue.

As Governments began to use more Parliamentary time for Government business, the amount of time allocated to business from the backbenches reduced, and consequently the use of EDMs increased. It wasn’t until the 1940s that MPs put the “early” into “early day motion,” and was used to indicate that the motion was meant for debate at same point in the near future. Interestingly, during this time not all EDMs came from backbenchers – in fact, some Ministers actually used EDMs as a way of indicating that they planned to bring forward a Bill.

The use of EDMs increased over the remainder of the century, from about 100 in each session in the 1950s to 1,000 by the 1983-84 session. By the end of the 1990s, 1,400 was the norm for an average session. With the increase in the usage came opposition, with a recent, somewhat ironic, EDM tabled by Graham Evans calling for the abolition of EDMs.

There are multiple ways that MPs use EDMs, which include:

·        ‘Praying’ against a Statutory Instrument, which the Leader of the Opposition uses to indicate that they will seek a debate on an SI

·        Using their influence as a backbencher to try and change the Government’s views, even if the Prime Minister is from the same party

·        An all-party motion expressing support for an issue on a non-partisan basis, such as that in support of the Back Britain’s Charities campaign

In many respects EDMs act as a form of Parliamentary petition, and are a useful way of judging support for a particular issue. Whilst very few now are tabled with an intent or expectation of generation a debate in Parliament, they remain a useful tool for generating interest and media coverage about an issue. Some MPs, such as Ministers and Whips, are unable to sign EDMs, which means that receiving the backing of all MPs for a cause is impossible, regardless of the levels of support for it.

Whilst receiving mass support does not actually mean that an EDM will be debated, recent EDMs receiving the support of more than 300 MPs include a motion in support of Carers Week, one criticising the practise of illegal logging, and another arguing against the abolition of the Post Office Card Account.

Since being tabled, the Back Britain’s Charities EDM has received support from MPs from all parties. Realistically this won’t lead to a debate in the Commons or a change in the law. However it has raised the profile of the campaign in Parliament, given us the opportunity to engage with more MPs, and generated publicity about the aims of the campaign, and we’ll continue to use it to encourage more MPs to demonstrate to their constituents that they are backing Britain’s Charities.

Steve Clapperton

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