What is an Early Day Motion?
These are motions set down supposedly for debate on ‘an early day’ and are submitted via the Table Office. 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 also published in the Commons Order Paper and House Papers app. 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. Ministers may not table or sign EDMs. If an MP becomes a Minister, their name will be removed from any EDMs that they have signed. If the Minister in question tabled the EDM, then they will be asked if they wish to withdraw it, or ask another MP to take it over. 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, they would, confusingly, be calling on themselves 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.
You can read the MPs’ procedural guide to EDMs on the intranet: https://guidetoprocedure.parliament.uk/collections/JASppJ2Y/early-day-motions Look in the right hand menu for how to submit, support, amend and withdraw an EDM.
How to submit an EDM
You can submit EDMs online via the MemberHub (there’s a link from Office 365), or on paper. You can find full instructions and examples here: https://guidetoprocedure.parliament.uk/collections/r6Hq7bkf/submitting-an-early-day-motion The Table Office staff are very helpful, and you can ring them for guidance. They will also contact you if there is a problem with the wording you have submitted.
No matter what the purpose of an EDM, it has to abide by the following rules in order to be tabled:
Your EDM must:
- be no longer than 250 words
- be expressed in a single sentence, beginning “That this House…”
- have a short, descriptive, neutral title
Your EDM must not:
- criticise other MPs, peers, judges or members of the royal family, unless this is the main subject of the motion (if it is, the title should be “Conduct of …”)
- refer to matters currently before the UK courts
- contain irony, or insulting or abusive language
- be part of an advertising campaign in the form of multiple EDMs with minor variations on a single subject
It is possible for MPs or their authorised staff to submit EDMs using the e-Tabling system, which can be found on the intranet, or they can be handed in or sent to the Table Office.
Supporting an EDM
The names of MPs supporting an EDM can be submitted at any time, but they will only be added to the EDM whilst the House is meeting. The MP who started the EDM can add the names of other MPs without their signatures, but must have their authority and must themselves sign the list of names to be added. Relevant interests must be declared, even if only adding a name to an existing motion. The different ways of signing an EDM can be found here: https://guidetoprocedure.parliament.uk/articles/vfsr1WZC/how-to-add-your-name-to-an-early-day-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. An amendment cannot be tabled by the same MP who submitted the EDM in the first place.
If the Member in charge of an EDM (i.e. the first signatory or ‘sponsor’ wants to withdraw an EDM, they can do so, even if other Members have signed it. Individual names may also be withdrawn.
Lists of those who have signed EDMs are available on the EDM database: https://edm.parliament.uk/
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 the late 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.
Table Office contact details