Motions for an “early day”

Last night’s adjournment debate on Early Day Motions (EDMs) was a welcome push towards reform of this outdated, expensive and ineffective piece of Parliamentary theatre. I found it surprisingly well attended. The Chairman of the Procedure Committee was present and undertook to convey the thrust of debate to the Committee.

As many constituents know, I do not sign EDMs. I think they are an insult to the electorate, who are told, often by paid lobbyists, they are important when they are little more than graffiti. In past communication, I have said:

Instead I would like to see ‘Members’ Motions’ which are actually debated by the House and I have written to the chair of the relevant committees setting out my views.

I sat in during the EDM debate called by my colleague, Graham Evans, where he said:

We should ask ourselves whether it is value for money to spend so much taxpayers’ money on a mechanism that has no legislative effect and rarely has any influence whatever. We should consider whether a mechanism that does not ensure a parliamentary debate on a subject, no matter how many Members sign a motion, is an effective mechanism for Back Benchers to raise important issues.

There are now other mechanisms. The Backbench Business Committee is one and Westminster Hall debates, in which Ministers are held to account and have to give answers, are another. There are new avenues for Back Benchers now.

The Minister replying on behalf of the Government said:

The House service estimated that the cost of administering EDMs in 2009-10 was approximately £1 million. The annual cost may have fallen somewhat as a result of the decision not to print the weekly compilation of EDMs, but those costs should certainly give hon. Members pause for thought before they table motions.

One possible solution is the one suggested by the hon. Gentleman, who proposed that EDMs should only appear electronically. The cost estimate to which I referred earlier indicated that about three quarters of the costs of EDMs were attributable to printing.

I think the debate has demonstrated that the time may soon be ripe for the Procedure Committee to look again at the subject of early-day motions, and we have just heard it’s the Chair say that he would be more than happy to put the matter to the Committee. It is for the Committee and for the House, rather than the Government and this Minister at the Dispatch Box, to specify the appropriate procedure.

As some members indicated, EDMs are occasionally part of some worthwhile and important campaign. We all want worthwhile campaigns to attract due prominence. That is why I want EDMs reformed into a system for actually bringing substantive motions before the House for debate.

Progress will be slow, but progress there is.

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