Early Day Motions (EDMs) exist to allow Members to put on record their opinion on a subject and canvas support from fellow Members. Put in simple terms, the EDM is a petition of MPs.
Structure of EDMs
An EDM must conform to a strict structure in order to be submitted before the House. It must contain no more than 250 words, and in addition, be only one sentence in length, something which can represents a real challenge to the punctuation skills of Members. In addition, all motions will always begin with the word “That” as they must be expressed in the form of a resolution. Finally, while a Motion may be tabled by a single Member, it will also be ‘sponsored’ be six other members.
Tabling an EDM
The Table Office is responsible for placing motions before the House, and ensuring that submissions meet the required rules, both of structure and content. While the structural rules of EDMs are outlined above, in terms of content an EDM may not: Criticise another Member, Peer, Judge or member of the royal family except as the main subject of the motion, Make no reference to matters before the courts, contain unparliamentary language or irony, have a title which is anything other than purely descriptive. Crucially, Members must also declare whether they have any relevant financial interest at the time of tabling.
Types of EDMs
Generally, motions fall into one of several categories. Firstly the Opposition can put down a Motion to pray against a Statutory Instrument (SI). This is how the Opposition gives public notion that may seek to secure a debate on an SI; this type of Motion is generally the only one which will lead to a debate in the House.
Secondly a group within a party may put down an EDM expressing a different view on an issue to that of their party. These are generally aimed at altering or speeding up current Government policy.
Perhaps the most frequently used form of EDM is the all-party motion, which expresses cross party opinions. An example of this would be a motion calling for the Government to recognise climate change or a social issue such as the Making Poverty History campaign.
Signing an EDM
Generally speaking, Members will sign motions when they agree with or support the contents of a motion. This may have been through personal choice or because an organisation or constituent has asked them to do so. Increasingly, members of the public are contacting MPs and requesting that they sign a particular motion. Members are under no compulsion to sign a motion, even if requested to do so by a constituent.
Certain members of the House of Commons will not normally sign EDMs, these include Ministers, whips and Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
Duration of EDMs
An EDM remains valid for the remaining Parliamentary session in which it was put down. MPs can sign this motion at any period during the session. At the end of a session, EDMs ‘fall’ but can be reintroduced during the following session, though the signatures are not automatically carried with them.