There’s an adjournment debate tonight at close of play (ie 10pm) on whether EDMs should be abolished. I go through phases of signing them and not signing them, or signing some and not others even though I agree with them, but then it gets very difficult explaining why I haven’t. Basically as a frontbencher we’re not meant to sign any, but I’ve made an exception for things like animal welfare issues, eg the recent beak-trimming EDM that’s been signed by more than 200 MPs. It’s not a spending commitment, it’s a good cause that wouldn’t get any attention otherwise, it’s something I care about and it makes people happy if I sign it.
Apart from keeping people happy though, there isn’t that much point to signing an EDM. They don’t go anywhere within the parliamentary process. They’re just words. As someone once said, they’re “parliamentary grafitti”. There are usually 3000+ per parliamentary session and most of them fall on deaf ears. We can call for a debate on them at the weekly Business Question, but we;d have to take other steps, e.g. taking to the backbench business committee, to actually get one.
The beak-trimming one might actually be an exception; how many MPs would have even been aware beak-trimming went on, if they hadn’t been approached to sign the EDM? I didn’t know – and I’m supposed to be “big” on such stuff.
I was talking to Jacob Rees-Mogg the other day on the way back from recording the Week in Westminster together and he said he didn’t sign EDMs. I don’t think he’d mind me quoting him: he said that it gives constituents the impression you’re doing something about an issue when in fact you’re not. And he’s quite right. It’s a bit of an easy get out. You can sit in your office and scrawl your signature against every EDM going but unless you take up that issue, campaign on it, ask questions in parliament, write to the minister, speak in debates… chances are, you’ve not achieved very much at all. Not naming any names but let’s just say there’s not necessarily much correlation between how many EDMs someone signs and how active they are in other respects. Like I said, it’s an easy option. It also saves you having to explain to constituents why you don’t want to sign something, which means really engaging with the issue.
Plus EDMs are expensive to administer and some are downright silly. The most pointless one I signed was congratulating Sunderland FC on its promotion; perhaps not pointless if you’re the local MP, but when you’re from Bristol… Basically I was newly-elected and an MP from the North East refused to let me out of the division lobby until I’d signed. I did check first whether they’d beaten either of the Bristol teams on the way up. But you can imagine constituents looking through the 3000 or so EDMs at the end of the parliamentary session and thinking, well she didn’t sign the EDM decrying slaughter of the first-born but she found the time to praise Sunderland FC… (There are MPs that browse through the EDM booklet every day looking for things to sign. The rest of us only know the EDMs exist if a constituent, campaign group or colleague gets in touch with us about it.)
Having said that, I’m hoping to introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill in March, and I will be tabling an EDM because it’s quite an effective tool in mobilising public support; i.e. we can get people writing to their MP asking them to sign an EDM and thus nail their colours to the mast in supporting the Bill. So they do have their uses, but maybe we should be limiting how many a member can table in each session, or require a certain number of signatures to be obtained before it goes down? I’m sure those are the sort of issues that will be discussed in tonight’s debate.
The classic EDM that is often cited by critics of the system is from the late Tony Banks, on “Pigeon Bombs”. Sadly it only gathered two other supporters, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. I’d have signed it!
That this House is appalled, but barely surprised, at the revelations in M15 files regarding the bizarre and inhumane proposals to use pigeons as flying bombs; recognises the important and live-saving role of carrier pigeons in two world wars and wonders at the lack of gratitude towards these gentle creatures; and believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and 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.