Early day motions (EDMs) are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. However, very few EDMs are actually debated.
How are EDMs used?
EDMs are used for reasons such as publicising the views of individual MPs, drawing attention to specific events or campaigns, and demonstrating the extent of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view.
Do they get debated?
Although there is very little prospect of EDMs being debated, many attract a great deal of public interest and frequently receive media coverage.
Do they have to comply to a format?
EDMs have a strict format. Each one has a short title, like 'Internet Gambling', and a sentence no longer than 250 words detailing the motion.
What are the rules?
Other than following the above format, EDMs must abide by certain rules about their subject matter. The main ones are:
EDMs may only criticise other MPs, Lords, judges or members of the royal family if that is the main subject of the motion
no reference should be made to matters before the courts
no unparliamentary language or irony should be used
titles must be purely descriptive
Types of EDMs
EDMs against statutory instruments (are known as 'prayer') - 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.
Commenting on deficiencies in other parties' policies - often by government MPs as they can't criticise the Opposition at question time.
In an average session only six or seven EDMs reach over two hundred signatures. Around seventy or eighty get over one hundred signatures. The majority will attract only one or two signatures.
An EDM is not likely to be debated even if it gains a large number of signatures.
Who will not sign?
The following people in Parliament normally will not sign EDMs:
Ministers and government whips
Parliamentary Private Secretaries
The Speaker and his deputies
EDMs dating back to the 1989-90 session of Parliament can be traced using the EDM database. It records the full title and text of EDMs and signatures of supporting MPs.
For Early Day Motions prior to 1989-90, enquirers should contact the Parliamentary Archives.