Iain Dale and Dizzy are thinking about EDMs. The House of Commons Procedure Committee are indeed looking into EDMs; in fact, they've finished looking, having moved onto Written Parliamentary Questions, and are moving on to Written Parliamentary Questions. I went to their hearings on EDMs. A couple of points - cost, and then use of EDMs.

147 MPs have not signed an EDM this session, largely because they're members of the Government; 379 have signed 50 or less. Rudi Vis has signed 726, just less than three quarters of the 971 tabled EDMs. All this information comes from the Commons' EDM Database.

It is not, however, how many EDMs are signed, but when they are signed and how they are read. EDMs are reprinted on the Blue Pages when someone adds a signature to them. As part of my job, I look at EDMs a lot and one will sit there for three weeks with no activity and someone will sign, causing it to be reprinted. All well and good, except that there are, according to the witnesses who appeared in front of the Procedure Committee, MPs who sign daily, weekly and monthly, so that a tranche of EDMs with one or two extra signatures cause the Blue Pages to become very much thicker for not much more information.

The Blue Pages are used almost exclusively by MPs and lobby journalists who can't be bothered to look things up online. The cost is not terrible, but could be greatly cut if it was only available in print form on request.

EDMs are not a lot of use and they do allow for a certain amount of laziness on behalf of MPs. However, not many local papers report when EDMs are signed and if they do it's generally in a column written by that MP. It's a way of drawing attention to something. There is already a good filter on frivolous EDMs - MPs, who don't sign them. There is no great harm in someone being able to see their name on an order paper for service to the community - it's a sort of Parliamentary 'mentioned in despatches'. It could also be used to raise issues of importance and to judge popularity of a stance. For instance, the most signed EDM at the moment is on Illegal Logging, submitted by Joan Walley, and has 331 signatures, well more than would be needed for it to be passed into law, giving Joan some leverage when the next DEFRA bill comes up to include something on illegal logging.

The whole issues, though, of giving MPs more time to debate things of their choosing rather than of the party machine is a canard - if the parties listened to their MPs and members, rather than whipping them all the time, their might be more of a flow as to what peope who aren't on the cursus honorum of the party think. If we're going to allow a system, like Iain proposes, of giving over time each week to what MPs want to debate, more changes are needed beyond the system of choosing what to debate (lottery/popularity). Firstly, you'll need MPs to stick around on a Friday and you'll need the whips to stop arranging for bills to be talked out.

Ultimately, given that the cost could be reduced, there is no harm in having EDMs. Tinkering at the edges of the procedures of the Commons will not reduce the problems of overweening attitude of the parties and the excess powers of the whips.



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