Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Association of Professional Political Consultants (P 66 (Session 2005-06))

  1.  The Management Committee of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) is pleased to be able to contribute to the inquiry by the Procedure Committee into Early Day Motions (EDMs). The campaigns and activities of many of our clients are the subject of EDMs, and we welcome the opportunity to put on record our comments about their current and future use.

  2.  As with any membership organisation, it is difficult to encapsulate in a single document the diverse views of all members. Thus we would stress that this paper has been prepared on behalf of the Management Committee of the APPC, and does not necessarily represent the views of all APPC members.


  3.  The APPC is the representative and regulatory body for UK political consultants and public affairs professionals. The APPC aims to:

    —  ensure transparency and openness through a register of political consultants;

    —  enforce high standards by requiring members to adhere to a code of conduct; and

    —  promote understanding amongst politicians, the media and others about political consultants and the public affairs sector, and the contribution made by political consultants to a properly functioning democracy.

  4.  The APPC has 32 member companies, representing around 80% of the UK political consultancy sector (by turnover). It is worth saying that the APPC does not regulate in-house communications teams who also engage in lobbying and other public affairs activity.

  5.  Clients of APPC member companies range widely, from private companies, to trade and professional bodies, trades unions, public sector organisations, and charities and campaigning groups. It is particularly the case that the latter group may be the inspiration for EDMs, and for that reason the APPC is well-placed to comment on the Procedure Committee's inquiry.


  6.  Early Day Motions are often described as "Parliamentary graffiti", and their value questioned. It is our belief that this severely underplays the utility of EDMs in the wider Parliamentary and political process.

  7.  EDMs allow MPs to express their opinion about a subject in a straightforward and accessible way. It allows them to communicate their view to other MPs, Ministers and others. It helps MPs to identify other Members with the same view, and so allows coalitions of support for an issue to be built.

  8.  Similarly, for those outside Parliament EDMs are a reference point, identifying MPs who support (or oppose) a particular policy objective. EDMs can be cited in correspondence, for example with Ministers, as demonstrating a level of support for an issue in Parliament. EDMs also provide an "outcome"—at the end of a meeting to brief an MP about a particular issue it may be useful to suggest that they show their support by signing an existing EDM.

  9.  Thus the APPC believes that any restriction on current arrangements for tabling EDMs would limit the ability of organisations (perhaps primarily charities, NGOs and other "non-commercial" groups) to make use of this valuable campaigning tool. Moreover, there is no obvious other mechanism which might be used by such groups to draw the attention of Parliament and Government to an issue.


  10.  Other than Prayers against delegated legislation, very few EDMs are ever debated. The principal (though infrequently used) mechanism for allowing debate is if a Motion is taken up by the Opposition for an Opposition Day debate. Our view is that there is a case for a separate procedure for ensuring that a proportion (however small) of EDMs should be debated by the House, or perhaps more likely in Westminster Hall.

  11.  Deciding which of the many EDMs would be debated would not be straightforward. However, we note that choices are made by the Liaison Committee between the reports of Select Committees in deciding on the subjects of certain debates, and accordingly we propose that the Liaison Committee—or its Chairman—or a similar body take on a similar role in the case of EDMs.


  12.  We recognise that underpinning the Committee's inquiry may be a concern about the number of EDMs now being tabled in a Session. It is a glib point, but the number reflects the success and attractiveness of the procedure. We repeat our view that the correct response to this success should not be somehow to constrain the numbers tabled.

  13.  We do, though, recognise that the costs of printing and re-printing every EDM are substantial, and should be reduced. For most users of Parliamentary papers outside Parliament, electronic versions of the papers are entirely acceptable. The EDM database is a well-developed, and very useful resource.

  14.  However, for users within Parliament the printed Order Paper still appears to be a much-referred to document. In relation to EDMs we are aware that many MPs (or their offices) check the new EDMs on a daily basis. On behalf of our clients we would obviously not favour changes which would mean that Motions did not gain the attention of MPs in the way that they do at Present.

  15.  Therefore we propose that:

    —  All new EDMs are printed on the day after they are tabled (as at present).

    —  New amendments to EDMs are printed (together with the text of the EDM).

    —  EDMs are no longer re-printed:

      —  When additional names are added to Motions or amendments.

      —  Once a week (as at present).

  16.  We believe that this would substantially reduce the amount of printing associated with EDMs, and thus significantly lower costs to the taxpayer. Provided that the electronic publication of EDMs is continued we do not believe that this change would undermine the usefulness of the EDM procedure as a whole.


  17.  The APPC is not best placed to judge whether or not it would be appropriate, useful or technically possible for Members to table EDMs electronically. Our only observation is that given the changes made to tabling questions, and given trends in the use of technology, it may well be that electronic tabling is inevitable.


  18.  We hope that this evidence is of interest and use to the Committee in its inquiry. If the APPC can provide any further evidence or information we would be very happy to do so.

Gavin Devine

Management Committee

April 2006

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