Published: 26/05/2005, Volume II5, No. 5957 Page 10
Do you know what an early day motion is? No, no, not that sort - we are not on the wards here. It is a parliamentary device for drawing attention to a current issue of importance, a sort of notice board for MPs to sign and read and for the party whips to keep an eye on in search of looming trouble.
I mention it because I picked up and kept the Commons order paper for the first day of the new parliament to see what wisdom the first crop of EDMs contained, something I do not recall ever having done before.
I was astonished by the fact that on day one there were already 126 EDMs on the pale blue paper, ranging from No. 1, the desire by Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat, Colchester) to express the view that 'people with cystic fibrosis should not have to pay prescription charges' to No. 126 in which Jim Paice (Conservative, Cambridgeshire South East) urges voters to eat more game meat.
Why so? Well, this is the charm of a decent EDM. Apparently the Advertising Standards Association has agreed that game meat can fairly be described as 'wild, natural and free-ranging' as it comes from animals which live in such an environment. Mr Paice therefore notes that it 'offers a low-fat addition to a healthy diet'.
There is a village we visit an hour or so from London where game birds are reared for shooting on an almost industrial scale, so I am not sure how true that claim always is.
But Mr Paice is a former farm manager and agriculture minister who sits for a rural seat, so he must know things about grouse that I do not.
Three striking aspects of this parliamentary practice virtually leap from the page. One is that it is often virtually impossible nowadays to identify an MP's party loyalty from the text of their motion, though tribal EDMs about football tend to be Labour.
Yet even Michael Howard and his entire shadow cabinet have tabled a motion urging action to tackle global poverty during Britain's presidency of the EU and G8 industrial states. Mostly, MPs' concerns are pragmatic and modest, as befits the times.
Second, there are MPs with bees in their bonnet who register a disproportionate share of EDMs, in the same way that some MPs are always asking questions. Third, health-related matters, broadly defined, seem to get more than their share of EDMs compared with some Whitehall departments.
There are 20 out of the 126 by my count. They range from an attack on pub happy hours to praise for the work of Rehab UK in helping what the motion calls 'acquired brain injury'.
Hardly surprising, you may say.
Voters are very interested in health issues and news that their MP has tabled a Commons motion may impress the local paper.
Thus Mr Paice's interest in game meat is matched by his concern to exclude illegally imported bush meat - he notes that humans have caught simian foaming virus from ape meat.
The MP also seeks to promote UK self-sufficiency and ensure that 'all publicly procured food' meets our 'little red tractor' standard. I hesitate to call that protectionism, but a Unison shop steward would spot that Mr Paice is certainly looking after his farmers.
The winners for EDM hyperactivity on day one were two Tories, Mr Paice with 16 motions urgently tabled and Bill Wiggin (Leominster), plus Portsmouth South's Lib Dem Mike Hancock, whose interests range from tensions in distant Moldova to the unrevealed side-effects of prescription drugs.
What surprised me was to find Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley high on the list. He tabled seven EDMs: on radiotherapy waiting times (up), the patchy nature of NHS chiropody services; collapsing healthcare systems in sub-Saharan Africa thanks to foreign recruitment of staff; and the need for greater awareness about prostate cancer.
All laudable stuff. But doesn't he have grander platforms than the backbench notice board? When I made enquiries at party HQ I was told that he has always been a keen supporter of EDMs.
Now he is in the shadow cabinet he also gets asked by outside bodies to test the parliamentary waters. It is as simple as that. .
Michael White is political editor of The Guardian.