THERE are many British parliamentary procedures and one of them is the humble address.
Here’s what you need to know about the ancient and rarely used process.
What is a humble address?
A modest address is a direct call from the House of Commons to the sovereign, in this case the Queen, to ask the government to produce documents.
On opposition days, the opposition sometimes submits a motion in the form of a modest speech.
A humble address is a message to the Queen.
It is used, among other things, to request papers from departments headed by a Secretary of State.
This address can be debated, amended and voted on like any other motion.
If agreed, humble addresses are considered binding for the house.
According to parliamentary practice – a set of rules published in the 19th century – the modest address is more binding than a simple opposition motion.
That’s because it’s an appeal to the head of state and not to the government, which might otherwise ignore it.
Former House Speaker John Bercow said such motions were “traditionally viewed as binding or effective.”
It has rarely been used in the last 200 years.
You will also hear the phrase “An Humble Address” after the Queen’s Speech.
After the state opening, the government’s legislative program – as outlined in the Queen’s speech – will be debated by both houses.
The speech debate is the first debate in the new parliamentary session and usually lasts five to six days.
The motion reads as follows: “A humble address” to Her Majesty, thanking her for her kind speech.
The task of making the application is considered an honor and is given to two government backbenchers.
They are usually an opposite pair from very different constituencies – one a relative newcomer and the other a long-serving MP.
By convention, her speeches are non-contentious and contain both humor and flattering references to her constituencies.
When was the humble address introduced?
The term “modest address” has been around for centuries, as evidenced by pages from books printed in the 17th century.
It was used repeatedly, for example during George I’s first Parliament in March 1715.
Records show that “His Majesty is being presented a humble address … to convey to his Parliament the advice he has received about an attempt preparing to be made against the nation from without, supported and encouraged by treacherous practices at home of a papal hypocrite”.
General Stanhope, Secretary of State, advised Parliament to “bring a humble address to His Majesty … for his gracious message of the day and for his tender regard for the privileges of this House”.
Robert Walpole stated that “in the event of an invasion” more money would be needed for the troops, so “a modest address had been presented to His Majesty to grant full pay to officers on half pay”.
When is the Queen’s next speech?
The Queen will deliver her traditional annual speech to Parliament on May 10, 2022.
She will read government plans to be worked on over the next year.
It will list the bills the government hopes to introduce, but not everything will become law.
Some bills may be delayed or dropped due to time pressures, opposition to them, and political conflicts.
Some of the bills that will be discussed in 2022 are:
- The Brexit Freedom Act which Boris Johnson said will be introduced earlier this year. He said this will help make changing EU laws, which will be retained in UK law after Brexit, easier to follow.
- The British Bill of Rights could be something coming into force soon. This will replace the Human Rights Act, which includes the right to privacy, but Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told the Daily Mail that this law limits democratic debate. Raab said this will strengthen protections for freedom of expression.
- Dominic Raab also wants the government to check this parole laws and limits the parole board on releasing “highest level” offenders.
- The Economic Crimes Act will continue to engage in the seizure of crypto assets from criminals. This happened after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how the government quickly moved forward to stop all allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin from laundering money in the UK.
- That Sale of channel 4 is also being considered, but it appears Conservatives are opposed to this idea and it could be heavily challenged. The sale could bring in a profit of between £600million and £1.5billion.
- UK ports may have the power to refuse access to regular ferry services if they fail to pay their crews national minimum wagethanks to an idea put forward by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
- Housing Secretary Michael Gove hopes a bill on social housing introduced and there will be tenants to hold landlords accountable.
- The 40-year-old mental health law could be reformed. It aims to reduce the number of people imprisoned under the law, particularly those belonging to ethnic minorities.
How did Labor use the humble address to demand the release of Brexit files?
Labor defeated the government over the release of 58 studies on the economic impact of Brexit.
The studies had been commissioned for ministers who had fiercely opposed their publication – leading opponents to believe they might contain information embarrassing for the government.
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow’s Brexit secretary at the time, submitted a “modest speech” to demand that the documents be handed over to the Brexit Committee of MPs for consideration.
You should then decide which should be published.
The modest speech passed unanimously as the Tories, feeling defeated, urged their MPs not to take part in the vote to save face.
Starmer said he expected ministers to publish the studies as a result.
He said: “Labour has been absolutely clear since the referendum that ministers could not withhold vital information from Parliament about the impact of Brexit on jobs and the economy.”
On 13 November 2018, the Labor Party used an Opposition Day debate to ask the government to make public any legal advice it had received on Brexit.
The opposition used the modest address mechanism, which is considered binding.
The application was accepted without division.
In an urgent request on November 29, 2018, Labor accused the government of withholding information after announcing it would publish a “full, reasoned opinion” but not the full legal advice on Brexit that it had received.
Then Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay confirmed that a “document setting out the government’s legal position on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement is expected to be published on Monday 3 December”.
Politics Home explains: “After Labor tried to force the government to publish Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice in a ‘modest speech’ on 13 November, MPs vote for the government to flout Parliament.
“Parliament will then pass an amendment by Dominic Grieve that will force the government to come up with a plan within 21 days if May cannot get her deal through.”
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