I say misguided because EDMs are the laziest possible thing an MP can do, they mean absolutely nothing and will achieve nothing. I have met MPs who have been unaware that they have even signed them because EDMs are such a low-level priority that they leave it up to their staff to handle; the political equivalent of routine filing. So irrelevant, in fact, that many MPs have a policy of refusing to sign them no matter the subject for the understandable reason that they are utterly pointless but could rebound on a politician if something changes in the future and their name is on a document supporting a cause which could harm their career.
They're a relic of the past and mostly now only a tool to appease those who don't know anything about politics and convince them that their MP is really working hard for them (even though he/she isn't). Plus they're notorious for having a negative effect, if signatures are low (and with many MPs excluding themselves that's not difficult) it can be used to say there is no support for the idea. The potential harm far outweighs the non-existent chance that it will do any good.
The particular EDM which has caused the misguided excitement also promotes probably the most egregious example of tobacco control industry junk science (the full Monty, it even cited vape-hating Glantz) I've seen in all my time in the blogosphere. I wrote about it here, and it was also rubbished in the MSM as well as here, here, here, and here. After the furore had died down, the bungling bellend who wrote it and his formerly well-respected employer parted company; you can make of that what you will. Far from supporting such a pointless and absurd motion, I'd be far more inclined to urge my MP not to sign it.
However, yesterday saw the tabling of a completely different motion, and this one is the real deal. A proper stonker which has the potential of delivering something quite extraordinary in modern politics.
†Lord Callanan to move that a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, laid before the House on 22 April, be annulled on the grounds that its restrictions on product choice and advertising of vaping devices were devised before evidence had accumulated that vaping was enabling many people to quit smoking, run counter to advice from the Royal College of Physicians to promote vaping and are so severe that they could force vapers back to smoking and create a black market with harmful products (SI 2015/507).The important word here is annulled. This signals that this is a bona fide 'fatal motion' being presented in the Lords. There are others which are regretful or just want to make a note, but the one presented by Lord Callanan today seeks to (as the name implies) kill the Statutory Instrument (SI) behind the entire EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). ECITA has written a good explanation of the process at their site here.
Far from shilly-shallying like an EDM inevitably does, this is an attempt to sling the TPD back in the face of government for having the temerity to even present it. There is no room for compromise, it's a yes/no thing and, if successful, would kill the enabling mechanism in parliament for the TPD to be ratified by the UK.
As things go, this is a very big thing compared with other big things. It's the Daddy of big things!
In practice, it won't be the end of the TPD (sadly) but a vote by the Lords in favour of the fatal motion would force the government to consider re-issuing the SI without the provisions on e-cigarettes. This, of course, is where the politics comes in.
You may have noticed that there is a referendum on the EU coming up soon, there has been the odd article here and there about it. Well, one of the main justifications for leaving is that we are hog-tied by EU legislation with our parliament not able to do anything about it.
This motion can derail the entire TPD so will have to be taken seriously by government, but what can they do? If they remove the provisions on e-cigs they are still going to be caned by the EU for not enforcing compliance on daft rules coming from the EU. Quite delicious, isn't it?
It's also worth mentioning that only 9 member states out of 28 have made moves to implement the TPD. As usual, though, the UK is bending over backwards to hurry through our instruments to be perfect
So we have a scenario which is hard to judge. It's quite clear that the mood in Britain is that e-cigs are a good idea, Public Health England (PHE), the body overseeing national Stop Smoking Services and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) have all come out in favour of encouraging their use. But being placed in front of the Lords is a SI which contains regulations which do quite the opposite. It's quite natural for them, therefore, to oppose it.
However, it also contains the (equally daft) provisions on tobacco so many Lords will be quite content with defending the SI and would consider e-cigs as collateral damage for the greater good, even if they support the idea of tobacco harm reduction (THR). There is also the tangential concern - again amongst Lords who would agree with vaping and supportive of THR - that if the fatal motion is passed then it would embarrass the government in advance of the EU referendum. The EU might have their hand forced to punish the UK for standing up to principles and endorsing the views of the RCP and PHE. Erm, doesn't look good does it? If you're a Lord who is keen to stay in the EU, you might find that a compelling reason not to vote in favour of the motion even if you agree that e-cigs shouldn't be in the TPD.
On the other hand, there are also reasons why Lords who prefer to remain in the EU might want to vote in favour of the motion. It would help show that the EU is not in charge of the UK's self-determination; that we can still stand up to dictators; and that this would give them ammunition for saying that we still keep a bit of sovereignty. Of course, if the Lord is an advocate of leaving the EU then this is a good chance to refuse to comply with an EU directive that shouldn't have been passed in its current form.
What is absolutely clear, though, is that ideologically-blind and stupid anti-smoking lobbyists along with vacant politicians have contrived to put the UK government in one hell of a pickle. At any time since around 2012 e-cigs could have been excluded from the TPD but instead ignorance and pomposity prevailed, they were told what would happen but smugly ignored it.
Labour MEP Linda McAvan should be a swear word within government circles at the moment, so should political lightweight Anna Soubry who thought so little of the e-cigs debate that she didn't even concern herself with learning about it. Likewise ASH who lobbied forcefully throughout the TPD negotiations to ensure that e-cigs should be part of the TPD and removed from sale unless by prescription. They have all been made to look utterly pathetic and have caused the government a thumping headache with their arrogant stupidity of turning their back on what they were being told by the public.
So what can be done to ensure this motion is taken seriously? Well, for a start sign this petition, at time of writing it was up to 26,000 signatures in just over a day.
This petition is requesting the House of Lords to back Lord Callanan’s motion to stop harsh regulations on e-cigarettes which would force vapers back to smoking. We urge our House of Commons to debate the implications for public health of the Tobacco Products Directive on e-cigarettes. And we plead with the Prime Minister to use his influence in Brussels to get a British opt-out from Article 20 before the EU referendum so this issue does not affect that vote.And it will influence the vote, as I've written before. It even commands its own page on the Leave.eu site.
You can also make a noise on social media.
But most of all, write a personal message to your political representative to show that they should be supporting this motion. It doesn't matter what the Lords allegiances are towards the EU, whether they're in favour of remaining or leaving and how it will affect their vote on the fatal motion is something for their own consciences to decide. You don't need to concern yourself with referendum politics in your letter, all you need do is show the strength of opinion opposed to the TPD, and send them the strong message that the only right thing to do is vote with Lord Callanan and send government away to think again (here is the full list of Lords but you could start with these ones who have expressed a previous interest).
As I understand it, the debate must take place by early June, so there isn't a lot of time, and the motion offers a modest chance of success. However, at least it has some chance of succeeding, and your voice could help bring that about. So do something positive today, stand up for our free choice and get stuck in.