The row over releasing studies, detailing the impact of Brexit in 58 sectors which cover the great majority of the UK economy, has been going on for a while.

Recently, the Labour party made a humble address, according to a report in The Guardian:

After Wednesday evening’s unanimous vote calling for the 58 studies to be released, ministers refused to confirm whether the arcane type of motion passed unanimously by MPs, known as a “humble address”, was considered binding.

But answering questions in the Commons on Thursday, the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, said this was the case. However, she indicated that there could be some delays as ministers pondered how to release the information without damaging Brexit negotiations.

Why is such a motion considered arcane? What does it entail? Why is it not invoked more often?

  • 1
    Related articles in Wikipedia and The Sun. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 16:03
  • 4
    Part of the reason it is obscure is that Erskine May, the definitive work on parliamentary procedure, costs about £400 and is over 1000 pages long. An online copy is not yet generally available but this may change.
    – richardb
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 22:58

1 Answer 1


The "Humble Address" is a device which allows members to discuss a topic and vote on it, without a bill being presented, and without any new law being formed, but in such a way that the Government is required to act.

It takes the form of a motion asking for a message to be sent to the Throne. They are quite common on, for example, the Monarch's birthday. It is also used after the Queen's speech.

In the first case there is a motion to send a Humble Address congratulating the Queen, and the motion is normally carried overwhelmingly. In the second there is intense debate, and the failure of the motion to pass would lead to a motion of no confidence.

As a message is sent to the Crown, a humble address is seen as being something which the government can't just ignore. An opposition motion that the government decides is not in the national interest can just be ignored. But the government needs to do something in response to a Humble Address.

They are arcane in that the procedure of making an address to the Crown has nothing to do with what is actually being discussed - The Queen will not have to go and get the papers herself!

They are not used more often as they could only be effective if there was a realistic chance of the motion being carried, when the motion could be defeated by the government then there is no benefit over having a simple motion on some matter.

There are other devices for allowing debate in the commons, such as 10-minute-rule bills (to allow a backbencher a little time to speak on a matter of interest to them)

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