In Westminster parliamentary procedure, a humble address is a communication from a house of parliament to the monarch. For example, following the speech from the throne opening a parliament, each house will debate the contents of the speech under a motion for a humble address thanking the Queen for the speech.
Address for a return
In the United Kingdom, a humble address for a return is a rarely used parliamentary procedure by which either the House of Commons or House of Lords may petition the monarch, and by extension HM Government, to order documents to be produced. Erskine May notes that this power was used frequently until the mid-19th century, as most such information is now provided by command papers or the explanatory documents attached to Acts of Parliament.
In 1866, as part of a campaign to extend the electoral franchise to women, John Stuart Mill moved an address for a "Return of the number of Freeholders, Householders, and others in England and Wales who, fulfilling the conditions of property or rental prescribed by Law as the qualification for the Electoral Franchise, are excluded from the Franchise by reason of their sex" in order to debate the petition he had presented. The government of the day accepted the motion, but may not have provided the information specifically requested.
In 2017, the House of Commons voted to issue a humble address to request the government to reveal documents about the potential impact of Brexit on the British economy. The motion, put forward by the opposition, requested:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the list of sectors analysed under the instruction of Her Majesty's Ministers, and referred to in the Answer of 26 June 2017 to Question 239, be laid before this House and that the impact assessments arising from those analyses be provided to the Committee on Exiting the European Union.
A second Brexit-related humble address was placed before the House on 13 November 2018, seeking the release of legal advice given to the government regarding the proposed EU withdrawal agreement:
That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the following papers be laid before parliament: any legal advice in full, including that provided by the attorney general, on the proposed withdrawal agreement on the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union including the Northern Ireland backstop and framework for a future relationship between the UK and the European Union.
The government's response was presented to parliament by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox on 3 December. However, the following day, it was deemed by MPs to be incomplete, which led to a vote in which, for the first time in history, the Government of the United Kingdom was found to be in contempt of Parliament.
- For example Debate on the Address, House of Commons Hansard 22 June 2017 Volume 626 Column 228
- Maidment, Jack (2017-11-01). "Labour to use arcane 19th-Century parliamentary procedure to try to force Government to publish secret Brexit files". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2017-11-02.
- "Labour's 'motion for a return': what and why?". The Constitution Unit Blog. 2017-11-10. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- HC Deb 17 July 1866 vol 184 cc996-8
- Walker, Peter (2017-11-01). "Government may bow to pressure to release Brexit impact studies". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-11-02.
- Maer, Lucinda (1 November 2017). "BRIEFING PAPER Number 8128, Exiting the EU: sectoral impact assessments". House of Commons Library.
- Hope, Christopher (2017-11-01). "Exclusive: Queen 'not happy' after being dragged by Labour into row over Brexit papers". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- "Labour aims to force ministers to publish official legal advice on proposed EU deal". The Independent. 13 November 2018. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
- "Full Brexit legal advice to be published after government loses vote". The Guardian. 4 December 2018. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
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