Humble Address

Recently, Parliament has revitalized an old parliamentary maneuver known as the Humble Address mechanism to enhance its oversight of the Executive.  It has now become a tool which the Commons can use to enhance scrutiny of the government. Howevr its success reflect the level of support the motion has within the goverment party.

In British parliamentary procedure, a humble address is a communication from one of the houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to the monarch. For example, following the speech from the throne opening a session of parliament, each house will debate the contents of the speech under a motion for a humble address thanking the King for the speech. Each House has the power to call for the production of papers by means of ‘a motion for a return’. Erskine May, the authoritative guide to the practices and procedures of the House, explains that a return from the Privy Council or from Departments headed by a Secretary of State is called for by means of a motion on the Order Paper for an humble address 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 

2017 The first Humble Address since 1866

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 address was passed without a division, indicating that the Government was aware of the support it would get from their backbenchers. 


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.The government's response was presented to Parliament by the 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. 


Former Conservative Party Attorney General Dominic Grieve laid a third Brexit-related humble address before the House on 9 September 2019; requiring the publication of documents related to no-deal Brexit (Operation Yellowhammer) and to the prorogation of Parliament scheduled for later that day, it was passed by 311 votes to 302.

2021 – 

The Owen Patterson scandal. In  2021, ex-Government Minister Owen Paterson became involved in a lobbying scandal. He had received payment from a company named Randox and was lobbying Government Ministers on their behalf. The Opposition submitted a request for the release of any correspondence regarding Government contracts awarded to Randox during the COVID-19 pandemic.The Government provided the information after the motion was passed without division. 


Opposition leader Keir Starmer tabled a humble address requesting information relating to the peerage of Evgeny Lebedev. The peerage had been appointed against the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. This was the first time that a peerage had been appointed against advice given by the commission. The prime minister is the only person with veto over peerages. Labour's motion called on the government to publish documents about Lord Lebedev's appointment it had received from, or given to, the House of Lords Appointment Committee (HOLOC), which vets peerage nominations. The motion was passed without a division. The government therefore had to disclose the documents by April 30th 2022.  However, the request ultimatley failed becasuse the government  only released the form Lord Lebedev was required to fill in by HOLOC, a document announcing his appointment, a list of other peerages awarded at the time, and a letter congratulating him on the news. Labour accused the government of a "cover-up" and called on them to "come clean". 


September Labour attempted to use the mechanism to force the disclosure of documents relating to the RAAC crisis in schools. But the attempt was blocked after the government ordered Conservative MPs to vote it down.