By Paul Goodman
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It might be assumed that the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs are adamantly opposed to prisoners voting.
Not so – at least, if yesterday's Commons statement is anything to go by.
By my count, David Davis, Gerald Howarth, Nick de Bois, Eleanor Laing, Peter Bone, James Clappison, Christopher Chope, Henry Bellingham, Roger Gale, Robert Halfon, Henry Bellingham, Roger Gale, David Ruffley, Dan Byles, Andrew Bridgen, David Nuttall, and Glyn Davies all made points either about Parliamentary sovereignty or the Court itself.
Caroline Dinenage, Philip Hollobone, Mark Menzies, James Pawsey, Neil Parish, Michael Ellis, and Justin Tomlinson all made arguments against prisoners being given the right to vote – seven MPs in total.
By contrast, I count five of their Conservative colleagues suggesting that at least some prisoners should be given the right to vote. This claim will perhaps not be believed unless their contributions are quoted in full below.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con):
Just because there may be a bipartisan consensus does not mean that it
is right or rational, and it certainly does not include me. May I
volunteer to serve on this Joint Committee, and may I ask those who give
evidence the following? Is denying the vote to someone who has been
sentenced to jail after being convicted of a crime a deterrent? It
clearly is not. Is it a punishment, given that most criminals have not
voted in their lives? Is it a penance? Or is it part of rehabilitation? Having
discussed Strasbourg, we ought to start discussing why we are doing this
Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to nail the myth about the
so-called blanket ban? We do not have a blanket ban in this country;
remand prisoners, contemnors and fine defaulters retain the right to
vote. Will he assure me that it is for this Parliament to consider a
range of options, which I hope the Joint Committee will consider
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con):
Should we not set store by precedent? Am I right in believing that when
we signed up to the convention, before the 1960s, those serving as
misdemeanours for fewer than six months were allowed to vote but felons
serving for more than six months could not? Of course we must be
sovereign, but is that not the sort of compromise that could be reached
to ensure our continued membership of the Council of Europe?
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con):
I draw the House’s attention to my recently published book on prison reform. I have
represented hundreds of people who were in prison, not one of whom ever
said to my good self that they were busting for a chance to vote; I
assure the Secretary of State that that was not the intention of many I
represented. What is the proposal in the option for considering short
sentences of a few weeks or even a few days in custody?
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con):
I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he will uphold our
obligations under international law. I welcome the middle option of six
months or fewer as something that those of us who are not implacably
opposed to prisoners having the right to vote under any circumstances
could consider. Will he qualify that further and comment on whether
further restrictions could be added to that option—for example,
eliminating from the list of eligible people those who have a record of
violence or taking into consideration their previous convictions?