In Westminster Hall yesterday, ahead of the binding Commons vote, Philip Hollobone instigated a debate on voting rights for prisoners. Mark Harper MP for the Coalition is proposing that prisoners with sentences of four year or less should get the vote. Labour will seek to amend that proposal, limiting voting rights to one year sentences or less. Unless the Coalition compromises it is likely to be defeated.
"Here is a question for hon. Members. Who said:
"Frankly, when people commit a crime and go to prison, they should lose their rights, including the right to vote"?
He also said:
"It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison."
The answer is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I could not agree more with him. The vast majority of people in this country would also back him in those sentiments. One difference between the Prime Minister and myself, however, is that he is actually in a position to do something about this issue. We need some backbone-we need a hardened spine-if we are to take on the European Court of Human Rights and resist its judgment."
Dr Thérèse Coffey noted that rapists will be given the vote under the Coalition's four year limit
"On the point about limits, does my hon. Friend agree that the crimes of rape, for which a three-and-a-half year sentence was awarded in November, in a case in Warwick, and armed robbery with a knife, which has also been given a sentence of less than four years, are serious crimes, and that it is shocking that the Government even contemplate that such things should be covered?"
Matthew Offord pointed out that many other nations have not complied with the European Courts on this issue
"It may interest hon. Members to know that 13 other countries that are signatories to the European convention on human rights also have blanket bans. Why is this country being singled out for the treatment it is getting from the European Court, when blanket bans continue in other countries, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Moldova and Slovakia, among others? Our constituents will be outraged that the UK is being singled out for special treatment."
Stewart Jackson argued that the Government's four year limit was "arbitrary"
"Is not it true that the recent case of Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom specifically allows the Government to proceed with a range of policy options, which, like the consultation in 2009, could be put out for public discussion? Instead the Government have gone for an arbitrary four-year limit, without any further debate or discussion in the House or with the public."
Gareth Johnson summed up his principled opposition
"It is wrong for incarcerated criminals to help decide how government should operate. It is laughable to suggest that convicted prisoners should decide how the criminal justice system is operated or what priorities should be given, for example, in the policing budget."
Dominic Raab noted that Strasbourg cannot enforce its judgment
"Strasbourg cannot enforce its own judgments, so if the UK refuses to adhere to this judgment, as I think it must, it cannot be enforced. Of course, we could face other awards against us in Strasbourg, including compensatory awards, or be referred to the Committee of Ministers, but the judgment is not enforceable in UK law. No sanctions will apply, and there is no serious prospect of our being kicked out of the Council of Europe. We can say no, given the political will. My question to the Minister is this. If the Government are not willing to rebuff Strasbourg in this case, arbitrary as it is, at what point, if any, will they refuse to accept a ruling? How bad must things be before Ministers stand up for the prerogatives of elected UK lawmakers? If we do not draw a line in the sand now and send back a clear message, we are inviting even more perverse judgments in future. It is time to draw that line."
Julian Lewis objected to an elected parliament being contradicted by unelected judges
"This is the situation in which we find ourselves: a democratic Parliament in a democratic country is being told that we are not allowed to decide primarily moral issues, by unelected judges in a court set up to deal with the trashing of human rights by dictators and by countries very different from ours. Winston Churchill was quoted earlier. He was a great war leader, but he was not famed for consistency in domestic politics. His twice crossing the Floor of the House is evidence enough of that. Were he here today, and had we a vote on the matter, I venture to suggest that he would not vote to give convicted prisoners the vote. People do not go to prison for light offences these days, but because they have done something seriously wrong. The real problem that we face is that judges all too often assert rights that really ought to be qualified rights as absolute rights. Even the right to life is not absolute, because it is infringed when countries legitimately go to war. Where the line is drawn should be a matter for democratic politicians, not unelected judges."