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By Jonathan Isaby
Next week sees the first parliamentary debate on whether to give the vote to prisoners – not in government time, but initiated by Tory MPs David Davis and Dominic Raab, along with Jack Straw, in time allocated by the backbench business committee.
The motion before the Commons – to be debated next Thursday – reads:
"That this House notes the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Hirst v the United Kingdom in which it held that there had been no substantive debate by members of the legislature on the continued justification for maintaining a general restriction on the right of prisoners to vote; acknowledges the treaty obligations of the UK; is of the opinion that legislative decisions of this nature should be a matter for democratically elected lawmakers; and supports the current situation in which no sentenced prisoner is able to vote except those imprisoned for contempt, default or on remand."
The Government has indicated that it is very reluctantly intending to implement the ECHR ruling granting votes for prisoners sentenced to four years or less (although there has been speculation that it could be restricted further).
However, minsters are yet to formally set the wheels in motion and in the mean time it is an issue which has been causing massive dissent throughout the Conservative parliamentary party, even among usually loyal backbenchers.
Paul Waugh from PoliticsHome reports this morning that backbenchers will be granted licence to show their opposition to the proposal:
Tory backbenchers are set to be allowed a free vote on a Commons motion opposing prisoner voting rights, PoliticsHome.come has learned. Faced with possibly his biggest ever rebellion by Conservative MPs, David Cameron is looking closely at allowing the Government payroll vote to abstain on the motion.
The Liberal Democrats have long believed in giving the vote to prisoners, so can be expected to oppose the motion as above, but I can't imagine that they'll be joined by many others.
James Landale from the BBC is now reporting news that might make the issue give the Governmnt a headache even sooner:
The government has been warned it must give prisoners in Scotland and Wales the right to vote in May's elections or risk compensation claims for allegedly breaking human rights laws. Ministers had thought a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights would force them to give prisoners the vote only in Westminster or European parliamentary elections. But giving evidence to MPs lawyers said the ruling applied to all elections that create a legislature, such as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
More here. Meanwhile the Telegraph suggests that the nationwide AV referendum may come under this ruling too…