As expected, MPs have voted to keep the ban on prisoners voting by 234 votes to 22 – a majority of 212. The vote puts parliament on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings Britain is bound by treaty to accept. Ministers appear to hope that the resounding vote will encourage the ECHR to reverse its judgment in favour of prisoner voting.
David Cameron, who memorably declared that the thought of giving prisoners the vote made him “physically ill”, has simply said that the government will “sort this out one way or the other”. Yet the Conservative leader faces two equally unpalatable choices. If he complies with the ECHR ruling, he will find himself at odds with his increasingly restive backbenchers. If he doesn’t, the government could be forced to pay out large amounts in compensation to inmates.
We have been very clear that it is not Labour policy to give prisoners the vote.
Despite several attempts to glean information from the Tory-led government by me, and the lively debate in the House today, they have yet to explain how they intend to satisfy the European Court of Human Rights ruling.
The government must, as a matter of urgency, bring forward its draft legislation so parliament and the public are clear about where it stands on this important issue.