Thursday will see one of the more controversial issues of recent years, the right of prisoners to vote being raised again in Parliament.
In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK had to change its stance on the blanket ban on votes for prisoners by this Friday. The court ruled that the UK could not simply maintain the status quo but must opt to allow certain voting rights to some prisoners, but not necessarily all.
The Prime Minister has been clear on this issue for a number of years, as have I; votes for prisoners must not be allowed and certainly will not come about under this Government. The Justice Minister, Chris Grayling, will likely be outlining proposals for legislation to the House today which offer us two options: Option one would be to maintain our current stance that prisoners, except inmates on remand, should not be able to vote. The second option is that we allow some prisoners to vote, those serving less lengthy sentences, for example those serving between four years and six months.
My own position is clear; I want to keep the status quo. I believe that when people commit crimes the severity of which mean that they are sent to prison, they are actively taking themselves out of civic society and can be expected to be punished accordingly. If you are imprisoned, some of your rights to life in a civil society are suspended, your freedom of movement is restricted, your freedom of choice is limited and your right to participate in democratic elections is removed. I believe this is the right course of action for people who have taken away the rights of others while pursuing criminal activity.
Parliament has had to look at this issue a number of times over recent years and back in February we were asked to vote on this issue. While that vote was not binding, ie... it did not dictate the manner in which this issue has been pursued, it was an important indicator as to the feelings of Parliament. The vote in February showed a result of 234 to 22 for the blanket ban to be maintained. This is an overwhelming vote which leaves no doubt of the strong feeling that there is in Parliament over this particular issue. The Government has cross party support on this issue, with Labour coming out in favour of our position and it is thought that some Liberal Democrats will also support this stance.
What will happen next? It is likely that if an announcement is made today that the UK Government will be introducing legislation in this area, the European Court of Human Rights will be informed and any decision by them to act will be deferred to see the outcome of the legislative process.
I firmly believe that the Government should stand firm on this issue and not be swayed by a wholly selected court. Following recent decisions by the court, such as the decision to disallow the Government to extradite Abu Qatada, I believe we should stand up for our own sovereignty and Parliaments right to decide. This issue is not simply one of votes for prisoners; this issue is about our sovereignty as an Independent nation.
Mark Lancaster, MP for Milton Keynes North, can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01908 686830.