Prisoners serving less than a year should be allowed to vote, says Parliamentary committee

 

Prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less should be given the vote, the Government is today told by an all-party parliamentary committee.

It also called for all inmates who are within six months of release to be entitled to take part in elections.

The recommendations will not be welcome in Downing Street as David Cameron has said he would feel “physically sick” if prisoners were allowed to vote.

Britain is locked in an eight-year battle with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which has ruled that the blanket ban on prisoner voting is incompatible with European law.

Ministers have drafted a Bill offering three options, including retaining the current outright ban, which is the option backed by the overwhelming majority of MPs.

But the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Bill is urging the Government to respond to the ECHR’s pressure by drawing up plans to extend the franchise to inmates serving less thab a year behind bars.

The Tory MP Crispin Blunt, a former prisons minister, said: “We didn’t just sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights – we more or less wrote it.

“For us to fail to respect our international treaty obligations, over an issue as relatively minor as a few thousand prisoners having the right to vote, which the evidence suggests most of them wouldn’t exercise, would be a grossly disproportionate reaction.

“It would set an appalling example to other nations and undermine human rights across Europe.“

Committee members endorsed the recommendation by eight votes to three. One of the dissenters, the Tory Nick Gibb, said Parliament should be given the chance to retain the blanket ban and to consider how far the ECHR can “encroach into domestic policy”.

Last night the Ministry of Justice said MPs would get another opportunity next year to vote on the issue. A spokesman said: “We have always been clear that prisoner voting is an issue on which Parliament should decide and the joint committee report is an important contribution to this process and will help inform Parliament’s decisions.”