I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is an unexpected surprise. I did not expect to be able to introduce the Bill today. Like the Bill that we have just discussed, it is supported by a great many members of the public, and also by a great many Members of Parliament.
During the current Parliament, we have debated the issue of whether or not convicted prisoners should be allowed to vote. A draft Bill has been produced and examined by a Joint Committee, and there has been much Back-Bench discussion of the matter. It seems to me that the time has come for us actually to make a decision, and I thought that it would be helpful if I presented, in the form of a Bill, the decision that I think we should make: the decision to ensure that convicted prisoners cannot participate in parliamentary and local elections.
The Bill is short. It is based on what was published in the Government’s draft Bill, and on what was said in the Joint Committee. This is unfinished business, and the Bill gives us an opportunity to finish it.
I do not think that any of us quite expected to be debating the Bill, after the exciting afternoon that we have had so far.
Clause 1, which is the operative clause, states:
“A prisoner serving a custodial sentence is disqualified from voting at a parliamentary or local government election.”
I thought I had heard that before, so I looked at section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which states:
“A convicted person during the time that he is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of his sentence”— or unlawfully at large when he would otherwise be so detained—
“is legally incapable of voting at any parliamentary or local government election.”
I have a great deal of respect for Mr Chope, but for him to propose a Bill that appears to repeat the existing law strikes me as otiose, and, given his attitude to many of the Bills with which we deal at this time of the week, it also strikes me as somewhat perplexing.
I suspect that we have hit the nail on the head, Madam Deputy Speaker. I suspect that the Bill has not much to do with prisoners voting, and rather more to do with the European convention on human rights, the European Court of Human Rights and, probably, the Council of Europe and the European Union. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like us to be well away from all those things, and, if he could tow us a bit more westward, would take us well away from Europe full stop. I can only say that I admire his fortitude in these matters. I am more at home with his right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who has said that sticking to international rules can be “irksome” at times, but that it has been the “settled view” of British Governments for centuries that such obligations should be met.
We do not need this Bill, I am afraid, although Opposition Front Benchers do not disagree with the sentiments that it expresses. I shall end my speech there, as I want to leave a little time for the Minister. I appreciate that it is only a little time.
I thank Mr Slaughter for allowing me 30-odd seconds in which to speak.
I have heard my hon. Friend Mr Chope speak on many occasions, and I have to say that today’s was perhaps the shortest speech that he has ever delivered. This is an important issue. The Government recognise that, and it is good that there is an opportunity to debate it once more. Of course legislation barring prisoners from voting can be traced back to the Forfeiture Act 1870—
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed