Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 11:00 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Labour 11:00 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, in the spirit that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, offered the House some hours ago, I shall be relatively brief. I am encouraged by some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has accepted the advice of my noble friend Lord Rooker about not being afraid to take decisions at the Dispatch Box.

I start, unusually, by confessing that the amendment is not wholly fit for purpose on the matter of prisoners and their ability to vote. It omits to recognise that remand prisoners either awaiting trial or awaiting sentence having been found guilty are currently able to vote. After the Minister accepts the spirit of this amendment, which I anticipate he is going to do, it will give his parliamentary draftsmen no more than a fleeting diversion to put this oversight about remand prisoners right.

The amendment aims to make sure that, in the fine arithmetical balance upon which the Boundary Commission shall decide on the new constituencies, the impact of convicted prisoners and those on remand with the ability to vote shall be included in that arithmetic. The amendment assumes that only those sentenced prisoners serving a prison term of four years or less will have the vote. That matter has still to be decided by Parliament. I hope that it will be rejected and that all prisoners will be able to vote, as part of a better attempt to rehabilitate them and to reduce the expense of perpetual reoffending.

As a backdrop to this amendment, I was amazed to read in the Evening Standard tonight that my right honourable friend Jack Straw-not simply a former Home Secretary but, your Lordships will remember, as I do, a former Lord Chancellor-is now attempting, having won a debate in the other place for next month, to persuade the House that no prisoners should be given the vote, in breach and defiance of an order of the European Court of Human Rights made in 2004. It may explain why the last Government, to my disgrace and shame, did nothing to accept the judgment of that court. My right honourable friend incites Parliament to continue that disobedience. It is another slippery slope when Governments think that they can pick and choose what they do in reaction to decisions of the court of human rights and it gets us into an extremely difficult place.