Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 11:15 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 11:15 pm, 19th January 2011

I am bound to say that I am persuaded by my noble friend's argument. The principle and the arithmetic are obviously right, but the details of how prisoners are to be given the vote-and there will be a lot of details-are a matter that the House will have to deal with. However, that would not affect the principle of including prisoners in the formula that we are talking about.

I have been a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights for some time, and we have been anxious that the Government should adhere to their obligations under the Human Rights Act and under the European convention. We were disappointed-I was certainly disappointed, as was my noble friend Lord Corbett-that the previous Government did not bring this proposal into effect. I hope that this Government will do so. Given that public opinion, spurred on by some of our newspapers, is not sympathetic to this, I very much hope that more voices will be heard to say that this is a good thing and that it is right that people in prison, at least many of them, should have the right to vote and to have a civic responsibility that will help them when they come out. There is an important point of principle here, which has been totally lost in some of the hysteria in the popular press, which is arguing against this, to say nothing of the fine that we would have to pay as a country.

I have two brief final thoughts. I introduced a Private Member's Bill when I was in the other place to give certain rights to prisoners. My noble friend Lord Soley and I discussed it, and he persuaded me to include in the Bill a proposal to give prisoners the right to vote. It was a 10-Minute Rule Bill and was therefore not going to get much further. It received a lot of publicity, but all that the press were interested in-even in the 1980s; it was a long time ago-was the clause about giving prisoners the right to vote. Nothing else in the Bill did they take notice of. I am bound to say, in all honesty, that the Labour Shadow Cabinet did not support my Bill and said that it was not in favour of it.

I have a final little anecdote, if I may indulge myself-it is getting late. I was in a pub in Battersea just before an election. I was meeting a journalist who wanted to take a photograph. The pub was almost empty because it was mid-morning. A man at the bar came up to me and said, "'Ere, are you Alf Dubs MP?". I confirmed that I was and he said, "I came out of the Scrubs this morning. You've got a good reputation inside". I thought of all the votes that I was not going to get and I then lost my seat.