MPs to debate plans to give prisoners the vote

Wormwood Scrubs Serving inmates cannot currently vote

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MPs are expected to register their disapproval later over moves to give prisoners rights to vote in elections.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has said a European Court of Human Rights ruling means some inmates should get the vote.

But some Conservative MPs are expected to support a cross-party motion stating the matter should be left to "democratically elected lawmakers".

The Commons' decision will not be binding and the cabinet and shadow cabinet have been told to abstain.

Backbench MPs and the rest of Labour's front bench will have a free vote.

'Lively debate'

The government has been warned it must allow prison inmates to vote to comply with a 2005 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, but ministers have expressed their reluctance to give that right to all prisoners.

Initially the government had suggested inmates serving fewer than four years could get the vote, but later suggested limiting votes to only those serving under a year.

MPs opposed to prisoners getting the vote will be hoping that by passing a motion rejecting a blanket lifting of the ban on voting, the government will have a stronger hand with the European Court of Human Rights in negotiating a compromise.

On Wednesday Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said it was "nonsense" to suggest that murderers and rapists were going to be given the vote.

He also rejected calls for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights over the issue.

David Cameron told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions: "I don't see any reason why prisoners should get the vote.

"This is not a situation I want this country to be in, and I am sure that you will have a lively debate on Thursday when the House of Commons will make its views known."

The prime minister has said he feels "physically ill" at the thought of granting convicted criminals the right to vote but he had to abide by the European Court's 2005 ruling.

Some Conservative MPs have reacted angrily to the prime minister's stance.

'Legal position'

The debate, on the back of a motion tabled by former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw and senior Tory David Davis, will be led by Attorney General Dominic Grieve for the government.

He will set out the legal position, rather than arguing for the coalition's position that the vote should be given to the "absolute minimum" number of inmates.

A report by a committee of MPs says that the UK would be breaking international law if it did not grant some prisoners the vote and could face compensation claims.

At present, in the UK, only prisoners on remand are allowed to vote.

In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that blanket ban unlawful, and in June, the Council of Europe, which enforces the court's decrees, urged the coalition to rectify the situation.

The government says it has been advised that unless the law is changed it could face compensation claims from prisoners costing well over £100m.

The voting rights of prisoners is a UK-wide issue and will affect Scotland and Northern Ireland, even though the administration of justice is devolved.

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