Thank you Mr Speaker.
I have three prisons in my constituency, with a total prisoner population of about two thousand seven hundred.
But having in my patch one of the largest prison populations in the country is not my reason for opposing votes for prisoners.
If prisoners in the Sheppey Cluster were ever given the vote I wouldn’t worry on a personal level, because, based on the Government’s current proposal, those prisoners would have to register at their home address and would therefore not be able to influence my local vote.
No, my reason for supporting this motion is because I think it is quite unacceptable that unelected European judges think that they can tell elected members of this British Parliament, how we should treat British criminals who break British laws.
In my view we have been dictated to by Europe for far too long, and for far too long members of successive parliaments have let them get away with it.
Well, Mr Speaker, I think enough is enough.
It is time for the current Parliament to make a stand.
Let’s say loud and clear: Determination of voting rights for prisoners is our line in the sand and you cross it at your peril.
And I truly believe that on this issue, at least, we members of parliament are in tune with the General Public.
I am sure that the vast majority of people in Britain find quite unpalatable the very idea that we should allow to vote in local and national elections prisoners convicted of such serious crimes as murder, rape and acts of paedophilia.
I am sure the thought sickens them as much as it sickens me.
Such prisoners are incarcerated in secure prisons because they are considered a danger to the public.
They are imprisoned as punishment for their crimes and that punishment should not only include the loss of freedom, but the loss of many privileges enjoyed by law abiding citizens.
One such privilege is the ability to vote in local and national elections.
I very much hope that honourable and right honourable members on both sides of the House will vote for this motion in large numbers.
Doing so would make very clear to the European Court of Human Rights that if a British citizen commits a crime serious enough to warrant incarceration in a secure prison, then that person will lose not only his or her freedom, but they will lose also the privilege of voting in elections during their incarceration in that secure prison.
I will certainly be voting for the motion.
However, despite my own passionate opposition to votes for prisoners, I do recognise the difficulty faced by the Government.
I think it is clear that ministers do not want to give a vote to prisoners, but feel obliged, no doubt under pressure from law officers, to abide by the European Court of Human Rights ruling.
Mr Speaker, I want to try and help ministers out of their dilemma.
I believe there is a way for the Government to fulfil both its obligations under European law, but also its duty to the British People.
And it can do so without giving the vote to offenders who have committed some of the most heinous crimes imaginable and are being held in secure prisons.
Let us consider what we hope to achieve when we put people in prison, the first I have mentioned, which is to punish that person for the crime they have committed.
The second is to rehabilitate that person to minimise the risk of them re-offending and having to be locked up yet again.
Now, although I am totally opposed to prisoners being allowed to vote whilst they are incarcerated in a secure prison, I do think there is an argument for allowing them to vote once they are transferred to an open prison as part of their release back into society.
So, if ministers want a way out, could I suggest that they accept today’s motion as a starting point, but in addition to the categories for whom a vote would be allowed, which are set out in the motion, that they add the category of: “All prisoners who are incarcerated in an open prison, including those transferred from a secure prison as part of their release programme.”
Such a proposal would have a number of advantages, including:-
• It would obey the European Court ruling by giving a vote to the majority of prisoners at some stage of their sentence;
• It would allow a vote to those convicted of relatively minor offences and sent to open prisons;
• It would counter the arguments of those people who claim that providing the vote to prisoners encourages them to become a useful member of society;
• It would deny a vote to those convicted of the most heinous crimes until such time as they had served most of their sentence and were about to be released back into the community, at which time they would be able to vote anyway.
I don’t want to give prisoners the vote, but if ministers feel they are forced to do so then, I think this would be a reasonable compromise.