Parliament bared a few teeth yesterday. It passed its motion condemning the idea of votes for prisoners. There were many speeches against this proposal, and fewer in favour.
The government reminded Parliament that the UK is bound by its signature on the Human Rights Convention. This falls to be adjudicated by the European Court of Human Rights. Government Ministers did not vote, as they felt bound to observe the rules of the Court.
We now have an interesting impasse. Ministers need to tell the Court that the High Court of Parliament does not agree with the ECHR’s ruling on this matter. There is a conflict of view and of jurisdiction. Mnay people in the Uk will think, whatever the legal position, that if the people and their MPs do not want something, they should not have to have it.
A wise Court would reconsider. A wise government will scale back the proposals to implement the Court’s judgement and seek a position more people can accept. Some MPs yesterday were prepared to accept a compromise, some would like to carry it further and if necessary repudiate the Convention.
Who knows what will happen next? The government stepped aside and allowed a free vote. It now has to show that a vote in Parliament does count for something. It may be possible to please both sides with a compromise. If not there will be further rows. On yesterday’s showing there is no majority in the House to implement the Court’s wishes, but I guess some MPs might change their minds if the government said it had to obey the Court after all.
What is Parliament for, if it is not to judge just these kind of issues, and for MPs to face their electors and justify the votes they cast?
Had Mrs Main’s amendment been put I suspect Parliament would also have voted to refuse any compensation to prisoners denied the vote. After all, prisoners lose other human rights by being in prison – the right to free association, and the right to come and go as they please, but not even the ECHR thinks they deserve compoensation for losing those human rights.