Site Meter

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alex Salmond First Minister’s Question Time on Prisoners Right to Vote

Alex Salmond First Minister’s Question Time on Prisoners Right to Vote

Official Report 23 September 2010

Col 28823

Prisoners (Right to Vote)

4. Stewart Maxwell (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government's position is on prisoners having the right to vote. (S3F-2579)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): The Scottish Government does not agree that convicted prisoners should be entitled to vote while they are serving a prison sentence.

Stewart Maxwell: Like many in the Parliament, I am totally opposed to rapists, murderers and drug pushers getting the right to vote. They have given up their right to participate in decent society by their actions. It is a disgrace that forces outside Scotland are trying to force such a change upon us. Even worse is the fact that, thanks to incompetence by the previous Labour Government at Westminster, some of these criminals may now try to claim compensation from taxpayers across the United Kingdom. Does the First Minister agree that voters in Scotland should not have to suffer any more bungled handling of elections by
Col 28892
Westminster and that responsibility for our own elections must be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible?

The First Minister: I agree with that. Apart from anything else, I think that it is quite remarkable that any member should believe that it is right and proper for this Parliament to have legislative competence and authority over climate change—perhaps the greatest issue facing the planet—but not over the running of its own elections. How can anyone possibly believe or sustain that position? If the Scotland Office's track record on running elections were beyond reproach, there might be something of an argument to be had, but I do not think that anyone would argue that either.
Incidentally, looking at the previous Government's two consultations and its prevarication and delay on the thorny issue of prisoners and voting, I do not think that it covered itself in glory either.

Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): The previous Government resisted making the changes for exactly the reasons that the First Minister gave earlier. However, he might be aware that the current UK Government is reviewing the policy. Have any discussions taken place with the UK Government on what impact there might be on retrospective claims by prisoners who are now registered to vote, and what costs there might be to the Scottish Prison Service or the Scottish Government?

The First Minister: According to our legal advice, any costs would apply to the UK Government, which might concentrate minds.
Something about Mr Baker's question puzzles me. He said that the Labour Government had avoided coming to a position. It did so by introducing its first consultation paper on the issue in December 2006 and a second consultation paper in 2009, closing the consultation in December 2009 and then handing the thorny problem over to its successor Westminster Government. I think that it would be wrong for convicted prisoners to have the right to vote and the public would be outraged if compensation claims on the matter were made on any Government, whether in Scotland or the UK. However, Richard Baker should face up to the fact that the previous Labour Government's strategy in dealing with the question was to wait until it was out of office.

Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): The First Minister is missing the point. The UK is signed up to the European convention on human rights, so it is under the obligation to follow the protocol that refers to free and fair elections. Is he not aware that the European Court of Human Rights has made a decision on the matter? Is he suggesting
Col 28893
that, if Scotland were independent, it would opt out of the European convention on human rights? What is the Scottish Government's position on that?

The First Minister: A couple of things would improve if Scotland were an independent nation. First, we would have the same protection against compensation claims as any other country has at the moment, instead of theoretically being liable for 10 years of compensation claims—members will remember that in connection with another thorny issue. That would be a distinct improvement if Scotland were independent.
Secondly, I know that the Liberals are understandably keen on the European Court of Human Rights and the European convention on human rights. However, I cannot believe that, back in 1997 when there was blanket signing up to the ECHR, those of us who argued very strongly that human rights should be observed across the European continent thought that one of the key issues would be to give convicted prisoners the right to vote. For most people, that does not seem to be what we would consider to be an important human right.

No comments: