10 Feb 2011

Prisoner votes: new legal advice for Government

Am away from Westminster making a film so will miss the prisoner votes debate later today in the Commons. But a Government source tells me that the Government has brand new legal advice in its pocket warning that it would be liable for compensation claims of £143m if it flouted the ECHR and withheld voting rights from prisoners. The new legal advice went to Ken Clarke, Nick Clegg and the Attorney General last night.

That’ll cut little ice with Tory backbench rebels. They’ve been warned in general terms of compensation claims before and I remember the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke warning them to their faces in the Commons that they needed to face up to reality and not raise the stakes and profile of the issue because it would only make it more difficult for them when the day comes to enact the ECHR will. But as he looks behind him to check colleagues have rallied to his argument, Ken Clarke will be feeling a bit let down by the Prime Minister who has decided to jump over to the other side of the argument and attack the measure that Ken Clarke said was a grown-up acknowledgment of reality.

No sign of any climbdown by the backbenchers though or a compromise or a way out. Thursdays normally see a lot of MPs drift off to the constituency but many, I hear, are making sure they are in the Commons for this vote and will do everything to publicise in their constituency how they opposed the measure, raising the stakes even more.

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