Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - Row erupts over government plans for draft bill to allow prisoners the right to vote

A row has been triggered among MPs following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that has led to the introduction a draft bill to allow prisoners limited voting rights.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 24 October

Row erupts over government plans for draft bill to allow prisoners the right to vote


A row has been triggered among MPs following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that has led to the introduction a draft bill to allow prisoners limited voting rights.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly warned that a complete ban on voting for anyone sent to prison is illegal and in breach of human rights. Earlier this year, it gave individual countries six months to decide how to implement the ruling.

The UK has been fiercely opposed to the decision. The House of Commons has in the past voted by an overwhelming majority of 234 to 22 to maintain the current ban.

In May, Prime Minister David Cameron said it would make him “physically ill” to change the law, which he said “should be a matter for Parliament... and not a foreign court”. Downing Street sources told the BBC that Mr Cameron was still of the view that “when people go to prison, they lose their right to vote”.

But The Guardian reported today that the government is poised to introduce new legislation before the deadline at the end of November to avoid setting itself on a collision course with the ECHR.

While this would take some time to pass through parliament, some MPs have immediately erupted in fury at the news – particularly Eurosceptics who do not support the UK’s membership of the European Union.

Conservative MP Zac Goldmith took to Twitter to write: "MPs almost unanimously rejected votes for prisoners. If it happens all the same, does that mean the UK [Parliament] officially no longer matters?"

One Tory backbencher reportedly said that any changes would be made “over my dead body”.

The Tory MP David Davis and the former Labour justice secretary Jack Straw – whose party said it would support the government’s stance – have both previously argued against reforms.

Mr Davies said: “If you break the law, you cannot make the law.”

Human rights campaigners, including Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve, the new chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have supported the idea that prisoners should be given the right to vote to help them reintegrate back into society.

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, a member of the constitutional reform select committee, said the right to vote should be applied to prisoners serving short sentences.



Questions for discussion


For primary:

  • What does it mean to have a vote?
  • Can you think of any issues that our class could vote on?

For secondary:

  • Why is the right to vote such a powerful thing to have?
  • In your opinion, what rights should prisoners have?


Related resources


Elections and Voting

  • A great resource to help pupils consider different opinions on voting and democracy.

The Impact of Human Rights

  • A lovely activity for demonstrating the impact that the Human Rights Act has on people's lives.

Europe and Me

  • Introduce your pupils to the European Union and how it affects European citizens with this resource from Citizenship Foundation.

Balancing Rights

  • Cherie Booth advises two primary teachers on fairness and human rights in this Teachers TV video.

Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


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The Twitter account of Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, is being investigated by police over the posting of homophobic tweets.

A renowned neuroscientist has issued a stark warning about how pre-teens are being exposed to the effects of social networks, with potentially profound consequences.

Volunteer astronomers have discovered a planet, just under 5,000 light-years away, with a quadruple star system.



In the news archive index