Wales politics

Assembly backs call for prisoner voting

Prison window Image copyright Getty Images

Prisoners should be allowed to vote in Welsh elections, the majority of AMs have said in a vote in the Senedd.

The move, supported by Plaid and Labour members, does not change the law, but the Labour Welsh Government is examining whether prisoners can take part in local government elections.

Academics from the Cardiff University Wales Governance Centre say it would improve Wales' international standing.

Conservatives said "law-abiding citizens" had not been consulted.

A motion calling for prisoners to be able to vote was passed by 36 AMs to 14, with one abstention.

During the debate a former minister briefly threatened not to vote with Labour colleagues over a "ham-fisted" Welsh Government move to block a call backing the devolution of justice.

AMs have control over local government and assembly elections. Currently a committee is investigating whether the law should be changed to allow prisoners to take part in Senedd elections.

Giving evidence to the committee, the Cardiff academics said out of 47 Council of Europe members, only the UK, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Russia denied prisoners the vote.

The vote followed a debate on Wednesday, tabled by Plaid Cymru, called for the full devolution of justice.

Welsh ministers did not echo that demand, but both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government called for "the right to vote for prisoners in Welsh elections".

'Cannot be justified'

The Conservatives' Mark Isherwood said: "Plaid Cymru say they are holding this to enhance the human rights of prisoners: but what about the human rights of victims that were violated by murderers, terrorists, rapists, and paedophiles?"

But Plaid's Leanne Wood said: "Denying a whole group of people the right to have their say on decisions which affect them cannot be justified in a modern, democratic society."

Image caption Alun Davies criticised his own party colleagues in the debate on Wednesday

Alun Davies, former local government secretary, said he was "very unhappy" that ministers had blocked, through an amendment, Plaid Cymru's call for devolution of justice from passing in the vote.

He said it is Welsh Government policy, dating back to the former first minister Carwyn Jones, that criminal justice should be devolved - as stated in evidence to a commission on justice set up by Mr Jones.

Mr Davies said the justice system in Wales is failing and the reason for that is a "broken settlement".

He told AMs the decision by the Welsh Government to block the Plaid Cymru calls for devolution of the criminal justice from passing was an "error of judgement".

"The government would have been better off supporting the Plaid Cymru motion," he said.

"I'm not minded to support the government's amendment today. It does bring equivocation into an area where the government has been very very clear."

Jane Hutt, chief whip, told Mr Davies that the government stood by the evidence to the commission.

He later tweeted that he would vote with the government, but he added that the government's attempt to amend the motion was "ham-fisted" and potentially undermined the evidence to the commission.

'Considering options'

Changes to assembly elections would need the agreement of two thirds of the assembly.

There are plans for a bill on assembly elections and changing the name of the institution, but the legislation is yet to be introduced to AMs.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "We support the principal of enfranchising Welsh prisoners and are currently considering options for local government elections.

"We will consider the committee's report when it is available."

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