POLITICS
06/07/2011 15:14 BST | Updated 05/09/2011 06:12 BST

Justice Minister Warns Against 'Macho' Defiance On Prisoner Votes

PRESS ASSOCIATION -- Defying European judges over giving the vote to prisoners may look "macho" but would weaken the United Kingdom's ability to put pressure on other countries, a justice minister said.

Lord McNally, who is also the leader of Liberal Democrat peers, warned against refusing to implement the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and signalled his support for giving prisoners the vote.

The Government is still deciding whether to comply with an ECHR ruling that it was unlawful to prevent all prisoners from voting.

Earlier this year, following a debate initiated by Labour ex-home secretary Jack Straw and Tory ex-minister David Davis, MPs voted overwhelmingly to oppose the ECHR decision, which the previous government also avoided implementing.

Lord McNally told peers at question time: "It all looks rather macho to say we are going to defy the courts, but one of the real benefits of the convention over the last 60 years has been that it has levered up respect for human rights right across Europe.

"If I, or any of my noble friends, or any of the Opposition meet people from, let's say, marginal observers of human rights and put pressure on them our words won't carry much weight if they are able to say 'well when it got tough for you to accept the decisions you didn't accept them'."

Labour former MP Lord Anderson of Swansea had said that although there may be a case for delaying the ruling there was "no case whatsoever for defying the court as it seems a number of Members of the Commons want to do".

"What sort of precedent would that give to defaulting members such as Turkey and Russia?" he asked.

And Labour's Baroness Lister of Buttersett asked: "Do you agree that if we deny all prisoners one of the most basic rights of citizenship - that is the vote - they are less likely to fulfil their responsibilities of citizenship on release?"

Lord McNally told her: "It is an opinion that, quite frankly, I share. Perhaps you could come down the corridor with me (to the Commons) and we will try and convince David Davis and Jack Straw."