Downing Street has insisted the “minimum number” of prisoners will be given the vote amid signs of a Government U-turn on the controversial issue.
Speculation has been growing that ministers are preparing to back down over plans to give the vote to all inmates serving less than four years after a backbench revolt in the House of Commons. The cut-off point could be reduced to sentences of 12 months or less.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said the idea of giving prisoners the vote makes him “physically ill” but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the 140-year-old blanket ban was unlawful.
Failure to comply could cost tens of millions of pounds in legal costs and compensation, ministers warned. Some 2,500 inmates already have cases in motion.
But the prospect of granting the vote to more than 28,000 prisoners – including 6,000 violent offenders, 1,700 convicted of sex crimes and more than 4,000 burglars – sparked fury on Conservative backbenches when the four-year cut-off was floated last month.
MPs will have a chance to revolt against the proposal in a few weeks’ time after Labour’s former justice secretary Jack Straw and senior Tory David Davis secured a Commons vote on the issue.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman declined to say whether a one-year maximum sentence was under consideration.
He said: “Our intention is to ensure that the minimum number of prisoners get the vote.
“At the same time, because this is an issue that has been sitting there for a number of years and hasn’t been resolved, we have a backlog of compensation claims by prisoners. Clearly we can’t ignore that and the possible costs associated with it. What the number should be – whether it is four years or some other figure – is essentially a matter of legal advice.”
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “I am pleased that this Government has undertaken this U-turn. The Government should be standing up for the victims of crime but instead they are slashing police numbers and giving dangerous convicted prisoners the vote.”