Cameron puts restriction on voting rights in prison

Criminals sentenced to four years or more will be automatically excluded from the right to vote when it is extended to prisoners.

Sentencing judges will also be given the discretion to stop those handed down a jail term of less than four years from casting a ballot behind bars.

New legislation – due to be tabled in Parliament next year – will grant prisoners the right to vote only in elections to Westminster and the European Parliament, meaning that they will not have a voice in ballots for directly-elected police chiefs.

The Government announced last month that it was throwing in the towel in a long-running legal battle in the European courts to prevent voting in jails.

But Prime Minister David Cameron made clear that he was doing so reluctantly, and would prefer to keep the ban which dates from1870.

His spokesman said: "We have to comply with those judgments and we don't want to get into a situation where we are compensating prisoners because we have not complied."