Thousands of gay and bi men throughout the 20th century were prosecuted under unjust and discriminatory sexual offence laws. Of this fact, there is no disagreement. However, last week, at a debate in the House of Commons, a Bill that has come to be known as the Turing Bill, was filibustered by the Minister of Justice. This was done in favour of an alternative proposal that the Government prefers, but we don't feel goes far enough.
The Turing Bill, sponsored by John Nicolson MP, argued for the UK Government to issue a general pardon to all gay and bi men who were prosecuted under these unjust laws.
However, while this aim is broadly supported by MPs of all parties, the scope of the Turing Bill, and the pardon, was deemed too wide for the Government. Instead of taking the Bill to the next stage, where it would have been possible to iron out differences, parliamentary procedures were used to force the Bill to fall. This is an underhanded political tactic, and, regardless of intention, it is deeply hurtful and offensive to the thousands of gay and bi men who have been affected.
More than 75,000 men were persecuted for their sexual orientation, including some right up to 2003 when these laws were repealed. Each one of them deserves the same pardon that Alan Turing so rightly received in 2013, as well as a clear acknowledgement from the Government that their prosecution was unjust. The Turing Bill sought a blanket pardon for all gay and bi men - living or deceased - in recognition of this injustice; the Government's current proposal does not. It instead offers only an automatic posthumous pardon, leaving out thousands of gay and bi men who are still living.
In addition, the current law includes a loophole, which does not allow for any convictions under Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 to be removed. Section 32 was often used in a discriminatory way right through to the 1980s and 1990s, allowing the police to arrest men often for simply chatting up other men, and now prevents many gay and bi men from applying to have their criminal records deleted. The Turing Bill sought to right this wrong; the Government's proposal does not. This is unacceptable.
So what next?
There is still time for the Government to improve what they plan to do on this issue, and to ensure that those 75,000 gay and bi men, who have been wrongly accused, receive justice.
The amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill that will issue the posthumous pardon will be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow, Wednesday 26 October. It will be moved by Lord Sharkey and has Government support so is likely to be passed. However, we are urging the Minister of Justice, Sam Gyimah MP, to reach out to other MPs to discuss how the concerns aired in the debate on Friday - and voiced by MPs of all parties - can be addressed in the final Bill.
We are also urging the Government to incorporate Section 32 into the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, so that men unjustly prosecuted under that law are not excluded from being able to have their criminal record deleted.
In addition, we continue to urge the Government to consider a blanket pardon. This would of course exclude anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16, but would go some way to righting a significant wrong for many thousands of people.
Finally, this is a clear opportunity for the Government to unequivocally make amends for the actions of past governments who instituted these laws. It is time for the Government to apologise to all those affected, those convicted, and their loved ones. This would help many to draw a line, once and for all, under a dark period in our history.
This blog first appeared on Stonewall's website.