David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, writing for PinkNews.co.uk has announced that if elected, his party will erase the historic convictions of all those found guilty of consensual gay sex. It was the answer to one of a series of questions submitted by PinkNews.co.uk readers. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed the announcement while the Liberal Democrats said they too would erase similar crimes.

In 1994, the age of consent for gay men was reduced from 21 to 18, and in 2000, it was reduced further to 16, equalising with the age of consent for straight people.

However, the change in the law was not retrospective, so there are a considerable number of people who are required to disclose that they have a criminal record for a sexual offence, despite the action that they took part in being completely legal now.

These convictions need to be disclosed when applying for certain jobs and even for volunteering in hospitals or with children as they will be listed on a person’s Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certificate.

The announcement follows a question submitted by a PinkNews.co.uk reader in a Questions and Answer session with the Conservative leader published today. Mr Cameron wrote on PinkNews.co.uk “We will change the law so that any past convictions for consensual homosexual sexual activities, which have since become lawful, will be treated as spent, and will not be disclosed on a criminal record check when applying for a job. This is a question of justice – and it’s right that we should change the law and wipe the slate clean.”

Although a rule passed in 2003 does mean that people convicted of now legal consensual sex are no longer listed on the Sex Offenders Register, the conviction remained on any individual’s criminal record. Mr Cameron proposes that an amendment to the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act means these convictions will no longer show up on a CRB check by classing them as ‘spent convictions.’

In an article for PinkNews.co.uk, Mr Cameron wrote: “I believe heart and soul in equality: the whole idea of prejudice towards people on the basis of their sexuality is quite wrong and that’s why I back civil partnerships, why I told the Tory conference that commitment through marriage was equally valid whether between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman – and it’s why a Conservative government will put new rules in place to tackle homophobia and support gay couples.
 
“Despite this, I am aware that there will remain some doubters. But have no fear: the Party has changed, the changes we have made are supported by those serving in my team and those changes are lasting. So far as I am concerned, it is one of the touchstone issues that define the modern Conservative Party.”

A review for the Home Office by Sunita Mason last month recommended that there should be a change in the law, but home secretary Alan Johnson has not yet pledged to do so. In a House of Commons statement he wrote: “This is a complex area, but once again I am anxious to ensure that the disclosure process is proportionate and I will be asking officials to look at this further.”

In an article for PinkNews.co.uk, Peter Tatchell said: “Although only a halfway house, this is a move in the right direction. The failure of the Home Secretary Alan Johnson to match this commitment makes the Tories more progressive on this issue than Labour.

“It is a big disappointment that David Cameron is only offering two gay rights policies.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne told the BBC: “The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for serious reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which governs the disclosure of criminal convictions.

“It is ridiculous that people have to disclose minor convictions long after they were committed, especially for something that is rightly not illegal any more.”

The announcement comes less than a week after a PinkNews.co.uk poll found that support for the Conservatives among the LGBT community had declined by 5 percentage points (from 25% to 20%) in the space of a month. And dropped from 39 per cent support over the past year.