The Home Office has responded to claims by campaigners that promises to wipe historic gay sex convictions will not actually lead to them being deleted.

Critics said today that the provisions in the Protection of Freedom Bill would only “disregard” the previously-illegal acts, rather than deleting them.

They claimed that the wording of the bill means that convictions for consensual gay sex will remain on criminal records and be visible to police, even if they are “disregarded”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We can categorically assure any man wishing to have his name cleared of an out-of-date conviction it will be wiped from all police databases and will never appear on a criminal record check.

“Where the age of the conviction means it was recorded in a historically important document, often containing details from other cases, we are unable to physically destroy it.

“But it will be marked disregarded and will not appear on any police database once officially deleted.”

The wording of the bill says that “deletion” of records means that “the fact that it is a disregarded conviction or caution” will be recorded alongside the offence.

Sexual rights activist Jane Fae told PinkNews.co.uk: “Only in the language of civil servants and bureaucrats does this mean ‘deletion’.

“In practice, conviction details will remain on police databases, for police officers to review and, as a landmark court case ruled last year, open for use when considering a suspect’s status where they deem such use to be justified.

“If this is the best that government can do, they need to think again.”

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused the government with being “economical about the truth” over the plans.

He told PinkNews.co.uk: “The proposed law will not actually delete convictions – it merely instructs the police and other agencies to disregard them.

“A person’s conviction will still remain in their criminal record. This is not a satisfactory solution at all.

“The government is being economical with the truth when it says that convictions will be deleted.”

Today’s bill says that gay men will be able to apply to the Secretary of State for cautions or convictions to be treated as discarded.

Gay sex between over-21s was legalised in England and Wales in 1967, although full legal equality did not come until 2003.

The decriminalisation laws were not applied retroactively and currently, such convictions are still visible on criminal records and show up during CRB checks.