Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear to Commonwealth leaders that a “divide” on LGBT issues must be narrowed, the government says.

40 of the 53 Commonwealth member states continue to criminalise homosexuality, many under archaic Sodomy laws, which are a hang-over from British colonial rule.

Lobbyists have long urged the UK government to take a strong stance on the issue, given the British legacy behind many of the homophobic laws – but LGBT issues are still considered deeply divisive, and have not openly been on the table at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 66 years.

However, the UK government has appeared to confirm that Prime Minister David Cameron used last year’s CHOGM in Malta to privately raise the issue.

Hugo Swire, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was speaking last week in a debate marking Commonwealth Day.

He said: “It is worth saying that despite this being set out clearly in the Commonwealth charter… respect for rights and values is not consistent across the Commonwealth, and we have to accept that that is the case.

“The issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights is a particular challenge.

“At CHOGM, the Prime Minister was clear about the need for the Commonwealth to seek to narrow its divisions on LGBT issues.

“In their statement, Commonwealth leaders agreed on the economic potential that can be unlocked by tackling discrimination and exclusion.

“I accept that these are difficult issues for some Commonwealth countries, but those same countries did sign the Commonwealth charter.”

He continued: “Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva last week, the outgoing secretary-general, Kamalesh Sharma, acknowledged that the Commonwealth cannot be truly inclusive if the criminalisation of homosexuality is not addressed.

“That remains one of our biggest human rights challenges. We will continue to work with member states to end discrimination of all kinds, to promote tolerance and to build inclusive governance and opportunity for all.

“Those are all central to creating a truly inclusive Commonwealth and critical to developing stronger, more secure and prosperous societies.

“I say that because there is huge potential in the Commonwealth. A recent report has highlighted that, on current trends, the value of intra-Commonwealth trade will reach $1 trillion by 2020.

“The challenges have never been greater, but the rewards could be greater still. It will be up to all of us within the Commonwealth family to ensure that action is taken on the most pressing global issues.”

The UK government recently praised the Seychelles government, after it became the latest Commonwealth country to push forward with plans to repeal the country’s anti-gay law. Confirming the move, the Seychelles government had specifically noted pressure from British diplomats.