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First Tory minister publicly supports pardoning men convicted of gay sex offences

Joseph McCormick March 20, 2015

Tory peer and leader of the House of Lords Baroness Stowell of Beeston has expressed support for a campaign to pardon thousands of men convicted of gay sex offences.

In speaking out, Baroness Stowell is the first Tory minister to go on the record to offer support.

The PinkNews Debate, chaired by Evan Davis, took place at the Wellcome Collection in London on Thursday 19 March.

The panel included Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, Tory peer and Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Stowell of Beeston, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, Lib Dem Chief Whip Don Foster and UKIP’s Culture spokesman Peter Whittle.

A PinkNews reader speaking via Google Hangouts asked: “Is pardoning people who were convicted of gay sex offences right? Surely their names should automatically just be cleared, rather than pardoned.”

Baroness Stowell responded, saying: “I certainly support people achieving what they are setting out to on this.

“Lets not forget during this Parliament, we pardoned Alan Turing, we’ve also made it possible for people who are still alive, who were convicted when the law was such that being gay was a crime to be able to have that eliminated from their record which is a very very import thing to have been able to introduce.”

She continued: “I hope we can go further, I personally hope we can go further, I gather that there are some complexities around legal issues, which is why it hasn’t been possible to make the change effective in a quick way but it is certainly something we’re looking at, and I’m pleased with this.”

Don Foster said rather than clearing the criminal records of men convicted of gross indecency, that they shoud be pardoned.

The Lib Dem Chief Whip said: “I am delighted about what we were able to do with Alan Turing, there are around 49,000 other people in the same category, there was an excellent campaign going to 10 Downing street, to make sure the same happens for those other 49 and I fully support them achieving them.”

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper added: “This is Turing’s Law, we should do it.

“With Turing it was a pardon, the question is what is the best way to do this now for other people who’ve now died who are in the same situation – for their families to ask for the offence to be cleared. I’m not a lawyer, but as I understand it you can do things either through pardons or through discarding offences, it might be preferable to do it through discarding offences, so there’s a legal question about the detail about how you do it but we should absolutely do it, I think we should make the commitment to do, then work out the detail, but we should do it.”

Chairing, Evan Davis asked: “Would you do it for all offences, forget just gay men doing stuff under the age of consent which has now changed, would you say anybody who had an offence in the past which is no longer an offence should be cleared or pardoned, why just focus on just this one?

Ms Cooper expanded to say: “Because we all recognise there was a great injustice in the way in which LGBT people were treated, and particularly gay men were treated under the law, the law was just wrong, it was a huge injustice. It happened to Alan Turing as the most high profile case, but it happened to many more. It’s about things that would not be against the law today and making the change. In those circumstances it’s the right thing to do. You can’t look historically back at every single legal framework and every single law and but this is about a historic injustice and that’s why it’s the right thing to do.”

UKIP’s Peter Whittle said: “I’d agree. With Alan Turing, and pardoning people, I think the only problem, not problem, shouldn’t make us complacent about now.

“There’s always the possibility we think, we’ve pardoned people from the past that’s all great, you do have to look at the situation now, and people’s attitudes to being gay now, and I think sometimes we get a bit complacent and think things have improved now, and then something comes up and we think actually things haven’t.

“For example is one statistic i read recently, interestingly, around Britain, around the amount of people who think being gay is morally wrong, was something like 15% more than what it used to be, and in London where we congratulate ourselves on being so tolerant, it’s like 29%.

“That was a real shock to me, and that’s the sort of thing I think we should think. When we do look at the past, we can forget about what we face now.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett also said she agreed with the campaign, saying: “I agree with Yvette, there’s a great historic injustice here that needs to be corrected, there’s something like between 50,000 and 100,000 people and families affected by this, this is very explicitly Green Party policy and something we’re working actively to make happen.”

The debate is generously supported by KPMG.

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More: baroness stowell of beeston, don foster, evan davis, green party, Labour, Lib Dem, Liberal Democrats, Natalie Bennett, peter whittle, pinknews debate, tina stowell, UKIP, Yvette Cooper

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