Turing’s Law ‘still on track’ as government scuppers rival bill in Parliament
The government has scuppered a rival proposal for a Turing’s Law, after announcing separate plans to pardon for men with historical gay sex offences.
Justice Minister Sam Gyimah yesterday announced the fulfilment of a 2015 Conservative Party manifesto pledge, by accepting a Lib Dem amendment to a Policing bill that will see men convicted for consensual same-sex relationships formally pardoned.
The new law will posthumously pardon the offences of thousands of men convicted of offences under historical anti-gay laws, provided they were legal today. Surviving men with convictions will be able to apply for a pardon.
However, there was a showdown over the issue in the Commons today, as Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson refused to withdraw his own rival plan to create a Turing’s Law, via his own Private Member’s Bill.
The government took issue with proposals in Mr Nicolson’s law to issue a ‘blanket pardon’ to living men, but Mr Nicolson told PinkNews the Tories were “playing politics” with the issue by switching support from his bill to the Lib Dem plan at the last minute.
Mr Nicolson took his bill to the floor today despite the government making clear it would not be allowed to pass, leaving Mr Gyimah to filibuster the plan.
The minister took advantage of procedural rules to talk until the allocated debate time expired, leaving Mr Nicolson unable to bring his bill to a vote, to cries of “shame” from supporters.
The issue has been seized upon by the Scottish National Party, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attacking the Conservatives for talking down the plans.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Shame on the Tories for this. Very proud of John Nicolson for bringing this Bill forward and speaking so movingly on it.”
However, government sources insisted that the defeat of Mr Nicolson’s rival legislation does not hinder their efforts to pass a pardons law.
Mr Gimayah said: “The choice before the House is not the private Member’s Bill or no Bill at all, but the private Member’s Bill or a legislative vehicle—the Police and Crime Bill—that will help us achieve our aims much faster so that we can deliver justice.
“Intentions are not good enough when it comes to making law; we have to think through the unintended consequences of law, and that is what the Government’s approach tries to do.”
“The Government will support Lord Sharkey’s amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 through the Policing and Crime Bill. Lord Sharkey is a Liberal Democrat peer. He is no stooge of the Government—the days of coalition are long over—and, like many Members here, including the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire, he has been campaigning for this measure for a very long time.
“I am pleased that he will be taking forward the Government’s measures on this.”
However, opponents say that unlike Mr Nicolson’s bill, the government proposals do not go far enough..
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Labour’s Lyn Brown, the MP for West Ham, said: “Lord Sharkey’s amendment would grant a pardon to all the deceased who had been charged under the relevant offences, but not—and this is crucial—to the living.
“The living would have to apply for a disregard and only then would they be granted a pardon. The onus would be placed right back on the victims of injustice, which, I worry, rather reduces the quality of the apology being offered.”
John Nicolson MP said: “I’m very disappointed that the Tory government decided to filibuster and talk out the Turing Bill.
“The bill was intended to be kind and bring closure to generations of gay and bisexual men found guilty of homophobic crimes no longer on the statute book.
“Many of these men are now elderly and have lived with unjust convictions for years – my bill would have given them an automatic pardon.
“I was delighted to receive cross party support from Conservative, Labour and SNP MPs so I was sad on their behalf as well as on behalf of the men that would have been pardoned to see the Tory Justice Minister use political manoeuvring to see off a popular bill.
“As MPs of all parties made clear today there was no good reason for the government to block this Bill. The compromise amendment being suggested instead does not go far enough to right the wrongs committed against these men and their families.
“The Tory whips promised that there would be ‘no tricks and no games’ on their side but it is to their shame that they broke their word.”