The “hugely important” move follows the 2013 posthumous Royal Pardon for Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for a relationship with a 19-year-old man.
The announcement that ministers will back a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill comes the day before a private members’ bill from SNP MP John Nicolson is due to be debated in the House of Commons.
Unlike proposals in Mr Nicolson’s bill, the government will only issue a blanket pardon to men who have died, with the roughly 49,000 still living required to apply to the Home Office through an existing system designed to clear criminal records. The SNP MP said last night that the proposals were “unkind to the living”.
Justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “A blanket pardon, without the detailed investigations carried out by the Home Office under the disregard process, could see people guilty of an offence which is still a crime today claiming to be pardoned.”
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, author of the amendment, called it a “momentous day” and said the measure built on the pardon for Turing during the coalition government. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967.