MSPs give their backing to Scotland’s Turing Bill

Michael Matheson.  Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Michael Matheson. Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
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MSPs last night unanimously agreed to the general principals of proposed legislation that will pardon individuals convicted of same-sex relations in the past.

Equality campaigners welcomed the vote which saw the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill pass its first parliamentary hurdle at Holyrood.

The Stage One vote was an important step on the road towards establishing legislation that will provide gay men convicted under historical discriminatory laws for acts that are now legal with an automatic pardon.

It will also enable men to apply to have convictions for same-sex sexual activity that is now legal removed from central criminal conviction records.

Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, said “We welcome the first parliamentary debate and vote on this bill. The Scottish Government have done a good job drafting the bill, and have avoided the problems in the pardons legislation in the rest of the UK.

“Although the bill cannot undo the discrimination of the past and the harm that it has caused, it is a very important statement that Scotland regrets and rejects that discrimination, and now considers its LGBTI people to be fully equal citizens who deserve equal respect. It will be of great practical importance for people who currently have one of these convictions show up on criminal record checks for jobs or volunteer posts.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said he was pleased the Scottish Parliament had united behind the bill, which had a “real practical benefit” for those suffering discrimination as a result of previous convictions.

“I am under no illusions that this bill, or any other legislation, can itself right the massive injustice caused by these discriminatory laws that criminalised the act of loving another adult. Those laws that deterred people from being open about who they are to family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues, and by sending a message that parliament considered that homosexuality was wrong, encouraged homophobia and hatred,” Mr Matheson said.

“However, through the pardon this bill will send a clear message to those who were affected by them that these laws were unjust.”

The legislation is expected to become law later this summer. The proposal has been nicknamed Scotland’s Turing Law after Alan Turing, whose work during the second world war helped break the German Enigma code. The scientist was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. He was pardoned posthumously in 2013.

Labour justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: “This is an important step on the road to undoing the wrongs of history and building a more equal society.

“It is essential we achieve justice for those who should never have been branded criminals in the first place.”

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Alan Turing’s arrest and conviction is mirrored in the stories of a thousand men and more across these islands, each steeped in persecution, humiliation and in some cases tragedy.

“This bill represents another milestone for gay rights in this country. It restates the recognition that the gender of the person you love doesn’t matter, but more than that, it never should have mattered.”