Nigel today rose to speak in favour of John Nicolson’s Private Member’s Bill proposing to pardon gay men historically convicted of sex offences that would no longer be considered crimes today. The Bill follows on from the Government’s historic apology for the treatment of codebreaker Alan Turing, and his subsequent pardon. In the Chamber, Nigel said:
It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). I lived in Ilford as a young man, until I was drummed out of town when the locals discovered that I was a closet Tory. It is a great pleasure follow him and to have this opportunity to speak in the debate on this Bill, which is not only of great importance for justice in this country but of great emotional importance to my constituents and others who are either gay themselves or who have friends, family and colleagues who are gay and feel that they have been judged by a different standard over the years.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) is my colleague on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and I am incredibly grateful to him for using his coveted allocation of time to bring forward these proposals in a private Member’s Bill and for sharing his ideas with me over several bottles of rosé a few weeks ago. He has done valuable work to make this a truly cross-party initiative. I thank him for including me in this and I am proud to be on my feet today in support of what he wants to achieve through the Bill. We have heard some impressive contributions, and I particularly want to mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and the hon. Members for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who made a moving speech.
Equality before the law must be not only our fundamental principle, but our fundamental practice. That means that not only must justice be done, but justice must be seen to be done. The Government’s previous disregard scheme was a step in the right direction towards justice in that it helped to ameliorate the repercussions of a criminal record for those convicted under what we now rightly consider outdated, unfair, discriminatory laws that treated sex between men differently. To truly rectify the injustice we must go further and, as the Bill proposes, grant pardons and admit that the convictions were immoral, which does not really happen under a disregard scheme. Justice will then be seen to be done and, importantly, the wrongfully criminalised and their families will feel that it has been done.
The Government’s official apology for the shameful treatment of Alan Turing was an important moment. I am pleased that the deep gratitude we now correctly feel toward Turing’s crucial contributions to Britain’s defence provided enough of a focal point that his famous cause could trigger that apology. No matter how famous or anonymous, however, no one citizen has a greater value nor a greater right to justice. That pardon was just for Alan Turing, but there is no tenable case for every other individual affected not having the same right. Like Turing, each individual is someone’s family, someone’s friend, and they deserve acknowledgement of their fundamental equality before the law.
I welcomed the comments of the Minister when he said yesterday that the Government will adopt some of the proposals in this Bill and use the Policing and Crime Bill to put right some of the injustices. However, I found the Government’s last-minute scrambling or dancing around handbags—not something I have done myself—a little slippery and disrespectful to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire and his Bill, but I look forward to the Minister’s further remarks.
Other colleagues and the Bill’s promoter have made eloquent moral and legal cases, so I will conclude my contribution on the subject there, but I want to finish by taking the opportunity to issue a mea culpa. During my first term in office, I voted against marriage equality for a whole host of reasons. I thought at the time that what I was doing was right, but having reflected and having seen how the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 has made such a positive difference for thousands of couples around the country, I deeply regret that decision—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—and many in this House will know how difficult it is for a Yorkshireman to admit that he got something wrong. If I had the opportunity again, I would vote differently and I want to apologise. I apologise to friends, family members and constituents who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. I want them to know that I believe in their full equality. I am unable to change that previous vote, but I am pleased to have the chance today to stand in support of equality before the law, and I am more than happy to support my friend’s Bill.
You can watch Nigel’s full speech here.