There has been something of a furore over the last couple of days. In an apparent u-turn from the Party’s manifesto, the Conservatives stand accused of filibustering the so-called ‘Turing Bill’.
If true, this would mean denying pardons to tens of thousands of gay men with archaic convictions on their criminal records.
Yet despite the hysterical headlines, the Government has done no such thing. This is about a separate ‘Turing Bill’ entirely.
The details are laid out very well by Kevin Maxwell in the Independent, but very briefly: the Government’s chosen vehicle for the ‘Turing Law’ is a Liberal Democrat amendment, with cross-party support, to the Policing and Crimes Bill.
On Friday the SNP used their first-ever Private Members Bill (as they made sure to point out) to try to enact a similar Bill, and claimed the Government had previously indicated it would support them.
Sam Gyimah, the minister whose brief includes sentencing, set out the Government’s objection: that because the SNP motion provided a blanket pardon to the living as well as the dead it risked people convicted of things which are still illegal today, such as non-consensual acts or acts with minors, claiming to be pardoned.
The SNP bill did have some wider support. Chris Bryant spoke at length in its defence in the debate, and Crispin Blunt urged the Government to embrace the “powerful symbolic effect” of a blanket pardon whilst distinguishing that from the actual mechanisms of pardon. But the Government were not convinced and the SNP did not corral enough MPs to force a vote.
So beneath the headlines, the point of dispute is relatively narrow: the Government wants convictions for the living to be quashed only after scrutiny under the disregard process to prevent “an extraordinary and unnecessary amount of distress to victims” of acts which are still illegal; whilst critics think this places too high a barrier on pardons.
Whichever of these views one takes, the disputed ground is relatively narrow. But there’s also a level of basic political game playing going on.
The Nationalists maintain that they were promised Conservative support for this Bill, and are spinning the result to portray the Tories as homophobic. They are also complaining that Gyimah talked the bill out.
The Conservatives, for their part, point out how strange it is that, if this matter were so urgent the SNP needed a duplicate Bill, nothing of its like has been seen in the Scottish Parliament, and seem to see it as a fairly transparent attempt to, as Maxwell’s headline has it, claim the credit for something the Government already has in hand.