THE First Minister has formally apologised to gay and bisexual men convicted of now abolished crimes.

Nicola Sturgeon made the apology in the Scottish Parliament chamber yesterday as she set out plans for a new law at Holyrood to pardon people convicted of historic same-sex offences which are now legal.

“The simple fact is that parliamentarians over many decades supported or at the very least accepted laws that we now recognise to have been completely unjust.

“So today I categorically and wholeheartedly as First Minister apologise for those laws and for the hurt and the harm they caused so many,” she said in a statement to MSPs.

“Nothing that this parliament does can erase those injustices, but I do hope this apology, alongside our new legislation, can provide some comfort to those who endured those injustices.

“And I hope that it provides evidence of this parliament’s determination in so far as we can to address the harm that was done.”

Her apology coincided with new legislation that will automatically pardon gay and bisexual men convicted under historical laws. The bill being dubbed Turing’s Law after the mathematician Alan Turing, who cracked the Enigma code in the Second World War, and was persecuted for his sexuality, will also allow the removal of such convictions from criminal records.

Consensual sexual acts between men aged over 21 in Scotland were only decriminalised in 1981, and it was not until 20 years later that the age of consent for gay men was lowered to 16.

Responding to the First Minister’s statement, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “Most estimates place the number of men in Scotland who will now be pardoned at 5000, both living and dead.

“To give a sense of wider scale, Stonewall estimate the number of men convicted across the UK to be anything up to 100,000 men ... We are not talking about a few unlucky individuals. We are talking about entire generations who faced the criminalisation of love.

“My hope for those men and their families is that they now feel a weight lifted – and that as well as criminal records formally wiped clean, any lingering sense of legal stigma, any last shadow of unfair disgrace is firmly banished.”

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale praised the First Minister for offering the apology “with warmth and in the spirit of love and inclusion”.

She said: “It takes a deep breath and a big heart to say sorry for mistakes of the past. An even bigger heart when those errors are not your own. So I offer the congratulations and gratitude of these benches to the Government for stepping up and saying sorry today. We are of course saying sorry to the men who have been arrested, charged and convicted of the crime of loving another man.”

She added: “This matters because it affects men who are alive today. Men whose lives were destroyed by legislation which promoted fear and hate. Laws that said the love of two men was unnatural, something other, something criminal, soothing wrong. Feeding intolerance and homophobia.

“But it also matters to the those who loved and still miss the men who are no longer with us today. Men who died with criminal records. Many who took their own lives because they could no longer bear the shame and isolation they faced.”

Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens warned while “great progress” had been made “inequality, prejudice and bigotry persists ... in our workplaces, in our schools, in our media and in our politics”.

He said: “Let us all recommit to continuing the progress and ensuring that the next generation has nothing to apologise for on our behalf.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said it was important to stand against the “serious oppression” of gay people around the world.

Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, said: “The First Minister’s apology today is an important moment, both for the LGBT community and for Scotland. Gay and bi men in Scotland were criminalised for a very long time simply for who they were and who they loved. Today’s apology will give a great deal of comfort to many who were unjustly prosecuted and will help draw a line, once and for all, under a dark period in Scotland’s history.”

The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill has widespread support among MSPs and is expected to pass through the legislative stages with relative ease.