Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:36 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset 8:36 pm, 11th March 2019

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It carries all the concomitant health risks of the backstreet abortionist and of the barber surgeons of the 18th century, but things have moved on so much since then. That is why it is extraordinary, when we pause to think about it, that this debate or this Bill is even required.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members have spoken, perfectly properly, about awareness. This debate and the Bill, the event at No. 10, the work of the all-party group on female genital mutilation—my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park leads it with such conviction—and the work of people such as Nimco Ali are so important in raising awareness. As the hon. Member for Rotherham intimated in relation to smear tests, raising awareness of such an issue will obviously involve certain personal issues—about personal health, or perhaps about embarrassment—and I think this is frightfully important. Those women who have been genitally mutilated should in no way be made to feel ashamed or reluctant to seek medical advice and help or to turn up for smear tests. Let the House say clearly, “It is not your fault.” We are focused properly on blaming the perpetrators and on arresting the practice in this country and—I say on Commonwealth Day—hopefully throughout the Commonwealth and elsewhere.

I say to those who have been mutilated, “Do not hide in shame or embarrassment. Something horrid was done to you and, as a civilised society, we are here to help.” If this debate helps to raise awareness among community leaders throughout the local government family, in sports clubs, in law enforcement and in our GPs’ surgeries, that is good. A problem, which FGM clearly is, ceases to be as much of a problem when it is talked about frankly, openly, honestly and with no sense of shame.

I have to confess to the House that, much to my wife’s amusement, I cannot watch “Casualty” because I do not like the sight of blood, which makes me feel a little wobbly. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park explained in typically gentle terms what the male equivalent of FGM would be. He rightly made the point that the linkage between or coalescence of FGM and circumcision is erroneous. When he described the male equivalent of FGM, several hon. Members, including me, put a handkerchief to their eyes and clenched their knees a little tighter. If this was a male issue, it would not have been tolerated for as long as it has been. The fact that it has affected little girls is all the more shaming and should prompt, as it is doing, greater action and attention.

I welcome the prison sentence that was handed out recently and the fact that anyone who commits FGM now faces a prison sentence of up to 14 years. It is also important that anyone found failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM will face up to seven years’ imprisonment. That takes away the protection for aunts, cousins, grannies—or grandfathers, for that matter.

It is perfectly proper that the Bill is an amendment to the Children Act 1989 because, as has been pointed out, the issue affects children.

In making my final point, I will breach the ministerial code as it relates to Parliamentary Private Secretaries—the Whips are on duty; they can sack me at their leisure—by speaking, albeit briefly, about the work of Departments, starting with the Home Office. I commend my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability for her violence against women and girls strategy. The Department for Education is doing very important work. I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development on the Treasury Bench and I commend the Department’s work. This is a collective, governmental approach to stamping out child abuse. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer, who will reply to the debate, looks at me with a squint in her eye. Indeed, I have neglected to mention the Ministry of Justice, which is putting in the sentences that will ensure that the Bill will be a deterrent.

In a small way, this small Bill takes a huge step for the rights of women and girls. It seeks to end a terrible example of child abuse and I am delighted to speak in support of it.