I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Members will know that this is a private Member’s Bill, so I will start by putting on the record my thanks to the Government and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer, for giving it Government time and for their broader efforts to help tackle the scourge of FGM and to protect those at risk of it. The Bill has passed through the other place and received cross-party support in its Second Reading Committee a fortnight ago and again last week in Committee, and I put on the record again my thanks to Gloria De Piero for her words in Committee and for the cross-party manner in which the issue was tackled.
The Bill was initiated by Cross-Bench peer Lord Berkeley, who became aware of an omission in existing child protection law whereby family courts do not have the power to compel the involvement of a local authority in an interim care order relating to FGM. He decided to act and piloted this simple, two-clause Bill through the other place with passion, clarity and decency, and I am grateful to him. It has been my pleasure to work with the Government to attempt to get the Bill through this place, notwithstanding one or two hurdles earlier on.
I also want to place on the record my thanks to the FGM survivor and extraordinarily effective campaigner, Nimco Ali, who will be known to many Members. She is probably this country’s best-known FGM campaigner, and using every opportunity at her disposal to push the issue right to the top of the political agenda. It was wonderful just three days ago to see on Twitter a picture of her standing in No. 10 next to the Prime Minister. Nimco has taken the issue literally to the heart of Government.
Nimco Ali’s work has extended well beyond what she has achieved in this country. She famously persuaded all three contenders in the 2017 Somaliland presidential election to commit to legislating against FGM, and I do not think that many people thought that she had the slightest chance of succeeding. The election was won by President Muse and, good to his word, he introduced the legislation as soon as he took office. Incidentally, the vote itself was a model election, the first in the world in which iris-recognition technology was used to avoid electoral fraud. In one of the most troubled parts of the planet, we had the extraordinary scene of the contenders shaking hands and accepting the result without any fuss whatsoever—something that we could perhaps learn as we discuss ongoing Brexit problems.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Nimco is effectively my Whip. Most of what I do in this place in relation to FGM is down to her wagging finger telling me exactly what and what not to do. At a recent event with her, someone described me as “Nimco’s intern”, but it is a great honour to be her intern. She is an extraordinary campaigner, and if I can help her in any way, it is an honour to do so.
Members will be familiar with the horrors of FGM, but I think they bear repeating to remind us why this issue matters so much and why it should matter to everyone here. According to the World Health Organisation, female genital mutilation includes
“all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
FGM is almost always carried out on very young children, rarely by medical professionals and rarely with pain relief.
My hon. Friend says “very young children” and the information I have read—I do not know whether this is the case—says that FGM is, in some cases, carried out very soon after birth. Has he heard that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that the average age is five, which implies that girls are subjected to FGM at a very, very young age. FGM is a practice that has absolutely no basis in medicine.
FGM is completely shocking, and it is not something I knew anything about until it was raised up the political spectrum a couple of years ago. The House recently talked about sex and relationships education. Will FGM be a central part of that so that people in this country are educated about what is actually happening?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Had we been having this debate two weeks ago, I would have said that I hope so. There have been subsequent announcements—I think we had an announcement from the Department for Education on the day the Bill was in Committee—that that is exactly what will happen, with education being introduced at the appropriate level so that children, both boys and girls, know that FGM is a practice we should not tolerate.
I could not agree more vehemently with my hon. Friend. FGM is not just a kind of child abuse; it is child abuse by any definition or metric.
I said earlier that FGM has no basis in medicine and, despite what we are often told, nor does it have any basis in any religion. The practice is often wrongly blamed on Islam—this can particularly be seen on social media—both by extremists who want to justify or, in some cases, even advocate FGM and by others who wish to use FGM as a stick with which to bash the religion itself. In fact, the practice predates Islam, and the Koran neither advocates nor justifies it in any way at all.
The consequences of FGM can be extreme. It can lead to severe pain, excessive bleeding, infection, menstrual problems, pain during sex and childbirth, and deep, long-lasting psychological trauma. In fact, the effects of FGM can, and often do, last for the duration of a person’s life. It is estimated that, around the world, at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM. In England and Wales, shockingly, the figure is around 137,000, although not all of them were subjected to FGM in either England or Wales.
I apologise to those of a sensitive nature, but during a recent urgent question on this issue, after the Bill was blocked by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, a number of colleagues raised concerns about male circumcision as if there were some kind of comparison between the two. Whatever our views on male circumcision, it must be obvious that it does not compare to FGM. The male equivalent of FGM would not be circumcision; it would be the removal of the entire head of the penis and much of the shaft, too.
We often hear this argument comparing the two, but male circumcision, in my experience, is rarely, if ever, done to subjugate the boy, whereas FGM is very clearly done to end women’s sexual pleasure.
The hon. Lady is exactly right, and I thank her for her intervention. It is also worth saying that, were a culture to experiment with such an extreme form of male circumcision on a comparable level to what young girls are experiencing around the world, I suspect it would not last more than a single generation, and it certainly would not require legislation and a campaign of the sort that Nimco Ali and her colleagues have waged.
I could not agree more strongly. In fact, partly on the instruction of Nimco Ali, I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on female genital mutilation. Early on, the APPG took evidence from a wide group of people, all of whom had been through different degrees of FGM themselves, and it was clear talking to them that their lives have, in many respects, been defined by what they went through. They were all committed to campaigning to stamp out this practice, and none of them would have any truck with the argument that this is a cultural practice and that it would be insensitive for the British Parliament to try to legislate against it or for the Department for International Development to commit funds to try to prevent the practice.
I thank my hon. Friend for the huge amount of leadership he has shown on addressing this hideous crime. This is a busy night in British politics, but does he agree that the fact so many of us are present this evening is a real sign that this House says every single action must be taken to rule out this crime in our country?
I could not agree more, and I am grateful to colleagues for being here to take part in this debate. I do not want to jinx it, but I hope this simple Bill will go through without a Division, which makes the presence of so many Members even more valued.
The anti-FGM legislation in the UK is not insubstantial—we have actually done a fair bit. FGM has been illegal here since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, which was replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 that made it illegal to assist someone performing FGM or to commit FGM abroad. The Serious Crime Act 2015 amended the 2003 Act to introduce mandatory reporting of FGM and to create the FGM protection orders that courts can issue to protect girls who have been or may become victims of FGM, which could include, for example, forcing the surrender of a passport to prevent travel abroad.
In addition to those laws, we can collectively be proud that we have taken a lead globally. The UK was the first country in the world to create a dedicated anti-FGM aid programme, with an initial tranche of £35 million pledged in 2013. Only a few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development committed a further £50 million, which has yet to be allocated, for the one purpose of helping countries around the world, but mostly in Africa.
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the international nature of FGM, but does he agree that the Government have committed some £100 million-worth of funding to the ending violence against women and girls strategy in this country, too? We must ramp up these efforts.
On the issue of young girls being taken abroad to go through the horrific experience of FGM, did my hon. Friend see the article by the campaigner Leyla Hussein in The Sunday Times over the weekend in which she described what happened to her aged seven? Does my hon. Friend think this extraordinary, powerful article is something that should be shared widely among other parliamentarians?
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that to the House’s attention. I know Leyla relatively well. In fact, she was one of the first people to give evidence to the all-party group, and we have had meetings subsequently. I have not read the article, but I can imagine how powerful it must be given the experience she has been through and given her advocacy on this issue. She is an extraordinarily powerful campaigner.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he and this Government have done, but does he agree that the Home Office still has work to do on having a joined-up approach? I raised the case of my constituent Lola Ilesanmi on the Floor of the House, as her daughter was under threat of FGM. My constituent’s violent ex-partner was trying to coerce her into going back to Nigeria to have her daughter cut, and the UK Government were unwilling to give her leave to remain. She has had her stay extended, but she still does not have indefinite leave to remain and there is still a threat to her daughter. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that more joined-up working is still required?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and I agree with it, as this is a cross-cutting issue. A colleague suggested earlier that this should form part of personal, social, health and economic education in this country, which it now will, but it is a Home Office issue and a health issue, too. It covers a lot of different Departments. If there is anything at all that I or the all-party group and my colleagues on it can do to help in the case the hon. Lady has just raised, we are at her service and will do what we can.
Despite the laws we have in place and the injection of funds to campaigning on this issue around the world, clearly there are gaps in the law and the problem has not gone away. In 2016-17, the NHS reported 9,179 cases of FGM, of which 5,391 were newly recorded cases. As hon. Members will know, there has been only one successful prosecution for FGM, after numerous failed attempts; this came to an end last week with a 37-year-old woman being sentenced to 11 years.
We have looked at that in the all-party group. The French engage in a much more interventionist approach, with, for example, inspections of young girls. Most of the people who have given evidence to our group feel that it would not fit this country; they feel it would be stepping over a line. However, another area where the French have been more robust than we have in this country has been in trying to identify people at risk. Certain people are at risk and others are not. Where someone has not been subjected to FGM and their parents were not either, the likelihood of their going on to subject their own child to it is very small, although it is not zero. In other families where it passes from generation to generation, a newborn girl clearly is at risk. The French are much more robust than we have been in this country on that.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to his work on this, as well as that of our mutual friend Nimco Ali, who has championed this from the start. Does he agree that FGM has little to do with religious or racial sensitivities, and is straight-up child abuse and should be called out as such? Does he welcome the first successful prosecution of someone for FGM in this country only two weeks ago, the length of the sentence and the deterrent it can be in some of our communities, where some people will feel that there is no point reporting this because it will not be prosecuted? Does he agree that the length of the sentence sends a message and is encouraging in this fight against FGM?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend on that. Indeed, I am going to take this opportunity to quote from what was said in response to the conviction by the National Police Chiefs Council lead on FGM, Commander Ivan Balhatchet:
“Female genital mutilation is a barbaric and violent crime—a violation of human rights—often with lifelong consequences, committed by the people children should be able to trust the most.”
“Today’s sentencing will act as a deterrent and a warning that our society will not accept this child abuse, but prosecutions alone will not solve this problem.”
Does my hon. Friend’s work on the all-party group and with campaigners reveal a reluctance on this among groups of people to whom children are presented, for whatever reason? We are all familiar in our constituencies with what happens when a child is discovered to have bruising or possible signs of maltreatment. Following cases such as that of Victoria Climbié, there is almost a lurch in the other direction to immediately assume that there is a child abuse problem, but perhaps that has not happened enough in respect of FGM. Is he confident that legislation such as this is going to make it increasingly easy for those cases to be presented as child abuse?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I cannot give him a scientific answer, but I can tell him that the evidence the all-party group received from those people who have been through FGM absolutely concurs with what he has just said: there are parts of the establishment and social services, and people within the education system, who are very nervous indeed about pointing the finger on FGM. There is a concern about trampling on cultural sensitivities. The view of the people we talked to, like my view and, I suspect, that of many in the House today, is that those sensitivities should be pushed to one side. This is a very direct form of child abuse; child abuse is child abuse, and it is our responsibility as adults and the authorities to stamp it out at every opportunity. That message has been unambiguous, in all the evidence we have taken from those people who have been through FGM.
I wonder how we can convince people who think this barbaric practice is decent, such as the families involved, that it is not. How do we get to those families? Does the all-party group have any answer as to how we stop mothers and fathers taking their children and allowing this sort of thing to happen?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I know, because the evidence shows, that a shift is happening. I mentioned Nimco Ali’s campaign in Somaliland. It is not one where she is having to bash her head against a brick wall. Every member of the newly elected Somaliland Government is on board in a mission to eradicate FGM. In Hargeisa, the capital, huge posters have been put up and paid for by government, although they were designed by the campaign groups at the grassroots, telling people that FGM is not only illegal but unethical and immoral, and without any basis whatsoever in religion—this could not be clearer. I realise I did not answer an earlier intervention on that point.
Nimco is not the only person who has that kind of electrifying impact in individual countries. Another such person is Jaha Dukureh, who was originally from the Gambia, moved to New York and then went back to the Gambia. Like Nimco, she persuaded the Government not only to legislate against FGM, but to put resources into those people at the grassroots who are campaigning to change hearts and minds. By all accounts, she is succeeding on an extraordinary scale. I am going to come to this a little later when I wrap up, but there is such an important role for the Department for International Development to play. We can be proud of what we have done, but we have to make sure the next raft of money, the £50 million that has been pledged, is invested in the right groups and the right campaigns.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the Gambia. A friend of mine was, unfortunately, forced to move back there, having done a lot of work in Scotland on FGM and having helped to co-ordinate the FGM strategy in Scotland. She has now set up an NGO called Women in Liberation and Leadership, and she is supporting a young woman called Binta—that is not her real name, because we are trying to protect her—who was subjected to FGM, was raped by an older man, and has been subjected to terrible persecution by her own family and been cast out by them. We are now raising funds to try to get her into a safe house. Does the hon. Gentleman think that she is the kind of person we could do more to support and more to reach out to?
I absolutely do, and I strongly encourage the hon. Lady to link her friend up with Jaha, who is now a high-profile and significant figure in the Gambia. She is one of the world’s most important FGM campaigners. Indeed, she was nominated for the Nobel prize last year. Again, I would be happy to talk about that after this sitting, to see whether I can do something to link the hon. Lady’s friend up with the right people.
Clearly, there is more to be done, both here and abroad, but this Bill is part of that. I am not going to pretend that it will stop FGM—it will not—but it does provide another potentially crucial legal tool in the fight against it. I want to explain briefly what the Bill does and why it matters. First, let me point out that it has just two clauses, the second of which provides only for the Bill’s extent, commencement and short title. I therefore wish to focus on the first clause, which is the only substantive one.
At present, the Children Act 1989 allows courts to make an interim care order—an instruction to a local authority to share parental responsibility for a child. Such an order can last up to eight weeks and it can be renewed, but that can be done only if there is a belief that the child in question is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. The local authority would then be part of any decisions relating to where the child should live or how their welfare should be maintained. I do not think anyone would argue that a girl who has undergone or is likely to undergo FGM is not suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, but the 1989 Act does not currently allow interim care orders to be issued for FGM. A court may only direct an interim care order to be made in “family proceedings”. Section 8 of that Act defines what is meant by “family proceedings” for the purposes of the Act. It contains various statutes relating to domestic violence, forced marriage and so on, but it does not include proceedings under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. The effect of that is that it is not open to a judge to issue an interim care order for FGM. Clearly, that is an omission in law—I do not think this is deliberate—but it means that our courts do not have the full suite of powers that they need to protect girls who are at risk.
As Lord Berkeley pointed out when he introduced the Bill in the other place, that means that although a family court can protect a girl who is at risk of forced marriage or domestic abuse, it cannot protect a girl who is at risk of FGM. That needs to change. David Maddison, the family lawyer who raised this issue with Lord Berkeley, has pointed out that this is not an academic or abstract concern; it is a practical one. There have been occasions when the police have sought an FGM protection order in the family court and the judge has wanted to employ the powers of the local authority in an order but has not been able to. The Bill will grant the power that has been missing.
All the Bill does is to insert the proceedings for FGM protection orders from the 2003 Act in the section of the 1989 Act that defines which family proceedings constitute grounds for an interim care order to be made. To be clear, it inserts that part of the 2003 Act that relates to FGM protection orders in section 8 of the 1989 Act. That makes FGM a family proceeding for the purpose of issuing care orders under the 1989 Act. I hope the House agrees that this is a simple and uncontentious change. If the Bill passes, it is unlikely to lead to the issuing of a huge number of new care orders—they are rarely used—but it is important that judges have all the power we can give them to protect girls who are at risk. Currently, that is simply not the case.
I have no doubt that when some Members speak they will argue that the Bill is not enough to stop FGM entirely. I am not going to argue with that. Those Members are right that we need better support, particularly mental health support, for survivors. We need better education so that girls and boys grow up knowing that FGM is wrong. We need to get better at identifying at-risk girls, as in France where they do it better than we do.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is making such a powerful speech. He mentioned the important role of education, and it is of course about education not only in the UK but internationally. On this Commonwealth Day, will he pay tribute to the work of the Commonwealth and the Department for International Development in ensuring that education is really having an impact worldwide?
That is the very next point I was going to make, so I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I have said it twice already but I shall say it a third time: I am proud of the work that the Department for International Development does. It is a Department that is often hammered by our newspapers, but it does really important work. The £35 million that it has already spent has changed lives and saved lives, and if the £50 million that has been committed is spent properly—I am sure it will be—it will go on to save lives as well.
I mentioned Nimco’s work; I do not want to embarrass her, but I know that the amount of money that it took to get her to Somaliland to do the work that she did was so small as to barely qualify as a DFID grant. I know that the work of Jaha, whom I mentioned earlier, in the Gambia has cost so little that it would only just register or qualify as a DFID grant. There are so many people like that out there who could do with the kind of support that DFID can provide.
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister provided lots of reassurances when she spoke in Committee about what the Government are doing and how committed they are to tackling FGM. I do not know whether protocol means she will have the opportunity to repeat those reassurances later—
I see her nodding her head, so she will. I look forward to that.
If this tiny, uncontentious Bill protects just a handful of girls from undergoing the horror of FGM, we will have done something worth while and important in passing it into law. I close my speech simply by thanking all Members present for their support, which I hope the Bill will get at the end of the day. I particularly thank the Clerks, the Whips Office and the Ministry of Justice Bill team, who have been so helpful in getting us to this point. Finally, I thank Lord Berkeley again for winning the arguments next door and handing us a Bill in such good order.
It is a pleasure to follow Zac Goldsmith. The Bill passed through Committee with a large degree of consensus. Although I pressed the Minister on some issues, as I will today, it was pleasing that when something of this magnitude comes before us we could seek consensus to bring about change.
Once again, we have an opportunity to discuss the Bill and what more we can do in the House to tackle female genital mutilation, because it is an abhorrent act, an abuse of children of all ages, and one we must endeavour to eradicate. The impact on women and girls is devastating and can still be felt long into later life. In the short term, there are risks of severe pain, infections and excessive bleeding. In the years following, there can be complications relating to childbirth, sexual intercourse, and menstrual and vaginal problems. I repeat the words of the World Health Organisation in saying that there is “no benefit, only harm”. Despite that, instances of FGM in the UK are occurring, which is where the Bill fits in, so I shall again outline Labour’s position on it.
To give further power to judges to intervene directly in instances of FGM with temporary care orders through a technical amendment to the Children Act 1989 is a reasonable and sensible action. Female genital mutilation protection orders are currently the best tool to tackle FGM, but allowing local authorities to provide interim care and ensure the safety of those at risk is a welcome extra step. The ability for local authorities to act in this way is currently present for cases in which a child is at risk of abuse, molestation, forced marriage or other abuses, so it seems only right and proper that it should also be present if girls are at risk of FGM.
As it stands, it is difficult to know the full extent of FGM in the UK and just how many people are affected. NHS Digital has produced experimental statistics, but many recorded cases are not necessarily newly committed instances of FGM. Estimates are significantly higher than the figures produced, and we know that, given the obstacles associated with reporting and recording FGM—for example, the act is likely to be committed by a family member—scores of cases go unreported. I therefore press the Minister to outline what the Government are doing to provide more accurate data and recording of FGM occurring in the UK, to help us fully to understand the extent of the problem.
Just as the scale of FGM in the UK is likely to be larger than it seems initially, so the Government must do more to tackle it. Last month, we saw the first prosecution for FGM in the UK. With estimates of those affected in the tens of thousands, it seems staggering that that is the sole example of a prosecution for carrying out the act. The Minister has spoken in the past about strengthening the laws on FGM in a number of ways, to increase protection for girls at risk, but clearly such measures fall short when compared with the numbers actually prosecuted. Just as they identify who is at risk, will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to identify the perpetrators of this barbaric practice and to bring them to justice?
I welcome the Minister’s previous comments on the cross-departmental approach that the Government are taking to tackling FGM. Such an approach is necessary and appropriate for a problem that must be tackled not only through prosecutions, but through education and by tackling the culture and assumptions that lead to FGM, as Members have said. Will the Minister tell us more about what the Government are doing to increase education and awareness of FGM, and about the ways in which schools and local groups in at-risk communities are being involved?
Does the Minister recognise that it is cuts to other Departments, much like those to the Ministry of Justice, that have ruined the vital provisions on which many vulnerable women at risk of FGM depend? Our NHS is strained at every level, after years of underfunding; schools are under-resourced and understaffed; local authority budgets have been slashed to the bone; and there is a catastrophic shortfall in the provision of children and women’s services. These frontline services are best placed to identify, intervene and prevent FGM, but they have been decimated by the Government’s near decade of austerity. What assessment, if any, have the Government made of the impact of the austerity agenda on the tackling of FGM? What extra provision are the Government affording the services tasked with addressing it?
Ultimately, this is a welcome Bill. Despite the efforts of a certain Member on the Government Benches, we are pleased to see it brought before the House again. It provides an extra tool for local authorities and judges to fight FGM and prevent its occurrence. As my colleague Baroness Massey said in the other place, at the very least it
“adds to the armoury of those who hear these cases, and that can only be to the good.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Alone, though, it will not be enough to protect the many girls throughout the UK who are at risk of this barbaric abuse. It must be met with greater action by the Government, and I hope the Minister commits to just that this evening.
I am proud to take part in this debate today. I would like to commend not only Lord Berkeley in the other place and my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith for the work that they are doing, but the Government for realising that legislation in this place can be improved and that FGM has absolutely no place in society. We have a great deal of legislation in place at the moment to try to prevent FGM, but it is not working as well as it should. I am proud to take part in a debate where that is acknowledged. I am proud, too, that we are supporting those who, clearly, have done a huge amount of work to identify ways in which we can improve the legislation on our statute books. Making existing legislation more effective by enabling care orders to be issued in connection with girls who are at risk of FGM will help to save some girls. It will also help to outlaw this abhorrent practice in some communities. As hon. Members said earlier in this debate, the number of Members who are here this evening shows the strength of feeling on this issue across the House.
The Bill in front of us today comes at a timely point, following as it does the first conviction in the UK for female genital mutilation. I applaud the Government for being so gracious with their support for this Bill. I am sure the Minister will come on to talk about that later. FGM has been illegal in the UK since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, which was then replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, and extended by the Serious Crime Act 2015. Successive Governments of all colours have wanted to try to act on this issue, but today’s Bill shows that we have not gone far enough and that we do need to go further, and I hope that it enjoys wholehearted support across the House.
If we are to have really effective legislation, then as legislators we should acknowledge that law alone is not enough and that there is a much broader context: how society views these issues; how our schools deal with things such as relationships and sex education; and how the Government put this issue into a much broader strategy of violence against women and girls. We should be encouraged by the current situation where, as has been said, we have not only relationships and sex education, but, for the first time in more than a decade and a half, guidance on how an issue such as female genital mutilation should be dealt with in our schools. The small point I would make is that it is not enough to have guidance and to make it mandatory that schools deal with the issue; we have to make sure that it is being implemented in practice on the ground.
These are not easy issues for schools to deal with, and sometimes they can get the wrong message from this place—for example, that schools can allow parents to withdraw their children from such lessons. That is a “get out of jail free” card in communities where these issues are difficult, and we cannot send that message out from this debate today. We must not only encourage schools to engage with parents on the issue of FGM, but ensure that they are doing so. It is important that schools ensure that parents do not withdraw their children from relationships and sex education. We need to do all we can to ensure that schools see their responsibility in this area. It is, of course, right that we not only give parents the respect that they deserve in terms of their views on relationships and sex education, but respect the rights of children to get the education that they need to live in a modern society, and that must include understanding the appalling impact that FGM can have on women’s lives.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on opening this Third Reading debate. I have just come from a meeting in the Boothroyd Room of Sierra Leonean women who are discussing their attempts to eradicate FGM in Sierra Leone. The First Lady has recently sent rather mixed messages about FGM and has relied on cultural practice as a part justification. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to send out a very clear message that religious and cultural sensitivities cannot and must not be used as a shield to hide behind when practices such as this are being discussed either in school or in this place?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. We should not allow anybody to hide behind religious or cultural practices when it comes to relationships and sex education. Every child in this country deserves to understand how these issues affect them, and the Government are absolutely right to have made it mandatory for children to attend relationships and sex education. It is particularly important that relationships education has been made mandatory among primary school aged children; it is only by teaching children what a good relationship looks like that we can hope to be able to give them the wherewithal to tackle the online world in which they live. That is a very important enabler that the Government need to ensure is in place. It is not enough for them simply to pass this Bill today, to put it on to the legislative books. They need to ensure that parents are engaging with it and that teachers are confident about the issues so that they can talk to parents.
It is also incredibly reassuring that the Government are looking at this issue as part of their wider cohesive strategy on violence against women and girls that crosses Government Departments. On the Women and Equalities Committee, we do not always encounter cross-departmental strategies on issues to do with discrimination. We have been extremely impressed with the commitment of the Government to have not only a strategy in this area, but a refresh of the strategy on a regular basis, which I was pleased to see will also happen when it comes to sex and relationships education as well. If we are to make this particular piece of legislation work as it should, it needs to be seen alongside the other issues that are covered in the violence against women and girls strategy—issues such as the link between pornography and violence against women, online abuse, and the impact of alcohol on violence against women. The Government are right to have this sort of comprehensive strategy in place. Again, I think they will find extremely strong support from all parts of the House for their very collaborative and cohesive approach.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, not least because the purpose of my rising was to commend her on the excellent work that she has done. This piece of legislation is part of a jigsaw that plays into how the Government have served to deal with violence against women and the equalities agenda more generally in society. These are very valuable pieces of work that she and her Committee have done, and I just wanted to commend her for that work.
I thank my hon. Friend for doing that. He is right to say that it is a jigsaw of issues that must fit together. I see Members sitting on the Front Bench from three different Departments, working seamlessly together on these issues. This Government have a lot to be commended for, especially with regard to the cross-departmental working on these issues, to the way in which they have characterised these sorts of acts against women as cowardly acts, and to making sure that the right support is in place for victims and for bringing perpetrators to justice.
In any of those issues—I am sure that those Ministers sitting on the Front Bench will be very aware of this—there is a need to have support in place, as the pressure that additional legislation brings, particularly on our colleagues in local government, cannot be ignored. I am particularly grateful to the Government for making sure that additional resources will be available to local authorities to deal with any extra pressures that this amendment to legislation imposes. When it comes to issues to do with children, where pressures are already acute, we cannot expect local authorities to be effective unless they have the resources to put the necessary support in place.
I completely agree with the right hon. Lady on the need for additional resources for local authorities. Does she share my concern that the National FGM Centre—a collaboration between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association—is having its Government funding stopped in 2020, especially given that it is the main resource that local authorities are using at the moment?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about specialist provision and resources. I hope that the Ministers on the Front Bench will take that point away and consider how we can ensure that very specialist resources are available to local authorities, because it will be difficult for them to have that sort of expertise in-house. The hon. Lady makes an extremely valuable point, as somebody who has campaigned vigorously and with incredible compassion on these issues.
I want to underline the important role of the Department for International Development, which other Members have referred to in interventions. We should be proud that our country is the first country to have a dedicated anti-FGM programme, working across the globe. It is important for the House to underline that the Department has supported 8,000 communities to abandon, or campaign to abandon, FGM.
The Government have supported the Girl Generation programme—the largest ever global work on the issue, with over 900 organisations working to end FGM. The work that is happening outside the UK is not only important for women in those countries, although that would be justification enough to do the work; it is also invaluable in underlining the human rights of those women in their own countries. Last but by no means least, this work helps to change attitudes that can still influence communities in the UK. The importance of DFID’s work has to be acknowledged. Those who may be naysayers about our contribution to this global world should reflect a little on their views when they consider how this work can so enormously change the lives of millions of women across the world.
This is not a debate in which we will be thinking about internal processes too much, but it would not be right not to point out at least that the reason that we are here today is because of our private Members’ Bills system, whereby an individual Member—quite unrepresentative of the majority feeling of the House—can block a Bill. This is not just a Bill that will do something very small and day to day; it is so important to women’s lives. The whole House has to acknowledge that the need for reform of our private Members’ Bills system is long overdue, and we need to find a way of giving priority to that reform of this place. If we do not, we continue to run the risk of this House being brought into disrepute by individual Members exercising what might be a very principled point of view on the procedure of the place—although I am not sure that this particular objection was as principled as that. We need to acknowledge that this place can look prehistoric from the outside. If we are going to regain the trust of people in Parliament, this sort of reform has to be given priority at some point in the parliamentary calendar.
I could not agree more strongly with my right hon. Friend on the need to reform the process. Does she agree that this kind of small, technical amendment—which is effectively what this Bill is—is exactly where the PMB comes into its own, because there is no natural legislative hook on which the Government can hang it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we are going to have a Parliament that works correctly, not just in a post-Brexit world—which is probably more of a challenge than we are thinking about at the moment—but in a modern, transparent and media-literate world, we have to look carefully at the way in which our systems work to enable Members to make such small but important changes in a timely manner, without the need to go through the parliamentary procedures that this Bill has had to go through simply because of the views of one individual.
I very much wish this Bill well. It is a great example of making good legislation even more effective. It will amend the Children Act 1989 to make female genital mutilation protection orders available, and to ensure that we can protect more children who find themselves in a situation where the adults around them may not have their best interests at heart, and who may be at risk of this appalling practice. This Bill should receive support from every single Member in the House.
It is a great honour and privilege to be present in this debate because I really think that this House works best when we come together to protect the most vulnerable. I hugely congratulate Zac Goldsmith, who has done so much to secure the safe passage of the Bill. I add my support to the recommendations made by my hon. Friend Gloria De Piero on how we can better protect all children from female genital mutilation.
As has been mentioned, FGM is not a cultural practice and we should not be seeing it as such; this is child abuse and it must be dealt with harshly, as child abuse. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but the lack of prosecutions has enabled people to come up with the myth that it is a cultural practice, rather than a crime against a child. I am very pleased that last week the strong sentence of 11 years was given to someone who facilitated FGM. That is the sort of message that needs to go out—that we will act, prosecute and jail people for this crime against children.
FGM is a big issue in this country. NHS Digital statistics from April 2017 to March 2018 show that there were 4,495 newly recorded cases of women and girls where FGM had been identified, that 6,195 individual women and girls had an attendance where FGM was identified or a procedure relating to FGM was undertaken and that there were 9,490 attendances reported to NHS trusts and GP practices where FGM or a procedure relating to FGM was identified. These figures, though, will be a massive underestimate of the actual problem of FGM in this country because of the hidden nature of the practice. Research has shown that there is no local authority in England and Wales where there is not a woman living with FGM. It is estimated that 103,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49, and 10,000 girls between the ages of four and 14, have undergone FGM, and there are a further 60,000 girls at risk of FGM in the UK.
I would like to bust the myth that this is just about UK girls being taken abroad for this practice. It is not—it is happening in this country as well. In recent years, there has been a phenomenon of cutting parties where people have figured out that it is cheaper to bring the cutter into this country and invite girls round—well, invite their parents round—for them to be cut. This is a UK problem.
That is not to say that girls are not taken abroad. Yes, this happens to young girls, but the most horrific case that I heard of was of a woman from London, born and brought up here. When she was 15, her parents asked if she would like to go back to the country that they grew up in to see what it was like. Of course, she welcomed this opportunity, and, at 15, went back. Literally as she came off the plane, she was introduced to the lady who was going to take her back to the village. At 15, this Londoner was taken back to the village, pinned down and cut. How does someone get over something like that? To be honest, she has not got over it.
Since 2015, health professionals, teachers and social workers have had a mandatory duty to report known cases of FGM to the police, but that is when it happened to people under the age of 18. I would like there to be consideration of support for women over the age of 18 once the crime has been committed. I had a meeting with a dozen women. Between them, they had about 20 children, so they had been to at least 20 GPs, 20 midwives, 20 nurses, 20 consultants—20 health professionals. Almost all the women had been advised to have caesareans because they had been stitched so closely that the damage it would have caused to even try to give birth naturally meant that it was not going to happen. The health professionals recognised that, because of their FGM, they could not give birth naturally. Not one of those women had that raised with them, ever, by any of those health professionals. No one offered them support or the chance for a prosecution—and that is just a group of 12 women that I met.
We talk about what is happening in France. I have only recently discovered that in the French health system, someone who has been subjected to this crime gets reconstructive surgery as an adult. A friend of mine, Marie-Claire, said that after having her reconstructive surgery, she felt like a proper woman—a sexual woman. She felt able to have sexual relations with her partner for the first time. That literal rebuilding of someone’s self-esteem as well as their body is something we need to be doing in this country. If someone was in a car crash and needed facial rebuilding, we would see that as something that the NHS would do, so why do women not automatically get that right for this crime?
This is also about justice. We need these women to know that they can get justice. As I said, it is great that the prosecution has happened, but there are many historical cases where justice has not even been mentioned to these women because what they have been through has not been recognised.
Having undergone FGM is a real barrier for women in coming forward for things like cervical screening. Many women do not want to go to a GP to report gynaecological issues because they are concerned that it will be raised and there may be prosecutions against family members. We need to get the reality of what is going on out there so that people can access the proper health support they need. If a woman is repeatedly missing her smear, rather than just writing her off and seeing her as someone who is not engaging, we need to be asking questions: “Are there reasons why you don’t want to come for your smear, and is there a way we can help and support you to overcome that?”
The hon. Lady might be aware of the project My Body Back, set up by an incredible woman called Pav. It has a clinic in London and one in Glasgow, providing services for women who have suffered sexual violence or, indeed, FGM. I would commend those services to any woman who needs that specialist care.
I have heard of it but not visited. However, that is two centres for an estimated 160,000 women and girls. We need to have more and it needs to be statutory.
When we talk about prosecutions and mandatory reporting, the crime has already been committed and the damage, both physical and psychological, has already been done. We need to be doing much more about prevention. I would like to speak in support of the National FGM Centre, which is a collaboration between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association. It receives funding from the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care. None of those Departments is continuing its funding beyond 2020 because it is deemed that the centre ought to be generating its own income. I understand that. However, its main support services go via local authorities, which are already suffering under huge cuts and do not have additional resources to start buying in specialist support for FGM.
The National FGM Centre does great work. It embeds FGM specialist social workers within multidisciplinary safeguarding teams. It works from the bottom up, empowering communities to tackle this crime themselves and to get the word out that it is a crime and it should not be happening. The centre also does amazing training for professionals and provides a knowledge hub so that all local authorities can share the information. With the best will in the world, if the funding stops, the prevention work will stop with it.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. We agreed earlier that it is important for local authorities to have the funding, but I am not sure whether I agree that we should not encourage local authorities to take on this responsibility, because surely getting them to prioritise funding of facilities such as the one she mentioned is a great way to try to raise their awareness of this issue.
Order. We have 13 Members waiting to speak, and the Minister needs to wind up the debate. I do not want someone to miss out on the opportunity to make a speech. Can we all look after each other in this important debate?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention, but I disagree. We need a centre of expertise. When resources are tight, we need to be able to push and make local authorities prioritise. If the Minister wants to do that and guarantee that all local authorities will make provision and ring-fence that money, I will be happy, but there still needs to be that centre of expertise.
The other area that I would like to touch on is relationships and sex education. I welcome the fact that children will now be taught about FGM at secondary school, but we need to teach them about it at primary school as well, because the majority of the crime happens to primary age children. They need to be empowered to understand what is going on and that it is a crime so that we can get ahead of this. All that said, I am hugely grateful that we are taking forward this amendment to the law.
It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Champion, who is a bright beacon when it comes to this issue and the safeguarding of children—the most vulnerable in our communities up and down the land. I am tempted to say in passing that, at a time when our politics and this House are so divided on other issues, debates such as these remind us of one of the benefits of this job, which is the coming together of the House to discuss in a united, informed and respectful way an issue that matters to the future of our country and can certainly be deemed to be for the public good.
I listened with the most careful attention to the speech of my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller. It was interesting that she used the term “pre-historic” to describe the way that this House can often look. It is not the first time that I have made this comment: I am the Member for North Dorset, and not everything that comes out of Dorset is Jurassic.
I can assure the House that I am not.
I echo entirely the comments that my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke made about the all too demonstrable need for reform of how we deal with private Members’ legislation. As my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith said, this is a simple Bill of just two clauses, but it is terribly important, and it beggars belief that a Bill of such importance was blocked for no particular apparent reason. It reminds me of the dictum of the late Ronald Reagan—if the 11th commandment is, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Conservative,” my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope stretches that almost to the point of breaking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park rightly praised the work of Nimco Ali. I do not want to interject a moment or two of partisanship, but I will pause to make this point. I thought it was heart-warming—absolutely heart-warming—to see the pictures on social media last week of Nimco and our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, at the very heart of Government, discussing FGM and other women’s issues. For my party, which all too often allows itself to be painted as out of touch or not interested in such issues, if we wanted a startling picture showing why that is not the case and how our party is able to deal with these important issues, that was the picture. The fact that my hon. Friend has taken up this issue and run with it with such passion and so authoritatively—he is too modest, I know, and he may blush—is so important. He has added not only to a public health issue, but, I suggest, to the profile of our party on this issue.
I rise to speak in this debate as the father of three daughters: Imogen who is 10, Jessica who has just turned nine and Laura who is six. At least, that is what Laura’s birth certificate says; from the way she talks to me, she is six going on 26. When a parent sees the little, fragile bodies of small children, we do have to wonder where on earth somebody came up with the idea of FGM. As others have said, this is not a medical procedure and it is not the religious requirement of one faith or another; it is quite simply child abuse. If it was a practice in which a young girl’s arm had to be broken or some fingers or toes removed, we would have been in a state of uproar. However, over the years, there has been a squeamishness among politicos about dealing with some of the issues that have masqueraded or hidden under the cloak of cultural sensitivity. I could not care less who, if anybody, is offended by this Government and this united Parliament standing up and saying, “It is wrong, it is abuse, it has got to stop, and if you do not agree with us in that analysis, then the full weight of the law will be brought to bear upon you.”
My hon. Friend mentions that this is not a medical procedure. One of the problems is that the medicalisation of the procedure can sometimes be seen to give legitimacy to it, and that is far from being the point. It is frequently the case that the procedure is carried out where there is no antiseptic, so it is incredibly dangerous with the possibility of future infection for the woman and of ongoing medical problems.
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.
I would like to start by belatedly wishing everybody a happy International Women’s Day. I am sure Members across the House took part in events in their constituencies. It is an honour to be here on the Labour Benches discussing a subject of the utmost importance with Members from across the House. It is worth remembering that while International Women’s Day on Friday saw so many fantastic events celebrating women and young girls from across the globe, there were children being violently abused not just in far flung lands that we have never visited, but right here in the UK. That is why we are all here tonight.
Women and girls face unimaginable pain through the abhorrent crime of female genital mutilation. They also face a lifetime of medical problems as a result. And those are the lucky ones: the ones who do not die from the procedure. As Governments across the world begin to crack down on this horrific crime, there are reports that younger and younger girls are being targeted—girls as young as three. Despite more women coming forward to recount the harrowing ordeals they have experienced, to date there has been only one successful prosecution in this country. As Members have so eloquently articulated tonight, if this were happening to young boys or if this were little girls’ toes or fingers being cut off, we would be doing something.
I stand here with colleagues from across the House tonight and say that this is not done in the name of any religion—certainly not any religion I know—and nor is it acceptable cultural practice in any culture that I know. It must be stamped out and we must take a lead. Together, we must say, as we are doing, that we will not accept it. We must say that the people who are found guilty of committing this barbaric act, and those who know about it, should pay, and pay heavily. It is clear that more needs to be done to prosecute perpetrators far more effectively. That includes ensuring that Members do not block Bills that seek to stamp out this crime and provide victims with justice. Just as we look to support teachers and medical professionals to flag any concerns that a child may be being abused, the Government should provide frontline services with the resources they need to detect the tell-tale signs of FGM and to stamp it out.
I have two young daughters, aged four and five. When I think about them going to school in the morning and standing in line with their friends waiting to go into their classroom, it breaks my heart to think that in our children’s classrooms there are children who are being taken and forcibly mutilated: mutilated without any say in what happens to their bodies; and mutilated without any consequences for the perpetrators of this abhorrent crime. People who commit such barbaric acts need to know that tonight we are saying, “We are watching you and you will be punished.” We need to tackle this at its core and show that people will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
All women and girls need to be valued equally. I hope that by next International Women’s Day, the young girls and women who have been victims of this brutal and horrible crime will have found justice.
May I just suggest about five minutes each to give everybody equal time?
I congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on bringing forward this addition to the Children Act. I remind him that, although he has been working with Nimco Ali, who is a fantastic campaigner, and Jaha, who has had fantastic success in Gambia, this all started with Jane Ellison, a former Member of Parliament for Battersea, when she formed the all-party group on female genital mutilation. She did some amazing work to bring this issue to people’s attention and she was devastated that there was no prosecution during her time here.
We have just had a prosecution, but it is hard for young people to testify, sometimes against family members, or, if not family members, against people who are friends of the family. It is really difficult for relatively young girls to go through with the prosecution. Although we have had only one prosecution—and it is incredibly important that we have had one—I can understand why we have not had more, but now that we have had that prosecution, I would like to see people feeling less frightened to come forward.
I also believe that teachers need more training to recognise the signs of when girls are going to be taken abroad. I know that it does not happen all the time and that a lot happens here, but some are taken abroad, just as they are for early marriage and forced marriage. Teachers need to be trained to recognise the symptoms of what is happening. Doctors and nurses also need additional training to make them report what they see. Many doctors in the past have seen this but have never done anything about it to protect people, because they believed that it was not their job to do so and that they should let sleeping dogs lie. That really should not be the case, because what is happening to young girls is brutal. There is the risk of bleeding to death. There is a huge risk of infection. Somebody earlier likened this to abortion in the 1950s. It is no better than the knitting needle and the gin, because there is no protection for these girls and absolutely no pain relief for them either. The perpetrators need to realise that we are serious about catching them and stopping FGM in this country.
I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, who is sitting on the Front Bench. She has put an enormous amount of work and funding behind trying to stop FGM in other countries around the world. I commend her for her work because it is really important that it is not just us who are doing this; we have to help other countries to stamp it out as well. As was said earlier, we have seen the success in Gambia, which is incredibly important to this campaign. It can be stamped out once we get over the barrier that it is not cultural and not religious—it is just sex abuse for these young girls. We must get that over, and I commend the Secretary of State for the work she has done and the huge amount of resources she has put into this issue.
I also commend Sarah Champion, who made a very passionate speech, a lot of which I was going to say but I cannot, because she has already said it. What has been really good about this debate is that it has united both sides of the House. We work better when we work together. There are things that divide us, but on issues such as this, we can all work together, just as we can on raising the age of marriage and forced marriage.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has only just walked in. It would be rather unfair on the other people who have been here. I think he should wait a little while.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think I know what my hon. Friend was going to say, because he was talking about something that we worked on together to try to bring this issue to the fore some years ago. We have to recognise that what has happened in this country has not been as successful as it could have been. We need people in this country to really go for the perpetrators, and anybody who knows anything should report it to the police. As I said, however, it is very hard for young girls to testify in court against family members or friends of the family, and we have to work together to try to make it easier for these cases to come to court and to have successful prosecutions.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on his work on this issue, particularly the progress of his Bill, and I pay tribute to Lord Berkeley, in the other place, who originally brought this measure forward, and to the vocal and courageous campaigners, such as Nimco Ali, who several Members have mentioned. It is the work of brave women such as her that is making a difference and turning the tide against FGM.
I am going to read out the story of a 14-year-old girl who now lives in the UK and who I will call Aminah, although I warn hon. Members that it might not make for very comfortable listening. She says:
“I was six years old when it happened to me. I knew what was going to happen, I knew they were going to cut me because a lot of my friends had had it done. My friends had told me that it was really painful, that it was horrible, so I was terrified. I was at school, when they told me it was ‘my time’. My uncle and aunt came to take me from the school. It was my sister’s time too - she was eight years old. The woman who cut us was my grandmother’s sister - and she was going to cut us in a tent near a huge tree. They used ropes to tie our legs apart and there were lots and lots of girls there. I could hear screaming, lots of horrible screaming and there was so much blood. Girls were crying. Then they said it was my turn. I ran away - I ran as fast as I could but they sent boys after me and they caught me. They took my legs and my arms and carried me back. One of them was my older brother - he helped carry me back to the cutter. They tied me down, I was fighting as hard as I could, but they were stronger. I was screaming. The old woman, my great aunt, used a razor blade - it was clean and new, but there was no anaesthetic when she cut me.”
Members can find out more about her story on the website of the sexual health charity, Brook. I read it because although we talk about FGM—we normally just use the acronym—it is the stories that really bring home how disgusting and completely abhorrent the practice is.
One of the most harrowing aspects of Aminah’s story is that it was done to her by people she trusted: her uncle, aunt and great aunt. FGM is carried out on girls by people who love them. It is done out of fear that uncut girls will not find husbands and will be ostracised or considered unclean by their communities. Some communities believe it can be used to control female sexuality and increase male pleasure, and it is done supposedly for these girls’ own good, but it can kill. For the majority who survive, the short and long-term health consequences are appalling: there is the immediate pain of being cut without anaesthetic, followed by a long, painful healing process; the risk of haemorrhage; the risk of infection from contaminated instruments; and, in the long-term, very serious health consequences from repeated urinary tract infections, difficulty menstruating and problems with childbirth, not to mention the trauma and psychological damage.
At least 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM. No religion endorses FGM, but myths and deeply ingrained traditions perpetuate it. In every society where it is practised, it is a sign of deeply entrenched gender inequality, and FGM is happening here in Britain too. According to the NHS, between April 2017 and March 2018, 6,195 women and girls were treated by the NHS for FGM, and in 85 of them, the FGM was known to have taken place in the UK, although the NHS is clear that this data is not complete, so the true figure could be substantially higher. The National FGM Centre estimates that 60,000 girls are at risk of FGM—either of being cut in the UK or being taken abroad to undergo the procedure—and that 137,000 girls and women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM.
That is despite the fact that FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985, that the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 created an offence of taking a girl abroad to undergo FGM and that the Serious Crime Act 2015 further extended the law by introducing an offence for failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM and providing for the anonymity of FGM victims. Currently, anyone who commits FGM faces up to 14 years in prison and anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM faces up to seven years in prison. As we know, last week, the mother of a three-year-old girl was sentenced to 11 years in prison. This was the first FGM conviction in the UK. It is awful, in some senses, that that can be considered a success—a success that a conviction was secured—but it has proved very difficult to secure convictions, and the fact that one has been secured sends, I hope, a strong message that FGM is not okay, and there will be consequences under UK law.
The 2015 Act also introduced FGM protection orders, which give courts powers including the power to remove children’s passports to prevent them from being taken abroad. The Bill will close a small gap in the law to make the process of issuing protection orders a little bit easier.
I will wrap up now, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I can see that you would like me to do so. Let me simply say that ending this barbaric practice, and overturning the misogyny that underpins it—as well as the cultural practices that have enabled it to continue—will not be easy, but the Bill brings us a small step closer to doing so, and every step that can save a child like Aminah from suffering as a result of FGM is a step worth taking.
As public awareness of the abhorrent practice of FGM increases and the momentum swings firmly behind positive action which will ensure that women and girls are fully protected, we as legislators have a duty to strengthen existing laws to ensure that the courts have all the necessary powers not only to prosecute those whose facilitate FGM, but to safeguard victims and those at risk. This is a simple Bill, but it gives us an opportunity to protect members of our society who have no voice and cannot speak for themselves, namely children.
The campaign against FGM in British society is not, as some advocates of the practice have suggested, a war against religious groups or cultural practices. It is simply about doing what is right, so that women and girls can lead normal, healthy lives and have control over what happens to their bodies. We must recognise that in the case of nearly all victims of FGM it is not their choice to be cut, because they are too young, while older victims find themselves being coerced into the procedure, heavily influenced—as we have already heard—by dominant family members, or by people who play central roles in their communities. As we have also heard, last Friday,
The Children Act 1989, as amended, allows a judge to grant an interim care order if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child has suffered significant harm, or is at risk of suffering significant harm. However, the Act does not currently include the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 in the list of statutes under section 8(4), and that therefore does not constitute “family proceedings”. Had the Bill been on the statute book, a judge might have had the opportunity to grant an interim care order in the case that I have mentioned, thereby protecting an innocent victim from the irreversible pain and trauma with which she will have to live for the rest of her life. The National FGM Centre has estimated that, in England alone, 60,000 girls are currently at risk of FGM. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said:
“we will not tolerate FGM and not rest until perpetrators of this horrific crime are brought to justice.”
There are some pieces of new legislation that appear to be merely adjuncts to existing laws, but whose long-term consequences may be profound. The Bill definitely fits into that category, and it has been a pleasure to sit on the Committee that has brought it to this stage. However, during proceedings on the Bill, I received emails from academics and lobby groups raising several issues. One individual made a good point when they highlighted the need for community-led educational information, and more support for dialogue with FGM-practising communities. I know from listening to other speakers that that is definitely happening.
It has also been highlighted to me that data may have been misinterpreted. For example, in 2016-17 it was reported that 9,179 cases of FGM were identified in England, of which 5,391 were newly recorded. It is important to note that that does not mean that 5,391 girls had recently been subjected to FGM; that was the number of cases that had been newly identified. Of course, it follows that those new cases may not have occurred in this country.
We must use every tool in our armoury to stamp out FGM, not just here in the UK but across the world. We celebrate Commonwealth Day today, and it is incumbent on our Commonwealth friends to play their part in stamping out this practice. Many countries where FGM is prevalent have laws against the practice, but, as we have found in this country, the enforcement of the law is often the problem.
To eradicate FGM, we need community groups and individuals who are passionate about campaigning to stop it. We need the legislation in place to secure prosecutions, and we need the powers in the Bill to protect those who are at risk. FGM is a human rights issue, a gender equality issue—or, I should say, a gender inequality issue—and a health issue, but justice should always remain our focus.
It is surely not right—indeed, it is shameful—that in our civil society, where the number of at-risk girls is so high, only one person has been successfully prosecuted since the practice was first outlawed in 1985. If this Bill, which clearly commands cross-party support, allows the courts to safeguard a handful of girls who are at risk, I believe it will have done its job. I look forward to its speedy passage on to the statute book.
Can I just remind people to stick to five minutes, please?
I congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on introducing the private Member’s Bill to deal with this important issue.
Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day, a joyous occasion on which women and girls came together to celebrate their achievements, the women who helped them to realise those achievements and our victories on the long road to equality. Today’s debate reminds us of not just how far we have come, but of how far we still have to go.
FGM is a barbaric practice that has no place in the world today. It is often, as other Members have said, performed by a local cutter—not by someone with any medical skills—in a barbaric way without pain relief. The affected women have their genitals cut into such a state that they end up with significant long-term consequences. As well as the short-term consequences of pain, trauma, shock and bleeding—in some areas of the world where there is little access to medicine, such bleeding can lead to serious infection, sepsis and death—women may experience difficulties passing urine that can go on into the long term, incontinence, frequent and chronic urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, problems with menstruation, kidney failure, cysts and abscesses, difficulties with sexual intercourse and complications with childbirth.
Complications with childbirth are particularly prevalent among those who have had the procedure of infibulation, which is where the vaginal opening is made much smaller. There is the possibility of reversing or undoing that procedure during pregnancy in advance of labour, if midwives and surgeons are aware of it, but women may be left with significant mental health problems afterwards. Some women feel very uncomfortable about the fact that the procedure has been undone, and their family may treat them differently as a result. Indeed, as other Members have suggested, some women will have been sewn up by the time the next pregnancy occurs.
The hon. Lady has clearly outlined what needs to happen legislatively in relation to such physical and emotional abuse. Does she not agree that it is also time for a cultural change in the societies in which it occurs? If a cultural change comes into play, methods and habits will change, so it has to start there.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right, and I will say more about that later in my speech.
Given how barbaric this practice is, it is surprising how common it is, with more than 200 million women in the world said to be affected by it. Recent statistics show that 150 British-born women were identified by NHS Digital as having had the procedure, and that 85 of them had had it here in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that around 130,000 women in the UK are at risk, and 1,000 new cases have been identified by the NHS this year.
While researching for this debate, I read about the case last month of the first person to be convicted of FGM in this country. It involved a mother who was found guilty of FGM. Her daughter was only three years old. That young girl was pinned down in her north London home and had her genitals cut and partly removed. Her mother claimed that this had been due to her falling on to a cupboard door. In my work as a paediatrician, I have heard some tall stories about how injuries to children might have occurred, but it was clear that the jury did not believe the woman in that case.
Children of that age do not have enough strength to escape the knife or to escape their attackers. That is why we need laws to protect these vulnerable children from a harm that is sadly often perpetrated by those who are closest to them and who should be protecting them the most. I am proud that the UK is a world leader in introducing legislation in this area. Since the passing of the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, it has been illegal to mutilate the clitoris or the labia, or to help someone to do that.
The Government improved things further in 2003. Recognising that girls and women were being taken abroad for these procedures, they increased the territorial reach of the legislation so that UK nationals or UK permanent residents taking someone overseas or allowing or helping the procedure to happen overseas would also be guilty of a crime. This was widened further in 2015 to ensure that people who failed to prevent the procedure from happening were also guilty of a crime, and to provide anonymity for victims. The FGM protection order was also created at that time.
Updating these laws is a continuous process to ensure that children are protected. It is right that we have strong sentences of up to 14 years for those found guilty of FGM and up to seven years for failing to protect a child from it, but it has been difficult to get convictions. We need to look further into the reasons for that, and particularly, as Jim Shannon says, into how we can change the culture in society so that FGM does not happen in the first place.
So what does the Bill do? It puts in place a crucial amendment to the Children Act 1989 that adds children’s powers into family proceedings. The Act gave powers to the courts to impose an interim care order, a care order, an interim supervision order or a supervision order. What do these orders do? Essentially, they allow the courts to share parental responsibility and allow local authorities to take children into care. The test that is applied is that there should be reasonable grounds to believe that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm. I do not think that any Member in the House would doubt that the risk of FGM would meet that threshold. At the moment, however, if an FGM protection order is being applied for and there is also a desire to apply for an interim care order, they need to be applied for separately, which takes time and creates increased procedure. The Bill will ensure that both can be dealt with in a single process.
I know that the hon. Lady has a great deal of experience in the medical profession. Does she agree that FGM is nothing but pure cruelty to young children, and that any parent allowing it, no matter what their culture is, should face the full rigour of the law?
Order. I asked people to speak for only five minutes, and I am concerned that some Members might not have a chance to speak. It is only Conservative Members who are waiting to speak, so they are actually cutting into each other’s time.
Thank you for that guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will aim to wrap this up quickly.
My final point is that the law is useful, but we also need education. There is a cross-Government strategy to prevent violence against women and girls, and that includes health professionals, identification, mandatory reporting, teachers who are in a trusted position keeping children safe, charities, the work of Nimco Ali and others, international work, DFID’s flagship programmes, UN resolutions and so on. Children need to be educated so that they develop key skills, not necessarily just about FGM in isolation, but self-esteem, social and emotional skills. They should also be taught where to get support if they are worried. All that will empower our young women.
In summary, this amendment to the law will make it easier to protect children from FGM, which is a dreadful form of child abuse. I congratulate those who have successfully campaigned to get the Bill through the House.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith, and I will keep my remarks to the indicated time limit, Mr Deputy Speaker. Other Members have made many points already, so I want to make just three further points.
This weekend, I was reading the account of Waris Dirie, one of the world’s premier supermodels, and if we need to remind ourselves of how horrendous FGM is, just listen to what happened to her when she was five years old. Her genitals were completely cut off and then she was stitched closed, because she had to undergo the practice of infibulation, whereby not only were her genitals cut off, but she was left with only a patch of skin, completely smooth except for a scar down the middle, which she describes as being like a zipper. The procedure leaves a miniscule hole, meaning that on a woman’s wedding night—this is quite horrific—the husband has to cut her open or force his way in. No one can read or think about that without finding it horrific. The practice also means that some girls actually pass out during menstruation.
How do we tackle the issue? We must take an international approach, because we know that the desire for social acceptance and the avoidance of ostracism is one of the underlying roots of FGM. Like many Members, when I talk about the international aid budget, I am sometimes challenged on whether it is being spent in the right way, but when we hear stories like Waris’s and those of the other women about whom we have heard tonight, the general public will be behind what DFID is doing.
We must also consider the Bill’s broader cultural context, which includes child marriage. Over 700 million women and girls alive today were married as children, which is why I welcome DFID’s wide-ranging work to reduce FGM, including spending £50 million to support African-led movements to end FGM by 2030. So far, DFID has supported 78,000 communities, amounting to 24.5 million people, and has helped more than 3 million girls. The Department is also supporting the UN to the tune of £12 million to end violence against women and practices such as child marriage and domestic and sexual violence and to help 750,000 women and girls. I think that the general public would agree that that money is well spent when it goes towards stamping out the root causes of such horrific acts.
My final point is about why the problem is so hard to eradicate. We have heard that it is a broad cultural issue, that people are frightened to report it and that it comes with stigma and shame in some communities. The women who carry out the act do so from a place of love. They do it because their ancestors did it to them, so they are doing what they think is right. This is about education, so we need to examine how we teach not just victims and young children, but also the women who carry out the act. We must therefore consider the new sex and relationships education that is being introduced into schools on a compulsory basis, and we must ask ourselves some searching questions as a society. Do we think it is right that parents can withdraw their children from such lessons? How do we tackle the difficult issue of some communities protesting outside schools because they do not like what the Government are trying to teach children when that education involves precisely the issues that we are debating tonight?
We must eradicate the horrific mutilation of young women and girls. I look forward to supporting the Bill and seeing it progress through the House tonight.
I am delighted to support the Bill tonight. FGM is a hideous crime that has no place in our society, and I am pleased it has been illegal in the UK since 1985 when a law was introduced by the then Conservative Government. The law was tightened up again in 2015 by a Conservative-led Government, which is why it is completely correct that this Government are leading the work again tonight.
It is estimated that 200 million girls and women across the world, over 130,000 of them in the UK, have been subjected to FGM. It has been independently suggested that some 60,000 girls and women in this country are at risk today. We know that, for many of those girls, FGM often happens in another country, which is why it is crucial that we continue to support the work of DFID to make sure our young girls and women are protected not only in the UK but overseas.
I want to use my time to give a strong shout out for DFID’s work. People often ask us on the doorstep what we get from the DFID budget, so I will set out some of the things we are doing with it. Since 2013, DFID-supported programmes have helped more than 8,000 communities—that is 24.5 million people—pledge to abandon FGM. We have helped to make the practice illegal in Gambia, Nigeria and Mauritania, and we have helped Burkina Faso, Egypt and Uganda to strengthen their laws. More than 3 million girls and women have received FGM protection and care due to the work of DFID-supported projects.
The new £50 million programme in Africa will go to projects that seek to change attitudes by supporting grassroots activists, youth initiatives, doctors, midwives and nurses to help end FGM all over Africa. A total of £15 million is going into Sudan to reduce the social acceptance of FGM, and another £12 million will go to the UN trust fund to help protect women and girls in some of the world’s poorest countries from practices such as FGM, child marriage and domestic and sexual violence.
In our debate on Thursday for International Women’s Day, I pointed out that girls in developing countries are two and a half times more likely than boys not to attend school and three times more likely than boys to be a victim of modern slavery. Through DFID, the Government are supporting work across the world not only to reduce and stop FGM but to stop violence against women and to help all girls get the education they deserve. I am thankful for this Bill.
I rise briefly to support this much-needed amendment to the Children Act 1989. I will chiefly focus my remarks with reference to the sentencing remarks of Mrs Justice Whipple in the central criminal court on
The circumstances of this particular incident have been described as “barbaric” and “sickening,” and they were indeed that. A 37-year-old mother was found guilty of mutilating her three-year-old daughter, and by way of highlighting the gravity and horror of the offence, I hope colleagues will forgive me for some of the graphic description I will relate from the court remarks. The conviction led to an 11-year sentence. During the proceedings, the jury heard a recording of a 999 call in which the mother said that her daughter
“had been trying to get some biscuits and had fallen on metal and the metal had ripped her private parts.”
This was a few hours after she had clearly been mutilated. Mrs Justice Whipple said that by the time the girl got to hospital,
“she had lost a lot of blood, so much so that consideration was given to transfusing her.”
The consultant operated on her that evening. The next remarks are graphic, but they show the reality of the injuries on a child just three years old:
“He observed three separate cutting injuries…one to the labia minora on the right side which was missing;
one to the labia minora on the left side which was hanging by a sliver of skin;
and one to the clitoris in a curvi-linear shape, with a clot formed beneath it which, when removed, caused the wound to bleed. In his view, there were three separate cuts each of which had been deliberately inflicted by a sharp instrument.”
The judge referred to those injuries having probably been inflicted by a knife, scissors or a scalpel. Four consultants, expert gynaecologists and paediatricians, separately agreed with the view that this must have been deliberately inflicted injury by a sharp instrument and that this must have been part of a joint plan—in other words, at least one other person was involved. The commission of this offence would have required the participation of more than one person. It is particularly offensive therefore that the offence was premeditated by the child’s mother, the person whom this three-year-old should have looked to most in the world for protection, and that it was carried out in her own home, where she should have felt safe. Who is to say how this will affect her ability to trust and form relationships in the future? As the judge said, there were physical consequences, but the “true significance” may become apparent only “in puberty or adulthood” when
“she recognises that her body is different, and that may cause her embarrassment or inhibition in forming intimate relationships.”
In other words, there is a “significant and lifelong burden” for this child to carry.
Many colleagues have said that religious and cultural sensitivities should not be used in any way to justify FGM, and that of course is right. This was a terrible offence. I would go so far as to say that it was evil. It was interesting to note that in the evidence given to the police in a recorded interview this three-year-old referred to a “witch-lady”. Witchcraft objects were found in the home of the convicted individual by the police. This little three-year-old girl has been traumatically harmed, as was her nine-year-old brother, who witnessed his sister’s distress immediately after her injuries. They are both now in foster care, but after the event. It would have been far better if, under the Children Act 1989 as is now proposed, an order could have been made before to protect them from the risk of such gratuitous physical and psychological injuries.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce. It was also a pleasure to have been in the Chamber for the start of the debate to hear my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith move the motion. It is particularly important, or relevant, that a male MP should be taking this Bill through, because men have so much responsibility for the fact that this practice exists in any form at all. My understanding is that there are examples of FGM in Egyptian mummies, so the practice has been historically prevalent for a very long time. If we ask ourselves why, we see that it is frequently at the behest of, or for the pleasure of, men. Men feel that it is an opportunity to subjugate women by controlling their sexual drive, controlling and containing their sexuality—what an incredible indictment that is. We would think perhaps that that was representative of some historical, barbaric practice that is no longer prevalent in the 21st century, but, as we have heard so many people say in this debate, 200 million women who are alive today could have been affected by FGM, and 135,000 of them are in this country.
Let us think about the stories we have heard. Members should imagine that they are a five-year-old girl who is just starting to feel comfortable in the world and safe and secure in the family and extended family group, when, all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, she is taken to a room, held down and subjected to this incredibly barbaric practice. Depending on where in the world a girl is when she experiences this, it could be done, perhaps if she is lucky—a dreadful use of the word—under some sort of medical circumstance in which at least antiseptic is involved and some sort of anaesthesia administered. But that might not be the case. It might simply be carried out by an old, probably female member of the community with a razor blade or, I have even heard, under incredibly barbaric circumstances, with a broken piece of glass. This is the 21st century—it is not a history lesson—and these things are happening now, on this planet. It is incredible and, as I said, frequently done as an example of how men like or choose to subjugate women.
Is it important that we address FGM? It is essential. It sends out a strong message that Parliament is debating FGM and projecting that message right across the world, in our work through DFID and the Commonwealth, to help others to understand just how seriously we take this issue. It is great to read reports that the Government have invested in the training of 70,000 staff in this country through an e-learning programme, to make sure that people in all areas of Government business understand what the effects could be and implications are, so that they can look out for signs of FGM. For example, people processing passport applications and things like that might understand that young women are being shipped abroad in order for this practice to be carried out.
As men, we should realise that we have a particular duty to speak out on this subject. It has been a pleasure to be part of the debate and to hear other male MPs making the case this evening. It is so great that Members on both sides of the Chamber are standing together.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes and his insight into this severe problem and the historical context of the evils from so many years ago still being visited on children and women to this very day.
So many of the points that I would have made have already been made and I am conscious of the limitation on time. I send my appreciations to Sarah Champion for her insight into this problem and the points that she made, and to my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith for his insight into the French system, which is very different from the one in the UK. It is perhaps not right that we look to the French when thinking about what system to adopt in the United Kingdom.
It is a significant problem that FGM was first made a criminal offence in the United Kingdom in 1985 but to date there has been only one successful prosecution. I understand that there have been three unsuccessful prosecutions in the UK. Successful prosecutions, and significant sentences to go with them, would form a deterrent. That would contribute to deterring people from engaging with and supporting FGM. We are right to have a zero-tolerance attitude to FGM and I welcome this amendment to the 1989 Act, but will my hon. and learned Friend the Minister say what more can be done to deliver a zero-tolerance approach to FGM?
I shall speak only briefly because at least one more Member still wishes to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith on bringing the Bill back to the Chamber—back from what almost seemed like the dead—and I congratulate Lord Berkeley in the other place on piloting it so effectively.
As has already been said so clearly, and as was concluded by the Home Affairs Committee in its 2016 report, female genital mutilation is an horrific abuse. It is not justified by any religious requirements. There are no medical arguments for it; quite the contrary. Beyond the immediate pain and suffering caused by the procedure, there is ongoing risk of medical complications and life-long psychological effects for many women many, many years after they suffered the procedure. There can be no question of trying to justify the procedure on the basis of any cultural practices. It is abuse, plain and simple. It is child abuse. It is evil and it is wrong, whether it happens here in the United Kingdom, or anywhere around the world. It is right that we do everything that we possibly can to prevent it from happening. It is also right that, where there is proof of female genital mutilation, we do everything that we can to bring those responsible to justice and make sure that they receive the very, very severest of penalties that are available.
Securing a criminal conviction for FGM is notoriously difficult. Despite the fact that this has been an offence in the United Kingdom since the 1980s, it is only in the past few weeks that a successful prosecution has been brought. The difficulties in collating evidence to a standard that is high enough to secure a criminal conviction mean that, even now, it is often very difficult to persuade witnesses to come forward. Often, by the time cases are uncovered—whether it is by doctors, hospitals, social workers or other agencies—the time for medical proof of who could have been responsible, or even the time that the procedure could have been carried out, makes it very difficult to pin it down to even a location, let alone a specific offender. Therefore, it is particularly important that we do everything that we can to stop it happening in the first place. That is really where these orders have a particularly important role to play, which is why this Bill is so vital in closing one of the loopholes that makes it difficult to secure an order for those children who are at increased risk of being subject to female genital mutilation.
It is perverse that the care orders under the Children Act, which allow for orders to be made in cases where children are at risk of forced marriage or of domestic violence, cannot be used effectively to protect those children from the severe abuse of female genital mutilation. By closing that gap in the law, it means that agencies that go through the courts to take care of children at risk only have to make the single application to secure protection against the full range of risks. That will make girls and women far, far safer.
This is an extremely short Bill. It is a fairly simple change to our legislation, but it could make an absolutely massive difference to far, far more girls and women in this country and around the world than we might be able to imagine.
I rise briefly to support this excellent Bill and to make two very simple points.
First, as many hon. Members have said, there is no excuse—be it cultural, religious or medical—for any of the practices that are labelled under the broad-brush bracket of female genital mutilation. However, as my hon. Friend Helen Whately said, these are often things that are done to young girls by those who love them most. There is an enormous challenge in that, because we should not claim that the people who do this do not love their own children, but they are committing acts of child abuse.
I hope that this law sends out a very clear message that, in this country and hopefully in many others that will follow the lead set by my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith, FGM is not an acceptable practice in the 21st century, and nor should we have allowed it to persist for as long as it has. That is a profoundly important cultural point in a landscape where there is no cultural excuse for a practice that many have quite rightly described as barbaric. I know that this point is not within the Minister’s purview at the Ministry of Justice, but I hope that we can tackle this aspect of FGM in the strongest possible terms, as part of this Government’s and other Governments’ good work on FGM; we need to address an issue that goes beyond simply the legally prosecutable, into a wider set of complex international and cultural dynamics on which we have a duty to lead the way.
My second point is only just within the scope of the Bill, and that is to say that we could have addressed this issue some time earlier were it not for the arcane procedures of this House. It shames us all that this issue had to be taken on in this way. I know that the Minister has stepped into the breach with great enthusiasm because, as both sides of the House have agreed, it is absolutely the right thing for this Government to be doing, but it is not right that the procedures of this House allow us to be in this position. When times are perhaps a little calmer and we are not starting statements at 10 o’clock at night, rather than finishing the business then, I hope that we may be able to address that issue because doing so will allow us not only to deal with such matters with greater speed, but to take on many other issues. I hope that this Parliament can be just as modern as this Government have been in getting with the 21st century.
The Government are pleased both to support this Bill and to give it Government time. It is a very short piece of legislation. With two clauses, it is a simple Bill intended to fill a small and unintended gap in the law. It will further protect women and girls, and will allow our courts to make orders and to do so quickly—in a single proceeding—to protect children who are at harm. I thank all Members from across the House who have taken part in this important debate.
Many points have been made in the debate, and I will try to draw them all together. As my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith started by saying, there has been a cross-party effort to bring this legislation through the House swiftly and with some consensus. I thank Gloria De Piero for her helpful comments. My right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, in her powerful speech, drew attention not only to the cross-Governmental approach to addressing FGM, but to the presence of so many Departments on the Treasury Bench during this debate. I thank Ministers from the Home Office, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Government Equalities Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Wales Office and the Ministry of Justice for taking part in this debate through their presence today.
A number of Members have highlighted the importance of this Bill because of the effects on the victims. My hon. Friends the Members for Richmond Park, for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), and the hon. Member for Ashfield, all highlighted these effects. My hon. Friends Maggie Throup and for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and Sarah Champion, said quite rightly that FGM is child abuse.
That point was made in the sentencing remarks of the judge in a recent conviction for FGM. Perhaps those who marked the terrible effects most closely were those who told stories of the impact on the victims, such as the terrible story of Aminah told by my hon. Friend Helen Whately and the horrific story told by my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, showing us so graphically the terror of the girls who are experiencing this crime and the impact on their lives for ever.
So what are we doing, as a Government, to address FGM? My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park mentioned the legislation that goes back several decades to ensure that we are taking steps on FGM. In 2015, we strengthened the law to improve protection for victims by, for example, introducing a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM, and allowing for protection orders. My hon. Friend Chris Green asked what more can be done. I am very pleased to say that we are taking steps across Government to ensure that we wipe out this dreadful crime. The Home Office’s FGM unit has participated in over 100 outreach events to raise awareness of FGM. The Department of Health and Social Care has provided £4 million for the national FGM prevention programme, in partnership with NHS England. The Department for Education has announced its intention to reform the curriculum in schools to teach children about the effects of the emotional damage, and has provided nearly £2 million for a national programme to improve the social care response to FGM.
However, as my hon. Friends Vicky Ford pointed out, it is not just about tackling FGM in this country but tackling it overseas. DFID has done a significant amount of work. In addition to a £35 million package to end FGM across 17 countries in Africa, at the end of last year the Government announced a £50 million package to support an African-led movement to end FGM by 2030. That is the single biggest investment by an international donor.
Many Members referred to the statistics on those who have experienced this horrific crime. As the hon. Member for Ashfield rightly identified, we do not know the precise figures on those who are suffering from FGM in this country who have had that crime perpetrated here, but, as the hon. Member for Rotherham stated, we know that it is happening and that, as Dr Allin-Khan said, it is happening to children at a very young age.
It is very, very difficult to prosecute this dreadful offence. Like my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, I would like to refer to the powerful speech that the judge made in a recent conviction of a perpetrator of FGM who committed an offence against her daughter. I will read a few of the words from that judgment, which are incredibly powerful. The judge said to the perpetrator:
“You were convicted following a trial of female genital mutilation…The person mutilated was R. R is your daughter. She was just 3 years old when you cut her. FGM has long been against our law. Let’s be clear: FGM is a form of child abuse. It involves deliberate physical mutilation. It is a barbaric practice and a serious crime. It is an offence which targets women, typically being inflicted on women when they are young and vulnerable. It is often done with the collusion of family members. And then it is hidden. This case contains all those features.”
For that particular crime, although there were convictions for other crimes, the judge sentenced the woman to 11 years. As my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid Kent and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) rightly mentioned, what is so terrible about this crime is that it was done by someone the victim trusted and in a home where the victim should have felt safe. Those were both aggravating factors in the sentencing.
We are tackling this issue by increasing the protections that we offer to victims of FGM. The Bill will define FGM protection orders as family proceedings for the purposes of the Children Act 1989, which will provide for a simplification in the court process. That is a sensible and practical change, which will allow our courts to make orders quickly, in a single proceeding, to protect children at risk of harm.
I would like to answer a number of the points put to me in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West rightly referred to the different procedures and medical examinations that take place in France and elsewhere, but those take place in a different social and legal framework from the UK so are not directly comparable. Frontline medical staff have a mandatory duty to report known cases of FGM in under-18s to the police. As my hon. Friend Mrs Latham said, there is a need for medical staff to report it.
The hon. Member for Ashfield asked what we are doing to get more prosecutions. There is now an FGM lead prosecutor for each area who liaises with the police. She also asked what we can do to educate more. The Home Office’s FGM unit has participated in more than 100 outreach events and is raising awareness of FGM across the country. As I mentioned, the Department for Education is reforming relationships and sex education and health curriculum guidance, to stipulate that secondary schools should address the physical and emotional changes caused by FGM.
The hon. Member for Rotherham rightly mentioned local authority funding. She is right to say that the Department for Education made more than £1.6 million available to run the National FGM Centre for three years. As she acknowledged, the centre hopes to become self-sustaining from April 2020. The University of Bedfordshire is evaluating the centre, and that evaluation is due to be completed by July this year. The Secretary of State for International Development mentioned to me that DFID and the NHS are looking at co-funding specialist expertise, to help deliver services such as those at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, and she is happy to speak to the hon. Lady about that.
This is a small change, but it will add to the measures that the Government have brought forward to tackle FGM. No one who has spoken in this debate, and neither my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park nor the Government, has suggested that the Bill will end FGM. We cannot be complacent about the threats to women and girls. The Government will continue to work to prevent FGM here and abroad, to support the victims of FGM and to pursue those who cause or allow this terrible practice to continue. I am happy to make the commitment that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park asked me to: we will continue to ensure that victims are protected. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset and the hon. Member for Tooting referred to their children. We need to continue to protect the children of others across the world.
I would like to end by thanking those who have taken part in the debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, who has not only steered the Bill through the House so ably but, as we heard in his speech, has done so much to campaign so well with individual campaigners and cross-party to help solve FGM issues here and across the world. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North, who rightly pointed out that we need to thank both men and women who have taken part in this debate. This is not just a female issue solved by females; it needs a co-ordinated approach, cross-party and cross-gender. I congratulate Lord Berkeley on identifying the issue that a small change in the law could solve and on introducing the Bill in the other place. I thank the Members who sat on the Bill Committee, and I thank my Bill team yet again for the tremendous job they have done. It has been reassuring and heartening to see such solid cross-party support and clear commitment to the Bill. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.