My Lords, this Bill seeks to make a small yet important—vital, even—amendment to the Children Act 1989. I take this opportunity to thank officials from the Ministry of Justice and the wider Government and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere—the Minister—for their considerable support in helping to ensure that this Bill is clear in its extent and scope. I also pay tribute to the barrister David Maddison in Manchester, who has given unstinting of his time in helping me with this Bill, and to my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood for generously casting his eye over matters and proceedings—an eye far more expert in these matters than mine.
As I explained at Second Reading, the family court can issue a care order for a child at risk of forced marriage or at risk from a habitually drunken, violent father, but it cannot issue a care order for a girl at risk of having her genitals mutilated. My Bill aims to redress precisely this situation. The amendments before your Lordships’ House today are technical in nature and ensure that necessary reference is made to the relevant sections of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 in order that this Bill extends only to female genital mutilation—FGM—protection order proceedings that occur in England and Wales, and applies only to those proceedings where they occur in the family court. During Second Reading, I explained that the Bill seeks to include FGM protection order proceedings within the definition of “family proceedings” for the purpose of the Children Act 1989. This means that in future, during proceedings for an FGM protection order, an application for a care or supervision order in relation to a child at risk of significant harm could be made. This would avoid the need for separate applications and potential delay. Other powers of the family court, including powers to make, for example, a prohibited steps order, special guardianship order and family assistance order, would also be available in FGM protection order proceedings. The Bill seeks to close a small, unintended gap—an oversight or anomaly, if you like—in the law and will serve to increase the ability of the court to protect children at risk.
I turn to the amendments in more detail. Amendment 1 seeks merely to remove, in Clause 1(2), the superfluous reference at line 5 to “Section 5A of and”, making appropriate reference to “Part 1 of”. Section 5A of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 refers to and simply introduces Schedule 2 to the Act, which sets out the legislative detail on FGM protection orders. However, given that the Bill extends to England and Wales only, it is appropriate to refer to “Part 1” of Schedule 2 to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. This is necessary, as Schedule 2 also makes provision, in Part 2, for FGM protection orders in Northern Ireland, to which the Bill does not extend.
On Amendment 2, paragraph 3 in Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 provides for circumstances in which an FGM protection order may be made by the court during criminal proceedings for an FGM offence. This could occur, for example, where a criminal court makes an FGM protection order of its own volition to protect a girl where the defendant has not been convicted of an FGM offence but where it has emerged that there is a risk of action by the defendant to carry out FGM against the girl. Criminal proceedings should not fall within the scope of the amendment made by the Bill, which aims to widen the definition of “family proceedings” for the purposes of the Children Act 1989. The amendment seeks to ensure that such criminal cases are rightly excluded from the scope of the Bill.
Finally, the last amendment, in the Title, is similar in context to that which I proposed to Clause 1(2). It seeks to remove the superfluous reference to Section 5A and make appropriate reference to Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.
These amendments are minor and certainly technical in nature, and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, as we have heard, the Bill would insert a reference to Section 5A of, and Schedule 2 to, the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 into Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. By doing so, the Bill would amend the Children Act 1989 to state that proceedings under Section 5A of and Schedule 2 to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 are “family proceedings”.
I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Featherstone for her long-standing commitment to fighting FGM. Unfortunately, she is not able to be in the Chamber today to speak in Committee, but I know that she very much supports the intents of the amendments.
We on these Benches are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for bringing this sensible and valuable change to the law, and to the Government for their backing. As we heard, these amendments are technical in nature, and we are very much supportive of them. It is vital that we continue the fight against this deplorable practice, and we should be using every tool available to us to ensure the safety of these young girls.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, said, these are technical amendments, and I am pleased that he was able to bring them before the House today. He explained in detail exactly what they mean, and there is little to add other than to say that we fully support them, and that we know that they will help to make this Bill a much better Act when it comes on to the statute book. I know that the Government will support this as well. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I look forward to seeing this on the statute book very soon.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in today’s discussion and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, for his Bill and the enormous amount of time and effort that he has devoted to it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has explained, the purpose of his Bill is to amend Section 8(4) of the Children Act 1989—the 1989 Act—to bring proceedings for female genital mutilation protection orders, or FGMPOs, within the definition of “family proceedings” for the purpose of the 1989 Act. Bringing FGMPO proceedings within the definition of “family proceedings” would mean that, in future, an application by a local authority or the NSPCC for a care or supervision order in relation to a child at risk of significant harm could be made during FGMPO proceedings. This would avoid the need for separate applications and potential delay. Other powers of the family court, including powers to make, for example, a prohibited steps order, special guardianship order or family assistance order, would also be available in FGMPO proceedings.
Female genital mutilation, or FGM, is an extremely painful and harmful practice that blights the lives of many girls and women. This Government continue roundly to condemn the practice of FGM and are determined to see it eradicated in this country and elsewhere. That is why the simplification of process intended by the Bill is sensible. It adds to the measures which the Government have brought forward to tackle FGM issues. It is also why the Government supported the Bill at Second Reading, subject to the minor and technical amendments put before the Committee today.
The Government believe that the amendments provide necessary clarity on the extent and scope of the Bill—that is, they clarify that the Bill applies to FGMPO proceedings only in England and Wales and does not inadvertently extend to Northern Ireland, and it excludes FGMPOs made during criminal proceedings which are distinctly criminal proceedings and not family proceedings for the purpose of the Children Act 1989. The Government are very pleased to support the Bill, subject to these minor amendments being made, and I too commend them to the Committee.
Amendment 1 agreed.