Clause 4 - Extension of sections 1 to 3

Female Genital Mutilation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 25th June 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Special Envoy to PM on Human Rights in Iraq

The clause creates extraterritorial offences, which is the main purpose of the Bill. Subsection (1) extends clauses 1, 2 and 3 to prohibited acts committed outside the UK by a UK national or permanent UK resident. Subsection (2) provides that any such act may be tried in the courts of England and Wales and Northern Ireland. Permanent UK residents are people who ordinarily live in this country, without being subject under immigration laws to any restriction on the period for which they may remain. The Bill will therefore catch those who have a substantial connection to the UK but not those who

are here temporarily, such as foreign students or visitors.

It is unusual in international law for a state to take jurisdiction over acts committed abroad by its residents—permanent or otherwise—as well as its nationals unless required to do so by an international agreement, particularly when the act is not illegal in the country where it is committed. The extent to which the Bill takes jurisdiction is arguably unprecedented. I understand the concern of those who argue that the extraterritorial provisions of the Bill should apply to all UK residents who commit the prohibited acts. However, the people whom the provisions are intended to catch are those who take children abroad for FGM and then return to the UK and can thus be tried here. Those who have permanent residence here are free to leave and return to the UK at will and are thus more likely to be able to do that than those who do not.

Particular concern has been expressed about the fact that the clause will not apply to asylum seekers. It is, however, unlikely that asylum seekers would leave the UK for FGM-related or any other reasons because, first, an asylum application still under consideration by the Home Office will be regarded as withdrawn at the time of departure if the applicant leaves the UK and, secondly, an asylum appeal pending in the UK will be treated as abandoned if the appellant leaves the UK.

This clause strengthens the provisions of the 1985 Act significantly and goes a long way towards closing what has long been seen to be a serious loophole in the law. It means that people who have a close connection with the UK in the form of permanent residence can no longer evade our law by temporarily leaving the UK.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I rise to support the clause and the Bill in general. I believe that the vast majority of our constituents have no idea that this sort of thing happens. When I have talked about the issue to constituents, they have been deeply shocked to discover that FGM goes on, and horrified that Parliament allows it to continue. I therefore congratulate the hon. Members for Cynon Valley and for Calder Valley on the work that they have done on the issue. They enjoy my strong support and that of the vast majority of my constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.