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Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

If the bill is passed today, given the purpose of an FGM protection order, if we know that a person is using the equipment to carry out or attempt to carry out FGM, they may be subject to a criminal conviction. We have that covered off. I hope that that reassures the member; we can talk more about it if she wants to do so.

Many members asked about guidance, and I want to reassure members about what we want to do in that regard. I draw members’ attention to “Scotland’s National Action Plan to Prevent and Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)—Year Three Progress Report”. On page 12, we say:

“Both sets of guidance will set out the policy and legal context for work on FGM. The Guidance on Protection Orders will describe the order, set out roles and responsibilities and cover relevant matters such as application process, costs and access to legal aid”.

I want to say something about legal aid. At stage 2, the issue was raised and we considered how a person who is accessing an FGM protection order might be able to access legal aid. I inform members that I implemented the regulatory change to the legal aid list to ensure that FGM protection orders are covered, which means that people have access to legal aid.

The year 3 report goes on to say:

“The guidance on FGM generally will provide a comprehensive summary of the issues around FGM and set out actions for Chief Executives, Directors and senior managers to whom the guidance will apply. Both sets of guidance will be shaped through close community engagement and work with key stakeholders, utilising the expertise of members of the FGM National Implementation Group.”

That work will commence immediately following royal assent.

All today’s speakers have raised incredibly important issues about implementation. Following royal assent, the work will be complemented later in 2020 by the formal consultation on the draft guidance that will cover the FGM protection orders and FGM generally, should we have the space to do that, given the current climate that we are all facing right now.

It is our intention to do that formal consultation and to give stakeholders and parliamentarians another chance to voice their opinions, to ensure that the implementation of the orders and the guidance matches what we want to be done.

To assist with the effective operation of future statutory guidance on FGM, we will work with stakeholders to ensure that the core training adequately reflects the position on FGM, including the updated legislation. In progressing that work, we will engage with communities at the outset, to ensure that the guidance in particular reflects the needs of women and girls.

A question was asked about legal aid and whether that would usually be subject to the income of the parents. That would be the case only where it would not be unjust and inequitable to do so. Given that FGM protection orders would often—but not always—involve the consideration of restrictions on parents, we think it highly likely that such means testing would always be unjust and inequitable. In those circumstances, legal aid would be granted.

At stage 2, I indicated that I had instructed the preparation of the regulations because of the urgency of the matter. The regulations will proceed as part of the bill’s implementation process.

It is vital to emphasise that the bill is one part of our overall holistic approach to preventing and eradicating FGM. I know that everyone who spoke wanted to make sure that we take that approach. Michelle Ballantyne in particular said that legislation is not enough. We know that. We can use the legislation to prevent FGM and to protect women and girls, but culture change, understanding, support and working with stakeholders and communities are the main ways by which we want to protect women and girls. We have been doing that through our national implementation and action plan, and we want to make sure that we continue that work.

Last month, we published our year three progress report on our action plan to prevent and eradicate FGM. I am pleased to highlight that we are making good progress. I hope that people will take a look at the report—it makes for good reading and shows us all the direction that we want to go in.

I pay tribute to and recognise the hard work and dedication of our third sector partners in helping to drive that progress. Those organisations are doing vital work to raise awareness, challenge attitudes and support women and girls, and, alongside the legislative measures that we will take, will make the change that we all want.

I commend front-line workers—in the police and the health and social work sectors—who are all supporting women and girls. We will continue to work together with stakeholders and communities in making every effort to build a Scotland where women and girls at risk of harm can be equally safe. That means that wee girl who Pauline McNeill spoke about; it means that baby who Michelle Ballantyne spoke about. That is who all this is about.

As I have said, abhorrent gender-based violence has impacted on nearly 200 million women and girls worldwide. We know that there are those in Scotland who have been subject to it and that there are those who are at risk of it.

One of the things that I want to do in issuing statutory guidance to bodies is to make sure that a person-centred approach is at the heart of everything that we do. As a Government and as a Parliament we must send a very strong message that FGM in Scotland will not be tolerated; that women and girls will be believed; that they will be supported; that they will be listened to; and that we will look after and protect them.

We need to take practical action to build on existing protections, so that the risk of FGM taking place at all is reduced. The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill does that. In future, girls and women can be better protected from harm and, importantly, FGM protection orders can be used to stop potential perpetrators of FGM in their tracks.

I launched the bill outside the Parliament, just short of a year ago, with a woman called Neneh Bojang. If you have not heard her story—actually, you do not want to hear it, because it is absolutely horrifying. At every step of the way in my work on the bill, I have had her front and foremost in my mind—like Michelle Ballantyne with that baby, like Pauline McNeill with that wee girl, and like the conversation that I had with John Finnie about the parties that wee girls sometimes think they are going to, and how abhorrent that is. Those are the people at the front of our minds; they are our Scottish citizens; they are our wee girls. The bill that we have passed into law today will protect them all.