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

Mike Wood: Does my hon. Friend agree that such horrendous abuse and its lifelong effects cannot possibly be justified on the basis of cultural practice?

 

Zac Goldsmith Conservative, Richmond Park

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.

 

Mike Wood: I shall speak only briefly because at least one more Member still wishes to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend
the Member for Richmond Park (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.