Female Genital Mutilation Bill

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Dr. Tonge: I have evidence, albeit anecdotal, that the procedure has been carried out by some medical professionals in this country, but there have never been prosecutions here. As the hon. Member for Calder Valley will confirm, quite a lot of evidence that FGM happens here, too, was presented at the hearings.

Paul Goggins: I fully accept that. We are dealing with cultural pressures within quite closed communities and, often, with young and vulnerable children. It is very difficult for them to report that that type of crime has been committed. All those factors have an impact. We certainly need to close loopholes in legislation, but the hon. Lady is right to say that we need both to send a strong message in legislation and to back that up with education for the public and members of those communities, as well as education and training for the professionals involved.

Mr. Luff: If a general practitioner is presented with a young girl who has experienced this dreadful act, will he or she have a duty of care to try to ensure that investigations are carried out into the circumstances in which the procedure was performed?

Paul Goggins: I certainly hope that a general practitioner or any health practitioner would follow up such cases urgently, not only by providing the appropriate care but by trying to find out how it happened. However, it is difficult territory because it is equally important that we do not do things that discourage people from seeking the health care that they need. If the message goes out that seeking medical attention has other consequences, it could make matters difficult. That is why not only statutory services, but voluntary services must adopt a sensitive approach.

Speaking of the voluntary sector, I pay tribute to the work of organisations such as Forward and the Agency for Culture and Change Management, which is supported by Home Office funding. Both organisations do very important work to highlight these issues. It is also important to acknowledge the work of the Department for International Development. I understand that, in recent years, it has invested £1.2 million in developing countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and many others, not least to help those who traditionally earned their living by carrying out these procedures to find other forms of employment. That is very important, and it is good to know that in his new role the Minister of State, Department for International Development, who replied for the Government on Second Reading, is keeping his eye on that and a lot of other important work in this field.

I have alluded to other aspects of the Bill at this stage because I do not intend to make speeches on other clauses unless hon. Members seek clarification of specific issues. Let me say simply that I have long admired the dedication of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley and I look forward to her taking the Bill through Committee this afternoon.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley): Will my hon. Friend the Minister clarify whether the Bill covers asylum seekers? The Bill does not make that clear.

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Many people who seek asylum in this country come from countries where FGM is commonly practised. It would be of great value if the Bill covered the children of such asylum seekers.

Paul Goggins: As I understand it, FGM or fears in relation to FGM could, if they were proved, be grounds for making a claim for asylum. There has to be genuine and well founded fear to substantiate an asylum claim. That could well be argued and evidence would need to be adduced for it.

My hon. Friend's question relates to a slightly wider argument about how far the Bill's remit might extend. It is intended to cover UK nationals and long-term UK residents. However, there are limits to how far the UK legislative remit can run: we cannot prosecute anyone in the world committing the offence; there has to be some direct connection to this country. It could be argued that the Bill would not cover someone who has just arrived here.

Angela Watkinson: I have heard of cases in which, although the mother of the child is enlightened and against the practice, the grandmother is still deeply into her own culture and possibly non-English speaking as well. There have been instances in which, when the mother is out, the grandmother takes the opportunity to perform the operation.

Paul Goggins: I understand that such scenarios arise. The Bill covers those circumstances. It is important to emphasise that any procedure that is carried out in this country is already covered.

I hope that that has helped to clarify the position for my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley. Perhaps she will say whether she is satisfied.

Chris McCafferty: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, but it does not entirely answer my question. I understand that the Bill would cover UK permanent residents—people who are ordinarily resident in this country without being subject under immigrations laws to any restrictions on the period for which they can remain. I am more concerned about people who are seeking asylum but who have not yet been granted refugee status. I appreciate that people in that category are unlikely to leave the country for whatever reason and that that is a deterrent in itself, but that is the point on which I would like clarification. In addition, does the Bill cover foreign students or visitors?

Paul Goggins: It is clear that there must be a direct connection to this country in terms of citizenship or residency. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that it is highly unlikely that someone who was in the process of seeking asylum would leave the country to pursue an FGM procedure, because if they left the country their application for asylum would automatically fall and they would therefore no longer be an asylum seeker. The likelihood is that if the procedure were to be carried out, it would be in this country rather than another; as I have already explained, the procedure is already illegal in this country and it will continue to be illegal under the Bill, so such cases would be covered. Fear of FGM could be grounds for an asylum claim, although there is no guarantee. It is highly unlikely that an asylum seeker would leave the country to have the procedure carried out elsewhere.

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Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Offence of assisting a non-UK person to mutilate overseas a girl's genitalia

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

Ann Clwyd: The clause creates a new offence. Subsection (1) makes it an offence for a person in the UK to aid, abet, counsel or procure the performance outside the UK of a relevant act of FGM that is carried out by a person who is not a UK national or permanent UK resident. Without that provision, it would be an offence for a person in the UK, a UK national, or permanent UK resident outside the UK to aid, abet, counsel or procure an FGM operation outside the UK only if the operation were carried out by a UK national or permanent UK resident. If an operation is carried out abroad, that is unlikely to be the case, so we need to make specific provision for operations carried out abroad by foreign nationals.

By virtue of subsection (2), the offence applies only when the victim is a UK national or permanent UK resident. Restricting the clause to victims who are UK nationals or permanent UK residents increases the connection to the UK. Without such a restriction, we would be making it an offence to assist an FGM operation carried out abroad by a person who has no connection to the UK on a victim who has no connection to the UK. It is right that all children should be protected from FGM, whatever their nationality or residency, but it does not necessarily fall to, nor is it possible for, the UK to legislate to protect all victims outside our own jurisdiction.

Subsection (3) ensures that the exception for necessary surgical operations, which applies for the purposes of clause 1, also applies to clause 3.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Extension of sections 1 to 3

to extra-territorial acts

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

Ann Clwyd: 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

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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.

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