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House of Commons

Monday 27 June 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Female Genital Mutilation

1. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): How many prosecutions have been secured under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. [6852]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): There have been no prosecutions under the 2003 Act, nor were there under the 1985 Act, which it replaced. But the success of the legislation cannot be measured only by the number of prosecutions. Prosecution after the fact does not relieve the victim of a lifetime of pain and discomfort. We want to prevent female genital mutilation from happening in the first place. The 2003 Act, with its maximum penalty, up from five to 14 years imprisonment, is designed to deter this unacceptable practice.

Ann Clwyd: I wish that I could be as optimistic as my hon. Friend. When I introduced the legislation, I expected some prosecutions to follow. Acts that have been in force for 20 years without any prosecutions mean that 7,000 young girls in this country are estimated to be at risk of being taken abroad for those procedures. Somebody is not taking that seriously and I would like to know who.

Fiona Mactaggart: If I gave the impression that I was satisfied or complacent, that was not what I intended. I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is important to use prosecution as a tool under the Act. That is why specific guidance on the Act has been issued to chief police officers, chief Crown prosecutors and other criminal justice agencies as well as health and social services professionals, and why the Association of Chief Police Officers issued guidance—including guidance specifically about female genital mutilation—to its members in 2005 on child abuse. However, we must be honest. To have an investigation and a prosecution, we need reporting. I urge anyone who is aware of any cases to report them to the police so that they can investigate them and prosecution can follow.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): One of the problems in tackling the barbaric practice is the collusion of older women in the cultural groups
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concerned. It is not unusual for a grandmother to arrange for it to be done to a child in the absence of the mother from the home. What opportunities exist for educating the older women in those cultural groups?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Lady is absolutely right about that issue. That is one of the reasons why we have worked with voluntary organisations. They are in a better position than statutory organisations to communicate with women in the communities where young girls are most at risk of that act of abuse. We have funded FORWARD—the Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development—and ACCM, which is the Agency for Culture, Change and Management, this year for awareness-raising as well as research projects, which are precisely targeted at the sort of audience that the hon. Lady suggests.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): While recognising the great deal of work that the Home Office and the Department of Health have done to raise awareness of the issue in the United Kingdom, what discussions has the Under-Secretary held with home countries, given that the main thrust of the legislation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) introduced was making the provisions on female genital mutilation extra territorial to prevent families from taking their children back to home countries to have female genital mutilation performed upon them?

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right that one of the innovations in the legislation that I did not mention was that it made it an offence to export children to conduct the operation on them overseas. We support work in many other countries, especially Africa, that is aimed at eradicating female genital mutilation there. As part of that, we provide not only adequate health care for girls and women who are affected, but information and advice about the UK legislation to try to reduce the practice and prevent and deter people from exporting children for mutilation overseas.

Antisocial Behaviour

2. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle antisocial behaviour in Preseli Pembrokeshire. [6853]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): Like all local authorities, Pembrokeshire council has an antisocial behaviour co-ordinator. The co-ordinator and the community safety team have a close working relationship with Dyfed Powys police to tackle local problems of antisocial behaviour. As at February this year, 11 antisocial behaviour orders and seven acceptable behaviour contracts had been issued, mainly in response to alcohol-related problems.

Mr. Crabb: I thank the Minister for her reply. Will she join me in congratulating our team of police community support officers in Pembrokeshire on the excellent start that they have made in their new role? Will she also recognise, however, that due to the fact that those teams of officers are not on duty after 10 o'clock at night, and
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are not deployed to deal with confrontational incidents, they cannot provide the answer to alcohol-related crime? What we need in Pembrokeshire is more police officers with full powers of arrest out on the streets at weekends to tackle the 52 per cent. increase in violent crime that has occurred over the past 12 months.

Hazel Blears: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that his police force, like police forces right across the country, has had a significant increase in investment over the past few years. We now have 13,000 extra police officers on our streets. We have never said that police community support officers could provide the complete answer, but I am delighted that he feels that the work that those officers are doing in his constituency is making a real difference and providing reassurance on the streets. We will have dedicated, visible police teams—including CSOs—right across England and Wales over the next couple of years.

New Prisons

3. Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): Which (a) public bodies and (b) elected representatives are consulted before investigations of possible sites for new prisons are undertaken. [6854]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): The National Offender Management Service works with local planning authorities, such as local authorities, and may also consult a number of other public bodies, including the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and other Government Departments, English Partnerships, Government offices for the regions, and the Welsh Development Agency. Any Member in whose constituency we are planning to build a new prison will be kept up to date on developments by my Department.

Colin Burgon: I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. To many of us, the operations of the Prison Service are somewhat clandestine, and I certainly look forward to that exhaustive list of public bodies and individuals being consulted in the future. Would it not be better, however, if that engagement with those public bodies were started before the process, so that we could deliver a co-operative solution to the problem? I seek an assurance on this issue from the Home Secretary because the Conservatives have an absolutely barmy programme involving massive prison building—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That has nothing to do with the Home Secretary.

Mr. Clarke: First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he has taken up the issue of the development of the prison estate in his constituency and in the Leeds area in general? Secondly, I can give him the assurance that he seeks. We are going through a detailed discussion about the best future for the national prison estate, which will include where we need to be in the future. A lot of decisions need to be taken about the best location of prisons vis-à-vis their local communities, and about how to ensure that prisons are designed and built in a way that will encourage the prevention of
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reoffending, rather than simply being places of incarceration. We are going about this in a very serious way, and we will consult widely on it.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Given that nearly three out of four prisoners suffer from two or more mental health disorders, that an average of 40 prisoners assessed as requiring secure health care are waiting three or more months for admission to secure hospital facilities, and that—to the Government's shame—the Prison Reform Trust has confirmed that prisoners are twice as likely to be refused treatment for mental health problems inside prison than outside, what priority will the Secretary of State give to discussions with mental health trusts and the Department of Health when considering new prison sites?

Mr. Clarke: The answer is a very high priority indeed. I have already had consultations with the mental health trust in my own locality on precisely this point. We have also begun bilateral discussions with the Secretary of State for Health to address this issue. The point that the hon. Lady has made is correct; this does stand as an issue, and I argue strongly that, as a Government committed to improving education and health, we need to focus very hard on the least educated and least healthy people in our communities, who are the people in the criminal justice system, and, in regard to the least healthy aspects of the issue, the mental health aspect is particularly important, along with drugs.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of developments in the United States, where large-scale, private-sector-led prisons are leading to the development of a gang culture and to increased recidivism? Will he give the House an assurance that, before the UK Government embark on such a policy, they will hold a full public debate on penal policy, and particularly on the possibility of so-called jumbo prisons being developed, which could lead to the kind of gang culture and recidivism that we see in the States?

Mr. Clarke: I am aware of the developments that my hon. Friend is describing, and I can give him an assurance that, before going down that route, we will discuss the situation very widely. However, the question of large prisons should not be confused with the question of privately run prisons. Many privately run prisons offer an excellent service in this regard. My hon. Friend raises an interesting and important question about size, and it will be important to address that when we consider the future of the prison estate.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): But is not the    Home Secretary embarrassed by the Labour Government's record on prisons? We now have the highest prison population in Europe, a reconviction rate of 59 per cent., 12 prisoners committed suicide this month alone, overcrowding in our prison cells is commonplace, and 17 per cent. of drug tests in prison are positive. What on earth has gone wrong with prisons under his Government, and what will he do to put it right?

Mr. Clarke: I do not accept that description at all. The hon. Gentleman needs to put those considerations side by side with the significant reductions in crime that have
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taken place. As I have said, however, we need to focus on stopping reoffending by ensuring that we can get proper sentences. I am happy to work with him on that.

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