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Offence Of Assisting A Non-Uk Person To Mutilate Overseas A Girl's Genitalia

Volume 408: debated on Friday 11 July 2003

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I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 10, leave out paragraph (a).

The amendment raises the following issue, if I understand the Bill correctly. It will become an offence for somebody going abroad to carry out, assist in or procure—or whatever other phrase the Bill uses—this procedure in respect of UK citizens or people permanently resident here. The only question I would ask is, why stop there?

Parliament has the power to legislate and say that acts carried out abroad by people who would otherwise be in this jurisdiction can be prosecuted in it. I wonder whether we should be singling out UK citizens and people normally resident here as those we are trying to protect and whether we should be considering the citizens of the world. I am not sure that I would like a distinction to be made in respect of somebody who goes abroad to get involved in this ghastly business, the victim of which might happen to be a Somali rather than a UK citizen. I think that the crime is the same in both cases.

The only purpose of the amendment, if I have the wording correct, is to say that if anybody goes from this country to get involved in this business elsewhere, it is immaterial who the victim is. We do not seek any restriction that applies only to UK citizens. The Bill's promoter or the Minister may tell me that that is not possible because of how our legal system operates. If that is the justification, I will stand corrected. For the moment, I would like to know why we do not protect foreigners as much as our own people.

I appreciate the strong wish of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) to protect every girl from this procedure. All children should be protected from female genital mutilation, whatever their nationality or residency. It does not necessarily fall to the United Kingdom, however, to legislate to protect all victims outside our jurisdiction, nor is it possible for us to do so. That is why the offence of assisting a non-UK person to mutilate overseas a girl's genitalia is restricted to cases in which the victim is a UK national or a permanent UK resident. Without such a restriction, we would be making it an offence to assist any female genital mutilation operation carried out abroad by a person with no connection with the UK, and in which the victim has no connection with it. Restricting application of the clause to victims who are UK nationals or permanent UK residents increases the connection to the UK, and lessens the risk that another state may object to the assertion of extra-territorial jurisdiction by the UK.

It is, of course, desirable to protect all victims from this dreadful practice, and the Department for International Development supports a range of work throughout the developing world to eradicate female genital mutilation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is a limit to how far the UK can go in this regard, and I ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment.

I want to join my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) in teasing out some answers.

The new offence is intended to cover circumstances in which a family resident in the UK arranges for a girl to be taken overseas for the purpose of an operation of this kind. However, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) probably knows—it has been pointed out by the pressure group Forward—it does not cover those who are newly arrived in Britain. That includes many of those who are most at risk. The group believes that that could give rise to a fundamental inequality in the rights and protections of, for example, African girls in Britain. There could be one rule for those who have gained UK nationality, and another for those awaiting immigration decisions. Forward wants the Bill to be amended so that it offers protection to all girls, irrespective of nationality. I believe that that has been done in other countries, such as Norway.

We are not talking about all girls everywhere in the world; we are talking about girls in this country who are awaiting immigration decisions and are then taken abroad. I should be interested to hear a response from the Minister or the hon. Member for Cynon Valley.

I understand what the Minister said, but I am not sure that it covered the point that I was trying to make. Perhaps I did not make it as clearly as I should have.

The reply that I received seemed to be that we might be seeking to become involved in acts carried out by foreigners on foreign nationals, which would be extending our attempts to legislate too far. I have no difficulty with that: I would deeply resent, as I hope the Minister would, some other country passing legislation and trying to control what went on in our jurisdiction. The clause that I want to amend, however, relates to a person who
"aids, abets, counsels or procures a person".
There is no attempt to say anything about the person carrying out the operation, or the procedure, if that person is not a British subject. There is no attempt to say that a foreigner who is not covered by our laws must not carry it out because we will prosecute that person if he or she does so. I understand clause 3 to refer to a UK citizen, who is prosecutable in this country, who goes abroad and aids, abets, procures or encourages someone else. What concerns me is the act of aiding and abetting, rather than the carrying out of the procedure. I am not sure that I understand what the Minister said about why, if someone who would normally be prosecutable in this country becomes involved in the aiding and abetting—rather than the carrying out—that should be offensive to a sovereign independent state.

1.45 pm

To try to clarify the position, if the person in this country is the person who is aiding and abetting, they will be open to prosecution. That is the purpose of the legislation. What we are seeking to emphasise is that both the person who is doing the aiding and abetting and the victim need to have that close connection with the United Kingdom—that, in particular in relation to the victim, they must be a citizen of the UK or a permanent resident here.

We have sought to take powers to treat certain things done outside this country—for example, acts of terrorism or murder—as prosecutable here. I hope that we will never get to a situation where we say, "We will prosecute you for murder if you carry it out abroad, provided it is a UK citizen whom you murder." I would have thought that where the victim is from was not as important as the Minister wants me to accept, but I do not want the Bill to get bogged down and disappear into a big black hole because of my being somewhat pedantic, as the Minister may see it. I would be grateful if he gave the matter some thought and, if there is anything more useful that he wants to say, wrote to me about it. If he does write to me about it, I am sure that he will put a copy in the Library.

I will gladly write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify the position further. May I respond to the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who asked about people newly arrived in this country? Considerable thought has been given to the matter. Of course, those newly arrived in this country who may be subjected to the procedure here would already be covered by existing legislation. We regard it as highly unlikely that someone who has just arrived here who is perhaps seeking asylum will remove themselves or be removed from the country to go to another country where the operation could be carried out, because if they did that, their application for asylum would fall. Therefore, we believe that, in all the circumstances, we have the balance about right.

In view of the Minister's offer to write, I do not want to detain the House any longer. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.