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Female Genital Mutilation

Volume 752: debated on Thursday 6 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that government departments work together to identify girls at risk of female genital mutilation and provide them with the necessary support.

My Lords, on 6 February, to mark International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Ministers signed a declaration to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to tackling this practice. On 8 March, we will be publishing the updated ending violence against women and girls action plan. This will have a renewed focus on FGM and will set out clearly the cross-government approach we are adopting.

I thank the Minister for that reply and of course I welcome the recent intervention by the Secretary of State for Education, which will enable all schools to play their part in dealing with this terrible and dreadful crime. Can the noble Baroness elaborate a little for the House on the role of other government departments? For example, will the Department of Health, the UK Border Agency, local government in the form of social services and so on be included? Which department will take the lead? Will this co-ordinated approach be at ministerial level? Finally, how is this work going to be developed within relevant local communities?

The noble Baroness asks a lot of questions. Although the ending violence against women and girls action plan is led by the Home Office—I was at a planning meeting a couple of weeks ago and the people sitting around the table were all very senior members from each department, as well as from this House—all government departments play a key role in tackling FGM. For example, as of next month it will be mandatory for NHS acute hospitals to provide monthly information on patients who have undergone FGM, and that has to be supplied to the Department of Health. The Government have also launched a £100,000 FGM community engagement initiative to support community work to raise awareness of FGM. We acknowledge that working with relevant communities is vital, as is systemic eradication of FGM in the UK, which will require practising communities to abandon the practice. There are some really good examples of work being done in Bristol. The West Midlands Police does really useful work and of course the Met here in London is seen as a leader on this issue.

My Lords, in January 2013, Ofsted announced that it would be making efforts to investigate FGM prevention in schools. Worryingly, 80% of teachers said that they had had no professional training in recognising signs of FGM. Will the Minister say what the Government are doing to encourage schools to provide training for teachers so that they can recognise girls at risk?

Fahma Mohamed visited the Department of Health and met the Secretary of State. As a result of this visit, he will be writing to schools by Easter. The safeguarding guidance is being rewritten—it has not been rewritten since 2007—and will go direct to schools, signposting the most recent FGM advice.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us what conversations have been had with the General Medical Council and the BMA? It is often considered that general practitioners’ view of patient confidentiality can get in the way of reporting. That might be an area that seriously needs to be considered.

This is a crime and these people all have safeguarding responsibilities. The Government have been having conversations with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the BMA and, critical to all this, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives.

My Lords, I welcome the Secretary of State for Education’s commitment to provide the guidelines to schools on protecting children who are at risk of genital mutilation. Will the noble Baroness tell the House what further steps are being taken to provide for and to support properly trained counsellors who really understand the cultural background to this issue so that we are not only protecting children but supporting those who are at risk or may already have been abused?

Work is going on with local communities. A £100,000 grant has been given to set up training so that people could work with NGOs and local schools to pick up exactly the type of issue that the right reverend Prelate has outlined.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that, given the growing disquiet in the country thanks to the efforts of Members of your Lordships’ House and the other place, even if the Government just said that they were going to look at the possibility of mandatory examination of young girls, that would send out a real warning signal? Parents thinking of doing this would know there is a real possibility that they could go to prison for it.

The Government have looked at that and currently have decided that it is not the way in which they want to go forward. The NHS’s response is that it is asking all acute hospitals to report on a monthly basis to the Department of Health when they see evidence of FGM.

My Lords, I think we all know that what we really need is a successful prosecution for FGM. On a different point, have the Government considered conducting a national confidential inquiry into patient outcomes on female genital mutilation? They could do a survey across the NHS, which might help to give a clearer picture. Is the noble Baroness prepared to talk to her friends in the department to see whether that is a possibility?

My Lords, I think that everyone agrees that a prosecution is long overdue. We are told that there are prosecutions in the pipeline. Certainly, I am more than happy to take the noble Baroness’s suggestion back to the Department of Health.