Question for Short Debate
My Lords, in the past 30 years there have been two Acts of Parliament concerning the law on female genital mutilation. The second one, in 2003, superseded and expanded the first, making the maximum punishment for carrying out genital mutilation 14 years’ imprisonment. In the past year, at last, and for the first time, FGM has been very much to the fore. Those of us who have always believed that schools have a major part to play in detecting which children are at risk of FGM have seen teachers alerted to identifying those in danger. Nurses and midwives—many of whom knew nothing about the risk, and who had among their patients those who were likely to have been mutilated and those who would be liable to be—have now been taught what to look out for. Young girls subjected to FGM as small children or recently in their teens have come forward, told their stories to newspapers and magazines and been featured in the many campaigns intended to put an end to what has long been known as a cruel and revolting practice.
This week, as part of the Government’s reducing and preventing crime strategy, mandatory reporting of FGM begins. The Home Office particularly wants to hear from health professionals, the judiciary, social workers, criminal justice practitioners, service providers and local authorities. Sanctions are to be applied if professionals fail to report FGM. This is an important step forward, but those of us who have worked against FGM have long been convinced that the best way of stopping it would be to prosecute the perpetrators. One single successful prosecution would do much. With a law in place allowing no mercy on perpetrators of FGM, making no excuses for them and uncompromisingly calling their action a crime and child abuse, a newcomer to the UK who had never previously heard of FGM, on learning what it was and what the law was, would refuse to believe that there had been no prosecutions.
In many countries where the law is similar prosecutions happen and are successful. There have been more than 100 successful prosecutions in France, in Italy and in Sweden, and there have been successful prosecutions in countries in east Africa as well. In Kuria East, in central Africa, the parents of a 13 year-old girl were prosecuted for employing a so-called circumciser to cut her and were sent to prison for three years. In France, girls are routinely examined by their doctors to check if they have had FGM or are in danger of having it. However, there have been no prosecutions here. The reasons given are that a girl will not go into court and give evidence against her parents about abuse carried out on her. In parts of Europe where girls have given evidence against their parents, they have never returned to their parents’ home after the case was over. The communities from which they, their parents or even their grandparents have come are known for the closeness of their families. Appearing in court and stating openly under oath what a mother or even a father did to them would be a betrayal many could not face carrying out. But to put an end to FGM such evidence almost certainly must be given. Perhaps we have to find a way to expand the law, to change the law, if we are to make successful prosecutions happen in future.
I have talked to surgeons from France who have carried out reversals of mutilation. Such reversals now include restoring parts of the genitalia, which used to be considered impossible. The time will come, it is hoped, when complete restoration can be achieved. One fine surgeon well known to me in London carries out reversals but has yet to restore sensation to the clitoris. But are we really to look forward to the repair of a hideous, brutally perpetrated wound—a repair carried out with great difficulty and enormous skill—as the only certain solution to the problem of FGM? What kind of a society uses circumcisers who are ignorant of medicine and surgery to deliberately maim young women and girls, who can only be restored to health and a normal life by the operations of a highly skilled surgeon?
The number of cases of FGM cutting in this country, in Europe and in Africa vary. Indeed, I may say that they vary wildly. At present we hear of 66,000 cases in the UK with a further 24,000 at risk, while a few months ago I heard the figures of 133,000 and then of 137,000. In Africa the figure is 3 million, but is liable to change according to who arrives at it.
The Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for International Development now recognise that tackling violence against women and girls, which includes FGM, requires a sustained, robust and dynamic cross-government approach, and that every department needs to play its part in addressing FGM. We hear less these days about the supposed cultural value of FGM or about not interfering with ancient traditions. Foot binding in China had to be banned, as did such practices as neck lengthening which result in disablement. We now hear less, if anything, about the value to society of the tradition of FGM and the need to retain it.
The Department of Health is working to improve the information collected by the NHS on FGM. Health staff may now have to include a type of so-called female circumcision in their attentions. This, which appears to be Islamic in origin, is now being practised in the UK, according to information reaching the FGM National Clinical Group. It claims to be close to male circumcision and involves cutting the area around the clitoris. It appears to have its origin in the Caribbean. Claims are made that it brings enhanced pleasure to men and women but, whether or not that bears any relation to the truth, the fact is that it too is illegal here. It is just another variation on a damaging cutting procedure, which every victim would be better off without.
The Department for International Development has established a £35 million programme to address FGM in Africa and beyond, which aims to end FGM in one generation. The Home Office’s action plan, the Call to End Violence against Women and Girls, has renewed its focus on protecting potential victims. The Home Office aims to use this plan to work closely with partners across government to help secure an FGM conviction. The Home Office has launched a statement which sends out a strong message to anyone involved in the practice of FGM. This statement is set out on leaflets, of which 37,000 have gone out.
The Home Office continues to work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that the Government are doing everything they can to secure a prosecution. The Director of Public Prosecutions’ assessment is that it is now only a matter of time before a perpetrator is brought to justice. A doctor is due to appear at the Central Criminal Court in January, and if this case goes ahead it will be the first instance of a prosecution under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. One successful prosecution might arguably do more than cautionary leaflets. This case is long awaited and I hope it may take place, whatever the outcome, because 133,000 or 137,000 young women and girl children’s future lives depend on it. The publicity which it gives rise to alone will spread the news of what FGM is as nothing else can.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, who has espoused the cause of halting FGM for at least as many years as I have months. When I entered your Lordships’ House, I very much felt that I did so to represent music, culture and the arts, but what I discovered from listening to debates about FGM so appalled me that I became quite passionate in my own espousal of this cause. It is an appalling practice, and what really staggered me was that it is happening in Great Britain; I simply could not believe it. It is bad enough that it is happening in the way that it is in many countries—and I know that there are charities tackling that—but that this is going on in this country is completely staggering. I gather that some children are brought to this country to be subjected to FGM. Does the Minister have any figures not just on the people who live here who are being cut but on the ones who are possibly being brought here for that purpose? It would suggest that there is not a sufficient fear of the law.
When this issue was recently debated in your Lordships’ House, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was asked about the discrepancy between this country and France, which the noble Baroness has just referred to. He said, with considerable justification, that France is a very different country from this one and that the idea of mandatory examination here would offend civil liberties and the mothers of young girls would be very upset. It is a fair point. I therefore undertook to ask several friends with young children how they would feel about it. Their initial response was exactly as the noble Earl predicted. However, when I said to them, “If the fact that you allowed your young child to be sensitively examined—however much you may baulk at it—saved five, 10, 20, 100 or who knows how many other children from being mutilated, would you feel differently?”. At which point they said, “If you put it like that, yes; I could not possibly refuse something that might save other children from this horrendous practice”.
I know that the Minister and everyone in his department and the Department of Health are very concerned about this—none of us doubt that. None of us wants to see this practice continue. We all think that it is barbaric. However, although progress is being made, we have not yet, as we have heard, obtained a conviction. I ask the Minister to consider—I use that word very carefully—mandatory targeted examination. If one is considering it one is not necessarily saying that it is going to happen, but the fact that the Government say that they may need to consider it would send a message to families who might be considering cutting their children. They might suddenly realise that they could be held to account. As far as I can see, this is a win-win situation for the Government. Even if it stopped a handful of children being cut, it would have achieved something.
I shall keep my speech very short because I have previously gone on and on about the barbarity of the practice. We do not need to hear those arguments again because we all share the same feelings about the practice. I simply ask whether the Minister will consider the possible mandatory targeted examination of children.
I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for highlighting this important area and giving us yet another opportunity to air some of these complex but vitally important matters. I pay tribute to her determination in trying to keep this issue in the public domain. I also thank Her Majesty’s Government for the splendid, recently published action plan. It is encouraging that many people want to make an impact on this problem, across all the parties. That is the secret. We need to get cross-party support and expand it much more widely.
Yesterday marked the end of a 16-day campaign, the origins of which lie with the Women’s Global Leadership Institute. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign began on 25 November—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—and ended yesterday, 10 December, which was Human Rights Day. A specific part of this campaign is to target the ending of FGM.
Within my own sphere of operation within the Anglican Communion, the Mothers’ Union, which has more than 4 million members worldwide, has participated in this campaign. Indeed, in my own diocese of St Albans we have recently had a debate on gender-based violence, including the horror of FGM. In response to that, we have committed ourselves as a diocese to campaign on this issue and to try to raise it across all sorts of different bodies and groups. As a direct result of that and other initiatives, in the last few days I have tabled a number of Questions to Her Majesty’s Government on the subject of FGM.
This debate is specifically about encouraging prosecutions under the 2003 Act—something which, as we have already heard, has not so far been accomplished, although I understand that that may change shortly. I also note that under the Serious Crime Bill, which is now having its Second Reading in the other place, we have been beefing up the legislation in several areas relating to this. For example, the scope for prosecuting someone for assisting an offence of FGM overseas is being extended to all residents of the UK, not just permanent residents. There will be a guarantee of lifelong anonymity for anyone who is alleged to have been the victim of FGM, which is more likely to make victims feel willing to come forward. There will be a new offence of failing to protect a girl from risk of FGM on the part of someone with parental responsibility for her, and female genital mutilation protection orders will be introduced. Those are all things which I warmly welcome. It is intended that they will help to prevent vacation cutting, while allowing the child to stay with her family and not be taken into care.
I know that a number of your Lordships will share my regret that one amendment was lost earlier in the passage of that legislation. It sought to add to FGM protection orders the words:
“For the purpose of determining whether an operation is necessary for the mental health of a girl or woman, it is immaterial whether she or any other person believes that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual”.
I did not take part in the debate at that stage but I understand that the amendment was rejected because some people believe that it is already covered in the 2003 Act. However, in my mind it highlights that, while we are busy trying to pass more legislation, somehow we are not getting convictions under the existing legislation. We have already heard that there have been a number of prosecutions in France, and I think that just last month there was a successful prosecution in Uganda. I found myself wondering whether what we need is not more legislation but to work out where the blocks are. In particular, for example, do we need to get people from the CPS to go to France to discover what the problems have been in working through this? Are there other blockages? If Uganda is achieving prosecution, surely it cannot be beyond our wit to do the same. If this is going on, it is clearly established, because the evidence is there in some cases. I hope that we can take a close look at why we do not seem to make more progress.
However, I want to underline that, as well as hoping to get prosecutions, we need to work really hard on changing culture. Law is a blunt instrument. We have loads of laws on drugs and substance abuse and we try to enforce them, but, in that and other areas, we need to keep trying to get behind the issue which is causing the problem in the first place. We need to look at how we can help those very often traditional societies. I hear the point being made by my noble friends about sending out signals, but in some of these communities very few people are able to speak English, some of them do not listen to any radio stations that we listen to, and some of them are not able to read what we would call a usual English newspaper. The question is whether some of these signals are being heard. I spent some years working in Walsall in the West Midlands in an area with a large number of people of other cultures. In many ways, they were quite separate from what we accepted as the norm. As well as making a push on convictions, which will send out a strong signal, I hope that we can find ways of engaging much more with the leaders of these communities.
It is very often, I am told—I have no direct experience of this—the older women in the communities who push for this as the norm; it is not just men who see this as an issue. In particular, we need community leaders who are willing to say publicly that they not only do not agree with it, but that they would be willing to marry someone who has not had FGM. There have been one or two such statements and these will dig right into the culture and help us move forward. So, as well as making a push on the legal opportunities, the prosecutions, I hope that we will not lose sight of some very useful material in the national action plan about dealing with cultural issues at the same time.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on raising this issue. On Tuesday the House debated judicial review and its importance in ensuring that Ministers act according to law. In a country without a Bill of Rights, this is an essential cog to uphold the rule of law, as the House decided overwhelmingly. In my short speech I talked about how a government department that I was responsible for reacted to an adverse decision of the courts, and the non-statutory inquiry I set up, as Attorney-General, following criticism of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service.
I am confident that the current Director of Public Prosecutions, whom I know, with her long experience of prosecuting, can be relied upon to fulfil the proper tests for prosecution: the public interest one and the evidential one. But you cannot make bricks without straw. I think that the public interest test is clear. However, there seems, from the paucity of prosecutions, to be substantial difficulties in the presentation of evidence. Do the difficulties lie with the families, with the victims, with the medical profession? If it is with the medical profession, where is the Hippocratic oath? If there is fault, where are the disciplinary procedures of the medical profession?
According to the Times, yesterday the Home Secretary said:
“Doctors who perform cosmetic vagina surgery could be committing a criminal offence”.
She added that that would be a matter for the courts to decide. However, if there are hardly any cases for the courts to decide, how is the rule of law being complied with? The Home Secretary also said that,
“prosecutions were already possible under 2003 legislation which strengthened the ban on FGM”.
Well, it is good to know the obvious. In my view, it is high time that there was a high-powered inquiry, with the co-operation of the medical profession, as to where and what the problem is.
In my time as Attorney-General I had regular meetings with the Director of Public Prosecutions, week in, week out, when we discussed significant and important cases. However, the decision to prosecute or not was for the DPP alone. Given the concern that so few cases are coming before the courts, and that there are prima facie cases that the rule of law is being flouted, how many times has the issue been raised in the regular meetings of the Attorney-General and the director? I have no doubt, given the significance of concern over this issue, that had I been in that chair, I would have raised it with my DPP, and I am sure that my DPPs would have raised it with me.
My Lords, I, too, would like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, not just for raising this issue but for raising it again and again. We appreciate that because it reminds us all that we still have not done very much about this problem. I can remember in the early 1990s my very first clinical experience of this, so it is as recent as that. A patient had come to me for advice because she was planning to get married. She was a very intelligent girl, at university, from Somalia as it happens, and we know now that that is where the practice goes on. She came and I examined her and I honestly did not know what I was looking at. I did not know whether she had a congenital abnormality or what, and she told me about FGM. The patient herself explained it to me. In all the years of obstetric, gynaecological and general medical training and all the practice I had had up to that time I had never seen a case or heard about it. I think that really shows how recent the problem is, even for the medical profession.
In 2000, when I was in the other place, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health produced a report. We did a survey of attitudes to try to find out what was going on in this country. Out of the 240 doctors, nurses, clinics, schools and a range of facilities that we asked, we had only a 22% response. People just did not know about it. That was 14 years ago. Here I must pay another tribute to the NGO Forward which is headed by Naana Otoo-Oyortey because she, like the noble Baroness, has never left this subject alone. She comes back to us time and again. That survey showed there was very little knowledge and training, despite the fact that in 2002 and 2003 Ann Clwyd, whose Private Members’ Bill I supported, extended the prohibition to the practice of girls being taken abroad to have this done. Despite all of this and despite the efforts of the noble Baroness and others, by 2012 there were still no prosecutions in the UK.
A meeting was arranged with Keir Starmer in 2012, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, who was extremely enthusiastic and got a big group of people together to investigate why there were no prosecutions, and this action plan has been carried through by his successor. So things have been done at all levels. At the Girl Summit the Prime Minister said he was committed to prosecutions. Again this year the Serious Crime Bill, as we have heard, is planning to extend prosecutions to people who are habitually resident here and not normally resident. I expect the lawyers to explain the distinction to me. So things are happening all the time on this. Also this year we have been assured that information has been sent and training given to schools, doctors, nurses and midwives. Midwives are especially important because girls who had this mutilation at a very young age are now having babies and coming to our maternity hospitals and obstetric departments to have their babies, so that is a point when we can identify that they had it done. They are not necessarily very old.
Despite all this, and the passage of the summer holidays when we know girls have been taken abroad to have this torture done—there is no other way of describing it—we have no prosecutions. What has happened to mandatory reporting? Was it not going to be a duty of doctors, teachers, nurses and other groups to report it if they discovered a girl who had this done? How is the training of professionals progressing? What plans are there for prosecuting community leaders and even family members? As the Bishop mentioned, grannies like me in other cultures and societies will be the people who will be promoting traditional practices. What plans are there for prosecuting those people?
I have written here, because I was angry when I was writing it this morning, “Stop pussyfooting around”. I apologise for the language, but we really have got to stop it. All the child protection legislation that we have had over the years surely covers this. It is the most grotesque form of child abuse. It is horrible and violent. It causes untold physical damage to a woman and, we should remember, a huge charge on the National Health Service. We must remember all these things. Surely the legislation is already there, as it is child abuse. If a family member sexually abuses a young girl, he goes to prison. Why does he not in this case? It should be the same for FGM.
We do not need to have the child as a witness standing in court. It is the parents’ responsibility and if this has happened to the child, my view is that those parents should be prosecuted. I know that it will cause terrible hardship, fear and damage to a few families but maybe we have to have a few families go through this to make the point that it is illegal. It is grotesque child abuse. It must not happen and we must see a stop to it.
My Lords, I associate myself with the tributes paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, first, for giving us the opportunity to have what has been a very thoughtful debate on this issue and, secondly, for her tireless campaigning on an issue that—let us be honest—is so awful that most of us do not even want to think about it. However, we have to think about it and take action on it so her campaigning, and the way that she has drawn the wider public’s attention to this issue, is something that she should be very proud of and we are very grateful for.
I also welcome the Minister who is responding to this debate. As we have heard, there have been some debates that were responded to by the Department of Health. During the many debates on the changes that we were making to legislation on the Serious Crime Bill, it was the Home Office responding. It is appropriate that we also have a response from the Ministry of Justice, as there are specific issues related to that department. That just shows how important it is for those three departments, and others, to work together and be co-ordinated on this.
The scale of this problem is hard to comprehend. We have had some figures from the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, but there are thousands of young women and girls in this country who have been mutilated. For those who think that it happens somewhere else over there, it does not; it is happening here. There could be a young girl somewhere in the UK today who is being mutilated. It is that serious. The euphemism that we sometimes use of girls being “cut” belies the horror of what is really involved, which I think is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton. It was right that the noble Baronesses, Lady Tonge and Lady Rendell, were also clear about the horrors of what is involved. When we spoke about this in debate on the Serious Crime Bill, I think that I was the first person to appear on “Yesterday in Parliament” in a programme that was given a certificate and a warning before it went out. I thought that it was important to say exactly what is involved, and in somewhat embarrassing graphic detail.
We are talking about thousands of young girls and women. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, made the point about these girls having children. It is estimated that up to 60,000 girls have been born in England and Wales to mothers who had FGM, which means that they have been sealed up after they have been cut and that the process of birth, where they have to be operated on beforehand, is extremely difficult. Whatever the numbers, we are talking about thousands. The process known as infibulation sounds quite a normal word for something that will continue to cause pain and trauma throughout the life of that woman. It is a mutilation that leaves permanent scars, on the mind as well as on the body.
The lack of prosecutions should concern us all. It would be fine if we thought that there was a lack of prosecutions because the law had been so successful that it was preventing this happening. However, we know that that is not the case and that thousands of young girls every year undergo FGM here in the UK.
I would like to raise two issues because it seems to me that the purpose of legislation here is twofold. We have such legislation in place, first, to try to prevent such mutilation occurring and, secondly, to take action against those who break the law. We had discussions in debate on the Serious Crime Bill on female genital mutilation orders, which the Government introduced in response to our proposals for such orders. They seek to protect young women from this vile practice before it happens, so they are similar to the forced marriage orders in their aim being prevention. By recognising all the problems in getting evidence for a criminal prosecution, they take the route that this is a civil measure to protect a young girl rather than a criminal measure.
The Minister was not in the debate because it was not his Bill, but I am sure that he will be aware of the discussions that we had. We have concerns about the process that the Government have chosen. Rather than placing such orders clearly and firmly in family law in a civil process, they are placed in a civil process within criminal law. I will not go into the detail now but all the advice that we have received from lawyers with expertise in this field tells us that this will make the gain of such an order more difficult, for some of the reasons that we have explained before. That is part of why we have had a lack of prosecutions for those who have committed FGM.
The Minister’s experience will tell him that lawyers dealing with family court cases and issues are not the same as those who deal with criminal law. We welcome the orders that prevent this happening and we welcome the Government’s support, but we just want them to be as effective as they possibly can be, because a child’s future depends on us getting this right. We want to ensure that there are no barriers for someone to seek an order to protect a young girl from being mutilated. We want to make it as easy and straightforward as possible, without any loopholes or problems. So before the Serious Crime Bill finishes its passage through Parliament, could the Minister bring his legal expertise to look again at this issue to ensure that we have got it right, because we have serious doubts that the orders as currently proposed will get as many prosecutions as they could if they were wholly within family law courts and not within a criminal prosecution, although it is a civil measure?
I am not talking about prosecutions—I am talking about the FGM orders that are currently civil orders that the Government have placed within criminal law to keep all FGM legislation the same. It is a very different process from prosecuting afterwards.
My second point is that we wanted these FGM orders to be based on the same principles as forced marriage orders, which have been significantly successful. One aspect on which I sought clarity from the Minister at Third Reading—I have also spoken privately to the Minister and have not yet got an answer—is whether legal aid would be made available for those seeking an FGM order as it currently is with forced marriage orders? The Minister was unclear on that in the House and although I have spoken to him since it seems that there is still a lack of clarity in the Government over whether these orders would attract legal aid. It seems impossible to me that they could proceed in any way without legal aid.
During the passage of the LASPO Bill, because of the changes made to legal aid by the Government, there was a specific provision was made for forced marriage orders, in paragraph 16 to Schedule 1. No such provision has yet been made for FGM orders. I find it strange that the Government would consider bringing in such orders without providing these young girls or those acting on their behalf to prevent them being mutilated with the ability to bring something before the courts and have legal aid. Are the Government intending to make legal aid available? If not, or if the position remains unclear, how does the Minister expect the orders to be obtained and how many does he think that there will be?
We do not think that the Government are wrong on the orders. On prosecutions, we believe that they share our objectives to stamp out this practice and hold those responsible to account. We believe that that is a genuine commitment from the Government. However, the laws that we have at the moment are not working as well as they should, or were intended to do. We have an opportunity in the Serious Crime Bill to make changes and get it right, but as the right reverend Prelate said, we need to have a cultural change as well. If it was made clear that successful prosecutions could be made under the existing law, that would help to drive a cultural change. If the expectation was that this was something that could be prosecuted, that would have an impact in those communities.
We all want to see those responsible for mutilating the genitals of young girls being prosecuted, and we want to see this twin-track approach whereby we prevent it happening in the first place and make a difference to the lives of these girls.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for securing this important debate and for introducing it so effectively and economically. The fact that she has returned to this subject so many times is a tribute to her tenacity on what is such an important issue for all of us. This issue is very much in the news now; coverage of it has exploded. However, that was a long time coming and is due to many people, including those such as the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, who have kept the matter high on the agenda, and I pay tribute to her and to other speakers who have an equal interest in this important subject.
There is, I think, complete agreement that this is an abhorrent crime that affects some of the most vulnerable girls and women in our society. The Government are committed to preventing and ending the harmful and unacceptable practice. I agree that successful prosecutions are a key part of stamping out FGM and would send out a strong message on the rule of law, something to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, referred. There is a prosecution due in January. It is probably not appropriate to comment on what one hopes the outcome of the case would be, but, whatever happens, the publicity that will attend that prosecution should, I hope, send a strong message in itself.
The DPP announced the first prosecutions of FGM in March of this year. The first defendant is charged with carrying out FGM. The second defendant is charged with intentionally encouraging an offence of FGM and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring an offence. I am sure that it is a source of frustration to all noble Lords that while FGM has been a specific criminal offence for 29 years—the original Act—no prosecutions were brought. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, played a significant part in the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act, which she steered through this House, extended significantly the protection that the law affords to victims of this unacceptable practice. The Act created extraterritorial offences to deter people from taking girls abroad, and, to reflect the serious harm caused, it increased the maximum penalty for any of the female genital mutilation offences from five to 14 years.
However, there has been increasing public concern at the failure to achieve a successful prosecution. Records indicate that no cases were referred to the CPS for a decision on whether to bring proceedings until 2010. In the last couple of years, a small number of cases have been reported to the police, which they have duly investigated. Some of those cases have since been referred by the police to the CPS for advice. However, the prevalence of FGM here—a study, part-funded by the Government and published in July 2014, revealed that approximately 60,000 girls are at risk of FGM in the UK—clearly should give rise to far more investigations and prosecutions than are taking place.
The CPS can, of course, only consider prosecuting cases of FGM which have been referred to it by the police following an investigation. However, the real problem has always been persuading victims to come forward at all. There are a number of challenges faced by the police in investigating cases of FGM. Many victims may be too young or vulnerable, or too afraid to report offences or to give evidence in court. As referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, the consequence of giving evidence and coming forward can be complete ostracisation from family or community: they may seem to pay a very high price. There may be evidential problems and other difficulties if cases are reported many years after the event. And of course FGM may take place out of the jurisdiction, leading to challenges in obtaining reliable and admissible evidence.
The CPS has been working closely with the Government, police, medical professionals and the third sector to address some of these challenges, and is now in a much stronger position to bring successful prosecutions against those who perpetrate this practice. The DPP wrote to the Ministry of Justice and to Home Office Ministers in February 2014 proposing changes to strengthen the legislation. The proposals were informed by a review of cases referred to the CPS by the police in which prosecutors had been unable to charge and prosecute. A number of areas were identified in which legislation could be strengthened.
As has already been mentioned, in July 2014, the Prime Minister hosted the UK’s first Girl Summit. At the summit, a package of measures was announced, including commitments to strengthen the law and improve the enforcement response. There has been reference to legislative changes included in the Serious Crime Bill. While I readily concede that legislation is not of itself the answer, it is nevertheless important that there is the appropriate legislative framework. Some of the cases referred to the CPS highlighted, in the context to which I referred earlier, that a prosecution for FGM committed abroad could not be brought if those involved were not, at the material time, permanent UK residents as defined in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. Clause 67, which was included on its introduction, extended the reach to habitual as well as permanent UK residents. Many textbooks have been written about the different between “habitually” and “permanent”. I will not deal with the issue now, but it certainly covers those who seek to say that they were not permanently resident here. This means that it will in future be possible to prosecute a non-UK national for an offence under Sections 1 to 3 of the 2003 Act where that person is only habitually resident in this country.
More amendments were added on Report. It was thought that victims were reluctant to come forward because they did not want to be identified in the media, so lifelong anonymity is granted by Clause 68. We hope that will help to encourage people. I pay tribute to those who are courageous enough not only to come forward but to identify themselves—there are one or two. We hope that that will be followed.
Clause 69 creates a new offence of failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM and would make someone who has parental responsibility for a girl who has been mutilated aged under 16, and is in frequent contact with her, or who has assumed responsibility for such a girl, potentially liable if they knew, or ought to have known, that there was a significant risk of FGM.
Of course, we are very keen to see the criminal law being used, but ideally one would want to prevent FGM happening at all. So, following a consultation launched at the Girl Summit, Clause 70 introduces the civil order referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, to protect those at risk of FGM. She said that she is concerned that in the particular court in which such an order can be obtained the relevant experience may not be there for those who might seek an order and it would be better obtained elsewhere. We will consider that matter and I will pass on the concern that she has expressed. However, what is important is that wherever it is appropriate to seek such an order there is the relevant experience. We will work with the legal profession and others to ensure that the provisions are widely publicised and understood so that they can be proceeded with.
The noble Baroness asked about legal aid. I inquired specifically on this. The position is that we are considering the question of legal aid. I hear what she says about that. It is a matter which will be considered, I hope, in short order.
Safeguarding professionals are key to reporting FGM. The Government have committed to consult on how best to introduce a new mandatory reporting duty to ensure professionals report cases of FGM to the police. Alerting the police to actual cases will allow them to investigate the facts of each case and increase the number of perpetrators apprehended.
The CPS has appointed lead FGM prosecutors for each CPS area in England and Wales and local police/CPS FGM investigation protocols have been agreed with the 42 police force areas. That deals to some extent with the point made by the right reverend Prelate about the need to skill up prosecutors and the police to make sure that there is not just legislation but some practical understanding of the problems that are to be confronted here.
The Government have published multiagency practice guidelines on FGM, highlighting the risk factors that teachers, nurses, GPs, police officers and social workers should be looking out for during their work—matters on which the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, was keen to establish we were making progress. We are supporting and funding community engagement work to raise awareness of the issue. We are ensuring that NHS acute hospitals routinely record information relating to FGM and use it to support social services and police, as well as sharing it to provide appropriate healthcare for girls and women.
The Home Office has launched an e-learning tool so that all practitioners are able to undertake an introduction to FGM. There are reforms to social work, education and practice to protect children from FGM and other forms of abuse. There is also work to tackle FGM internationally, and DfID has announced a £35 million programme. The right reverend Prelate referred to our response to the Select Committee’s report and the action plan. I think that all noble Lords will agree that we have done all we can to grapple with this issue, although progress is frustratingly slow.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked whether this country was in some way particularly attractive to those who might wish to perpetrate this crime on young girls. Of course, one of the problems is that this is a largely hidden crime. However, the Government are committed to trying to stamp it out. They do not keep data on this matter but we are convinced that what we are doing will not do anything other than discourage it because of all the publicity and the various steps that we are taking.
As to the question of compulsory examinations, which the noble Lord raised on a previous occasion, I understand why he thinks that that is important. At the moment, the Government are not convinced that introducing medical examinations to identify FGM should be compulsory. I say “at the moment”; there are no current plans but the Government’s mind is not closed to these things. However, I do not want to mislead Parliament or the noble Lord by saying that they are actively considering that course.
There is very active engagement with foreign jurisdictions. We are learning from other countries, including France and common law jurisdictions in Australia.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned discussions between the DPP and law officers. As he will well know, they have regular meetings on a range of matters, including violence against women and girls. There was reference to Keir Starmer and his interest. Although I do not have personal knowledge of this, I am sure that such conversations continue under the current Government, and we know that there is a trial coming up in January.
I know that there was a debate about whether there should be a new criminal offence of inciting or encouraging FGM generally, as opposed to specifically. At the moment—indeed, it is the subject of one of the prosecutions—the Government think that prosecutions should relate to a particular offence rather than more generally, but I entirely take the point that it is important that community leaders outlaw this. Following the Girl Summit, 350 community and faith leaders from all major religions have condemned this practice, and we hope that that will continue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, quite rightly pointed to the fact that this issue goes across government. Of course, the Department of Health, DfID, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the MoJ, the Solicitor-General and the Department for Education are all concerned with this. There are regular meetings, an FGM unit has been established at the Home Office, and the Government’s cross-government strategy is contained—
I see that the Minister is drawing to a conclusion but I am bursting to ask him a question. Does he agree that female genital mutilation is grotesque child abuse? Therefore, why do we have to have all this extra wrapping around it? Why can it not just be dealt with like child abuse? I have had children brought to me in my clinics where teachers have suspected that sexual abuse has been going on. Why cannot the same thing happen with FGM? Why is it all so peculiar?
I do not think there is anything peculiar about it. There is no doubt that it is a criminal offence. In fact, France does not have a specific offence of genital mutilation; it simply has offences of assault and the like. Whether it is sexual abuse, assault or FGM, it is a criminal offence. So there is no special precaution about this. One of the points correctly made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, is that we have left the exaggerated respect for cultural norms and traditions and we hear no more about that, I am glad to say.
Across departments, the Government are committed to doing everything we can to stamp this out. We hope its prosecution is a success, that more people come forward and that a complete consensus can be established to stamp out this abhorrent practice. This has been a passionate and well informed debate. The Government fully understand the concerns expressed here and outside and are resolutely committed to fighting FGM.