Statue of Justice at the Old Bailey. Photo: Wikimedia
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Failure to protect girls from FGM is a "national scandal", say MPs

A hard-hitting report today from the Home Affairs Committee blasts the authorities for failing to eliminate cutting in the UK and calls for new laws.

The failure to prevent the genital mutilation of thousands of girls in the UK has been criticised as a “national scandal” in a damning report published by a parliamentary committee today.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee has set out a national action plan to tackle the barbaric child abuse, demanding that the authorities urgently bring successful prosecutions of cutters.

The report stated that a number of guilty verdicts are needed to prove that female genital mutilation (FGM) is “taken with the utmost seriousness in the UK and will be punished”.

Despite FGM being made illegal in Britain in 1985, not a single prosecution has been achieved; so far only two people have been charged with offence. Both are awaiting trial.

It is estimated that 170,000 women and girls in the UK are living with FGM current and a further 65,000 girls aged under 13 in Britain are at risk of it.

MPs have called for a spate of new laws to be introduced if the risk of FGM to young British girls is not eliminated within the next 12 months.

The possible laws include new protection orders, such as those that were introduced in 2008 for women at risk of forced marriage, in order to place girls at risk under the protection of the courts.

Another would be the creation of a new criminal offence rendering it illegal for doctors to fail to report mutilation.

Following the lead of France, the MPs’ report also considered the introduction of regular medical examinations for girls who are deemed to be at “high risk” of FGM.

In addition it called for victims of FGM to be awarded anonymity to aid prosecution.

The report delivered devastating criticism of ministers, police, doctors, teachers and other officials for failing to stem the savage practice.

It called for greater attention to be paid by all professionals in healthcare, social work and education to protect girls at risk. Training in schools should be strengthened and GPs should be obliged to ask mandatory questions about FGM during patient antenatal medical appointments.

The Royal College of General Practitioners was attacked by MPs for demurring from signing a recent agreement by leading medical organisations to improve their reporting procedure.

The report also calls for better provision of services for women and girls affected by FGM, including refuge shelters for those at risk.

It rebutted the common misconception that FGM is a practice based in religion. It states: “FGM is a severe form of gender-based violence, and where it is carried out on a girl, it is an extreme form of child abuse. Everyone who has a responsibility for safeguarding children must view FGM in this way.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said:

FGM is an ongoing national scandal which is likely to have resulted in the preventable mutilation of thousands of girls to whom the state owed a duty of care. Successive governments, politicians, the police, health, education and social care sectors should all share responsibility for the failure in recent years to respond adequately to the growing prevalence of FGM in the UK. We need to act immediately.

“It is unacceptable that those with clear access to evidence of these crimes do nothing to help those at risk. We must follow the example of France and remove any barriers to referral. Conversations and checking must become the norm. In 12 months’ time, if reporting does not increase, we must make a failure to report a criminal offence.

He also paid tribute to the small number of individuals and groups who have “worked tirelessly” to raise awareness of FGM. 

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.