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A number of points arise from what has been said. I say to the Minister that I am sure that there are strong grounds. I think that he used that phrase, but I would have found it helpful had he said what they are. To assert that they exist is helpful, but to know what they are would be doubly helpful.
I am not sure that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) necessarily reassured me as much as I know she was trying to. Again, I am happy to stand corrected, but I am not sure that I buy the argument that it is wrong to criminalise a surgical procedure. I think that that is what she suggested. I would be surprised if there are not surgical procedures that are already made illegal. I think of the abortion legislation. Under certain circumstances, late abortions, as I recall from the debates in the House, are indeed prohibited. That might not be the best example, but I am not sure that I buy the argument that we must not do this because we cannot make surgical procedures criminal offences. I think that we can, and there are occasions when we should. Whether this is one is a different matter.
The hon. Lady then offered me the fact that gender realignment might be a justification. I tend to understand the term as sex change. I am not sure that I have got into the newspeak on some of those issues, but we shall let that pass. If this procedure is necessary for that procedure, it would be perfectly possible to make the procedure of gender realignment one of the justifications for it not being a criminal offence, rather than using the blanket argument of mental health reasons.
I do not think that either argument that the hon. Lady offered in itself persuades me that the amendment is not worth pursuing. Fortunately, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who sits on the Liberal Democrat Benches, managed to save the day by saying that a range of other issues gives rise to mental health problems should surgery be necessary. Coming from a medical practitioner, I unhesitatingly accept that. She is an expert, but I ask her to spare me the gruesome details. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
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 procureor whatever other phrase the Bill usesthis 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
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.
Paul Goggins: 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.
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 knowsit has been pointed out by the pressure group Forwardit 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
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.
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
Paul Goggins: 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 Kingdomthat, in particular in relation to the victim, they must be a citizen of the UK or a permanent resident here.
Mr. Wilshire: We have sought to take powers to treat certain things done outside this countryfor example, acts of terrorism or murderas 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.