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'the day after this Act receives Royal Assent.'.
The House will be relieved to know that this is the last of my amendments. Probably, it is the one that either the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), the promoter of the Bill or the Minister could accept because to me, the layman in all this, it is the obvious thing to do. Clause 8(2) says:
We accept that the Bill is important and addresses a nasty problem that needs urgent action. I do not like the idea that we pass the Bill, it becomes an Act, we all say that it is wonderful, but there is a provision that says that it will take effect only as and when a Secretary of State gets around to saying that it will. I cannot for the life of me think of any good reason why the Bill does not say that it shall come into effect the day after, the day or even the moment that it receives Royal Assent. If it needs doing urgently and addresses a real problem, why not get on with it? Having passed the measure and applauded the hon. Lady, why have a provision saying that we must wait for a Minister, of whatever political persuasion, to do something about it? I should be grateful if the Minister justified why the amendment was not acceptable. If it is acceptable, I hope that he will say that he is happy to accept it.
We take this issue seriously and we know from discussions with those who work with the practising communities that proper time for preparation and raising awareness is crucial. Bringing the Act into force by order means that the implementation period can be used for those agencies to promote the new law and its effects before it comes into force. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will bring the Act into force as soon as is practical. Our aim would be to do so within three months of Royal Assent. It is important that there is flexibility and I hope that, with that reassurance, the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to the Minister, who has probably persuaded me of the exact opposite of what he hoped. Only his mention of three months might save us from catastrophe. I am conscious that dividing the House would have the unintended consequence of bringing things crashing to a halt. That is not what I want to do, and that is the real reason why I shall not press the amendment to the bitter end.
There is an alternative comment to, "We need time to consult." I see a danger of the following happening. Following Royal Assent, people will go out and say, "In three months' time, these activities will be illegal." We will have given people three months' notice to get on with it, and we could have a great campaign and an outbreak of the activities that we are trying to stop. I know why the Minister said that we need time to spread the word, and I know that that is sensible, but there is another way around it.
It would be more realistic to bring the law into effect and say that we will phase in enforcement over the period of consultation, preparation and explanation, but if anyone were to decide that that was a justification for organising these activities in the period, we would have the means to prosecute them. Doing it the Minister's way has a serious danger. However, three months is three months, and we have that on the record, which is hugely helpful. I shall not press this matter, because it is important. Destroying the Bill is the last thing I want to do, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I shall be brief, as I have been at the bottom of a pile in this House, waiting to propose a Bill. I thank everybody who has taken part in enabling the Bill to reach this stage. The Bill cannot solve the problem of FGM overnight; legislation on the issue has to go hand in hand with educating the practising communities to abandon FGM and to raise awareness of the law.
Neither will it necessarily remove some of the barriers to prosecution. Many of the victims are too young and vulnerable, or too afraid, to report offences because they are under pressure from their families or their communities to remain silent. We must create a climate in which victims will be able to come forward and receive the help and support that they need to give evidence. Increasing the maximum penalty reflects the seriousness with which this appalling practice is viewed and I hope that it will have a greater deterrent effect than the present maximum of five years.
As the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) said in Committee, if the Bill succeeds in sparing even one child or young woman the appalling suffering that FGM causes, it will have been worth while. I therefore commend it to the House.
Paul Goggins: I certainly want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)as, I am sure, do Members on both sides of the Houseon the way in which she has steered this Bill through the House of Commons. It is very important legislation and a further example of her efforts to uphold human rights in this country and throughout the world.
Female genital mutilation is a barbaric practice that is already illegal in this country thanks, I might say, to the pioneering work of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), who introduced the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. This practice cannot be justified on cultural, medical or any other grounds. It causes extreme pain and suffering and often leads to permanent health problems. For all of those reasons, the Government have supported the Bill very strongly.
The extent of the extra-territorial jurisdiction provided for in the Bill is unusual. However, unlike some offences that are illegal in this country but legal abroad, the offence of FGM is of international concern, and the UK has a proper interest in suppressing it. The practice is rightly and widely regarded as a form of child abuse, although those who belong to the communities that practise it may not see it as such. It is right for us to strengthen our law in this waywe simply cannot allow people with a close connection to the United Kingdom to evade the law by temporarily leaving the country.
Of course, as others have said today and in Committee, legislation alone will not eradicate FGM, which is deeply ingrained in the social fabric of the communities that practise it. Educating them about the dangers and unacceptability of such a brutal practice is the best way to break the cycle of mutilation. That is why the Government support, and help to fund, organisations such as Forward and the Agency for Culture and Change Management, which do such valuable work at grass-roots level. And as I have already said, the Department for International Development also funds and supports work to eradicate FGM in other countries.
Alongside education, we need to promote greater awareness of the law. Between Royal Assent and the legislation's being brought into force, health professionals and others will work with those communities that practise FGM in order that they become aware of its provisions.
I conclude by renewing my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley on bringing the Bill this far. I commend it to the House and I hope that its passage through another place will be equally successful.