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Baroness Jeger: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he explain what steps we are taking to implement the Act about which we are talking?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as I have explained, there is no lack of determination that the law, as it applies to this country, should be enacted. I am trying to describe the practical difficulties which the police face in enforcing this Act.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I accept the practical difficulties in bringing criminal prosecutions in this sort of case. Nevertheless, all of us are aware that children are taken away from their parents on grave suspicion of reduction of their human rights on far less evidence and for far less dreadful activities than this. Can the Minister tell us why children are not removed from their families and put in care when there is a suspicion that these activities have been undertaken?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as I said earlier, this issue also falls under the provisions of the Children Act 1989. I have already said that under that

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Act a prohibited steps order can be made by a local authority to prevent parents carrying out an act without the consent of the court. However, just as in the case of action taken by the police, I believe that there are real difficulties in obtaining evidence to warrant that action.

I refer to two cases raised by my noble friend Lady Gould. In 1993 a GP was struck off the medical register for gross misconduct relating to FGM. The doctor was not prosecuted in that case because he did not perform an operation. He was contacted by an undercover journalist and agreed to perform an illegal operation. His agreement to perform the operation was regarded by the GMC as gross misconduct. However, as he did not perform it, his actions were not considered to be illegal.

I am also aware of the programme broadcast by Channel 4 last year on this subject. I understand that the South Yorkshire Police received a complaint against a man implicated in carrying out mutilations in that area. However, he had left the area before the police could interview him and he has not been traced since.

In terms of the support given by the Government to organisations engaged in important work in this area--a point about which my noble friend Lord Rea asked--I want to make it clear that the Department of Health is committed to continuing with and supporting these important groups. The department has developed close links with the Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (FORWARD) which is the leading voluntary organisation in the UK that deals with FGM. I should like to pay tribute to the excellent work undertaken by that organisation.

Under section 64 of the general scheme of grants, FORWARD is currently receiving a core grant of £30,000 over three years to help to meet general running costs. In addition, it is receiving a project grant worth £22,500 for a three-year period to fund the production of a health education pack. This funding overall is secure until the year 2000. Further bids are now being considered.

In addition, a Department of Health official is currently on secondment to FORWARD for a minimum of two years to work as a national liaison officer. This will include local authority liaison with the objective of identifying the key elements of a "best practice" model to co-ordinate local authority health, education, social services and child protection activities.

Further funding has also been secured through the department for a health promotion officer, who will take up post shortly. This person's role will be to liaise with ethnic communities to produce health and education literature in a range of relevant languages; and to produce a training pack for health and education professionals.

Over the past few years, the Department of Health has provided funds totalling nearly £280,000 for projects developed by FORWARD in this country. Similarly, the Department for International Development has committed over £250,000 for two projects with which FORWARD is involved in Nigeria and The Gambia.

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The issue of guidance by professional bodies was raised by a number of noble Lords. The Government welcome the production of guidance for practitioners by their professional bodies to help them to deal sensitively and effectively with FGM. I am pleased to say that my honourable friend Tessa Jowell will be launching the Royal College of Midwives' position paper on FGM on 18th November and I hope that all midwives will take the opportunity to increase their knowledge and understanding of this important issue, and use it to inform their practice.

I might also add that the department has also released funds to help to establish the north-west London African-Somalian Well Women Project being run at the Central Middlesex Hospital NHS Trust. The clinic aims to meet the particular cultural and medical needs of the local community in a humane and sensitive way. Raising understanding and awareness of the physical and psychological impact of FGM is considered to be vitally important. It is very much hoped that the unit will become a centre of excellence from which other practitioners and service providers can learn.

I have not been able to answer all the points that have been raised, but in conclusion may I say that this has been a very valuable debate which has brought to public attention the distressing effects of the brutal practice of

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FGM. My noble friend Lady Jeger asked: what is to be done? I do want to assure your Lordships that despite the lack of prosecutions under the Act the commitment of the Government to eradicating FGM should not be in doubt. As my noble friend Lord Rea and the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, said, legislation by itself is not the answer. We therefore need to look to other means of influencing behaviour in our efforts to stamp out FGM in this country.

We are quite clear that relevant agencies need to remain alert to the communities in their population that might be carrying out such procedures and to protect those children they deem to be at risk. Support should be available to those who need it and the process of educating those communities which continue to practise FGM must and will continue. I very much hope that this debate will help to open the eyes of many people to these appalling practices and that by opening up the issues we shall have a much greater opportunity of combating this barbaric practice.

Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [H.L.]

Returned from the Commons agreed to.

        House adjourned at two minutes past ten o'clock.

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