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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the United Nations Status of Women Commission looks on this as a serious issue and has done so for a long time? Has she seen the report in the newspapers of the two young Kenyan women who won a landmark court decision which enabled them to refuse to suffer this indignity and abuse in their own country? Does she think that that might be helpful not only in terms of publicity but also in terms of helping to change attitudes in the countries where this practice is so common?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of the various UN statements which cover FGM, including the statements in the Beijing Plus Five document and also through CEDAW. In relation to the two young Kenyan women, we are constantly working with different countries to encourage them to outlaw FGM because then it will be possible to deal with the situation not only in the UK context but also in the home country. I agree that publicising that case might well be one way to raise awareness and begin the process of changing attitudes in various communities.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell us in which areas of the UK FGM is most prevalent? What is being done at a local level to combat this problem?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, an estimated 15,000 girls in the UK are considered to be at risk of FGM. The majority of these are in families who are settled in inner-city areas, for example, London, Birmingham and Cardiff. A good example of a local level response is the North West London African/Somali Well Women Clinic, which was set up by the Central Middlesex Hospitals Trust. The clinic provides comprehensive care, including, for example, surgery to repair and sometimes reverse damage caused by FGM. It is important that we ensure that other trusts are aware of the kind of work that that trust is doing and promote and spread good practice.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, this is a serious and important subject. Alas, the report is not available either in the Library, the Printed Paper Office or from the all-party parliamentary group so I am unable to ask the Minister about its contents. However, we all agree that female genital mutilation is a harmful and cruel practice. Does the Minister also agree that it is deeply ingrained in the culture and religion of some of the developing countries and if it were banned it would be pushed underground? A new approach is being used by organisations such as UNICEF to target community leaders, including Islamic sheikhs, elders, women, youth, health workers and artists to develop a consensus on the best way to approach the problem. Do the Government agree that education and support are better tools with which to push for that change rather than a ban? The noble Baroness told the House in November that £400 million had been committed by the Government to support primary education programmes. How much of that money has specifically been targeted to FGM?

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Baroness Amos: My Lords, we think that education and support are important. However, we also think that the legislation which we have in the United Kingdom to ban FGM is important. I totally agree with the noble Baroness that this practice is deeply ingrained in the cultures of some communities. However, we cannot get away from the point that FGM is mutilation. While it is important to guard against stigmatising communities, raising awareness within communities of that mutilation and ensuring that young girls understand that they do not have to be mutilated in that way is an important part of our strategy.

I shall draw to the attention of the all-party group that its report is not available. I think that it will be concerned to know.

The noble Baroness also asked about DfID funding. We support a number of different initiatives. We support the World Health Organisation training programme on prevention of FGM; it is operating in a number of countries, including Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania. We also give 400,000--I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, referred to 400 million--for similar work to the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is my memory correct that the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, took a Bill through the House of Lords--it subsequently became law--making FGM illegal? If so, can the Minister say how many people have been prosecuted since the inception of that Act for operating in that way on young people?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, took the Bill through the House. There have been one or two complaints but no prosecutions to date because of the difficulty of getting data in relation to the matter.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for remembering--it was long before her time as Minister--that I took the Bill through the House of Lords. Since the Bill was passed and the practice became illegal, have there been any prosecutions?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, as I replied to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, there have been no prosecutions.

Written Answers: Reference to Departmental Websites

2.52 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will refrain from answering Parliamentary Questions for Written Answer by referring the Peer who asked the Question to a

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    departmental website, instead of including the information in the Answer and publishing it in the Official Report.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, it has been the practice of successive administrations to refer to departmental websites when appropriate. Naturally, access to all such websites referred to are available within the Libraries of the House as well as to the public. This is in line with the Government's stated aim of encouraging the increased use of electronic facilities.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may point out that I asked for a Written Answer to the simple and important Question: how many people claimed asylum in 2000? The Answer was that I could get the information from the departmental website. I did so by applying to a lady in the Library who produced, an hour or two later, six pages of detailed statistics. The website was listed as www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/index.htm. I mention that in case the public want to know. Within those six pages the answer to the simple question was on page 3. The figure was 76,040. Is it not in the public interest that that should be in Hansard instead of people throughout the country having to grab the information somehow from a departmental website of which they may not have the reference?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am enormously impressed by the noble Lord's grasp of modern technology. I am enormously impressed by his grasp of the address of the Home Office website. I was aware of the Answer to which he has just referred. I had the opportunity of speaking to my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton who answered it. The noble Lord was keen that there should be the most detailed and thorough Answer imaginable. However, having discussed it we agreed that it might well have been better if the figures which answered the Question had been given in Hansard as well as on the website.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the Minister give an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will take another look at this Question? Traditionally, it has been the function of the executive to assist Members of Parliament whether in this House or another place. The obligation is not discharged by the executive, which in so doing exhibits a curious attitude towards Parliament. It does not lie in the mouths of the executive to put off or in any way obstruct the desire of Members of this House or another place. It should answer fully the Questions put down on the Order Paper.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the complaint cannot be that we did not answer the Question fully because pages of material were made available in answer. However, as I made clear in answer to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, my noble friend Lord Bassam and

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I agreed that it might have been better if the specific figures had been given in the Answer as well as referring the noble Lord to the website for greater material.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the method by which the Government replied to the Written Question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, have anything to do with reports that Internet studies are now to be given priority over the reading of Shakespeare?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, my Lords; it has nothing to do with that but relates to the Government's desire to try to improve electronic communication. I do not resile from the point made in reply to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton: although there was much information on the website, it would have been more convenient to Members of this House if the specific figures had been given in the Answer. I have made that clear.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in many respects the Home Office website is a much easier place to access information than Hansard? After a few weeks one cannot remember the date of the Answer. Is the Minister aware that the Home Office website has been improved enormously in recent months? Not only can one obtain the statistics for which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked but also many other important pieces of information which are not readily available to the public. However, the public can access the websites for free in local libraries or elsewhere.


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