HL Deb 15 May 1985 vol 463 cc1223-45

7.57 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This is the third time that your Lordships have had a Prohibition of Female Circumcision Bill before you in recent years, the previous two Bills having been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. Many hours have been spent discussing this barbaric procedure, and this Bill which I hope that I shall have the honour of taking through your Lordships' House incorporates much of what we agreed to on previous occasions.

Many people have worked very hard to make this Bill acceptable to as many people as possible, not least the honourable Member for Broxbourne, Mrs. Marion Roe, who introduced the Bill in another place and ably steered it through its various stages.

Government Ministers have looked at every possible means of drafting. It is important that there should be no loopholes; on the other hand, doctors must not be impeded in their normal work. When the British public realised that young girls, adolescents and women were being mutilated and impaired because of the practice of female circumcision being undertaken in Britain there was an upsurge of revulsion and horror among many people.

It must be clearly spelt out that there is no place in our society for this custom and that it is no part of our way of life. I do not think that it will be possible to please everyone in your Lordships' House, but I should like to make it clear that the honourable Member, Mrs. Marion Roe, and myself do not wish to offend anyone.

With a Bill of this kind, clarity is paramount. It must be clear beyond doubt that the practice of female circumcision should be illegal in Britain.

The last two Bills were lost, first, because there was a general election and Parliament was dissolved, and, secondly, because of the problem of surgery necessary for mental health. How many people may have experienced pain and suffering since that time, although, as the law stands, it might be argued that to perform such an operation constituted an act of actual bodily harm? There is no precedent detailing this. We must eradicate any uncertainty. The Bill, though short, is both concise and exact, and I hope will achieve that purpose.

This Bill has had all-party support in another place and has been through all its stages. The Bill seeks to prevent an appalling practice which leads to no physical benefit and is associated with a number of health hazards, including haemorrhage, pain, shock, infection, septicaemia and long-term obstetrical problems.

In Britain we are not alone in our desire to legislate. Other European countries, including Sweden, have banned the practice. In Kenya it is illegal, as are all but the simplist procedures in the Sudan. However simple, in my view they are cruel and should be stopped altogether.

Education is of the utmost importance. Education and correct counselling among the communities in which female circumcision has been a custom and practice is absolutely vital. I cannot stress this enough. I hope the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, will give an undertaking tonight that help will be forthcoming to ensure that this happens. Legislation would be pointless without it, and education without legislation would take too long. They should go hand in glove.

In this Bill we are not dealing with anything to do with religion. It is a family cultural tradition, passed down from one generation to another. For example, traditionally all girls have had to be infibulated and circumcised as an integral part of the Somali culture. Males have grown up without questioning the practice of genital mutilation. They are liable to expect to marry an infibulated woman. Both boys and girls need educating. In Britain we should have good health education and information for health professionals and all families who need it.

I hope the message will be put over to all the groups concerned that in Britain women cannot be mutilated in this way; it is just not done. These groups should be treated with kindness, sympathy and understanding. Self-help groups are often very good at passing information and at counselling each other, as long as they have good leadership. Leadership and support are both necessary.

Having legislation will, I hope, give many women, both children and parents, freedom from this cruel imposition. If the Government can give support, these funds will, I hope, show the people concerned that they are being given help which is discriminating in their favour, as this is not part of our British culture.

The Bill is clearly laid out. Clause 1(1) makes it an offence to excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the external genitalia of a woman. It also makes it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure that mutilation by any person on her own body.

Clause 1(2) sets out the penalties on conviction on indictment. The penalties available are a fine or up to five years' imprisonment, or both. On summary conviction, the maximum penalties are a fine, as specified in Section 74 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982, or six months' imprisonment, or both.

Clause 2(1) allows necessary surgical operations performed by medical practitioners and midwives to be exempted from the offence created by Clause 1. Clause 2(2) prevents the medical practitioner, in deciding whether an operation is necessary on the grounds of mental health (subsection (1)), from taking any account of a belief that such an operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual. This has the effect of limiting the exception on mental health grounds to legimate surgery and excluding female circumcision.

Clause 3 is a technical clause. It ensures that the offences created are treated in the same way as other offences of like seriousness, insofar as extradition and the position of members of visiting forces are concerned. Clause 3(2) is technical and concerns visiting forces which, in certain circumstances, are not liable to be tried by a United Kingdom court.

Clause 4 contains the Title and says that the Act shall be cited as the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. Clause 4(2) states that the Act shall come into force two months after the day on which it is passed. Clause 4(3) extends the Act to Northern Ireland, so it will cover all of Britain.

I hope your Lordships will give this humane Bill a Second reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Masham of Ilton.)

8.7 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I think the first thing to say about this Bill, which, as the noble Baroness has just mentioned, has come round for the third time, is that on all sides of the House there has been a declared intention that it should not be taken to interfere with anyone's customs abroad. Secondly, we are all agreed that female circumcision of any kind is abhorrent to those of us who live in this country and should be declared unlawful.

Indeed, those noble Lords who attended the Second Reading debate on the first Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will recall that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made a very powerful statement that, in his regard, the carrying out of the operation is unlawful today, is an assault upon the person. I have yet to hear how that statement which he made at that time has been reflected in the actions of the Director of Public Prosecutions in those cases which have been publicised as having taken place in this country.

Having said that, I feel that we should severely censor the Government for the attitude that they took to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. It will be recalled that that Bill was passed in all its stages through this House. When it reached the other place, Members of the Commons were prevented from discussing it by the single voice of a Government Member, who stated the one word, "Object". That simple word killed the Bill, and it was never discussed. The other place was never given the chance to approve what we had spent so much time in doing here.

Now we get another Bill, another Private Member's Bill, but I ask your Lordships to notice that this Bill in essence has had included in it the amendment that the Government tried to persuade us to support during the Committee stage of the second Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and which we rejected. I consider this sharp practice. More than that, I am a little surprised that the noble Baroness who has just spoken is prepared to sponsor this Bill, because she and, indeed, every other person who spoke at the Committee stage of the second Bill—every speaker with the exception of the Government Minister—spoke against the Government amendment. That amendment, in essence, has been included in the Bill. Indeed, one of the speakers at that time was the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, now a Government Whip, who presumably will not be able to express the opinions that she clearly expressed during the Committee stage of the last Bill.

It will be recalled that every Member who was present in the House during that Committee stage voted against the Government amendment. And that amendment was supported only by people brought in who had never heard any of the arguments although this is a non-party Bill and has always been a non-party Bill.

I have only two points to make about the Bill. In its essence, we all approve of it. We welcome our third opportunity to put it through this House—with the exception of Clause 2. I would suggest to the noble Baroness who has sponsored the Bill that there is a very great danger that the whole character and flavour of the Bill can be soured among public opinion because of what is contained in Clause 2. If it goes out from this House, if it goes out from Parliament, that we have passed an Act of Parliament that has within it a clearly racially discriminatory clause, that has been described as such by the Government's own statutory body, the Commission for Racial Equality, then all the good that we are doing in suppressing this horrific act will be besmirched because the emphasis of public debate will be upon whether or not this is racially discriminatory.

Even if noble Lords opposite argue that it is not in practice racially discriminatory, it has been so described widely and publicly and by the Government's own statutory body. Therefore, it will be taken, it has already been taken, by members of the ethnic minorities to be a discriminatory Act against them. And so easily—I hope this will be done during the progress of the Bill—this aspect of the appearance of the Bill could be removed. In the second Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, Clause 2 read: Section 1 above shall not render unlawful the carrying out of a surgical operation on a person if a registered medical practitioner is of the opinion that such an operation is necessary for the physical health of that person or for the rectification of abnormality. That is sufficient. We do not need to go any further. But this new Bill includes, as did the Government amendment on the previous occasion, not just physical disability but the issue of mental health. I would beg the sponsors of the Bill to think again about this. What this clause actually is leading to is that if a black girl—a girl from a society, African or Asian, where female circumcision is the norm—gets mental depression or psychological depression because she is not allowed to be circumcised in this country, she, by the terms of this Bill, has to work her way through that mental depression. If, on the other hand, another girl, white or black—but certainly the vast majority, if not all such cases, will be white—gets mental depression because she cannot have a cosmetic operation, she is allowed to have that operation on the grounds of mental health within Clause 2 of this Bill.

I suggest that this is going to ruin the whole impact of the Bill outside, in this country and abroad. We are concerned—noble Lords have expressed this concern in previous debates—about the impact of this among those very brave men and women, particularly women, in societies where female circumcision is traditional, who have fought against it and who are in the process of reducing it. This will be thrown against them as showing that in Britain, when female circumcision is outlawed, it is outlawed on a basis of racial discrimination between white women and black women. I would say, in passing, that during the Third Reading of this Bill in the other place it was suggested that this House might very well improve the Bill during the time that it is considered by us.

The second issue is very simple. In the other place it was pointed out that one of the important concomitants of the Bill is a campaign of education to help the girls and the women and, indeed, the men of those societies, resident in this country, where female circumcision has been traditionally practised either before they came to this country or, as we know on a few occasions, since they came. Education is all important. It was stated in the other place that the Government were prepared to fund women's organisations in particular that would undertake this education. I believe that some promises have already been given. I hope that the noble Baroness who is to wind up will reaffirm what was said in the other place—that the Government are prepared to help financially in the funding of such education.

I come back, however, to the central issue. I beg the sponsors of the Bill and, indeed, the Government to recognise the dangers that are being thrust upon the Bill by the inclusion of Clause 2. We need a Bill that simply outlaws female circumcision. And that is all we need. That clear declaration from these Houses of Parliament, without any equivocation, without any suspicion of discrimination, is the way both to outlaw this horrific operation and to bring people with us as we do so rather than to divide them outside on grounds of race.

8.20 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, is surely to be warmly congratulated on her courage in taking up sponsorship of this Bill.

When we were discussing the Bill of my noble friend Lord Kennet, in the last Session, I took no part as a speaker, but I did take part in the crucial Division. I voted, and as I now think, voted in the wrong way. Having come to that conclusion, it seemed to me only honest to stand up and say so tonight. Of course, as everybody agrees, this is a non-party Bill. I speak from this Front Bench only because it would look a little empty if I did not do so. But I think I can say on behalf of all my noble friends in the Liberal Party that everyone wants the Bill in general.

If it were not for Clause 2(2) there would be very little need for a debate at all and this could go through virtually on the nod. I shall not quote the offending Clause 2(2) because the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, has already done so but it comes down to the three crucial words, "custom or ritual". That is what nearly all our debate will centre round. We shall hear medical arguments, and I am much looking forward to listening to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, because I find his contributions on these matters extremely informative. We shall hear psychological arguments. However, I should like to approach the matter from an anthropological point of view, as it were.

My mind goes back a very, very long way, to when I read Fraser's Golden Bough and Freud's Totem and Taboo. In those works, and in many other anthropological works one finds described many macabre practices. Fraser particularly was writing in the 19th century, and Freud was writing towards the end of it. These things happened in various parts of the world, human sacrifice, the eating of the heart of your vanquished enemy, and even the ritual slaughter every five or 10 years of the leader of the tribe—a rough and ready substitute for a general election which I do not think would commend itself to any but the most shortsighted politician in this country because he might win!

In more modern times we read of voodoo in Haiti and other islands, and of the grotesque and bestial practices associated with the Mau Mau oath in Kenya. All these practices were sanctioned by the quasi religious beliefs of their practitioners. In fact, they were matters of custom or ritual, but none could possibly be tolerated in this country.

I think we are all agreed that female circumcision is a practice which must not be allowed to happen here. But we have been told, as the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, reminded us, by no less an authority than the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, that the inclusion of those three words "ritual or custom" is, to quote him, "discriminatory and therefore to be avoided". We cannot lightly dismiss an opinion coming from that quarter. But because we cannot lightly dismiss it, it does not necessarily mean that it is right. Is it conclusive?

I think I can say I have always supported the most liberal immigration and anti-discrimination policies. From an aesthetic point of view, I actually prefer a polyethnic, multilingual society to the dull monochrome which racial purists would impose on us. I do not honestly think I have anything which can reasonably be described as racial prejudice; but I wonder whether people whose whole working lives are in that sphere of race relations are immune to the danger of going over the top, of over-sensitivity. We see this clearly enough in the case of the women's liberationists, the more extreme of whom go so far as to defeat their own cause and make it ridiculous. I wonder whether in the sphere of race relations it is not possible to suffer from the same excessive sensitivity, seeing offence where none is intended.

I referred to the women's liberationists. Presumably they are on our side tonight since surely we would all agree that this practice we seek to render illegal is a gross exploitation of women by men for their own purposes. So, my Lords, I have changed my mind. I am now prepared to accept the words, "ritual or custom" unless some semantic genius can come up with a better formula which means the same thing and gives less offence. I say this because I want the Bill. I want to be sure that these tragic, pathetic, latterday Ephigenias will never again be sacrificed on the altar of what I regard as unenlightened and distorted masculinity.

8.26 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, once again I speak to support a Bill to ban female circumcision in this country. I hope this third time will be lucky and that we shall not seek to surpass the successful run of "The Mousetrap", now in its 33rd year! In two previous debates I have already given detailed reasons why I am convinced of the iniquity of this practice, its cruelty to children and women. In this view I know from direct social contact that I have the support and full sympathy of many African women who have told me of their experiences and their hope that it will soon fall into disuse.

In a previous speech, I compared it with the practice of slavery, a practice rooted in custom but not in religion or ethics. I can well understand the pressure of tradition on women to have their young daughters circumcised, and more especially the pressure of grandmothers whose influence is so important in family life. It is not just in England that mothers-in-law or mothers put pressure on their married young to conform to whatever may have been their family tradition for centuries.

In Ghana they are about to start a survey to find the extent of female circumcision in the country, and to follow it up with education in proper health practice and care. The influence of older women is very strong in African countries. As a Ghanaian lady said to me only on Monday. "The young are very respectful to their elders and obey them so that is where one should go when older". The older women need to be educated to understand the dangers of the practice, just as much as the young.

The Foundation for Women's Health, an organisation based in London, are acting as advisers and assisting in finding funds for this survey. The Gambian Government have sponsored a women's bureau and have just completed a study of the extent of the practice in that country. Again, the Foundation for Women's Health acted as advisers, but Oxfam funded the project.

The Foundation is hoping for financial support, and trusting that at will come from Her Majesty's Government who at present are looking at the request with sympathy. The Foundation for Women's Health hopes not only to do research in this country, to define the extent of the practice here, but also to continue their educational programme. The Foundation spends money on postage, telephone calls, stationery and photocopying and the rest of the needs of a small office. Their director, Mrs. Stella Graham, gives lectures to nurses and health visitors, but hopes that doctors, nurses and midwives, as well as health visitors, could have courses in the clinical care of such patients. Only yesterday a nurse told me that when she was doing her midwifery training she was confronted with such cases and was at first amazed at what she saw. The foundation is now a charity and at present relies on small subscriptions and donations for its educational work. It has considerable postal expenses in answering doctors and health visitors who have written for information in the course of their work.

The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives hope that this Bill will soon be on the statute book. I should like to refer to two letters signed on behalf of the Royal College of Midwives. Both letters refer to the substance of what is now Clause 2 of the Bill, which raises the question of mental health. The first comments that the carrying out of operations for real physical deformity are safeguarded by the Bill, and that treatment for any mental disturbance or illness is more appropriately administered through psychiatric approaches than surgery.

The other letter, addressed recently to a Member in another place, hoped that the clause would be strong enough to prevent abuse of the spirit of the Bill, particularly where assessment of mental health is made. Clause 2(2) appears to me to guard against any possible misconstruction of this Bill. There is now an inter-African committee consisting of 21 African countries which are having a conference in June this year in Nairobi to discuss the World Health Organisation's recommendations on this practice.

As I have mentioned, there is a great deal being done in this field, from surveys to education on health care. Not only is this being organised here but in Africa, too. Although there are one or two points which need clarifying in Committee, for the reasons which I have just spoken of and because people are suffering I hope that this Bill will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

8.32 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, my only reason for speaking tonight is to confirm that I still wholeheartedly support the basic purposes of this Bill as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. We debated it at great length in both the last two parliamentary Sessions. The arguments supporting the need for the Bill are all in Hansard for us to read. In fact, only one problem remains, which is Clause 2(2), the wording of which, as my noble friend Lord Hatch has mentioned, is thought to be racially discriminatory by the Commission for Racial Equality.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hatch that it would be extremely sad for a Bill which is to rectify a wrong which emanates from countries in which mainly black people live to pass onto the statute book in this country and be thought to be racially discriminatory. I very much hope that, during the subsequent stages of this Bill, a formula can be found which will please everyone. I think that the appropriate place to achieve this would perhaps be outside this Chamber in discussions. I very much hope that we shall be able to settle this matter, and that this Bill will have a smooth passage through this House.

8.34 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, when I put my name down to speak to this Bill I thought that it would be a simple matter. It seemed a short Bill and a fairly clear issue. Over the last two days I have spoken to a number of noble Lords and I now realise that I am in an area of great expertise. I did not realise that the matter had been so widely debated. The animation and enthusiasm with which this subject is discussed is rather like joining a meeting of the Porsche owners club. Not to be flippant about this, a number of matters have drawn me to the Bill, but my travels in Africa over a number of years have made me recoil at the dreadful practices which take place in certain countries in East Africa.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned that this practice is now against the law in Kenya but, of course, it has not stopped in Kenya. Unhappily, it still takes place under the carpet, with enormous danger to health, because, as other noble Lords have mentioned, these dreadful mutilations are often carried out by older women in the tribe or in the family.

In this country we are dealing with a slightly different set of circumstances because, as I understand it, these mutilations, if we can call them mutilations—I have looked up in the dictionary the meaning of the word "mutilation", and I do not think that in all cases it is entirely appropriate—are in some cases carried out by qualified doctors who obviously perform a service for money, which some of us may consider to be reprehensible; but in some cases these operations are carried out by people who are semi-qualified, which is dreadful. The after effects of these operations are dreadful, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, will confirm the infections, and so on, which follow.

It is the global horror of practices which have grown up over a number of years which has drawn me to the Bill. I understand that there is no real understanding of the origins of these practices as there is an understanding of other practices which could correctly be called rituals and customs, where one can see a kind of continuity. It seems that this whole business of female circumcision is the domination of women by men, and it is continued by women and has become a kind of cult. It is totally repugnant to us. Without stressing the word "culture", which the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned so strongly, I would say that it was inappropriate.

This leads me to Clause 2, which causes me so much offence. I should also like to echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lord McNair; I, too, believe in a multiracial society. I see benefits in a multiracial society, and many noble Lords will disagree with that. I think it is provocative to use the words "custom" and "ritual" in this particular Bill. I confess that, because I was not party to the other debates, I do not understand the area which deals with the cosmetic aspects of operations of this kind. It seems to me that the Bill could quite clearly say, without introducing this provocative and discriminatory suggestion, that this is a custom and ritual, and a custom and ritual from which we wish to distance ourselves because culturally it is unacceptable to us.

I should like to see a Bill which outlaws these practices. As has been so rightly said by others, we could reinforce the Bill with programmes of education financed by the Government which in time would ultimately make such a Bill unnecessary, but we would take note of sensibilities. I tend to agree with my noble friend Lord McNair that there are over-sensitive areas in race relations in this country, as there are in the feminist movement, but we must recognise these sensibilities. I think that the Bill would be much more effective if it just said that we could make these practices illegal without having the emphasis on the custom and ritual aspect, which I think will give rise to a very difficult and complicated area of discussion. I very much hope that your Lordships will find some way of excising this particular aspect from the Bill.

8.40 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I rise to support this Bill. I have listened with great interest to the contributions of other Members, as I remember so clearly the last Second Reading, although I was not in the House or involved the first time that this Bill came before us. The fact that it has had to come a third time indicates how important it is, and how impossible it was to reach a satisfactory solution before. As it stands now, many of the problems which came up last time have been solved in the Bill as it is before us.

We have had comment from several Members on the Lord Chancellor's clear statement that he considers even at the present moment that any operation of this type could be prosecuted as actual bodily harm. But we have not seen that done, and it is obviously difficult to bring such a prosecution. Therefore, it is essential to have some more definitive legislation on this topic.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said that we have no intention of interfering with anyone's customs abroad. I agree with that. But we also have a responsibility as the leading country, the mother country of the Commonwealth, to set an example to people abroad. My small post as United Kingdom representative on the United Nations Status of Women Commission has involved me in many discussions with people from other countries, not on this particular topic but on similar topics.

In one case I said to an African delegate, "It would be embarrassing or difficult for you if we put this in, would it not?", referring to a paper we were preparing. The answer was: "Quite the contrary: it would be of enormous help to me to be able to show that other countries in the world who were enlightened and far-thinking would not accept these practices".

I believe that the same applies in this case, and that we would be setting a good example. Other countries have already done it. I understand that it has already been done in Sweden. It would be wrong for us in this country to continue to allow this operation, which, as has been stated here tonight, so many women in their own countries are working to have made illegal there.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned that although it has been made illegal in Kenya it is still going on. The same applies in relation to the wives who are burnt for not bringing a dowry. All these countries are making these things illegal, but it takes a long time for the reality to change the practice. Unless the laws are passed the practice will never change just automatically.

I do not accept that it is racially discriminatory. I think that there is an over-sensitivity, and I think that it is unnecessary. Although I think the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said that there are countries where this is the norm, I cannot remotely imagine that we have large ethnic minorities in this country to whom this is the norm. The numbers of people resident in this country who would have come from countries where this was the norm would be small. The cases we have read about have occurred where people have come temporarily to this country. We cannot accept that it is in any way the norm. If it was, then I would think it even more important that we pass this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned that there is this over-sensitivity in racial affairs. I, as a member of the Greater London Council, was rather amused to read the recent finding against the GLC for refusing a white girl a job. Things have reached quite a silly point, because it was apparently a position where there was a genuine need for someone from the ethnic minorities, but because the law is so firm one way or the other it can work against a genuine interest.

I think the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said that circumstances were slightly different in this country. I know that the British are noted for under statement, but that was about as understated as anything could be. Things are very different in this country, and long may it be so. The only way I should like to see it change would be to see a change in these other countries.

I believe that, in this country, until the 1980 Mid-Decade Women's Conference in Copenhagen people here had never heard of female circumcision. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, was at that conference. Vast publicity was given there, and the women of the rest of the world woke up to what was going on and were asked to help. This is what this Bill will do: it will be helping.

Any suggestion that it would be in any way opposing people of other cultures would be wrong. It is not a matter of culture: it is a matter of a most unfortunate custom and practice in these countries. It is not a matter of basic religion or culture. We must not be side-tracked from this Bill. If it does not pass this time, then I believe that we shall never get this Bill—and we should be much the worse for that.

I should emphasise that we are not debating the topic of a multiracial society. That was mentioned by two speakers, both the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. We are not debating the subject of a multiracial society. The Liberal Benches always take the opportunity to make it clear that they are not racist. We could all be saying that, but that is not what this Bill is about. We are not here to discuss that point. That is a red herring which has been introduced tonight.

To return to Clause 2, and in particular to subsection (2), I think that this is a very necessary clause. It clearly defines the medical limits of what can or cannot be done. I think that subsection (2)—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, will agree with me—is important. To define the grounds of mental health under which an operation can be performed must be one of the most difficult things for anyone contemplating surgery. Unless there is some narrowing down of the limits, as there is in subsection (2), then it would be a clause that would permit anyone who wished to do so to carry right on performing these circumcisions, and that is what the whole Bill is intended to prevent. Without that subsection this Bill would be ineffective.

I shall not go on any longer. I have heard a lot about feminism, and I often feel that as the United Kingdom representative I have had feminism thrust upon me; but there is a good deal of good to be said for a lot of it, too. I know that the women of the world will welcome this Bill being supported by your Lordships' House.

8.48 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill. Perhaps I may first say that my position below the gap on the speakers' list does not indicate any suggestion that it might ever become a party matter. I hope that all parties can remain quite resolute that it should not. I should like to join my plea to that already made clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, that this time round if there are amendments tabled there should not be any move to bring into the Chamber people who come for reasons of party loyalty rather than because they have heard the debate, have understood it, and have formed their own opinion.

First, a word about education. It has been raised several times already in the debate, and rightly so. It would be quite unpleasant, something we should not tolerate, if this Bill were to become law and the first thing that were to happen were for some grandmother, or aunt, from an immigrant family who perhaps did not even speak English very well, to be arrested and tried for having broken a new law which she did not even know about.

There is a certain danger of that happening. It is important that there should be an educational effort now, well before the Bill can become law. The Government may wish to consider—they will judge this better than anyone else in the House—whether it might not be good to carry in a provision to postpone the application of the law for, it might be, three months, or six months, or something, after it has passed in order to give time for the educational effort to crank up. I am ready to endorse all applications from minority communities that I know for funds and help in mounting educational programmes. I have already endorsed some and intend to endorse others. I was glad to see both Mr. Clarke and his junior Minister in the House of Commons speak kind words about the likelihood of those applications being entertained.

Clause 2(2) is the only difficulty in the way of an absolutely straight passage for the Bill. There is not much left for me to say after the admirable précis made by Lord Hatch of Lusby of the history and of the arguments on both sides; also there was his warning about the possible bad effects on the ethnic communities concerned in this country of this Bill passing into law as it stands. They are not quite so small as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, may imagine. Nobody can tell, but I believe there is a risk that if this wording goes through—the communities are well aware of the wording already and have debated it—it will have the effect of making the women in the communities close ranks around their custom, which they will perceive as being attacked by name, in a way which would not happen if the Bill were differently phrased. There is also a risk of greater involvement of the men in resistance to it, if there is an open attack on custom and ritual as the Bill now stands.

I do not think that the difficulties in the way of changing it are as severe as the Government think. Obviously the detailed argument is for the Committee stage, not now. Let me remind the House of the wording of the objection from the Commission for Racial Equality to what is now Clause 2(2). The letter from the chairman of the Commission reads as follows: However well intentioned in seeking to avoid any circumvention of the Bill's purpose, Clause 2(2) could be indirectly discriminatory in effect". Let us follow the reasoning closely: A doctor when assessing mental health as justifying the performance of an otherwise prohibited operation will normally base his judgment on the patient's state of mind as he finds it. To suggest that some reasons for that state of mind may be acceptable and others, broadly confined to those that might affect persons of African origin and descent, are not is in our view discriminatory and therefore to be avoided. That is not an immediately obvious point. It is fairly subtle, but it is expressed very clearly. I am quite ready to go with Lord McNair in kicking over the advice of our statutory advisers if I think that it is wrong. But what I invite the House to do is to listen to the arguments on both sides. We should think about that argument, and the other arguments we shall be hearing from the Government and see which we prefer. That is the way to achieve good legislation. This House is boss; let it listen to the arguments, and not to who is speaking.

I shall continue to the end of this letter. There is one more paragraph in the letter from the Commission for Racial Equality, which reads as follows: On a more general point, so far as I am aware this is the first time, at least in recent years, that draft legislation has explicitly sought to exclude from consideration the relevance of a custom of an ethnic group settled in the United Kingdom. Any such exclusion or precedent would be undesirable on principle". I said a moment ago that the communities in question had already come to grips with the matter. I should like to read from a press release issued by an organisation, which I know, called London Black Women's Health Action Project, which may prove to be the organisation most useful to the people concerned in this country in the process of education which we are all agreed must take place. Among other things, the letter says: This Bill"— the language is far from the language of the Commission, it is far from the language of the Royal Colleges, it is far from the language of the Government and the normal language of this House. It is the language we hear from the people who will have to change and we must pay great attention to it— is blatantly racist or could be interpreted as such in that it prohibits female circumcision for women where the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual—Clause 2(2)—yet does not make it unlawful when the operation is necessary for the physical or mental health of the person on whom it is performed", and so on. The point has been taken.

We have to go back over this for a moment. I should like to clear a minor point out of the way. The new formulation of Clause 2(2) does not mention, as its predecessor did, physical abnormality. One speaker has said already that there is no need for that. I think that is a judgment that may require second thoughts. It is easy to see and know of conditions, usually congenital conditions, in girls or young women, which leave them in perfect health and perfectly cheerful, so that neither physical nor mental health is involved, yet they would like to have the abnormality corrected. Let us imagine the case of a baby, who may be perfectly healthy, but has a small abnormality which it is advantageous to correct. That would not be allowed under the Bill at present since there is in this case no consideration either of physical or mental health, and I believe we ought to think carefully about putting it in.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, did the noble Lord just say that there was no consideration for mental health? Did I hear him correctly?

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I said mental health. I was talking about three things: physical health, physical abnormality and mental health. The Bill considers physical health and mental health but does not mention physical abnormality, which may be present without affecting either physical or mental health. I see the noble Lord, Lord Rea, nodding.

To come to the mental health provision. I believe there is another way of doing it instead of saying that mental health is a reason for doing it, provided that it is not mental health based on custom or ritual. What are we talking about here? Who are the people who desire operations, but who are in good physical health? They presumably exist. They desire operations because they are depressed, and they are not black or brown women living in a community where it is the custom. These are the people whom the Government wish to allow to have operations. Earlier I opposed that idea; but I, too, have changed my mind, though not as drastically as Lord McNair, and I believe now that if we want girls to be free to have cosmetic operations, which is what we are talking about, we should say so. What would be against having an exception, along with physical health, for such operations as may be necessary for mental health provided that they are only cosmetic, or of a minor nature, or words to that effect? I am an amateur drafter, and I hope the Government will agree to help.

In doing that, we would let through some of the smallest procedures commonly known as female circumcision; some of the smallest procedures which would come under that umbrella are really only cosmetic. All right, say I. If the procedure is all right for a white girl who is depressed about her appearance then it should be all right for a black girl who is depressed about a matter of custom. We are not against the smallest trimmings and corrections. What we are against are the grosser procedures, major or total excision of the labia, clitoridectomy and, above all, the major horror of infibulation. If one could define a form of words which used concepts such as "cosmetic" or "minor", I think that would make it possible to remove the difficulty of "custom or ritual" from the Bill altogether.

There is just one more small point on the discussion of amendments which will have to come. I expect that it may be that the Government will say that there is no clear definition of "minor" surgical procedure or of "cosmetic" or what is cosmetic and what is not. That is perfectly true. But there is also no very clear definition of "health" or of "physical health" or of "mental health", on which the Bill at present rests.

The Government may say that the Bill, if we introduce the word "cosmetic", will be going to the intention of the surgeon and will not be a matter of scientific description. Of course it already goes to the intention of the surgeon when it clears operations for the physical health or for the mental health of the patient. The surgeon is pursuing his intention of improving the physical health or the mental health. As long as it is his intention to do that, it does not mean that he has to succeed. He may fail. But he will not be prosecuted for a professional failure. I hope that it will be possible to have a meeting of minds on the fact that we are dealing with a Bill in which every word is subjective and lacks precise definition.

The Bill will come back after Committee either amended or unamended. It is perhaps not too soon to think of what we should do with it on Third Reading if it comes back unamended. I believe that on Third Reading the House will probably want to remember the very firm conviction expressed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on Second Reading the first time round (that is; two or three years ago now) that female circumcision is already illegal under the Victorian Acts: those dealing with gross bodily harm, and the Offences Against the Person Act. That is the opinion of the Lord Chancellor; and who should know better?

We note, though, that there have been no prosecutions. We all know that the operation goes on. We have to ask ourselves this: given that it is probably illegal under the existing legislation—and the Lord Chancellor thinks that it is—why have there been no prosecutions? Is it because the Director of Public Prosecutions differs from the Lord Chancellor and believes that it is probably not illegal under present law and that those charged would therefore not be convicted? Clearly not. It is because of the difficulty of getting evidence. The House will want to consider on Third Reading the fact that this Bill does nothing to make it easier to get evidence. It is going to remain difficult, whatever the Bill says, to get evidence. If the House were to judge that the advantage of having this Bill when compared with the advantage of resting on present law were only small, it would then be necessary to think again about the disadvantage of passing it into law containing that difficult phrase "custom or ritual".

Something has been said about other European countries. The only European country to my knowledge recently to legislate against female circumcision is Sweden, where the Bill quite simply says—and how lucky they are!—"Female circumcision is banned". Swedish law is like that. You can say that without niggling around with the definitions; and the courts are left to use their common sense. I wish that we could, but we cannot in this country and we all realise that. There have been successful prosecutions in France. There is no legislation against female circumcision in France. Those prosecutions were obtained under existing French law, Articles 309 and 312 of the Penal Code, which are pretty close to our own Victorian legislation.

My Lords, we shall want to remember all that when the time comes. I am sorry that I have spoken already for too long and in too great detail for a Second Reaing debate.

9.4 p.m.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I should like to make it quite clear that although I am speaking from the Front Bench, on this side of the House we have a free vote and there is no party line on this matter at all. I hope that there will not be a party line in any quarter of the House. I want to thank all the speakers who have made their contributions to this important debate, especially my noble friend Lord Kennet. I am not sure that I should call him "my noble friend" any more; but socially, if not politically, I shall call him "my noble friend" because he has worked so hard on this subject. We all remember the way he introduced previous Bills on this matter and I think that the whole House should be very grateful for his efforts.

I feel that what we want to do tonight is to make it absolutely clear that this country establishes a clear statement of its rejection of the mutilation of female circumcision. That has got to be absolutely clear. It is not a question of our trying to impose our standards imperiously on people from other countries who come to live here. It is they, almost without exception, who are asking us to do this. I was very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, referred to her experience at the United Nations because I was the United Kingdom delegate to the Status of Women Commission. It was they who came to me and said, "Why do you not do something about this?"

It is very important for us to realise that we are not trying to impose standards on other people but that there are women in other countries who want us to help them. And it is not only women, my Lords; there are many brave politicians, teachers, professors and doctors who cannot understand why this country is not outlawing this evil mutilation. Therefore, I think that we have to do away with the idea that in this Bill tonight we are trying to impose our standards on other countries. Of course there is an element in that but, on the other hand, I understand that Kenya has made this practice illegal and that in the Sudan the authorities are trying to stamp it out. Therefore, they are looking to us to help them; not to impose on them some standards which they do not want to accept. I could give your Lordships a long list of international bodies, such as the WHO, which are trying to get this awful situation corrected.

I am unhappy about Clause 2(2). I should prefer references to mental health to be excluded altogether. Girls and women who have mental problems should have mental treatment and should not have surgical problems inflicted on them. This will create enormous uncertainty in the courts. How is a court to decide whether a doctor has performed a circumcision on a woman who had a mental problem? How is this to be enforced? Who are to be the witnesses?

I can see one or two reasons why women should go to a doctor and complain that they need mental help in this surgical way, but I cannot accept them, because there are women who come here who may want to accept Islamic customs, which involve cutting off hands, or suttee. We are not going to have Indian women burning themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres because that is ritual. That is just not acceptable here. We are not going to accept child brides of 13 because it is ritual for them to be made into brides. We are not going to accept polygamy or ritual scoring. Therefore, it is quite wrong to oppose this Bill on the grounds of ritual practices.

The correct course is to take out of this Bill the whole question of mental health, because that is a very vague thing. We would not be sitting here in your Lordships' House tonight if we were not concerned about mental health problems. We have to accept that there are pressures and anxieties imposed on young women who come to live here from overseas—and I know many of them. The purpose of this Bill is to establish that female circumcision for custom and ritual is a criminal offence. It has to be a criminal offence in this country and should be lawful only for clearly defined physical reasons.

By references in Clause 2 to mental health as justification, except if the mental state arises from custom and ritual, the Government have confused the whole situation. Maybe a girl's mental distress is brought about by pressures from male relatives. The whole custom arises from sadistic male discrimination and it is an act of violence against women. That is what female circumcision is. It is an act of violence against women and unless that is accepted we cannot make any progress. So release from that, together with counselling, would be a kinder way of helping a woman's mental health.

I must remind your Lordships that we are also concerned with the rights of children. Female circumcision happens in some communities to children of 10 years and under. Their mental health is more likely to be harmed than improved by this mutilation. I must say that the junior Minister was very confusing in the Committee stage in the other place, because he seemed to think that this is not a definite problem. But in the view of myself and many other Members of this House, it certainly is.

The Minister said in Standing Committee C on 3rd April at col. 9 of the Official Report: Without it, the Bill would allow female circumcision to be performed on grounds of mental health. That would be the biggest loophole that one could imagine in such a Bill. It would make the rest of the Bill totally ineffective and drive a coach and horses through the purpose of the Bill". I have a lot of sympathy with that view.

However, what is more important is that when patients present themselves to doctors claiming that because of mental health problems they need to have circumcision there should be adequate provision for counselling and for help. I am very much encouraged because of the number of communications that I have received from women in communities from other countries who say that this is what they want.

During the Committee stage in another place it was suggested that the best way to deal with this matter would be for the Government to provide counselling services and advice so that women in communities in this country would be able to get help. I know there have been representations from the Commission for Racial Equality suggesting that there is something racialist about this Bill. I think that the best way to deal with that is to take out the mental health references altogether. If a women has a mental health problem then it should be dealt with mentally and not surgically. If we bring into this the question of the minority of women from overseas who feel that, because of pressures from their mothers, their grandmothers and, much more, from the men in their communities, they have to go through this painful process, it is for us to try to help them to see that this is not the way.

I am very encouraged as I was when I was at the United Nations by the number of brave women, midwives, doctors and teachers who are begging us for our help. I think that it would be an absolute disgrace if this House were to impede the passage of this Bill because it would not only affect the women and the girls who are living in this country, for whom we can only directly legislate, but it would be a total discouragement for those people who are trying to stop this practice, as I know many politicians and leaders in Kenya and the Sudan are doing.

I was very encouraged to receive a letter from the Foundation of Women's Health Research and Development asking this House to support the Bill. Everything has to be expressed in short lines now so that organisation is called FORWARD. The director, Mrs. Stella Graham, is from Ghana. I am very happy to see on the foundations's notepaper that the sponsors include the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, Dame Josephine Barnes, Dame Judith Hart, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood and many other people who are devoted to forwarding this emancipation.

Though I accept that at Committee stage we may want to go into more detail, it is absolutely essential that tonight we agree the Second Reading of this Bill.

9.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, on her sponsorship of this Bill and on her comprehensive speech, as opposed to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch—sound and fury signifying nothing. This Bill addresses a problem which has aroused strong feelings not just in this House but among the general public. There is widespread repugnance that the practice of female circumcision should be undertaken in this country. We believe that female circumcision has been done here only in a handful of cases; yet that does not alter the compelling reasons for this Bill.

The main objective of course, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Jeger, said—and I must really emphasise this to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—is to put beyond any shadow of doubt that the practice of female circumcision is illegal in this country. It may be of course that female circumcision as such, which can consist of severe mutilation, is already against the criminal law. Certainly, if any cases were referred to the Department of Health we would pass the information to the Director of Public Prosecutions for him to consider criminal proceedings. However—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—I am not aware that this point has ever been tested by the courts, and there could be no certainty until that were done.

As the law stands, it is conceivable that a different view would be taken of the act performed on a child as opposed to an adult. The importance of this Bill is that it puts the matter beyond any doubt. If the Bill is passed then female circumcision will not only be against the law but it will be apparent to all that the practice is against the law.

Effective legislation on this subject must satisfy three criteria. First, it must clarify the law. That is the whole purpose of the Bill. The second consideration is that the legislation must successfully prohibit female circumcision; there must be no loopholes. The third criterion is that the legislation must not interfere with legitimate forms of surgery. It is this last criterion that has caused problems in previous attempts to carry effective legislation.

In strict anatomical terms, many of the procedures adopted in female circumcision differ little from those used in necessary, legitimate surgery. It would be quite unacceptable if a Bill with the wholly laudable aim of prohibiting female circumcision also, as a side effect, interfered with a patient's right to receive legitimate surgery. I must say in response to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, that the question of mental health was raised in a previous debate. I believe it would be positively counter-productive for me to go through the details of that aspect again this evening.

I am glad to say that the Bill does not interfere with a patient's right to receive legitimate surgery. Where other Bills have failed, it successfully manages to achieve our common aim without at the same time bringing within the scope of the offence it creates necessary surgical operations. The sponsors of the Bill are to be congratulated on the precision of its focus.

The technical difficulties of achieving that precision should not be under-estimated simply because the Bill is short and to the point. It is these difficulties which have led in the past to some misunderstanding about the Government's attitude towards legislation to prohibit female circumcision. As I have said, we share the repulsion generally felt about this practice; yet we must also ensure that an attempt to clarify the law in one area does not cast doubt upon the legality of other surgical procedures for quite distinct, often highly sensitive, purposes. The Bill we are considering this evening successfully overcomes all those hurdles, and that is why the Government can give it their full support.

Many of your Lordships sat through the previous attempts to legislate on this subject. Various different formulations have been considered in the past few years for either the definition of the offence in Clause 1 or the necessary medical exceptions in Clause 2..1 have to say that of all the proposals we have seen—and there have been many over the years—the present Bill as currently drafted is the only one that has been found to be fully satisfactory against all the criteria I mentioned earlier.

The Bill effectively prohibits female circumcision—but only that—and it clarifies the law on this point beyond any question. If it did not do that, or if it muddied the water at all, then it would be bad law and we would probably do better without it. This evening we are concerned with the general principle of the Bill. I repeat that there is no doubt in our minds about the Bill as currently drafted.

It may help if I deal with one particular criticism that many noble Lords have spoken about in regard to the drafting of the Bill. Many noble Lords have suggested that Clause 2 is in some sense racist. I cannot accept that. If we thought—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will listen carefully—that that had any foundation, the Government could not support the Bill. I am sure that if the sponsors of the Bill considered the clause or the Bill to be in any sense racist or discrimatory, it would not have been introduced. In fact, I believe that fear to be misplaced. It was discussed in detail in another place and I think convincingly laid to rest.

The argument goes that Clause 2 should not seek to discount anyone's belief that an operation was necessary because of custom or ritual when a doctor determines whether surgical procedures are necessary on mental health grounds. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I share a secret. I wrote to him today and he quoted from my letter. I will quote the paragraph in the letter—

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I did not quote from the letter from the noble Baroness. I received it, and I thank her for it, but I did not quote from it.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me. He used certain words from my letter which I shall take up. The paragraph reads: If you introduce the concept of mental health then it is necessary to have a saving clause such as that now in Clause 2(2). Otherwise there is a loophole that would impede successful prosecution. There is no sensible definition of 'cosmetic', 'minor' or 'abnormality' that would prevent difficult questions of law. There are probably forms of quite legitimate surgery that are neither 'cosmetic' nor 'minor'. All of this serves to raise doubts and legal questions about what ought to be straightforward clarification of the law". That concludes my quote from the letter I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.

We need to look once more at the whole purpose of the Bill. The Bill ensures that female circumcision is against the law and is an offence. The reason for doing that is to protect young children or young women from pressures within some communities to conform to a ritual which results in mutilation and impairment potentially damaging to health whether at the time of the operation or later at marriage or childbirth. Yet the prohibition is not in any sense linked to the fact that the practice is a custom or a ritual. It is the practice itself that is being made an offence.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Baroness permit me to ask a question? If the prohibition is, not linked to the fact that the practice is a custom or ritual, why is it necessary to use the words "custom or ritual" in the Bill?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, if you do not put them in, you create a loophole, as I have already explained. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to continue. As I said—and it is well worth repeating—it is the practice itself that is being made an offence. The Bill as drafted makes sure that the defence that the practice is a custom or ritual is not sufficient to allow it to escape illegality. If the noble Lord had waited one minute, he would have had a written answer spoken; as it was he got the verbal equivalent.

The use of the phrase "custom or ritual" in Clause 2(2) makes explicit what is the implicit intention of the whole Bill and I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea. I might just as well add at this stage that I see no reason to adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to postpone enactment of the Bill.

We heard wise words from the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and my noble friend Baroness Gardner of Parkes. This Bill is part of the wider campaign to eradicate female circumcision in this country and abroad. In some communities this custom has been a tradition for many centuries. Legislation has its place in this campaign. I commend to your Lordships an excellent pamphlet published by the Minority Rights Group which gives details of those countries in Africa as well as those in Europe, as has already been said, where there has already been legislative action.

I noted with great pleasure that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet is a council member of the Minority Rights Group, but it will take more than legislation on its own to eliminate such a deeply rooted tradition. I entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, and the remarks of others that we also need education and counselling within the communities in which female circumcision is practised. I hope that the publicity arising from the passage of this Bill will assist those who are working in these fields. Already we have received some applications, as was mentioned by some noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for financial support for this work. My answer to the Lady Masham of Ilton's question on that subject is that the Government have undertaken to consider these applications as sympathetically as possible, and officials will be discussing them with the organisations concerned. I know that there are many groups, particularly women's groups, who share the anger that these mutilations should be done to young girls and women. I hope that these groups, many of whom have written in support of this Bill, will be able to turn their energies to the next stage of the campaign. I wish the Bill a trouble-free and I hope speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, would she just answer one question? Has she read the criticism of the mental health clause in the Committee stage of the last Bill? Has she read the criticism made by her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and does she consider that that signifies nothing?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have indeed read the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. When I spoke about the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, of sound and fury signifying nothing, I was referring to his very strange comments on the Government's actions in previous attempts at this Bill.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have debated this Bill. First of all, perhaps I can try to answer the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. My reason for changing my mind was rather like that of the noble Lord, Lord McNair. I found my wish to help eradicate female circumcision for good overrode any other problems, and that is my truthful answer to him. I do not think we should be over-sensitive about using the words custom or ritual. Do your Lordships remember the film which was shown about female circumcision? If not, perhaps we should see it again before Committee stage. Young sensitive girls were taken, dragged and held down screaming while they were circumcised. Their sensitivity, their pain and the cruelty done to them is far more important perhaps than a few people being worried about the words "custom or ritual". They must realise what it means to a female, and it is the males in this Chamber who seem to be more worried than the females. They do not realise what a sensitive part of the anatomy it is that we are discussing.

I wish very much that we had in this House a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; but I shall do the second best and will read to your Lordships a passage from a letter from the president, Mr. M. C. McNaughton to the honourable Member Mrs Roe: Firstly, we are at one with you in seeking to prohibit female circumcision of any kind being performed in this country. However, there are a variety of surgical operations that are necessary for the physical and mental health of women which have nothing whatsoever to do with circumcisions performed for traditional or cultural reasons. I wish to make it clear that the College would be opposed to any statutory limitations on these legitimate procedures". As a lay person I cannot argue with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, why not? They are only men.

Baroness Masham of Mon

My Lords, they are the people who really know. They are the people who have to put operations right when they go wrong.

It was very difficult for me to hear the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, because there was a terrible machine banging away at my side about which I have complained on previous occasions because it drowns the speakers beyond me. I shall read very carefully tomorrow what he said. But I heard the noble Lord say that it would be difficult to get evidence. If something is clearly illegal I feel that people often go to the police or the press to report it. Also, if girls are circumcised and infection occurs and they become really ill, I am sure that they will be taken by their parents to hospital, and then the fact will come to light.

Also, if there is a six-month prison sentence and/or a fine, I hope that people will be wary of taking the risk. I hope that the Act will work as a deterrent. I am sure that no one in this Chamber would want a girl to be circumcised, or anyone else to get into trouble for doing it. Therefore, I hope that the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will be a deterrent.

I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, said. There should be clear communication. I was also glad to hear what she said about education. I hope that the ethnic groups involved will come forward and work closely with the department. I am sure that that will be helpful and useful.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes before ten o'clock.