‘Object’: British Lawmaker Blocks Bill Against Female Genital Cutting

‘Object’: British Lawmaker Blocks Bill Against Female Genital Cutting


LONDON — A veteran British Conservative lawmaker has blocked a bill that would offer greater protection to girls at risk of genital cutting, drawing criticism across the political spectrum, with some calling it an “appalling” move.

And it wasn’t the first time.

The bill would allow children to be placed in temporary care if they were deemed at risk of genital cutting, as is the case for other child abuse.

But because the bill was not introduced by the government, a simple objection in a sparsely attended session was enough for Christopher Chope to block it on Friday on procedural grounds with one word — “Object” — the second time he has done so since November.

Mr. Chope’s latest move came a week after a woman in London became the first in the country to be convicted by a jury over the genital cutting of her daughter, at a time of heightened awareness about the issue, prompting reaction from campaigners and senior colleagues.

David Lamy, a Labour Party lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, wrote on Twitter, “Christopher Chope embodies a brand of thoughtless, regressive conservatism which can ruin lives.”

Nimco Ali, a survivor of genital cutting and women’s rights campaigner, posted an exchange of text messages online in which she had asked Mr. Chope to give the bill a chance. He said no, calling for a full debate.

“The truth is, he is simply playing games and doesn’t give a stuff about vulnerable girls,” she wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Chope could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Zac Goldsmith, a fellow Conservative, who was among the bill’s backers, called Mr. Chope’s objection “appalling.”

In response, Mr. Chope accused his colleagues of “virtue-signaling rather than looking at the substance,” in an interview with The Daily Telegraph newspaper. “My constituents know what I am doing,” he said, adding that he was “not going to be put off” by a campaign of intimidation.

The bill against genital cutting, introduced and debated in the upper house of Britain’s Parliament, had already cleared all stages there. But it has to pass the House of Commons before it can become law.

On Friday, critics of Mr. Chope argued that his opposition wasn’t purely procedural. He previously objected to measures against taking upskirt photos of women and to the pardon of Alan Turing, the mathematician, computing pioneer and World War II code breaker convicted in 1952 for having sex with a man. (Versions of both bills passed later.)

He has also consistently voted against allowing same-sex marriage in Britain, while most of his colleagues generally voted for it, according to TheyWorkForYou, a website that tracks votes and speeches by members of Parliament.

Mr. Chope, who was first elected to Britain’s Parliament in 1983, is known for his opposition to the rapid passing of legislation brought without government support, called private members’ bills.

In one of the singularities of Britain’s parliamentary system, bills can be proposed by any member of either house. But these texts are given less time for debate, and relatively few become laws. They have traditionally been used to highlight issues, spark larger debate and, in some cases, take the temperature of the room on issues likely to spark controversy.

Britain legalized abortion in the late 1960s under a private member’s bill introduced by David Steel, a lawmaker who later became the leader of the small Liberal Party. The Labour government of the time gave its support only later and helped the bill get through Parliament.

“I still get a mixture of fan and hate letters as though I were solely responsible for the legislation, when in fact I was just lucky to benefit from a quirk of British politics,” Mr. Steel wrote in The Independent in 2017, to mark the 50th anniversary of the bill.

A random name-drawing grants priority to some private members’ bills, and he came third in the ballot.

Genital cutting — the practice of cutting or removing a girl’s genitalia for social or cultural but not medical reasons — has been a crime in Britain since 1985. It is usually done before girls reach puberty, is extremely painful and can have long-lasting effects on sexual activity, childbirth and mental health.

But as more women have immigrated to Britain from countries where the practice is widespread, a study from City University in London estimated the number of women affected at more than 130,000 in a country of 66 million.

In a one-year period ending in March 2018, Britain’s national health service recorded 6,195 women and girls with genital cutting, according to data released last year.

On Friday, Britain’s home secretary, Sajid Javid, said on Twitter that he was very disappointed by Mr. Chope’s move, adding that he was “determined to stamp out this despicable and medieval practice.”





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