Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope has recently come under fire for blocking a bill that would extend court protections for women and young girls in the UK who are at risk from female genital mutilation.
Commonly abbreviated to FGM, female genital mutilation is the process of removing part of a females vagina prior, or during, puberty, in order to keep her ‘pure’ for marriage. Despite being rife in some parts of northern Africa and the Middle East, it has been illegal in dozens of countries, including the UK, for many years.
On the 8th of February, 2019, during the second reading of a private member’s bill (PMB), the ‘Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill’, he was the only MP to shout ‘object’, stopping the bill from passing, similarly he did the same during the bill’s first reading in November.
Chope, who has been representing his constituency, Christchurch, in Devon, since 1997, was knighted last year (2018) for “political and public service despite claiming over £135,000 during the 2009 expenses scandal with over £800 going towards the repair of his sofa.
The amendment, a single line, was added by the bill’s original writer, Labour Lord Tony Berkeley, a long-time anti-FGM campaigner, would have extended to family care. Currently, family courts are able to place a child into care if they are at risk of violence, molestation, or forced marriage. The amendment would have simply added FGM to this list.
Chope maintained that he objected to the bill purely on the grounds that as a private member’s bill, it was up to less scrutiny than other potential bills. As he wrote in the Telegraph:
“The case for PMBs to be debated and scrutinised further is even stronger than for government bills because PMBs do not normally have an explanatory note, a cost benefit analysis or regulatory impact assessment and may not have been subject to any public consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny.
All governments try to frustrate the progress of PMBs they don’t like. […] This session, the government has decided that PMBs it supports should be ‘nodded through’ without debate at the Second Reading stage – thereby leapfrogging other bills which took precedence under the annual ballot which decides the priority for PMBs. Fortunately, however, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons give a veto over bills having a Second Reading without debate by shouting ‘object’. I exercise this veto consistently.”
Chope claims he is fully supportive of any efforts to clamp down on female genital mutilation, but with a record of pushing against legislation and other movements that have gained overwhelming support, such as voting against gay marriage, climate change scepticism, pardoning Alan Turing and more recently, also objecting to a bill that would prosecute against ‘upskirting’, it is possible that he is simply using this as an excuse to block bills he fundamentally disagrees with, but knows are popular or likely to go through. If Chope has a fundamental issue with parliamentary procedures such as PMBs, he should be more constructive in his beliefs and attempt to minimise their implementation, rather than do publicity stunts like these, which can only hurt his re-election or de-selection chances, bring to light public concerns such as FGM, but also stop important and otherwise widely supported and needed legislation from getting passed.