The home secretary has criticised a Conservative MP who blocked a bill that would offer greater legal protections for girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).
The second reading of the Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill was scheduled to take place in the Commons on Friday afternoon, and would have enabled courts to make interim court orders to protect vulnerable children.
But Sir Christopher Chope blocked the reading – shouting “object” as it was moved in the Commons. It was understood that he was ready to filibuster, which would have involved speaking through the rest of the Commons session in order to stop the reading.
Bill sponsor Zac Goldsmith described the move as “appalling”.
Sajid Javid, the home secretary, added: “Very disappointed by this. FGM is child abuse. I am determined to stamp out this despicable and medieval practice. We will do all we can protect girls at risk.”
FGM campaigner Nimco Ali shared texts she says she sent to Sir Christopher, in which he appears prepared to block the bill from going through this afternoon, forcing it to a full debate in the Commons.
This is dishonest. By blocking the Bill today, Chope is stopping the very debate he pretends he wants. There would still be Committee Stage, Report stage and Third Reading. The truth is, he is simply playing games and doesn’t give a stuff about vulnerable girls. pic.twitter.com/ezQ9NJZq81
— Nimco Ali 🔻 (@NimkoAli) February 8, 2019
The texts challenge the MP not to block it, and Ms Ali gave a series of reasons, including her personal experience.
He replied: “I hope you agree this should be fully debated not least because of the coverage in the BMJ.”
Before the reading session, Mr Goldsmith tweeted: “Today Chris Chope MP will once again use arcane procedure to block a bill that would amend the 1989 Children Act to include FGM on the list of things (like forced marriage or domestic violence) for which the courts can issue protection orders if they think a child is at risk.
“The Bill has been scrutinised fully in the Lords, and is supported now by Government. Chope has been begged not to block it by FGM campaigners.
My final exchange with Chope shows that he is more offended by being called an embarrassment than he is about girls being subjected to #FGM. His local Association should know the world is watching today and we will not forget his actions. pic.twitter.com/TdMzME7TJS
— Nimco Ali 🔻 (@NimkoAli) February 8, 2019
“People ask why he would do such a thing (and indeed why he has similarly blocked motions to debate Hillsborough, pardon Alan Turing, ban the use of wild animals in circuses, target ‘upskirting’ and much much more besides.
“His argument is that he simply wants bills properly debated. But it is a pretence. If today’s bill goes through, we will have committee stage, report stage and third reading – all of which involve scrutiny and debate. If it is blocked, there is no debate.
“And if he is acting on principle, as he wants people to believe, why does he often allow bills put forward by his friends to pass through unchallenged?”
Sky News has contacted Sir Christopher for comment.
The MP, who represents Christchurch, has previously blocked private members’ bills going through, as he believes they do not get the appropriate time for debate in the House of Commons.
But he is frequently criticised for his stance, as he recently blocked a speedy passage through the Commons to make “upskirting” – taking a photo under someone’s clothes without their permission – law.
Sophie Walker, former leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “This is the same man who blocked the upskirting bill, voted against equal marriage, minimum wage, equal pay transparency, Turing’s pardon. A private landlord, he opposed a bill to halt revenge evictions.
“He claims to act based on procedural points. But oddly, also consistently votes for his mates’ bills. So it’s just the vulnerable, poor and oppressed that he chooses not to support.”
Mr Goldsmith and Lord Berkeley of Knighton’s amendment would bolster the female genital mutilation protection orders that are already available.
A report on the bill explains: “If a court was satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for believing that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, an interim care order could be made. The interim care order would mean that a local authority would have shared parental responsibility for the child concerned until a final hearing.”
Sir Christopher, who was reported to be sponsoring dozens of his own private members’ bills last summer, withdrew his own private members’ bill before its second reading today.
His bill, Value Added Tax, would have included a new exemption from VAT for women’s sanitary products, as well as fitness equipment and services.
Sir Christopher previously told his local paper, the Bournemouth Echo: “The government has been hijacking time that is rightfully that of backbenchers. This is about who controls the House of Commons on Fridays and that’s where I am coming from.
“The government is abusing parliamentary time for its own ends and in a democracy this is not acceptable. The government cannot just bring in what it wants on the nod. We don’t quite live in the Putin era yet.”