Today, I met Wycombe High School politics students to answer their questions on a wide range of subjects.
I was asked about this vote on Public Whip, which the student had interpreted as being against girl’s interests. It stands as a lesson in how difficult it can be to properly follow events and interpret votes in the House of Commons: I was acting to increase protection for girls.
In answering the question without advance notice, I regret I confused two votes. In both cases, I was acting to protect girls.
The Public Whip entry explains the FGM vote:
The amendment rejected by the majority of MPs in this vote was
- page 63, line 27, leave out “the” and insert “a risk of”
I was a teller for the ayes, a strong symbol of support.
Unfortunately, Public Whip has not helped see what the intent was. I had to return to the Hansard record, which is authoritative. When I was the teller for the ayes on 23 Feb 2015 in relation to an amendment on FGM, I was joining Sir William Cash in an attempt to strengthen protection for girls.
Sir William Cash explained that the amendment would have toughened the law to deal with the risk, not only the fact, of FGM being committed:
“Amendment 20, which stands in my name, is simple and incredibly short—all it would do is leave out “the” and insert “a risk of”. As I have said repeatedly in interventions, it is not good enough simply to rely on the fact that the act of female genital mutilation has been carried out, for example when notifying the police or dealing with guidance, which is quite vague and is not specific enough to deal with the problem of girls being at risk.”
That is why I supported the amendment: to seek greater protections for girls at risk of FGM. The division is here: Zac Goldsmith and I were the tellers for the ayes.
I am proud to have been a teller in an attempt to strengthen protections for girls against FGM. To understand why the Government did not support the amendment, please read what the minister said in Hansard.
Having been surprised by the question on a vote two years ago, my recollection was imperfect. The account I gave of being a teller to force a division was in relation to protecting unborn girls from sex-selection abortions.
You can find the record for that vote here. In my point of order, I said,
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) and I divided the House so that it would have the opportunity to express its view. May I put it on the record that both of us support my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and the measure? I have been advised by many right hon. and hon. Members who are members of the Government and who abstained, as is usual practice, that they, too, would have supported it.”
I later received a letter from Fiona Bruce thanking me for having the courage to support her by forcing this division.
On both occasions, I am proud to have acted to promote the rights of women and girls.