Council debate opposing Female Genital Mutilation marred by clash between parties

Duncan Crow's motion calling on West Sussex County Council to support the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation was approved on Friday December 11
Duncan Crow's motion calling on West Sussex County Council to support the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation was approved on Friday December 11

A debate on Female Genital Mutilation at County Hall ended in disagreement between the political parties on a UKIP amendment.

Conservative Duncan Crow originally called on West Sussex County Council to support the campaign against FGM by providing information and raising awareness through schools, and adopting a charter of zero tolerance against the illegal practice, which involves procedures altering female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

But amendments to the motion were put forward by Chris Oxlade (Lab, Bewbush and Ifield West), who eventually withdrew his, and Mike Glennon (UKIP, Lancing), who added a commitment to engage with Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner to ensure that Sussex Police was prepared to protect those at risk of FGM.

After the meeting Mr Glennon, UKIP’s group leader, criticised the Tory group for not accepting his amendment and felt they did not want ‘to take on any constructive input from elsewhere’.

At the end of the debate Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), leader of the council, had asked the movers of both amendments if they could support Mr Crow’s motion instead so that the council was seen to speak with one voice.

Mr Oxlade dropped his amendment, which added a line about increasing awareness through youth facilities as well as schools and committed to ‘working with those families with children most likely to be at risk within our communities’ to achieve lasting change, despite saying it was a ‘shame’ it could not be incorporated.

He said: “I believe youth facilities have already been doing this work but they are a great way of interacting with those communities that are at risk of FGM.”

But Mr Glennon described both amendments as ‘eminently sensible’, accused the Tories of ‘engaging in party jealousy’, and after Mrs Goldsmith’s offer said: “Are you joking?”

His amendment was defeated by 33 votes to 17 with 11 abstentions.

Putting forward his motion Mr Crow (Con, Tilgate and Furnace Green) said: “This practice is something that needs eradicating and we are not going to turn a blind eye to any form of child abuse.”

Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield East) argued the practice should be ‘consigned to the dustbin of history’, while James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East) called it ‘savage and inhuman’, and felt both amendments strengthened rather than weakened the original motion.

Mrs Goldsmith added: “The first step in doing anything against such a brutal attack on any young person is to have the shining light of exposure on it and today, in this chamber, this is what we have done.

“For it is only when you highlight the corners can you see the dust and sweep it out.”

Mr Glennon explained he had moved his amendment after reading a Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary report on FGM, forced marriage and honour-based violence, which assessed Sussex Police, along with a number of other forces across the country, as ‘not yet prepared’ under the heading of both protection and enforcement and prevention.

But Steve Waight (Con, Goring) said they could not tell Sussex PCC Katy Bourne to do anything, but he was sure she would be working hard to ensure Sussex Police was effectively dealing with FGM.

After the debate Pat Arculus (Con, Pulborough), chairman of the council, said FGM was a subject they all felt very strongly about, and called on councillors to contribute towards raising awareness of the issue.

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