Tory MP Christopher Chope who blocked upskirting bill stops proposed FGM laws

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

The leading member of what is widely known in Parliament as the "awkward squad", Sir Christopher Chope, has been at it again.

He has blocked a private members bill proposed by the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, which would have amended the 1989 Children Act, to include Female Genital Mutilation on the list of things like forced marriage and domestic violence for which courts can issue protection orders if they think a child is at risk.

It only took one word from the veteran Tory MP to halt the bill in its tracks.

Sir Christopher simply had to shout "object" as the title of the bill was read out.

Zac Goldsmith proposed the FGM bill which would have amended the 1989 Children Act. Credit: PA

It's an arcane mechanism which some MPs, and government whips, often use to kill off attempts by fellow MPs to push laws through parliament.

Zac Goldsmith has tweeted saying Sir Christopher is "appalling".

The Home Secretary Sajid Javid has also condemned this latest use of dusty old parliamentary procedure saying he was "very disappointed", before adding "FGM is child abuse. I am determined to stamp out this despicable and medieval practice."

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also criticised Sir Christopher.

He said he was "outraged" by Sir Chope's decision and "his actions are wrong".

  • Anti-FGM campaigner pleads with Chope to not object to bill

Anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali has tweeted images of texts she shared with Sir Christopher Chope pleading with him to not object to the amendment when it was debated by parliament.

In the messages, Chope appears to agree with Ali - despite his actions during today's Commons session - that the bill should be "fully debated".

In a bid to convince the MP to support her argument, Ali referenced last week's FGM conviction by a London court, the first of its kind upheld in the United Kingdom.

Nimco says she believes Chope is more concerned about being called "an embarrassment to your party and humanity," than he is about girls who are subjected to female genital mutilation.

Why does Sir Christopher, who was knighted for services to Parliament just over a year ago, do it?

Well, he's a member of a small faction of right-wing libertarian MPs who object to private members bills, not just because they think the mechanism is not a "proper" way to introduce or scrutinise legislation but also because they view issues often championed by the sponsors of the bills as either socialist, nanny-state proposals or "vanity laws".

In June last year Sir Christopher came under a barrage of criticism after he blocked a bill aimed at making "upskirting" a criminal offence.

The upskirting bill was one of those unusual private members bills which had managed to get government support, giving the proposed new sexual offence a red carpet through the parliamentary process, on its way to become law.

The Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse was about to become one of those rare MPs whose private members bills actually get royal assent.

MP Wera Hobhouse. Credit: PA

Months of work and support from thousands of campaigners led by Gina Martin, a victim of upskirting, had led to that summer's afternoon session in the Commons. Only to see the bill blocked by one word from Sir Christopher.

There were shouts of "Shame" from other MPs. Twitter lit up. The following week the MP's office was festooned with underwear in protest.

It was one of those moments when the proceedings of parliament seemed such a long way away from the realities of life in 21st century Britain. For many, Sir Christopher was snubbing a shift in society towards greater equality and respect for women, especially in the wake of the Weinstein scandal and the launch of the #MeToo movement.

The Prime Minister was drawn into the row and, as well as expressing her disappointment, promised to turn the bill into government-led legislation which led to the new law being eventually passed.

Back in June, a former Deputy Speaker, Nigel Evans, wrote to Parliament's procedure committee asking them to urgently review and reform "this outdated practice". Nothing has been come of that demand.

Last year Sir Christopher did eventually defend himself after days of dodging requests to do interviews.

He is risking becoming, perhaps, Britain's most unpopular MP.

Alongside today's objection to the FGM laws and last year's Upskirting proposals, his previous efforts have blocked bills which would have given powers to return art looted by Nazis to holocaust victims, exempted carers from hospital car park charges, banned wild animals from circuses, granted a pardon for WW2 code breaker Alan Turing.

The list goes on and, no doubt, so will Sir Christopher.

He'll continue to defend what he might call "proper" parliamentary scrutiny until, possibly, parliament itself objects to his objections.