SNP challenge Prime Minister on ‘disgrace’ of rape clause

Scottish Parliament of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA
Scottish Parliament of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA
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The Government’s rape clause is a disgrace, the SNP’s Westminster leader has said as he sought to put Theresa May on the spot over claims made by her Work and Pensions Secretary that the clause could help support rape victims.

Esther McVey was previously heckled as she spoke on the rape clause, where women have to prove conception through non-consensual sex to qualify for tax credits for a third child, while giving evidence to a Holyrood committee.

She said this offers women potentially double support through money and an opportunity to talk they may have never had before.

Ian Blackford held up the paper forms in front of MPs in the Commons as he raised the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions, asking: “Does the Prime Minister agree with her Secretary of State who’s just sitting along from her that the rape clause provides victims with double support?”

Mrs May acknowledged it was an “incredibly sensitive issue”, arguing the Government had taken “considerable time and care” to establish procedures after consultations.

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Ms McVey, she added, was making the point that specialist professionals “may be able to provide (individuals) with support in those circumstances over and beyond the issue of their entitlement”.

Ms May said: “Can I say to him, I know this is an issue that has been raised a number of times in this House and that it is an incredibly sensitive issue, and of course I fully recognise the sensitivities that are involved for the mothers involved.

“We have taken great care, considerable time and care, to set up procedures following extensive consultations that mean that no Government staff will question these mothers about what they experienced.

“The point (Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey) was making was that a mother will be granted the exemption through engaging with specialist professionals like health and social workers, who may be able to provide them with support in those circumstances over and beyond the issue of their entitlement.”

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Mr Blackford waved the documentation in the chamber as he asked: “What kind of society do we live in?”

He said: “I have to say that’s not quite the point that the Secretary of State made when she seemed to offend all (at) the meeting of the Parliament at Edinburgh.

“Rape Crisis Scotland have been clear, paying benefits on proving trauma isn’t a choice, it is a disgrace and one which may well re-traumatise the women involved.

“The chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland has said it is fundamentally damaging for women, forcing them to disclose rape and abuse at a time and in a manner not of their choosing, at pain of financial penalty.

“This is the form with a box for the child’s name. What kind of society do we live in?”

Mrs May responded that “we live in a society where we have taken every care to ensure that this is dealt with in as sensitive manner as possible.”

She added: “That is why the Government took considerable time and made extensive consultations in putting the arrangements in place.

“As I say, nobody will be, no mother in these circumstances will be granted the exemption by dealing with Jobcentre staff, they will be granted the exemption by dealing with specialist professionals.”