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MSPs to debate ‘disgusting rape clause’ in push to reform child tax credits

Nicola Sturgeon has condemned the Scottish Conservative leader for backing the clause

Rachael Revesz
Monday 17 April 2017 15:48 BST
Nicola Sturgeon has been criticised by Conservatives who say she has devolved powers to contest the new measures
Nicola Sturgeon has been criticised by Conservatives who say she has devolved powers to contest the new measures (Reuters)

Members of the Scottish Parliament have filed a motion to debate a clause which bans benefits for a third child unless the mother can prove she was sexually assaulted or abused.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has campaigned against the “rape clause”, part of a new child tax credit system which came into force this month.

The motion, drafted by SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, to debate the matter in Holyrood has received cross party support and most likely will be debated this week. It could influence Westminster to debate the tax reforms or take the matter to a committee.

“The ‘rape clause’ forces women into a horrifying ordeal,” said Ms McKelvie, as reported by Glasgow newspaper The Evening Times.

“To have to recount their sexual abuse via an eight-page document, in order to twistedly prove that their abuse is worthy of government welfare is maniacal.”

More than 19,000 people have signed a petition to scrap the clause and the “family cap”, which stops families receiving benefits after two children and is part of a government move to save £12bn in welfare.

Only 10,000 signatures are needed to require a response from the Government. With 100,000 signatures, it would be considered for debate in Parliament.

“To Tories who say #rapeclause needed to protect rape victims from 2 child tax credit cap – the better answer is to scrap the 2 child cap,” Ms Sturgeon tweeted last week, hitting out at Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, for backing the new rules.

More than 300 people gathered to protest the clause at a rally in Glasgow last week, holding placards which read “Theresa May get tae” and “Your clause is baws”.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss first wrote to the Prime Minister in September to ask for the “cruel” clause introduced by former Chancellor George Osborne to be scrapped. Ms Thewliss also urged Speaker John Bercow to hold an emergency debate on the subject in March.

Her colleague, SNP MP Mhairi Black, said at the Glasgow rally: “We are all rightly disgusted by the fact that any woman has to declare and relive probably the most horrific event in her life all for the sake of a few pound, all for the sake of benefit to help raise a child.”

The First Minister said at this month’s Women in the World Summit in New York that just talking about the clause made her “upset and angry”, and condemned the fact it had been instated under a woman Prime Minister.

After prolonged criticism of the Conservative measure, Ms Davidson released a statement to say why she backed the clause, and argued that Ms Sturgeon has the devolved power to propose an alternative to the measures introduced by Westminster.

Ms Davidson added that Ms Sturgeon risked “gross hypocrisy” if the Scottish government did not act to mitigate the “need” for the contentious clause.

This argument of failing to use devolved powers in Scotland was supported by Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw.

“So after a week of highly personal attacks FM [First Minister] remains all mouth & no answer,” he wrote on Twitter. “She has the devolved power if she chooses to use it. Will she?”

There has been no sign yet that Westminster will debate the new tax reforms.

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