MP to invoke rare standing order for emergency Commons debate

An MP will invoke a rarely used Standing Order in the House of Commons today (Monday), with a view to forcing an emergency parliamentary debate on the UK Government’s “chaotic” two child policy and rape clause – due to come into force in just 18 days. Ministers want to limit payment of tax credits two children per family. The Government has designed an exemption to the policy for rape survivors, dubbed ‘the rape clause’, which will mean rape victims will need to prove their child was born as a result of sexual violence in order to qualify for tax credits.

Tory Ministers last week quietly used a negative statutory instrument to try and railroad the rape clause onto the statute books without a parliamentary debate or vote.

The Government has stated that it will expect nurses, doctors and social workers to act as third party arbitrators. This means that public service workers will have to judge whether or not a child has been conceived as a result of rape, simply in order for a woman to be exempt from the two child policy.

Recent parliamentary answers given to Alison Thewliss MP suggest that the over 660,000 nurses, doctors and social workers in the UK have not been given adequate sexual violence awareness training to exercise the exemption.

Alison Thewliss is today invoking the House of Commons Standing Order 24 in a bid to force the issue onto the floor of the House. She has written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, indicating her application for a 3 hour emergency debate. Under the provisions of Standing Order 24, the Speaker will have to make a ruling on Ms Thewliss’ application from the chair today (Monday).

Alison Thewliss MP said:

“With just days until this policy comes into force, this Government is about to unleash utter chaos and untold distress in the public service. This will be in addition to the trauma that rape victims will need endure as they recount and relive the brutal sexual violence they experienced.

“As it currently stands, doctors, nurses and social workers are going to be asking survivors of sexual abuse to prove they were raped in order to receive tax credits. They’ve been given no guidance, no training and no advice as to how this should be done. That is truly frightening.

“By invoking Standing Order 24 today, I am pleading with the Speaker to grant an emergency debate on the floor of the House, so we can shine a very bright light on the horror that is about to unfold for rape victims.

“At every turn, this Government has ducked and dived, they’ve used every trick in the book to sneak this policy through without debate. In light of the issue around lack of training and guidance on this serious matter, I am hopeful that the Speaker will grant this urgent debate.”

Government tries to sneak rape clause onto the statute books without vote or debate

A campaigning MP has accused the UK Government of trying to sneak through its medieval rape clause and pernicious two child policy without a vote or debate.

Late yesterday afternoon, the UK Government quietly published the statutory instrument – under the negative procedure – which would allow the policy to automatically become law without debate unless there is an objection from either of the Houses of Parliament.

Although Ms Thewliss has now tabled a motion of prayer for annulment, which was signed by a cross-party group of MPs, it is highly unlikely that this would be able to stop the negative procedure, and allow the policy to come into law. The last time such a statutory instrument was annulled by the Commons using a prayer for annulment was in 1979.

Part of the MP’s concern relates to the lack of training for the hundreds of thousands of healthcare and social work staff the Government intends to use as third party professionals. It is intended that they will judge whether a woman’s third child was born as a result of rape and thereby qualifies for an exemption to the two child policy. With just days until the policy comes into force, there is no evidence of sexual violence training having been given to public sector workers.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Using such an underhand parliamentary tactic to railroad the rape clause into law is just the final insult this Government could possibly dish out.

“Not only did Ministers sneak out their shameful consultation response as the eyes of the world were watching Donald Trump’s inauguration, but they’re now trying to put the rape clause on the statute books without a vote or debate, let alone any detailed scrutiny by MPs.

“The Government must accept this policy is unworkable as well as immoral. With just days until nurses, doctors and social workers are expected to verify whether women had their third child as the result of rape, it’s clear there’s been no sexual violence training for those working with such vulnerable women. This is frankly astonishing, especially when you consider that the Government is trying to railroad this through using medieval parliamentary procedures.

“This fight isn’t over yet. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure Parliament gets its say on this cruel policy.”

Budget: Missed opportunity to scrap rape clause

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has expressed her “sheer desolation” following the Chancellor’s budget statement today (Wednesday). Despite making his budget statement to Parliament on International Women’s Day, Phillip Hammond MP did not use the budget as an opportunity to scrap the Government’s controversial rape clause and two child policy. The Glasgow MP said today’s “missed opportunity” was an insult to women all across the UK who were celebrating International Women’s Day.

In the George Osborne’s budget of July 2015 – and buried within the small print – the UK Government announced plans to restrict tax credit payments to two children per family and force women to provide evidence of exceptional circumstances, such as rape, to claim tax credits for a third child from April 2017.

Commenting from Westminster after the Chancellor delivered his budget speech to Parliament, Ms Thewliss said:

“Today’s budget was a real missed opportunity for Phillip Hammond and Theresa May to do the honourable thing and scrap the UK Government’s pernicious two child policy and medieval rape clause.

“I cannot begin to describe the sheer desolation I felt when I looked at the UK Government’s Red Book today of all days – International Women’s Day – and saw that this callous Chancellor is still intending to make women prove they’ve been raped in order to receive tax credits.

“I’ve spent over a year and a half campaigning against this appalling policy, and I still cannot believe that any Government would think it’s acceptable to put women and their families through such incredible pain and misery.

“Although they’ve not yet laid the necessary statutory instrument before Parliament, it’s looking increasingly likely that the UK Government is planning to implement the rape clause on the April 6th. I urge the Tories, even at this late stage, to reconsider their cruel, anti-women policy.”

Use Budget to scrap the rape clause

On the eve of Philip Hammond’s Budget, Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has called on the Chancellor to use this vital opportunity to ditch the UK Government’s planned two child policy and rape clause.

With just under a month left until the policy comes into force, the campaigning MP has written to the Treasury, calling upon Chancellor to seize the moment presented by Wednesday’s budget and scrap this pernicious policy, which is opposed by women’s organisations, faith leaders, trade unions, MPs and MSPs from across the political divide.

Ms Thewliss has highlighted the growing concerns regarding delivery of the policy from civil service unions and from respondents to the government’s consultation on this issue. She has also pointed out the Government’s poor preparations for implementing the policy, with no additional training offered for the thousands of healthcare professionals, police officers and social workers who will be tasked with carrying out assessments of vulnerable women and arbitrating on whether or not their circumstances are consistent with rape.

Commenting prior to the Budget Statement, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“With under a month left until the two child policy and rape clause comes into force, it remains the case that this policy is immoral and unworkable. The public have had their say and they are clear – this policy stigmatises vulnerable women and must be consigned to the Downing Street dustbin.

“Serious questions remain about the implementation of the policy, with hundreds of thousands of third party professionals left without the promised training in the policy, and growing opposition from civil servants’ unions. The UK Government is still to introduce the necessary legislation to allow the policy to proceed in 23 days’ time, which underlines my belief that Ministers are slowly realising that this policy is a cruel and unfeasible way to cut benefits.

“With his upcoming budget, the Chancellor has a critical opportunity to save face for this heartless Government and ditch the two child policy and rape clause. I encourage him to do so when he comes before Parliament to deliver his Budget statement.”

Rape clause concessions sneaked out as Trump takes centre stage

SNP MP Alison Thewliss has commented on the UK Government’s decision to use Donald Trump’s inauguration to sneak out details of concessions on its “pernicious” two child policy and rape clause.

The UK Government chose Trump’s inauguration day to issue a response to a controversial public consultation which closed back in November last year.

Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The UK Government clearly tried to sneak out this news just hours before Trump’s inauguration in the hope it would be buried amongst other anti-women headlines in America. That they wanted this callous policy to be buried speaks volumes in itself.

“Women across the world have been marching this weekend in solidarity with America, whilst here in the UK, the Westminster Government ploughs ahead to undermine women’s rights.

“Obviously I am pleased that the UK Government has made a number of concessions, which will go some way to reducing some of the cruellest aspects associated with this pernicious proposal.

“I particularly welcome the u-turn on multiple births and that there will be no time limit on the reporting of rape. What is also encouraging is the decision to remove frontline DWP and HMRC staff from gatekeeping on this incredibly sensitive process. However, there are still fundamental problems with this pernicious two-child policy, not least concerning those of faith and ethnic minority backgrounds.

“The UK Government’s own response clearly identifies that the most controversial aspect of the policy was the rape clause. Ministers even go on to concede that most respondents felt it was unacceptable for the UK Government to ask women to re-live the ordeal of a rape just in order to make a claim for benefit. Despite receiving that loud and overwhelming message, this appalling and crass Tory Government refuse to listen.

“The fact remains that this policy, however diluted, is still anti-women, anti-family and fundamentally wicked.

“There are still a number of very serious unanswered questions about the practicalities of a policy due to be implemented in just a few months’ time. I’ll be using this crucial time to fight these proposals all the way, particularly when they come to the House as a statutory instrument.”

Civil servants’ union shunned by DWP on rape clause

SNP MPs have reacted with fury to news that the Government hasn’t even bothered to discuss its proposed rape clause with PCS, the leading trade union representing civil servants.

The revelation emanates from a written parliamentary question, confirming that Government has not discussed plans for a rape clause, which the MPs argue “would put civil servants in an incredibly awkward position”

An earlier answer to a written parliamentary question suggested that the Government had discussed its plans with a range of stakeholders and organisations. However, upon further questioning by using a device known as ‘pursuant questions’, it was revealed that the main civil servants’ union has been shut out by the Government.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP – who has been leading the campaign against the rape clause and two child policy – said:

“The more this policy is scrutinised, the more flaws we find. The DWP seemed to think sneaking this out to a quick public consultation would be another box ticked and they could plough ahead with their medieval rape clause and pernicious two child policy.

“Momentum is growing ever more amongst a cross-party group of MPs, trade unions, faith communities and third sector groups who are all united in rejecting this appalling policy.”

Chris Stephens MP, who is Chair of the Parliamentary PCS Group, added:

“This Government has been caught trying to bluff their way through answers to written parliamentary questions. It beggars belief that this Tory Government announced plans to bring forward a rape clause over 500 days ago, yet it hasn’t stopped to pick up the phone to trade unions and seek their views. Aside from the utter barbarism of asking women to prove they were raped to receive benefits, it would also put DWP civil servants in an incredibly awkward position. Staff need specific training on this deeply sensitive issue.

“The public consultation might be closed but it is imperative that the Government acts without delay and invites the views of all trade unions and staff within the DWP who would also be affected by this monstrous policy”.

Rape clause minister resigns

Alison Thewliss MP has welcomed news that the Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, is resigning from the Government.

The Tory Peer, who was handed the welfare reform brief by David Cameron in 2010, has signalled his intention to leave the Government at the end of the month. The SNP MP welcomed this development, saying that Lord Freud was “without doubt one of coldest, heartless and most ignorant politicians” she had ever met.

The un-elected Tory Peer had been tasked with driving the Government’s welfare cuts programme, which includes limiting tax credits to two children per family and a rape clause whereby women who would have to prove their third or subsequent child was born as a result of rape.

Thewliss and Freud clashed earlier in the year during a meeting at the DWP’s headquarters in Caxton House, London. Following the meeting, the Glasgow Central MP condemned Freud’s remark that women who are subject to domestic and sexual abuse should “just flee” their situations.

Commenting on Freud’s resignation announcement, SNP MP Alison Thewliss said:

“Lord Freud was without doubt one of the coldest, most heartless and ignorant politicians I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with in almost ten years of elected politics.

“His blatant disregard for some of the most vulnerable women in society was utterly appalling and his departure from Government is a very welcome development. His suggestion that women experiencing abuse from their intimate partner should “just flee” revealed to me how utterly out of touch he was with reality and how unfit he was to be making policy for women and children who have already been through severe trauma.

“With the Government’s rape clause consultation having just closed at the weekend, I am heartened in the knowledge that Freud will no longer be overseeing this medieval and pernicious policy agenda.

“Throughout this entire campaign, I have been of the view that any Minister with a sense of compassion or decency would understand that making women prove they were raped to receive tax credits is utterly degrading and the policy should be scrapped. Lord Freud’s departure from Government gives me a real and renewed sense of hope that this Government will now see sense and ditch this appalling proposal.”

Consultation closes: Government urged to listen and scrap tax credit cuts

The SNP MP for Glasgow Central, Alison Thewliss, has urged the UK Government to “genuinely listen” and drop its two child policy and rape clause following “sincere and evidence based” concerns submitted in a public consultation.

After almost 450 days of ducking the issue, the UK Government last month quietly put its “medieval” rape clause and “disastrous” two child policy for tax credits out to public consultation, following a lengthy campaign by the SNP MP.

Yesterday (Sunday) saw the closing date for submissions to the consultation. Now Ms Thewliss is calling upon the Government to reflect upon how entirely unworkable a rape clause would be and how disastrous implementing a two child policy would be for family finances.

Commenting after alison-thewliss-mp-response-to-rape-clause-consultation, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“As the Government consultation on the rape clause and two child policy has now closed, I would urge policy officials and Ministers to genuinely listen to the very sincere and evidence based concerns I and many others have submitted.

“If implemented, we now know the rape clause will almost certainly mean that DWP decision makers – with little or no training – are going to be arbitrating on whether or not a woman was raped and whether or not her third or subsequent child should receive tax credits.

“Designing a policy and consultation which asks some of the most vulnerable women in society how they would like to prove they were raped must surely be one of the most insensitive, disgusting and degrading ideas ever to emanate from Whitehall.

“Research by the Resolution Foundation indicates that the two child policy will push an extra 200,000 children, the majority of whose families are already in-work, into child poverty by 2020. These are the very “just about managing” families that the Prime Minister claims to support.

“Whatever way you look at this, it’s bad policy making, it will be disastrous and the Government must use this consultation response to scrap these awful proposals now.”

Campaigning MP takes rape clause fight to United Nations

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, has been asked to investigate whether the UK Government’s proposed rape clause and two child policy breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed in 1990.

Glasgow Central MP, Alison Thewliss, has today written to the United Nations in New York and asked for a formal investigationinto the Government’s proposed policy, which is due to come into force next year.

The SNP politician believes that the UK Government’s “medieval” proposals could breach at least five of the fifty-four articles in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“It is now almost eight months since the UK Government announced its medieval two child policy and rape clause. Despite repeated questions in Parliament, letters to Ministers and a petition that attracted thousands of signatures, we still have no information from this cruel Tory Government as to how they plan to implement this pernicious policy.

“Everyone knows that that the two child policy and rape clause is unworkable, immoral and is now potentially in contravention of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed up to almost twenty five years ago.

“It is now time for the United Nations to step in and shine a very bright light onto this cruel and thoughtless Government, who appear hell bent on making life as difficult as possible for ordinary people.

“It is clear that, over the last eight months, the Tories had hoped this campaign would be quietly dropped but it’s just not happening. The Government simply cannot be allowed to get away with a policy that is tantamount to social engineering.”