A CAMPAIGNING Scots MP will invoke a rarely-used standing order in the House of Commons today to try to force an emergency debate on UK Government’s “chaotic” two-child tax credits policy and the infamous “rape clause”, which is due to come into force in less than three weeks.
Ministers want to limit payment of tax credits to two children per family, with an exemption where a third child has been conceived through rape – a move the SNP’s Alison Thewliss has opposed since it was first proposed.
Dubbed the rape clause, it means that rape victims will need to prove their third child was born as a result of sexual violence if they are to qualify for tax credits from April 6.
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Tory Ministers last week used a device known as a negative statutory instrument – a form of legislation that allows an Act to be brought into force without Parliament having to pass it – to try to railroad the rape clause on to the statute books without a parliamentary debate or vote.
The Government has said it will expect nurses, doctors and social workers to act as third-party arbitrators, which means that public service workers will have to judge whether or not a child has been conceived as a result of rape, in order for a woman to be exempt from the two-child policy.
Parliamentary answers given to Thewliss – the MP for Central Glasgow – suggest that more than 660,000 nurses, doctors and social workers in the UK have not been given adequate sexual violence awareness training to exercise the exemption.
Thewliss is today invoking the House of Commons Standing Order 24 in a bid to force the issue on to the floor of the House.
She has written to the Speaker John Bercow indicating her application for a three-hour emergency debate.
Under the provisions of Standing Order 24, the Speaker will have to make a ruling on Thewliss’s application from the chair today.
Thewliss said: “With just days until this policy comes into force, this Government is about to unleash utter chaos and untold distress in the public services.
“This will be in addition to the trauma 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, 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. It has 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.”
Standing Order 24 is an adjournment “on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration”. If the Speaker is satisfied the matter fits the criteria for discussion, the MP raising it must either obtain the leave of the House or if that is refused, the assent of at least 40 MPs to support the motion. If at least 10 rise, “the House shall, on a division, upon a question put forthwith, determine whether such motion shall be made”.
The device was last used in December, when Bercow allowed an emergency debate on the human- itarian situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo, proposed by former inter- national development secretary Andrew Mitchell, who said east Aleppo “now resembles Stalingrad at the end of its destruction”.