THE UK Government could be forced to respond to public revulsion over the so-called rape clause.

Thousands have signed up to a petition on the Parliament’s website calling on Theresa May and her ministers to “repeal the ‘family cap’ measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, including all of its exemptions”.

The petition is on course to reach 10,000 signatures imminently which will automatically force the Government to issue a response. It if reaches 100,000 signatures then it will almost certainly trigger a debate on the issue in Parliament.

Loading article content

Much to the annoyance of the Tories, anger over the rape clause is not going away. Hundreds attended a rally in Glasgow’s George Square on Thursday night protesting what the Government have euphemistically called the “non-consensual conception exception” to the two-child limit on benefits.

The only way a family can apply for welfare for a third dependent, is for a mother to prove her son or daughter was conceived as the result of rape. Anyone applying for that exemption must fill out an eight-page form, and name the child.

Campaigner Alys Mumford who set up the petition, which went live on Thursday, said the rape clause “cannot be delivered in a way that does not breach women’s rights and undermine women’s equality and safety”.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson infuriated protesters after she said the Government would be guilty of “gross hypocrisy” unless they mitigated the need for the rape clause.

“At Holyrood, we now have the power to create new benefits. So the Scottish Government could, if it wanted, propose a new benefit to provide funding for families with more than two children,” Davidson said.

She added: “Of course this would have to be paid for, but if the SNP Government believes this to be of such importance, then it can act. However, if Nicola Sturgeon simply wants to use this to complain about the policies of the UK Government — and not act at Holyrood when she has the power to do so — then she leaves herself open to the charge of gross hypocrisy.”

Sturgeon called Davidson’s comment “pathetic”.

“@scotgov spends millions mitigating welfare cuts & will continue to do so. We wouldn’t have to if Tories didn’t make callous cuts,” the First Minister added.

Responding on her Facebook to some of the criticism, MSP Annie Wells, a rising star of the Tory Party attacked campaigners, accusing them of “bandying about” a “topic of such a highly sensitive nature on Twitter with the use of hashtags”.

She then claimed there was “misinformation currently in the public domain”, and said all any women with a child conceived with rape would need is evidence from “a third party professional, such as a health worker or support worker, will be required” and that there would be no need to involve police.

Wells was immediately criticised. “Forced disclosure is traumatising,” Emma Ritch from Engender told the MSP.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon tweeted: “No @AnnieWellsMSP it’s not hashtags stopping mums and rape survivors getting help. Don’t you dare blame the women fighting your #rapeclause”