Scotland politics

Rape clause: Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson 'open to review'

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Media captionRuth Davidson on why she was be 'open to reviewing' how rape clause works

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has said she could be open to a review of how the so-called "rape clause" works.

Welfare changes introduced across the UK on 6 April limit tax credits to the first two children in a family.

But an additional clause means mothers who have a third child as a result of rape can be exempted so long as evidence is provided.

Critics argue it is wrong to "force" women to prove they have been raped.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who is also Scotland's first minister, has called the clause an "abomination".

And Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, has said that Ms Davidson would have to "defend the rape clause every single day of the general election campaign".

The Conservatives have accused opposition parties of spreading misinformation about how the clause works.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live's Emma Barnett, Ms Davidson said she would be willing to examine whether there were "better ways of doing it" if it was felt to be necessary.

She said: "I think that it's right that child tax credits are limited to the first two children.

"I also think that it's right that if you are going to have that limit, that you have exceptions in exceptional cases.

"In terms of how that works on the ground, if there are issues with that, then I am completely open - if there are better ways of doing it - to reviewing that."

Image caption Protests against the rape clause have been held in Glasgow and Edinburgh

Ms Davidson said that the verification system the rape clause is based on is one that "already works elsewhere and had broad support elsewhere".

She added: "If there is an issue with how that's done - and we don't know yet, because it's only just coming in - then let's review that."

In previous interviews, Ms Davidson has defended the operation of the system, telling the BBC: "All they have to do is write their name.

"A third-party professional does everything else for them. I think some of the misinformation that has been put out about this is really deeply damaging. I think it scares people."

Analysis by Glenn Campbell, BBC political correspondent

Ruth Davidson's talk of "reviewing" the operation of the so-called rape clause is not a change in her position.

She continues to support the two child limit on tax credits. And she continues to support an exception for women who conceive a third child as a result of rape.

In a Holyrood debate, Ms Davidson committed to "monitor how the policy works on the ground", and she has previously told the BBC: "If we can do it more sensitively, then let's look at how we do that".

In her Five live interview, she said: "I am completely open - if there are better ways of doing it - to reviewing that".

She's not in a position to announce a review. She's not even calling for one - just reminding us that she's not against improving the administration of the policy, if that can be done.

Responding to Ms Davidson's latest comments, Ms Sturgeon said: "I don't think you can operate the rape clause in any way that is acceptable because it's wrong in principle that any woman should have to prove that she's been raped in order to claim support for one of her children.

"The rape clause is wrong in principle, the two-child cap is wrong in principle and I think it is shameful that Ruth Davidson can't bring herself to say so.

"The fact that she's being mealy-mouthed about reviewing how it works, I think, shows that she knows she's on the wrong side of the argument."

And Ms Dugdale said a Labour prime minister would mean "an end to the rape clause and to the bedroom tax" and ask "the richest people to pay more tax to fund our public services."

The UK government has said it wants to limit child tax credits to the first two children because it wants "people on benefits to make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work".

As well as rape victims, exemptions to the changes have been put in place for people who adopt children, are involved in kinship care or who have multiple births.

Image caption Nicola Sturgeon has accused Ms Davidson of being "mealy-mouthed" over the rape clause

The advice from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is that women affected by the rape clause should get support from Women's Aid, Victim Support or Rape Crisis.

The DWP said it would operate a "third-party model" so that women did not have to describe the details to a member of its staff.

Instead, women would talk to healthcare professionals, a social worker or an approved rape charity.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "We have always been clear this will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place."

A campaign group - Scrap The Rape Clause - was set up by SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who fought against the clause in the House of Commons, and a petition calling on the UK government to abandon the plans was signed by 10,000 people.

Last month, MSPs from the SNP, Labour, Scottish Greens and Liberal Democrats strongly condemned the rape clause during a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said Ms Davidson's defence of the clause showed she was "just another cruel member of a cruel party".

And Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said the policy had "no place in a civilised society".

The full interview with Ruth Davidson has been broadcast on the 5 live Daily programme.