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Child Tax Credits: Non-Consensual Sex Exemption

Volume 631: debated on Wednesday 15 November 2017

8. What discussions he has had with organisations in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the non-consensual sex exemption for child tax credits. (901699)

I know from previous questions that the hon. Lady has asked that she is concerned about particular circumstances that could apply to claimants in Northern Ireland. The Department for Work and Pensions and Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities have worked closely together to enable the exemption for non-consensual conception to be applied sensitively. As I said to the hon. Lady in July, the guidance states that women who apply for this exception do not have to tell a third party the name of the other biological parent, and neither is there a requirement on the third party to seek any further evidence beyond confirming that the exception should apply.

I have been pursuing this issue for more than two years now and that answer is simply not good enough. When I visited Belfast recently, the Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland, doctors, nurses, midwives and social workers all expressed their serious concerns about the implications of this policy for women fleeing domestic violence, who could be prosecuted under the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. Will the Minister act now, speak into the Prime Minister’s ear and ask for this policy to be scrapped once and for all?

No, I will not. The hon. Lady may think that the answer is not good enough, but it has the merit of being true.

Will the Minister simply confirm whether women rape victims in Northern Ireland will be at risk of potential prosecution as a result of these measures—yes or no?

The Minister and indeed the Prime Minister need to reflect on that answer, because I have a letter here from Barra McCrory, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland, who said, in answer to my question on this very issue:

“It is, however, a potential offence to withhold information regarding an act of rape. The legislation does not distinguish between a victim and third parties to whom a disclosure is made; each is potentially liable to prosecution.”

How on earth can the Government countenance making women in Northern Ireland who are subject to rape imprisonable under the law? How can she accept that?

The fact is that we are not doing so. As I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), there is clear guidance on the form that makes the legal position very clear, and we have sensitively handled that as an exception for precisely those reasons.