A Home Office minister has privately written to the House of Commons Speaker to complain about the language used by a Labour frontbencher, suggesting she should be made to correct her remarks on rape convictions.
Victoria Atkins suggested in her letter to Sir Lindsay Hoyle that her Labour counterpart would deter victims by saying the government “let off rapists and let survivors down”.
The letter, which has been leaked to the Guardian, argues that the shadow justice minister, Ellie Reeves, had used “false, damaging and intemperate language” during the statement on the forthcoming bill of rights.
A Labour source said such a letter was “an extremely unusual move from a thin-skinned minister trying to drag the Speaker into a debate”. Reeves said in a response to Atkins that she would not correct the record.
In her statement, Reeves said that the government had “effectively decriminalised rape” – a phrase that has also been used by the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, to describe the collapse in prosecutions that has allowed many offenders to escape justice.
Reeves was referring to how victims have used the Human Rights Act, which the bill would replace, to challenge the police when they have refused to investigate rape and sexual assault cases.
“It says everything about a lord chancellor [Dominic Raab] and a government who are soft on rape, soft on rapists and hard on survivors, that they want to take away the final backstop available to victims to get justice … this is a government who let off rapists and let survivors down.”
Labour said it was astonished by the private complaint by the minister. Atkins wrote that her comments “besmirch honourable colleagues, they risk deterring vulnerable victims from reporting some of the most serious crimes in our society”.
Atkins said the Speaker had called for “more thoughtful, less intemperate exchanges, particularly on such sensitive subjects as rape and sexual violence … The shadow justice minister’s remarks on Wednesday fell far short of these principles … I hope that she will correct the record”.
Just 1.3% of 67,125 rape offences recorded by police in 2021 led to a prosecution, Home Office figures show. It means rape continues to have the lowest charging rate of all crimes.
Reeves said she was disappointed by the complaint. “The only thing that is deterring women from coming forward is their inability to get justice because of a Conservative government that has effectively decriminalised rape,” she wrote in a letter to Atkins.
“You may not like my language, but I am afraid I like your government’s dismal record on tackling rape even less.”
Reeves said the bill of rights was a “brutal attack on women” and highlighted comments made by the Conservative MP Danny Kruger on the US supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, when he said that women did not have “the absolute right to bodily autonomy” when they were pregnant.
“The evidence, however, shows that this a government that is soft on rape and soft on rapists. I will not be deterred from saying so. Be assured, then, that I will not be correcting the record whatsoever,” she wrote.
The Speaker’s Office declined to comment on private correspondence. The Ministry of Justice has been approached to comment.