TORY Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey left MSPs stunned yesterday after she defended the so-called rape clause, claiming it would be therapeutic for victims of rape to be forced to relive their trauma in return for benefits.

The Tory’s comments were described as “skin crawling”, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said they showed the Tories were "out of touch".

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Social Security committee, McVey defended her Government’s decision to limit the amount of tax credits a woman can claim to two children.

That policy, first introduced by George Osborne in 2015, means that the only way the Government will pay tax credits for a third child is if that child is disabled or conceived as a result of the mother being raped.

South of the border, the Government has asked third party agencies to act as the frontline for the policy.

But in Scotland, those equivalent agencies have refused to take part.

Women’s organisation Engender says the process, which involves filling in an eight page form, will “re-traumatise individual women who have survived rape by forcing them to disclose sexual violence at a time and in a context not of their own choosing.”

Yesterday, the Green’s Alison Johnston asked McVey if she was “comfortable with the idea that a woman has to prove non-consensual conception in order to access an entitlement”.

McVey replied: “What we’re doing is providing extra help where people have got more children that they couldn’t have planned. We’re providing that extra support – there will be no questions like that [invasive questions] asked from the DWP or from the Treasury. And people will be supported and shown to the various other organisations. And again this could give them an opportunity to talk about, maybe, something that has happened that they never had before. So it is potentially double support there. Them getting the money they need and maybe an outlet which they might possibly need.”

McVey was heckled by members of the public during the committee hearing. One audience member shouted “you can’t get into work if you’re dead” as the Work and Pensions Secretary defended universal credit.

Speaking afterwards, Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said: “To badge up the vile rape clause as some sort of virtuous policy to provide support is simply skin-crawling.

“The rape clause is a policy created by the Tory government’s ideological obsession to deliver tax cuts for the richest and big business paid for by cutting support for the poorest.”

SNP MSP Gillian Martin was gobsmacked by the claim. “She’s trying to pass off the Tory rape clause as ‘an opportunity’. No wonder the public gallery was in uproar,” she tweeted.

One person shouted “you can’t get into work if you’re dead” at McVey talked up Universal Credit.

Speaking after her speech at the STUC annual congress, Sturgeon said: "To me that just illustrates how out of touch Esther McVey and the Tory government are on these really sensitive issues of social security policy.

"I think most people think the rape clause is just abhorrent - the very notion of asking a woman or expecting a woman to prove she has been raped in order to access benefits for her children, no woman should even have to contemplate that, so to try to justify that by saying that it offers some benefits, I think, adds insult to injury."