Male ministers were accused of trying to “police women” after branding female MPs’ calls for action on rape prosecutions “emotive” and “not appropriate”.
During justice questions, Ellis was challenged by shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves over the Crown Prosecution Service’s failure to bring forward more rape prosecutions.
Saying Ellis had not “grasped the scale of the issue”, she pointed out that last year police had recorded over 55,000 complaints of rape, but that there had been just 2,100 prosecutions and 1,400 convictions.
Reeves went on: “So, I ask the attorney general again, will he make rape a dedicated specialism within the CPS and will he back Labour’s survivor support plan for victims, or will he sit back and watch the effective decriminalisation of rape?”
Ellis admitted “there is much more to be done” to tackle violence against women and that he would “look at ideas”.
But, echoing previous comments by ministers that female MPs should mind their “tone”, he said: “I don’t think that the emotive language that [Reeves] uses is appropriate at all.”
Responding, Reeves told MPs: “Rape prosecutions are at a record low so I asked the attorney general if he would back our survivors’ support plan for victims.
“The attorney general said I was being emotive – but I make no apology for that when thousands of women are being very badly let down.”
In a separate incident in the Commons, shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens took her opposite Dowden to task over sentences for vandalising statues.
The government is proposing the maximum sentence for vandalises statues is raised to 10 years.
Stevens said to Dowden: “So, perhaps he can explain today what input his department had into the government’s legislation this week that provides for longer sentences for hitting statues than those that have been given for raping women.”
Dowden said the female shadow minister should be “more temperate” and that hiking up the maximum sentence would “help protect statues that have tremendous emotional value”.
He said: “I really do wish members in this House would take a more temperate tone towards this.
"[Stevens] knows full well that the most serious violent and sexual offences, including grievous bodily harm with intent to rape already carry a maximum of life imprisonment.”
Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens has been charged with the kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard.
Her death has seen calls intensify for the government to redouble efforts to tackle violence against women and girls.
A review is also under way inside the Met Police over its handling of a vigil in Everard’s memory on Saturday.
Speaking to HuffPost UK about Ellis and Dowden’s responses in parliament, Reeves said: “The fact that male cabinet ministers are trying to police how women respond to the horrific events of the last week, and the dire situation facing rape victims, tells us where their priorities lie.
“With rape prosecutions at their lowest level on record, we will not be silenced and we make no apology for highlighting the gravity of the situation facing women.”