Debate needed on veils in some public places, says minister

 

Jeremy Browne fears girls may feel pressured into wearing the veil

Related Stories

The government should consider banning Muslim girls from wearing veils in public places such as schools, a Lib Dem Home Office minister has said.

Jeremy Browne said he was "uneasy" about restricting freedoms, but urged a national debate on the state's role in stopping veils being imposed on girls.

It comes after Birmingham Metropolitan College dropped a ban on pupils wearing full-face veils, amid protests.

A Muslim group said it was "disgusted" by the minister's call.

'Very cautious'

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Browne suggested action might be needed to protect the freedom of choice for Muslim girls too young to decide for themselves whether they wanted to wear the veil.

"I think this is a good topic for national debate. People of liberal instincts will have competing notions of how to protect and promote freedom of choice," he said.

"I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice.

Imposing dress codes

• Schools can set their own uniform rules, but must take account of pupils' rights to free expression, equal justice and respect for religion or belief. If rules exclude a pupil from an aspect of school life - without justification, such as safety - that may constitute indirect discrimination

• Employers too can set their own rules, but must make sure they don't discriminate without justification

• Privately-owned public places, for example, shopping malls, can set dress codes - banning hoods or baseball caps, for example

• If a business decides who to serve based on a protected characteristic, such as religion, they risk discriminating. Pubs, clubs and restaurants though regularly use their discretion to impose dress codes, including banning items such as football shirts

• There is no ban on veils in UK courts, but European law says the state can tell you to remove your religious dress if it's necessary to achieve some other public good, such as maintain law and order. The Equal Treatment Bench Book tells judges to focus on whether the specific circumstances of a case require removal in order to achieve justice

• Women wearing face coverings are required to remove them when entering the UK at ports and airports, but can request to be seen by a female border officer in a private room

"But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married."

He added: "We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression."

Speaking on Sunday at the Lib Dem party conference in Glasgow - before the article was published - Mr Browne said the UK had a "proud record" in the country of defending freedom of religious choice and the rights of religious minorities but the state also had a role in protecting peoples' individual liberty.

The minister's comments come after the Birmingham college went back on its policy of telling pupils to remove hoodies, hats, caps and veils so students were easily identifiable.

Instead, it decided to modify its stance to allow individuals to wear "specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values".

Boris Johnson described the debate as a "very difficult issue"

Mr Clegg told the BBC he did not believe in issuing "edicts from Whitehall" and telling people what pieces of clothing they should wear". He said he believed the wearing of full veils was "not appropriate" in the classroom, but would not support a "state ban" on doing so.

The prime minister's spokesman said he supported schools setting their own uniform guidelines.

'Disgusted'

Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes, said full-length burkas had "nothing to do with freedom" and prevented some women from "participating fully & equally in society" while the niqab veil - which almost entirely covers the face - made its wearers "invisible".

In a series of messages on Twitter, she denied "pandering" to anyone on the issue and suggested politicians who were afraid to talk about the matter risked "selling out women's rights".

"Feminists should be allowed to say that they find the niqab deeply offensive without being accused of being bigoted or islamophobic."

But Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation - a group that works with young Muslims in the UK and tries to foster better relations with non-Muslims - said he was "disgusted" by Mr Browne's call.

"This is another example of the double standards that are applied to Muslims in our country by some politicians.

"Whatever one's religion they should be free to practise it according to their own choices and any attempt by the government to ban Muslim women will be strongly resisted by the Muslim community."

Mohammed Khaliel, founder of Islamix, a group that aims to build understanding between communities, said: "A small section of the Muslim community do believe that the face veil is mandatory...

"Now, why should I go and rip that off their face saying 'I don't think you should believe that'?"

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +96

    Comment number 185.

    Why can't these people see that wearing a veil because some religious leaders demand it is not freedom of expression? It is, in fact, the exact opposite. It is being subservient, and worse, it is being subservient to outdated sexist ideals that have no place in the 21st century.

  • rate this
    -74

    Comment number 134.

    Browne’s view is an illogical argument. Because I don’t want you to be forced to follow a dress code I will force you to follow my dress code.
    Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Liberty in a free country means people can dress how they wish, even if it’s not to your taste.

    Quite a few wear smog masks because of traffic pollution, would they be banned too?

  • rate this
    -58

    Comment number 103.

    Seems to me that banning the veil is not providing choice since, if it were banned, the choice to wear it if she wished would be removed.

  • rate this
    +97

    Comment number 83.

    Some years ago I rejected a woman who attended a job interview wearing a niqab. She was asked if she was prepared to remove it, but refused. The issue was that I found it almost impossible to interview someone when I couldn't see her faceal expressions. There are many situations where a similar problem arises.

  • rate this
    +101

    Comment number 37.

    The important point here is that nowhere in the Koran does it unequivocally say that woman must cover their faces in public...that is why millions of muslim woman around the world leave their faces uncovered in public. The choice for some muslim women to cover their faces is more cultural than anything else.

 

Comments 5 of 7

 

More UK Politics stories

RSS

Politics Live

  1.  
    09:25: 'I can't remember' LBC

    Ask Boris descends into acrimony as presenter Nick Ferrari asks the London mayor if he knows what TPIMS - the watered-down version of control orders - stands for. "I can't remember," Mr Johnson admits, before complaining about being asked "silly smart-alec questions" (the answer, by the way, is Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures). He says he supports a return to the control order regime which restricts the movement of terror suspects. "Most people will say that where you have people who need to be dislocated from their support networks, who are at risk of committing serious terrorist crimes against the public, I think you should go back to control orders," he says.

     
  2.  
    09:24: Bad behaviour

    Labour has proposed a sin bin for MPs who behave badly in the Commons. As the Press Association explains, the Speaker can only discipline MPs for grossly disorderly conduct, and only two people have been ejected from the chamber for this reason since the 2010 election. In the Australian House of Representatives, the Speaker can eject any member for "disorderly" conduct for one hour on their first offence, rising to exclusion for three sessions on their second offence.

     
  3.  
    @timloughton Tim Loughton, Conservative MP and former children's minister

    tweets: Need child protection professionals 2 work together on child abuse not against each other fearful of blame culture under mandatory reporting

     
  4.  
    09:12: 'Make cyclists safe' LBC

    Vincent, a lorry driver, tells Boris Johnson he wants cyclists to take a road traffic exam. The London Mayor rejects that. "What we can't do is try to drive cyclists off the road," he says. "What we need to do is put in the infrastructure to make cyclists safe."

     
  5.  
    09:10: Boris Johnson phone-in LBC
    Boris Johnson on LBC

    London Mayor Boris Johnson is now taking questions in his regular Ask Boris slot on LBC. The first question is from Vincent, a heavy goods vehicle driver who killed a cyclist in a crash last year but was cleared of any wrongdoing. "I understand the tragedy as much for Vincent as for the poor person who died," Mr Johnson - a keen champion of cycling in the capital - says. He then suggests women cyclists have more problems on the road than men. "It's very often female cyclists who seem to be the victims of these types of terrible accidents... it may be because women are naturally more cautious or hang back more, I can't explain it. What you need to do is get in front of Vincent and his lorry, indicate."

     
  6.  
    09:09: 'Existential challenge' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    The language David Cameron is using - describing child sexual exploitation as a national threat - is of the sort normally reserved for existential challenges like terrorism. I think Mr Cameron wants to shock people. He wants to make clear this is a problem which seems to be endemic in our society, and there has been a failure across the board, so far, to deal with it.

     
  7.  
    09:04: Scottish student vote

    While Nicola Sturgeon focuses on inequality in her speech later, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is targeting the student vote - with a pledge to keep tuition completely free in Scotland. He'll tell students in Glasgow that Labour will spend £125m on helping working class children go to university. But the SNP have spoken out against his plans. MSP Stewart Maxwell says "this is perhaps the most hypocritical announcement from Jim Murphy yet", highlighting Mr Murphy's support for tuition fees in England.

     
  8.  
    09:02: 'Weakening control'

    Former home secretary Jacqui Smith has written about Mohammed Emwazi - or Jihadi John - as he has become known. She says her party is right to attack the government for "weakening the control order regime" which monitors terror suspects. She also defends MI5 for approaching him: "Does it not it seem completely appropriate that the security services would approach someone they could clearly see was radicalised and heading towards potential terrorist activities to warn him that they knew, to offer him a way out and potentially to recruit an important asset in their battle against other terrorists?"

     
  9.  
    08:54: Child sexual exploitation BBC News Channel
    Nicky Morgan

    Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, speaking ahead of a Downing Street summit on child sexual exploitation, has underlined the importance of changing attitudes to achieve real change. "It absolutely has to be about changing the culture in local authorities, police forces and in other organisations," she's told the BBC News Channel. "You can have all the rules you like, but at the end of the day you have to tackle this culture of denial." One way the government hopes to do this is by introducing tougher criminal sanctions for senior public sector workers who fail to protect children. Mrs Morgan says senior figures will want to keep a paper trail to protect themselves.

     
  10.  
    @JackofKent Jack of Kent, law and policy blogger

    tweets: "Let's criminalize politicians who make resource decisions" Oh, that is different, politicians would say, it is more complicated than that.

     
  11.  
    08:41: 'Sneak a surprise'
    Danny Alexander

    Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has been talking with the Western Morning News' about the Liberal Democrats' prospects in the south-west. Many commentators are focused on the Lib Dems' efforts to limit the number of seats they lose on 7 May, but Mr Alexander thinks the party might be able to make gains. "We are not complacent, but in the South West we have an incredibly strong story to tell," he said. "I think that will see us through, continuing the representation we have. And there are a few places where I think we will sneak a surprise."

     
  12.  
    08:34: Photoshop strikes again
    Spoof Conservative election poster featuring Ed Balls

    It was only a matter of time before the latest Conservative election poster was hijacked... hopefully this one hasn't made you choke on your cornflakes. Some scamp has inserted an Ed Balls-Miley Cyrus chimera into the image with disturbing results. The link, of course, being that Ms Cyrus swung about on her very own wrecking ball in the video for her song of the same name.

     
  13.  
    08:21: 'Deep reluctance' to investigate abuse The Daily Telegraph

    Prof Jay's concerns are reflected in a Telegraph story today which says local authorities are expending "considerable intellectual effort" on finding ways to avoid probes into their failures to protect children. The government's Serious Case Review Panel reported: "There is clearly a deep reluctance in some instances to conduct SCRs and the panel has on occasions found the logic tortuous." Children's Minister Edward Timpson, who received the panel's report, said he found its findings "troubling". It comes as David Cameron holds a summit in Downing Street outlining new measures to address the issue, which you can read more about here.

     
  14.  
    @jameschappers James Chapman, Daily Mail political editor

    tweets: Theresa May, arriving at Home Office in 2010, advised by perm sec to identify 2 key issues. "No. I'm going to focus on everything" @thetimes

     
  15.  
    08:11: Squeezing the Tories The Daily Telegraph
    David Cameron

    The SNP's polling surge in Scotland, which is posing a serious challenge to Labour's dominant position north of the border, has some troubling implications for the smaller parties - particularly the Scottish Conservatives. Alan Cochrane, writing for the Telegraph, suggests many staunch Unionists may be persuaded to vote tactically to stop Nicola Sturgeon's party from making sweeping gains: "Something is stirring in the Scottish political undergrowth and the big parties will have to come up with something better to say to the voters that answers their biggest fear, namely that if they don't vote tactically against the SNP, then they'll be faced by a avalanche of nationalist MPs."

     
  16.  
    08:03: Abuse 'under-reported' BBC Radio 4 Today

    Prof Alexis Jay - whose report looking found at least 1,400 young people in Rotherham had been abused - says a culture change across the country is essential. "There are issues around child sexual exploitation in virtually every community. There's a great deal of underreporting, as we know," she tells the Today programme. What's needed, Prof Jay argues, is an end to the "questionable attitudes" she found in Rotherham - including social workers describing the children as having made 'lifestyle choices'.

    But last month's report from Louise Casey, which found that Rotherham Council is still not fit for purpose, suggests the problem remains. "The most disappointing aspect was that having described the culture of denial that continued over 16 years, regrettably Ms Casey reported that was continuing even after the publication of my report," Prof Jay says. She agreed that was an "appalling" state of affairs.

     
  17.  
    @oflynnmep Patrick O'Flynn, UKIP MEP and economic spokesman

    tweets: Thanks so much Theresa May for keeping the migration promise so you can break it again if re-elected. We are all most grateful.

     
  18.  
    @BBCNormanS Norman Smith, BBC News assistant political editor

    tweets: Child sex exploitation is going on in "virtually every community" - Alexis Jay @bbcr4today

     
  19.  
    07:58: 'Not good enough' BBC Radio 4

    Prof Alexis Jay, who investigated child sexual abuse in Rotherham, says of David Cameron's plans to punish those who ignore evidence of wrongdoing: "It's not good enough to say, 'I knew nothing.'"

     
  20.  
    07:52: 'Keeping the target' The Times
    Home Secretary Theresa May

    Today's Times' splash covers Home Secretary Theresa May's pledge to hang on to the beleaguered bid to cut net migration to the tens of thousands. "I think we will keep the target," she says. "It is important because it is about not just dealing with those coming into the system but also about making sure that those people who shouldn't live here actually leave." The precise words of the pledge in the manifesto haven't been decided yet, Mrs May says, but they will be there - in spite of the fact Downing Street isn't going to go ahead with its plans to block migrants from some European countries.

     
  21.  
    07:46: Covering the parties

    All the parties are preoccupied by how much media coverage they're getting, so they'll all be paying attention to this Total Politics blog looking at analysis from the Media Standards Trust of online political stories from mainstream news providers in recent weeks. Of 1,691 articles featuring the parties set to appear in the seven main parties, here's how many each party appeared in during 16-22 February:

    • Conservatives - 73%
    • Labour - 56%
    • Liberal Democrats - 17%
    • UKIP - 17%
    • SNP - 8.4%
    • Greens - 5%
    • Plaid Cymru - less than 1%

    The blog's authors, Stephen Cushion and Gordon Neil Ramsay, conclude: "Far from the 2015 general campaign turning into a seven-horse race, the longstanding two-party dominance of Conservative and Labour remains firmly intact."

     
  22.  
    07:38: The young vote
    Tuition fee protest

    Labour's plan to give the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds might help the party win power, YouGov president Peter Kellner has suggested. He's written an article for the Independent suggesting this reform and online voting would, together, force the parties to pay more attention to young voters. More students voting could only help Labour given the party's policy of cutting the tuition fees cap to £6,000, Mr Kellner thinks. "Extra votes from them in key marginal seats and Ed Miliband's chances of toppling David Cameron would improve significantly," he adds.

     
  23.  
    @Mike_Fabricant Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield

    tweets: I do agree with #Bercow: Unless there r major works on the Palace of Westminster, it will become unusable. The Palace + Tower Bridge #icons

     
  24.  
    07:33: Child sexual exploitation: Labour responds Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Labour say the government's planned changes to the law around child sex exploitation - including possible five-year jail sentences for public officials who fail to act on suspicions of abuse - do not go far enough.

    Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has called on the government to introduce a specific new offence of child exploitation. Labour are also calling for a new legal duty of "mandatory reporting" which would impose a legal duty to report child abuse. And the party wants compulsory sex and relationship classes in schools.

    They have also criticised the failure to tackle the growth in online child abuse. Up to 30,000 people are suspected of accessing online abuse, according to the National Crime Agency, but only 1,000 have been reported. Ms Cooper said: "We need a radical overhaul of our child protection system, but I fear this is a missed opportunity to get all the reforms we need."

     
  25.  
    @BBCNormanS Norman Smith, BBC News assistant political editor

    tweets: Labour attack PM's child exploitation summit as "missed opportunity"

     
  26.  
    07:23: 'Culture of denial' BBC Breakfast
    Anne Longfield

    Anne Longfield, who since Sunday is the new Children's Commissioner for England, says today's child sexual exploitation plans are important because a "culture of denial" has seen troubled young girls "ignored" needs to change. She's told BBC Breakfast the government's move to make CSE a crime of 'national priority' will send a clear message - but adds national strategies must filter down to those on the ground like social workers, the police and nurses in schools. "We want to see all local authorities and their partners making this the number one priority," she urges. "The firm message here is that professionals must respond."

     
  27.  
    07:16: 'Decriminalised' theft denied BBC Radio 4

    David Lammy's claim that the police are neglecting shoplifting and burglary was challenged by Matt Jukes, the Association of Chief Police Officers' national lead on acquisitive crime, on the Today programme. "We've been working hard to make property harder to steal and make stolen property harder to sell," he replies, citing the example of smart phones. Changing the technology, building in kill switches and tackling the market for stolen phones has resulted in 5,000 fewer victims in London alone last year, he says. But Mr Lammy, whose report on the issue for Policy Exchange is published today, insists the problem is bigger than it appears. "Neighbourhood policing across Britain has virtually collapsed, that's why there's so much under-reporting," he says.

     
  28.  
    @AndrewSparrow Andrew Sparrow, Guardian Politics Live blog

    tweets: Today's Guardian seat projection - Tories 275, Lab 271, SNP 51, LDs 27, Ukip 4, Greens 1

     
  29.  
    07:06: 'Decriminalised' theft BBC Radio 4 Today
    David Lammy

    Labour's David Lammy has claimed theft, burglary and shoplifting have been "de facto decriminalised". Interviewed on the Today programme after he penned a report on the topic for the think-tank Policy Exchange, the Tottenham MP said people had "stopped bothering going to the police" because of a belief they don't have the resources to tackle it. Ministers say crime has fallen by 20% under the coalition, but Mr Lammy said shoplifting was up by 5% last year. Our story's available here.

     
  30.  
    @YouGov YouGov, pollsters

    tweets: Update: Cons lead at 3 - Latest YouGov / Sun results 2nd Mar - Con 35%, Lab 32%, LD 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%; APP -18

     
  31.  
    06:56: Sturgeon on inequality

    Nicola Sturgeon will use a speech later to try and shift the Scottish debate onto social mobility issues. The Scottish first minister will claim that recent research from the OECD suggests a more equal society could have boosted Britain's GDP by nearly £100bn in 2010. "We want to see economic growth that is inclusive, innovative and fairly distributed," she's expected to say. Scottish Labour agree that inequality is a big issue, but insist they have a plan to tackle it. Here's the story.

     
  32.  
    06:54: Hull bound?

    On the subject of relocating Parliament, how about Hull? That's a suggestion BBC2's Daily Politics looked at on Monday.

     
  33.  
    06:53: Crumbling parliament
    Palace of Westminster

    The Palace of Westminster, which hasn't had a major renovation since its construction in the mid-19th century, will have to be "abandoned" if nothing's done, John Bercow warned last night. At a Hansard Society event in parliament, the Speaker said taxpayers would have to brace themselves for a £3bn bill - and MPs and peers might have to temporarily find somewhere else to hold their debates. "If we were to decant, should we consider all options including, almost certainly, a regional option?" Mr Bercow pondered. "We should." Our story on his comments is here.

     
  34.  
    @BarrySheerman Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield

    tweets: Will be interesting how media deals with child abuse revelations in Oxfordshire compared to Rotherham @BBCr4today

     
  35.  
    06:47: 'Girls let down'

    Today's summit coincides with what is expected to be a damning report on child sex abuse in Oxfordshire. Lead investigator into that case Det Ch Insp Simon Morton said has told the BBC police "completely let the girls down". Read more.

     
  36.  
    06:42: Analysis: child sex abuse Alison Holt Social Affairs Editor, BBC News

    David Cameron will talk about classifying child sexual abuse as a national threat. The idea is to push it up the agenda because one of the issues that comes up time and again is that other policing priorities have tended to be placed before protecting vulnerable teenagers.

    It's also about educating professionals because it appears that in the past they sometimes put what was happening to these girls down to lifestyle choice. These are teenagers who are difficult to communicate with, stroppy when someone asks if they need help, but point being made is that they are still children. They need the professionals to stick with them to get their trust.

     
  37.  
    06:40: A sin-bin for MPs

    Labour's focus today is about repairing politics as a whole, not just Parliament. Shadow leader of the House Angela Eagle is outlining plans for political reform which she says are essential if politicians are to "restore faith in our political process". Today's package includes previously advertised plans to give the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, press ahead with devolution and replace the Lords with a Senate of the Nations and Regions. But it also includes new proposals to send rowdy MPs who are misbehaving in the Commons chamber into a rugby-style sin-bin. "Sometimes MPs take it too far and it turns the public off," Ms Eagle explains.

     
  38.  
    06:29: Front pages
  39.  
    06:24: Child sexual exploitation
    Rochdale skyline

    David Cameron is in Downing Street today with a raft of senior cabinet figures holding a summit on child sexual exploitation. Representatives from local areas like Rochdale, as well as victims and child protection experts, will size up the government's new package of measures, which includes:

    • Tougher penalties for senior public sector workers who fail to protect children
    • A new national whistleblowing helpline
    • The prioritisation of child sexual abuse by police chiefs

    "We owe it to our children, and to the children who survive horrific sexual abuse, to do better," Mr Cameron says. Here's the full story.

     
  40.  
    06:23: Control order row

    The issue of Syria - and specifically whether the government's decisions on counter-terrorism might have made it easier for would-be jihadists to travel there - was the subject of an urgent Commons question on Monday. Yvette Coooper, shadow home secretary, pressed her opposite number Theresa May on the issue, but Mrs May was adamant that she had taken the right decisions, including scrapping control orders, to keep the UK safe.

     
  41.  
    06:20: Round the houses

    Yesterday, housing was the big focus, with David Cameron announcing a plan for 200,000 new starter homes. For his part, Ed Miliband was unimpressed and said Labour would go further - he accused Mr Cameron of presiding over the slowest rate of house building since the 1920s.

     
  42.  
    06:13: Good morning

    Hello and welcome to a fresh Tuesday's political coverage. Victoria King and Alex Stevenson will bring you all the action, reaction and analysis in text and you'll be able to watch and listen to all the main BBC political programmes, from Today and Breakfast through to Newsnight and Today in Parliament. Don't forget you can get in touch by emailing politics@bbc.co.uk or via social media @bbcpolitics. Here's how Monday unfolded.

     

Features

  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back


  • Aimen DeanI spied

    The founder member of al-Qaeda who worked for MI6


  • Before and after shotsPerfect body

    Just how reliable are 'before and after' photos?


  • Lotus 97T driven by Elio de AngelisBeen and gone

    A champion F1 designer and other notable losses


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • StudentsBull market

    Employers are snapping up students with this desirable degree

Programmes

  • 3D model of Christ the Redeemer statueClick Watch

    Using drones to 3D map the famous Brazilian landmark Christ the Redeemer

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.