When news happens, text CHRON and your photos or videos to 80360. Or contact us by email & phone.
Call for 'no veil in public' debate
The Government should consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing the veil in public places, a Liberal Democrat minister has said.
Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne called for a national debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women having the veil imposed upon them.
His intervention came after a row erupted over the decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to drop a ban on the wearing of full-face veils amid public protests.
Mr Browne said he was "instinctively uneasy" about restricting religious freedoms but said there may be a case to act to protect girls who were too young to decide for themselves whether they wished to wear the veil or not.
"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 told The Daily Telegraph. "I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.
"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. We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression."
It is thought that Mr Browne, who is attending his party's annual conference in Glasgow, is the first senior Lib Dem to voice such concerns in public. However, there are signs that his views are shared by a number of Conservative MPs who were dismayed at the way the Birmingham Metropolitan College case was handled.
The college had originally banned niqabs and burkas from its campuses eight years ago on the grounds that students should be easily identifiable at all times. But when a 17-year-old prospective student complained to her local newspaper that she was being discriminated against, a campaign sprang up against the ban, attracting 8,000 signatures to an online petition in just 48 hours.
Following the college's decision to withdraw it, Downing Street said that David Cameron would support a ban in his children's schools, although the decision should rest with the head teacher. However, the Prime Minister has been coming under growing pressure from his own MPs for a re-think on current Department for Education guidelines in order to protect schools and colleges from being "bullied".
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was "disgusted" by Mr Browne's calls to consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing the veil in public places. "This is another example of the double standards that are applied to Muslims in our country by some politicians," he said. "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."