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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006, 02:31 GMT 03:31 UK
Brown supports Straw over veils
Gordon Brown
Mr Brown said a 'proper debate' over integration was needed
Gordon Brown has backed Commons leader Jack Straw over his comments on Muslim women wearing veils.

The chancellor told BBC political editor Nick Robinson it was important to "have a proper debate".

Mr Straw believes it would improve integration if women did not wear veils covering their faces, as they were "a visible statement of separation".

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair said his colleague had been "perfectly sensible" in raising the issue.

'Cultural changes'

Asked on BBC One's Six o' Clock News whether Mr Straw had been right to say it would be better for integration if people did not wear veils, Mr Brown said: "Yes, but I think he's not proposing new laws.

"He's proposing a debate about the cultural changes that might have to take place in Britain, and I would emphasise the importance of what we do to integrate people into our country, including the language, including history, including the curriculum."

Then asked if he thought it would be "better for Britain" if fewer people wore veils, Mr Brown replied: "Well that's what Jack Straw has said and I support."

It was time for a politician to raise the issue of the veil
Hussain Ebrahim, Kuwait

The integration debate had to look at citizenship ceremonies and the teaching of British history, he said.

Mr Brown also said immigrants "should speak the language of English".

Earlier, Mr Blair said the Commons leader had raised the issue in a "measured and considered" way, and cautioned against people getting "hysterical" about it.

Author Salman Rushdie also backed Mr Straw, saying that veils "suck" as they were a symbol of the "limitation of women".

"He (Straw) was expressing an important opinion which is that veils suck - which they do," Mr Rushdie told BBC radio.

I think the veil is a way of taking power away from women
Salman Rushdie

"The battle against the veil has been a long and continuing battle against the limitation of women so, in that sense, I am completely on his side," he said. "I think the veil is a way of taking power away from women."

The controversy arose after Mr Straw said last week that he now asked Muslim women to take off full veils at his constituency surgery.

He said he did not want to be "prescriptive" but he believed that covering people's faces could make community relations more difficult.

Mr Straw is Labour MP for Blackburn, where between 25% and 30% of residents are Muslim.

Some Muslims have called his remarks insulting but others said they understood his concerns.

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