Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Wearing a burka like putting on paper bag, says MP

Philip Hollobone
Mr Hollobone said the issue of burkas had to be "tackled"

An MP has called the wearing of burkas the religious equivalent of "going round with a paper bag over your head".

In a parliamentary debate, Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said it was "offensive" for women to cut off face-to-face contact with other people.

The Kettering MP said he had "huge sympathy" with those who wanted a ban on face-covering veils in public.

None of the three large UK parties back a ban, with ministers saying it would not be "British" to bar them.

The UK Independence Party has called for an outright ban, saying the wearing of the burka is helping create a "divided society".

Speaking in Parliament's Westminster Hall, Mr Hollobone raised the controversial issue, saying it was at the "crude end" of the immigration argument.


He said: "I have huge sympathy with those who say they want action against those who want to cover themselves up in public.

"How ridiculous would the House of Commons be if we all wore burkas? How would Mr Speaker (John Bercow) be able to identify which Member to call next?

"It is the religious equivalent of going round with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes.

"It is offensive in my view to want to cut yourself off from face-to-face contact or recognition with other members of the human race.

"I think we should certainly look at ways to tackle that issue."

UKIP is the only party to argue for a total ban after the British National Party called for the burka to be prohibited in schools.

French row

But Schools Secretary Ed Balls has said it is "not British" to tell people what to wear in the street, and accused UKIP of indulging in "unpleasant politics".

Salma Yaqoob, leader of the anti-war Respect party, has also criticised the proposed ban, adding that there is a need to protect "freedom of speech, freedom of worship".

In 2006, cabinet minister Jack Straw angered Muslim groups after he said face veils were a "visible statement of separation and of difference" and suggested they could make community relations harder.

Last week French Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked the country's highest court to help draft a law banning the full Islamic veil.

It follows a report in the French parliament which called for a ban on the burka and niqab, arguing that Muslim women who fully cover their heads and faces are mounting an "unacceptable" challenge to the country's values.

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