Page last updated at 19:58 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 20:58 UK

Candidates in Morley and Outwood clash over veil issue

Mr Balls was booed as he was introduced in Morley

Rival candidates in a West Yorkshire constituency have clashed after being asked whether their parties would ban face-covering Islamic veils.

Five candidates for the Morley and Outwood constituency mounted soapboxes to take part in a public debate.

When asked about whether there should be a ban on the burka being worn in public, the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates said no.

The British National Party (BNP) and UK Independence Party agreed with a ban.

The question, posed by a male member of the crowd and regarding Belgium's decision to ban the burka, led to one of the biggest responses from the debate audience.

Boos and cheers

Labour candidate Ed Balls said: "We have people here who are Christian and Muslim and Jewish, and I think British values of tolerance and fair play and mutual respect mean that you don't say to people that because of their particular religion, or the colour of their skin, that they are second class."

Some members of the audience clapped and cheered in support of Mr Balls, while others booed and held aloft BNP posters.

Crowds at the debate
Crowds gathered to watch the debate

Mr Balls added: "And I see your BNP signs there - I talk to people in Morley about race and immigration and what they say to me is that we have proper rules and laws on immigration.

"But the idea that you said, as the BNP do in their extremism, that if you are British, if you were born in our country, if you fought abroad in our armed forces, if you've got a part colour of skin, if you're black, you're second class and you shouldn't be able to be in the queue for housing, or you shouldn't be able to play football for England abroad in the World Cup - I think that racism and intolerance is extreme, it is foul and not British at all."

Ban 'wanted'

BNP candidate Chris Beverley said: "What a disgrace that Ed Balls thinks he can come to Morley and insult members of the public for asking a legitimate question.

"It wasn't about people of different skin colour and it wasn't about the question of immigration, it was about the burka - it was a very specific issue."

He added: "Would the BNP ban the burka? Yes, we would - it's in our manifesto."

Speaking after the event, Conservative candidate Anthony Calvert said his party would not vote to ban the burka "because we are a tolerant, liberal democracy".

He said people who want to wear veils should be able to do so, just as Christians are able to wear crosses.

Liberal Democrat candidate James Monaghan told BBC News: "The government shouldn't be telling people what they can and can't wear."

He said the question reflected the public's concerns over immigration and he said his party was the only one really addressing the problem.

A spokesman for David Daniel, the UK Independence Party candidate, said: "We wish the politicians from Britain's three failed old parties had the bravery to ban the burka here and listen to what the majority of the British public want, which is a ban of the burka in public places."

Other issues discussed at the event, organised by the Independent newspaper, included schools, the economy and jobs.

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