Browne: there is a genuine debate about face veils

School face veil ban proposed by minister

School face veil ban proposed by minister

A government minister has raised the prospect of banning face veils in all schools.

Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Browne has called for a national debate on a ban in order to prevent "religious conformity" being imposed on school children.

"I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion," he told the Telegraph.

"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."

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg today dismissed Browne's comments, saying that it would be "very un-British" to ban face veils.

"My own view, very strongly held, is that we shouldn't end up like other countries issuing edicts or laws from parliament telling people what they should or should not wear," he said.

"This is a free country and people going about their own business should be free to wear what they wish. I think it is very un-British to start telling people what pieces of clothing they should wear."

Browne's comments follow a row last week after a college in Birmingham banned its students from covering their faces.

Birmingham Metropolitan College quickly withdrew the ban after more than 8000 people signed a petition against the decision.

It also follows a decision to allow a Muslim woman to enter a plea in court while wearing a full face veil.

The defendants' barrister argued that she had a right to wear it under Article 9 of the Human Rights Act.

Parliament also recently debated an outright ban on burkas and other face coverings.

Tory backbencher Philip Hollobone proposed a bill where "a person wearing a garment or other object intended by the wearer as its primary purpose to obscure the face in a public place shall be guilty of an offence".

Government guidance already allow for schools to ban face veils. The prime minister has previously said it should be a matter for individual headteachers to decide.

Browne is a leading right-winger in the Lib Dems. In an interview with the Daily Mail today he urged his party not to retreat to its "comfort zone" on the left.

"We cannot be half in government and half out. We cannot claim credit for the popular policies but pretend the unpopular policies are nothing to do with us," he told the paper.