Muslim women should not be allowed to cover their faces in public as there is no formal requirement in their religion, a Conservative MP suggested today. Philip Hollobone was putting forward a Bill seeking to prohibit the wearing of face coverings, in particular the Muslim veil and balaclavas.
Presenting his Face Coverings (Prohibition) Bill, the Kettering MP expressed regret that his campaign had “come to this”. Speaking during the Bill’s Second Reading, he said: “But there’s growing concern amongst my constituents and across the country about the increasing number of people who are going about in public places covering their faces and this is causing alarm and distress to many people in our country.” Mr Hollobone told the Commons that he had received correspondence from alarmed Britons from across the country, “who are concerned that in this respect we are heading in the wrong direction as a nation”.
He said that his Bill would prevent the use of balaclavas, favoured by some demonstrators, as well as full-face Islamic veils, such as burkas and niqabs.
He said: “Law-abiding citizens, who cover their face for supposedly religious reasons, are by their actions alienating so many of our other citizens in this country. And it does cause alarm and distress to many of our citizens who aren’t part of those religious groups to see Britain’s High Streets increasingly dominated, especially by Islamic women, who are covering their faces in full.”
Mr Hollobone repeated on two occasions that Muslim women who chose to wear the veil did so out of “supposed religious requirements”. “I can find absolutely nowhere at all anywhere in the world, any prescription that women are required by Islam to cover their face,” he told MPs. “As far as I can understand it, the Koran – the holy book to Muslims – requires women to dress modestly.”
According to Mr Hollobone “because of political correctness, because of sensitivities about unintentionally causing harm to religious minorities the Government is frightened to take action on this issue”.
When asked if he had consulted the 723 Muslims in his own constituency for an exchange of views by the Labour chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz, Mr Hollobone replied: “I have got no idea whether there are 723 Muslims in my constituency or 7,230. The faith of my constituents is irrelevant to me.” He revealed that he had been in talks with some of his community’s Muslim representatives, but that the “dialogue has ended”, after they declined an invitation to meet with him to discuss the details of his Bill.
The Tory member for Shipley, Philip Davies, who in many debates is often in agreement with Mr Hollobone expressed reservations about the Bill. He said while he suspected that many of his constituents would agree with Mr Hollobone, he wasn’t sure he could. He asked: “Do you really want to live in a country where we have the Government telling people what they can wear and what they can’t wear, because that’s the bit that I’m very nervous that we have that kind of authoritarian state.”
Similarly, backbencher David Nuttall said: “One of the reasons why this Bill is seen as particularly sensitive is that the two groups that you have referred to are, of course, very separate. One is maybe out to break the law and they are covering their face because they intend to break the law and not be seen, the others are law-abiding and are covering their face because of their religion. And it’s that conflict between those two groups that cause the difficulty with the Bill.”
But Mr Hollobone insisted that his intentions were “100% honourable” and had no desire to stoke xenophobic sentiment. “I don’t want to live in a country where people are increasingly going around with their faces covered,” he said. “It’s not about clothing, it’s about concealing someone’s identity.” He said it “alienates the British way of life”.
Rushanara Ali, the Labour member for Bethnal Green and Bow, a London Borough with a large Muslim population, said: “As someone of Muslim background, I believe passionately in the right of any minority group, including Muslim women, to choose how they dress. And the best of British is our diversity and our inclusiveness.” She described Mr Hollobone’s Bill as “narrow-minded and intolerant”.
However, Mr Hollobone said that his Bill would remove the current ambiguity in public places, such as garages, courts of law, police stations and schools on how to deal with face coverings. He said: “Most people in this country would say that it would be entirely wrong for a teacher to be able to teach a class whilst wearing a full-face veil.”
The Government had been “reluctant to spell this out in black and white”. He added: “Likewise, I think it is increasingly abhorrent as I understand has happened in a number of places where schools, as part of their uniform code, are requiring really very young girls to wear full-face veils.”