BLACKBURN MP Jack Straw has called on Muslim women not to wear full veils in a bid to help relations with the rest of the community.
Mr Straw, a former Home and Foreign secretary, has revealed that he has taken to asking Muslim women to remove their veil when they visit his surgeries.
He says a veil could be seen as "a visible statement of separation and difference" - and some Muslim scholars don't believe it to be obligatory.
Writing in his weekly column for the Lancashire Telegraph he said he was concerned "that wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult".
But a leading Muslim figure warned that Mr Straw's comments had the "potential to cause anger" and that "he will get criticism from all quarters".
Mr Straw writes that he has been mulling over the issue for about a year since a veiled woman attended his surgery and said she was pleased to meet him face to face.
"The chance would be a fine thing', I thought to myself but did not say aloud," he continues.
He said the interview got him thinking about the "apparent incongruity between the signals which indicate common bonds".
"Above all, it was because I felt uncomfortable about talking to someone face-to-face' who I could not see," he added.
He said this caused him concern "about the wider implications for community relations of what is an increasing trend".
Mr Straw, currently Leader of the Commons, said he makes sure he has a female member of staff with him when he asks women to lift their veil.
"The value of a meeting, as opposed to a letter or phone call, is so that you can - almost literally - see what the other person means, and not just hear what they say.
"So many of the judgements we all make about other people come from seeing their faces," he added.
He said that he cannot recall a single occasion when a woman has refused to lift her veil.
"I thought a lot before raising this matter a year ago, and still more before writing this. But if not me, who? My concerns could be misplaced. But I think there is an issue here," he concluded.
His comments come the day after Canon Chris Chivers, from Blackburn Cathedral, said more was needed to be done to address segregation in the town.
Hamid Qureshi, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said that Mr Straw's request to have women take off their veil in front of him could only be justified on security or identity concerns.
"Women believe that wearing it is God's command.
"I think it is unnecessary for him to do this. I don't know what principle he's trying to establish.
"What is he really concerned about? If he thinks it's about community cohesion concerns, he's mistaken - there are thousands of things that we do together.
"This is not helpful, it has the potential to cause anger. He will get criticism from all quarters."
But Coun Kate Hollern, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: "It's each individual's choice what they wear. However it does appear to create a visible barrier and I find it quite concerning.
"I would never want to take away anyone's right to wear what they want but I do think it's a visible barrier."
Coun Salim Mulla, who represents the Queen's Park ward, Blackburn, said: "I think it's a very difficult issue to comment on because I am not very religiously qualified.
"I think it's what Jack probably thinks and what he believes. But I would say that Jack has to respect the decisions women make."
Coun Mulla, who is also the secretary of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, added that the majority of women visiting Mr Straw would probably have no problem with his request.
Mr Straw currently enjoys a 8,009 majority, and is known for his close links to the Muslim community.
Coun Mulla added: "I don't think this will have a major impact on his popularity."