FORMER Blackburn MP Jack Straw said his opinion has not changed 10 years after he called on Muslim women not to wear the full veil.

Mr Straw prompted an international debate on the issue when he wrote in his Lancashire Telegraph column in October 2006 about asking Muslim women to remove their veil when they visit his surgeries.


At the time he said the veil could be seen as a “visible statement of separation and difference” and was concerned “that wearing the full veil was bound to make better positive relations between the two communities more difficult.”

Speaking a decade on from the column, he said what sparked it had been an interaction with a constituent in his surgery.

He said: “A lady I knew but had not seen for a few years came and she said ‘it is so nice to see you again face-to-face’. I smiled and thought she was the lucky one. Now I talk to her about it. At the time she decided to remove it so we could have a proper conversation.

“My opinion has not changed. I would never suggest there should be a legal ban on people wearing the face veil. That was not the point of the article.

“I considered it to be a barrier to communication. That remains an unavoidable fact.

“It is also the case that there is no direct authority for the wearing of the full veil in the Holy Koran.”

Mr Straw recalled the column sparked an international debate on the issue leading to the Grand Mufti of a leading learning mosque in the Egyptian capital Cairo issuing a Fatwa in his favour.

He said: “It was extraordinary. The debate took on a life of its own.

“I remember I had brought the Russian ambassador to Blackburn and he was bemused by the attention it created including live TV broadcasts from a Japanese broadcaster from the Mill Hill car park.

“But it gave people permission to talk about it and that is important. Before people were avoiding the subject, but it was in their mind.”

Mr Straw said it was up to women whether they wore it, but it does make communication difficult because we communicate with our face.

He said the UK has been far more successful in treating people of different faiths with respect than other countries in Europe.

“We are not only tolerant but celebrate different faiths.”

He described the French ban on the face coverings, which was introduced in 2011, as “outrageous”.

“And more recently the banning of the wearing of the swimming dress is not only outrageous but ridiculous,” he added.

Of the reaction from the community at the time, he said: “People in the community – my friends – wanted to talk to me about it and they did but that is having a good conversation and that is the way to reach an understanding.

“Community relations in Blackburn and East Lancashire are pretty good however the fact communities live parallel lives remains a concern. One of the reasons I agreed to take on the chairmanship of Blackburn Youth Zone when I retired as an MP is because it is one of the few institutions that brings together white and Muslim communities but does it in a way that respects those communities.”

Hamid Qureshi, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, who said at the time Mr Straw’s comments were “not helpful”said there is still an atmosphere against the veil.

He said: “It is very simple. A woman should be allowed to adhere to the opinion that is right to her.

“If someone feels it is their religious obligation they should be allowed to adhere to it.”

“If you create a situation that is intimidating and where women feel they can’t wear the veil the atmosphere becomes hostile to them and that is not right.”