Clarke: Veil Row Was Just Grandstanding

Article excerpt

FORMER Cabinet minister Charles Clarke will tonight accuse the Government of "grandstanding" in the row over Muslim veils.

In a hard- hitting speech Mr Clarke will say the controversy started by Jack Straw and backed by Tony Blair has damaged community relations.

"I think that the 'Great British Veil Controversy' of recent weeks, which was started by an article by Jack Straw in his local Blackburn paper, has been almost entirely negative in its impact and has done nothing to promote tolerance and understanding," Mr Clarke will tell the Royal Commonwealth Society. "Building respect in our society means more common sense and less grandstanding from everyone."

The veil row began when Mr Straw, Leader of the Commons, revealed that he asks women to remove traditional head coverings at his surgeries because they are a "visible statement of separation and difference". His remarks infuriated Muslim leaders and divided the Cabinet.

In a speech covering the issue of relations between faiths and the State, Mr Clarke, the former Home Secretary, will say that religious groups usually sort out issues such as dress codes for themselves "with goodwill and common sense".

But he is expected to back banning full-face veils in some places, including schools and courtrooms "as it inhibits facial communication so greatly".

"They are not really great matters of philosophical concern and should not be treated as such," he is due to say. …