Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 19 September 2013


The current debate about whether Muslim women should be entitled to wear the full veil in public is healthy. It is a delicate example of the clash between religion and law and religion and culture. It raises strong emotions on either side of the argument. However, the very worst thing we should do is to sweep it under the carpet and say that we are not able to discuss it. There must be no taboo subjects, even though we should all be careful about our tone when discussing sensitive subjects.

There are about 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, roughly 4.8% of the population. Many of them hold their religion very lightly these days, but a minority remain devout. For too long we have been afraid to raise our concerns about arranged and forced marriages and I am glad that these practices are now coming under the spotlight. Where religion and law clash, it is important that the law, which is part of the glue that binds us together, should prevail.

It is estimated that about 2000 of the 1 million Muslim women in the UK wear the full-face veil or niqab. France and Belgium have banned Muslim women wearing this veil in public. A judge in England has this week decided that although a woman can wear a veil in the court room she must remove it while giving evidence so that her evidence can be properly weighed. Was the judge right?

In the UK we have long prided ourselves on religious freedom. This must be so for both our indigenous beliefs and for those practised by more recent arrivals. Although there have been a few high profile court cases in recent years Christians are broadly free to display their religious symbols (eg wearing a cross)  and proclaim their beliefs in safety.

So where do minority religions fit into this framework? Should we not afford them the same rights? Even if some of us cannot understand it, wearing a veil in public is part of a sincerely held spiritual conviction for some Muslim women.

Muslims should be free to practice their religion freely, unless it clashes with British law.  I agree with the decision this week that anybody giving evidence in court should remove their veil. This is also obviously necessary for security and identity checks of all kinds.  But what about just walking down the street?

What space should we give for precious religious freedom?

posted by Gary @ 09:35