A senior Church of England bishop last night called for a near-total ban on the wearing of burkas in public.

The former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, said burkas and niqabs should be outlawed in a wide range of situations where people interact, including in hospitals, GP surgeries, universities and schools.

The cleric said a ban should also extend to areas where there were legitimate security and safety concerns, such as at airports or while driving a car. However, he said it was acceptable for women to wear face veils at home, while in the street and at prayer, reports Daily Mail.

The controversial call from the Pakistani-born bishop, who led the Diocese of Rochester between 1994 and 2009, drew support last night from Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Lord Carey said "oppressive" veils should not become "normalised".

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Their comments represent the most powerful intervention to date by senior clerics on the issue. They are likely to add to the fierce debate sparked last week when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote a newspaper article on why he opposed a ban on veils in public but compared women in burkas to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

His comments have prompted an investigation by the Conservative Party.

Bishop Nazir-Ali told The Mail on Sunday: "We have all seen how even male terrorists have escaped arrest by donning a burka and making an effective getaway."

The former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, said burkas and niqabs should be outlawed. Photo / Getty Images
The former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, said burkas and niqabs should be outlawed. Photo / Getty Images

"For reasons of national security, there will be places like Parliament or Whitehall or town halls and council chambers where the burka should not be allowed."

He said institutions including universities and schools were justified in wanting to know the identities of visitors or those who worked or studied there.

Staff at airports and courts also needed to see people's faces.

Perhaps more controversially, he added: "Many professions require personal interaction with the client. In business, both the trader and the customer should be able to see one another's face and to interpret expressions if the transaction is to be mutually beneficial. This is even more true of doctors, dentists, nurses and paramedics."

Warning of the threat posed by the wearing of veils, he said: "It is true that some women choose to wear the burka or niqab because they feel it makes them more observant Muslims…

"It is also true, however, that the burka or niqab is being weaponised by Islamists to impose what they consider to be "Islamic" character on communities, neighbourhoods and even nations.

"In Britain, this has serious implications for the freedom of women, but it also has implications for integration and social cohesion. Where there is widespread use of the face veil, there will be greater isolation from one another and a sense of segregation will grow."

Lord Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1991 and 2002, said he "strongly supported" the position taken by Bishop Nazir-Ali.

He said: "We need to be able to identify people in government buildings, transport centres and tourist attractions, to take three examples. Security concerns trump cultural rights."

But Sir Iqbal Sacranie, a former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he was "sad" that such senior Church figures had failed to defend the basic rights of people to wear whatever they chose.

Lambeth Palace declined to comment last night.