Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Browne on Monday called for a national discussion on whether Muslim women should be banned from wearing the veil in schools and public places.

Browne told the Daily Telegraph he was "instinctively uneasy" about the state imposing such bans, but that it may be necessary for the protection of freedom.

"I think this is a good topic for national debate," he told the paper. "People of liberal instincts will have competing notions of how to protect and promote freedom of choice.

"I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice.

"But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married," he added.

Conservative MPs have called on the government to contemplate a ban, but Browne is the first senior Lib Dem to raise concerns.