THE Archbishop of York has publicly climbed down from a controversial interview he gave to a national newspaper.

Dr John Sentamu provoked a storm when he appeared to suggest that Islamic women should not wear veils in public.

But his spokesman, Arun Arora, immediately sought to play down the significance of his remarks, issuing what he called a "clarification".

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Dr Sentamu said: "Muslim scholars would say three questions: 1. Does it (the veil) conform to norms of decency? 2. Does it render you more secure? 3. What kind of Islam are you projecting by wearing it?

"I think in the British context it renders you less secure because you stick out and it brings unwelcome attention.

"On the first question, I don't think it does."

Those comments were seized upon by the paper, which claimed he "risked a row with the Muslim community by suggesting that Islamic women should not wear veils in public".

But a few hours after the Daily Mail published its interview yesterday, Mr Arora told The Press: "The requirement within the Qur'an for modest dress applies to men and women equally, and there is no direct reference in the Qur'an to the wearing of the veil.

"As such, the Archbishop's view is that it is for individuals to make their own decision on how to dress.

"His reading, and that of many Islamic scholars, is that there is not an absolute requirement for the wearing of the veil in order to fulfil the injunction to modest dress."

Leading York Muslim Yusuf Karvani said he agreed with Dr Sentamu that people of any faith should be able to wear whatever they want - be it a veil or a pair of shorts.

Mr Karvani, a member of the York Muslim Association, said: "There is a Muslim tradition of wearing the veil, so in my personal opinion, if women want to wear it, they should be able to - and that's the end of the story.

"It should be up to her. We shouldn't pick and choose what others can and can't wear."

But he said he disagreed that Muslims wearing the veil "stuck out".

He said: "I don't think women in veils do stick out.

"In many cities, like Leeds, Bradford or Birmingham, it's a common sight - and there are more and more women wearing them now than before."

The Archbishop's comments came after former Jack Straw, Leader of the Commons, revealed he asks Muslim women to remove their veils before speaking to him at his constituency surgery.

Dr Sentamu also attacked the BBC for being biased against Christians - because Anglicans didn't threaten to "bomb" the corporation, and he called for a return to family values, more pride in Britain and greater restraint at Christmas.