A Conservative MP's claim that gangs of Muslims are "raping white kids" prompted a row in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Speaking during a debate on child exploitation, Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said "time and again it is a white girl being raped by Muslim men".

"If we deny that fact in this House, the BNP and everybody else will climb on board," he said.

But Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said child abuse was not linked to "race or religion" and to make the connection risked falling into the trap of the British National Party or English Defence League.

"The key is vulnerability, and nothing else. If we get distracted by race or culture, we will lose sight of the bigger picture."

Qureshi, a former CPS lawyer who dealt with sexual abuse cases before becoming an MP, said the cases referred to by Hopkins where the victim was white and the abuser was not was a "coincidence not deliberate".

"Historically, since time immemorial, sadly, a small percentage of men - irrespective of which part of the world they come from -have had desires towards children," she said.

"We need to recognise that that small minority are interested only in abusing young children, whether boys or girls."

Hopkins said too often people would not speak out on the issue for fear of being branded a racist. "It is important to say that not all British Pakistani men are child abusers," he said. "The vast majority of child abusers in this country are white."

"The demographics say that they will be white, but we should not get away from the fact that gangs of Muslim men are going round and raping white kids at this moment in time.

He added: "That is an horrendous thing to say, but it is the fact of what is happening."

Hopkins also said that there was a problem of Muslim men thinking that women dressed in Western clothes that were more revealing than traditional dress, including a veil, were "available" for sex.

"That behaviour by some Muslim men towards western women needs to be challenged," he said.

Lib Dem Home Office minister Jeremy Browne said there was a "pattern is emerging" of serious abuse and sexual exploitation of children that "predominantly involves British Asian men grooming and abusing white British girls".

"We are very clear that political sensitivities must not get in the way of preventing and uncovering child abuse," he said.

In the wake of the Rochdale grooming case, Baroness Warsi, who is a muslim, said there was a minority of Pakistani men who believed white girls were "fair game".

"We have to be prepared to say that. You can only start solving a problem if you acknowledge it first," she said.

"This small minority who see women as second-class citizens, and white women probably as third-class citizens, are to be spoken out against."

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was unhelpful to single out one community for criticism.

"Child abuse is a national problem that afflicts all communities - we condemn this scourge wherever it may occur," a spokesperson said.

"But singling out one community helps no one, not least the victims. Comments made by Kris Hopkins in the House of Commons without substantiating it with any current evidence appears to be a calculated attempt to side track the main issue.

"The revelations from the Jimmy Savile scandal tells us that we need a national strategy where no one sweeps child abuse under the carpet."