How would you describe your personal religious or other beliefs?

I’m an Anglican, an ordained priest in the Church in Wales. I am an Anglican, and have remained as such because I appreciate the breadth of belief which it is possible to hold within the Anglican church, and one is not required to believe things which are determined by a hierarchy.

Was this a faith you grew up with? What made you decide to adopt or retain it?

Christian faith is what I was brought up in. I was baptised in a Calvinistic Methodist chapel in my village, we moved as a family to the local church when I was about 10 years old.

Do you think that Great Britain is an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?

I’ll take the tolerant part first. My own impression is that we have become a less tolerant society in Great Britain during my adult life. That could be just my perception, of course, and the difference between my teenage years and living as an adult. I was born in the 1950s and grew up in the 1960s when there were great changes within British and indeed western society, and much greater tolerance of certain groups within society than there had been previously. I think the tolerance was already there, but not public. It was true at various levels – in local communities, as well as in the governing and middle classes. And I would say that in particular in relation to gays, homosexual men, where technically the positon was that such conduct was criminal, where it was well-known in the village where I was brought up that certain men were gay, but it was tolerated. The same was true of certain men in government. The 1960s was a time of debate; such conduct was decriminalised. Also the law of divorce and abortion were eased; the changes were debated in society as well as in the legislature. The general trend was towards more and more tolerance. There were pressures on that, for example in relation to immigration. What I have seen happen since the late 1970s, has been the development of a new orthodoxy which insists on respect for the opinions of others, almost at the expense of one’s own. In the 1960s it was acceptable to express and hold opinions contrary to the flow, a sort of Voltairean position. What I suspect since the 1990s is a feeling that there are some views which are not to be expressed. For example if someone believed that races were not equal, that view is not to be expressed, however reasonably. I wrote in a book review once on a book on blasphemy that now to hold views on race, gender or sexuality which are not socially acceptable, is itself not socially acceptable, and to speak out against the socially acceptable belief is treated as a new form of blasphemy. The view now is that the person should be silenced, rather than listened to and argued with. We no longer tolerate people whose views we regard as socially dangerous.

We are not an equal society. Inequalities of wealth have increased in the last 30 or 40 years. They have found their way into education and health care. There is less scope for social mobility than there was in my generation. There has been too much and too frequent interference with the education system.

How easy is it for you to live in accordance with your personal beliefs?

I find it very easy to live in British society at the present time. I am white, Christian, educated and reasonably well-off. I don’t know if I would feel the same if I didn’t fall into those groups. Any pressures which there are, are social. Expressions of religious views are not treated as they were 30 or 40 years ago. In a sense that is good, they are more open to challenge. But there is a view within certain sectors of society that religious views are not worthy of modern, educated people.

I tend to feel that in the media in particular there is a slight bias against the holding of religious beliefs. I think that might be about to change, because we are becoming more sensitive to the respect which we have to show to other faiths, like Islam. I think that the pay off might be greater respect for the more established faiths in this country, Christianity and Judaism.

Has Christianity influenced the development of human rights?

I think that the idea of human rights stems from Christianity– Jesuit writing at the time of the conquest of the new world. Priests writing that even though the native peoples of America were not baptised, they should nevertheless be accorded the respect due to people made in the image of God. I think that there is now a certain amount of discomfort with acknowledging the Christian roots of human rights. That is both regrettable and undermines the concept of human rights. When we move towards the UN and European ideas of HR then again there is a strong contribution which has been made by Christian thinkers. The Anglican contribution has been strong in terms of commitment, but the UK’s attitude towards HR is lukewarm, and that is unfortunate. It is insufficiently aware of the roots of HR doctrine. We did not share the experience of the breakdown in the Rule of Law which happened in other countries in Europe, and there is a misguided feeling that we are somehow safe from that. I think that the British view of human rights is partly one of suspicion and goes hand in hand with suspicion of having enforceable constitutional principles.

Does the Church in Wales have a practical influence on HRs?

In Wales it’s an irony, I think the Church in Wales is a creation of non-conformist dissatisfaction. iIn the almost century since disestablishment it has become probably the largest Christian denomination in Wales and the most influential. Its voice, because of disestablishment, has been clearer on certain issues, such as on HR. It’s forgotten now that the Church in Wales has been ordaining women to the diaconate for much longer than the Church of England. The Church in Wales is moving more rapidly to consider the question of gay marriage than the Church of England. There is a less fearful view here in Wales. What is regrettable is that the Church in Wales has not embraced the opportunity given by the National Assembly to free itself from state control with regard to marriage.

What do you think about faith schools? What should be the limit on parental choice in religious education/upbringing?

Parents should have the right to choose the sort of education which their children have; there should be no state orthodoxy on education. This is an example of decreasing tolerance. Given that we have had church schools, before the state intervened, and other faiths came later, that is an expression of a free society. There is a separate point as to whether the school provides indoctrination or education, and there the state does have a role in monitoring. I see no problem in teaching various theories of creation, as theories, I don’t wish to see a fundamentalist indoctrination of any one of the creation stories in the Bible or any other scripture as being correct. Neither do I want to see an indoctrination of any scientific theory, however widely accepted. To treat Darwinism as truth is as fundamentalist as any religious view. Any theory should be contingent. On things like contraception, those are hot social issues which deserve to be debated and on which I would not like to see any orthodoxy. The current approach is that instead of an open debate, we have the notion that there should be an orthodox view.

Should religious groups be allowed exemptions from discrimination law in running their own internal affairs?

Unsure. Uncertain. I’ve lived through the debate on the ordination of women to the priesthood in Anglicanism. It is a good deal better that the church went through that debate, and the pain of that debate, rather than being forced by the state to do something and harbouring a resentment and an excuse that we had to do it. The Church in Wales had a full debate and an initial loss, where there was a defeat. That has been repeated with the issue of ordination to the episcopate. The church has gained from this. Equally with the remarriage of divorcees, when the church failed to get this through the Governing Body it pleaded that it was obligated by law to give clergy a free choice. This was cowardly and not in my view as satisfactory as allowing a second debate. The question is to what extent you extrapolate that to race and other areas. I would be against censoring debate in any organisation, but when it comes to secular employment of people within those organisations then certain standards must be followed.

What then about the external position?

There is a case, and it requires careful thought. There are areas where personal belief must be allowed to be expressed, and others where because of the size of the entity it should not. So someone running a guesthouse on the south coast should be allowed to decide to admit only married couples, but a global company should not. There are issues about where to draw the line of course. Race is far more sensitive. A person can choose to get married; they cannot choose their skin colour. But one size does not fit all.

Do you think that living in a democracy is a positive thing?

It can be a good thing, but it is a dangerous thing because there is no guarantee that the majority of people will not want things that are not good. They can want bad things for minorities. I go along with the statement that it is not a good form of government, but all of the others are worse. You need certain guarantees of individual and group rights to ensure that the majority does not become tyrannical. But I wouldn’t want an alternative. I don’t think that the benevolent dictator is a creature we can know.

Do you believe that you have a personal responsibility to vote?


What do you think about the voting system?

I think the referendum on an alternative system was a rejection of the particular alternative that was offered rather than an unwillingness to reform the first past the post system. The system operating here in Wales is quite a good one: some first past the post, some by a regional proportional representation system. I would be happier in seeing a degree of proportional representation in the UK parliament; how it is introduced is a matter for careful consideration. What has been done in the devolved legislatures has worked well for them. I think this country needs to open up a bit more to ideas of how you operate a democracy in terms of the role of the electorate between elections, including the opportunity for the people to promote legislation. I also have grave misgivings whether those elected to the House of Commons represent the people who have elected them, being instead herded through the lobbies by the party whips.

Do you regard it as a problem that the House of Lords are not elected?

It is if you have a thorough-going democracy. The role of the House of Lords in making legislation is now very limited; they can be overridden in a large number of instances under the Parliament Acts. Unlike the ordinary citizen, members of the House of Lords can promote legislation, but their proposals cannot make the statute book without the Commons’ agreement. However the Commons can decide to make law against the will of the Lords. The role of the Lords is therefore in truth restricted to scrutiny. Their role there is beneficial, and there is greater expertise, time and openness in Lords’ debates. The question arises could you have a second elected chamber which would do that job as well as the current House of Lords. If elected there would need to be greater equality; there are countries which have that type of bicameral equality. What I don’t like about proposals to reform the House of Lords is that they are quite negative, rather than positive about what is to replace it. I’m not in favour of abolishing it without having a better plan in mind.

What do you think about the presence of Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords?

I don’t think that they only speak for the Church of England or Christians; they are there to speak on all issues. The question is whether their presence is justifiable. If I was to start with a clean sheet of paper, I would hope that religious voices were represented. I wouldn’t tinker with the current system by removing the bishops. The bishops have as much right to be there as anyone else. The bishops are appointed after a process governed by ecclesiastical measure. The other members of the Lords are not so appointed. The bishops are chosen more carefully than politically-appointed life peers, so I wouldn’t want to look at their role apart from the wider picture.

How do you feel about the Parliament having the final say in making and changing law?

I would like to see an empowerment of the judiciary, but there would have to be a separate constitutional court with special methods of appointing the judges, with separate qualifications, as is the case in other countries. I would be in favour of having JR of UK parliamentary legislation as part of having a written constitution.

How should society hold(?) people with power to account?

It is very important where power is given to governments and officials that they are accountable in two ways. Firstly, legal accountability – they must not exercise powers which they don’t have, etc., – JR available at the behest of the citizen. Within the area of lawful exercise, there needs to be accountability for the wisdom and effectiveness of decisions made, and that is the sort of accountability one wants within institutions of government and at the despatch box, and questions of subsidiary come in here as well. You have to have the right level of political accountability. There is clearly a role for a free press and the media, in publicizing discontent, calling for accountability and questioning the wisdom of the way power is exercised. I am currently worried that the press and public opinion is becoming too strong in relation to issues which it should not seek to determine. For instance the issue of a professional footballer being signed up to play football after a rape conviction. There is a very real question about whether a person convicted of that sort of offence should be allowed to resume their career, but it shouldn’t be answered by popular clamour. We shouldn’t have mob rule; the question should be answered judicially, in a disinterested manner. It should be settled by the court at the time of sentencing. I don’t like the press taking on any more than saying that this is a question that needs answering, I find press-led lynch law disturbing. Similarly I don’t like seeing the press hounding someone out of office.

Would you say that our leaders reflect the composition of society as a whole?

That is a very difficult question. I don’t think that legislative bodies need to reflect the society they represent in any percentage terms. When I choose an MP, I don’t ask is this candidate male, white, Anglican or any other category. What I ask is – is this person appropriate to represent my views. I don’t think that the profile of the body matters as long as the people elected truly represent the electors in terms of carrying out their duties, not their skin colour or gender. I would not like to see quotas on ethnicity or gender or other such groupings for MPs. It is good to see different groups in society well-represented, but I think that is an outcome which has to be allowed to occur not dictated.

Have you ever felt so strongly about a political or social situation that you wanted to campaign to change it? If so, what did you do?
I have been present at demonstrations, the last one when it was planned to take autonomy from S4C and give it to the BBC. When I was younger I was involved in establishing an action group against closure of a railway line in South Wales. We did TV and radio interviews, and did I think turn the tide. Whereas previously rail services to the Rhondda had been being run down, they did at least not get any worse, and the services to other valleys have been restored.

Do you think that practising Anglicans are appropriately represented in public life?

I don’t know – they are obviously better represented in the House of Lords. That connects with other things. In so far as judges are mainly educated in public schools, public schools tend to be Anglican. Quite a number of judges I know are Anglican, and that in Wales isn’t a product of private education. I’m not sure I expect to see Anglicans represented on the judicial bench. I don’t think that religion is important to judges doing their job. With local authorities, again, I am more concerned that they represent the people who elect them than about what the members believe. I’m heartened when I find out that our representatives are Christian, but I’m not sure that I should be.

Have public authorities always shown an appropriate level of awareness and respect to your beliefs?

I never found any difficulty in that regard. When I was very ill in 1992 and hospitalised for some time, it was surprising how many nursing staff were practising Christians. Since I was ordained, what I have discovered is the number of people who you didn’t know had any strong faith, who want to come and tell you that they do. I used to find that colleagues and students would come and talk to me because of my faith and role in it. Some times you see people’s attitudes towards you change for other reasons. Sometimes I’ve found that people can be antagonistic on a language basis, but never on a religious basis.

Do your personal beliefs require you to speak out for third parties?

It depends what you mean by speaking out. I don’t feel obliged to write to The Times or the Western Mail every week. But they do require, if I am involved in decision making, to speak out if things are not being done fairly. Then, as a matter of conscience, I feel obliged to speak out. It is why I speak out for the rights of Welsh speakers in certain Church in Wales committees, and I do feel a duty to speak out with force. On the other hand how I would choose to make my views known would be to do it tactically as well as tactfully. Sometimes It is better to speak to someone influential in private than to make a great noise in the street and get nowhere. Scripturally, it is the difference between preaching in the Temple and talking to Nicodemus.

Do you think that the Rule of Law is applied equally?

Difficult question, because I don’t think we know the extent to which there are certain interest groups in British society promoting or protecting one another. That has become clear in relation to child abuse enquires, certain aspects of policing, Hillsborough. I think that in theory the Rule of Law applies, but in practice I am less sure. At a theoretical level it is not applied equally in our national institutions – for example, the Supreme Court looking into decision making in the devolved assemblies in a way that it does not in relation to the UK Parliament. It can look at the quality of decision making on human rights issues in ways in which it cannot with Westminster, and I would like to see the Rule of Law being applied to the UK Parliament as well. That obviously means that I am in favour of a written constitution.

What do you think of the general trend towards an increase in state and police powers over the last 15 years or so?

There is a difficult balance between personal liberty and group liberty and the needs of national security. Wherever the two come into serious conflict there are difficult choices and they will never be easily made. My fear is that we are not taking the threat to our security sufficiently seriously, which may be the consequence of having lived through internal terrorism of a different kind, with the Northern Ireland situation in the 1970s and 1980s. Someone argued that certain principles of personal liberty, such as inviolability of one’s home from search, should be sacrosanct even in the face of terrorism. I don’t agree, and I put such arguments in the category of fundamentalism. Extreme liberalism can be fundamentalist.

Are there any legal rules which you find restrictive?

I am not really aware of any. The parking restrictions outside churches and parking around churches on a Sunday, it is a luxury problem really. There are no serious interferences in the way I live my life. The things I worry about most are things like eroding children’s freedom, anti-truancy rules dictate that they should go into school at times when they are not being taught, instead of deciding for themselves at a certain age that they would be better off revising at home than going into school.

Is there anything you would like to add?

You haven’t asked many of the questions which you have asked about the State, about the Church. How representative is the church of the people, how is decision making in the Church accountable? I have advocated that you can separate scrutiny from decision-making. The church has ready-made structures to allow decision-making to go down to the faithful. Holding a referendum in the church on the ordination of women would be easier than in many secular contexts. The results would be very different a lot of the time if more trust was placed in the people, and it would be relatively easy to achieve.

A native of Cwmparc in the Rhondda, Thomas Glyn Watkin was educated at Porth County Boys’ Grammar School and Pembroke College, Oxford. He was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1976. From 1975, he lectured at Cardiff Law School, becoming professor of law in 2001. For eighteen years, he combined his academic work with drafting legislation for the Church in Wales. In 2004, he was appointed professor and head of the new law school at Bangor, before returning to Cardiff and legislative drafting in 2007 as First Legislative Counsel to the Welsh Assembly Government. He has lectured or been a visiting professor at universities in Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan and the United States. Now retired, he remains active as literary director of the Welsh Legal History Society, a Council member of the Selden Society, a member of the Law Commission’s Advisory Committee for Wales, a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales and an academic bencher of the Middle Temple. He frequently contributes to reports and gives evidence on devolution issues to bodies such as committees of the National Assembly for Wales. Married with one daughter, he is also a non-stipendiary priest in the Church in Wales.