Jessica Morden MP
How would you describe your religious beliefs or identity?
I am a Welsh Christian. I was christened. I am not an active churchgoer, although I go with my mum sometimes. As part of my job I go to churches, but I also go to mosques and other religious places. I wouldn’t say I practise regularly.
I feel comfortable in the rituals of the Church and I have good memories of all the rituals as a child. My parents were big attendants… My dad is dead now, but both regularly attended. He was comfortable with the rituals, the community worship and that probably was why I became so familiarised and felt comfortable with Christianity.
Is GB an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
I think we are quite tolerant and equal as a society. In Newport we are quite a tolerant community. At the moment, of course, there is this big thing about Anti-Semitism, although that is not something local.
Are there any challenges to living in accordance with your beliefs? If so, are they social, political or legal?
There are no challenges for me as a Christian in Wales, but the truth is that I am not active in that way. I wouldn’t say I am agnostic, but I am not active. I wouldn’t say there are barriers.
Has Christianity had an influence on Human Rights?
I would say Christianity has an influence on human rights. Particularly in times when people are so cynical about politics, the work of the Church and its contribution to human rights, climate change, etc, it is like the voice of conscience.
Has the Human Rights Act been positive for our society?
Human rights are very important for British society.
Do Christians make a practical contribution to Human Rights?
I think there are examples of bishops contributing to the human rights debate, whilst bringing people together. More generally, from my constituency we can see the work that the churches are doing… running food banks in Newport, helping homeless people… It is just a phenomenal amount of work and probably the most difficult tasks. It is quite amazing.
Do public authorities respect Human Rights?
I think human rights are generally respected by public authorities in Great Britain, or otherwise they are challenged.
Do public authorities get the balance right in intervening in religious practice?
I think the balance (in terms of freedom of religion and belief) is probably right. There is obviously the argument about where to strike the balance… but I think on the whole it is good. I think Britain is a tolerant place as far as religion and belief is concerned.
Situations in which public authorities must necessarily intervene? Only if it is about terrorism… when you look at what happened in France, only in extreme examples. I don’t know whether the way religious freedom is dealt with in Great Britain is very different from France.
Is democracy positive for our society?
Democracy is the best form of Government and I would not want an alternative system.
Do your beliefs mean that you feel that you have a duty to vote?
I have always felt I had a personal responsibility to vote, and I always did, also before I became a politician. I would feel that is a duty not as a Christian, but as a member of society. If I were an Atheist, I would also feel I have a duty. I have always voted.
Should Parliament have the final say in making law? Should there be an empowerment of the judiciary to strike down legislation?
I don’t think the judiciary should have more powers. They have enough powers.
Is our democracy problematic for minority groups? Are there barriers to participation in democracy?
I suppose there are political barriers and the whole debate about the voting system and proportional representation. There are obviously minorities which cannot get elected, and that balance between a strong Government and proper representation. However, despite the first past the post, we are now in a situation in which we shall have five or six different parties in Parliament. So, that has made me change my views about proportional representation. If we are going to have coalition governments anyway, maybe we should pursue PR.
Do you consider it problematic that we have an unelected House of Lords?
It is not legitimate in this day and age for the members of the HofL not to be elected by the citizens. I think the method by which you do it is problematic in itself. I understand the HofL members bring expertise, but you could also do that in an elected Chamber. In fact, you have the crossbenchers and that is a good contribution. I would favour a partially elected Chamber… the last proposal… I can’t remember which one, because we have voted many times on this. This is an ongoing discussion. And then you have the bishops, the Lords Spiritual.
We have 26 bishops in the House of Lords. The whole issue about whether or not they should be there is very connected with the process of disestablishment of the Church of England. I think they are an anomaly, but they do good work. I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest. It is an anomaly, and I can see why they would like to go down the same model as America, with separation between Church and State, but in recent things I have been involved, their contribution has been invaluable and have the views of the bishops has helped to the whole discussion. I don’t know, I can’t give a definite answer.
I don’t know enough about whether the bishops can speak on behalf of all believers. That is a big argument. How can you speak on behalf of all believers?
Do public bodies respect the will of Parliament expressed in legislation?
Off the top of my head I cannot think of public bodies deliberately ignoring legislation. As I have to think about it, that clearly means that there must not be so many cases! I’ll email you if I can think of any examples.
What responsibilities come with power?
I think people with power have a responsibility to speak for those who don’t have a voice in our society.
Are Christians proportionately represented in Parliament?
I would know the faith of some of my colleagues, such as Paul Murphy, but we don’t really talk much about faith. It is not really a common topic with colleagues. Maybe at times when I have been a member of an all party group it may have come up, but I don’t think it is anything overt. You don’t define yourself for being a religious person. You define yourself for being Welsh, or for being left… or right…
Are the judiciary independent enough?
I don’t know whether the judiciary in Great Britain are independent. That would be my honest answer.
Does our system of checks and balances work effectively at present?
I think now even at constituency level, scrutiny has increased… people know what you are doing every day. I think as a MP scrutiny and accountability really work and are efficient. You are definitely held to account. Social media, for instance, plays a key role… I think people are now more aware than never before. This morning, for instance, I may have had 14 emails of anti-fracking groups, and you are very aware that you are scrutinised. It is certainly much more open than it was.
Do public authorities have a good understanding of the needs of Christians?
I think public authorities, generally speaking, have a good understanding of the needs of Christians.
Is it important to always act within the law?
It is difficult to say whether there would be circumstances under which I would feel compelled to infringe the rule of law…
Is the Rule of Law applied equally? Do some groups experience prejudicial or preferential treatment?
In the justice system, there are minority groups who are disproportionately more likely to be picked up by the police, for example, and that is an important reality. If I can think of more examples, I shall be in touch.
Has the increase in police powers over the past 15 years been appropriate?
I think some of the developments which we have seen in the last few years, with the empowerment of the police for example, have been completely necessary and they are just a reflection of the grim challenges we are facing. I do quite a lot of work with the police and I know the challenges they face are huge. So, unfortunately, those powers are necessary. When you talk to constituents about it, they tend to say ‘if you haven’t done anything wrong, why should you worry?’
Are there any legal rules you find restrictive?
I shall come back to you with examples about legislation which I abide by, but which I would prefer to get changed. You are asking me all these hard questions!
Anything you would like to add?
From my constituency perspective, I think we’ve got what I like when all Churches come together in a Carol service… and in Newport we also have the mosque, etc. All that work that all denominations do is great. This is not just the Church in Wales, but all different religious bodies. The fact that you can work between different religious denominations is highly positive for our society. Muslims contribute in the same way. They raise money for people affected by the Bangladeshi earthquake or if there is someone in the community who needs help.
My role as a MP would be as an advocate for those who don’t have a voice, as I said. I don’t know if we always get it right, but I have a great team in my office. They are brilliant… We have to help asylum seekers, people who have been betrayed by the system… I am very lucky. I have been assisted by Lynn and Sarah for a good number of years and I have been very fortunate.
Jessica Morden is the Labour MP for Newport East. She was first elected in the 2005 General Election and was re-elected in the 2015 General Election. She was elected as the first female MP in South East Wales.