Religion, law and the constitution

Balancing beliefs in Britain

Dominic DyerHow would you describe your personal beliefs in relation to religion?

I was brought up a Roman Catholic, my partner’s father was Turkish Cypriot and her mother Jewish, so I suppose that religion and its influence on world affairs is something that is quite strong in my mind.  But I’m not a practising Christian.  I am interested in all religions for good influence and bad influence in the world.  I have a good awareness of religion, I have been brought up in one faith but have a good understanding of the Jewish faith and Islam as well, and the influence it has on political issues around the world.

Would you describe Great Britain as an equal and tolerant society particular in relation to belief?

Yes I think so, when you look at many parts of the world.  I have travelled widely in the Middle East, Asia, North America, South America and Africa and other places so I have probably got a good global perspective.  So I think that are a very tolerant society, we do have problems, at times prejudice raises its head in our political system or in relation to employment and other areas.  But in general we are a tolerant society, and I think the fact that Sadiq Khan who I know quite well has just been elected mayor of London is a good example of that.

Would you say that beliefs in relation to religion animal welfare are taken seriously and given respect in contemporary GB?

I feel that there are difficulties with religion and animal welfare because of the some of the difficulties around Halal and Kosher slaughter requirements, and you know there is quite a significant debate going on in animal welfare circles around those issues, I can appreciate the sensitives on both sides in relation to the religious and historical significant, but also the nitty gritty of what happens when you kill an animal and the fact that you are not stunning it before you slaughter it.  So I think that in those areas religion and animal welfare can be quite difficult, but in other areas I have spoken to the Quaker animal welfare group and have had contact with other groups with religious connections that are very much involved in raising concerns about animal welfare and wildlife protection, and have some very good individuals involved in terms of what they are trying to achieve.

Have you encountered any problems in this country living in accordance with your beliefs? If so, have they been legal, political or social?

No, I’ve not faced those problems.  You can be religious in Britain, you can choose not to be religious.  I’ve been in many countries where it can be a problem depending on your faith and how you express it.  So I think that we are very fortunate to live in the society that we do and to enjoy the freedoms that we have.

Do you think that the HRA and the current way we deal with human rights within our legal systems has been positive, negative or neutral of our society?

Generally positive, we probably don’t really understand it until we have to use it.  We see the negatives stories in the media about criminals being deported and things like that, but if you look at the debate when Labour came into office in 1997 when the HRA was introduced, there were concerned that there weren’t sufficient safeguards.  If you now look across the spectrum we have stronger safeguards today in Britain than maybe we really understand.  When we have these debates about EU membership these issues are raised but not understood, but if we lost them it would be different.  Human rights is one area, but employment rights is another area in relation to EU membership, but we would notice them if they weren’t there.

Do you think that living in a Parliamentary democracy is a good thing?  Is there any system of government that you would prefer?

All systems have pros and cons, no system is perfect. Our Parliament system has its strength it has its weaknesses, but it does deliver strong governments.  And if we have a coalition as we had between 2010 and 2015 they were stable.  I have seen many countries where a PR system can cause all sorts of problems, Israel is good example, and Turkey is also having problems.  Our Parliamentary system is one of the oldest in the world, we have a small amount of corruption compared to many places, and it is not solely based on money.  I do worry about politics becoming a profession, and would prefer MPs to have a broader experience of the world before entering Parliament.  But I think that generally our Parliamentary system is one of the best in the world.

Do you believe that you have a duty to vote?

Yes, I feel very strongly, people have died for that.  I have been to many countries where you could die for expressing your views, people would die on the streets to have the kind of freedoms which we have.  I think that it is a shame that participation has declined, we have too many professional politicians, too many soundbites and the media the way they cover politics is turning people off.  We need to reengage with politics and feel that our opinions are being listened to.  Maybe the debate which we are currently having about EU membership is one way to achieve that.

Do you find it a problem that members of the House of Lords are not elected?

It’s a swings and roundabouts situation, it is archaic, I don’t like this system where people have influence due to money or birth.  The Royal family and the House of Lords I have problems with all of that. But then if you took that away you would have to replace it with something else, and have a fully elected Upper Chamber.  What worries me is that we keep creating new levels of bureaucracy and cost to the tax payer which become political battlegrounds.  The police commissioner is another example of that, I’m not sure how useful it is but it just becomes another job for politicians to fight over.  If you had a fully elected House of Lords it would be the same.  We’ve got more mayors now, the major political parties just find new ways that they can fight to get their people into positions of power.  So I think that nothing is perfect, there are some good people in the House of Lords, people like Doreen Lawrence.  Wonderful to see someone like that in there after having campaigned so hard following the murder of her son and all of the issues surrounding it.  I think that if you have people like that in there then it’s wonderful, but there are some others I don’t think should be in there and don’t play the role that they should. So maybe having a more open selection process for the House of Lords would be a good idea.

Do you think that it is appropriate that there are Church of England bishops in the House of Lords?  Would you like to see them removed, joined by other faith representatives or keep the status quo?

I think the Church of England shouldn’t have a special access, there are historical reasons why that is the case.  If you are going to have religious representative then the Jewish faith, the Muslim faith and other representatives should be represented.

What responsibilities come with power?  What do people who exercise power owe to society?

Power can be used for good or bad, you’ve got to have checks and balances in the system because it can be abused.  Whatever you have for an elected official of a chief executive in a company it is about scrutiny, are non-executive directors scrutinising what the board are doing?  Well clearly in the case of Fred Goodwin and the Royal Bank of Scotland they weren’t and we had a situation arise where they vastly over borrowed with and collapsed with disastrous results for the economy and the tax payer.  Clearly those failures need to be addressed, but it doesn’t mean that banking and finance should not be allowed to operate an effective capitalist system.  When it comes to BHS and what we have seen about it being sold for a pound and the state of its pension fund, Philip Green is a billionaire but some decisions have taken from his perspective without much scrutiny and that is a problem.  I think that Parliamentary scrutiny is quite good, I think that our select committees are quite strong even if they don’t act as quickly as I might like to hold government to account.  We do have a Parliamentary system so that if a party is in office is has quite a lot of control, as does the Prime Minister.  Hence all of the issues with the Chillcott Inquiry and Iraq and it is going to be very much around how Tony Blair had a small number of ministers with whom he met beyond the core cabinet, and the rest of them were probably not as involved as they should have been.  Social media is changing things too, you can get a lot more freedom of information and open government up to greater scrutiny than before.

Do you think that politicians and leaders reflect society as a whole?

I don’t think they do a large degree, but you are never going to get that, because to get into politics in our system, you don’t need lots of money like in America, but you need to give a lot of time and resource to going through the political selection system, becoming a councillor trying to become an MP and a lot of people in a daily life situation are not going be able to do that.   Do politicians as a whole reflect society? No.  There are some that do and some that don’t, Sadiq Khan probably reflects a significant minority population in a very multicultural city which is a good thing, but he is still very much a professional politician.  He has been an MP for 15 years, a lawyer that went into politics, came from a human rights lobbying type area, so he was fortunate to have access, but it was good to see him appointed all the same.  I think that overall Britain is not too, it would be good to see more minorities and women represented, and from my perspective to see more people who are not professional politicians, people who come in in their 40s and 50s and 60s who have actually carried out a broad range of activities outside of political life.  I think that broader perspective would bring some life back into politics.  At the moment a lot of our politicians are dull as dishwater, they are professional politicians, lobbyists and people can see it for what it is.

If you look at the American situation, what you are seeing with Donald Trump does not surprise me at all, because he is very successful at tapping into an area of resentment of white, working class Americans, they have been discarded by many politicians for generations and they are a very powerful group.  He could ride that all the way to the White House on a fear-based prejudice based agenda, I wouldn’t like to see that happen, but it could.  And you could say that he is representative of a significant part of the American population, and he was been elected in an open and democratic way, from primaries all the way through to presidential race.  You couldn’t question that but you might not like the outcome.

Have you ever felt so strongly about an issue that you have wanted to change it, and if so, what would you do?

The Badger Cull issue, I am writing a book which will be published in July 2016 called ‘Badgered to Death’ which looks at the last three years of my career where I’ve really campaigned against what I thought was a very bad environmental and farm policy than was basically playing policy with wildlife.  That firstly made me angry, I have changed careers to campaign on it and have become a key figure in the media and political world as a result. I’ve not always had it easy because you take on the farming community, the Charity Commission, the government and everyone else I have had to deal with at certain times.  But I do think that it needs to be done, you have to stand up if you believe in something, make it clear to people why you believe in things, that is the only way things change.  So I am a real believer in demonstrations in marches, I do a lot of those.  In lobbying, and using social media and all of the tools we have.  That is the only way change ever comes.

In your experience of dealing with public authorities have your beliefs been appropriately understood and respected?

It is always difficult when you are dealing with institutions and complaining about things, I don’t think that I have been dealt with any differently from anyone else.  I suppose that I am confident and articulate enough to know how to make things happen, which puts me at any advantage.  I think that a lot of people when they feel angry about things feel powerless, don’t know how to make journalists take an interest or to bring pressure to bear, I suppose that I am quite good at that through the experiences in life and everything I have gone through.  There have been times when I have thought that hey this isn’t fair, when it came to charity law on charities lobbying for example during the election campaign I feel foul of that, because the Conservatives wanted to continue with badger culling and Labour had agreed to support it in their manifesto.  I was seen as taking sides and had various people in the Charity Commission and ministers and others weigh in, and there was a debate in Parliament.  And when I read about that I felt well hang on a minute, that isn’t what actually happened, but there were certain people who wanted to portray it as such to make an example of me to then try and force broader change on charities to restrict their ability to speak out. So I have been on the receiving end of that but I have used my political contacts and media to try and fight back against whatever the government and various elements of the Establishment might try and throw at you.  I feel that I have had a pretty good crack of the whip.

Is it important for you to always act within State law?

I tend to always try to work within the law.  I work in an area of wildlife conservation where people will go beyond the law, they’ll go out and break cages where badgers are trapped.  I don’t advocate or support that.  I don’t advocate the intimidation of farmers, publication of their addresses for example, so recently I was given a list of farmers in the south west that were signing for up the badger cull.  I gave the information straight to the police and didn’t release it.  Now certain people in the animal rights movement condemned me for that saying I was playing into the hands of the government and the farming industry.  But I personally wouldn’t accept that, I don’t wish to pursue protecting animals by threatening and intimidating people.  It’s something that I will not do, and I have always made that very clear.  But I have pushed the boundaries of the law with something like the Lobbying Act that I spoke about before, I felt it was wrong, an example of government trying to shut down charities, during an election campaign which lasted 6 weeks, the longest we have ever had.  Most charities involved with human health or the environment just stepped away once they had consulted their lawyers.  I didn’t do that, I knew the risk that I was taking but felt that it was important as civic society and freedom of speech are increasingly important to our democracy and system of government and I don’t want to see those powers restricted.  And people know me for that and respect me, and that includes politicians.

Do your beliefs require you to speak out for others, especially if those others are weak or vulnerable in some way?

Yes, I don’t like people who take a decision to speak out against something and don’t speak about something else.  So in the human rights debate quite rightly we condemn America or Israel where their actions lead to civilians being killed in Afghanistan or Gaza or wherever it might be, I have no issues with holding governments to account.  But I have huge issues though with people like the Stop the War Coalition who say noting, and the left of the Labour Party who to a large degree, about what goes on in Syria. They killed 50 or 60 civilians last week, that goes on week in week out and no one says anything, no marches or demonstrations.  And the other reason I can think of for that is that certain people within those organisations want to give the Russian government a free pass because they have sympathies with certain elements of what it stands for.  But a Russian bomb is no different to an American or Israeli bomb, and the people on the receiving end are no different either.  So I see a lot of hypocrisy in a lot of human rights groups who choose the issues they are going to speak out on.

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

It’s not as bad as America, I’ve been to US prisoners and seen people incarcerated for life on a three strikes and you’re out system, when they have stolen a few dollars for some food from a shop.  That is insane and it impacts upon African Americans and poor people in society in America, and the figures prove that.

There is an element of that here, if you find yourself in problems with the law or are fighting the government, or an issue about negligence in a hospital, if you are middle class, have access to good lawyers and the media, you get your case across.  If you are poor, without a good education and access to those things you can often be dismissed and forgotten about.  That is a problem.

When it comes to animal welfare that is a problem.  With badger baiting it is illegal to put dogs down setts and kill them, people can go to prison for 6 months and face £5000 fines for that and we are involved in bringing people to court for that.  But I don’t see fox-hunting any differently.  Fox-hunting is illegal under the law, but fox hunts go around the country every weekend killing foxes, but these elope might be MPs, members of the House of Lords, close to David Cameron, hence he would like to repeal the Hunting With Dogs Act, so that is a class issue.  It’s insane, if you are going to rip a fox apart with dogs it is the same as ripping a badger apart with dogs, it’s just that the people doing the badger baiting and generally poorly educated working class people in the north of England, whereas people doing the fox hunting are entirely different in terms of their social status and political access.

How do you feel about the general trend in the last 15 years towards an increase in police and state powers?

The policing situation in this country has got better as a result of what we have learnt from Stephen Lawrence, Hillsborough, what we might see about the Birmingham bombings.  Policing in the past there were good policeman and bad policemen, there was a lot of corruption in certain areas, tampering with evidence, fixing people to get them into prison just to be able to say that we’ve solved the crime.  I’ve been in marches where the policing has been very heavy handed, the so-called Battle of Welling where there was a march against the BNP opening a book shop back in the 1990s, the policing there was terrible, and it was scary.  And I have sympathy with the need to review what happened in the miners’ strike.  Where we are today, I think that policing is better, police are better trained and there is more scrutiny, but things still aren’t perfect.  I have sympathy with the need to protect society as a whole from radical Islamic terrorism, it’s not something to be underestimated.  We have seen the results of that recently in France, Belgium, Turkey and other parts of the world and it will go on.  But that doesn’t mean that you should have a state where you restrict people from doing what they should be able to do.  So we don’t need ID cards, that was shelved, I think that surveillance must be at the order of a judge and must be carefully considered.  But yes, I do believe that we need armed police units and they must be trained to respond quickly if the sort of terror we saw on the streets of Paris were to come to London.

Is there anything which you would like to add?

I think that overall British society compared to other parts of the world is more open and democratic, is more accepting of different races and cultures.  We have problems of course we do, but if you compare the UK to many European countries, to North America, China and the developing nations like India, I think that we have many things to be proud of.  But I think that we need to constantly review our institutions of state and not be afraid to change and adapt and develop, you don’t throw the things out that work well, but you must be able to evolve.  And I don’t think that we should be scared of being part of big institutions like the EU because overall they have brought significant benefits.  A lot of the people campaigning to leave the EU are running on a tough, prejudice agenda not wanting people to come to this country, regardless of the fact that they can bring significant economic benefits for being here and working here.

Dominic has a long track record of success in leadership & senior management roles in government, industry and NGO sectors on a UK and international basis and is highly respected for being able to promote organisations through a combination marketing, public relations and communication activities.

He worked in the Ministry of Agriculture from 1987 to 2000 in the UK and Brussels, in a number of policy areas focusing on animal welfare, marine environment protection, food manufacturing & EU trade policy.

He joined the Food and Drink Federation in 2000 and played a key role in developing a number of new industry groups in the organic, soya food and functional food sectors and in developing a new membership services unit. 

He was Chief Executive of the Crop Protection Association between 2008 and 2012 and played a key role in raising awareness of the importance of plant science to the future of farming & food production on a UK & International basis. 

He is currently Chief Executive of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor for the Born Free Foundation. Dominic is also a Fellow of both the British American Project and the Council for the United States and Italy.

He undertakes regular public speaking engagements & broadcasts on TV & Radio & contributes to press articles & journals on a wide range of agriculture, food, conservation, animal welfare & foreign policy issues.