Sitting in the Chamber late on Monday afternoon for the Lords debate on the UK-Rwanda treaty, I was impressed by the standard of oratory. Most of the best speeches came from those – Lords Goldsmith (the Labour one), Kerr of Kinlochard, Anderson of Ipswich – who argued that the treaty was not, in itself, proof of the government’s contention, which the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill seeks to turn into law, that Rwanda is now a safe country. Not for the first time, I felt an unease about how the government has got itself into this tight corner. But then up popped the Bishop of Gloucester: ‘I will just say,’ she just said, ‘that as Lord Bishops we take no party position… based on tribal loyalty and we are not whipped. Instead, and because of what our Christian faith teaches us about care for the stranger, we have spoken with one voice on these benches.’ As the late Sir John Junor used to put it: ‘Pass the sick bag, Alice.’ Does Jesus really insist that His followers must all, if given the chance, vote for Lord Goldsmith’s motion not to ratify the treaty? Cannot He rely on us to exercise our consciences? Does He not have bigger fish to fry? It is a curious thing that our now almost uniformly left-wing diocesan bishops look down on African nations and churches (with whom they disagree about things like same-sex marriages) just as much as did their missionary, colonial predecessors. Their pride reminds me of Bishop Heber’s imperial hymn ‘From Greenland’s icy mountains’: ‘Can we whose souls are lighted/With wisdom from on high/ To a land benighted/ the lamp of life deny?’ Thanks to Bishop Treweek, I remembered just in time that cant is not the same as virtue and that the brilliant arguments of the Bill’s opponents have the overriding ungodly purpose of impeding Britain’s attempts to reduce illegal immigration.
One must not be drawn into any culture war by Sir Keir Starmer’s accusation that only Conservatives (which I am not) and conservatives (which I am) are spoiling for one.