I am delighted by the announcement that the government has secured commitments from local authorities for the resettlement of 20,000 Syrian refugees. I am surprised at how soon it has been agreed, because I recall just how challenging it was for my colleague Richard Harrington a year ago. Scotland and the north were generous but it was much harder to find places in the south. Notwithstanding the offers of local churches, the proposal that Ringwood should take a family secured very little support from the council.
I think the balance the government struck was the right one: we are the second largest donor and, with 4.5 million Syrian refugees, our money goes so much further helping many more refugees in the region. Nevertheless, our decision to take the most vulnerable direct from the camps was both proportionate and properly targeted, because it did not encourage further trafficking across the Mediterranean – where Syrians account for only a minority of those being trafficked. At one discussion a senior cabinet minister told me that it was the job our £14 billion aid budget (his overestimate) “to buy the migrants back to Africa”. It was Theresa May who rescued me by pointing out that, were we to do so, their places would very soon be taken by others. The proper job of our aid budget is to spend it securing peace and economic development in the places where so many people see that their only current option is to leave. That this is in our vital national interest, strikes me as blindingly obvious.
News of the personal life the Bishop of Grantham reminded me of that vast correspondence – dwarfing even the letters about hunting – which I received about gay marriage. Having ‘whipped’ the bill through the standing committee and the Commons, I was warned that it would mean the end of marriage, and the world as we know it. I’m waiting. I suppose it’s a bit like Brexit: they’ll say it’s still too soon to tell.
I rejoice at the canonisation of Mother Teresa. I recall the delight of her visit to my children’s excellent primary school where, despite the very high proportion of free school meals, they were always collecting for charity. That so much air time should be given over to her critics however, seems bizarre. Beware, the secular agenda which cannot comprehend that, to the dying, the warmth of human contact equipped only by the love of God, is of greater comfort than any high-tech medical intervention.