I beg to move,
That this House
regrets that the outgoing Prime Minister’s legacy will be her hostile environment policy and her unrealistic and damaging net migration target;
calls for a fundamental change in the Government’s approach to immigration, refugee and asylum policy to one based on evidence, respect for human rights and fairness;
welcomes the contribution made by migrants to the UK’s economy, society and culture;
rejects regressive Government proposals to extinguish European free movement rights and to require EU nationals in the UK to apply for settled and pre-settled status;
and recognises that a migration policy that works for the whole of the UK will require different policy solutions for different parts of the UK, particularly given Scotland’s demographic and economic profile.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate on what is such a crucial subject—the urgent need for Parliament to draw a line under a dismal decade of dreadful and sometimes disgraceful migration and asylum policies. It is sad, but the plain truth is that the Prime Minister takes a massive share of responsibility for those policies, which were driven by her awful net migration target and her ramping up of the horrendous hostile environment policies—the twin pillars of her drastic reign at the Home Office. Rather than tackling burning injustices right across the field of immigration and asylum policy, her policies created them. Yet Parliament must also take its share of the blame, because too often MPs not only failed to oppose her but actively cheered her on, and, collectively, we should put that right today.
Pretty much everybody in this Chamber knows that the net migration target is a load of utter baloney. It was a number plucked from thin air. It was utterly unachievable and undesirable from the outset. It created a numbers-obsessed Home Office pursuing ever more restrictive policies, regardless of the damage to families, our higher education system and our economy. Tens of thousands of couples were split apart and children divided from their parents. Universities were put at a competitive disadvantage not just by more restrictive immigration rules, particularly regarding post-study work, but by the message that was sent right around the globe. Small and medium-sized businesses were effectively excluded from recruiting from beyond the EU. The net migration target and its relentless failure problematised and politicised immigration numbers and has substantially contributed to the political mess that this country is in today.
Last week, the Home Secretary described the net migration target as “crude” and said that it should be ditched, and he is 100% right. Nobody with a brain cell could demur from that view, yet for years this Parliament failed to stand up to that nonsense. Every quarter, a new set of immigration statistics would be published showing the target missed by a country mile—yet again. The Official Opposition would table an urgent question, not to attack the stupid target but to criticise the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat coalition for failing to meet it. In response, the coalition would pledge to get tougher still. What a dreadful climate—a three-party bidding war on who would be better at clamping down on migration to reach an arbitrary number. We must never return to those days.
It is good that the Home Secretary wants to ditch the net migration target, but it makes sense to ditch the hostile environment along with it, as the two are inextricably linked as a package. If one does not make sense, neither does the other. Alongside endlessly restricted visa rules, the hostile environment was a truly wicked means by which a net migration target would be achieved. However, as the independent chief inspector has pointed out, the Home Office never lifted a finger to monitor the impact that the hostile environment was having.
I want to focus on one key component of the hostile environment: the right to rent scheme. These measures have
“a disproportionately discriminatory effect, and I would assume and hope that those legislators who voted in favour of the scheme would be aghast to learn of its discriminatory effect”.
Those are not my words, but the words of Mr Justice Martin Spencer in the High Court, who in ruling the whole scheme unlawful went on to say:
“Even if the Scheme had been shown to be efficacious in playing its part in the control of immigration, I would have found that this was significantly outweighed by the discriminatory effect…In these circumstances, I find that the Government has not justified this measure, nor, indeed, come close to doing so.”
That is a hostile environment in a nutshell: no evidence that it achieves anything positive, hugely discriminatory, totally unjustified and illegal. I trust that legislators who voted in favour of it are aghast. We should tell the Home Office today to accept that ruling instead of appealing it on the shameful grounds that the discrimination can, in some way, be justified.
It is fair to say that we were all aghast when we saw the hostile environment at its most vicious—the utter scandal of Windrush. Yet here we are still waiting for the lessons-learned review and waiting for it to be published in the very near future. As I have said before, it would be charitable to the Home Office and to the Prime Minister to say that they were reckless about the effect that the hostile environment would have. At worst, they took a conscious policy decision in the knowledge that there would be collateral damage, but deemed it acceptable. Warnings from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and many others went unheeded. Concerns expressed by high commissioners from the Caribbean were ignored. The impact assessment for the Immigration Act 2016 did everything but use the term “Windrush children” when explaining its likely negative impact. The Government ignored every single one of these warnings. The outgoing Prime Minister simply pressed on with ramping up the climate of checks at every turn, fully aware that it would be often close to impossible for many Windrush children, and others, to prove their legal position. Jobs and homes were lost; people were detained and removed. Statues and annual Windrush celebrations will not wash. A more fitting response would be to end the hostile environment that caused so much harm and hurt to the Windrush generation in the first place.
Contrary to what we have heard from too many on the Government Benches, this was not just one sad and isolated administrative error that could be quickly rectified. The disastrous impact of the hostile environment—essentially a half-baked, back-door ID card—does not start or end there. Its victims are a huge and varied group: the 9 million British citizens without a passport who struggle because 43% of landlords and landladies say they are less likely to rent to such citizens, now that the hostile environment has made them petrified of getting right-to-rent checks wrong; the thousands of children who are unable to afford the citizenship they are entitled to or the leave to remain that they qualify for; the children who do have leave to remain but who are brought up in families with no recourse to public funds; the hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Eritreans who were wrongly refused asylum on the basis of the Home Office’s dodgy country guidance, many of whom are now street-homeless and destitute; and the several thousands of students wrongly caught up in the Test of English for International Communication teaching scandal who were wrongly presumed guilty after the company that messed up the testing in the first place was then allowed to clean up its own mess.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remember that a little while ago I raised the issue of constituents of mine who do not possess Android telephones, and therefore have to make a 500-mile round trip to the document scanning centre in Edinburgh. The Government say that it will be possible to do complete the process on an iPhone within the year, but the point is that broadband coverage in parts of my constituency is patchy to say the very least. Does that not mean that people who, with the best will in the world, would like to remain are being hampered in their efforts, which will in turn hit businesses in remote parts of my constituency that depend on EU nationals?
I agree wholeheartedly. I will come shortly to the issue of the 3 million EU citizens in the UK and how we risk repeating some of the mistakes that were made when the Windrush scandal broke. I just want to finish the list of those who have already been affected by the hostile environment, which includes the people who the Home Office agrees have been victims of trafficking, but who it does not think even merit a short period of leave to remain. The list of people impacted by the hostile environment goes on and on.
The hon. Gentleman said he would come back to the point made by Jamie Stone. Will he also use this opportunity to clarify for anyone watching this debate that cases of constituents needing to travel 500 miles will happen only during the initial trial phase, and that when the full scheme is rolled out people will be able to complete the process through the post office or—[Interruption.] SNP Members are shouting, but we have to put both sides of the story so that we do not unnecessarily raise alarms when there are other methods that people can use to apply for the scheme.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair enough point, but the Home Office still has to do more to make the EU settlement scheme as accessible as possible. I will return to these points in due course.
My hon. Friend does an excellent job on the Home Affairs Committee. Does he agree that the hostile environment is alive and well today in Glasgow, with the Home Office contractor Serco threatening to make 300 asylum seekers homeless, after they have been labelled as failed asylum seekers? This is a perfect example of the hostile environment and hostile action in the city of Glasgow.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. I look forward to supporting his Adjournment debate on the issue tomorrow. I will shortly come to the asylum system as a whole, as it is one area where we need absolute root-and-branch reform.
On the subject of the hostile environment, does my hon. Friend share my horror at a document that I found yesterday on the Government’s website relating to trafficked women from Nigeria, which says that
“trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return”?
Does he agree that this is abhorrent language, and that the Government should immediately change this documentation and this attitude?
My hon. Friend’s point speaks for itself. That is truly abhorrent.
The Prime Minister’s explicit and almost dystopian goal was to create the hostile environment, as if we can hermetically seal off the wicked illegal immigrants while the rest of us go about our business as usual. It was an approach that reached its absolute nadir with the horrendous “Go Home” vans—a disastrous episode that encapsulated everything that is wrong with the policy and precisely illustrated the key point here, which is that the hostile climate that the Government seek to create affects every single one of us. The hostile climate should be destroyed with its partner in crime: the net migration target.
I have outlined the sad legacy of the outgoing Prime Minister on migration policy. With her departure and influence totally removed from the Home Office, this is a time for radical reform, including rolling back most of her policies and putting evidence-based policy making, human rights and fairness at front and centre.
As part of that change in policy, would the hon. Gentleman agree that we have to look at lifting the ban on genuine asylum seekers being able to work and contribute to the economy of the country, rather than forcing them to live on a pittance and not giving them the dignity they deserve?
I wholeheartedly agree; I know the hon. Lady has tabled an amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill on that subject, as we did during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016, so her amendment will have our wholehearted support. I was pleased to be at an event yesterday evening with a coalition of organisations working towards that goal, and I hope the Home Office is listening.
In fairness, there have been little green shoots of recovery under the new Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister. I have welcomed the work to extend the resettlement scheme, for example. There have also been warm words on other possible areas of reform, but they are as yet a million miles away from the fully fledged reform agenda and actions we need.
Many people come to see me in my surgeries about family visit visas. The hostile environment is extending to such a degree that people cannot bring their family members over for a visit, because there is a presumption that they will stay once they are here. The Home Office is so bogged down in its attitude towards anybody who wants to come to the UK that we are not able to make progress. Should there not be wholescale reform of the system?
There should indeed be wholescale reform of the visit visas and related decision-making processes. Families find themselves in a particularly horrendous position because the family visa rules have been tightened so much that so many family members cannot come here permanently. But when they come to visit, they are then accused of coming here under false pretences in order to stay deliberately, so they are in a Catch-22 situation. I will return to family visas in a moment. The point I am trying to make is that if we do not learn the lessons from these disastrous mistakes, we are bound to repeat them, and there is a serious risk that the Government are going to do just that with the 3 million EU citizens.
As an increasing number of voices across the House—including the Home Affairs Committee—have said, the EU settled status scheme has a fundamental flaw at its heart. Even with the best will in the world and even with the Home Office pulling out all the stops to try to make the scheme work, hundreds of thousands of EU nationals in this country will not be aware of or understand the need to apply. They will lose their rights overnight and will be thrown even deeper into the hostile environment than the Windrush generation. The Government must therefore enshrine the rights of EU nationals in law, leaving them to use the settled status scheme as a means of providing evidence of status, rather than actually constituting the status itself. The Home Office must listen; otherwise this Parliament will have to make it listen to protect our EU citizens from the same disastrous fate as the Windrush generation.
The situation is even worse for seasonal workers who are not permanently settled here, is it not? The whole hostile environment attitude has driven perhaps the most stupid policy from this Government, who will ask 60,000 seasonal workers—essential labour—from the European economic area to go home and then perhaps invite 2,500 of them back on an expensive pilot scheme to do the work that the 60,000 people did previously. Has not this whole attitude just delivered some of the most sclerotic policy making that any of us can remember?
My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. The Government have shown such a tin ear to calls from across the House to implement a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme. Our answer to that problem is, of course, continued free movement plus a seasonal agricultural workers scheme, and we look forward to the Government actually listening to all those calls—not just from political parties here, but from the industry itself.
I want to take the opportunity of the Minister being here to intervene, because the Scottish Affairs Committee has been looking at the very issue of seasonal workers. We have found that the hostile environment is having an impact on a Government pilot by making it as difficult as possible for visas to be secured in a Government pilot scheme. The Government are asking for extra fees—over and above—to get people here to see whether they can work in the Government pilot. Does not that that just demonstrate the excesses of the hostile environment—that it even applies to Government pilots?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I commend the work that his Committee has done in this area. It would be useful if the Home Office paid close heed to it.
I have discussed what we need to do to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Windrush generation.
The hon. Gentleman is outlining some concerns about the implications of people not applying for settled status. Does he therefore take exception to his SNP colleague, an MEP for Scotland, publicly saying that he will not apply for settled status and in that way encourage others to follow suit, which may see them fall through the gaps?
Every individual must make their own call about whether they want to apply. I, for one, would certainly encourage all my constituents and all the EU nationals watching this to sign up for the scheme, but that does not take away from my essential point that they should not be asked to apply to stay in their own home in the first place. These rights should be enshrined in law right now.
It is not just in terms of the 3 million that we need radical change. All across the field of immigration, there is a massive job of work to do to help to fix the lives that have already been messed up by migration policies and to ensure that we avoid messing up so many more—to build a system that actually benefits our economy and society instead of undermining them and sowing division. Everyone in this House will have had many cases, as we have already heard, where we think that the rules are unfair.
This debate provides an opportunity to make the case for reform as we look ahead to the next chapter in immigration law form. I want to mention four areas very briefly, but there are a million more that I could flag up. First, I turn to the issue of families, which has already been raised. In pursuit of the net migration target, this country has adopted almost the most restrictive family rules in the world, with an extraordinary income requirement and ludicrously complicated rules and restrictions on how that requirement can be met. Over 40% of the UK population would not be entitled to live in this country with a non-EU spouse. The figures are even worse for women, for ethnic minorities, and for different parts of the UK. The Children’s Commissioner previously wrote a damning report about the 15,000 Skype children—there must now be many, many more—who get to see their mum or dad only via the internet, thanks to these rules, which force too many to pick between their country and their loved ones. It is appalling that the Home Office seems determined to extend these rules to EU spouses so that many more thousands of families will be split apart. We should be ditching these awful rules, not making more families suffer.
Secondly, there is citizenship. I have met with the Minister representatives of the Project for Registration of Children as British Citizens, and I know that last week she met the organisation, Let Us Learn. The Home Secretary has acknowledged in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that over £1,000 is an incredible amount to charge children simply to process a citizenship application when they are entitled to that citizenship. The administrative cost is about £400, so over £600 is a subsidy for other Home Office activities. There is no excuse for funding the Home Office by overcharging kids for their citizenship. At the very least, the fee must be reduced to no more than the administrative charge. More broadly, we need to reduce the ridiculous fees that are being charged across the immigration system, especially to children.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. I want to mention something that recently came to my attention at a surgery. A former EU national who is now a British citizen is concerned about the implications for them, if we leave the European Union, of the way in which the immigration laws have been written. Even though the settled status scheme might seem unclear, the situation is not clear for those who have already taken out citizenship either.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. I do not know whether she is planning to contribute to the debate; if so, she can speak more about that.
Thirdly, our immigration detention system remains outrageously bloated, and detention without time limit makes the UK an outlier in Europe. We detain too many people for too long, including many vulnerable adults, such as torture survivors, who should never be detained at all. It is a national scandal and an affront to the rule of law, as myriad reports have shown. We have had some small forward steps from the current Home Office team, but also some missteps. We need radical reform so that detention is a matter of absolute last resort and not routine.
Fourthly, there is our asylum system, which could command a whole debate in itself. There can be few areas that require as big an overhaul. We need to ensure better-quality decisions and proper financial support. We must support the wonderful coalition urging the Government to lift the ban on asylum seekers working. We need a better managed move-on period and properly accountable and funded systems of accommodation. We need a caseworking system so that we are never left with dreadful mass evictions like those we look set to see in Glasgow.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent series of points, particularly now that he has come on to the asylum system, which is a subject close to my heart. Does he agree that if we want to show the world that we are truly an outward-facing, internationalist country—as I believe everyone in this House would agree we are; it is part of our values—then the asylum system is in urgent need of reform to make sure that refugees are truly welcome, and to live up to the findings of the Home Office’s own recently published report on refugee integration? There is a lot we could do right now. Even in the next three weeks, we could make it possible for asylum seekers to work after six months.
There is a host of opportunities to improve the asylum system. Only last week, we debated refugee family reunion rules. We have already passed on Second Reading a Bill to change those rules, yet it has been held up in the system, thanks to the Government.
I have briefly mentioned four issues, but there are a million others that other Members of Parliament will touch on, such as visas for religious workers, visit visas, lack of appeal rights, lack of legal aid, the complexities of the tier 2 system, visas for fishing vessels, visas for agricultural workers—and so on and so forth. The truth is that our immigration and asylum systems are truly in a mess.
That brings me on to the Government’s proposals for our future immigration system—their White Paper. Next to none of these issues is addressed in the White Paper at all. The bit of the immigration system that is a disaster is the bit that is being left largely unreformed. In fact, it is being rolled out so as to apply to EU nationals in future. The one bit of the immigration system that works perfectly well—free movement of people—is being annihilated. The Government have their priorities completely the wrong way round. I love free movement and my party is passionate about its benefits. We deeply regret that these amazing rights are in danger of coming to an end. All the evidence is that it is beneficial economically—for growth, for productivity and for public finances. In Scotland, in particular, it has transformed our demographic outlook. From a country of net emigration, we are now a country of positive in-migration. We have benefited hugely culturally and socially.
Of course, the quid pro quo is that we will lose our free movement rights too. I have benefited from free movement, as I know many Members in the Chamber have. I regret that this Government want to prevent future generations from enjoying the enormous benefits that so many of us have enjoyed. People did not vote to end free movement, contrary to what the Prime Minister says. This is the Prime Minister’s red line, not the people’s. Simply repeating ad nauseam that we are “taking back control of our borders” is not an argument and it is not leadership. Real leadership is looking at the evidence and saying that free movement is an enormous benefit that we should treasure and keep.
We welcome the gradual change in approach from the Home Secretary towards one-size-fits-all migration policy making. We welcome his announcement that the proposed new £30,000 threshold will be reviewed, including the possibility of regional and sub-state variations within the UK. However, I must emphasise that this is just a small start—baby steps. There are so many other features of the proposed new immigration system that are causing huge concern. Scotland’s economy relies disproportionately on small and medium-sized enterprises. The tier 2 system is not designed for SMEs. Its bureaucracy and expense make it inaccessible for many businesses, which therefore instead recruit from the EU if they cannot do so locally. Reducing the threshold does not fix that; it simply means businesses jumping through administrative hoops and expense simply to recruit workers they could previously have recruited under free movement.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the work done by Hope not Hate and British Future establishes that the British people are behind what he is arguing for? Most people actually value immigration; they just want a system that is fair, accountable and transparent. That is what I believe all of us here would want.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I think that all sensible people would be behind the arguments I am making.
The other point about reducing the threshold is that it does not fix the fundamental problem that ending free movement risks a demographic time bomb for Scotland, with implications for its workforce, its economy and its public finances. The Scottish Government have proposed ways in which additional Scottish visas can help to play a part in addressing that, learning from systems such as the Canadian system. I want the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister to engage constructively with those proposals. But ultimately the best answer to the challenges Scotland faces is continued free movement.
We need to recognise that under the outgoing Prime Minister, migration policy has gone horribly wrong. The current Home Secretary accepts that the net migration target was wrong. The High Court says that key planks of the hostile environment were discriminatory and unjustified. Let us ditch both. Let us learn from the past and not repeat these mistakes, particularly regarding the 3 million. If the new system is to work for all of the UK, it will have to include different rules for different parts of it. Let us seize this opportunity to turn over an entirely new leaf on immigration and asylum policy.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I welcome this debate on immigration and the opportunity for what I am sure will be a thoughtful and constructive discussion. I am a little disappointed not to see Debbie Abrahams in her place, because when we were discussing refugee family reunion last week, she made a point about the importance of language. I added to that the importance of tone, and I hope that we will hear people using their language carefully this afternoon. I am sure, given the Members present, that we will.
The immigration system is at a point where we are preparing to leave the European Union and working to provide status to the 3.5 million or so European Union citizens who have made the UK their home. Through the measures we set out in our White Paper on the future borders and immigration system, we are looking forward to the biggest change to the immigration system for over 45 years and are halfway through engaging in a year-long national conversation.
The Minister referred to the EU citizens who have made the UK their home, but what about those of them who were denied the right to vote in the recent European elections? What will the Government do to redress that? Was that not a shabby treatment of those very citizens in what should have been an all-inclusive democratic process? It is simply not good enough for that to be swept under the carpet by any manner of means.
I do not think there has been any attempt to sweep that under the carpet. There was an urgent question in the House on the matter—I think it was the week before last—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman raised his point then, but he knows as well as I do that his question is best addressed to the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for elections, not me as the Immigration Minister.
Alongside the White Paper on the future borders and immigration system that we published last year, the borders, immigration and citizenship system continues to deliver, to secure the UK border, control immigration and provide world-class services that contribute to our prosperity.
Stuart C. McDonald talked with regret about the immigration system, but it is worth reminding the House of some salient points about its successes. In the year to March, more people came to the UK, with 142.8 million passengers arriving here; the number of visitor visas granted was at a record high of 2.3 million, an increase of 9%; 181,000 people were given entry clearance to come to work in the UK and bolster the UK’s economy; 358,000 students came to the UK to study; over 5,700 people were provided with protection and support through our four UK resettlement schemes; over 5,600 family reunion visas were issued, over 2,700 of which were for children; and 89,000 people were granted settlement, with 149,000 granted British citizenship.
The majority of the people I have referred to engage with the immigration system in a smooth way. They are contributing to the growth of tourism and our economy, attending our world-leading universities and enriching our culture. I do not believe that there is any great difference in aspiration between the Scottish National party and the UK Government on the topic of students. We both recognise that international students make a huge contribution to our educational institutions socially, academically and financially. We want our education sector to flourish and to see ever increasing numbers of international students coming to the UK. Indeed, the Government have set an ambition of increasing the number of international students in higher education to 600,000 by 2030.
Where there may be a difference is that the Government are keen to share our successes and send the message that the UK is welcoming, while the SNP sadly seems determined to convey a sense of gloom. I am pleased to say that the facts support the Government’s position. The number of visa applications to study at the UK’s universities increased by 10% last year, to the highest number ever recorded, and visa application numbers are 27% higher than they were in 2011. There are close to half a million international students studying in the UK, and we continue to be the second most popular destination in the world for them. I hope that SNP Members will join in celebrating that success.
While we are on the subject of facts, I note that the motion calls for a policy “based on evidence”. The House will be aware that last year the Migration Advisory Committee—the Government’s expert, non-partisan advisers on immigration matters—carried out a detailed study into international students. The MAC took evidence from a wide variety of stakeholders representing every part of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. As the MAC indicates, 140 written responses were submitted to its call for evidence. This is absolutely evidence-based policy making.
We all know that the MAC does entirely what the Government want it to do. Is it not absurd that we educate international students to a high standard and then boot them out, because there is no post-study work scheme? I was in Montreal with the Scottish Affairs Committee just the other week, where they do everything possible to encourage their students to stay, because they have devolution of immigration policy. Should Scotland not have some of that too?
The hon. Gentleman has perhaps not read the White Paper and seen the additional offer that the Government are making to international students on post-study work. He would do well to read it. He said that the MAC only gives the Government evidence that we want to hear—far from it. He is falling into the trap of being interested in evidence when it suits him.
No, I will not.
The MAC concluded both that students should not be removed from the net migration target and that there should be no increase in the length of time that undergraduates are allowed to remain in the UK on completion of their studies. The MAC said:
“We do not recommend a separate post-study work visa”.
I look forward to the SNP’s endorsement of those positions, or are they only interested in evidence-based policy making when the evidence happens to support their pre-conceived notions?
The Government have decided to go beyond the MAC’s recommendations. In our White Paper, we committed to increasing the period of post-study leave for both undergraduates and master’s students because, as I have said, we want our education sector to continue to flourish and to compete strongly on the international stage.
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again.
Evidence-based policy making is the principle that our future borders and immigration system will be built upon. It will be a single immigration system, where it is workers’ skills that matter, not where they come from.
I thank the Minister for giving way. She referred to evidence-based policy making. Does she recognise that the Fresh Talent initiative introduced by a previous First Minister of Scotland, Lord McConnell, which he credits as his single most effective achievement in office, contributed to reversing Scotland’s historic population decline?
That is an interesting point, because I think we heard from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East that what had reversed Scotland’s population decline was free movement, with people being able to come in from the EU.
The future system will focus on high skills, welcoming talented and hard-working individuals who will support the UK’s dynamic economy and enabling employers to compete on the world stage. In line with the MAC’s recommendation, we will prioritise the migrants who bring the most benefit to the UK, maximising the benefits of immigration. This week, we asked the MAC to review and advise on salary thresholds, including whether there is a case for regional salary thresholds, and we are currently engaging with businesses and employers from all parts of the UK and all sectors of the economy to ensure that the future immigration system is suitable for their needs.
The Minister is generous to give way. She mentioned high-skilled migration. Has there been reflection in her Department, and perhaps in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, about the impact on other countries of us focusing on taking their high-skilled migrants? I am not saying that there is an easy answer—I do not think there is—but I wonder whether that has been a consideration across Departments.
The hon. Lady is right to refer to that. It is important that we consider our immigration system in the round, and particularly when it comes to doctors and nurses. I am very conscious that while we welcome and attract people working in the medical profession from around the globe, many of them come from countries where those skills are sorely needed. In fact, we know that many of them return to their home countries, having gained experience and knowledge here. It is important that we work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, DFID and the Department for Education on determining future immigration policy, because when it comes to our workforce needs, immigration simply cannot be the only answer.
The Minister says she wants to work with business, which I am very pleased to hear. Does she agree with the director of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland, who said:
“The proposals outlined in the White Paper don’t meet Scotland’s needs or the needs of the UK as a whole, and would be a sucker punch for many firms right across the country”?
I gently point out to the hon. and learned Lady that I am spending this year engaging with businesses and business organisations. Just yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting people working in the hospitality industry in Cumbria, such as in the constituency of my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison. It is absolutely imperative that we take forward the White Paper, and we always said there would be a year of engagement and of listening to views.
The hon. and learned Lady must acknowledge that we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to look again at salary thresholds because it is important that we get this right. As I said at the outset, this is one of the biggest changes in our immigration system for 45 years, and it is imperative that we listen to the concerns of all sectors of the economy, and of all regions and countries.
The last intervention included a selective quote from what the CBI Scotland has said. To be fair, the CBI, the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the National Farmers Union Scotland have all said that they want an all-UK solution when it comes to our future immigration schemes. They do not want the devolution of those powers to the Scottish Government—least of all, it might be said, to this Scottish Government.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will be conscious that, when we are looking for cross-party consensus, there are several across the House who agree with me and him that we should have one immigration policy for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The future system needs to uphold our international obligations in relation to asylum, and to support decisions based on human rights. As I set out last week, we continue to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to resettle the most vulnerable people from areas of conflict. We have resettled almost 16,000 people since 2015, nearly 3,000 of whom have been resettled in Scotland. In our new consolidated scheme, starting in 2020, we are committed to resettling in the region of 5,000 of the world’s most vulnerable refugees every year. That strategy is to prevent vulnerable people from falling into the hands of traffickers and making dangerous journeys across both land and sea.
It is firmly our view that people should claim asylum in the first safe country, not the last, but where people are in genuine need of our protection, we will provide it. I am proud that this Government have given protection to over 66,000 people since June 2010. Where an individual does not meet our immigration rules or our obligations under international law, I make no apology for making and enforcing decisions that the public expect as a matter of fairness.
May I take the Minister back to her comments on the Migration Advisory Committee? I note with interest that she wants us to accept everything that committee says, but seems reluctant to accept the findings of a House of Commons Select Committee. The creation of the Select Committees was celebrated by Mr Speaker not so long ago.
Can the Minister tell us which member of the Migration Advisory Committee has direct experience of the impact of migration in Scotland? I have just looked at the committee’s website, and there is no doubt that all its members are very august experts in their own field, but none of them has a job anywhere further north than York and, as far as I can tell from the potted biographies, none of them has ever worked in any of the devolved nations of the United Kingdom. Is it any surprise that we should get an Anglocentric set of recommendations from such an Anglocentric committee? If that is not true, will the Minister tell us the name of the member of the Migration Advisory Committee who has direct experience of working in Scotland and seeing how migration affects Scotland today?
I will take the hon. Gentleman back to the responses from Scotland to the consultation undertaken by the committee, which has held events in every region and every nation of the United Kingdom. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like the fact that the Migration Advisory Committee is made up of the most eminent experts there are in the country, but he will be aware that when we recruit to a vacant position on the MAC, which happens every few years, we are of course open to applications from every part of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
The UK’s measures on access to work, benefits and services have been in place and developed over many years of varying and successive Governments, and are consistent with the legislative frameworks operated by most other comparable countries. Opposition Members should be reminded that other EU member states are subject to an EU directive requiring them to have in place right to work checks and sanctions for employers of illegal workers, to protect potential victims of modern slavery.
Measures to restrict access to benefits and services are also designed to protect the taxpayer—a legitimate objective that has public support. A YouGov poll last year found that 71% of people support a policy of requiring people to show documents proving their right to be here in order to do things such as taking up employment, renting a flat or opening a bank account. Measures on the right to work and the right to rent are about tackling unscrupulous employers and landlords to protect the vulnerable, while also protecting good employers and landlords. That is in the interests of a prosperous and fair society that supports those who play by the rules, as well as protecting those who might otherwise be exploited. However, we are clear that these measures must distinguish effectively between those with lawful status, who are entitled to access work, benefits and services in the UK, and those who are here illegally. The Home Office is committed to improving how we meet the differing needs of the public we serve.
I am tempted not to give way, because later this afternoon I will asking for the leave of the House to wind up the debate as well as open it. That will give me an opportunity to respond to points that Members have made in their contributions, which I hope will be more helpful than simply responding to an intervention.
Order. It may be helpful to say that somebody might object, which would prevent that from happening, so I think the Minister ought to show generosity now.
Well, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will she address head-on the High Court decision that the right to rent scheme is causing terrible discrimination in the housing market? How can she possibly defend the Home Office decision to appeal that on the grounds that the discrimination is justified in any way, shape or form?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Office is appealing that judgment, and given that there is live litigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this point.
As I have said, we want our systems to become as simple and straightforward as possible. During the engagement I have held with employers on the White Paper over the last six months, I have been very conscious of the point the hon. Gentleman made about small and medium-sized enterprises, and the challenges they may find in engaging with the tier 2 sponsorship process. It is absolutely the Home Office’s intention to make all our systems far more straightforward and streamlined, and the comments I have received from employers will certainly enable us to build a system that I hope will be both responsive and quick. A challenge has been set—I think it was in the Chancellor’s Budget—that we want to be in a situation to determine the equivalent of tier 2 visas within two to three weeks. That will be a dramatic improvement, and one that I hope users of the system, and indeed small businesses, will welcome.
The Minister is being incredibly generous in giving way, and I am very grateful to her. She mentioned engagement with employers, which is of course the right thing to do. Will she consider public engagement, of the sort that Hope not Hate and British Future have carried out over the last two years, in the course of developing and expanding the policy and turning the White Paper into concrete measures? Bringing the British people with her would be the right thing to do.
Yes, certainly. I have mentioned the engagement with employers, and over the last few months we have also been meeting non-governmental organisations and academia. Indeed, in the hon. Lady’s own city of Bristol, we held a roundtable that was well attended by representatives of Bristol University, which is very keen that the voice of the student should be heard, as well as the voice of the institution. It is important that we continue to engage and listen to voices from across the entire country.
We are marshalling our reforms under three key themes: improving our customer service and responding more effectively to the individual needs of people who interact with the system; making sure that we respond better to vulnerable individuals who interact with our system, including by ensuring that our processes are accessible; and ensuring we are an open organisation that listens and responds when our customers and staff identify problems, using feedback to design our policies and procedures and to understand their impact.
The EU settlement scheme embodies those principles. We have listened and responded, building on the feedback that we received through the extensive stakeholder engagement and the two public beta phases before its launch in March. The customer experience is where we want the future system to be. The scheme is fully digital and genuinely world leading because applicants can validate their identity using their mobile device—including Apple customers later this year—and are provided with a secure digital status that, unlike a physical document, cannot be lost, stolen or tampered with.
Jamie Stone, who is no longer in his place, made the point about those who have only Apple, not Android, phones, and about how the broadband coverage in his constituency makes uploading documents difficult. I would say to him that his constituents do not have to travel on a 500 mile round trip to Edinburgh, because the postal route opened on
The motion talks about rejecting the requirement for EU citizens to apply for settled and pre-settled status, but a declaratory system, under which they automatically acquired an immigration status, would significantly reduce any incentive to obtain evidence of that status. It would risk creating confusion among employers and service providers, and would have the effect of impeding EU citizens’ access to benefits and services to which they were entitled.
The Minister talks about confusion among employers. In the highlands, in my constituency, the confusion among employers is over where they are going to source staff, as people have been chased off by the hostile measures taken by this Government. Is it not time to say that people in the highlands, who are just highlanders, should just be able to stay in their homes?
On EU settled status, we have absolutely said to our EU friends, neighbours and colleagues not just, “You can stay,” but, “We want you to stay.” That is an important message, which I will continue repeating both in the House and outside it.
We have put in place a system that is simple and straightforward. In the vast majority of cases, people’s applications are being determined within one to four working days, and satisfaction with the scheme is high. We are at a point where well over 800,000 people have been through the scheme, and it is important that we continue to move from the current phase to making sure that as many as possible access their status. That is why we have put in place up to £9 million of funding for 57 voluntary and community organisations across the UK to help us to reach out to an estimated 200,000 vulnerable or at-risk EU citizens and help them apply. There are over 300 assisted digital locations across the UK, where people can be supported through their application, and it is important to reflect the fact that the scheme is working. Furthermore, it has been built at pace, is successfully delivering in large volumes, and is protecting vulnerable individuals, which demonstrates how the Home Office is building for the future.
I am proud to serve as Immigration Minister at this time of unprecedented change, during which we are engaging with stakeholders right across the country to build our future borders and immigration system, and I very much look forward to hearing further contributions from hon. Members this afternoon.
The motion raises a broad and important range of topics. My speech will equally take a broad approach to the Prime Minister’s legacy on immigration, but I will try not to detain the House too long, as I am aware that a number of Back Benchers wish to contribute.
As we look back on the Prime Minister’s tenure as Home Secretary, and then as Prime Minister, we reflect on the fact that she was the architect of a cruel and ineffective immigration system that will reverberate through the lives of our constituents for generations. The coalition Government made two pledges that would set the course of the UK’s immigration policy for a decade. The first was to bring down net migration to the tens of thousands. This bogus target was backed up by no research or rationale, apart from being a good soundbite. It has done harm to our economy and led to the scapegoating of migrants, and it has never been met.
The net migration target drove the Government to restrict access for international students. International students generate over £25 billion for our economy. They contribute to our culture and society and to soft power abroad, not to mention the fact that they subsidise university fees for UK students. Labour has called for international students to be taken out of net migration numbers.
The second pledge was to create a “really hostile environment”. The Government cut the Border Force, and they turned teachers, doctors and landlords into immigration officers. The hostile environment policy culminated in the Windrush crisis. Labour warned from the start that the hostile environment would lead to discrimination, and that is exactly what has happened.
In March, the High Court ruled that the right to rent scheme directly causes landlords to discriminate against prospective tenants on racial and nationality grounds, and furthermore that the Government have provided no evidence that it actually achieves their stated aim—to reduce illegal migration.
The high cost of our immigration system is part and parcel of the hostile environment. This morning, the British Medical Association called on the Government to scrap up-front charging for migrants using the NHS, as it causes discrimination and people are being denied urgent and essential care. When the coalition Government were bringing in the hostile environment, they co-ordinated a cross-departmental, focused and strategic approach to denying services to migrants, but since Windrush, we have seen no such serious attempt to remedy this great injustice.
We were promised a compensation scheme “within two weeks” when the scandal broke, but it took the Government over a year to set it up. Only 13 people have received payments from the emergency hardship fund. Now we have the compensation scheme, it is extremely difficult to navigate. The form totals 18 pages; the burden of proof is high; and there is a severe lack of help and advice for a generation of people who are, in general, unused to using the internet.
It is a scandal that the scheme does not compensate those who have been wrongfully deported. The Government’s guidance says
“it is difficult to determine whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.
What an absurd statement. Of course losing your home, being separated from family and being sent to an unfamiliar country is a loss.
Meanwhile, victims of Windrush are tragically passing away before they can get justice. Over the weekend, The Guardian reported that Richard Stewart had died without an apology or compensation. He was a prominent Windrush campaigner who moved to the UK as a British subject in 1955, but was told in 2012 that he would need to pay £1,200 to naturalise. He could not afford to pay that.
Many victims of Windrush were wrongly locked up in immigration detention. The UK’s immigration detention system is a stain on our national conscience. We are the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely. We must have a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Our amendment to the immigration Bill has strong, cross-party support and sends the message that this House demands an end to indefinite detention. Labour has called for the closure of the Yarl’s Wood and Brook House detention centres—two names synonymous with mistreatment and abuse. We will also review the entire detention estate and consider whether we need to close Dungavel detention centre in Scotland.
We now face a potential repeat of Windrush for EU citizens. Labour has voted against the Tory immigration Bill, which would end freedom of movement. It is foolish and reckless to change our immigration system in this way without first knowing what our future relationship with the EU will be.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s announcement of the Labour party’s intention to close the Dungavel detention centre, which is a shameful stain on this nation’s conscience, as are all our detention centres—extrajudicial detention without recourse to proper justice.
Does my hon. Friend recognise the practice of the Home Office of moving people around different detention centres around the UK so that they are not able to access friends, family or any sort of legal representation? That is a shameful act, and it should be stopped immediately by the Home Office.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I agree with him.
In Labour’s first Opposition day debate after the 2016 referendum, we called on the Government to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals. If the Government had done this, we could have avoided the situation where, four months before we face a cliff edge, millions of EU citizens are still in limbo.
The SNP supported our amendment to the immigration Bill, which would make settled status a declaratory system, so EU citizens living in the UK would be automatically granted settled status, rather than having to apply for it. In rejecting a declaratory scheme, the Government often make the argument that the process in 1973 for the Windrush generation was declaratory, so we should make people apply to avoid a repeat of Windrush. I believe that that argument shows the Government have learned the wrong lessons from Windrush.
The Government are saying that Windrush people were illegally detained and deported, because they did not have the proper papers to prove they were in the UK legally. With EU citizens, the Government have decided to create a situation where people will still be detained and deported, but that will be legal because they have not applied for settled status in time. Just as the Government are not fulfilling their obligations to EU citizens, they are not fulfilling their humanitarian obligations to refugees.
The Prime Minister has consistently failed the most vulnerable child refugees. Even when forced to resettle children under the Dubs amendment, the Government closed the scheme after just 480 children had been resettled, rather than the 3,000 originally envisioned. Despite repeated calls from non-governmental organisations and MPs and a vote on the Floor of the House, the Government have failed to expand refugee family reunion. These rules have been under review for over a year. They do not require legislation to be enacted, and they would make an immeasurable difference to the lives of refugees in the UK. As we move beyond the failures of the past, we must start building an idea of what new immigration policy will meet the needs of our economy and build prosperity.
In December, the Government published a White Paper on immigration. Their own economic analysis predicts that the proposals would cost between £2 billion and £4 billion over the first five years. The proposed £30,000 salary threshold, in particular, would severely limit access to labour that many sectors in our economy desperately need. Take social care. The health and social care sector is dealing with serious workforce shortages, while demand is increasing. Across the UK, four in five European economic area employees working full-time in social care would have been ineligible to work in the UK under the proposed system. In Scotland, less than 10% of those in caring personal service occupations earn above £25,000, and none earns £30,000.
Labour and the SNP agree on our diagnosis of a broken immigration system. However, we do not agree entirely on the cure. The SNP has argued for a devolved immigration system, where Scotland is given the power to determine its own immigration rules. We believe this approach would be unenforceable, because there would be no way to distinguish between those who have a visa under the Scottish system and those who have a visa for the rest of the UK. We would either need visa checks along Hadrian’s Wall or we would have to rely on the hostile environment. Neither option is acceptable. Under a Labour Government, a devolved immigration system would be unnecessary. Our immigration system will be flexible and based on the needs of our economy, including Scotland’s, not on bogus migration targets.
In conclusion, the Prime Minister’s legacy will be a cruel and hostile immigration policy, which has harmed our economy and caused the Windrush crisis. Whoever is our next Prime Minister, they must commit to ending the hostile environment and introduce a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.
I cannot let the hon. Gentleman move on from his statement about the impossibility of enforcing a differential immigration system within the United Kingdom without asking him what steps the Labour party has taken to look at other systems, such as the system within the Canadian federation, which operates perfectly satisfactorily without border checks, and I remind him that Hadrian’s Wall does not actually run along the border.
I have already said that our immigration system will be flexible and based on the needs of our economy, including Scotland’s.
Whoever is Prime Minister must make settled status a declaratory system, scrap the £30,000 salary threshold and uphold our humanitarian obligations to refugees. This country has a great amount to offer and to gain from migration, and that should be celebrated.
I suggest to Members that we work on about 10 minutes each to make sure everybody gets equal time.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your forbearance in allowing me to speak at this point in the debate.
Let me first say that I appreciated the tone and much of the content of the speech delivered by Stuart C. McDonald. He took a very measured approach to some of the issues that I think across the House we recognise are matters of concern. However, in response to the Minister’s opening remarks and the interventions she suffered from the SNP, it was clear that when it comes to this matter, as in so many other matters, the SNP’s position is, in my view, tedious.
SNP Members, as they always do, frame the debate around the constitution: whether decisions should be made in Edinburgh or London. That is what dominates their thinking. That is what gets them most excited, as we have seen in this debate. In doing so, they have, as they always do, let down Scotland. Their voices should be standing up for their constituencies, telling us about the needs of their communities and their businesses. Instead, they use this as an opportunity to talk on and on about independence; about how, if we had independence, we could have everything we ever wanted and it would all be perfect. It is the age-old tactic of those who sell snake oil. The fact is that the people of Scotland told them exactly what they think of the SNP’s independence plans in 2014. They want none of it and they want us, as Scottish MPs, to get on with the job of representing Scotland’s interests within the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he tell me what is tedious about an intervention raising the issue of Serco, a multinational company, being willing in the next couple of months to throw 300 asylum seekers out in the street? Does he not share my concern that there is something wrong with Government policy in that regard?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He says that we should be representing the interests of our constituents. I assure him that my constituents have written to me in their hundreds about their desire to stay in the single market and their desire to keep freedom of movement. Businesses in my constituency tell me that they want that. The two major universities in Edinburgh South West, Heriot-Watt and Napier, want to keep freedom of movement, too. So may I just suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he shows a little bit more respect for SNP Members and the efforts we make to represent the views of our constituents? He may tell us that people in Stirling do not care about freedom of movement, but that is not my understanding from the way they voted in 2016. Can he just show a bit more respect?
The hon. and learned Lady talks about respect, but what I heard from the Westminster leader of the SNP at Prime Minister’s questions was a very long way away from respect. In two successive PMQs, last week and this week, the Westminster leader of the SNP accused a serving Member of this House of being a racist, and today it was said, without any challenge, that the same right hon. Member who serves in this House had made a career out of telling lies. So let us not hear anything about respect from SNP Members.
I think the Chair said something about it previously. I was not in the Chair at the time. Mr Speaker did not hear it. I do not want to get into a debate about it.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The truth is that this debate is a great opportunity to talk about the positive side of immigration: to talk about how people have come from all over the world to make their home here in the United Kingdom and in Scotland in particular, and how they make an invaluable contribution to our communities and our economy. But the SNP never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Luckily, Government Members have heard already how immigration policy can be run at a UK level to take account of the local and sectoral issues throughout our economy. I would like to add my voice to those genuinely speaking up for Scotland, rather than casting around for more grievance and more excuses to talk about constitutional politics. Simply transferring responsibility for Scotland’s immigration to Holyrood, as the SNP proposes, entirely misses the point of how a UK-wide approach will ensure a positive environment to attract the very people our economy needs.
We cannot afford to have different systems operating in the United Kingdom, where people must be able to move freely around. I referred earlier to the various hugely influential voices in Scotland on this issue—the director of CBI Scotland, Tracy Black, the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and NFU Scotland—who are saying that we should use Scotland’s influence to lead a UK-wide system that meets our needs. That is exactly what I am trying to do by making this contribution.
The proposals for a future immigration policy, however, as laid out in the White Paper, will cause real damage to the UK economy and must be changed. The truth is that the diverse needs within Scotland need to be accommodated within a flexible policy framework based on reality, rather than on an academic theory. Scotland’s needs for an immigration policy are the same as those in any other part of the UK. In our fishing communities in the north-east of Scotland, we find similar issues to those in communities in the south-west of England. In our industrial heartlands in central Scotland, we find the same issues as in the west midlands of England. In places such as Stirling, with its rural agricultural base and tourist attractions, we find the same issues as in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cornwall and many other parts of England.
The hon. Gentleman says that there are no differences, except that England has developed an immigration issue because of population growth. The problem is that Scotland has a set population, with a diminishing working-age population. He quotes directors and business, but what about NHS Scotland? We need more people.
The hon. Lady is well aware that every social attitudes survey conducted shows that attitudes to immigration in Scotland mirror those across the United Kingdom. We Conservative Members are speaking up for the positive benefits of immigration.
If someone is running a hotel and looking for staff in Callander, the chances are that they have the same issues as someone running a hotel in Penrith or Penzance. The people who work in these industries—hospitality, tourism, food production, manufacturing, social care and many more—cannot be described as unskilled. Meet the people who make whisky and find out about how they make their product, and tell me that they are unskilled. They are not, yet the White Paper produced by the Government tells us that everyone who earns under £30,000 is assumed to be unskilled. The average salary in Scotland is £22,980. I would not begin to think, let alone say, that the average Scottish worker is unskilled. Herein lies the problem of relying on an arbitrary salary level to determine a policy. Whatever number is chosen, it is subjective and the methodology used to reach it is open to question and dissection.
Some of the most skilled people I know earn less than £30,000 a year. To call them unskilled labour is a travesty. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am sorry, but relying on the wisdom of a panel of academics, however learned they may be, none of whom, by the way, is resident in or has a connection with Scotland, and none of whom seems to have any connection with the country north of Watford Gap—that is what I thought, but apparently it is York—is not a wise approach. I am a critic of the Government’s approach on this. The White Paper on the Migration Advisory Committee report is a cut-and-paste job. Admittedly, it is expert-led, but where was the demonstrable use of critical faculties? Where was the consideration of all parts of the United Kingdom? Where was the Union test?
Speaking for myself, it is hard to discern what test was applied before the Government published their White Paper. If the Government publish a White Paper, it is not unfair to say that this is the starting position for Government policy. What is really needed is a system that is adaptive to the needs of specific sectors. We need to get under the skin of the UK economy and understand the needs of our businesses. Where they cannot plug gaps using training or automation, need seasonal staff or need a high supply of specific skills that are in short supply in the UK, those should be the drivers behind our immigration target, not an arbitrary salary figure. Only an economist cloistered in the halls of academe, with their theories and assumptions, would begin to consider this measure to be adequate.
As we move towards new leadership, I hope that our Government, Prime Minister and country will move in the direction of an immigration policy that will seek to meet the needs of our country dynamically. It needs to be an adaptive policy that changes as the needs of business and our economy change. Furthermore, we need to ensure that we attract talent. We should want to attract talent to our country—people who will want to settle here, make their homes and careers here, who are skilled, who work hard and who are ambitious for themselves, their families and their communities. These are the people we should welcome and encourage to make their homes here.
In conclusion, these issues are pertinent to Scotland, the whole United Kingdom and our economy. However, by focusing on constitutional arguments, as the SNP continues to do on every issue, it lets Scotland down. It fails to stand up for Scotland’s interests in the United Kingdom. We need positive engagement on immigration, a rational debate and an acknowledgement that the current proposals are not workable.
It is sometimes a pleasure to follow Stephen Kerr, but I am not so sure today. I was struck by his description of the arguments made by my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald as “tedious”, by his use of the term “snake oil” and by his talking, as ever, at the end of his speech about the obsession with the constitution. It dawned on me that I have heard this speech before: it is his single, transferable British nationalist rant. It then dawned on me—this is something I thought I would never say—that my length of service in this House is almost twice the combined service of all the Tory Back Benchers here, including the Parliamentary Private Secretary. We will have to have another debate about immigration when the grown-up, experienced MPs from the Tory party can be bothered to do their jobs.
No, I will not on that point.
I am delighted to be called in this debate. I am pleased that it does not simply focus on the Prime Minister’s toxic legacy on immigration and the hostile environment that she and her hapless Government created, but recognises the positive contribution that immigrants and immigration bring to the country. In this debate, in this Chamber and in the country, I am sure that there will be positive discussion about how we improve the system to make it far more humane and—this is where I agree with the hon. Member for Stirling—far less arbitrary than it is at present. I am also pleased that the motion specifically references Scottish needs on immigration, both for demographic and different economic sectoral reasons. This is important, particularly for Scotland’s growth sectors, which I will say more about in a moment, along with making a small number of other specific points.
I note the value and benefit that migrants, and EU migrants in particular, bring to the economy and I will cite four of Scotland’s growth sectors to demonstrate that. In Scotland alone, in the food, drink and agricultural sector, 10,000 EU migrants are employed. That is 12% of total employment in the sector. One in eight people working in that entire sector is an EU or EEA worker. In tourism in Scotland, there are 17,000 EU workers, which is 9.5% of the total employment in that sector. In the creative sector, there are 10,000. Even in finance and business services, 9,000 workers—or 4% of the total employment in that growth sector—are from the European Union. That is before there is any mention of the contribution that migrants and migrant workers make to health and other vital public services. It is clear from those few examples that any attempt to constrain or restrict the flow of EU labour in any way would be profoundly damaging for businesses in Scotland. Their costs would undoubtedly rise—that is, if alternatives could be found at all—and output, particularly in agriculture, would most certainly suffer.
My second point is that inward migration delivers almost all the net population growth expected for Scotland. Without it, over the medium term, the population would remain static, but have a higher proportion of older people. Migration is therefore vital to ensuring that the proportion of working-age people is maintained, so that there are people to do the jobs that need to be done, and to pay the taxes to fund the public services on which we rely.
The Government’s argument is that there is still a mechanism in place for people to come, and the Minister spoke about the number of people coming to the EU in various capacities, but all sorts of skilled labour—not just highly paid skilled labour—is mobile; that is how it can come to Scotland, and to the UK. If we put up barriers, be they real, hard, financial, or even soft, perceived barriers, we limit the number of people who want to and can come to Scotland, because it might simply be easier for them to go elsewhere.
My hon. Friend talks about soft barriers. There has been a 90% drop in nurses coming from the EU, even though they are not obstructed as yet. Is that not a sign that people go elsewhere if they feel unwelcome?
That is precisely my point. If that drop in numbers continued for more than a few years, the health service and other caring sectors would have a serious problem. It is not simply EU citizens but all migrants—all new Scots—who deliver benefit to our country. I will concentrate a little more on EU and European economic area citizens, but I will shortly move on to the contribution made, and the problems faced, by people from beyond the European Union who come here, either permanently or for short visits.
We should be thankful to the Government for the publication of “EU Exit: Long-term economic analysis”, which puts a hard GDP number on the benefit from EEA migration. We know that Brexit is bad economically, but every single non-EEA Brexit scenario modelled, including no deal, average free trade agreement, and the now lost and forgotten Government White Paper, was worse with a zero net inflow of EEA workers—around 2% of GDP worse over the forecast period. Net zero EEA migration has a hard-number impact; we know that, as do the Government, because they published it.
No one who cares about the economic wellbeing of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the UK as a whole should ever embark on a hostile environment policy that makes it difficult for people to come to the UK, or that in any way, shape or form stops EEA citizens living or working here, yet that is precisely what the Government have done, and it is not only EEA citizens who suffer.
I will give two brief examples of the unnecessary and arbitrary obstacles faced by people who wish to live here permanently or make a short visit. The first is of a South African lady who married a Scottish man who lived and worked in South Africa more than 15 years ago. They moved to Scotland. The lady travelled initially on a tourist visa, but was told that she had to go back to South Africa, where they no longer had a home, job or income, to apply for a UK visa. That obviously caused distress, and had a significant financial cost to a household with modest earnings. Forcing that lady to return to South Africa to apply for a visa that would allow her to live in Scotland with her husband delivered absolutely no benefit to the UK. It was a nasty, pointless, arbitrary and unnecessary pieces of hostile bureaucracy that could be changed tomorrow if this Government cared anything for the people who live here.
The second example I wish to give is of a very successful Pakistani gentleman. He travels regularly overseas and has never overstayed on a visa in any country. Indeed, on his last visit to the UK, he left after only a couple of weeks, having visited all the friends and family whom he wished to see, which was the reason for his stay. Even though he had an excellent sponsor and an exemplary record from previous visits, his last visa application was rejected—and not on what you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I or a reasonable person would consider real grounds; he was told, wrongly, that he did not have
“enough incentive to leave the UK on completion of” his
Indefensible! That arbitrary judgment was handed down by some bureaucrat in the absence of any evidence whatever.
Weddings and funerals are missed, and family relations are destroyed, because of ludicrous, arbitrary decision making. If these decisions were made by some tin-pot despotic country, we would all rightly say, “That’s appalling. The rule of law has been abandoned in favour of arbitrary decision making.”
My hon. Friend talks about evidence being ignored. In many cases, significant, substantial evidence is not just ignored, but thrown out and abandoned. What is the point of the Government even attempting to collate a portfolio of evidence if it is to be completely ignored by decision makers?
Every MP must have examples of fantastic applications being rejected, even when submitted with every conceivable relevant piece of paper and certificate on the planet, and even when there is a brilliant, solvent sponsor, so my hon. Friend is right. That is the nub of what this Government’s hostile environment has delivered. It has brought about economic harm and ludicrous net migration targets, ignores the social and cultural benefits of immigration, and strips much-needed staff from Scotland’s growth sectors. The UK has in essence abandoned an evidence-based, rules-based immigration system in favour of arbitrary decision making that panders to the screeching headlines of the right-wing, Brexiteer-friendly press, but that causes, and will continue to cause, real distress to real people and their families, and ongoing economic harm.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. The opening remarks of Stuart C. McDonald were constructive in tone and content, although I may not have agreed with them all.
Leaving the European Union provides us with a unique opportunity to reshape and maximise the benefits of immigration to the UK, through a sensible, fairer system that nurtures talent at home while attracting the best talent from around the world for the benefit of the UK economy. Although I wholeheartedly welcome the skills-based approach to immigration in the White Paper, it failed to recognise the differing immigration needs of sectors in different parts of the country. One of the many criticisms of the European Union was its blanket approach to regulation; what was right in one part of the European Union was not always right in the other. We should not lose sight of that, or make the same mistakes in the United Kingdom.
As a Scottish Conservative, let me say that I am unashamedly pro-immigration. People from across the world have made East Renfrewshire their home. Immigration is good, necessary and desirable; we want it, and we need it. I also discard the notion that migrants are somehow solely responsible for pressures on our public services and the housing market. The reason why people cannot get a GP appointment in East Renfrewshire has nothing to do with an influx of eastern Europeans, and everything to do with the Scottish National party’s woeful handling of health matters in the Scottish Parliament. Blaming problems in our personal lives and in the nation’s life on migrants is lazy and wrong.
Turning to the White Paper, it is vital to regional and sectoral economies across the United Kingdom that our approach to immigration be flexible, based on evidence, and not one-size-fits-all. Many of Scotland’s key sectors—food and drink, oil and gas, fisheries and agriculture—have real and specific needs. I think that the failure to recognise that was one of the reasons why the White Paper was met with such hostility and negativity from various groups and business and industry leaders across Scotland.
As has already been discussed, under the current proposals, to be granted a work visa a migrant must secure a job paying at least £30,000 a year. I am not sure who that threshold was designed for, but it was certainly not designed for the labour market in Scotland, or, presumably, for any other labour market outside London and the south-east. While it would be great if average earnings were £30,000 a year, that is not where we are as an economy. It is important to remember that salary and skills are not the same thing, as is frequently demonstrated in this place.
Fisheries, agriculture, hospitality and care jobs range from low to medium-skilled. They are industries that depend heavily on migrant workers, and they do not pay anywhere near £30,000. It would, of course, be brilliant if we could see more domestic workers going into such professions in the future, but in the short term, if those industries are to operate as they do now, they will need continued relatively easy access to labour. I welcome the Home Office’s reflection on the £30,000 figure, but I question the legitimacy of an arbitrary threshold, and I am not sure that regional differentiation is the answer. Personally, I should prefer a uniform threshold at a lower level: a threshold of about £18,000 might be sensible.
Similar logic applies to student visas. Under the current proposals, the UK will offer leave to remain under student visas to last for three years. Given that a normal undergraduate degree course in Scotland lasts for four years, that proposal is clearly hopeless and needs to be changed, as I think the Home Office has already recognised.
Overseas students not only choose to invest large sums in higher education across the UK, but spend significant sums while they are here, contributing growth to the economy and also adding to indirect taxation revenue. I do not want to see a student visa system that incentivises overseas students to pick universities elsewhere in the UK while Scotland potentially misses out on those benefits simply because it structures its degrees slightly differently. We should also consider the longer-term benefits of retaining highly skilled students in the UK jobs market, including the benefits to our economy. We need an immigration system that nurtures the best talent to remain in the UK, deploying the skills gained here, rather than encouraging a brain-drain to the detriment of our economy, whether in Scotland or in the rest of the UK. I therefore think that post-study work visa schemes should be a priority.
We on the Scottish Affairs Committee have done a great deal of cross-party work in this regard, considering in particular the issues of changing demographics in Scotland and depopulation issues. Thanks to the Government’s record, we have pretty much full employment, so the idea that gaps can be filled by our growing the “indigenous workforce”—or whatever the term is—is a fantasy. Technology takes time, and only goes so far; we need, and will always need, people to come to our country to work. However, we must also ask ourselves why a smaller percentage of those coming to the UK from the EU come to Scotland than should be the case on the basis of our population.
What we desperately need, both in this Chamber and in the one up the road, is a mature debate on why fewer people than we want and expect come to Scotland, why people leave, and what meaningful action both Governments can take in the years ahead to change that. What we do not need is the attitude of Fergus Ewing, one of the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretaries. When it was pointed out to him that evidence given to the Scottish Affairs Committee about the seasonal agricultural workforce showed that some people in Bucharest had said that they were not very interested in coming to Scotland to pick soft fruits, he said that all that showed was that the UK Government and their agencies could not be trusted to sell a positive story about Scotland. I thought that that was incredibly immature and not remotely helpful, and suggested an unwillingness to engage seriously with the issues that we face.
Demographic challenges are acute throughout the UK. Unsurprisingly, I reject the notion that the answer lies in devolved immigration policy, especially when, as far as I am aware—I am sure that an SNP Member will correct me if I am wrong—it is still the SNP’s position that the devolved immigration policy should be implemented and enforced by the Home Office through border control, presumably so that the SNP can blame UK Government agencies for any problems, as it does in every other context.
My hon. Friend Stephen Kerr mentioned some of the agencies that do not support the devolution of immigration policy. It is important to note that that is not because it is not technically or theoretically possible, but because it is not desirable, and not in the best interests of Scotland. A number of organisations have stated clearly that Scotland’s needs could and should be best met through a UK-wide system.
We need the future immigration system to be nimble and flexible enough to adapt to the changing requirements of our economy. The ridiculous “tens of thousands” target has never been met, and does not fit the requirements of the United Kingdom. No arbitrary targets, please: the right level of immigration for the UK is whatever number is needed at that particular point in time, in the areas where we need it.
We need a flexible immigration system that works for every part of the UK. In Scotland, that means recognising the needs of different sectors of the economy. Farming, fish processing, hospitality and social care all rely heavily on foreign labour, and will continue to do so. Business leaders have rightly voiced concerns about the immigration White Paper, and those concerns should be taken on board and reacted to. Changes must deliver for Scotland.
There have been quite a few selective quotations, particularly in respect of the NFUS. Does the hon. Gentleman recall, from the immigration inquiry conducted by the Scottish Affairs Committee some time ago, evidence submitted by the NFUS, which said that it
“would prefer an all-UK system but would support alternatives if the Westminster Government is unable to develop the systems needed in time to prevent a hiatus in worker availability”?
I suggest that that hiatus is upon us.
I thought that ours was a very good inquiry. That is why I said that I did not believe that the devolution of immigration policy was not possible. It is perfectly possible, but I do not believe that it is in Scotland’s best interests, and that is what the NFUS was saying. It said that the best way forward for Scottish industry and the Scottish economy was to retain it in a UK-wide network. We have the opportunity here and now, post Brexit, to create that network—a network that will work.
Post Brexit, we will be building our own immigration policy for the first time in more than 40 years. We need to use it as a chance to prove to the world that we are still an open, inclusive and welcoming nation. That is not always evident from debates here, and from things that certain people say on television. If people throughout the world want to come to our great country to build or rebuild their futures, that is something that we should welcome, celebrate and be proud of. It is a sign of our success as a nation, not something to be afraid of.
Immigration, ultimately, is not some problem that needs to be fixed. John Major said that there was nothing as Conservative as pulling your loved ones close and striking out to build a better future for your family, and he was absolutely right. As we build that new immigration system, let us ensure that those words, and that attitude, remain at the heart of our approach.
I find it a tad ironic that the current Prime Minister is being hounded from office as much by the unrestrained xenophobia of the extremists in her party, as they chase some kind of British purity, as by her own incompetence. I find it ironic because she herself was the author of part of the infrastructure of the institutionalised racism that underpins UK immigration policy.
I know that that is not a recent development. The shadow of empire is long and dark and pretty well documented. Those who watched the BBC programme on the Windrush on Monday night will have found themselves under no illusions about the racist threads that ran through government then, just as they do today. Enoch Powell was not a maverick shooting his mouth off; he was part of the mainstream, happy to strip other nations of skilled workers such as nurses when it suited, and equally happy to tell them to go home again when it looked as though there was political capital in it.
How things have changed, and have never changed. As has already been said, the Prime Minister’s previous incarnation as Home Secretary was the time when that hostile environment was ramped up and the gimlet eye of suspicion fell on everyone: an immigrant, someone who might consider giving a job to an immigrant, a landlord who might consider offering a home to an immigrant family, a truck driver just crossing the channel, a charity offering support to asylum seekers, and anyone who might have come into contact with an immigrant or might consider coming into contact with such a person.
I thought that Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers” was bad, but the then Home Secretary obviously thought that she could go one better. Labour’s anti-immigration mugs were topped by the Tories “go home” vans. It is a disgraceful and disgusting trail of mistrust and racism that led from Churchill and Powell through Blair and Brown to this shabby lot who are disgracing the concept of government. It stretches further back in time, of course, and Brexit is just one facet of it—this horrid and brutish British exceptionalism. But it is not only cocking a snook to the world; it is damaging to the people and economies of these islands. We are already seeing the effects of a Brexit whose full horror is still lurking around the corner and might be made worse by whatever ridiculous choice is being made for the next Prime Minister.
However, the effects of that ignorant and unthinking xenophobia bite deeper even than Brexit. We all have a roll-call of constituents unfairly treated by this Government and their policies. I have raised several, including people who have lived in the UK for decades but are now threatened. People who raised families while one of them worked are now being told that the stay-at-home parent has no right to stay. From the wife of a bodyguard to the Queen to the owners of a business employing over a dozen people, from the young couples hoping to get married and build a life to the folk who came as children when their parents answered a call for workers—all these in my constituency and many others are being threatened with the big stick of deportation.
I have already mentioned in previous debates and discussions the negative effects that the refusal of visitors for performance is having on Edinburgh’s festivals. I know other cultural events up and down the UK are having similar problems, but my concern is with Edinburgh. Examples include illustrators of children’s books being refused visas to speak at our book festival on the grounds that they might not go home to their families, homes and occupations afterwards; orchestras having to fight to bring their musicians; and actors who have travelled half the world being suspected of intending to settle in the UK. It is nonsense. It is also incredibly damaging to the reputation of Edinburgh’s festivals and to Scotland’s name. It suggests that our nation is not a welcoming nation and is not a place that is open for business.
And if the performers cannot get here, how many more visas are being refused to international travellers who would want to take in the festivals and explore a bit more of the country, spending money as they go? How much damage is being done to our tourism industry? Perhaps the Minister, if she is able to respond later, could give us some indications around those questions.
Along with the damage to the tourist industry of course goes damage to our food and drink exports. The reputation of the country as a whole is vital in selling our products in the global marketplace. It also matters for important sectors such as finance and the gaming industry, not least because their customers and colleagues move constantly across international borders. The more we drive people away on the basis of some spurious arguments, the more we will damage ourselves. We need international trade. We need international movement. We need our good international reputation.
There is another sector that gets really affected by travel difficulties: conferences. The contribution to Edinburgh’s economy—and I imagine that of many other cities, including Glasgow—from hosting conferences is substantial. There is the money spent on the conferences themselves and the support for them, but there is also the money spent by delegates in the city’s hotels, shops, restaurants and so on. We are talking about millions of pounds and thousands of jobs, but Alison Phipps, UNESCO chair in refugee integration, has said that she will stop hosting international conferences in the UK because of the Home Office’s “inept,” “embarrassing” and “discriminatory” visitor visa system which represents an effective travel ban for many academics.
An event in March, co-sponsored by the International Development Committee of this House, had most of its visas refused. We have universities that cannot get academics into the country, whose international students are being turned away and which are losing opportunities for international co-operation.
Far from being a world power, the UK is turning into a small and irrelevant backwater that will be shunned on the international stage because it refuses to be on the international stage. This damaging xenophobic attitude to immigration is not just a Brexit sideshow; it is a long-standing piece of arrogance and stupidity practised by successive UK Governments. It is an insult to people and businesses that try to operate internationally and is a sad little pastiche of a misremembered history being played out again and again as a farce by UK politicians who have no better idea.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I want to pick up on—[Interruption.] Stewart Hosie is scuttling away, but I am going to mention him in the next 30 seconds, so I ask him not to scuttle out too quickly. I would like to start, however, by praising Stuart C. McDonald for the way he introduced this debate and the measured and reasoned arguments he put forward. I may not always agree with what he says but, as a colleague on the Home Affairs Committee, I think he always raises extremely valid points and puts them across in a sensible manner and I appreciate the way he did that today. That may not have won him much praise from his colleagues, but it was worth saying.
Joanna Cherry mentioned how many people had contacted her over the immigration issue and many other matters. I remember that she even had to take to Twitter once because she could not do her shopping in Waitrose or M&S, I think, because of the volume of people who had been contacting her about the issue, but I gently say that at least some of the constituents she represents take a different view from her, so when their views are portrayed from this side of the Chamber I do not think they should be shouted down in the way they have been today by Members of the SNP.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but perhaps he would care to remember that 72% of people in Edinburgh South West voted to remain in the single market and the customs union. That is what informs the weight of emails I get about the importance of freedom of movement. I get hardly any—one in a blue moon—that oppose freedom of movement and hundreds in favour of it.
I am grateful for that intervention, but according to the hon. and learned Lady’s own figures 28% of her constituents take a different view, and I think that should sometimes be heard in this Chamber, and of course we all remember that her constituents also voted to remain in the United Kingdom when we had the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
I am grateful that the hon. Member for Dundee East did not leave the Chamber as I started speaking. He decided that Scottish Conservative Members did not have enough experience to speak in this debate—that we were too young, too silly, too short of experience to contribute to this debate. Then when I tried to intervene on him he was too feart to take the intervention. [Interruption.] And he is now too feart to even listen to this; he cannot even stay in the Chamber. Well, I have more to say about him: he was too feart to listen to Scottish Conservative Members then, and he is too feart now because he has walked out of the Chamber. Sometimes some people say that, with experience and longevity in this Chamber, you also become boring and irrelevant, and I have to say, having looked at the faces of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues as he was speaking, I think he has now reached that point in his career. That is perhaps why he has left—he has no love on those Benches and he has none from these Benches, given the despicable way that he spoke in the debate. [Interruption.] We are very excited today, aren’t we? [Interruption.] SNP Members are asking where other Conservative Members are. The SNP parliamentary membership is 35, and I think we have less than a third of them here today for their own debate. For their own debate, they cannot even get more than a third of their Members to turn up. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West will get a few more back into the Chamber today.
We have also heard much in this debate from SNP Members about the “hostile environment” and we have heard lots of quotes from SNP Members about what the Conservative Government have done and what the Labour Government did. I am surprised, however, that not a single SNP Member has quoted their own party leader, because we all remember that Nicola Sturgeon said in July 2014, when she was Deputy First Minister and a key figure in the SNP independence campaign of that year:
“We have set down a robust and common sense position” on the issue of immigration and migration. She went on to say:
“If Scotland was outside Europe”
EU nationals would
“lose the right to stay here.”
That is a direct quote from Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP. That was their position as they were fighting for separation for Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. I am glad we have a more measured response in the UK Home Office and the UK Government.
The hon. Gentleman completely misrepresents the point the First Minister was making at that time. She is well known for being absolutely in favour of free movement, which would have been lost if Scotland was outside the European Union—which it would not have been, by the way. It is completely wrong to mischaracterise her as saying that people would not have been allowed to stay; she was simply stating, as a matter of fact, that free movement rights would have come to an end.
“We have set down a robust and common sense position. If Scotland was outside Europe”— which it would have been if it had separated from the rest of the United Kingdom,
“would lose the right to stay here.”
That is what the First Minister said, verbatim.
I am grateful that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, who led for the SNP, agrees with my next point. We have seen a number of comments in the press by someone who was at the time an SNP councillor and has now become one of its representatives in the European Parliament. I respect Christian Allard’s right to have a personal opinion on whether to apply for settled status but he is also in elected office, and I am concerned that his comments encouraging people not to apply for settled status could lead people into a difficult situation.
“We would really be encouraging all professionals to relay the message that people have to apply for this scheme”.
Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, said:
“Our advice is: the system is there;
you have to apply.”
The hon. Gentleman said at the start of this debate that he would also be encouraging all his constituents to apply for settled status, and I hope that we will get that consistent message from politicians representing all parts of Scotland in all Parliaments. The advice that Christian Allard is proffering could be dangerous for people who might think it acceptable not to apply for settled status and then fall into significant problems.
I want briefly to mention an issue that I have raised on numerous occasions about non-EEA workers in our fishing industry. It is an issue that has been raised by my hon. Friend David Duguid, by Angus Brendan MacNeil for the SNP, by Mr Carmichael for the Liberal Democrats and by Jim Shannon for the Democratic Unionist party. I raised this at Home Office questions just a couple of weeks ago, and I certainly will not be objecting to the Minister responding to this debate, in the hope that she can again focus on the point that I and many other hon. and right hon. Members have made. The Minister has cited the Migration Advisory Committee in this regard, although she did quote it directly. It has stated:
“There is no case for schemes for particular sectors within the immigration system other than for agriculture, which has some unique characteristics”.
I worked in agriculture before I was elected, so I have gone from green fields to green Benches, and I know exactly that there are unique characteristics within the agriculture sector. Representing Moray, a coastal community, I also know there are unique characteristics within the fishing industry, and I believe that we have to look again at allowing non-EEA workers to come into our fleet. I mentioned my constituent, Douglas Scott, when I held a Westminster Hall debate on this issue. Douglas is from Lossiemouth and his boat is now being tied up. He cannot run his business because he cannot get staff from outwith the EEA to work with him.
The Minister has previously said that part of the problem with the previous system was down to certain people being exploited. That is a problem, and we have to deal with the exploitation. We have to deal with the crew and the skippers who exploit staff, but we do not have to absolutely rule out a system that has worked in the past. It has had problems, but I believe we must tackle the problems rather than saying that the system as a whole cannot be allowed to continue.
I am considering your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, on the amount of time we can speak. I appreciate the SNP’s bringing forward this debate today. It is useful to discuss immigration in Scotland and across the United Kingdom. I welcome the publication by the UK Government of the immigration White Paper, and particularly the listening exercise—a year-long consultation to hear the views of communities, organisations and individuals across the country. I am extremely grateful to the Minister, the Home Secretary and the Department for listening to the significant concerns raised by Scottish Conservative MPs about the £30,000 threshold and I welcome the fact that this is now under review.
I also agree that we do not need a differentiated immigration system for Scotland. That point has been well made in this debate by my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton). The point has been made not just in this Chamber but outwith the Chamber. A report published by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has stated that it is
“not clear that significant regional variation would lead to a better match between policy and regional economic needs”.
We have also heard from a number of organisations in Scotland. CBI Scotland has said:
“Let’s get it right for the whole UK. The better the outcome we get, the less need for variation across the UK and the less companies need to worry about doubled up systems and extra red tape.”
The Food and Drink Federation Scotland has referred to:
“Significant variations in approach to integration and reception that may impact on”— our members’—
“ability to attract workers or relocate them to the required locations whether in Scotland or the rest of the UK”.
The Scottish Chamber of Commerce has said that its
“network does not believe that the devolution of immigration powers to Scotland is necessary to achieve a business solution to migration targets”.
The National Farmers Union Scotland has said that its
“preference is that Scotland’s influence should lead to a UK-wide system that meets our needs”.
I agree with CBI Scotland, the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and NFU Scotland that a separated policy for Scotland would not be good for Scotland’s interests or our constituents’ interests, and I am pleased that the Government are not going to go down that route. I welcome the White Paper that the Government have published, and I look forward to the listening exercise. I hope that the Minister has listened to some of the concerns that I have put forward today on behalf of my constituents in Moray.
I want to concentrate on the issues that education—particularly further and higher education in Scotland—has experienced and could potentially experience as a result of a hard Brexit. First, I would like to talk about the post-study work visa, especially in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on photonics. Right across the central belt of Scotland, we have an extremely large amount of strength and expertise in photonics, but photonics and quantum technology are very sensitive to developments in the market. We are currently bringing our international students here, training them up and ensuring that they have the necessary intellectual capacity, but then sending them home to their own countries so that they can challenge or work against companies in our own constituencies. What we should be doing with these talented people is ensuring that they stay to contribute to our economies and that that intellectual property is not lost to our competitors and those who would seek to undermine those companies.
We know that international students are a huge benefit to our local economy, and they pay fees of up to £35,000 per annum. That is a massive amount of money for them, so coming here to do a course—particularly a longer course—as an international student is a huge financial investment. When it comes to their graduation, however, what do we say to their parents? We say, “Well, actually, there’s no guarantee that you can come to the graduation ceremony and go home again. So although you have paid the best part of £100,000 for your child’s education, we’re not even going to allow you to come and join in the celebration of their graduation.” That is shameful.
Conservative Members have talked a lot about the £30,000 salary threshold, and there have been many strong words about that this afternoon, so I urge the Members who have raised concerns about the threshold to join us in voting against it. We know that £30,000 is no indication of the skills of a particular person or of a particular sector. When the White Paper was first published, I asked a series of written questions about what was meant by low, medium and high-skilled positions. I was told that high skills equated to degree level, that medium skills equated to college level or A-level, and that low skills would describe somebody whose highest qualification was at GCSE level, or in Scotland, National 5 level. That was how the Government were designating skills, but I know many people with degrees who do not command salaries of £30,000. We also know that salaries in Scotland are significantly lower than in the south-east of England. Once again, policies are being developed that are particular to one area of the UK and do not take into account the requirements of others.
The hon. Lady makes a strong case on income thresholds. Does she agree that the minimum income rule, which continues to divide families in a spouse visa situation, is equally disgraceful? Many people in my constituency earn nowhere near £18,600. It is yet another example of the hostile environment created by the Government.
It is £18,600 if they do not have any children; if they do, it is even greater. If they have children, we put in extra barriers to ensure that those families cannot be together. It is utterly disgraceful.
Many people in research and academia will not come close to the salary threshold of £30,000, such as early career researchers, technicians and many of the EU nationals working in our universities. We should be rolling out the red carpet for such people and doing everything in our power to ensure that they stay, contribute to the success of our universities, and continue to contribute to our communities. Yet once again, we put barriers in place.
My hon. Friend Deidre Brock mentioned Professor Alison Phipps, the UNESCO chair at the University of Glasgow. I will say a little more about her. Many of the projects that she is involved in are funded by the Department for International Development. The UK Government are funding those international projects, yet the academics involved in them—partners across Asia, the middle east and Africa—are unable to come and be part of that collaboration.
I, too, pay tribute to Professor Phipps, who works so hard on these issues. I wish to put on the record another case—that of the head of international relations at the Islamic University of Gaza, Amani al-Maqadma, whose visa has been denied despite the fact that her project is fully funded by Eramsus+. She wants to come here to contribute to the work of the university, and once again the refusal is self-defeating. It defeats the purpose of the grants that the Government are handing out. Perhaps the Minister will be able to look into that before the end of the day.
It is, of course, a ludicrous situation, given that the UK Government are giving money to these projects. Flights are booked, sometimes costing thousands of pounds, in the hope that the visas will appear in time, and then we get refusals so flights have to be changed. People can no longer book fixed flights; they have to be flexible flights, which are many times more expensive. It is an utter waste of money.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one huge problem that we now have, which we did not have in years gone by, is that there is no right of appeal against many such decisions? Everybody has to contact their MP, and we are consistently trying to raise cases here and in newspapers. That is the only way that anyone can get justice. We need to get back the right of appeal against all these decisions.
That would make a huge difference, because once the application has been refused it is dead, and there is very little that we can do with it. We can support subsequent ones, but not the one that has been refused.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith also mentioned academic conferences. That is a serious issue, because it is not just about the economic benefits of hosting academic conferences in cities across the UK; it is about saying that we are open for business, we are outward looking, we are ready to collaborate, and we want to have such relationships with experts from across the world. If we cannot have conferences because people cannot get visas to come to them, we utterly diminish our position.
We have recently been raising the issue of the European temporary leave to remain that has been suggested for after Brexit. It will be a visa, or some sort of certificate, for potential students that will allow them to study at our universities, and it will be for three years. Of course, in Scotland our university courses are four years. Let us imagine for a second that EU students end up being classed as international students and have to pay international fees. We could be talking about £50,000, £60,000 or £70,000 in fees over the course of their degree. Are we expecting them to pay that huge amount of money on a gamble that they might get the tier 4 visa to complete the fourth year of their course? That is insane. Let us be clear: it is discriminatory. It will affect Scottish universities, which have longer courses, far more than other universities.
I will quickly mention the tier 5 religious workers visa. I have been contacted by a constituent and by many priests across the diocese who say that they cannot get supply priests from Africa and India because there have been changes to the visa. I have written to the Minister about that, and she responded that they can get a tier 2 visa. I am sorry—it is too expensive, and the archdiocese of Glasgow can get only two of them. It does not work. The hostile environment is also targeting faith communities.
I have parishes in my constituency, such as that of the Immaculate Conception on Maryhill Road, experiencing exactly the same issue. Priests have been coming for years on tier 5 visas without any problems at all. It is a law of unintended consequences, because the ministerial guidance on the matter is not about Christian preachers. It is a very serious issue, and the Minister knows that there will be a debate in Westminster Hall next week specifically about it. I hope that she comes prepared to justify the policy.
The Minister will also have to justify it to the archdiocese of Glasgow and other archdioceses across the UK, whose bishops have been contacting MPs on this very issue.
I will mention Windrush very briefly. A constituent of mine has been told that he can get a maximum of £5,000 compensation for everything he has gone through. He is more than £50,000 out of pocket. The hostile environment has wrecked his life.
Finally, I quickly want to mention Helen, who came to see me last week. She fled Eritrea and, in the process, was separated from her two children. With the help of the Red Cross, she located her children and applied for them to join her. Her son was granted a family reunion visa; her daughter, who is now 13, was refused. So one child is still living displaced in Ethiopia and one child is living in Glasgow. Where is the humanity? I appeal to the Minister, if she has an ounce of humanity, to look into this case. The hostile environment has absolutely devastated that family.
I could fill the rest of the debate and more with the constituency cases I have seen in the past four years. Just under a third of my casework is due to the incompetence of the Home Office.
Most recently, I raised the case of a young man, Eryaar Popalzai, who claimed asylum in 2014. He last made further submissions in 2017 and is still awaiting a decision. The Minister promised me that she would look into the case and that it would be dealt with. I received a letter this morning that said:
“I am sorry that a decision has not been made on Mr Popalzai’s further submissions. The Home Office is aware that Mr Popalzai is vulnerable and has raised safeguarding issues. The Home Office is actively working on his case. However, it is currently awaiting policy guidance on an unrelated matter prior to making a final decision on his case.”
This young man is in tears every time he comes to my surgery. What answer can I give him? Because that is no kind of answer at all. It is just, “Wait and wait and wait.” He has seen his friends move on with their lives and carry on with their education, and he is stuck. He is stuck on antidepressants and is getting counselling, but the Minister has no answer for that young man.
Many of the cases I see in my surgery are of extremely vulnerable families who are in tears. Today, one of my members of staff, Mhairi, tried to accompany one of my constituents, a woman who is heavily pregnant, and her husband to Brand Street, because her three-year-old had been called for interview. I do not know what kind of interview the Home Office expects to get from a three-year-old at Brand Street, but the family went. Their other girls were at school. They were extremely worried that they would not be able to leave Brand Street. During the course of the interview, the father had a seizure and had to be taken in an ambulance, because he was so stressed out about the interview. I still do not know how he is doing or whether he will be okay. I ask the Minister to make a decision on this family. They have daughters who fled in fear of FGM, and they do not want to take their daughters back to face FGM. She should have some heart and deal with this case as a matter of urgency, because it is no less than the family deserve.
I see many cases that look relatively simple and are similar to cases that have been resolved quickly but that, for reasons best known to itself, the Home Office has determined to be complex. As soon as the cases are determined to be complex, they disappear down a black hole somewhere and are not seen for months and years. The Minister and her Department need to look at this and ensure that such excuses are not made for cases that are not complex.
The Home Office is riddled with mistakes and errors, and I regularly see issues with incorrect names and addresses. In a recent decision letter, the Home Office mistook the difference between a closing balance and an opening balance on a bank account in refusing somebody a visitor visa. It loses passports, degree certificates and paperwork endlessly, to the detriment of my constituents.
The hon. Lady is making some important points. I want to expand on her point about visitor visas, on which she seems to suffer the same sorts of issues as I do. A great many of my constituents are simply asking that, say, their octogenarian parents are able to visit them, but they are being denied that possibility. Even though promises and assurances have been given, they are being denied access to see their grandchildren.
The hon. Gentleman is correct, and I see it regularly—week in, week out—in my surgeries.
People who have visited the UK on multiple occasions without incident and with no problems, and who are well able to afford the cost of supporting themselves when they come to visit—not that their family would not support them, anyway, because they are guests—are refused time and again. It is offensive, and people are hurt by this. They miss out on family visits and family occasions such as weddings and graduations. They miss out on so much family life that we all take for granted. If any of us wanted to go to any of their countries, we would be allowed to travel. That is the inherent racism of the Home Office and its policies.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case, particularly on visitor visas and the Home Office’s poor decision making. I dealt with a case in which there was a discrepancy of one penny between the P60 and other evidence, so the application was refused and the person could not attend an important family wedding. Again, that illustrates the hostile environment created by this Government through the back door.
It does, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I see this day in and day out at my surgeries.
More recently, a case has been highlighted in the press—it very much seems that the press is the way to go for those with a complaint about the Home Office, and if I were to do that the pages of all the Scottish newspapers would be full of my constituents—of a group of blind musicians who came over from Chennai as part of a British Council, Creative Scotland and Scottish Government-funded project. They were asked to come over from India as part of that project, and two of the musicians were refused entry. These two blind musicians were told that they did not have sufficient reason to go back to India after the trip. Their carers were allowed in, but these people with disabilities were not. Because their case was highlighted in the press, the decision magically and mysteriously changed, but it was too late because the event had passed.
The group are now £4,000 out of pocket for flights that had to be cancelled. Will the Minister compensate this group of musicians from Chennai who were not able to travel to take part in a British Government project? That is no less than they deserve. She has wasted taxpayers’ money, and she has wasted these young people’s opportunity by refusing them entry and then cynically changing the decision when the case appeared in the press.
I have good grounds to believe that the Government pay attention to the cases that appear in the press and change their decisions. The UK Government deemed a number of people in the highly skilled migrants group, because they needed small and legitimate changes to their tax returns, to be in some way of bad character and a threat to national security under paragraph 322(5) of the Home Office rules.
The cases that I have highlighted in the press, and the cases of constituents who were on “Channel 4 News” and in the newspapers, were decided a full six months quicker than those of constituents whose cases I could not put into the press due to sensitivity. I would like an explanation from the Minister of why very similar cases, with very similar circumstances, were differently decided because two of them were in the media and two of them were not. The UK Government’s decision-making process on this is deeply disturbing.
The same goes for many other cases I have highlighted in the Scottish press. I have a lot of reason to be thankful to people in the Scottish media, at The National and at other publications in Scotland, because they have repeatedly highlighted the terrible decisions made by the Home Office.
I chair the new all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention, and trauma has been caused to my constituents by persistent and arbitrary detention. There seems to be a modern-day cat and mouse act, with people being arrested under immigration detention and then let go. The impact on those individuals is traumatic and appalling, and these are people who have been through a huge amount of trauma already. They have been tortured and trafficked. They have seen things that none of us would ever want to see, and they are being locked up with no time limit.
People can accept being in prison if they have done something wrong, and they know when their sentence will end, but people in this country, quite uniquely, are held in immigration detention with no end in sight. I ask the Minister to consider why she thinks that is fair. I pay tribute to the strength and dignity of those with experience of immigration detention who came to last night’s launch of the all-party group to tell their stories. People in arbitrary detention do not know for how long they will be locked up, even though they have done nothing wrong. That is a stain on this Government and previous Governments who endorsed places like Dungavel.
We need to do so much more to highlight the plight of people held in immigration detention. We must make sure that we do all we can for people who come to this country fleeing persecution and FGM and looking for a place of sanctuary. We must not, by this Government’s actions, cause them further trauma and further pain. Instead, we must protect them and welcome them with open arms.
We are celebrating a refugee festival in Scotland this week. We are celebrating all the things that refugees and asylum seekers bring to this country, and the Government would do well to attend more such events to celebrate people, rather than locking them up, detaining them and causing them pain.
This has been an excellent debate so far, and I am sure the Prime Minister will come to regret—at least I hope she will—that her defining legacy, quite apart from the Brexit chaos we face, is the hostile environment she created through her Government’s antagonistic, discriminatory and entirely counterproductive immigration policy.
In the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016, we have seen an effort to prevent people from accessing basic services such as employment, healthcare and education. We have witnessed a Home Secretary become Prime Minister and knowingly take a cruel and entirely unnecessary approach towards immigration. If we listened to the Government, we would think the immigration process straightforward, but many people are unable simply to leave, as the Government might lead us to think. More often than not, the Government’s policies have meant that the most vulnerable in society, often women, are disproportionately suffering.
One of my constituents in Paisley and Renfrewshire North, Ms A, is from Botswana, and she came to the UK 10 years ago as a student. She met her British partner, whom she married and they had one child together. Unfortunately, the relationship broke down due to abuse. Ms A is solely responsible for their five-year-old child, as the father shamefully provides no financial support, nor does he exercise any contact.
Ms A initiated the lengthy independent leave to remain—ILR—process to settle in the UK some time ago. However, with uncertainty looming and no official documentation granting ILR, Ms A’s employer chose to end her contract of employment, plunging her into an extremely vulnerable position. She has no recourse to public funds, nor the funds to secure childcare provision that would enable her to re-enter employment. As a result and understandably, my constituent’s mental health is deteriorating and she is anxious that any further delay in her application will plunge her even deeper into financial hardship, although she wonders whether that is indeed possible due to the hefty amounts of money she has spent at the Home Office already.
With Ms A’s son due to start school in August, what should be a positive time for that one-parent family is mired in insecurity and dread as Ms A waits for a decision from the Home Office. Who will look after Ms A’s son if she is sent home? I say home, but Ms A has been here for nearly a decade and naturally views Scotland as her home. What kind of future citizenry are we creating if we send the mother of a British citizen home? What will that five-year-old boy carry with him into the future?
The plight of Ms A is the plight of many refugees and asylum seekers throughout the country, and that has been further affected by the Government’s policy move to end automatic settlement for refugees after five years, deliberately leaving asylum seekers uncertain about whether they will eventually be deported. My constituency office in Renfrew deals with many cases like that of Ms A, and it is difficult to see how the climate of insecurity can be maintained if Scotland wants to continue to attract people from overseas in an attempt to combat the ageing of our population.
Recently, the UK Government also imposed changes for tier 5 entry visas, including, notably, the removal of ministers of religion from the eligibility criteria. That decision has generated much concern from faith leaders throughout my constituency and in religious communities across the United Kingdom. If we take the example of Catholic communities, that change will have a significant impact on priests coming into the UK because most Catholic dioceses regularly use the tier 5 religious worker visa route for them to come here on supply placements while parish priests are away for short periods. The supply placements are imperative as they enable people to continue attending mass and receiving sacraments, while keeping parish activities running smoothly—activities that are of benefit to the entire community, not just to Catholics.
Under the new Home Office guidance, priests on supply placements will now be required to use the tier 2 minister of religion visa route, which will double the costs incurred by parishes and make supply cover effectively unaffordable in some of the poorer communities. Unfortunately, the tier 2 route also imposes strict language requirements, and even those priests who have completed seminary in English may now be required to sit an additional English language test before embarking on their placements. Religious leaders in my constituency are extremely worried, not only about the financial and practical implications, but about the human costs of those hostile policy changes. I will go into more detail on this issue in the Westminster Hall debate next week initiated by my hon. Friend David Linden and touch on some of the representations that I have received from faith leaders across Renfrewshire, including from Bishop John Keenan.
I could go on about immigration detention policies, asylum seekers being denied the right to work, the denial of access to public funds and the ending of freedom of movement—which is one of the best intergovernmental policies ever drafted and something that my generation and the generation after have taken for granted because who in their right mind would want to end it? I could go on about Home Office incompetence, refugee family reunion rules, Windrush and sending LGBTQ people back to countries where homophobic persecution is rife.
The indifferent, iniquitous and incompetent Home Office’s roll of dishonour is, like immigration detention, limitless. We have come to expect that from the Conservatives, but the Labour party has been complicit in much of this, I am sorry to say. Of course, I am happy to acknowledge that there are many in the Labour party who speak out on those issues, and I admire Afzal Khan who now speaks for the Labour party on the subject, but its Front-Bench team has displayed a singular lack of leadership over several years. If, instead of producing “Controls on immigration” mugs, Labour had joined the SNP and others in talking up the real and tangible benefits of immigration, the Brexit vote might not have come to pass.
“We’re not going to die in a ditch for the sake of freedom of movement”.
What a short-sighted thing to say. When the new Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill was introduced, the Labour party intended to support the Government, but U-turned after facing enormous criticism. On Second Reading, the shadow Home Secretary said that
“the Labour party is clear that when Britain leaves the single market, freedom of movement ends. We set that out in our 2017 manifesto…so on that basis the Front Bench of the Labour party will not be opposing the Bill this evening.”—[Official Report,
We all know that 90 minutes later, amid a growing backlash on social media, Labour shifted its position and announced that it would whip its MPs to vote against the Bill. That is not leadership; it is a political and moral vacuum at the top of the Labour party so concerned by UKIP, the Brexit party and Nigel Farage that it has allowed its policy to shift to the right along with the Tories.
The leader of the Labour party has repeatedly made the incorrect claim that freedom of movement is responsible for the undercutting of workers’ rights. He wrote in The Guardian:
“If freedom of movement means the freedom to exploit cheap labour in a race to the bottom, it will never be accepted in any future relationship with Europe.”
That is completely wrong and risks scapegoating migrants for weak labour regulation. The Labour party failed to show proper opposition to the toxic rhetoric on immigration coming from UKIP and the Tories, out of fear of being seen as weak on immigration. The Labour party should ashamed of its infamous “Controls on immigration” mugs, to which my hon. Friend Deidre Brock referred earlier.
By contrast, we on the SNP Benches have spoken out regularly on these issues in this place. If we cannot, through argument or the voting Lobbies, change the UK approach, it is explicitly clear that Scotland requires its own distinct approach. The mid-year population estimates published on
Migration is the only reason why Scotland’s population continues to grow. Over the year to mid-2018, some 20,000 more people came to Scotland than left. The recent decrease in net migration has been driven by fewer people moving to Scotland from overseas and more people moving overseas, out of Scotland. I am not entirely surprised by that, given the immigration rhetoric over the past couple of years and the Brexit decision. Natural change—births minus deaths—did not contribute to population growth: over the same one-year period, there were 7,000 more deaths than births in Scotland.
We want the Scottish Parliament to have the powers to establish a less restrictive immigration policy. It is increasingly clear that the UK Government’s immigration policy does not address our economic, demographic or social needs. There is cross-party support for the reintroduction of a proper post-study work visa that suits Scotland’s needs. It is time for a tailored migration system for Scotland, and the Scottish Government’s discussion paper shows how such a system could operate.
This is not merely politicking, or just a desire to be seen to do the right thing; it is an absolute necessity for Scotland, its people and its economy. As per usual, and as we expect, the Conservatives are blind to Scotland and its needs. I cannot quite manage it, but I really should be grateful, because by both their words and their actions, more people in Scotland now realise that the only way that Scotland will have policies in place to suit Scottish needs, whether on immigration or any other issue, is through independence. That day cannot come quickly enough.
It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Gavin Newlands. As he said towards the end of his speech, there really could be no more appropriate topic than immigration for the SNP to choose for our first Opposition day debate for nearly a year. The inept and damaging approach of this Conservative Government to immigration typifies how this Westminster Parliament is incapable of serving Scotland’s needs.
As the current Prime Minister’s reign fizzles out in the midst of a constitutional crisis, she is frantically clinging to the wreckage in an effort to outstay Gordon Brown’s reign, staying till the last possible minute as she desperately searches for something other than the Brexit shambles to be her legacy. She should not fear: help is at hand from the SNP. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, one policy that can undoubtedly be laid firmly at the door of the current Prime Minister is the hostile environment and the ludicrous net migration targets on which she has insisted throughout her time as Home Secretary and Prime Minister, despite the fact that they have never been met.
It is not a legacy of which the Prime Minister can be proud. When she stood on the doorstep of No. 10 at the outset of her premiership, she promised to fight against the burning injustices in our society. Not only has she failed to do that; instead she will be remembered as the architect and driving force behind a policy that has not only failed but created a whole new set of burning injustices, typified by the scandalous treatment of the members of the Windrush generation.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I was involved in a case study of two of the Windrush cases in some detail. We were able to see the way in which those acting on behalf of the Home Office repeatedly ignored extensive documentary evidence that these people had every right to be here. They detained them and were on the verge of deporting them from this country. Given that treatment and the denied-my-vote scandal that took place on
The Windrush scandal illustrated with a human face the severe unintended consequences of the hostile environment policies. Perhaps even worse, they were not unintended at all, and it was the price that the Prime Minister felt was worth paying to achieve her unobtainable targets. There is no doubt about it, as my hon. Friend Deidre Brock said, that there is a racist element to these policies. The long-term lawful residents of the United Kingdom who lost their jobs, their homes and their health as a result of the Windrush scandal were black and ethnic minority people. The only known middle-aged, middle class white person to have lost their job as a result of the Windrush scandal is Amber Rudd who had to resign as Home Secretary, but make no mistake about it, the rap for the Windrush disaster rests at the door of the outgoing Prime Minister.
My hon. and learned Friend mentions the outgoing Prime Minister. When I first wrote to her about my constituent who was caught up in the Windrush scandal, she was in fact the Home Secretary. She knew what was happening years before it was brought to the attention of the House by Mr Lammy—I think. She knew about it years before, yet denied knowledge when it all blew up.
The Prime Minister left others to take the rap for her. It is important that today’s debate notes that the hostile environment is the legacy of the outgoing Prime Minister. Of late, there has been a rush in certain Tory quarters to disown the policy. Much as they like to try to lay the whole Brexit fiasco at the door of the current Prime Minister, such chameleon-like figures as Boris Johnson and Ruth Davidson—both populists who have more in common than either would care to admit—have tried to distance themselves from the hostile environment without ever taking a principled stand against it.
The current Home Secretary likes to talk about how hard his father worked after arriving in the United Kingdom from Pakistan with just £1 in his pocket. In Scotland, we have a very significant community of Asian Scots, many of whose parents came to the United Kingdom with just £1 in their pocket like the Home Secretary’s father. The reality is that the current policies of the Government, of whom the Home Secretary is part, are designed to discourage people from following in their footsteps. Even worse, as we have heard from my hon. Friend Stewart Hosie and others this afternoon, the visit visa system is designed to prevent the families of our Asian brothers and sisters and others from visiting, except in all but the most exceptional circumstances.
At the start of this debate, my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald made a forensic speech. In a measured way, as we would expect from him, he went through in forensic detail the various problems with the system. In particular, he dissected the White Paper and outlined what is wrong with it—what is wrong with replacing freedom of movement with an expansion of the already failing tier 2 visa system. He also pointed to the demographic time bomb for Scotland, which appears to be conveniently ignored by Members on the Government Benches. He also pointed out that the Scottish Government have proposed constructive alternatives to the White Paper.
The shadow Minister, who knows I am very fond of him, suggested that a differential system would be an impossibility for Scotland but, as I said to him in my intervention, there are many examples across the world of differentiated systems working effectively. Canada is the example of which I am most aware, having been there to study the system, but there are other examples. I gently suggest that the Labour party has a go at looking at those examples. If it wants to get back any of the votes it has lost in Scotland, it needs to get on board—this might be a bit of a tall order—with the understanding that the position in Scotland is different.
My hon. Friend Chris Stephens, who has had to leave his place, made a very powerful point about the threatened mass eviction of asylum seekers in Glasgow by Serco, and he has an Adjournment debate on the subject tomorrow. This is another spin-off from the hostile environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, who is my constituency neighbour, spoke about the impact of visa refusals on the Edinburgh festivals and on conferences in Edinburgh, as the capital city of Scotland is so important to our economy.
My hon. Friend Carol Monaghan made a powerful contribution about the impact of the Government’s immigration policies on education and skills development in Scotland. She is an expert in the field of photonics, about which she spoke, but the points she makes apply across the science, technology, engineering and maths sector and into other sectors such as language teaching. We are discouraging early career researchers and technicians from working in Scotland by expanding the tier 2 system.
Other Members, particularly my hon. Friend Patrick Grady, spoke about the problem with religious visas. I first became aware of this problems in relation to the Thai temple in my constituency, but the issue is clearly affecting all sorts of religious denominations.
My hon. Friend Alison Thewliss said that she could have filled the rest of the debate with constituency cases and indicated that they account for a very high percentage of her workload. She is right, of course; that is the position of most of us. That is why I was so puzzled by the speech of Stephen Kerr. Given that so many Scottish MPs have a high caseload of immigration cases, I am surprised that he is not in a similar situation. Stirling must be a little spot that the Government’s hostile environment has not reached.
What I really want to say to the Scottish Tories is that there is no doubt that, in this respect, SNP Members speak for their constituents. We speak for the high number of immigration cases we have to deal with, but we also speak for the fact that most of our constituents voted to remain in the European Union and opinion polls show that even more people want to remain in the European Union than did three years ago.
I have to say that I feel a little bit sorry for the Minister as she has to both lead and sum up the debate today. It seems a bit unfair, particularly on her birthday; you’d think they would give her a wee bit of a break, especially as I am not aware of any shortage of Ministers in the Home Office. The Minister seemed keen to point to the evidence of the Migration Advisory Committee. Later, we heard from the hon. Member for Stirling that he is pretty unhappy with the MAC report, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East indicated in his forensic dissection of it.
Of course, the MAC report is not the only source of evidence on which the Minister could draw. She could also look to the report of the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population, which estimates the damage that ending free movement will inflict on Scotland. The group comprises a panel of experts with real expertise in the effects of migration and population on the economy and demography of Scotland, who said that proposals in the White Paper
“are projected to reduce net migration to Scotland by between 30% and 50% over the coming two decades”, despite the fact that that migration is essential to growing the Scottish economy and to keeping our population up at the level that it is required to be. There are a number of other interesting things in the report by the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population and I commend the Minister to read it. It would be incorrect to leave the Chamber with any impression that business in Scotland is completely happy with what is proposed in the White Paper.
Members from the Scottish branch of the Tories have bandied about a lot of quotes about business. I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend is aware that the Scottish policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses has said:
“The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses and local communities. These proposals will make it nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to access any non-UK labour and the skills they need to grow and sustain their operations.”
Is she surprised by that quote?
Certainly not, because his colleague, the chair of the FSB, Mr Mike Cherry—no relation to me, in case there are any conspiracy theories from Conservative Members—said:
“The MAC’s report is deeply concerning for the small business community.”
“This was a real opportunity to steer the UK towards a more modern and intelligent immigration system, but the recommendations are unimaginative and, we believe, unworkable.”
The president of National Farmers Union Scotland said that the MAC had failed to take account of his organisation’s evidence. He said that the NFUS was very disappointed that the Committee had “not heeded” its “strong evidence” in its recommendations. The NFUS has raised concerns about trade, access to labour and support for the agricultural industry.
Of course, the concerns about the MAC are not just confined to the business and university communities. They have also been expressed by the unions, particularly by the Scottish TUC. Public opinion is also with those of us who bring this issue to the House today. A recent opinion poll in The Herald carried out by ICM said that 62% of people in Scotland support a different immigration solution for Scotland.
I understand the general thrust of the speeches by Scottish Conservative and Unionist Members. There were only a handful of them—
Well, that is debatable. The point that they are making is, I suppose, in keeping with their unionism—that they would like to see a UK-wide solution.
The hon. Member for Stirling indicated that he had many problems with the Migration Advisory Committee’s report, but basically says that he wants a UK-wide solution. However, there does not seem to be much sign of a UK-wide solution that will resolve the concerns that have been expressed by the Scottish Conservatives, by business, by the universities, by the trade unions, and by the public in Scotland. I put this question to the Scottish Conservatives: if there is not going to be a UK-wide solution, would they support a Scotland-specific solution?
No, I do not accept that, because many in business have said that they are prepared to look at Scotland-specific solutions. The Scottish Government are doing a lot of work with business on selected policy areas and directed solutions. My very good friend the Minister, and MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, Ben Macpherson, is working on that with business in Scotland at the moment.
I put the question back to the Scottish Conservatives: if there is not a UK-wide solution that helps Scotland, are they willing to take the hit on Scotland’s population and economy, or will they, like their leader, Ruth Davidson, simply make speeches about how they have quibbles with UK Government immigration policy, but never actually do anything about it? I suspect that most of us know the answer to that question.
My hon. and learned Friend is right. At least Scottish Conservatives have had the courage of their convictions to come here and speak. It is worth noting that, with the exception of a brief intervention, not a single Member from the Scottish Labour party has had the courage of their convictions to come here. Perhaps they have something more important to do than take part in a debate led by the Scottish National party, but it is a pretty poor show.
It is worth remembering that, when the hostile environment policy was brought to the House by the coalition Government, most of the Liberal Democrats, from whom we have not heard a speech today, supported it, and only a handful of Labour Members had the courage of their convictions to oppose it—the shadow Home Secretary is pointing at herself; I know she is one of them, and I commend her for that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, the question remains: what is Labour’s position on immigration? Where are they now on freedom of movement?
Indeed; there are not many of them here. They disowned freedom of movement in their 2017 manifesto. They were planning to vote with the Government on the immigration Bill but, after a fuss on social media, they retreated. I do not know whether they are putting up anyone to sum up the debate. They ought to, on such an important subject. I would like to know where Labour stands. We got a bit of a hint—
I stand corrected, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I apologise for any confusion caused, but it is still worthy of note that we have had so little contribution from Labour Members today. I am left with a puzzled question in my mind as to what Labour’s position on immigration is, but it is a bit similar to the puzzled question in my mind as to what Labour’s position on Brexit is. I suspect that the two confusions are linked.
One prominent Labour politician of yesteryear from whom we heard yesterday was Gordon Brown, who served an even shorter time in office than the current Prime Minister. He was wheeled out again to tell us that the Union of the United Kingdom is at risk; I am tempted to make a comment about Sherlock Holmes, but I will refrain. Where Gordon Brown and I could agree is that the Union of England and Scotland is at risk, but not for the reasons that he outlined, which seemed to blame the Scottish National party.
The Union of England and Scotland is at risk because this Parliament repeatedly ignores the voices of Scotland’s voters and the representatives they democratically elect. The Union is at risk because, unlike the European Union, it is not a union of equals where the voice of every nation is heard and respected. It is a union where the largest member dominates and constantly imposes upon Scotland policies that are damaging to Scotland’s economy, culture and society. In a series of speeches from my hon. Friends this afternoon, we have heard just how those policies are damaging Scotland’s economy, culture and society. Those immigration policies, aided and abetted by the Labour party and Liberal Democrats, are not only a failure across the UK but a perfect example of this Parliament’s failure to address Scotland-specific solutions on reserved matters.
Our nationalism in the SNP is simply a desire to right that wrong by self-determination. We do not blame foreigners or immigrants for the things that are wrong in our society. We welcome the rich contribution that they make to our country. We know that Scotland’s future lies as part of a Europe of free trade and free movement of people. All the evidence shows that the Scottish economy benefits from immigration. It is time for immigration policy to be made in Scotland, so that the Scottish Parliament can ensure that migration works to the benefit of the Scottish economy, to stimulate population growth and to enrich our society and our culture.
With the leave of the House, I will wind up the debate, as well as having opened it for the Government. We have had an important debate that has highlighted the scale of activity that the borders, immigration and citizenship system undertakes and the challenges it faces. It has been wide-ranging, with Members raising policy issues and individual cases. For every case that Members have rightly raised, there are thousands more people who are satisfied with their experience of the immigration system. I am proud of the hard work and dedication of officials in the Home Office. It is wrong—wholly wrong—to try to characterise those who work for the Home Office, in some instances doing incredibly difficult and stressful jobs, as in any way uncaring or inhumane.
I have listened carefully to Members’ contributions, and I welcome the thoughts and views put forward in today’s debate. I will highlight some of the comments that I thought were particularly insightful and useful.
My hon. Friend Stephen Kerr made an impassioned speech about immigration being a reserved matter, and he and I of course believe that it should stay that way. He made some interesting points about the way we describe skilled and unskilled labour within the immigration system, and as part of the White Paper process and the future system, I think we have to find better ways to articulate that. It is not easy to describe skills only in terms of qualifications or salary levels, and I have certainly been guided by the engagement we have done during the last few months. In particular, those in the social care industry certainly have many skills that perhaps do not fall neatly into the immigration categories. I have spent much time over the last six months listening to the Scottish farmer, the Cumbrian hotelier and the Bristolian tech entrepreneur, and I absolutely recognise that we need to be adaptive. Our economy is changing, and jobs exist today that did not exist five years ago. In the same way, there will be jobs in five years’ time that we have not even dreamed of today.
Stewart Hosie spoke at quite some length and used the word “arbitrary” repeatedly, but it is absolutely not the case that we have an arbitrary system. We work very hard to make sure that the decisions we make are the right ones, and there is indeed a great deal of work still to be done to make sure that we improve.
No, I am sorry, but I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman was not here at the start, and I have a lot of ground to cover in just a little time.
Last summer, I very much enjoyed going to Dundee and hosting a roundtable with people working particularly in the tech sector and the gaming industry. It is important that we reflect on the issues and views not just in a range of different sectors across industry, but of course in the different parts of the United Kingdom—both the individual countries of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and the different regions.
My superb, I have to say, Scottish hon. Friends may not have the length of service of the hon. Member for Dundee East, but I do not think we should in any way see length of service as a proxy for skill. They have certainly shown not only that they have grasped the issues but that they can carry their voice to Government and talk sense in a constructive and persuasive manner. This week, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has extended the MAC’s commission to looking again at salary thresholds. I commend all those who made the point that we should do that. Indeed, some of them appear to have missed the fact that we are doing it.
Deidre Brock made, to be quite frank, some outrageous allegations. She has called me “shabby” and accused the Government of being “racist”. I reject her very simple and, to be quite frank, nasty attitude on these points. I have spent the last 17 months making sure that we talk about immigration in a thoughtful and humane way, and I have to say that I have gone to quite some lengths to reach out across the House and listen to different views. I do not think that she either listened to or understood my opening comments, when I talked about the record high number of visitor visas granted—2.3 million last year, up 9%—
I am sorry, but I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I have a lot of ground to cover, and he was not here for the bulk of the debate.
The grant rate of visitor visas is in the region of 88%, and the characterisation of the UK by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith is one I simply do not recognise. It was a description that, to be frank, perfectly encapsulated her party’s doom and gloom personality: never has a glass of whisky been more half-empty.
My hon. Friend Douglas Ross had some very interesting quotes not only from the First Minister of Scotland, but from one of the SNP’s recently elected MEPs. The concerns he raised suggesting it was in any way appropriate—[Interruption.]
Order. Some hon. Members have not been in for the debate, and I do hope they are not going to disrupt the Minister when she is trying to reply to those who have been in for the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Moray raised the concern that people would be encouraged not to take part in the EU settled status scheme. The scheme is working well, with over 800,000 people through so far, and I do think it is important, as Stuart C. McDonald emphasised, that people go through the process and get their status.
Carol Monaghan might not have heard the announcement made earlier this week on the MAC’s commission with respect to salary thresholds, because she emphasised that point a great deal, but I reiterate to her that the visit visas are granted at a rate of about 88%, of which 97% are processed within 15 working days. When it comes to customer service and speed of service, I am the first to say that we can always do more, but the characterisation of the process as slow and inaccurate is very unfair.
The hon. Lady also raised an important point, which I would like to respond to, on students and European temporary leave to remain, particularly the consideration of Scottish universities, which have four-year degree programmes, and indeed the many universities up and down the UK that hold longer courses for medicine, veterinary science or architecture. This is something that we are looking at closely. While I am unable to provide further details at this stage, we are considering how best we can ensure that those students are not disadvantaged. That point has been put to me during the different stages of consideration of the immigration Bill, and I have no doubt that this is something that we really must resolve.
Alison Thewliss spoke of immigration detention and described it as arbitrary. It is not arbitrary: at any one time, 95% of people with no leave to be here are in the community, and two thirds of those who go into detention leave within a month and over 90% within four months. There is a pilot scheme in Newcastle for women who would otherwise be detained in Yarl’s Wood, in which they are being supported in the community. The hon. Lady will of course know that this Government commissioned Shaw to do a re-review of detention; we are implementing his recommendations. I remind her that the detention estate is 40% smaller than it was when this Government came to office. That is progress, and the direction of travel is good.
I cannot comment on the individual circumstances of the case that the hon. Lady raised, but I would like to emphasise that the Government have been clear: female genital mutilation is a crime; it is child abuse, and has absolutely no place in our society. However, we must consider each case on its own merits.
Gavin Newlands spoke of the issue of religious workers. There is a debate on that subject next week, and I encourage Members to attend it. He also mentioned freedom of movement. I gently remind him of the need both to reflect upon and uphold the outcome of referendums. He might not like it, but freedom of movement played a part in the referendum of 2016.
Joanna Cherry referred to the Adjournment debate that we will hold tomorrow on the subject of those individuals in Glasgow to whom Serco is providing notice to quit their property. It is of course important to reflect on how we address the challenge of people who have no leave to be here and whose appeal rights are exhausted, but who still stay in accommodation that they have no right to be in. I reassure Members that there will be an opportunity to debate that tomorrow.
The hon. and learned Lady suggested that I had been abandoned on my birthday to both open and close the debate. I want to reassure her that there is nothing I love more than being at this Dispatch Box. I also reassure her that when it comes to taking evidence and listening to opinion, of course we listen to the Migration Advisory Committee, the Government’s independent experts, but over the past year we have also been listening to the CBI, both in Scotland and in England. We have been listening to the Federation of Small Businesses, Universities UK, the Russell Group, MillionPlus, the Tourism Industry Council, the NFU in England and Wales, and indeed in Scotland, and many more individual businesses and employers, both large and small.
It is right that we take evidence. It is right that we listen to opinion. We are committed to improving the borders, immigration and citizenship system. That is why we will continue to listen to and consult Members from both sides of the House, as well as stakeholders across a broad range of sectors.
I thank Members for their insightful and thought-provoking contributions. I will continue to reflect on them in considering the Government’s approach going forward, and I look forward to further debates on these points, and indeed others, over the coming weeks. I have no doubt that hon. and right hon. Members will continue to raise these issues with much passion and enthusiasm.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
regrets that the outgoing Prime Minister’s legacy will be her hostile environment policy and her unrealistic and damaging net migration target;
calls for a fundamental change in the Government’s approach to immigration, refugee and asylum policy to one based on evidence, respect for human rights and fairness;
welcomes the contribution made by migrants to the UK’s economy, society and culture;
rejects regressive Government proposals to extinguish European free movement rights and to require EU nationals in the UK to apply for settled and pre-settled status;
and recognises that a migration policy that works for the whole of the UK will require different policy solutions for different parts of the UK, particularly given Scotland’s demographic and economic profile.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just for the record—I know this is standard practice now—the House has basically resolved unanimously that the Prime Minister’s legacy is the hostile environment, and called for the various reforms outlined in the SNP motion. Can you clarify for the House what we should expect from the Government in response to an Opposition day motion having been approved by the House in such a manner?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. As I suspect he knows—he hinted that he might—the former Leader of the House made a statement on what could be expected. The Government will make a response within, I think, approximately two months. I hope that is clear.