Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:54 pm on 26th June 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 2:54 pm, 26th June 2019

I am not sure I can do anything different than quote the First Minister’s words back to the hon. Gentleman. Nicola Sturgeon said in July 2014:

“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,

“they”—

EU nationals—

“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.

On 12 February this year, the Home Affairs Select Committee held an evidence session on the settled status scheme, and I asked witnesses what advice they would give if professionals or politicians were encouraging people not to apply for settled status. Nicole Masri, the legal officer for Rights of Women, said:

“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.