Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:37 pm, 26th June 2019

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.