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It is a pleasure to wind up this important debate, and I would like to thank the SNP for this opportunity to highlight the needs and challenges faced not only by Scotland but across our United Kingdom. In starting, it is right for me to reflect on the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Miriam Cates, and to congratulate her on her passionate explanation of what drove her into politics. I know that she will be a strong representative of her community.
As Members on the Scottish National party Benches will know, I am always keen to discuss a range of issues with all 59 of Scotland’s Members of Parliament here in this Chamber. I understand that remote areas and island communities face demographic pressures that have eroded the local workforce, leaving opportunities unfilled and threatening the stability of the rural economy. However, it has to be said that that has happened with freedom of movement in place. We need these issues to be addressed across our Union, not just by individual parts of our Union, yet the Scottish Government’s policy paper proposes measures that go against the recommendations of the independent and impartial Migration Advisory Committee. The MAC has consistently advised against applying different immigration arrangements to different areas of the UK. That cannot be stressed enough. As such, we have no plans to devolve immigration and create invisible borders within our United Kingdom—in effect, creating an economic version of Hadrian’s Wall or Offa’s Dyke. This Government are clear that our points-based immigration system will serve the needs of the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland. It goes without saying that any national differences in the rules or visa offers around the UK would result in an overly complex system at a time when we are trying to streamline and simplify the process, and would create additional burdens for businesses, employers and migrants.
I appreciate the comments of the shadow Minister, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, and of the spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Wendy Chamberlain. We might disagree on aspects of migration policy, including where we would draw the line, but I think we can agree that implementing a system based on whether someone’s job was in Gretna or Gateshead would present challenges—[Interruption.] I hear chuckling from the Benches opposite, but there are many workers whose jobs are necessarily based across our United Kingdom. Members of Parliament are a good example. I am in Whitehall and the Palace of Westminster during the week, but Torbay is also my main place of work. I know that many Opposition Members are in a similar position. My point is that there are millions of workers whose work regularly requires them to move between locations, and we do not wish to create a border for them within our United Kingdom.
It is unrealistic and undesirable to create a visa that binds a person to one part of the United Kingdom, opening the door to uncertain enforcement and complex bureaucracy, and creating routes to avoid and abuse the provisions by those seeking to undermine other areas of immigration policy. That is why we do not believe that this is the appropriate process to adopt. However, that does not mean that we do not want to hear what people have to say about our policies. One of the first suggestions from the Scottish National party in this debate was a graduate route for those who have been here on a tier 4 visa studying a course. Members may be interested to note that university-sponsored applications have increased by 14% over the last year to over 220,000, which is the highest ever level.