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I beg to move,
That this House
condemns the UK Government’s response to the Scottish Government’s publication of
welcomes support for the Scottish Government’s proposals from the business and rural communities in Scotland as well as the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Federation of Small Businesses Scotland and Scottish Council for Development and Industry;
notes Scotland’s unique demographics in that all population growth for the next 25 years is projected to come from migration;
recalls comments from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in June 2016 that Scotland would decide immigration numbers if the UK were to exit the EU;
and calls on the Home Secretary to engage positively with the Scottish Government in relation to these proposals before introducing the Immigration Bill and to devolve powers to the Scottish Parliament to enable a tailored migration policy for Scotland.
It is a pleasure to introduce this significant and serious debate on migration and to support the incredibly reasonable and considered policy proposals recently published by the Scottish Government—proposals that would ensure migration policy worked for every part of the UK but could also be tailored to reflect Scotland’s particular needs and circumstances. Indeed, those two features go together, for it is only by making sure the system is tailored to the different parts of the UK that we actually ensure that it can work for all the different parts of the UK.
From the outset, it is important to emphasise that these proposals have been widely consulted upon and developed collaboratively. The report flags up support for a tailored system from organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Law Society of Scotland, the David Hume Institute and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Many more names could be added to the list, from the all-party group on social integration to think-tanks such as the Institute for Public Policy Research. A range of academic reports have set out options for differentiation, including Dr Christina Boswell and Dr Sarah Kyambi at the University of Edinburgh and Dr Eve Hepburn for the Scottish Parliament. Lessons from international examples have been learned, from, among others, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland.
During the Brexit referendum campaign, we were told by the now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the matter of future immigration numbers:
“It would be for Scotland to decide because under the proposals that we have put forward we believe that a points based immigration policy…would be the right approach.”
He went on to say that the head of the Leave campaign in Scotland had written to the First Minister explaining how Scotland
“can have a greater degree of control over immigration policy” after Brexit. So I look forward to the support of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The simple proposal put forward by the Scottish Government is for an additional visa route for people to come to live and work in Scotland. Learning, in particular, from Canada’s provincial nominee programme, it would ideally be for Scottish Ministers to set out criteria and rules for selecting who could get one of those visas. The Scottish Government would then accept and reject applications against those criteria. The application would then transfer to the Home Office, not for reassessing the merits of the application, but to verify identity, check immigration history and satisfy security requirements. The visa granted would include a requirement that the visa holder live in Scotland for its duration. There would ideally be routes to settlement after that, probably at the five-year mark. It is acknowledged that a range of different models would be possible. The details and the numbers involved would be subject to negotiation.
I agree that we need to make sure that our immigration system is fit for purpose and meets the needs of the UK’s economy, but the hon. Member said he would expect people granted a visa to stay in Scotland for the duration. How would he police and enforce that? There is a great difference in scale between Scotland and England and Canada and America.
I shall come to that point later in my speech, if I may, but I can think of examples that are much closer to home than those that the hon. Gentleman has given. For instance, the Republic of Ireland has an open border with a country that has a completely independent immigration system, but no one seems to think it necessary to close the border to the north, or to introduce routine checks at ferry ports or anywhere else.
All the reasons why such a tailored approach is necessary have been rehearsed repeatedly by my hon. Friends in the House for several years, and have been set out in a series of Scottish Government Papers as well as in independent reports. Historically, Scotland’s population story has been one of out-migration. Only since 2001 has the country seen a sustained period of net in-migration, driven by a growth in both the number of EU citizens and the number of people from the rest of the UK who are coming to live and work in Scotland. While that recent history of in-migration and population growth has been welcome, the old history has left us with a legacy of a rapidly increasing older population and a smaller share of younger working-age people. Those challenges are not unique, but they are more pronounced in Scotland than in other parts of the UK and, indeed, Europe.
Looking ahead towards mid-2043, even as matters stand, we see that all Scotland’s very modest projected population growth is set to be from in-migration, with more deaths than births expected each year. Our working-age population is expected to remain the same size, but the population of older people will increase. Those trends are either distinct to Scotland in the UK context, or far more pronounced than they are in the UK as a whole.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, but is there not also an economic imperative? As he has said, Scotland’s working-age population is going to decline, which means that there is a price to be paid not only by Scotland but by the rest of the United Kingdom in the loss of tax receipts. My hon. Friend is outlining a common-sense solution that will enable us to learn from practices elsewhere in the world, so that we in Scotland can increase our prosperity and our population. What does he believe is driving the UK to simply say no to the Scottish Government, other than just sheer vindictiveness?
That is a very interesting question, and I look forward to hearing the reasons offered by the UK Government. Hopefully, having listened today to the case that the Scottish Government and my hon. Friends have made, Ministers will open their eyes and at least engage constructively with our proposals.
Against the background that I have described, surely no one in the House can seriously suggest that if changes were being made to the immigration system for Scotland alone, the policy goal would be a reduction in the modest but sustainable levels of migration that we have seen in recent years. Analysis shows that any such reductions in levels of EU migration will make all those trends worse, and will risk a decline in both Scotland’s working-age population and the overall population.
As my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford has pointed out, it cannot be overstated that all this has huge implications for economic growth, for GDP, for GDP per head, for our tax base and public finances, and for our economy and our society. Yes, we need the very highly qualified and well paid, but we also need those who are making an immense contribution to our country and economy but are not earning £25,000, whether they are in the care sector or the tourism industry, are starting out in research, or are working in food and drink, agriculture or retail, or many other sectors of our economy.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the average starting salary of graduates in Scotland is £23,500, which puts them significantly below the reduced salary thresholds that the UK Government are considering. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need a full roll-out of post-study work visa routes to ensure that talented graduates can make their careers in Scotland?
My hon. Friend is right, and the sooner that happens the better.
So what do we seek to achieve through today’s debate? I have been in this place long enough to know that even in the rather unlikely event that I make one of the greatest speeches in Parliamentary history, neither the immigration Minister, Kevin Foster nor the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Ross is going to suddenly perform a 360-degree U-turn and wholeheartedly embrace every aspect of these proposals, much as I would love that to be the case. I am simply asking the Ministers, particularly the immigration Minister, to engage with them seriously. Indeed, I make that request of all Members in all parties.
After the recent publication of the report from the Migration Advisory Committee, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:
“Business will want to see the Scottish and UK Government working seriously and closely together on these and future recommendations, ensuring appropriate policies are devised and implemented that work for businesses and our economy”.
In anticipation of the Scottish Government’s report, Scottish Labour’s external affairs spokesperson said
“Scottish Labour supports exploring a degree of flexibility within an overarching UK immigration system”.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives said:
“We’re willing to look at any proposal which helps Scotland prosper in this new era.”
I say to the Ministers that if they were to speak to their MSP colleagues, I think they would find—privately, at least—a degree of sympathy for the proposals that the Scottish Government are making, so I ask them please to engage with them as well.
In contrast, all we had from the Home Office was an unnamed spokesperson dismissing the proposals before they could possibly have been read, and we have since had a fortnight not so much of serious engagement but of knockabout politics, nonsense and soundbites. To draw a line under this skirmishing and to show that the UK Government do indeed treat with respect the suggestions put forward by the Scottish Government and supported by Scottish business, unions and civic society, will the immigration Minister meet Scottish Government Ministers and officials before he finalises the new immigration White Paper and introduces the new immigration Bill? That was something that his predecessor bar one, Caroline Nokes, did on a regular basis when she attended Cabinet as immigration Minister, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman can take his Department back to that form of constructive engagement. That would be far better than the nonsense and soundbites that we have been served in the fortnight since the Scottish Government’s paper was launched.
I want to address some of those soundbites now. We have been told for the 100th time that the UK Government want an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK. Believe it or not, I am quite happy to support that ambition too, as it is entirely consistent with what the Scottish Government propose. We simply believe that a system that works for the whole UK can—and, indeed, must—reflect the different needs and circumstances of its different parts. The Scottish Government paper expressly proposes further change to the UK-wide immigration system. This would involve changes that could benefit all of the UK as well as practical, tailored policies that provide solutions to Scotland’s needs, drawing on international models. There is a whole chapter in the report dedicated to whole-of-the-UK policy change, if only we could get people to read it. Is the Minister seriously saying that the Canadian migration system does not work for all of Canada because it has different rules for different provinces? In fact, most people there would say that the systems and rules work better for the whole precisely because they are tailored to suit the different parts.
We have also been told for the 100th time that immigration is a reserved matter. We are all absolutely aware that that is the case for now, but it does not have to stay that way, and we certainly would prefer that it did not. Once again, however, nothing in the Scottish Government’s paper is inconsistent with that. I have explained that, ideally, it would be for the Scottish Government to draft the criteria and to consider applications for a Scottish visa. However, it could be the UK Government who define the criteria and rules, receive and assess the applications and issue the visas. The UK Government do, of course, implement a shortage occupation list for Scotland, illustrating that tailored approaches are perfectly possible, even if they are not willing to go as far as formal devolution. Again, this is all in the Scottish Government’s paper, and I encourage people to read it.
We have also been told a few times that the Migration Advisory Committee has rejected the idea of a devolved system, but that is absolutely not a fair representation of what the MAC said. It is true that the Committee decided, on balance and accepting that there were good arguments on both sides, that if the Government want a salary threshold for tier 2 visas, it should be one salary across the UK. That went against the majority of stakeholder submissions, particularly from Scotland. Nevertheless, it is totally wrong to say that the MAC rejected the case for devolving migration powers or introducing tailored rules for Scotland. To quote the MAC report directly:
“We acknowledge the desire of the Scottish Government for immigration to become a devolved rather than a reserved matter, a question on which the MAC takes no position seeing it as a political rather than an economic question.”
The one part of the MAC report that we do call on Ministers to implement is its recommendation that a pilot project should be established to look at retention of migrants in remote and rural areas. That is a recommendation that the former Home Secretary—now the Chancellor of the Exchequer—accepted in a written statement back in July last year. An entire chapter of the Scottish Government paper is about wanting to engage in the pilot process, and the Scottish Government have tasked their own expert group on migration and population to consider how that could best benefit Scotland’s rural communities. Again, our ask is simple: will the immigration Minister meet Scottish Government Ministers and engage with them on how that pilot scheme could work in Scotland?
Another old chestnut is the argument that issuing a small number of Scottish visas would make the UK system too complex. That takes some brass neck, given the state of UK immigration law and the complexity and bureaucracy that successive UK Governments have imposed on those who come into contact with it. When it comes to work visas, it is widely accepted that while the bureaucracy of the tier 2 system might be surmountable for large multinational companies, it is ill suited and incredibly cumbersome for the small and medium-sized enterprises on which the Scottish economy is more reliant. The Scottish Government paper expressly adopts as one of its principles the need for the migration system to be easy to access and understand, and indeed the MAC and the UK Government have accepted the importance of making the process simpler. The visa proposed by the Scottish Government seeks to make things simpler still for employers by avoiding the burden of formal sponsorship and ensuring that salary thresholds do not exclude particular jobs. There is every opportunity for the Scottish visa to make life simpler for employers and applicants, rather than more complex.
Finally, the Prime Minister brought up the ludicrous old argument about a tailored system making a border a necessity. Hon. Members will know that successful tailored so-called regional migration systems exist right across the globe, including, of course, in the Government’s favourite Australian system. Not a single one requires internal borders. I might also quietly point out that the UK is happy enough to share an open land border and a common travel area with a country that has an entirely independent immigration system. Over the past five years, Ireland has issued an annual average of 27,000 visas to non-EEA nationals who of course have no right to live and work across the border in Northern Ireland or in any other part of the UK. Next year, EU migrants going to Ireland will fall into that bracket as well, roughly doubling the number of people who will arrive in Ireland with the right to live and work there, but not in the UK. But no one is saying that we need additional checks on people coming into other parts of the common travel area. That is because thinking of immigration control as simply what happens at the border is to fundamentally misunderstand it.
Most immigration control depends on what happens in country. Successful enforcement includes selecting people who are most likely to comply with their visa restrictions, then on placing appropriate conditions on what people can and cannot do once they have passed through the border, and only then on the enforcement action and sanctions that are applied if people do not comply.
The UK’s main work route for non-EU nationals, soon to be rolled out to EU nationals, operates in precisely the same way. People have a visa that is tied to a particular employer. We do not make them comply by erecting a border around them or their workplace, we simply recruit a person we trust to do the job, place conditions on their visa and rely on enforcement and sanctions in the small number of cases where that is needed.
The hon. Gentleman is right that much of the enforcement of our immigration system are the in-country rules, but I have read his paper carefully and he is proposing a Scottish visa that is not tied to the sponsorship of a particular employer, has no requirements for a minimum salary, and would therefore be a complete open door for people to get into the country that way with no one to carry out any in-country enforcement. He has just destroyed his own argument.
I have not destroyed my own argument, because the parallel is with Ireland. The in-country checks would take place in those parts of United Kingdom where people are not entitled to live and work. It is often said that that would be a back door to working in other parts of the UK, but the checks exist there. If somebody with a Scottish visa applies for a job in London, they will be turned down because there are sanctions for employers who break the rules and for the people who actually do that. It works perfectly well. Nobody suggests that we need to take any action in relation to the people coming in via Ireland, and it would be exactly the same for the far smaller number of people using the Scottish visa.
It is not just Ireland that we are talking about: our friends in the Isle of Man get to issue their own visas and yet the UK is happy to operate a common travel area with them. If the Isle of Man can do that, why not Scotland?
The Lib Dem amendment has not been selected, but I will address it. There is little in its critique of the UK immigration system that I could possibly quibble with, and it is consistent with the principles of dignity, fairness and respect that the Scottish Government’s paper refers to. The amendment also reiterates the party’s call to end limitless immigration detention and to close Dungavel detention centre. My party and I have been making those points for years on end, and we did so in one of our most recent Opposition day debates last summer. Indeed, my party was making those points even while some Lib Dems were part of the coalition Government delivering aspects of the hostile environment that they now condemn. As their amendment states, I want a fair, effective immigration system for the whole of the UK, but again there is absolutely no reason why that cannot incorporate tailored approaches for the different parts of the UK. I urge hon. Members to engage positively on the issues. Their amendment should have added to our motion, not attempted to replace its substance.
The case for a devolved, or at least a tailored, system for Scotland is powerful and verging on the unanswerable. We are at a pivotal moment for migration policy and for Scotland’s population. The overarching objective of UK Government policy is to reduce migration. Nobody in this Chamber can seriously dispute that such a policy goal is wholly inappropriate for Scotland. The Scottish Government, after extensive consultation with stakeholders, have put forward serious but reasonable proposals for a Scottish visa based on a wealth of research and international experience. I urge Ministers and Members across the House to engage seriously with the proposals, because failing to do so risks drastic consequences for Scotland. If that engagement does not happen, if those proposals are not taken seriously and nothing is done to avoid those drastic consequences, more and more people will consider the other way to avoid those drastic consequences. That is, of course, to push through our own independent migration policy, just like Ireland does, as an independent country.
The hon. Gentleman and I served together on the Home Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament, and I hope he will agree that, although we robustly debated a number of issues, we respected each other’s differing opinions and views. One thing I can agree with, in response to his direct request of me and other Ministers, is a 360° turn of my position—I will turn my decision through 360° and return to exactly where I started, just as he asks. When he asked me to make a 360° turn, I wondered whether he was taught by the same person who told Ian Blackford that a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland will cross the North sea, but perhaps that is the SNP Scottish education system coming out.
There will not be a meeting of minds between me and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East on this matter, because this Government are committed to introducing a new immigration system that works for the whole UK—for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why the Government have engaged, and continue to engage, extensively with many stakeholders across Scotland, including the Scottish Government and, crucially, businesses across a wide range of sectors. Their views have helped us to develop our plans for the future immigration system. We will introduce a firm and fair immigration system that focuses on what individuals contribute, not on where they come from—it will focus on those who would benefit the whole UK.
The Scottish Government’s recent report outlines the demographic challenges facing Scotland, but those challenges are manifest in other parts of the United Kingdom, too. We are committed to devising a system that helps address those challenges, but we have no plans to devolve powers on immigration. Introducing a devolved or regional immigration system would bring about significant complexities and would simply not be practical. Instead, we will introduce a new system that recognises the needs of all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom and that offers more of the flexibility for which employers and others have called.
Indeed, on the day the Scottish Government’s report was published, the Immigration Minister, my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, was in Glasgow to announce this Government’s commitment to the science community through our new global talent route, which will attract people from around the world with special skills, including the top researchers, scientists and mathematicians. We will create bespoke visa schemes for new people who will fill shortages in our public services and build the companies and innovations of the future, benefiting Britain for years to come.
What the Minister is saying is that, if we developed a system for Scotland that suited Scotland’s immigration needs, it would not be suitable if it did not work for other parts of the United Kingdom.
What I was saying, if the hon. Gentleman had listened, is that the problems in Scotland are not unique to Scotland. We face these problems across the United Kingdom, and it is surely better if we address them across the United Kingdom. The SNP seems to think these problems are unique to Scotland, but they are not.
We will create a fast-track NHS visa for medical professionals with NHS job offers, thereby reducing risk, reducing visa fees and providing support for them to come to the UK with their families. Of course, the Scottish national health service will benefit equally with the rest of the United Kingdom.
As I have said, we have laid rules to introduce new visa routes to recruit leaders in their field by offering the best graduates and winners of scientific prizes fast-track entry to the United Kingdom.
Surely the Minister must agree that what we are seeing is the jagged edge of devolution. Powers are being given on health and developing the economy, yet the Open University business barometer estimates that it will cost businesses in Wales £150 million a year to try to fill the skills gap. What we do not have, just as in Scotland, is the means to fill that skills gap tailor-made for Wales. That is the jagged edge of devolution, and it is not allowing us to develop properly.
I have experienced politics in Scotland for a long time, and I believe the Scottish Parliament has a great deal of powers to improve the lives of the people of Scotland—the problem is the people currently operating those powers; the SNP Government are letting down the people of Scotland.
We have already announced the creation of a new graduate route, which will help our world-leading universities, including those in Scotland, to continue to attract talented young people, and allow students to stay and apply for work for up to two years after they graduate. It is important that these changes are introduced to the United Kingdom as a whole. Under the devolution settlement, immigration is reserved, and it is right that it continues to be so. It is also better for those using the system, both migrants and those who sponsor them, such as employers and educational institutions. There are many workers whose jobs are necessarily peripatetic, and trying to pin a worker down to a particular location is not a straightforward proposition. An assessment of an individual’s tax code would not be sufficient to determine their immigration status. It might indicate where an employee spends some of their time or even where a company’s head office is—for example, where payroll is managed—but it would not provide any certainty as to where an employee spends the bulk of their working time.
Let us imagine the burden for an employer who is constantly having to determine whether he or she can deploy particular workers to certain areas depending on the terms of their visa. Let us consider the example of an engineer who works for a company that has several contracts in both England and Scotland. Could a migrant on a Scottish visa fulfil that role? I foresee significant complications and litigation resulting from that.
There are different ways we could do this. I, for one, suggest that these people should be allowed a limited number of days working in other parts of the UK. A firm such as that would simply use the main UK immigration system and apply for a tier 2 visa in the normal way. We are talking about additional visas to allow employers to bring in people who would not qualify for the main UK visas. This is about additionality; it is not an alternative and more complicated way of doing things.
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman, who is promoting this debate, is coming up with more and more add-ons to this. His own party’s paper, which I have read from cover to cover, says that this proposal is to deal with the majority of people who will be working in and only in Scotland. The example I have given is just one of many where people could be employed by a company in Scotland yet be working in other parts of the UK. I foresee significant problems with that.
I want to make a bit of progress, if I may, because I have given way several times.
We also need to consider the economic justification of what is being proposed. We are very fortunate in this country that we are able to rely on the independent and impartial advice of the Migration Advisory Committee. The MAC is appointed by fair and open competition, and always issues a call for evidence when conducting its inquiries to ensure that it has the widest range of evidence to draw on. Its recent reports show that Scottish interests were well represented in the evidence that the MAC received, and MAC members visited all parts of the United Kingdom as part of the process of coming to its conclusion. Given that the MAC consults so widely in producing its advice, it is worth reflecting on what it has said. In its report “EEA migration in the UK”, published in September 2018, the MAC said, on regional differentiation in the immigration system, that
“we do not consider that there is sufficient evidence to make such a differentiation on economic grounds.”
In the same report, it went on to say:
“In previous reports the MAC has recommended against introducing more regional variation for a number of reasons. We have considered it desirable to keep the system as simple as possible and the salary thresholds have been set based on national pay distributions and not by the demands of higher wage regions. Similar arguments have been used against regional variation in setting the national minimum wage.”
However, that clear advice from the MAC was not sufficient to end the calls from the Scottish Government for a separate system, so the MAC was obliged to return to the issue again. The most recent MAC report, “A Points- Based System and Salary Thresholds for Immigration”, was published only last month. Again, the MAC’s recommendation was clear:
“We have considered regional salary thresholds and can see the arguments on both sides and on balance, we have concluded that the relevant salary thresholds should apply across the UK. This is in line with previous MAC recommendations but also in line with other bodies such as the Low Pay Commission that has always recommended a UK-wide minimum wage. Although there are some economic arguments for regional variation these are not large enough to justify the added complexity of regional variation in salary thresholds.”
I have two points to make on that. First, it is slightly rich of the Government to be hiding behind the MAC report, given that they have just sacked its chairman because it did not buy into the Australian points-based system bonanza. Secondly, if the Minister was listening to my speech, he would know that the MAC was considering salary differentiations throughout the UK there and said specifically that it was taking “no position” on the issue of whether or not migration should become a devolved rather than a reserved matter, because that is
“a political rather than an economic question.”
So it did not come to a view on whether migration should be devolved.
It is rather rich for the hon. Gentleman to criticise me for quoting from the MAC report and then to quote from the MAC report himself. If it is good enough for him to quote from that report, it is good enough for me to quote from it.
I have a final quote from the MAC report, which said:
“We also don’t want to institutionalise some parts of the UK as ‘lower wage’;
regional inequalities should be addressed through equalising wages.”
The Government share that view and are committed to the levelling-up agenda, and I would like to believe that that view is shared in all parts of the House.
I wish to say something on the role of the Scottish Government, who commissioned the report we are discussing.
May I take the Minister back to his enthusiasm for the work of the Migration Advisory Committee? According to the committee’s own website, its six good citizens consist of two from the London School of Economics, one from the University of York, one from the University of Warwick in Coventry, one from the University of Oxford and one from the University of Southampton. According to the biographical information on the MAC website, none of them have declared any previous experience working in Scotland or, as far as I know, in Wales or Northern Ireland, either. Although I welcome the Government’s new-found enthusiasm for the virtues of elite academic experts, as these people no doubt are, if the Minister wants an immigration system that works for the whole UK, surely that system should be looked at and analysed by people with experience of working in all parts of the UK. [Interruption.]
I am extremely sorry to hear that an experienced SNP Member, backed up from a sedentary position by the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart—[Interruption.] Will he allow me to continue? Peter Grant does not think that the MAC reports are in any way relevant to Scotland because there is no one Scottish on the committee. The MAC consults widely with Scotland. That report is clearly worthy of quoting, as it has been quoted twice now by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. The MAC’s membership is made up of experts who consult and engage with Scotland before they commission any report. We should thank them for their efforts rather than criticising them for not being Scottish enough. It is a particularly separatist argument that we get from the SNP time and again.
I want to start to bring my remarks to a close.
I was saying that I wanted to mention the role of the Scottish Government—I wonder whether that is why we now suddenly have a number of SNP Members trying to interject. The Scottish Government have considerable powers at their disposal on education, infrastructure, economic incentives and taxation that can deal with many of the concerns that are being raised. If there is concern about falling population in Scotland, I encourage SNP MPs to engage with their colleagues in the Scottish Government and look into how they can make Scotland a more attractive place to live and work.
The Government recognise the value of immigration, provided that it is properly controlled, which is why we are ending free movement and introducing a new points-based system that will ensure that the best and brightest talent from around the world will be able to come to the United Kingdom. That will enable us to exercise control while at the same time reducing overall migrant numbers. Further details of our future system will be set out in the near future.
I am bringing my remarks to a close because I know that a number of people want to speak.
This is a Government with an ambitious agenda. We are going to transform the immigration system, creating a world-leading points-based system that works for each and every part of the UK and gives people in the United Kingdom the assurance that we have control but can also bring in those who can help our country. We will speed up and simplify the system but, crucially, avoid the complexities that will ensue from having different arrangements for different areas. I do not believe it would benefit any part of the United Kingdom to adopt an approach based on fragmentation.
The Government believe in a migration system that works for the whole of the UK. Unlike those who secured this debate, the Government believe in the notion of the United Kingdom. I personally will continue to have an open and frank dialogue with SNP Members and the Scottish Government. Scotland’s two Governments can work together on this important issue, and I assure SNP Members and Members from all other parties that the Scotland Office door will remain open to discussion on this issue.
I thank the SNP for securing this debate. It is often falsely claimed that we never talk about migration in this country; on the contrary, it seems that many on the Government Benches and their supporters never stop talking about immigration. What separates today’s motion from so much else is its attempt to talk rationally about migration. That alone is a breath of fresh air.
Furthermore, today’s motion sets the discussion in terms of what our needs are, wherever we are located. It sets it in terms of what is needed for our society, our education system, our public services and our economy. That must be the right overall approach, otherwise people would be arguing about what immigration system we want, irrespective of the consequences on our society and on our economy. Only a charlatan or worse would argue that they wanted an immigration policy that disregarded the consequences. On close inspection of today’s motion, I can say that it contains nothing objectionable. However, there is one point of disagreement, to which I will return.
It is clear that this Government have taken a high-handed and dismissive approach to the publication of the Scottish Government’s migration needs in “Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper”. It must be correct that the Home Secretary should engage positively with all elected politicians, although yesterday’s urgent question on charter flight deportations shows that that is still a work in progress. Of course, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should be a man of his word and keep the promises that he made on devolution, all which is entirely reasonable. This is the main content of today’s motion.
My one caveat in relation to the motion, which does not negate my previous remarks, is that we on the Labour Front Bench do not believe that Scotland is a uniquely special case that would require a tailored migration policy. Skills and labour shortages are a common feature across the country. For example, there are more than 100,000 vacancies in the NHS alone. There are enormous shortages of workers in social care. The country lacks skilled engineers. We have labour shortages in agriculture and skills shortages in science and research and in the academy. The Office for National Statistics reports that, altogether, there were still more than 800,000 vacancies in the job market at the beginning of this year. They are concentrated in healthcare and social work, but there are huge shortages of professional and scientific workers.
We are all grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for this motion. May I gently say to her that I know that there are issues across the rest of the United Kingdom, and that there are skills shortages in large parts of the UK—we found that in our Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry—but in Scotland, we can do something about it. We have a democratic political institution called the Scottish Parliament that can assume these powers and at least make it better for Scotland. Surely, if we can do that, we should do that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks.
There are huge shortages of professional and scientific workers, as well as of workers in the wholesale and retail trade and in the hotels and restaurants all across the country. Of course, the Government’s plans for a new migration system do not take that into account. They pretend that they have an Australian-style points-based system, which Professor Alan Manning, the departing chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, has derided as a “soundbite”.
What the Government actually propose is a crude income threshold for immigration, and on that we can agree. It ignores completely those underpaid sectors and jobs where there are skills or labour shortages. It is a system that is set irrespective of the consequences on our society and on our economy. Hospitals need not just brain surgeons but cooks, cleaners and porters too. That applies not just in Scotland but in all the countries and regions.
There are further concerns about what might amount to a devolution of immigration policy. The value that workers provide is the most important contributor to production. There are severe problems created by artificially limiting the flow of labour to where the jobs are, as this Government will do with their Brexit policy. There are further, if less significant, difficulties created by limiting the flow of labour within our nations and regions, as a Scottish-only immigration policy would do. For example, a Scottish NHS trust may recruit a junior doctor from overseas, but, after a few years, that junior doctor may need to further their training, and the best place in which to do so is Birmingham General. How would a Scottish-only visa help them? We could also take the example of an engineer recruited to Aberdeen, who now seeks to fill a post in Leeds, and so on.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and I welcome her to her new role. I agree with much of what she says, apart from on this particular point. The whole idea is that the Scottish visa would mean that that doctor was able to come to Scotland when, otherwise, they would not have been able to do so. If that doctor, or any other employer, had to move around different parts of the UK, they would do so using the mainstream UK immigration system. This is additionality; it is not an alternative. If the Scottish visa does not exist, those people cannot be here at all. That means that the issue of mobility around the whole UK does not arise.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I do appreciate that. In the case of the Scottish Government, there is currently a very welcome, rational and reasoned approach to migration—in case that compliment was not obvious, I will make sure that it is. However, no one can say that that will always be the case, or that it is even the case in all the nations and regions now. The widespread use of devolved powers in immigration could create bizarre and unworkable recruitment process and practice across the regions if others started to take a less rational approach because of changes in Government. It would impose non-tariff barriers on ourselves and on the most important factor in production—workers themselves. Instead, we should aim for a reasonable and fair migration system that benefits us all.
Just so that no one confuses my remarks with those of the Minister, this is not the same immigration policy as that of the Government. We would rather welcome those who contribute to our wellbeing in the widest possible sense, and uphold their rights to a family life as equals in the workforce, and their rights as citizens when it comes to voting and access to public funds. I am sure that the Scottish National party would agree with that. “No taxation without representation” remains a great rallying cry, and we can add to that “no taxation without access to the benefits of taxation”. That should be our approach to the migrant workers we have welcomed here and their families.
Although I share the Scottish National party’s frustrations and many of their views on subjects such as immigration detention, I would say that the best way to have a fair, humane and economically sound immigration policy that benefits us all would be to see off the current Government. I am sure that the SNP would agree.
I reiterate that I welcome today’s motion, its tone and its overall approach, but we do not agree with the proposal to devolve immigration policy. I also note that the motion only calls for the Home Secretary to “engage positively” with that proposal. That is an entirely reasonable and democratic demand given the status of the Scottish Government.
It is a pleasure to follow Bell Ribeiro-Addy, but I must confess to being slightly confused. I listened to her opening remarks, in which she welcomed the motion from the SNP and said that she broadly agreed with it, but she then spent the rest of her speech going through all the areas where she did not agree with it. I do however welcome the fact that, post general election, she effectively confirmed what the Labour conference said it supported last autumn. She confirmed that Labour basically wants an open-door policy for migrants, and she specifically said that she wanted migrants to have access to the benefits system from day one. It was very helpful that she confirmed that.
The hon. Lady also confirmed that Labour does not believe in having any detention centres, and she mentioned the recent Home Office flight. I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, in his place, and as a former Immigration Minister I congratulate him on the Home Office’s fortitude in ensuring that around 20 foreign national offenders guilty of very serious criminal offences have been removed from our country. They were not British citizens. They were foreign nationals who abused the hospitality our country offered them by committing very serious criminal offences, and I for one—I think I speak for many members of the public—am pleased that they are no longer here. I congratulate my hon. Friend on standing up to the pressure he was put under by those who forget that we are supposed to be in the business of protecting the public and removing serious offenders.
Let me turn to the motion on the Order Paper. In his wide-ranging speech, Stuart C. McDonald talked about Scotland as a proportion of the United Kingdom population and its share of migrants. It is very interesting to look at the data. We have a significant number of migrants coming to the United Kingdom, whether we look at it in net or gross terms, and it is very interesting that when we consider Scotland as a proportion of the United Kingdom’s population and do the same for the other constituent parts of the UK, and look at where migrants choose to go, it is clear that the gap between the number of migrants choosing to go to Scotland and its population is the biggest anywhere in the UK. In other words, most migrants who come to the United Kingdom prefer to go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland—
Of course, we remember the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution of the “Go Home” vans, which he introduced when he was Immigration Minister—but we will leave that aside just now. By pointing out that such a low number of migrants are coming to Scotland, surely he is actually making the case for allowing Scotland to have the ability to recruit more migrants.
First of all, I make no apologies for wanting people who are in the United Kingdom illegally to go back to their countries of origin. People should obey the rules and follow the law, and they should not be here when they shouldn’t be here. I make no apology for that.
The point I was making was that we need to look at the reasons why people may not be choosing to go to Scotland. One of the clear points made in the Scottish Government’s own paper, in which they look at the experience of Canada and Australia, is that it is the economic performance of countries that determines their attractiveness to migrants. I simply note that the United Kingdom’s economy is forecast to grow more quickly than Scotland’s over the next four years, according to both the independent Office for Budget Responsibility and the Scottish Fiscal Commission, which says that the Scottish economy will grow by less than 1% in 2019, less than 1% in 2020, just over 1% in 2021 and just over 1% in 2022—significantly lower than the projected growth rate for the United Kingdom. That suggests to me that if the Scottish Government were more effective in increasing the Scottish growth rate, more migrants may choose to go to Scotland.
This is a chicken and egg situation, and the right hon. Member has got it the wrong way around, if that is possible. The point is that all those papers and the MAC itself suggest that, if countries are able to attract more migrants, their economy will grow. We need the powers to attract and allow in more people, and to grow our economy faster. The Minister referred to that point a previous time in the Home Affairs Committee. He was very good at pointing out how the tier 2 system was wholly unsuitable for Scotland. That is one of the key reasons why Scotland—and pretty much everywhere outside London—struggles to compete to attract migrants.
I am very interested that the hon. Member says that. He was chastising people before for not having read the Scottish Government’s paper. In their paper, they talk about the Canadian experience. I mention Canada and Australia because those are the two models that the Scottish Government talk about, ignoring the fact that both Canada and Australia are geographically vast countries and their geographical experiences are not particularly relevant to the United Kingdom’s. On page 81 of their paper, the Scottish Government specifically say about the Canadian experience:
“Migrants reported that the most significant factor affecting retention in the province of nomination”— in other words, migrants staying in the province where they originally went—
“was economic: onward movement was most likely to occur where they considered that better or more job opportunities were available outside of their original province. This points to the importance of linking provincial migration with labour market opportunities.”
The hon. Member has argued that London is a much more attractive place for migrants. Following the logic of the arguments made in his own paper would result in the conclusion that the Scottish Government would allow lots of people to go to Scotland, and that those people would then look across the United Kingdom at more attractive job opportunities, which he has just pointed out are in London; they would then not stay in Scotland, thus effectively nullifying the policy.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain something to me—and I hope the Minister will pay attention—because we will all experience these kinds of cases in our surgeries. I have a young constituent who is from Australia. Her name is Jessica, she works for the Beatson cancer clinic in Glasgow and she wants to stay there. Her colleagues also want her to stay. She is making a hugely valuable contribution to the workplace, the economy and the culture. But she cannot stay because of the arbitrary salary thresholds imposed by this Government, who are actively excluding people from our economy who want to stay here. That is why we need these powers in the Scottish Parliament.
That is a very good question because it provides me with the opportunity to say one or two words about the Government’s proposals for their Australian-style points-based system, which allows for some of the flexibilities—the Minister alluded to them—that would deal with some of the concerns that Jessica might have.
Under those plans, which are to be published later this week, there would be skilled migrants who get points for a job offer at the appropriate skill level, which would clearly be appropriate for Jessica; a job offer with an approved sponsor company; and a salary of at least £25,600. The plans make it clear, on the score awarded for salary, that people on £23,000 will still be able to earn points, and those who earn less than £25,600 will score double points for working in a sector where there is a skills shortage. That is a more flexible approach than that taken at the moment. There would also be more points available for younger applicants and for those planning to work outside London, thus dealing with the point made by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East about the attractiveness of the labour market in London. Given that this system has not yet come into force and has not yet been set out in detail, it would be sensible for us to at least give it an opportunity to see whether it deals with some of these complexities, and the experience of Jessica, before throwing it away.
On what the Migration Advisory Committee says about the points-based system, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his own Government have not provided sufficient information for it to advise on whether the current system or a future system will work well? It says in its report:
“We have little idea whether the current system works well because we have not been able to obtain relevant data. We recommend a pause in the proposed increases in the settlement income threshold. We also recommend that there should be a review of the criteria for settlement, though that can only be done if there is better data available”.
Does he agree that his Government seem to be thwarting the efforts of the Migration Advisory Committee, which does not seem to be in favour of the system that he is suggesting?
No, I do not. The Migration Advisory Committee—the clue is in the name—provides advice to the Government. I am very pleased that we live in a country where decisions are taken by Ministers who are accountable to this House. I look forward to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary setting out the Government’s plans once they have been approved by the Cabinet.
I have never quite understood one point. It was touched on by the hon. Member for Streatham, who speaks for the Opposition. It is the issue about pay and skills shortages. I suppose it is because people on the left broadly do not believe in a market economy, but my view is that, if there are sectors of the economy where employers are having trouble recruiting people, that rather suggests that they should increase the pay in those sectors, or improve the training that they provide for people—the economic value to those constituents. We should not simply acquiesce in allowing businesses to import an unlimited number of people to keep down the wages of the people working in the sector. Sometimes, as a Conservative, that is an uncomfortable message to deliver, because we are the party of business and economic growth: that is certainly the view of business. Sometimes we should say to business, “You should not be able to employ an unlimited number of people from overseas and keep wages down; you should actually increase the salaries you pay to your staff or increase the training opportunities to improve their productivity.” The Government having that level of creative tension with business would be more healthy than simply allowing it to import cheap labour.
If the response to staffing shortages and skills shortages is to pay people more, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why it is that when the health service was experiencing desperate shortages of staff right across the board, his Government imposed year after year of public sector pay cuts in real terms?
Opposition Members always find this tiresome—although it tends to be ones from the official Opposition—but the hon. Gentleman will know that when the Conservative Government came into office in 2010, we faced a significant deficit in the public finances—[Interruption.] SNP Members immediately start jeering, but it is true. That needed dealing with, and Government Members had to take some very difficult decisions to get the public finances in order; I commend Liberal Democrat Members, who took part in the coalition Government. I am surprised that Scottish nationalist Members of Parliament do not understand big deficits in the public finances, because Scotland has in its public finances a significant deficit of around 7%, which is significantly higher than the rest of the United Kingdom.
I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the view of business. As my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald outlined in his very good speech, considerable support was garnered from business groups and other stakeholders across civic Scotland, who supported the Scottish Government’s plan and thought it was a good idea. Does he therefore regret the fact that his Government took a whole 20 minutes to denounce and disagree with the Scottish Government’s proposal, and does he find that disrespectful to the groups who provided that support across civic Scotland?
I will come back at the end of my remarks to what should happen, when I set out why I think the House should oppose the motion. On the point about business, the hon. Gentleman has just proved my point. Of course business—particularly big business—is in favour of having an open-door immigration system, which enables them to import labour from around the world, keep down wages and not have to pay people to reflect skills and training properly. I had this conversation with business when I was Immigration Minister and subsequently. Sometimes we have to push back a bit and explain to businesses that they need to increase their salaries and training and increase their productivity in order to pay those salaries. That is a good message for the public.
I do not rise in connection with the right hon. Gentleman’s reference to my party. To take a broader view of this issue, while his points are well made about the economy and pay and conditions, does he agree that attracting people who might be useful to our economy to move here, contribute to the economy and bring their families here is about more than just working conditions and the economy? It is also about services such as health, transport, education and, in the context of my constituency, even broadband connectivity.
I do. I did not want to labour the point about all the areas in which the SNP-run Scottish Government are failing the people of Scotland—I simply focused on economic growth—but if I were pushed, I could focus on their underperformance on health and on education, as Scotland falls down—[Interruption.] I do not think that the Scottish Government missing all their targets for the performance of the health service is a laughing matter. The SNP ought to take that a little more seriously.
I have three more points to make before I conclude. The first is on enforcement. I challenged the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East on this and drew attention to the fact that, in the Scottish Government’s proposals, there is no sponsorship role for employers—that enforcement mechanism would not be there—and no salary threshold. He pushed back and said that, if a person chose to work elsewhere in the United Kingdom, that is where we would catch them out, but he is forgetting something.
Many people wish to come here from many parts of the world—I do not blame them, because the United Kingdom is a very attractive country to come to—and we stop them coming here by not issuing them with a visa. Once they are in the country, it becomes quite difficult and very costly to remove them when they have no right to be here. They often work under the radar, illegally. They are often exploited by rogue landlords, and they may make an argument that they are claiming asylum, which means that we have to go through a long and complicated process to demonstrate that they do not have entitlement to be here before having to remove them. By not having sponsorship, or that mechanism for employers with a record of proven success in employing staff from overseas, the hon. Gentleman is throwing away that significant enforcement mechanism. We would open up that risk not just in Scotland but in the whole United Kingdom, which is one reason why I do not find his proposals acceptable.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should make the point to business that, if it invites in people at the low end of the income scale, there may be large set-up capital costs such as extra social housing, school provision, health provision and in-work benefits, which is a charge on the taxpayer and ultimately a charge on British employers?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right.
To make my penultimate point, in the documents, there are a number of references, as I have said, to Canada and Australia. Canada and Australia both allow free movement around their countries. The point is made in the Scottish Government’s own document that there are significant problems in retaining staff who have come in on the regional visas in the areas where they were supposed to stay, largely driven by the more attractive economic offers in other parts of the country. That is a real challenge, given that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East accepted that the present system is that there are more attractive economic opportunities for migrants in other parts of the United Kingdom than in Scotland—that was his own argument—and I do not see anything in the document that suggests that the Scottish Government would be able to retain those migrants in Scotland.
Finally, to turn to the motion, I think that the hon. Gentleman and the SNP have got it the wrong way round. They have published a document and called on the Home Secretary to engage with them with their proposals. Given that the Government have not yet set out their proposals in detail and they have not been agreed by the Cabinet, a more sensible approach, now that we have left the European Union—that battle is over for now; given the SNP’s position on Brexit, it was challenging for it to accept that it was happening— would be for the SNP to engage with the Government. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who opened the debate and who I am pleased to see in his place, made it clear that his door was open. The SNP should engage with both the Home Office and the Scotland Office to look at how the measures that will be set out in our points-based system—I have set out one or two of them—could best engage with Scotland’s needs.
We are keen that we have an immigration system that works for the whole of the United Kingdom, to make every part of our country more dynamic, and to increase pay and opportunities for people across the United Kingdom. That is the best way of proceeding, so I suggest that the House, when the time comes later today, reject the motion. I urge the SNP to engage seriously with the Government. If it does so, it will find a listening ear and a willingness to engage on that basis, which is the best way for us all to move forward.
I fear that sometimes in politics people oppose propositions for the wrong reasons. I do not regard myself as immune from that tendency by the way, but quite often, people are in a political bunker, and they have predetermined attitudes about the meaning of a proposition. Before someone expresses even a single word in support of that proposition, their mind is made up on the basis of who is making the argument.
I fear that this is one of those occasions. No matter how convincing the arguments from SNP Members, the Government will not listen to them—those arguments will fall on deaf ears. I am saddened by that, because it is not a good way to approach such a serious subject. There are probably Government Members—I do not know whether I would include the Under-Secretary—who simply reject any proposition on visa controls or anything else from the SNP, because they would regard giving in or moving towards that position as being the thin end of the wedge of Scottish independence, so no quarter must be given.
Let me be clear, SNP Members very much want Scotland to become an independent country with full and absolute control over all matters to do with nationality and the movement of people into and out of the country. I very much look forward to the day—I hope it will not be too long ahead—when we can establish an immigration system in Scotland that gives people Scottish citizenship with a very generous attitude and encourages people to come and make their homes in our country from all corners of the globe: a country made up of first-class citizens rather than there being different attitudes to different people depending on where they come from. But that is not where we are, and it is not what is being proposed in this debate.
What is being proposed is a simple policy to have a work visa in one part of the United Kingdom because of very clear, overwhelming arguments in favour of it. I might almost suggest that a Unionist-minded politician could support many of the propositions contained in this motion, because the purpose behind it is to try and make up for and deal with the consequences of Scotland being part of a centralised single state where economic planning, and strategic economic planning in particular, is very much done from the centre and where the Scottish economy risks becoming a peripheral regional economy in a much larger entity.
We all know the economic pressures that that creates. I moved to this city in the 1980s for work, as did many other people I know. It is still happening today—this gravitational pull that draws people in and overheats the south-east of England. That is precisely why a one-size-fits-all policy is not the answer to anything.
For the last 20 years or so the Scottish population has been growing slightly, but only as a result of immigration; had it not been for that, the population would have been in decline. For that period up until the end of this year, we have been blessed in many ways by having access to the free movement of people across this continent, which has allowed many people from other European countries to come and make their home and live and work in Scotland. But now that that is at threat of disappearing, it is all the more important that we address what sort of immigration system we have in the United Kingdom and whether Scotland, as part of that, is going to have its needs satisfied. And I would say that with the current proposals on offer—
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can enlighten me, but from what I know of the current proposals on offer, that is most definitely not the case.
Part of centralising Scotland and England and the rest of the Union in a single economic policy is, of course, sharing a currency, so does the hon. Gentleman now think that Scotland should leave the pound in order to have an independent policy, because otherwise it would obviously be very dependent?
I am not sure of the relevance of that question to the current debate, but let me answer. It will not be too many years hence until Scotland is a strong and prosperous economy with its own currency, its own central bank and punching well above its weight compared with today.
Various arguments have already been made against this proposal by those on the Government Benches, but they do not hold water, because they are not, in essence, arguments against what is being proposed—
Clearly the buoyancy of the economy and how it works would either attract migrants to Scotland or not, but in the situation of independence, my understanding is that SNP policy is to rejoin the European Union—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] SNP Members confirm that from a sedentary position. In that case, surely the currency of Scotland would be the euro.
No it would not, nor is there any requirement for it to be so. This is very much the season of dead cats, and I am not going to respond to that one being thrown on the table; I am going to focus on the arguments about having a Scottish visa.
There are some arguments that have been put against this that I want to deal with. The first is the suggestion that this is some sort of backdoor into the United Kingdom; that we are going to open a portal through which lots of migrants are suddenly going to come to the shores of Britain and then find their way to the constituencies of Government Members and cause unknown terror for their constituents.
Much as they might want to blow those dog whistles and whip up fears about immigration, that is not what is being proposed. We are proposing a simple measure that could be enforced through as simple a mechanism as the national insurance stamp, where somebody has the right to seek employment, be employed and pay tax in Scotland, but not in any other part of the United Kingdom. What would happen if they decided they were going to get on a train and take a job in London? They would give their details to their employer, who would say, “I’m sorry, we can’t actually make this offer of a job because you don’t meet the requirements to work in this part of the United Kingdom. You are only validated for working in Scotland.” It might be said, “But what would happen if people just ignored that and somehow unofficially or illegally went to seek work?” Well, that could happen, but that could happen now. This argument makes no difference to that actually happening. In fact, that is an argument for controlling the work permit situation within the United Kingdom to a much better extent than it is being done now.
The other point being suggested—we have heard this several times—is that somehow the SNP proposals are an alternative to the grand, yet-to-be-unveiled new immigration system that the United Kingdom is going to have. That has been said, I think, four or five times already in the debate, but Members are deaf to our arguments. We are not saying that this is a delete-all-and-insert policy; we are saying that this could be brought in in addition to the United Kingdom procedures to provide for the very particular circumstances that operate in Scotland.
The other argument that has been thrown against us is, “What’s so exceptional about Scotland? Why Scotland? You could make this argument about other parts of the United Kingdom.” Perhaps, but probably not a whole country and probably not a whole country where there is already a semi-autonomous devolved system of government—an Administration—where it would be simple to bring these proposals in. I say to Conservative Members: embrace this idea, because what if it worked? Then it would be an argument for having provincial government in England and for having differentiated systems that take into account the fact that this is a large country with very diverse economic needs in different parts of it. If Conservative Members and the Government are serious about their platitudes on investment and growth in the north of England, then this might be one of the vehicles they could choose to deliver that.
This debate takes place in a context. I said at the beginning that we were not advocating Scottish independence. This is a very mild-mannered proposal to try to cater for particular economic circumstances in Scotland: an additional power to a Scottish Government who already have significant powers in many other related aspects of social policy. But understand the context in which we are having this debate. I know that the Government have the numbers to defeat this proposal in the Lobby tonight. Everybody watching this debate knows that this Government have more votes throughout the United Kingdom than the Scottish National party. But understand and understand this well: while the Conservative party has a mandate in most of the United Kingdom and in England in particular, it has no mandate whatsoever in Scotland. It was roundly defeated in Scotland at the general election on
People are watching debates such as this very carefully. There is a clear desire and aspiration now in Scotland for people to be able to choose their own future: to be able to make a judgment as to whether the course that the United Kingdom has set, by leaving the European Union and setting itself up in a fairly insular and isolated situation, is the path we wish to follow. Many people—a clear majority of people—would express the wish that we should choose a different path, an independent path where we control our own destiny, make our decisions, make our own mistakes and learn from them, because the people who live in that country, and only the people who live in that country, have the right to determine how they are governed. That sentiment is growing now in Scotland. Much as the Government may want to put their head in the sand and ignore it, that is happening. I caution them to engage with public opinion in Scotland. Every time they refuse to do so, they simply fuel the appetite for change. They fuel the number of people who say, “We don’t want to put up with this any more. We now look with fresh eyes at the alternatives on offer.”
In many ways, the Government, since the election, have been doing the SNP’s job for it. The opinion polls are rising. More and more people in Scotland are demanding and getting behind the cause of independence, and we have not even started the campaign. This is all the work of the United Kingdom Government. If they throw out sensible proposals such as this one—which would be to the benefit of the Scottish economy and the people in Scotland, and might also be something sensible while Scotland remains in the United Kingdom—and ignore the arguments that we are making, they will fuel that appetite and desire even more.
My interest in this place began when I was 11 years old and somehow I acquired an ancient, long-wave radio that would only tune to Radio 4. In the 1990s, before YouTube and Candy Crush, I had to make do with the “Today” programme and “Westminster Hour”, but I was hooked—captivated by the history of our democracy, the workings of our politics and its power to bring change.
My first big political experience was the 1997 general election. Growing up in Sheffield, in what was the capital of the socialist republic of South Yorkshire, this was no ordinary election. I was fascinated by the whole campaign and I sent off for and displayed posters from every single political party, including the Referendum party. I even had a Liberal Democrat board on a post in our front garden, but we all make errors of judgment in our youth.
Despite this early interest, I did not become involved in party politics for another two decades, instead pursuing a teaching career, setting up a business with my husband and spending rather a lot of time being pregnant and changing nappies. Five years ago, I became a parish councillor, and I started to see the opportunities for elected representatives to bring real change. To cut a short story even shorter, I found my home in the Conservative party and I now stand before you as the Member of Parliament for Penistone and Stocksbridge. Apart from a three-year stint at university, I have lived in the Sheffield area for my whole life, so it is a profound privilege to represent a community that I call home.
Penistone and Stocksbridge is a truly remarkable constituency. We have stunning scenery, moorland and reservoirs. We have beautiful rural villages like Bolsterstone, Wortley and Cawthorne. We have the historic market town of Penistone, which received its market charter in 1290 and where Penistone Grammar School, founded in 1392, still provides an excellent education to local children. The school’s original motto was “Disce Aut Discede”, which means learn or leave. This sentiment clearly held sway in the 2016 referendum, where the constituency judged that the EU had failed to learn and so we should indeed leave.
The town of Stocksbridge, with its industrious history of steel manufacture, boasts the proud legacy of Mr Samuel Fox, inventor of the Paragon umbrella frame, and whose wire factories were responsible for the development of the town we know today. We have many other wonderful communities, like Dodworth, Pogmoor, Chapeltown, Ecclesfield, High Green, Grenoside and Burncross, and numerous rural villages, each with their own unique character.
Ten years ago, I moved to Oughtibridge, one of these villages, and, being until this point a city girl, I was utterly unaware of the strength and depth of community that I was about to encounter. Throwing myself into village life, I discovered voluntary groups, the school PTA, the local church and the parish council, bringing together people of all ages and from all walks of life. The wonderful thing about a village is that when everyone shares the same school, the same park and the same pub, it is natural to form friendships that are based on a common interest and a common geography, and not on social background or political worldview.
It was in my capacity as a parish councillor that I first met my predecessor, Angela Smith. I found her to be hard-working, sincere, thoughtful and helpful, and I want to thank Angela for the part that she played in securing an £8 million investment in the Fox Valley shopping centre, which has been responsible for significant regeneration in Stocksbridge and the surrounding area. In more recent times, Angela became known for her inclination to switch allegiances, being, at different times during 2019, a member of no fewer than five political parties or groups. I am heartily glad that the people of Penistone and Stocksbridge shared this enthusiasm for switching parties and in December elected me as their first Conservative MP. On the topic of Scottish migration, perhaps the Scottish Government would want to offer a visa to any of my constituents who want to complete the set and experience representation by the SNP, although I feel sure they would only require a temporary visa.
We have heard much about how we Conservatives won seats such as Penistone and Stocksbridge for the first time. Like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I understand that many people lent me their votes, and I take seriously my responsibility to deliver on the commitments we made. One of the most important of these commitments is the pledge to radically improve public transport in the north of England. When I was first selected as a parliamentary candidate, I began by going around our communities asking people what changes they would like to see, and public transport was raised time and again.
We desperately need to level up our northern transport and infrastructure. Public transport is not just about getting people from A to B; it connects people with well- paid jobs, training and education, hospital appointments and shops, and it prevents loneliness and isolation. Transport is the key to spreading opportunity and investment. That is why I am campaigning with the Don Valley railway group to see a Stocksbridge to Sheffield passenger train line reinstated and with Thurgoland Parish Council public transport working group to secure better rural bus services. I am delighted therefore by today’s announcement on funding for buses and trains, which demonstrates that this one nation Conservative Government are committed to an ambitious programme of levelling up.
Levelling up is not just about financial investment, bricks and mortar, and miles of train track. The national soul-searching of the past four years has demonstrated that there are areas of our country, particularly northern towns such as Penistone and Stocksbridge, that have been left behind—not just in an economic sense, although that is certainly the case, but in terms of how our communities and our culture are understood and valued as part of our national life. As I said, I have lived in the area my whole life, and that is by no means unusual. Our towns and villages are wonderful places to live, not least because of the strength and depth of community life. Social mobility should not mean having to leave your home, your family and your community to find work, training or investment. We do have ambition, aspiration and talent, but we are also rooted in a deep sense of place. We need opportunities right in the heart of our communities, and this Government’s initiatives, such as the towns fund and the shared prosperity fund, will help us to deliver.
I want to finish where I started. A quarter of a century on from when my interest in this place began, I still believe that politics has the power to bring change and that we should celebrate our history as a democratic nation—not a perfect history by any means, and one with many dark moments, but one where the trend has been towards progress and fairness. To continue this progress we must begin to heal the very real divides that have been exposed, between north and south, towns and cities, leave and remain, old and young. We need to find a way to recognise and value our differences while celebrating what we have in common as citizens of this great nation. However different our life experiences, our place of birth, our social background, we have a shared identity as human beings. Whether this identity derives from an acceptance of our intrinsic worth as people or a belief, like mine, that we are all children of the same heavenly father, we need to cherish what we have in common.
There are many different opinions in this country, and we have given each other many different labels, but the vast majority of us want to make this nation a better place for everyone who lives here. We may disagree, sometimes passionately, about how that should be done, but if we can respect each other’s motives and leave the labels behind, be slow to judge and quick to forgive, the healing will begin. December marked a fresh start for our democracy, and a fresh start for Penistone and Stocksbridge. I am honoured to serve this wonderful constituency, and I will work hard to deliver for all of my constituents.
I congratulate Miriam Cates. Listening to her describe her constituency, I was tempted to take her up on the offer of a visa, but I am a bit too attached to my own community, although others might take her up on that.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, to make my first full contribution since my return to Parliament. If you will indulge me, I shall take a moment to recognise the contribution made by Danielle Rowley, from whom I regained my seat in December. While I may disagree with Danielle on many subjects, there are probably more on which we agree, not least our wish to see the best for our community of Midlothian. I know all too well how tough it can be when the results do not go your way on election night—not only for Members but for their staff teams—so I wish Danielle and her former team the very best for the future.
Let me now turn to this afternoon’s debate. We have heard from my hon. Friends many of the reasons why it is so vital for Scotland to have an immigration system that actually supports our economy, not one that stifles it. Unfortunately, we find ourselves with an imposed UK Government who seem to care not one bit what is in the best interests of Scotland. Perhaps that explains why their party has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s.
The impacts of the Government’s narrow-mindedness will indeed be significant for my constituency of Midlothian. We know that migrant workers are more likely to work in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, education, health and social care, all of which are vitally important to the Midlothian economy. Nineteen per cent. of workers in Midlothian are employed in retail and wholesale, a figure that is over 5% higher than the Scottish average. Food and drink alone contribute more than £7 million to our local economy. We also have higher than average employment in education and in manufacturing, sectors in which we have long relied on international workers from the EU and elsewhere. So when we look at the approach taken by the Government, which completely ignores the needs of Scotland, it is easy to see the catastrophic effect that it could have on my community.
There are also a great many positive things happening in Midlothian. It is often said that we are the fastest-growing local authority area in Scotland. That may well be the case, and it brings real opportunities. According to research compiled for Skills Development Scotland, the largest contributing region to the Scottish economy in 2019 was Edinburgh, East and Midlothian, with a gross value added of £26.6 billion, or 19% of Scotland’s total output. The fastest growth is in the professional, scientific and technical activities sector, with an average growth rate of 3.3%, and that includes life sciences.
I know that some Members may wonder why this is such a big deal for a former mining community, but Midlothian is the local authority area in Scotland with the highest proportion of jobs in the life sciences sector. That includes the Midlothian Science Zone, the Roslin Institute, Moredun, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Scotland's Rural College, and the Edinburgh University Easter Bush Campus. At Easter Bush alone, 26% of the workforce is from outside the UK. Employment in the sector has increased by 12% over the last year across Scotland, and exports have also increased by 12%.
This is a massive and growing success story, supported by smart policy from the Scottish Government, yet while the Scottish Government seek to drive forward our global competitiveness, barrier-building policies from this place are cutting the legs from under us. The lack of willingness on the part of the UK Government even to contemplate the proposals from the Scottish Government shows a contempt for the communities of Scotland, and they will pay the price for their narrow-minded intransigence.
We were told to live in a union of equals, to lead not leave, and that we would be pooling and sharing. That was all hollow rhetoric that we can now see through. Thankfully, however, our communities do not need to be saddled with the destructive polices of yet another Tory Government. Thatcher decimated the Midlothian communities when she obliterated the mining industry, and I am certainly not going to stand by and watch as this Government commit the modern-day equivalent. The people of Scotland, and the people of Midlothian, can follow another path—an independent path. That day is coming, and it is coming soon.
We have a problem in Scotland, as I think everyone has recognised. [Interruption.] We have many problems in Scotland, most of them emanating from Holyrood, but that is for another day.
As a country, we are simply not attracting enough people to Scotland to live, work or invest. According to the Office for National Statistics, between 2016 and 2018 Scotland attracted, on average, only 8% of immigrants to the UK, fewer than the north-west of England, Yorkshire and the Humber, the west midlands, the east of England, the south-east, London and the south-west.
Would the hon. Gentleman concede that one of the problems is that when migrant workers are attracted to come to live in our communities, there are pen pushers at the Home Office who prevent them from coming? I am thinking particularly of the fishing communities on the west coast that are looking for non-European economic area labour. Year upon year, one person in Westminster says no even though the communities say yes.
It might surprise the House to hear that I agree with the hon. Member, although not to the extent of describing some of the hard-working civil servants in the Home Office as pen pushers. They are doing a valuable job, but I think we have to look more imaginatively at how we attract labour to the sectors that are crying out for them, and particularly to the fisheries on the west coast of Scotland, which he ably represents in this House.
Compared with what we were previously, we are now a country of in-migration. We have a growing population in Scotland, but if Scotland’s economy is to continue to grow, there is a concern that, even with freedom of movement, we are not attracting enough people to make up for what will soon become a declining population through a simple lack of natural growth, with deaths already outnumbering births. Last year, there were already 7,000 more deaths than births in Scotland, and the problem is even more stark in rural communities.
There is not a country in the world where the Scots have not left their mark. By virtue of our being part of a larger United Kingdom, the door was open to Scots to travel the world and to build, engineer and prosper in every corner of the globe. That is a fact that, as Scots, we are incredibly proud of.
Would the hon. Member at least accept that there has been a constant drain on Scottish talent over the last 50-odd years, through people moving from Scotland to London? As my hon. Friend Tommy Sheppard pointed out earlier, talent must move to London because that is where all the opportunity lies, because of the policies of this place.
Yet again, I do not disagree with the hon. Member. It is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to make the economy grow in Scotland, so we can keep talent north of the border and grow the economies in Aberdeenshire, which I represent, and in Edinburgh and Glasgow, near to her constituency. It is for all of us to do that, so that people do not feel the need to move out of Scotland to find success.
Does the hon. Member therefore regret the fact that it took just 20 minutes for the Government to turn down the Scottish Government’s proposal, which was supported by so many stakeholders and people in civic society across Scotland?
If the hon. Member will have patience, I will come to that later in my speech.
I return to the subject of Scotland building the world, which was fantastic, but of course it came at a price. Historically, Scotland was a country of out-migration and population decline, and while recent immigration has reversed that trend, although by no means enough, the legacy in some communities, particularly rural communities, remains. Rural communities lost not only those who left initially but the generations who would have come after them. I represent a rural constituency in the north-east of Scotland, a part of the world dominated by the energy sector. Thankfully, this means that we have little problem with unemployment, but it brings its own problems, especially for rural industries. I am acutely aware of those issues. That is why it is now more important than ever, as we complete the process of transitioning out of the EU, that we should have a measured and reasonable debate about the future of our immigration system, and particularly how it relates to Scottish agriculture. Put simply, Scottish agriculture needs and relies on seasonal labour. If we are to have this sensible and reasonable debate—as we are doing here in the Chamber today—about immigration post Brexit in Scotland, it is vital to recognise that the issues surrounding seasonal labour are not caused solely by Brexit.
My hon. Friend is bringing up the issues that we have in agriculture not just in Scotland but around the UK in places such as Lincolnshire and East Anglia. The issue that I know well, which was mentioned by Angus Brendan MacNeil, is also shared by the fishing communities of Northern Ireland. So is there any reason why a UK immigration policy cannot address all these issues, particularly with 59 representatives of Scottish seats in this place who all have a voice to help to achieve that?
No, I do not think there is any reason why a UK-wide system could not address those issues. In fact, on the very issue of attracting talent to the fisheries sector, I have written to the Home Secretary to ask if we could develop similar processes to the one we have for seasonal agricultural labour for those who want to engage in the fisheries sector. There is absolutely no reason why we could not find a solution within the wider UK framework.
Just as Scotland has been failing to attract many immigrants to settle in Scotland while we were a member of the EU, so the number of seasonal workers willing to travel to Scotland to perform seasonal labour has been in decline for some years. Castleton Farm, for example, in my constituency—best jam, bar none, you will ever taste—saw a 15% shortage of seasonal labour last summer, leading to an estimated loss of over 100 tonnes of produce. And that was while we remained in the EU. In the same way as we must look at why Scotland is not attracting enough immigrants to stay in Scotland, we must also ask why Scottish farming is not attracting enough labour.
Part of the reason, of course, is that there is a labour shortage across Europe. Belgian, German and Irish farmers are increasingly sourcing their seasonal labour from outside the EU, chiefly from countries such as Ukraine. Non-EU seasonal labour is evidently part of the solution in Scotland, just as it is in agriculture in the remaining 27 states. Much of the decline in available European labour is down to the rapid and, of course, welcome progress that many eastern European countries have made in developing their own domestic economies.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his earlier kind words, but can I put the political point to him that Ireland can look further and act on its wishes because it has the independence to do so? Unfortunately, Scotland does not have the independence to make the decisions that Ireland can make to get labour from Ukraine when it needs it.
The hon. Gentleman obviously makes a very good point. However, as I said in answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend David Duguid, there is no reason why we cannot address those issues as part of a wider UK immigration system.
Those who want to travel to work in agriculture have other options apart from Scotland, and Scottish farmers have been in direct competition for available labour with French and German farmers for some time, as well as with farmers from across the rest of the UK. I was pleased to see that the Government have pledged to extend the pilot of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme to 10,000 workers a year, up from the current limit of 2,500—thanks to the lobbying and hard work of Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament, I might say. That is a step in the right direction, but I hope it is a signal of intent and the beginning of a direction of travel. I also hope it will be delivered in a timely fashion. It is critical that farmers have time to plan for next summer.
I am very concerned that my constituency neighbour is talking about the opportunity for farmers to prepare for next year. It is this year that farmers are trying to prepare for. He should also sound a note of caution when he celebrates the increase to 10,000, because that figure is still patently insufficient—that is what the industry is telling us. Why are the Government not listening? An independent Scotland would listen.
Although I disagree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman’s point on an independent Scotland, I completely agree with his other point, and that is why I have called for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme to be increased. Somewhere in the realm of 70,000 would be a reasonable number, and that is something else that I have asked the Home Secretary to comment on. That is why I said I hoped the increase from 2,500 to 10,000 was a signal of intent, and a direction of travel. I hope the number will grow further over the next few years.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about preparing for this year, I would remind him that we still remain, and we still have freedom of movement. It is for next year, when we will be outside the EU and not have free movement, that farmers will need to have certainty.
Believe it or not, I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but he must appreciate that some of the issues that he raises will mean labour shortages this year. They are issues because of Brexit and because people currently living in Europe do not feel welcome, or do not know whether they will be able to come here. That message is not getting out to those who would still be able to come here this summer.
If people do not feel welcome here, or if they feel they will not have certainty when they come here, it is a gross misrepresentation of the position of this Government and of the situation in this country. Everybody in this Chamber and across the country needs to show that our doors are open to anybody who wants to come here to contribute, work hard and play by the rules. That has been the position of this Government and the Conservative party for many years, and it will continue to be so.
There are wider issues in attracting people to work and invest in Scotland. I do not think anyone on either side of the House has all the answers. This Government are committed to introducing a points-based system that will attract the people we need to these shores, while maintaining our commitment always to be the open and welcoming place this country has always been. That is the right thing to do. It is what we promised in our manifesto and, of course, we must deliver it.
We must think imaginatively about how we address the specific issues in Scotland, and we must do so in a non-partisan and constructive fashion. That is why I read the Scottish Government’s paper, “Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper”, from cover to cover, and I found very little with which I can disagree. It is a useful contribution to the wider debate about how we deal with immigration in this country.
This is an important debate, and it is one we must get right. However, I do not think a separate Scottish visa is the right way to go, because of all the complexities and challenges it would bring. I urge everyone in both of Scotland’s Governments to think imaginatively and to work together, as we should on quite a few issues, so that we can find a solution and prosper together, as the United Kingdom.
I am glad to follow Andrew Bowie, because he makes some interesting points. Although we disagree on how these issues might be resolved, it is interesting to hear his views.
Of all the constituencies in Scotland, Glasgow Central has the most constituents who were not born in the UK. I have been totting up the Library’s figures from the 2011 census and, with 21,283, I have more people in my constituency who were not born in the UK than the five previous Conservative speakers put together, so I will take no lessons on the value of immigration to my constituency from people who have so little immigration and, I am sure, so few concerns raised at their surgeries.
Week in and week out, I have people in tears at my surgeries because of how this UK Government and the Home Office have treated them. They have been treated without respect, they have been treated arbitrarily and they have been treated cruelly for many years. Something has to change, and this is a small proposal from the Scottish Government to mitigate some of that damage. One of my reasons for supporting independence is that I do not want people to go through what my constituents have been through at the hands of the UK Government.
Have no doubt, the SNP believes immigration is a good thing. As the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine said, we are a country that has suffered from emigration over many years, with our people leaving and going to other countries. We have no right to deny people the chance to come and make their home in Scotland, and to do us the privilege of making their lives here.
Not only is the UK Government’s policy on immigration immoral in many ways, but it makes no economic sense. As we are all aware, Scotland has an ageing population. We need to grow our population to keep our economy afloat and to help people have a decent standard of living in old age. The Tories have decimated support for families and, through policies such as the two-child limit and the rape clause, they have actively discouraged people from having more children. The only remaining option is to encourage migration, but they have not done that, either. Instead, they have imposed arbitrary targets on migration over the years, which is sheer economic illiteracy. It is completely unsustainable.
Conservative Members have talked about attractiveness, but we are fighting that battle with one hand behind our back because of the hostile environment, the “Go Home” vans and the Home Office’s policies. We can only do our best to try to mitigate that. We can only do our best to say that Scotland is a welcoming country, that we want people to come and we want them to stay.
For Mr Harper, who has 3,014 non-UK citizens, to tell me that my constituency and my country are unattractive is, frankly, insulting. Unless substantial changes are made to Scotland’s ability to encourage immigration, we are looking at a ticking demographic time bomb. Average earnings in Scotland are less than £24,000 a year, but the immigration salary threshold is £30,000. What is that a measure of? It is certainly not a measure of how much a person is valued. How precious are the workers and care nurses in hospitals to a family? How valuable are social care workers to our future? It is shameful that any arbitrary value has been put on people who choose to come to build their lives here. That arbitrary target is above what can be reasonably earned by skilled worker.
Recently, a constituent came to my surgery who worked by day as a mortgage adviser in a bank—one would imagine that is a fairly good, high-profile, skilled job—and by night as a shelf stacker in a supermarket. He was working all the hours he could get so that his wife and son could come to live in Scotland. He should not be absolutely wearing himself down to do that. He is doing a good job that is valuable. We think it is important to society, but that is not how he felt. He felt as though he was doing everything he could against a system that did not even care—that did not even value him. I get this time and time again at my surgeries.
I am listening with great interest to a well thought out speech. Members will recall that some months ago I unwittingly invited the former Prime Minister to accompany me to a hotel in the highlands and laughter overtook the Chamber. The point I was making was that the hotel and tourism businesses in the highlands depend on migrant workers. That was a problem then and I suspect it will be a problem now. I want to put that on the record, because we need to remember it.
The hon. Gentleman is correct about that. As a member of the all-party group on hospitality, I agree very much that that sector needs to have people coming in here to do those jobs and that we value them as well, because they bring not only their skills to our restaurants and catering services, but their food, which we enjoy. We should thank them, rather than making them feel unwelcome.
Let me move on to people in the care sector and the issues they face. A couple came to see me on
I echo the point made by Jamie Stone about this being a well thought out speech. I also echo his point about hotels and my hon. Friend’s point about the care sector. At the heart of this debate is surely the one-size-fits-all approach the UK Government take. They do not do what Switzerland or Canada do; they think that Whitehall and Westminster know best, but in the west highlands we have needs, and Glasgow has needs. We need to have a decentralised policy—not one that suits the headline writers of the Daily Mail, but one that suits Scotland.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. In many ways, his constituency could not be any more different from mine, but the needs are not being catered for by the Home Office in any way.
We have been expecting an announcement from the Government on what the new post-Brexit immigration policy will look like, and there has been a lot of speculation that we will have an Australian-style points-based system. However, there has been no acknowledgement that Australia’s system allows for a degree of autonomy for territories to decide their own criteria on migration, with the ability to adjust their policy to their own diverse needs. There has been no acknowledgement, either, that the Australian system is much more generous than the one we have here just now, or that in her first speech after she demitted office as Prime Minister Mrs May got up and said pretty much to the Home Office, “Good luck. We looked at it.” So I wish the Minister all the best of luck in trying to establish a system that does not have the evidence to back it up.
We on the SNP Benches have long called for a separate immigration policy for Scotland, and we have long been told by the UK Government that that would not work. We do not believe them on that, as on so many other things, because research from the Fraser of Allander Institute and the David Hume Institute has shown not only that it would work but that it is vital if Scotland is to meet the demographic challenges of the future. It is not good enough for the UK Government to take this one-size-fits-all approach when there are pressing concerns in Scotland. If they will not take action to address this issue, perhaps they should allow the people of Scotland to decide for themselves who they want to be in charge.
If you will indulge me and allow it, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to highlight a couple of cases from my recent casework. The Scottish Government said as part of their Budget last week that they are going to look to set up some means of addressing the issue of “no recourse to public funds”. This relates to what the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean said about people not being allowed to access the benefits system in any way. I had a woman who had been coming to my surgeries for many years. She was No. 3 on my books after the election in 2015. She was working hard in a low-paid role and doing everything that she could but, because she had no recourse to public funds, she was just about managing the rent and her electricity, but she could not buy Christmas presents or school uniforms or put food on the table. That is not fair: she is doing everything that she can, yet because of “no recourse to public funds” she cannot do anything about it. The Home Office is sneaky on this, because every time somebody tries to find a workaround for “no recourse to public funds”, the Home Office promptly shuts it down. The Scottish Government want to help. The Scottish Government do not want people to face destitution. It is immoral and wrong for the UK Home Office to decide that it wants to make people destitute and to make people struggle so hard that they want to leave this country in poverty.
I also wish to mention the case of a particular constituent who came to me. I do not want to mention names because the case is quite sensitive, but this man is a local imam and his wife had complications giving birth, lost 17 litres of blood and was given a transfusion during a horrific ordeal in her pregnancy. They applied for the imam’s mother to come over to support her after the birth, because she was in desperate need and, because of parental leave issues, he had to go back to work. The Home Office refused that reasonable visitor’s visa. There is a lack of compassion that runs through the Home Office and prevents people from getting visitors’ visas on very reasonable grounds. Week in, week out, I see people who are desperate, broken and sad. They are people who want to show off Scotland and their new home. Members have talked about not being welcoming enough; the visitor visa system, which refuses people for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that they come from a country where people are brown, is a system that cannot stand and must stop. [Interruption.] The hon. Member shakes his head; he can come and sit in my surgery. [Interruption.] He is looking about. You know who you are. The Minister, Douglas Ross, shakes his head; he can come and sit in my surgery and he can listen to the people who come to my surgeries from particular countries who get refused visitor visas time and time again.
I am sure the hon. Lady did not mean to mislead the House, but I can assure her that I did not move my head in any way. I am listening intently to her speech and the cases she is raising. It would be wrong to mislead the House and people watching by suggesting that I did otherwise.
The hon. Member moved his head. Perhaps he was not shaking it. He certainly did not look like he was taking on the points that I raised.
The point is that not all constituencies are the same. Perhaps I could forgive those on the Tory Benches who do not have constituencies that look like mine and who do not have surgeries that feel as desperate and as sad as mine. I invite them to come and sit in my surgeries if they want to—if they are willing to and are bold enough to—because they need to know that the system as it stands does not work. It does not work for people, businesses or the economy at large.
I am just finishing up.
If Members on the Tory Benches are telling me that they know better than the experience of my constituents at my surgeries every week, they are wrong. If the Labour party is telling us that it will all be fine if we wait for an indeterminate period of time until Labour comes back into office, when things will be better, I am sorry but I do not believe that, either. I do not think that is good enough. How long should my constituents have to put up with this? Would it not be better if we had the full powers of a normal independent nation, and could support ourselves and decide who is worthy of coming into our country and doing us the honour of making Scotland their home?
It is a pleasure to follow Alison Thewliss. Although I did not agree with everything that she said—she will not be surprised by that—whenever she speaks in this place, the sincerity and affection that she has for her constituents and the work that she does on their behalf shines through every word that she says.
While I am feeling in a magnanimous mood, may I also congratulate—for what it is worth, coming from me—Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who is new to the Front Bench and gave a compelling speech that was professionally delivered? Of course, it paled in comparison with the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Miriam Cates, which the House was very interested to hear—although she is not that interested to hear what I have to say about her speech; she has left her place. There we are. That is the benefit of making a maiden speech.
A number of Members on the Opposition Benches have referenced the Migration Advisory Committee. I have to say that, if I had my way, I would abolish it—in the same way that I would either abolish or ignore the organisation Migration Watch. Neither of them are anywhere on pace when it comes to the needs that our country, as a united country, faces when it comes to migration. In a post-EU membership age, it is perfectly proper that our immigration policies, to meet all quarters of the United Kingdom, are forged in this place by Ministers, scrutinised by this House and approved, and then they can change. There should be receptiveness and fluidity within whatever system we alight on to meet the needs of our country.
I could perhaps double underline what the hon. Gentleman said about the Migration Advisory Committee, which opines on all various levels of skill. We have challenged the MAC: if it thinks that skilled workers who are going to work on fishing boats are not that skilled, would one of the people on the MAC care to go out on a fishing boat and show us how unskilled the job is? We have yet to see one of them, after a number of years of asking.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I welcome wholeheartedly what appears to be the mood music coming out of No. 10 from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister: scant regard is going to be paid to the MAC’s advice on a salary threshold. It is entirely immoral to put a value on a person principally predicated on what they earn. There are millions of people in this country who do vital work— Members across the House have referenced them—whether it is in agriculture, hospitality, social care, or the national health service. Some of those jobs will be skilled, and some of them will not be skilled, but they are absolutely vital. I always think to myself that the skilled Nobel prize winner, or the great scientist coming up with some whizzy thing, needs the person in the despatch department to pack it up and send it out, and make sure that the factory or the laboratory is clean. A functioning economy is a network: it is a spider’s web of different skills at different pay grades, of different people all making a contribution.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He is being very generous. I have a point to add to the excellent point that he made about salaries. Again, there is a centralisation of thinking. We know that average salaries are not the same across Scotland—I am talking here about Na h-Eileanan an Iar, as well as other places. They differ again, depending on whether the policy is set in London, Manchester, or Birmingham. The idea that salaries are uniform across the United Kingdom is clearly a nutty one. I am glad to hear that it is going.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is not just the regional and county variations, but the spending power of that salary. A salary of £20,000 earned in North Dorset is going to get someone far more than they would get if they were living in north Westminster or north Harrow—[Interruption.] Or Chelmsford, says my hon. Friend Vicky Ford. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point. I think my figures are correct, but the average annual take-home salary is now £24,500. In North Dorset, it is £18,500. There are huge variations and it is just 122 miles from this place to the edge of my constituency.
I would understand the motivation behind this motion if it looked as if the Government were going to be moving to some sort of draconian Trumpian suite of immigration policies. I would suggest from all that I hear and listen to that nothing could be further from the truth. I am convinced that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has the most liberal of instincts and global of outlooks when it comes to immigration. One need only look to the time when he was Mayor of London to see a practical example of that, rather that its being a merely theoretical proposition.
I do not see the need or desirability for, and I am unconvinced by the deliverable workability of, this separate approach to immigration. I accept that the motion advocates an add-on rather than an instead-of—I get that, I understand that—but given that all the noises coming from Downing Street, both No. 10 and No. 11, are that we want to have a suite of immigration policies that is rapidly responsive to economic needs, whether that is in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England or North Dorset, I would suggest to SNP Members that at this stage in the proceedings there is nothing to worry about. There are concerns, of course. We will want to make sure that those policies are delivered on, but I do not think we need to worry about them just yet.
With the indulgence of SNP Members, whose motion this is, may I make a general point? In 2015, when many of us came into the House at the same time, I spoke on Second Reading of the Scotland Bill from almost this position on this Bench. The circumstances were similar. The SNP had done fantastically well in that general election and Members had a spring in their step. Those of us who are Unionists need to reflect on those results and calibrate a persuasive narrative to underpin, revitalise and reaffirm the benefits we see in the maintenance of the United Kingdom. To be a Unionist is not to be anti-Scottish. To be anti-separatist is not to have a grudge against the Scottish people. It is not to try to slam all of the doors to Scottish aspiration merely because we think that separation is wrong.
I am very pleased, and honoured in fact, to call very many Members on those Benches my friends. When I talk to constituents in North Dorset, they often ask what it is like with the SNP—
I do not always say that, but what I do say is that they should not judge politics on what can often be those fractious discourses taking place on the Floor. We will have an argument here, and temperatures get a bit heated and blood pressure goes up, but outside in the Members’ Lobby, the Dining Room, the Tea Room or wherever we might happen to be, I will not say that everything is friendship and honeymoon music, but it is a lot better—[Interruption.] It’s not far off, the hon. Gentleman says. But it is a whole lot better than this Chamber often allows people to think.
On sunshine and honeymoon music, will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I do not know which the hon. Gentleman is offering me, and I am rather worried to give way, but in the interests of curiosity, which I know killed the cat, I will of course do so.
Talking of sunshine and honeymoon music, I was listening to the hon. Gentleman’s passionate plea on the case for Unionism, but when he looks over the past century and sees the Republic of Ireland as the independent state that it is, does he not think that Scotland could do just as well or a little better if it could make its own decisions as Ireland can, both on immigration and on a raft of other decisions, rather than having them being made by a Government from a party that we have not voted for since 1955?
As far as I am concerned, it is not about whether Scotland could or could not do the job. There is an advanced and deep political skillset, a developed civic society, academia and all the rest of it. [Interruption.] I am not going to be the first SNP Member for Dorset—don’t worry. It is a tempting offer, but I am going to have to decline. But in theory, could this be done? Of course. I am a Welshman. Could Wales go it alone? In theory, yes. But just because something is feasible does not necessarily make it desirable. Just because science can does not necessarily mean that science has to.
Deep within my DNA is a belief that the four quarters of the United Kingdom—through acts of history, politics, religion, shared interest, language, war and defensive values—are better, stronger and a more potent force for good in the world standing together. I do not say that to be offensive to Scottish Members, or to offend residents and fellow citizens of Scotland; it is just deep within my DNA.
I hope that the House will not find it too schmaltzy or amusing if I say that a number of Government Members often feel put off, or inhibited from, treading into the choppy and potentially dangerous waters of these debates and exchanges in this place, and we do so sometimes with a feeling of foreboding. I cannot speak for my colleagues, but actually—this may be the word that generates some titters, I do not know—as a Unionist, and having explained why I am a Unionist, I get personally upset when some SNP Members, for reasons best known to themselves, seek to portray my Unionism as being anti-Scottish. I would never portray their proud nationalism as being anti-English, anti-Welsh or anti-British. It is simply a different set of values that take us to a particular judgment.
It is possible to be vehemently pro something without being anti, per se, the alternative that is on offer. Whether it is migration, or the dust and sands that settle in this post-EU membership world, let us at least say to all our constituents—in the north of Scotland, the north of Dorset or wherever they may be—that we can engage in these debates in a vigorous, respectful and friendly way. Let us ensure that our motivations as Government Members are not portrayable as the narrow bigotry of some caricature of little England. That belies our motivations and our beliefs, and it has a negative impact on this place. If our constituents expect anything from us, particularly after the last three years, they are expecting all of us to put our shoulders to the wheel to try to raise the quality, tone and temper of our political discourse as we engage in our passionate arguments.
From the midst of the choppy waters, I have some life rafts. When the “Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper” report was published by the Scottish Government, my hon. Friend Christine Jardine stated that, as a result of the work of the Scottish Affairs Committee, it was clear that the immigration needs of Scotland would be best met on a sectoral, rather than geographical, basis. The Scottish Affairs Committee was told that the UK can vary visas for different areas and sectors under existing laws. I therefore urge the Government to use these powers in consultation with the Scottish Government.
Agriculture is a key sector in my constituency of North East Fife that relies on a migrant workforce throughout the year, particularly at peak harvest times. The National Farmers Union estimates that 80,000 people are required to harvest crops across the UK each year, and a good proportion of this workforce is mobile, moving from location to location throughout the season. Borders within the UK can create barriers to work for such individuals. Our departure from the EU is already impacting on farmers’ ability to recruit staff, so we should be doing all we can to mitigate these difficulties rather than potentially exacerbating them. The need for visas for non-EEA nationals to crew fishing boats is acute in Cornwall, as it is in East Neuk and elsewhere in Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s migration report states:
“The current UK immigration system is complex and consists of a number of different routes and visas for work and study in an unclear system of tiers alongside a restrictive approach to family migration.”
I agree. That is why we proposed an amendment to the motion that focuses on the failings of the current system and the creation of the hostile environment that impacts on people across the UK, and the need to develop a system that treats everyone with dignity and respect.
Yesterday, I was approached by one of my constituents who had previously sought the support of my predecessor, Stephen Gethins. I thank Stephen for the support he gave to the family concerned. Valentyna Yakoleva is Ukrainian national who lives in my constituency with her son-in-law Andriya, her daughter, and their two children. She moved to the UK in 2010 at the age of 60 and has lived with her family in my constituency since then. After her travel visa expired, she should have been eligible for a family reunification visa, for she had no surviving spouse. She applied for the visa through a law firm based in Dundee, with the family making the assumption that it would be granted. She has spent this last decade raising her two granddaughters. Andriya, her son-in-law, told me that he would not have been able to work if his mother-in-law had not been looking after their daughters. Andriya sadly lost his job in 2015 but is now close to qualifying as a student teacher, thanks to Valentyna’s help.
But following errors in her initial application, and a failed appeal, Valentyna faces deportation back to Ukraine. She was held in the detention centre at Dungavel in South Lanarkshire following her arrest by the police in Fife, and was then held, away from her family, for two weeks before being released on bail following a judicial review. She has been given two options: to leave the UK now, voluntarily, with the prospect of returning for visits only after a period of a year; or to be forcibly evicted from the UK and unable to return for five years.
I find this utterly appalling. Valentyna is nearly 70—the same age as my own mother, who likewise supported me with care for my children in their early years, and indeed still does. Valentyna has lived in this country for a decade. She has helped to raise her grandchildren, allowing her son-in-law to contribute to society and the economy, and to pay taxes. She now faces being sent to a country where she has no family, no property, and no prospect of employment. In addition, she has a number of health issues that she needs support with. Her son-in-law has said that Ukraine
“is no place to be sending her back to. She has no family there and her pension was frozen around seven years ago with no prospect of her ever having access to it. Valentyna is our family, she has brought up our children and has been part of this community for almost a decade. Sending her back will be an absolute breach of her human rights and devastating for all of us.”
I agree. This is a total breach of Valentyna’s human rights, causing untold anxiety and distress.
Cases like these are a black mark against our society. I ask the Minister to intervene in this case. Clearly, it is totally unacceptable to deport Valentyna, sending her somewhere where she has no family, has not lived for a decade, has no prospect of finding a job, and has her health put at risk. We should aim to be judged on how we treat the most vulnerable people in our society. We are failing Valentyna and many others like her.
As a newly elected MP, it is incredibly worrying to see the clockwork regularity of constituents contacting my office because they or their family face deportation because their visas have not been processed or their settled status has not been granted. Other Members have referred to that today. You do not have to be a Member of Parliament for long for it to be clear, if it was not already, that our immigration system is not working. It is not fair—
I agree with pretty much everything that the hon. Member is saying. If we were to devise an immigration system that we thought would work for our respective communities, they would not be that different. But will she explain why she wants us to support the Lib Dem amendment and to wipe out the whole of the motion that the SNP has put forward? She is asking us to wipe out condemnation of the Government’s response to the Scottish Government White Paper. She is asking us to delete the bit that says that we welcome the support that we have had from across civic Scotland. She is even asking us to delete the part that says that the Home Secretary should
“engage positively with the Scottish Government…before introducing the Immigration Bill”.
If she wants the House to support the Lib Dem amendment, could she explain why she wants to delete all those parts from our motion instead of adding them to what she has put forward herself?
Order. Before the hon. Lady comes back into the debate, can I just advise her gently that the amendment was not selected and therefore should not be referred to in any depth during the debate?
I am aware that my amendment was not selected. All I will say is that, although there was support from civic bodies across Scotland, it was support for the debate to be started, rather than necessarily for the proposals.
I thank the Minister for that, and I will follow it up.
I am certain that every Member of this House has a Valentyna in their constituency. All Members must be aware of the scale of this problem. Yesterday was further proof, when Members on both sides of the House spoke on Second Reading of the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill, and we heard again and again of the inhumane treatment of ordinary people just trying to go about their lives. Three weeks ago, the other place returned the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) to this House with a number of amendments, one of which required the Home Office to provide physical documentation to evidence EU nationals’ right to remain in the UK as part of the settled status scheme. Is it any wonder that those who come to live in, work in and contribute to this country have no confidence in the current processes?
We, as a collective, are the lawmakers. We could change this, but it will require political willpower on all sides. I hope we can all agree—and there has been an element of consensus in the debate—that when we are talking about immigration, the question should be: what do we need to do to create an immigration system in which every person has their dignity respected, a system that is compassionate and effective; that works for both ordinary people and UK employers; and that works for Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland?
I thank the SNP for using this opportunity to highlight the failings in our immigration system, because it is broken for the whole of the UK. Trying to fix the system on a geographical basis is, however, not the answer and only serves to further fracture the complex processes that currently exist. We need an immigration system that treats people with humanity and works for the whole of this country.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, because it is an incredibly important one. Indeed, this is one of the defining issues of Scotland’s future, and I do not say that lightly. Andrew Bowie reflected upon one reason why this is such a huge issue for Scotland. For want of a better phrase, we face a demographic time bomb. We are fortunate that we have so many older folk who are living longer, but our working-age population is decreasing. There are two obvious solutions to that. The first solution is for people to have more babies—lots of them, and very soon. Obviously nobody can control that, but we do have control in relation to immigration.
“there is nothing to worry about.”
From my position, there is a lot to worry about. If he listened to the remarks of my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss or Wendy Chamberlain, he will know that the record of this Government when it comes to migration is utterly appalling. The manner in which people have been treated is disgusting. I am sorry if I am not willing to accept that things are going to get better just because the Conservatives say they will, but I simply do not believe that—the evidence says the complete opposite.
We have heard from No. 10 and No. 11 that the Government are seeking an Australian-style points system. But as my colleagues have pointed out this evening, the Australian system, however we look at it, allows for regional visas, and it does so to ensure that the system meets the needs of all the different areas of that country.
Is the hon. Member aware that the evidence given to the Scottish Affairs Committee in the last Parliament was that there is room within current UK legislation and the Home Office to differentiate visas for different parts of the country, so regional visas are actually available in this country?
I thank the hon. Member for her contribution, but the UK Government should put in place processes that ensure that regionality exists. When I asked the Minister only yesterday whether he would look at that—Australia is discussed in glowing terms, and the Government fawns over it—his answer was no. When my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry asked a similar question in relation to Canada, exactly the same answer was forthcoming—no. Australia, as I have said, is the beacon that we need to look at, but when it comes to looking at the entire system in Australia we seem to be awfully selective about where we want to go.
The justification offered by Government Members, as we heard earlier, is the artificial, mythical concept of creating a border on this island but, as we have rightly heard from my colleagues, Ireland manages to get on just fine. Indeed, Conservative Members will be aware that their Government are working incredibly hard to make sure that there is frictionless movement on the island of Ireland, and rightly so. Why is it good enough for Ireland, but it cannot be achieved in this country? Why does there need to be a border on these isles? I respectfully suggest that the only people who are interested in borders in that regard are Government Members. What we have proposed, and what the Scottish Government are seeking to discuss, is a regional visa that is frictionless and allows Scotland to benefit. That is something of which we should all be incredibly supportive.
With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to reflect on further concerns about what the Government are seeking to do. We heard from one Government Member that the threshold might no longer be £30,000 a year and that the salary limit might be reduced to £25,000. I do not know about Government Members, but £25,000 is still beyond the reach of many individuals living and working in Scotland, whether they work in the NHS, the care sector, our hospitality sector, our agriculture sector or, indeed, our fish-processing sector.
What is being proposed is simply not viable for Scotland’s needs, which is ultimately the crux of our debate. I would like to pick up the point about the hospitality sector. On Monday afternoon, I think, there was a debate in Westminster Hall about beer taxation and duty. There were more Government Members present for that debate than there are for this one. They chastised their Government for the fact that beer duty is too high. They wanted it to come down to keep local pubs open. There is consensus that reform is needed, but in Scotland, 11.5% of our hospitality workers are non-British nationals. There may well be a situation where we have cheaper pints, but ultimately there will nae be the folk there to serve them. In Scotland, the self-service mechanism might be something that goes down a treat but, in all seriousness, that is the reality of the situation that is facing us. The Press and Journal, the local newspaper in my part of the world, reported last year that there was a local facility—The Tippling House, a wonderful place—where 60% of staff were non-British nationals. Without knowing the detail, I respectfully suggest that few, if any, of them will reach the thresholds promoted by the Government.
What will become of such establishments? What will become of the hospitality sector in Scotland as a whole? Indeed, what will become of the public sector, including Aberdeen City Council? I am still a member of the council.
I am fascinated by the very good point that the hon. Member is making. In my constituency and in Edinburgh as a whole, 50% of the hospitality workforce comes from other parts of the European Union. As a member of the Scottish National party, he will have valued freedom of movement, as I did. Does he accept that many of us fear that imposing separate visas for different parts of the United Kingdom, rather than for a sector such as tourism, would limit freedom of movement within the UK, and would hamper us in encouraging people to come and work here?
We have stumbled here upon language that has been a problem throughout this debate, and that is the notion that what we are proposing is a separate visa; the reality is that what we are proposing is additionality so that the needs of Scotland can be met.
It is on that point that I want to finish my contribution. The Scottish Government have put forward this proposal in good faith; we want to have a system that is to the benefit of Scotland and our collective futures. It is simply despicable that this Government dismissed that out of hand in the space of just 20 minutes, particularly when, on page 20 of the “Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper” paper, at points 1, 2, 3 and 4, they can see that they would still be the final arbiter of any visa decision. We came forward in good faith and they rejected that, as indeed some of my colleagues have suggested. If they are unwilling to put in place a system that meets the needs of the people of Scotland, they should give those powers to the people who will.
I shall begin my remarks this evening by paying tribute to the many people who have come to Scotland to build a life among us. Each plays an important and valued part in Scotland’s story and their contribution to the tapestry of Scottish life makes Scotland a richer place to live, work and thrive in. I know that because, while I was not born in Scotland, Scotland made me welcome and it will forever be the place that I call home.
While I spent my early years in the north of Ireland immersed in the Unionist tradition, the years in Scotland that followed made it clear to me that there is no homogenous British identity: no such thing as one nation. We are very different countries with differing values, principles and politics.
In the early ’90s I, like so many in Scotland, left for work, moving to London to pursue professional opportunities not available to me at home. My return in 2009 was a revelation. The success of the devolved Government with their limited powers had begun to bring life to our distinct body politic, and this was inspiring. However, that optimism was quickly tempered in 2010 by the return of a Tory Government Scotland did not vote for, and it is my view that since that day this place has worked to stymie the advances Scotland has made and to pour scorn on our ability and our ambition.
The most recent example of that is the offhand contempt the UK Government have shown the people of Scotland in their response to the Scottish Government’s proposals for a Scottish visa scheme in a post-Brexit UK. It is simply not credible that any meaningful consideration of the proposal took place; we must wonder if the Government’s policy on Scotland is filed under B for bin. In this particular case they dismissed the views of the organisations that support the Scottish Government’s proposals, including business and rural communities, the Scottish TUC, FSB Scotland and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.
As noted in the motion, Scotland has distinct and different migration needs to sustain our population and help meet demographic challenges. The sole concession is alleged recognition of the need for “some regional variation” and claims that Scotland benefits from a separate shortage occupation list.
The first issue I have with that position is fundamental: Scotland is not a region, it is a country. The second point illustrates the complete lack of understanding of Scotland’s needs by the Government and, indeed, the Minister. Perhaps he should have a chat with his hon. Friends the Members for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) and for North Dorset (Simon Hoare). While the Government continue to promote their reductionist and hostile environment, Scotland wants to encourage and welcome people to build their life with us, among us, as one of us; if the Government can add “new Scot” to their shortage list, that would be a start.
Turning to the local impact in my constituency, Innovate Foods in Dysart is a company that manufactures food for restaurants, retail and catering wholesalers. It employs 65 people, almost half of whom were born overseas. Some of the workers have been with Innovate for nearly 20 years, and the company has translated instructions and recipes into Polish, with some Scottish staff learning Polish to speak to their colleagues in the workforce. The director, Tony Dumbreck, told me that having a large migrant workforce has been a positive experience, remarking that they are generally well educated, they have brought skills that are in demand and they work very hard. He wants them to have as much stability and security as possible and considers them as part of the Innovate family. That attitude is emblematic of the warm, inclusive attitude of the people and the communities I serve to those who choose to make Scotland their home. Since Brexit, he has lost some staff as a result of the toxic hostile environment rhetoric. However, that is not his only concern. He told me:
“Even with the reduced earnings threshold of £25,600, that will be a constraint to try to employ production workers. We perceive that fewer people will be coming here.”
Of course, that is not a surprise. Although my immediate predecessor made no reference to migration in this place in her two years as an MP, save to criticise fellow Scottish MPs standing up for Scotland, her predecessor, Roger Mullin, did give this matter appropriate focus both here and at home. In a debate in this place in 2017, Mr Mullin stated:
“Scotland has different productivity needs, one of which relates to our attitude towards immigration. I would argue that we need more immigration, of the right type.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 199.]
Locally, Roger convened meetings with groups of constituents to listen to and support them in their anxieties about a post-Brexit Scotland. He also worked with Fife Migrants Forum, based in Kirkcaldy, to better understand the challenges of the communities it serves.
Under current UK immigration rules, highly talented workers are subject to the costly and bureaucratic tier 1 exceptional talent visa process. The Migration Advisory Committee has said that this system “does not work well” and found that only 600 main applicants had been admitted, despite a cap of 2,000 visas. The UK Government have announced that a new, global talent visa will be launched on
Inward migration is undeniably important, but Scotland also faces a retention challenge. The process to ensure that applications for settled status are completed before the
The Government’s continued hostile, unhelpful and toxic environment, which weaponises the word “migrant”, is anathema to me and many in Scotland. We do not call them migrants in such a pejorative way. To us, they are friends, neighbours, partners and workmates. When we ask where you are from, it is with warm and genuine interest rather than suspicion and mistrust.
Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster, erroneously claimed that the independent Migration Advisory Committee has consistently recommended against regional differences in salary thresholds for skilled-worker visas, but its most recent report to the Government on a points-based system and salary thresholds did recommend that the Government pilot a separate visa for remote areas of the UK, including and involving all the devolved Administrations. The current buzz line in the Government is “oven-ready”. Well, they know that Scotland has an oven-ready scheme—why not try it?
After listening to the contributions from Government Members, I have to say that it is a great pity that the UK Government are taking such a careless approach to the Scottish Government’s proposals for a tailored migration system for Scotland. As well as disregarding the need that lies behind the very sensible visa proposals that the Scottish Government have put forward, they are also disregarding the views of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, among many others.
That matters, because the UK Government are messing with the future of our country when they refuse to consider that all those people who are telling them that their system does not work for Scotland might be right. However, they still continue with their inward-looking Brexit Britain, the ever-more hostile environment and their approach of pulling up the drawbridge. That is not the best way for Scotland and it is no wonder that we see a better future as an open, outward-looking, independent country, but they are determined to plough on down that road, wilfully disregarding the thoughtful and sensible visa proposals that the Scottish Government have put forward to help to deliver the sustainable future that we need in Scotland.
The thing is that we need migration. Scotland is not full. We need people to come and live in Scotland and we want them to come. They are welcome. We need to make sure that we can sustain and grow our population levels, and even if the UK Government do not, we realise how crucial that is to our future.
In Scotland, all our population growth for the next 25 years is projected to come from migration, so it is really beyond unhelpful that the UK Government are rowing back on commitments such as the ones made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who said that when it came to immigration, it would be for the people of Scotland to decide. It is a different story now, so it must have been convenient then for him to say that Nicola Sturgeon’s approach was the right one—as it is—but we are now back to the same old, same old, with the UK Government just expecting us to get on with it and hang with the consequences for Scotland.
I do not have much time, so I am sorry—I will not.
The consequences for Scotland are serious. Our population growth is slowing, our birth rate is falling and we are ageing as a population. It is a mystery to me, though perhaps not a surprise, why the UK Government seem so intent on avoiding any engagement with the Scottish Government on the Scottish visa, despite the serious and constructive nature of the proposals that have been put forward for discussion.
I live in one of the most diverse places in Scotland, and it is home to people who have come from all over the world. It is a brilliant thing—it makes my community better. The people who have migrated to Scotland recently and over the decades have made Scotland better and richer for their presence. People have come to work in the NHS, in hospitality, in education and in public services—I could go on—but as things stand, the UK Government will be imposing harm on our communities now that will only be greater in the future if they do not take our approach into account.
We need this power in Scotland for population and economic reasons, but it is about much more than that. We benefit so much from the rich diversity that people coming to Scotland bring with them. In Scotland, the people who want to live, work and raise their families as part of our communities are very welcome, and they have enriched our society. They do that now and they have done that in the past by coming to live in Scotland, and I am thankful for that. Our country is home to people with histories in all kinds of other places and that makes us better now, and it will make us better in the future.
“Whether we have lived here for generations or are new Scots, from Europe, India, Pakistan, Africa and countries across the globe, we are all of this, and more. We are so much stronger for the diversity that shapes us. We are one Scotland and we are simply home to all those who choose to live here.”
Migration is good for Scotland. We want migration. Scotland is open and we wish to remain so. We need to be able to make the decisions that allow us to do the right thing for our country.
I declare an interest that many Members will know of: my husband, Hans, is German and has worked as a GP in Scotland for over 30 years, looking after Scottish people when they are ill, as indeed have many migrants from all sorts of places—not just Europe but across the world. I am talking about our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours, and I follow my colleagues in celebrating them.
There has been a failure to recognise the sheer scale of the challenge Scotland faces. Scotland is one third of the UK landmass. It is enormous. I know on the weather map it looks small, but it is not; it is actually huge. The James Hutton Institute points out that half of that is defined as sparsely populated, and those areas could lose a quarter of their population by the mid ‘40s unless action is taken. Because of freedom of movement, Scotland had a growing population for a number of years, but Scottish net migration fell across the EU referendum from 31,500 in 2015 to 21,000 in 2017. That is a fall of a third. That was the impact of Brexit, even though we had not left.
Scotland has faced forced out-migration over centuries, right back to the clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, when people were forcibly put on ships and sent elsewhere in the world. As Andrew Bowie pointed out, we did not just lose the individuals who left; we lost their children and grandchildren; we lost generations of people. As he also mentioned, in 2017-18, there were over 7,500 more deaths than births, with 2018 seeing the second lowest ever number of registered births. Scotland’s natural growth is falling, and all our population growth over the next quarter century is expected to come from immigration. Without it, we face a falling working-age population by the mid-2030s that will struggle to support our ageing population.
The hon. Member highlighted this demographic time bomb, but I did not hear him offer a solution. Some 14 local authorities in Scotland already have a falling population, and that includes my constituency in the south-west of Scotland. In remote and rural areas, it becomes a worsening spiral. We are left with older communities, so young people go on leaving, which means there are fewer children. The population becomes smaller and ages rapidly. These are often stunningly beautiful parts of Scotland to which people from elsewhere in the UK and Scotland retire. Now, they are very welcome, but unfortunately that actually adds to the problem of ageing. We can end up with communities that simply do not have enough young people within them to provide the health and social care, or even just the support that they need.
Mr Harper said that Scotland needed to up its GDP growth—that was the issue—but the Fraser of Allander Institute highlighted that GDP growth rates were directly linked to population growth rates. It is predicted that the UK’s population will grow by over 7% in the coming years but that Scotland’s will only grow by 1%. Indeed, if action is not taken, it may start to fall. The Migration Advisory Committee pointed out that EU citizens contributed £2,300 more in tax than natives, because they come here after someone else has paid for their education and training. Isn’t it a pity that that report was requested in 2017, and not in 2015, before the EU referendum, of which getting immigration down was made a central plank?
Our problem is that we need young people; we need young migrants to come into Scotland. I am talking about people of working age, who are low users of welfare, low users of the NHS and not collectors of pensions. We need to attract them, not with a job they can do for a few years, but to settle. That is what points-based systems are about—giving someone early on in the process the right to settle somewhere, make their life there and have a family there—and that is what Scotland requires.
These people bring to our communities the diversity, energy and vitality that can help us to retain our own young people. At present UK visas are based on earnings, so younger people earn less—even on the minimum wage—which means that they will not qualify for visas. Salaries are often much lower in rural areas, so they cannot attract migrants because of the salary thresholds. That hits key sectors in which Scotland is highly represented, such as tourism, food and drink, agriculture and fishing. I agree that is great to know that the number of seasonal workers will increase from a paltry 2,500 to 10,000, but before the earlier cut, the UK had 64,000. As the Member for West Aberdeenshire admitted, 70,000 might be a more realistic number, but when on earth will we reach that if the 10,000 is only a proposal?
As for fishing, many boats are tied up on the west coast of Scotland because of a lack of crew. That highlights the need for non-EEA visas, particularly for Filipino fishermen who come here. They do not bring families and they are not intending to settle, but they help to provide the training that can attract local young people to the industry. I have written to the Secretary of State in the past, I have written to Immigration Ministers, and the possibility of a seafarers’ visa has been discussed in the House. However, each time that possibility is raised, we are told that there cannot be any sectoral visas. So I can tell those who have said, “Oh, let us have sectoral visas” that this Government have already refused to allow them.
There has been a drop of a quarter in the number of European doctors coming to the UK since the Brexit referendum, a 90% drop in the number of European nurses, and a one-third increase in the number of European nurses leaving. In particular, young medical trainees cannot come here. Those who wish to become—like me—a surgeon are committing themselves to training that will last between 10 and 14 years. They can move when they are untrained and they can move when they are consultants, but they cannot afford to be kicked out in the middle, and they therefore require long-term security. According to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, 80% of UK-trained nurses are over 50, while 72% of EU trained staff are under 40.
The problem is that the Government are judging on the basis of earnings. They are judging on the basis of money rather than worth. They are not judging on the basis of the contribution that people make to the system and the wellbeing of the community. Simon Hoare admitted that we need a range of skills. As a surgeon, I can tell the House that I need an anaesthetist, but I also need an orderly, and I need someone who cleans the theatre. We need everyone, so there is no sense in this narrative of excluding unskilled people, or allowing them to come for no more than a year. Who is going to invest in their training?
No, there is no time.
The UK Government said they wanted a system that would work for all parts of the UK, but when the Scottish Government came forward with their proposal, they refused it without even reading it.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy highlighted shortages in other parts of the UK, including the north of England. In October, the Home Secretary said that the Government wanted to add extra points to a points-based system to attract people to the north of England and coastal areas, so why have they refused to consider a very similar system for Scotland? At UK level there is simply no visa that is aimed at settlement—at providing security at an early stage, so that people will come and make their homes and their lives here. A points- based system would be based on migrant characteristics, not just on someone’s having a job. Canada and Australia are often cited, but the provincial nominee programme allows the province to set the criteria and assess the applicants. If an application is successful, it is the central Government who actually issue the visa.
This is a very modest request. It is supported by civic Scotland, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Federation of Small Businesses. Our proposed system is based on residence, as the Scottish tax code already is. However, this modest proposal simply was not considered. Members say that they have read it, but they read it after it was refused.
Let me just gently say that it is not possible to keep a relationship or marriage together by force. It must be done through respect, and through recognition and consideration of someone’s needs. Failure to do that simply ends in divorce. Immigration is existential for Scotland, and the failure to recognise that means that people in Scotland, and businesses in Scotland, will see that there is only one way for us to get the policies that we need.
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.
I am afraid I will have to make progress, due to the time and the length of the debate. I also noticed that not many interventions were being taken on the Benches opposite.
Next year, we will be opening the graduate route to allow those who have been here at any skill level to work for two years after completing their studies. Again, we are showing that we are listening, and we are making a difference. I listened to the points made by Angus Brendan MacNeil about the fishing industry, and I know that this is an import issue for Members on the SNP Benches. We will look carefully at the recommendation of an immigration pilot for remote communities, and how that could potentially assist in this area. I would say, however, that I have never considered the vibrant cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh remote, and I do not think anyone else would.
Similarly, as my hon. Friend Andrew Bowie pointed out, we have already taken the decision to increase the seasonal agricultural workers pilot to 10,000—again following feedback about the needs of the Scottish economy. So there are many areas where we are taking on board the views that have been expressed. The best example is where I was on the day the Scottish Government produced their plans—at Glasgow University, talking specifically about the changes to tier 1 to create an uncapped global talent route that will allow universities to put together research teams based not on passports, but on the skills they need to deliver accredited projects. I heard the excitement when they saw the opportunity for Scottish interests and Scottish stakeholders to be at the heart of designing the UK’s immigration policy in a way that assists them. Similarly, we are looking further at how we can work through the tier 4 system with those organisations, particularly universities with a high compliance rate, to make sure it works even better for them.
The key is ensuring that talent across the world sees the great potential of Scotland, as the UK Government do, and that means creating an attractive environment for investment and for working there. The Scottish Government, of course, have power over vast swathes of public life in Scotland—education, healthcare, infrastructure and taxation—and they perhaps may wish to question the impact, in terms of welcoming people, of making Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom with their policy decisions. The Scottish Government have control of all the necessary levers to encourage investment, to build an educated and skilled workforce, and to secure Scotland’s economic future. With all those tools available, why do they still seek to stoke division? It is because separatism, not Scotland’s future, is their first priority. SNP Members should ask themselves whether the failings in education that Nicola Sturgeon has presided over have anything to do with Scottish companies seeking talent from elsewhere, or whether any number of overseas medical professionals will deal with the issues in the Scottish health service. This Government will create an in-response-to-demand NHS visa system that makes it easy to recruit health workers, but again, that will not necessarily tackle the core issues of the failure of domestic policy set by the Scottish National party.
As pointed out in this debate, immigration has brought a vast wealth of experience, expertise and diversity to the United Kingdom, and we have heard some great examples in this debate of where that has taken place, but that cannot be used as a stopgap or to make up for the failings of nationalist policies elsewhere. Above all, those who choose to come and make their lives in the United Kingdom should be welcomed across all four nations, not used to stoke constitutional grievances or in an attempt to set up a border at Berwick.
The United Kingdom Government have looked at the proposals, which talk of settlement. Is that settlement purely in Scotland or elsewhere? For us, the key is to look at the themes, the needs and the requirements, rather than to just look at how we can break up the United Kingdom. I am clear that there will be challenges to address across our Union, but the idea that we should do that based on the nations of the United Kingdom misses the point. The idea, for example, that Torbay’s economy is instantly comparable to London’s because it happens to be in England, or that the appropriate solution for the Scottish highlands would be to have the same visa as in Edinburgh, misses some of the key ways our economy works. Again, I am conscious that this is something that was decided more by a Government who set up a review to look for their destination of separation, rather than a genuine look at how life patterns work across our United Kingdom.
We are clear that we will listen to feedback. We have written back to the Scottish Government and we will listen to feedback from stakeholders and the Scottish Government about how a future migration system can work. We will look at what their policies would deliver and whether they would deliver success across our United Kingdom. That will be the focus of our policies and plans for taking this forward and making ourselves a nation that prioritises and embraces a bright, optimistic future for Scotland, a place whose natural beauty is second to none. But we will also reject the separatist view of a grievance-based culture of constitutional argument, as I know the House will tonight.