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Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 33—Differentiated immigration policies: review—

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a report on the implementation of a system of differentiated immigration rules for people whose right of free movement is ended by section 1 and schedule 1 of this Act within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) The review in subsection (1) must consider the following—

(a) whether Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland Executive should be able to nominate a specified number of EEA and Swiss nationals for leave to enter or remain each year;

(b) the requirements that could be attached to the exercise of any such power including that the person lives and, where appropriate, works in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and such other conditions as the Secretary of State believes necessary;

(c) the means by which the Secretary of State could retain the power to refuse to grant leave to enter or remain on the grounds that such a grant would—

(i) not be in the public interest, or

(ii) not be in the interests of national security

(d) how the number of eligible individuals allowed to enter or remain each year under such a scheme could be agreed annually by Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Executive and the Secretary of State;

(e) whether Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland Executive should be able to issue Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Immigration Rules, as appropriate, setting out the criteria by which they will select eligible individuals for nomination, including salary thresholds and financial eligibility.

(3) As part of the review in subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Scottish Government;

(b) the Welsh Government;

(c) the Northern Ireland Executive; and

(d) individuals, businesses, and other organisations in the devolved nations.”

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Clause 7 sets out the extent of the Bill, so here we come to how it impacts Scotland and the other devolved nations. Amendment 17 would disapply provisions ending free movement to Scotland. The new clause simply calls for the Government to consult on, and to review, establishing a differentiated set of immigration rules focused on Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and lists a set of issues that we want the UK Government to consult upon. The Government would then report and lay that report before Parliament. There is little here that is too onerous. It is a perfectly reasonable request of the UK Government.

We heard plenty of concern about the implications of the Bill during evidence last Tuesday. It is fair to say that that concern is felt acutely in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also in Wales and some regions of England. Scotland needs in-migration, and free movement of people has been a significant benefit to that country. The Government’s own risk assessments indicate a huge impact on the number of EEA workers who would qualify under the proposed new salary and skills requirements of the new regime. That is before we take into account the visa fees and the red tape, which I regard as ludicrous, that businesses will be bound up in. That has profound implications for Scotland’s economy, demographics, public finances and devolved public services.

Scotland’s economy relies significantly on small and medium-sized enterprises, which, as we heard last Tuesday, will find the tier 2 system very difficult. Small tourism or food and drink businesses, for example, that have regularly relied on the EU labour market are finding it well-nigh impossible to fill posts domestically. Instead of being able to interview a Portuguese food-processing worker or a Polish hotel worker, there is a significant chance that they will not be able to employ them at all. If they are able to employ them somehow, processes will be very different indeed.

The worker will have to seek entry clearance from their home country, so recruitment practice will have to change. Business will have to shell out for a sponsor licence and possibly on legal advice on how to do all that. The worker will have to pay visa fees plus upfront NHS health surcharges, not just for the main applicant but for the whole family. A skills charge will also be levied. As we heard last week, that could take the costs to the applicant to many thousands of pounds.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but would it not attract more people to stay and work in Scotland if it was not the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

That is factually not true, so that is the end to that point. If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the changes to the rate of income tax that we have made in recent years, there is no evidence that they have made a blind bit of difference. In fact, there are more people in Scotland paying less income tax, and that is before taking into account council tax and various other matters, so that point does not arise at all.

It seems that a huge proportion of the burden of all these fees falls to be paid by the individual worker. Realistically, however, why would a Portuguese food-processing worker or a Polish hotel worker pay £10,000 for the privilege of working in Scotland when they face no charge to work anywhere else in the European Union? The lower income tax that we pay in Scotland would be attractive, but it does not outweigh the £10,000-plus they would have to pay just to turn up.

Scotland has become a country of regular net in-migration, largely thanks to the free movement of people. But for in-migration, our population would have again been in decline since 2015—something that is projected into the future, with more deaths than births. Ending free movement risks pushing Scotland back to a future of population decline. Like other countries, our population of older people is increasing. That is not unique to us, but unlike other countries, in the UK in particular, our working-age population will rise only fractionally in the years ahead, according to various projections.

That brings us to the issue of public finances and devolved public services. There has been a welcome devolution of tax-raising powers in recent years, to which the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred. However, with those tax powers now in place, the problem is that we are suddenly seeing the tax base shrunk by immigration policies. That has a direct impact on income tax receipts and also on the economic growth and tax revenue that companies’ VAT.

Decisions on immigration policy also have a profound impact on devolved public services, on international students, on international recruitment for the NHS and social care, on international recruitment of academic staff and on various other areas. All that is a potent combination of factors that deserves much more Government recognition than it has received up until now. In fact, if anything, Home Office engagement on these issues seems to have gone backwards rather than forwards. The former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, was publicly very open to the idea of somehow recognising regional differences in the immigration system. Caroline Nokes at least kept things under review—although that phrase seems to have become almost meaningless in the Home Office in recent days. At least she worked closely with the devolved Governments and regularly met with them.

I am not sure what has driven it, whether it is the Home Office, the Scotland Office or No. 10, but engagement now seems to have been reduced to almost nothing. All we get back is a soundbite that the Government are building a system that works for all the UK. The question that nobody bothers to explain is, how is the immigration system working for Scotland? As I said the other day, nobody in their right mind would propose this system if they were designing an immigration system for Scotland alone.

The Scottish Government’s expert advisory group on migration has produced a series of papers on this subject with a whole host of possible options. These are not made up on the back of an envelope. The group’s members include experts in the field. Other experts have prepared similar papers independently. Last week, the Committee heard oral evidence from Ian Robinson of Fragomen, a leading international legal practice specialising in immigration law. As I said then, Mr Robinson had previously worked at a senior level developing Home Office policy. My colleagues and I asked him and his firm to look at international experience and to assess what options might be open to the UK to provide a degree of flexibility to Scotland. He prepared a report learning from Canada, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand. Again, a whole host of options was put forward based on international experience. That report is publicly available.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 10:00 am, 16th June 2020

Another report that is publicly available is the SNP’s White Paper ahead of the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland. Will the hon. Gentleman outline the proposals for immigration in that policy?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

I have no problem in outlining the paper. This point was got up on Twitter, as if it was a gotcha for the SNP. In that White Paper we advocated a points-based immigration system for those coming from outside the EEA, but we also advocated for the free movement of people. [Interruption.] The Minister looks as if I have been caught in some sort of trap. I am perfectly happy to support a points-based system for Scotland for people coming from outside the EEA. That is not a problem at all. But there are points-based systems and there are points-based systems. [Interruption.] People are chuckling away as if I am talking nonsense, but the Canadian points-based system is significantly different from the points-based system in Australia. The system proposed by the UK Government is barely a points system, and if hon. Members speak to anyone who knows the first thing about immigration law policy, they will say that there is barely a resemblance. Despite all the rhetoric, there is a tiny resemblance between what the UK Government are proposing and what the Australian points-based system is proposing.

On the issue of flexibility and regionality, the Australian points system includes some variation to take account of the different needs of different provinces. If the Australian points-based system is so wonderful, why has it not been replicated in any meaningful sense by the UK Government, including in respect of regional flexibility? Yes, the 2014 White Paper did refer to a points-based system for people from outside the EU—one that would be tailored for Scotland’s circumstances, not one that is completely inappropriate for it.

Ian Robinson and Fragomen, leading international practitioners, looked at the example of Canada, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand and put forward a whole host of possible options. As they said last week, one of those options would be simply to allow the free movement rules to continue to apply in Scotland. If a hotel in the highlands of Perthshire is recruiting, it can continue to recruit from the EEA just as it does now.

However, there is a huge range of possibilities, from more radical suggestions, such as retaining free movement, all the way down to tailoring the points-based system to suit Scotland’s needs. That brings me to a very modest suggestion that I am bound to bring up; it is a suggestion from my hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil that I think he may have raised directly with the Minister. It is simply to ensure that points are awarded in this system for Gaelic language skills as well as for English.

This is not just about Scotland, however. The challenges in Northern Ireland will also be unbelievably acute and perhaps even more so, given the land border that it shares with a country not only where businesses benefit from free movement of people, but that runs a completely independent immigration system, tailored to meet its own needs, while still being part of the common travel area. Business in Northern Ireland may face thousands of pounds in immigration fees just to try to attract the very same people who, a few miles down the road, could take up the position totally free of cost and bureaucracy. Merely saying that this system will work for all of the UK does nothing to address that problem.

Even if the Government do not want to properly engage in debate and discussion with SNP MPs or Ministers in the Scottish Government, I urge the Minister to listen to and engage with other voices who are speaking out on this issue. Businesses, business groups, think-tanks, civic society, universities and public sector organisations are all hugely concerned about it. The Minister just needs to do a Google search for commentary in Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular on their response to the Government’s most recent proposals.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that figures released only this morning show that the unemployment rate in Scotland is now the highest in the United Kingdom, at 4.6%, compared with a UK rate of 3%? That means that unemployment has risen by 30,000 to 127,000. Does he not think that those are the sort of people we should be getting into jobs in Scotland and that we should not be looking to the EEA to provide the people?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

The economic impact of coronavirus is of course a tragedy, and every lost job is an absolute tragedy as well. Yes, of course we will focus our efforts on ensuring that people are back in work as soon as we can do that, but we cannot design our immigration system for the next decades based on this calamity. If the only reason Conservative Members can come up with to support this system being implemented in Scotland is that we are going through a pandemic, that is pretty farcical, given that these proposals have been in existence for the last few months, so no, I do not accept that it is any reason for shying away from the points that I am making. The system will cause huge long-term damage to Scotland’s economy and Scotland’s public finances. It is not just me saying that; a whole host of organisations have real concerns.

Again, I am not expecting the Government to do a 180-degree U-turn today, but I do want at least some recognition that there are genuine issues that require more than just our being told that this system will somehow work for Scotland, Northern Ireland or any other devolved nation.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward. Although the United Kingdom’s population is projected to rise by about 15%, it is reckoned that the population of our rural areas, including my own constituency of Argyll and Bute, will fall by as much as 8%. The situation is absolutely unsustainable because, despite Argyll and Bute being an exceptionally beautiful part of the world, we have an ageing and non-economically active population and our young people leave to spend their economically productive years outside Argyll and Bute.

To give credit to the council and to the Scottish Government, they are doing what they can to make Argyll and Bute a place that young people do not feel that they have to leave before coming back to retire—many of them do—but before that long-term goal reaches fruition, a cornerstone of Argyll and Bute Council’s plan for economic regeneration was predicated on continuing access to EU nationals and attracting them into the area. Regrettably, and through no fault of our own, that option has been taken from them; and the UK Government, having taken that option from them, now have a responsibility to provide a solution that will help those areas suffering from depopulation to recover. It is becoming increasingly clear that a major part of that would be the introduction of a regional immigration policy similar to that which works in Canada, Australia, Switzerland and other countries, and one that reflects the different needs of different parts of the country. There is no reason, other than political will, why that cannot happen here.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

Does the hon. Gentleman therefore suggest that if we had an independent Scotland, with its own immigration system, there would be a regional variation between Argyll and Bute and Edinburgh?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

What does the hon. Gentleman think?

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution)

Personally, I think that the greater devolution of power, as widely as possible across any nation state, is an exceptionally good thing. Anything that can attract people to come, live, work, invest and raise families in our rural communities must be looked at and broadly welcomed. It was broadly welcomed in the recent Migration Advisory Committee report, which said:

“The current migration system is not very effective in dealing with the particular problems remote communities experience. If these problems are to be addressed something more bespoke for these areas is needed…The only way to address this question in the UK context would be to pilot a scheme that facilitated migration to these areas, then monitor what happens over several years and evaluate the outcomes.”

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said, that idea was welcomed by the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove in a ministerial answer on 23 July 2019, where he accepted the need for the development of a pilot scheme. To date, there has been very little movement and we fear that there has been backtracking by the UK Government about what they plan to do next about setting it up.

The Minister knows that the Scottish Government stand ready to work with him to design and develop a solution that is tailored to meet Scotland’s needs. I can tell him that if the MAC is willing to provide the advice, and the Scottish Government is minded to follow that advice, then Argyll and Bute is prepared to put it itself forward as a pilot area for such a scheme. I spoke yesterday to the chief executive of Argyll and Bute Council, Pippa Milne, who confirmed that the council would be happy to work with the UK Government and the MAC to see how a bespoke regional immigration system would work in practice. Will the Minister act on the MAC recommendation, which was supported by the former Home Secretary, and help Scotland to fight the curse of depopulation?

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Edward. I will briefly outline our position on amendment 17 and new clause 33. We are entirely sympathetic to amendment 17 for the reasons that have just been outlined, seeking to protect Scotland from the impact of this hard stop on free movement without a plan for mitigating the effects on key sectors. On more rural areas, our focus will continue to be on finding a solution for the whole of the UK rather than just Scotland. We understand that the Scottish National party has not given up on its aspiration of independence for Scotland, but I am afraid that that is where our parties diverge. To have an immigration system for Scotland that is different from that of the rest of the UK without that broader sense of a more regional approach affecting every area of the UK would open a raft of further questions around the management of that system and the means of enforcing it geographically. We say this in the spirit of loving Scotland and wanting it to stay and prosper as part of the United Kingdom. On that basis, we cannot support amendment 17.

We welcome the approach behind new clause 33 in principle, but again feel that it misses the opportunity to consult with the English regions as part of the process. Richard Burge of the London chamber of commerce said in last week’s evidence session that the MAC was slow and unwieldy. He said that it needs

“to involve business much more directly and that, it is hoped, will enable it to be much more responsive”.––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 12, Q18.]

Frustration with the MAC and a genuine and well-founded scepticism that, without radical reform, we would not be able to respond in anything like realtime to emerging workforce issues and skill shortages was a recurring theme in the evidence session and has been throughout our engagement with stakeholders ahead of the Committee. With this in mind, we are inclined to agree that one way of making immigration rules and shortage occupation lists more responsive would be to grant the devolved Administrations a greater say.

As I have already said, however, the glaring omission in new clause 33 is that it does not propose to consider the needs of the English regions in quite the same way. As a Yorkshire Member, it would be remiss of me not to reflect on the fact that the population of Yorkshire is comparable to, or greater than, those of the devolved nations. We hope that a report of the kind outlined in new clause 33 might take into account our needs and those of other regions, alongside those of the devolved Administrations. As a party, we will be looking to review the MAC and the shortage occupation list process in their entirety, shaping our own proposals for transformation in due course. On that basis, we broadly support new clause 33, but we will be shaping our own proposals in the coming months.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:15 am, 16th June 2020

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and his hon. Friends for tabling the amendment and new clause. Having said that, there was a certain predictability about them given the SNP’s aim of separating our United Kingdom and wish for borders to be created across this island.

I turn to some of the more specific points. I have had direct contact with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. He is very passionate about the Gaelic language and the role it plays in contemporary life. I have also had representations from Ministers and Members in Wales about the strong role that the Welsh language plays in our culture today, enriching our Union as a whole. Certainly, we will see what we can do to incorporate Welsh, Irish and Gaelic into our migration system. It is probably worth noting that the vast majority of fluent speakers of those three languages are either citizens of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, and therefore effectively not subject to migration control; they have rights to live and work within the United Kingdom and settle in any part of it they choose.

It was interesting to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Halifax, my Labour shadow, about how separate systems would be enforced. Like me, she does not want to see an economic version of Hadrian’s Wall between England and Scotland, although I recognise that others on the Committee perhaps do.

We are looking at how to make the Migration Advisory Committee’s role responsive and how it can choose some of its own reports—we will come on to that when we discuss some of the new clauses. The issue is not purely about a commission. I am thinking particularly about how the MAC can send out a more regular drumbeat of reviews, and commentary on reviews, for the shortage occupation list. That should fit in with our wider labour market policies rather than being considered apart from our skills and training policies. I hope we can find some sensible consensus on that.

The MAC has launched its call for evidence for the shortage occupation list and the advice that it is going to give Ministers about the new points-based system. I hope people will engage with that; there is certainly good strong engagement from many businesses. It would be good to see the Scottish Government promote the idea that businesses in Scotland should be getting involved and positively engage in the process—not least given that the MAC has indicated its intention for there to be shortage occupation lists for each of the four nations of the United Kingdom. It will probably not be a great surprise if many of those are very similar, given the similar types of skill shortages across the United Kingdom.

I was interested to hear the comments from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, in particular the idea that we could start having immigration policy for individual council areas. That is interesting. It is worth saying that the MAC suggestion was about remote areas. We both went to see the first HM naval base on the Clyde, in his constituency; as he knows, he is not exactly remote from the vibrant heart of culture and economy that is Glasgow—that is rather different from the concept of, let us say, eastern and western Australia in terms of distance.

I will be very clear: a range of powers is available to the Scottish Government. If the same pull factors that created the challenges today still exist, this look into the migration system is not going to provide a solution. With other Members from Scotland, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray, we have looked at the fact that there is a determined drive—luckily, the Scottish Government have the powers around economic development—to create those strong opportunities in communities. Ultimately, if we create a migration opportunity but the pull factors are still there and have not been addressed, the situation will become a revolving door. That is why we have to look at those core issues first —why people are moving out—and not just look to a migration system as a magic bullet for those problems.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution)

At the risk of giving a geography lesson, I point out that when the Minister visited Argyll and Bute he visited the easternmost tip of the constituency, nearest to Glasgow. The constituency spreads over 7,500 sq km, has 26 remote island communities and is not part of the vibrant central belt hub. That is why it and many other areas of the highlands and islands of Scotland need a bespoke solution. The problems we face in Argyll and Bute are not those that many large conurbations in the United Kingdom face. There is a need to recognise that.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Perhaps the point has been made, then, that this is not about having an immigration system based on a council area, but about having one for an area smaller than that of a council. I think that that would lead to confusion, with multiple areas.

There are many issues across large stretches of the highlands, and also rural parts of the rest of the United Kingdom. The fact that there are challenges in ensuring that younger people in particular have opportunities, and options to stay, is a facet of the issue that is not unique to parts of Scotland. However, if we do not deal with the core issues, most of which fall under the remit of the devolved Administration in Edinburgh, those pull factors will still exist, and the migration system is not a magic cure for them.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

It is a question of having strategies in place to address the challenges, but I want to pin the Minister down on the question of the remote areas pilot. That is a recommendation from the MAC. Can the Minister say categorically that this morning he is ditching it, and that there will not now be a remote areas pilot scheme? That would be really bad news.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We made it clear in the policy statement that we put out in February that we were not planning a remote areas pilot. Again, the thing that we must focus on is that many of the pull factors exist. It is within the competence of the Scottish Government to deal with those issues, and to create something and tackle them.

I have seen how Members of Parliament in the north-east of Scotland, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, David Duguid, are pushing for the creation of those economic opportunities that they want in parts of rural Scotland. Perhaps the one hope that we have on this point is that there is a Scottish Parliament election coming next year. I hope that there will be a more business-focused, opportunity-based Administration in Edinburgh, which will be focused on developing Scotland, not separating it.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister’s point about the number of factors that are within the remit of the Scottish Parliament and on which the Scottish National party Government of Scotland have failed.

We have heard from SNP Members that they want their own immigration system. Indeed, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute said that they would design and tailor one. Does the Minister share my concern that we heard similar reassurances from the SNP Scottish Government about social security—yet they had to tell the UK Government that they could not take those powers because they could not implement the changes quickly enough in Scotland?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend, as always, hits the nail straight on the head with his arguments. Yes, we had many demands for devolution of policy, but then the Scottish Government did not want to take them up. Suddenly there was a new group of Unionists wanting the United Kingdom Government to deal with something in Scotland.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Will the Minister do us the favour of explaining how his immigration policies will make the challenges easier rather than harder for Scotland?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The first thing that our immigration policy will do is provide a points-based system on a global basis, based on RQF3 and on having a shortage occupation list. Businesses in Scotland can recruit globally on that basis. Also, we can look at the first reform, which we have already carried out—a route that I was pleased to launch in Glasgow. I have seen it at first hand—the best talent being brought into our universities, and particularly into the University of Glasgow. Under that system, on a global basis, teams can be recruited to tackle and research some of the most challenging questions that mankind faces. On the occasion in question the issue was tackling malaria, and the huge impact of that.

Those are the sorts of benefits we want: high value and high skill—the attractions are there. It is a vision for Scotland, whose natural beauty is second to none, based on skills and the attractiveness of a high-skill, high-value economy—not on saying that the main thing Scotland’s economy needs is the ability to put more people on the minimum wage on a global basis.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

The Minister mentions his visit to Glasgow all the time. While he was there, did he speak with Universities Scotland, which is among the organisations that has spoken out in favour of a differentiated system? This is not just coming from the SNP. The Minister has also spoken about the benefits of his new system, but his own risk assessment says that it will cause levels of immigration to Scotland to fall. How is that in Scotland’s interests?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We engage strongly with partners, particularly our high-compliance Scottish universities that are sponsors of tier 4 visas. We very much welcome the contributions they make, as well as those that they make as part of wider groups, such as the Russell Group, that operate on a UK-wide basis.

There are two visions, I suppose. There is one that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and his colleagues from Scotland bring us: a high-productivity, high-value Scotland, an attractive place to live with a thriving economy, recruiting on a global basis. Then there is the Scotland that the Scottish National party brings us; the only reason someone would go there would be to pay low wages or recruit at, or near, the minimum wage on a global basis. That, to me, is not a particularly inspiring vision.

Many of the powers to deal with the pull factors that lead to depopulation in rural areas are already in the hands of the Edinburgh Administration. As with so many other things—this has been touched on in relation to social security—it is time to see the Scottish National party getting on with the job of governance, rather than the job of grieving or looking to separate the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East will not be surprised to hear that the Government’s position has been made very clear on this issue, but I will briefly set it out again. Immigration and related matters, such as the free movement of persons from the EU, are reserved matters, and the immigration aspects of the Bill will therefore apply to the whole United Kingdom. The Government are delivering an immigration system that takes into account the needs of the whole of our United Kingdom and works for the whole of it, not for the political needs of those whose goal is its separation.

We do not believe that it would be sensible, desirable or workable to apply different immigration systems in different parts of the United Kingdom, and the independent Migration Advisory Committee has repeatedly advised that the labour markets of the different nations of the United Kingdom are not sufficiently different to warrant different policies. That was an independent report—the type that people seem to want, but then do not seem to want to listen to.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, I have given way many times. As we heard in the evidence sessions, the simplistic argument saying that Scotland is different from England for political reasons ignores the variation within Scotland itself, given the strength of the economy in Edinburgh compared with the economies of more rural areas.

I do not propose to address new clause 33 in detail; as I say, we have seen the MAC’s conclusions on this issue. The Government’s objection is one of principle: immigration is, and will remain, a reserved matter. We will introduce an immigration system that works for the whole of our country and all the nations that make up our United Kingdom by respecting the democratically expressed view of the people in the December 2019 general election and the 2014 vote of the Scottish people, which rejected separation. Both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon used the phrase “once in a lifetime” or “once in a generation” about that vote; now, only six years later, we see how short a generation has become. Free movement will end on 31 December, and we will introduce a points-based immigration system that ensures we can attract the best talent from around the world to Scotland, based on the skills and attributes they have, not where their passport comes from.

It will come as no surprise that SNP Members and I will have to agree to differ, as we regularly do on issues that relate to the constitutional future of Scotland. I obviously hope that the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Argyll and Bute and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West will withdraw their amendments—although I have a sneaky feeling that they may not—and I particularly hope that others on this Committee who have also voiced their opposition to separatist politics will join the Government in opposing these amendments if they are put to a vote.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

I sort of thank the Minister for at least making a contribution, but I have to say that, having shadowed about six or seven immigration Ministers for five years, I think that is probably the most regrettable speech I have heard from any of them at any time; the second most regrettable was the one the Minister made during the Opposition day debate a few months ago. It might play well with some MPs in this place, but I watched the faces of some Scottish Conservative MPs that night, and they were not impressed.

The Minister is speaking not just to the SNP, but to business groups and public service organisations—a whole host of concerned organisations in Scotland. He might get away with it in this Committee, but he cannot really get away with dismissing their concerns as “nationalist nonsense” or “separatist rubbish”. These are very serious people with very serious concerns about the implications of his Government’s migration system for Scotland. It seems to be not so much a case of, “We hope it will be all right on the night”, but one of, “We don’t care—stuff you!”

There was not a word about Northern Ireland, for example, where similar concerns are felt. There is the issue of a land border with a country that has free movement of people and a completely different immigration system. Employers on the other side of the border will have a huge advantage compared with employers in Northern Ireland.

I absolutely regret what we have just heard. We will have to go back to stakeholders in Scotland and say, “We have pushed for years on end, perfectly reasonably; we have prepared report after report, instructed experts, received expert advice and put out a range of options. All that has been rejected.” They will know that the only way they will ever see immigration powers in Scotland is through independence.

The Minister may want to chastise the Scottish Government about whether they are governing well, but they are in fact doing a pretty good job—and that is reflected in the opinion polls, which last time had us at 52%. I am quite comfortable to go to the country in the Scottish Parliament elections next year on that platform.

As I say, I very much regret the debate we have had this morning, and will be putting amendment 17 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 10 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill — Extent

Aye: 2 MPs

No: 14 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 14.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.