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The next item of business is the debate on motion S5M-19809, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on protecting the right of EU citizens in Scotland. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. I call Ben Macpherson to speak to and move the motion.
I am glad to open today’s important debate but, unfortunately, I am also deeply disappointed that more than three years on from the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, EU citizens in our communities who are our friends, neighbours, colleagues and, in many cases, family continue to experience unnecessary and unpleasant insecurity and anxiety. Every member in the chamber will have constituents from other EU and European Economic Area countries who have, in the past three years, had to deal with unacceptable turbulence as they have tried to navigate the process of staying in a country that we are privileged that they have chosen to make and call their home.
Many EU citizens have been here for decades, and have set up businesses and raised their families in Scotland. They are part of Scotland, and we are Scotland together. Many are here to study in our colleges and universities and many play vital roles in delivery of public services. They are contributing to our shared culture and communities across the country.
The anxiety that has been felt is reflected in the Labour amendment. Because of that, and for other reasons, we will accept it. Amid the continued uncertainty, we must all, collectively, ensure that EU citizens continue to feel valued and welcomed in Scotland. We must do our best to provide reassurance on that. EU citizens are a welcome and integral part of communities across the country, so we want and, indeed, need them to stay.
Of course, we are all still EU citizens—we still enjoy the freedom to live, study, work, trade or travel across the 28 member states. However, when I talk about “EU citizens” today, I am talking about citizens from other EU countries. I am also talking about citizens from the EEA and European Free Trade Association countries who face the loss of their rights if Brexit happens. Although there are separate arrangements for Irish citizens, who will, no matter what happens, continue to benefit from the provisions of the common travel area, some Irish nationals might wish to apply to the EU settlement scheme, especially if they have non-EU family members.
Just over a year ago, Parliament came to a general consensus on the significant economic, social and cultural contributions that are made by EU citizens to Scotland, and reaffirmed its support for our friends, neighbours, colleagues and loved ones who have done us the honour of making Scotland their home.
We want EU citizens to continue to feel welcome in Scotland, and we want them to retain their right to stay. The UK Government’s EU settlement scheme has now been open for more than seven months: more than 92,700 applications have been received from EU citizens in Scotland. It is important to be clear that the number is of applications rather than of applicants. Given that an individual might need to submit multiple applications, first for pre-settled status and then for settled status, we all need to be careful about claiming certainty about the number of individuals who have successfully secured settled status. The UK Government has not published that more detailed information.
However, even the most positive interpretation means that, at most, only about 42 per cent of the estimated total number of EU nationals living in Scotland have applied to the scheme. The EU settlement scheme figures clearly show that there is a challenge to increase application rates, especially among communities that are vulnerable or remote.
Although the Scottish Government has questions about the EU settlement scheme, we are committed to working with others to support EU citizens in Scotland. Although the UK Government has said that EU citizens are not required to apply to the EU settlement scheme until December 2020 at the earliest, we remain deeply concerned that EU citizens could fail to secure settled status due to lack of awareness of the scheme and of the requirement to apply.
If Mr Rowley has details of those organisations, I encourage him to feed them into my office as part of our on-going thinking about how we develop the stay in Scotland campaign, which we launched as an important mechanism to raise awareness of the EU settlement scheme, and to highlight how much the Scottish Government values the contributions that are made by EU citizens who live and work here. So far, the Scottish Government has committed more than £1 million for provision of information, advice and support to EU citizens in Scotland to fill the void that is being left in too many cases by inadequate UK Government provision.
The campaign is one of many steps that the Scottish Government is taking to support EU citizens. We are also funding Citizens Advice Scotland to deliver a crucial advice and support service for EU citizens and their families who might need additional help, and we are working with organisations such as the3million and the Citizens Rights Project to provide support and advice for EU citizens, and to deliver across Scotland a series of events for EU citizens to raise awareness about what they need to do to stay.
Although the Scottish Government encourages people to apply to stay, we empathise with EU citizens who might be wary of applying to a scheme that seems to be beset with technical and operational problems. Members will have seen media reports about cases of EU citizens who have been awarded incorrect status, cases of EU citizens who have been living here for decades who are struggling to prove their residence, and cases of EU citizens who are waiting far longer than the time that the Home Office estimates is needed for processing before a decision is made.
The Scottish Government has been clear, for some time now, that EU citizens should not have to apply to retain their right to live, work and study in this country. It is why we have consistently called for the EU settlement scheme to be a declarative registration system instead of a constitutive application system. That is a point of principle. We have called for such a system because we, like many others across the UK, are deeply concerned about the consequences for EU citizens who do not apply by the deadline or who do not apply at all. A declaratory system would make the repercussions of missing the application deadline far less severe, because registration under a declaratory scheme would involve confirming rights, rather than acquiring rights through application, as is the case under the current settlement scheme.
The Windrush scandal demonstrates clearly the dangers of failing to safeguard the rights of EU citizens. Removing the need to make an application, and consequently avoiding the threat of refusal, would best protect the rights of EU citizens who live here. Brandon Lewis’s comments last month to the effect that EU citizens might face removal from the UK if they do not apply in time will do nothing to ease concerns. It is completely wrong that EU citizens potentially face being dragged into the current UK Government’s immigration policies that have resulted in the hostile environment.
At any point since the referendum in 2016, the UK Government could have introduced legislation to protect fully the rights of EU citizens. It chose not to do so and, as a result, has left EU citizens in an unacceptable limbo. The UK Government still has the power to give EU citizens clarity and certainty, and the Prime Minister should implement his clear commitment to provide EU citizens with
“absolute certainty of the right to live and remain”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 25 July 2019; Vol 663, c 1459.]
through a guarantee in law.
“a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 4 September 2019; Vol 664, c 10WS.]
How is that a “hostile environment”?
Adam Tomkins should consider what people from outwith the EU have experienced as a result of the hostile environment policies that have been applied to asylum seekers and others—at Dungavel, for example. On immigration policy, he should also consider the fact that, in recent days, Michael Gove has painted a picture that suggests that freedom of movement has put strain on public services and has had a negative effect on British society. It is deeply dangerous to say that at this time. Even the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee’s analysis proves that EU citizens make a positive and constructive, vital and enriching contribution to our society. We have benefited from freedom of movement, so at this time we should stand up for the benefits of migration, and not spread fear and undue alarm. That is what the UK Government has done in recent years, and it continues to do so, which is deeply disappointing.
The next UK Government should introduce primary legislation as soon as possible to set out the rights of EU citizens who are resident in the UK at the point of the UK’s leaving the EU. That would, at the very least, guarantee the provisions for EU citizens that are set out in the withdrawal agreement.
What is wrong with the current proposals under the EU settlement scheme is that the UK Government is, in effect, creating two classes of EU citizens. The first is people who receive settled status, who will be able to stay in the UK permanently and will have their rights fully protected by law. The second, in stark contrast, is people who are given only pre-settled status. EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for less than five years are eligible to apply only for pre-settled status under the current scheme. That is cause for concern, because that status is more precarious than settled status and it does not give people a permanent right to stay here. There is also a concern that the rights of people with pre-settled status could be diluted in the future and changed by secondary legislation.
Also, people with pre-settled status will have to make a further application to the scheme once they have accrued enough residence time for settled status. However, there is a real danger that they will not remember to reapply or will mistakenly believe that they did everything that they needed to do when they applied initially. We are still waiting for the UK Government to confirm that applicants will be reminded to make another application before their temporary leave runs out.
However, even if they are, that seems to be costly, nonsensical and bureaucratic. EU citizens could be better protected by disapplying the requirement to accrue five years residence and instead granting all successful applicants full settled status. That would represent a decisive action to secure clearly the rights of all EU citizens who are resident in the UK at the point—when and if it happens—that the UK leaves the EU, which we hope it will not. It would avoid the creation of separate classes, each with different rights and statuses, and would, by creating greater clarity, remove the requirement for some individuals to apply twice to secure their long-term right to remain in the UK.
Additionally, scrapping pre-settled status in favour of granting full settled status would be a simple step towards mitigating possible unfair treatment based on status, and would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy for the UK Government and for people who are delivering front-line services and those who access them.
Either establishing a declarative system or ensuring that all EU citizens are granted the more secure settled status would greatly improve on what is on offer at the moment, and would provide a very welcome sense of certainty for EU citizens and all of us, underpinned by primary legislation.
What is more, EU citizens must be given the option of having physical proof of settled status, if requested. There are already concerning anecdotal examples of EU citizens being asked for their status by employers and others, as was highlighted by the evidence from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations for today’s debate. We need to be careful about potential discrimination that is emerging: we need to keep a constant watch on whether it is developing and make sure, particularly at the moment, that we emphasise to employers, housing providers and those who provide financial services that EU citizens have full rights under freedom of movement. We need to raise awareness of what their rights will be under settled status. The removal of pre-settled status would make that a lot easier.
EU citizens play a crucial role in our economy, our public services and our communities. Whether they have lived here for months or many years, Scotland is their home. They are welcome here and we want them to stay. My call to colleagues across the chamber is this: let us speak with one voice to make EU citizens feel valued and welcomed, let us work together to encourage and support them to stay, let us continue to make every effort to protect their rights to stay in Scotland, and let us urge any UK Government to do that, too, after 12 December, by creating a declarative system and awarding full settled status.
That the Parliament welcomes citizens from elsewhere in the EU, the EEA and Switzerland who have used their right to freedom of movement to come to Scotland, and recognises the significant contributions that such EU citizens make to Scotland and the rest of the UK socially, culturally and economically; acknowledges that EU citizens enrich Scotland and are an integral part of communities across the country; notes that the approach of the UK Government towards the rights of EU citizens since 24 June 2016 has created long-running insecurity and anxiety for millions; emphasises that EU citizens maintain their rights under freedom of movement until if and when the UK exits the EU; believes that EU citizens should not have to apply to retain rights they already have if the UK exits the EU and freedom of movement ends; notes that the establishment of a declarative system and the removal of the requirement to apply to the UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme would go some way to alleviating the current insecurity many people are experiencing; believes that the rights of EU citizens must be enshrined in primary legislation, and proposes that, if a declarative system is not established in law, the UK Government should immediately disapply its requirement that EU citizens accrue five years’ residency to obtain full settled status, therefore removing the less secure pre-settled status, and considers that in all cases EU citizens must be given the option of receiving physical proof of status.
I agree that EU citizens who live and work in our country are highly valued. I agree that they make an extraordinarily important contribution to our society, culture and economy, in the same way that all our citizens do. I agree that we need to encourage students from the EU to continue to come and study in our universities. I agree that we must be an open and tolerant society, and that people who live in EU countries should feel safe visiting, living and working here.
However, where I part company with the minister is on his knee-jerk criticism of the UK Government, which time and again has committed to protecting the rights of EU citizens who currently live in the UK.
If anything, the current Administration and Prime Minister have gone further and faster than Theresa May and her Government when it comes to providing certainty to those EU citizens. The incessant scaremongering by the Scottish National Party Government over the rights of EU citizens after we leave the European Union is therefore ill-judged and deeply hypocritical.
Will Donald Cameron clarify to members whether the Scottish Conservatives agree with Michael Gove’s assertions in the past few days, which undermine the reality that EU citizens have contributed a net benefit to this society and the overarching sense, which we should all feel and consider, that EU citizens have deeply enriched our society in many ways? Will Donald Cameron condemn Michael Gove’s statements?
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The fact is that the SNP demanded that any Brexit deal respect the rights of EU citizens. However, the current European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill would do just that. The minister said in his speech that the SNP wanted clarity on that, but it is there in article 10 of the withdrawal agreement. The SNP voted against the bill last month at its second reading, although the legislation would protect EU citizens after we leave the EU. The SNP also voted against Theresa May’s European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill three times. Thus, at a number of points this year, the SNP’s actions have led to the failure to resolve Brexit and pass a fair Brexit deal that would protect the economy, jobs and those EU citizens who have made Scotland their home. Perhaps you will understand, Deputy Presiding Officer, why the Conservative benches treat the usual platitudes and grandstanding on the SNP benches with a pretty hefty dose of scepticism, given the SNP’s failure to support legislation that would guarantee the rights of EU citizens after we leave the EU.
I turn now to the substance of the Government’s motion. I reiterate that my party supports the 221,000 EU citizens who are resident in Scotland. As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I know all too well what a significant contribution they make to the local economy. Up to 10,000 EU citizens are employed in our food and drink sector, and more than 4,500 EU citizens work in the Scottish fishing industry. I will give members a local example. I recently visited the Kallin Shellfish Ltd factory in North Uist to discuss potential challenges facing that sector in the Western Isles. While I was there, I was informed about two fishermen who had moved over from Poland and established their own scallop fishing business in 2009. They have been going strong since then, supplying fresh scallops to the KaIlin factory and they recently invested in a new, purpose-built scallop vessel. They are optimistic about the future of their business. Kallin Shellfish noted that although Brexit would provide short-term challenges, it would also provide long-term opportunity. The example that I have just given is only one example of the important contribution that EU citizens make to our country and, as in that case, our remote and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands.
EU citizens make a significant impact in not just our rural economy but academia, given that some 19 per cent of Scotland’s academic researchers come from the EU, and the tourism sector, where some 21,000 EU citizens work. All of that reiterates the need to secure a Brexit deal that will allow Scotland and the rest of the UK to continue to attract talent and skills from the EU. The Royal Society of Edinburgh has stated that
“the UK should promote a narrative of being ‘open for business’ and seen as a welcoming destination for immigrants. It must be clear that, in particular, skilled and talented migrants are both required and valued.”
I could not agree more with that statement. I believe that, by seeking to secure the rights of those who already live and work here, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill does what that statement says, as do some recent announcements that add to the message that the UK is open to those who want to work and contribute to our economy and society, such as the announcement that the number of places allocated through the seasonal agricultural workers scheme will be increased from 2,500 to 10,000.
The 10,000 figure follows the express recommendation of the Scottish Affairs Committee— chaired by Peter Wishart, no less—which stated that there should be an expansion of the seasonal workers scheme to 10,000. Of course, once the required objective is reached, the grievance machine cranks into action and the goalposts are moved.
There is also the current proposal to establish a new national health service visa to help encourage more healthcare professionals to come and work in the UK. That will undoubtedly have significant benefits for Scotland, given the disastrous manner in which the SNP Government has failed to manage and plan for our NHS workforce. There was the announcement in September that the post-study work visa would be reintroduced, which will not only provide security for those who have chosen to study here from abroad, but will provide the incentive to stay in the UK and to further enhance our economy and culture. In each respect, that highlights the commitment of the UK Government to expand opportunities to work in our country, and importantly, ensures that we continue to welcome new citizens to the UK.
Given the minister’s remarks concerning the EU settlement scheme, I feel it is only right and proper to address that directly and to reassure any EU citizens watching this debate that we welcome them and that this process is not obstructive, but a necessary one. The settled status scheme ensures that access to benefits and other state services will remain unaffected. It requires applicants to prove their identity, show that they live in the UK and declare any criminal convictions. This scheme is necessary so that the position of EU citizens who remain in the UK is clear and known, and I believe this scheme is the best means to do that. Many people have already signed up to the scheme, with some 1.8 million people applying up to the end of September 2019, of which 92,700 have come from Scotland. Some 24,700 of those applications were made in September alone. Up until the end of September, more than 1.5 million applications have been settled, of which 61 per cent have been granted settled status, and 38 per cent granted pre-settled status. Back in March this year, the Home Office announced a £3.75 million advertising campaign to highlight the scheme, and just a few weeks ago announced an additional £1 million to further advertise it. It is patently clear that these are not the actions of a Government that is discouraging EU citizens from remaining in the UK, but one that is actively trying to help people register with the scheme prior to the deadline in December 2020.
I also note the points raised by the minister concerning the UK Government’s white paper based on proposals from the Migration Advisory Committee. There has been a significant degree of misinformation about this matter, and I shall touch on it briefly. First and foremost, it should be noted that the white paper is just that, and not definitive UK Government policy. The measures proposed are proposals for consideration only. The Home Secretary at the time, Sajid Javid, noted when it was published that
“it is not the final word. Rather, it is the starting point for a national conversation on our future immigration system. And I’m pleased to announce that the government will be launching a year-long programme of engagement across the UK to ensure a wide range of views are heard”.
I am sorry, but I will not.
In September, the UK Government announced a review of some of the proposals around a points-based system and salary thresholds. The review ended earlier this month and will be published in due course. However, a points-based system is something that was supported by the SNP’s white paper for independence, which said:
“We plan a controlled points-based system to support the migration of skilled workers for the benefit of Scotland’s economy”.
That is what the UK Government is moving towards across the whole of the UK, so I look forward to that being welcomed by others shortly. The white paper proposed a range of measures that we broadly welcome, including the proposal that,
“there will continue to be no limit on the number of international students who can study in the UK”, and the introduction of a streamlined application process for those who are visiting or coming to work or to study.
We want Scotland to be an open, tolerant and welcoming country for new talents from around the world, including the EU, which allows our society to benefit as a result. We support the major contribution of EU citizens; we want them to stay after we leave the EU, and we welcome their continued contribution to our country.
People are fed up with the scaremongering on the status of EU citizens. It is high time that the SNP stopped politicking on this sensitive issue and got behind the UK Government as it navigates a Brexit deal that will secure the rights of EU citizens, deliver on the referendum result and allow Scotland to prosper.
I move amendment S5M-19809.2, to leave out from “notes that the approach of the UK Government” to end and insert:
“further acknowledges that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated in October 2019 guarantees the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and ensures that EU citizens can continue to live and work in the UK after it leaves the EU through the EU Settlement Scheme; welcomes the announcement that the number of people permitted to work in the UK via the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme will increase from 2,500 to 10,000; further welcomes proposals to introduce a new NHS visa, which will help towards resolving Scotland’s NHS workforce crisis, and supports the continued efforts of the UK Government to ensure that the UK continues to be a place that attracts the best and brightest talents from around the world.”
In a briefing from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, it points out that the current settled status scheme places the human rights of EU citizens at fundamental risk—their right to their private and family life, work, health and social security are all undermined.
EU citizens have been living here as a right but will now be required to apply for permission to stay in their own homes and communities. That cannot be right, and it is why we need to be clear that, if the UK leaves the European Union, the EU settlement scheme must be changed.
Presiding Officer, we know that many lies were told in the 2016 EU referendum campaign, but I draw your attention to the fact that, in that referendum, it was promised that there would be
“no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK”, and that EU citizens would
“automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
Yet, under the current scheme, those promises cannot be delivered. Many EU citizens and family members will struggle to obtain their status due to a variety of factors, including a lack of awareness about the scheme and lack of support, or difficulty, in obtaining documentation.
As I mentioned to the minister, in my home kingdom of Fife, the third sector is doing a lot of hard work to raise awareness and has set up the EU settlement partnership to ensure a focused approach to raising awareness and supporting and providing assistance to people with their application.
Nina Munday, who is the manager of the Fife Centre for Equalities, expressed the importance of the partnership and said:
“The settlement scheme is a very complicated process and what we are trying to do is to make it easier for an individual to apply, especially people who need additional support. What some people don’t realise is that they have to apply for every single person in the household.”
I am also pleased that Citizens Advice and Rights Fife has now appointed a dedicated EU settlement scheme support worker to enable the service to focus on people who might experience difficulty in accessing or using required technology to complete their application, might find it difficult to get the evidence that is needed to apply, or are at greater risk due to personal circumstances and have specific immigration or residency issues. The front-line services in Fife are therefore very clear that there is a major problem here that must be addressed.
The SCVO says:
“We know that it is the most vulnerable in society, including elderly and disabled people ... and ... children, who are at greatest risk of falling through the cracks”.
It also points out that
“There are many EU citizens at risk of missing out on secure immigration status. This includes, for example, women who have experienced domestic violence, victims of trafficking, older people, those without online access, those with language or cultural barriers, and those who are isolated and have less contact with authorities.”
According to the latest population estimates, 219,000 EU nationals, not including students, were living in Scotland in June 2017. That accounts for just over 4 per cent of the population. Between 2000 and 2015, 86 per cent of Scotland’s population growth was down to immigration.
We know that we need more growth in the working-age population, so the nasty party, with its message of taking control of our borders, has deliberately tried to stoke up an anti-immigrant message when the opposite is true. We need more people to make their lives here, to work and contribute to the overall wellbeing of our country and society. Indeed, economic analysis from the Scottish Government found that
“each additional EU citizen working in Scotland contributes a further £34,400 in GDP.”
The report estimated the total contribution of EU migrants as approximately £4.42 billion per year. We clearly need to resolve this matter.
In a briefing, the British Medical Association said:
“The NHS cannot afford to put up barriers to medical or other healthcare staff, or to deter staff from coming to work in the health service at a time when they are needed the most.”
It states that the NHS has always relied on international doctors to provide a safe, high quality and reliable level of service for patients, and to fill gaps in the medical workforce. In 2018, almost 85,000 doctors working in the NHS—approximately 37 per cent of the medical workforce—received their primary medical qualification from a country outside the UK. Those highly skilled doctors from the EU and overseas are essential members of the UK’s medical and academic workforce. They have enhanced the UK’s health, higher education and research systems over the years, improving the diversity of the profession to reflect a changing population, bringing expertise to the NHS and higher education, and filling shortages in specialties that might otherwise have struggled to cope.
Scotland will continue to need to recruit from the EEA and overseas, simply and flexibly, to sustain staffing levels across the NHS in years to come. We know that, so anyone who bought into the lies of this Tory Brexit should look at what the medical professionals say.
Scottish Labour believes that the settled status scheme must be reformed to make it simpler, and to ensure that EU citizens retain their rights in our country. Nothing else will do.
I move amendment S5M-19809.3, to leave out “must be enshrined in primary legislation” and insert
“residing in the UK at the point of EU exit, or the end of the transition period in the case of an agreement, must be enshrined in primary legislation; notes the recent report by Robert Gordon University and Feniks,
How Brexit Impacts EU Citizens’ Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Findings
, and its findings that EU citizens in Scotland have experienced anxiety, and experience feelings of being unwelcome and rejected, with some reporting experiences of discrimination related to Brexit”.
I am grateful for this opportunity to reiterate the unwavering support of Scottish Liberal Democrats for the rights of EU citizens in Scotland and across the UK.
I have an enormous amount of respect for Donald Cameron. He has always been thoughtful and considered in his contributions. I have listened carefully to what he had to say, and what he said is simply not borne out by the reality on the ground, or in the lived experience of those at the sharp end, such as EU nationals, EEA nationals and others.
On the accusations of scaremongering about the situation faced by EU nationals in this country, Alex Rowley was right to suggest that it is a bit rich for those accusations to be coming from the party that has been at it and scaremongering on immigration in the run up to the Brexit referendum and since.
There are many tragedies in the self-inflicted harm of Brexit. The truth is that any form of Brexit will be damaging to the UK. However, it is hard to think of an aspect of Brexit that reflects us in a poorer light than the way in which successive Tory Governments have sought to use EU nationals in this country as pawns in a wider political game of brinkmanship.
Theresa May made no attempt to disguise that. Boris Johnson and colleagues have positively revelled in it. For them, ending freedom of movement is the holy grail, as if removing rights that we currently have is a good thing.
Even arguing that it is about removing rights that others have makes little sense. Economically, culturally and as a society, to put up barriers, close ourselves off and make our country less open or welcoming is akin to cutting off our nose to spite our face. As the motion makes clear, in-migration has enriched our communities and our country. Turning our backs on that risks making us poorer and less able to meet the challenges that we already face. It is a fact, for example, that Scotland already struggles to cope with skills shortages in key areas. Rural parts of the country have some of the most acute teacher shortages in Europe. Last summer, reports began emerging of a decrease in the number of EU teachers applying to the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Until the end of June 2018, only 14 EU teachers applied for registration—a dramatic drop compared to previous years, when the figure was nearer 200.
Even so, in March this year, 523 teachers from EU countries were still registered to teach in Scotland. One of those is a constituent, Antoine Pietri. Antoine recently wrote to me to explain what he has been put through in recent years—an experience no doubt all too familiar to many in a similar position in communities across Scotland and the rest of the UK. Antoine says:
“I have felt deeply offended and discriminated against by a country which, so far, had been very good to me and which, in return, I’ve been very grateful towards. I have been employed by Orkney Islands Council as a French Assistant and then as a teacher, since 24th August 1994, the day I entered the UK and made my life here in Orkney”.
“For over a quarter of a century, I have shared my knowledge and trained young people across the islands, on Hoy, Stronsay and Sanday and I now teach their children, I’ve been involved in charity work, been a committee member of various associations and I’m now a trustee of the Friends of St Nicholas and I could go on. Doesn’t it look like I’m settled enough already? Why should I have to prove it to the UK Government?”
That Brexit effect is not limited to our education system. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland has an ageing population. The number of people aged 75 and over has increased by almost a third in the past 20 years. Discouraging EU citizens from coming to the UK—or staying—will have potentially disastrous effects on the ability of our NHS and care services to meet the consequences of the demographic challenges that we face. The Tories’ amendment heralds their proposed NHS visa as some sort of saviour in that regard. Nothing could be further from the truth. Surcharging EU health professionals £400 a year to work in our NHS will do nothing to stem the exodus of EU nurses leaving this country—5,000 in the past two years. The NHS currently relies on 10,000 doctors and 20,000 nurses from elsewhere in the EU. Slapping on a nurses tax is no way to persuade them to stay, or others to come in the future.
Meanwhile, a newly qualified general practitioner looking to make her home in Orkney has found herself embroiled in the fallout from Brexit. Writing to me recently, she explained how obstructive the Government’s registration scheme is, and how impractical it is for those, like her, who live and work in island communities. To apply for the scheme without an Android phone, my constituents were initially forced to travel to Edinburgh to make the application at an identification checkpoint—a process as inconvenient as it was demeaning. In the case of my GP constituent, it means that despite early access to the application process, her settled status has still not been confirmed.
She is by no means alone. I appreciate the minister’s comments about the reliability of some of the figures, but it appears that around 2.7 million EU citizens in the UK are still without settled status. There may be those who do not wish to apply, but to put in place policies that deter those who do is self-defeating. We simply cannot afford to take such an approach, given the gaps that we already have in key parts of our workforce. If we force our friends, neighbours and colleagues to be processed through a settlement scheme, we must be clear what that entails. The settlement scheme is not intended to make anyone feel welcome. In that respect, it performs its function superbly well. It does not confirm rights in an empathetic or positive way. It interrogates the decision of individuals and families to come to this country in the first place. It hangs a threat of deportation over the heads of people who have offered to our country their skills, creativity, experience and so much more. These are our fellow citizens, whose contribution to our communities and our country goes well beyond the economic. They help to shape our identity and who we are. They are our friends, neighbours, work colleagues and family. They deserve better. For my two constituents and thousands like them across communities in Scotland and the UK, we must do better. I am in no doubt that the best way to do that is to stop Brexit. On that basis, I support the motion, and the amendment in the name of Claire Baker.
I am pleased to have been called to speak in this important debate, for the position of EU citizens in Scotland is an issue that is important to me on a personal as well as a political level.
I have very close friends who are EU nationals who have made their lives here over the past 30 years or so. They have set up businesses here, they have paid their taxes and their national insurance contributions here, they have created employment here, they have met their partners here, they have had children here and they hope to retire here.
Although my friends have applied for settled status, they have done so with a heavy heart and it has caused much upset for them and their families, because they feel as though they have been othered by the UK Government—that is to say, their participation in our society is no longer based on rights but is based, instead, on the vagaries of administrative policy that is driven by the anti-immigration rhetoric of Westminster. They also feel a great sadness that the UK has embarked on such a course, well remembering the history of the continent of Europe and the fundamental objective of the EU, which was to bring peace to a war-ravaged Europe through trade and co-operation.
Turning to the EU settlement scheme, a subject that I spoke about in the members’ business debate that I secured in March this year, I reiterate that my objection to that scheme is first and foremost one of principle. As a lawyer by trade and one who practised European Commission law in Brussels for some 10 years, I find it abhorrent that the UK Tory Government is forcing individual citizens who have legally acquired rights, further to international treaty, to make an application for rights that they already have.
Aside from that fundamental objection, the practicalities of the scheme leave a lot to be desired. As we have heard, they take no account of the position of many individuals who do not have easy access to the online application system. Importantly, as we have also heard, the successful applicant does not receive a physical piece of paper at the end of the process—rather, there will be an electronic link only. I wonder who in this chamber would be satisfied with such an approach if it was their family member who was placed in such an invidious position.
Given the dreadful record of the UK Home Office on immigration matters in general, surely we should all feel uncomfortable that it is that dysfunctional department that will hold such sway over people’s lives. In that respect, we must remember that there is currently no proper right of appeal—in the first instance, there is provision only for an administrative review.
Taking all those points into account, I whole-heartedly wish to support the calls from the Scottish Government, the SCVO, the Human Rights Consortium Scotland and others for the system to be overhauled and for a declaratory system to be put in its place. That would avoid the need for citizens to make applications and would remove the threat of refusal, except in the most extreme circumstances. Given that the EU27 have the option of proceeding with such a system for UK passport holders who are living in their countries, there is no reason why the UK cannot so proceed here. Indeed, a declaratory system is a much fairer approach, as it removes the uncertainty and anxiety that surround the process of applying for settled status. By removing the role of the Home Office as judge and jury, such a system would be much more likely to increase the number of people who applied.
As we have heard, the number of applications for settled status has been on the low side to date. Each of us must do all that we can to encourage our fellow citizens from other countries in the EU to stay here, for our country is enriched by EU nationals choosing to make Scotland their home. Our economy is also boosted by their contributions in many sectors, including in the food and drink sector. For example, many EU nationals form part of the 600-plus-strong workforce at Mowi’s salmon processing operations in Rosyth in my constituency.
EU nationals are driving our population growth, which is vitally important given the demographics of Scotland, which has an ageing population. As we have heard, the Scottish Government is doing all that it can to help people to be able to stay, with its stay in Scotland package and guidance for EU nationals and their employers.
Funding from the Scottish Government has been made available to Citizens Advice Scotland. Indeed, in my constituency of Cowdenbeath, the local bureau has a dedicated EU settlement support worker who has been in place since April. By the end of September, they had already dealt with some 60-plus cases.
Who would ever have imagined that we here in 21st century Scotland would live to see the day when such an ugly policy would be the law of the land? This is not who we are in Scotland. We did not vote for this and we will not put up with this.
It is important to reiterate once again what Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said to each EU citizen in Scotland following the announcement of the result of the EU referendum in 2016—a result in Scotland that saw 62 per cent of our population voting to remain in the EU. I absolutely echo what she said and I want to convey that message in particular to my constituents in Cowdenbeath who are from other EU countries. The First Minister said:
“You remain welcome here; Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued”.
I am pleased to take part in the debate on the rights of EU citizens in Scotland. It is important to mention at this stage that the Scottish Conservatives absolutely acknowledge that EU citizens’ contributions to Scotland are extremely beneficial and highly positive, socially, culturally and economically. EU citizens are most welcome and we wish them to remain.
The UK Government has always recognised that as an important fact.
The referendum result in itself has no immediate effect on the nationality, residence or social security status of EU citizens in the UK. The status of EU citizens and their family members is protected under UK immigration law and that will not change. The UK Government has set up the EU settlement scheme, which is in line with the withdrawal agreement and is specifically designed for that purpose. To highlight that position, the home secretary said:
“After Brexit, the Government will take back control by introducing a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from”.—[O fficial Report
, 04 September 2019; Vol 664, c11WS.]
That is vitally important.
The UK Government has already said that EU citizens’ rights will be guaranteed—they are guaranteed. A free temporary leave to remain scheme will run until that new system is put in place. That will ensure minimum disruption while the final arrangements are put in place to map out a new course for a much fairer system. The UK Government recognises the need to provide EU citizens, their employers and others with certainty about the arrangements that will be in place after Brexit.
As I have said in this chamber before, people voted to leave the EU for many different reasons. For some, it was a question of sovereignty; for others, it was about economic opportunities; and, yes, for some, it was about greater control over immigration. However, it was not about rejecting immigration altogether.
In anticipation of the changes, the UK Government has already commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to assess other international countries’ points-based methods in preparation for the UK to move towards a points-based immigration system, as the home secretary explained in September. That will ensure that Scotland, in the United Kingdom, continues to attract the best and the brightest talent from around the world. Indeed, it is an opportunity and, as we have said in the past, when it introduced its 2013 white paper, the SNP saw such an immigration system as a solution to what would happen here in Scotland.
As is all too often the case, the SNP has spent significant amounts of time and valuable energy blaming Westminster and criticising the UK Government, in this case for its immigration policy. At this stage, we should be looking to put grievance politics on the back burner.
To give a recent example, back in March, a letter was mailed out to EU citizens in Stirling, which is in my Mid Scotland and Fife region, from the office of Alyn Smith MEP. The letter, which was sent using taxpayers’ money, caused confusion, fear and anxiety. It advised that the then UK Prime Minister Theresa May had spoken about EU citizens in a “shameful” manner, when she had consistently said that their rights were to be protected.
The Scottish Conservatives will look at the issues for individual sectors, and we have done so already. For example, on agriculture, we believe that the future of farming lies in increased productivity, but we recognise that, for soft fruit and vegetable farmers, the technology is not yet available for that to happen. That is why we campaigned for and delivered the pilot scheme to bring non-EU seasonal workers to the UK to deliver the work that our farmers need. We continue to listen to the farming sector, which is why we have quadrupled the quota.
I wish to continue.
Through dialogue and discussion, we have ensured that the quota is quadrupled for the next year.
After pressure from the Scottish Conservatives—for which I pay tribute to Ruth Davidson and Liz Smith—the UK Government has announced the reintroduction of the two-year post-study work visa, which has been welcomed right across the sector. That was put in place as a result of our dialogue and discussion with our counterparts at Westminster.
We all need to engage in collective and co-operative dialogue about how we can deliver a better immigration policy that reflects Scotland’s needs. The Scottish Conservatives have always done that when it comes to migration policy. We have not always immediately agreed with our Westminster colleagues’ approach; we have made positive and proactive suggestions. That approach of having positive dialogue has always paid dividends. We will continue to ensure that we have such dialogue, because we value those individuals and we wish them to stay and to continue to make a valued contribution to our society.
I support the Conservative amendment.
I am both Scottish and European; I am also a nationalist and an internationalist. I fully support the motion in the name of the minister and I urge members to speak with one voice at decision time tonight, to tell all our EU friends who have chosen to live here that they are welcome. EU citizens are clearly concerned about their status and are worried about what will happen to them in a post-Brexit scenario. I want them to stay and to continue to contribute to our country’s economy, culture and society.
I previously sent a letter to all the EU nationals in my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency to provide them with the information that was available at the time and to reaffirm that they are welcome here. Some of the responses that I received were full of gratitude. People wanted to thank me for that reaffirmation and to thank the First Minister for her continued support and her comments indicating that all EU nationals are welcome in Scotland.
No matter what politicians talk about or what figures that we bandy about in debates in the chamber and committees or outside the Parliament, we must remember that EU citizens are individual people. The UK Government could readily fix their plight if it wanted to. It is not just about the adults; it is about the children as well. Those individuals go about their business and contribute to the working environment and to making Scotland better. I thank them for choosing Scotland as the country that they want to live in and for calling Scotland their home.
No member of the Parliament would be pleased if the state told them that their circumstances were going to change or if they believed that their home might no longer be theirs if they were not allowed to live here any more. As Alex Rowley touched on earlier, the SCVO provided a very helpful briefing to members. It highlighted the fact that people
“will now be required to apply for permission to stay in their own homes and communities.”
The UK Government’s record on dealing with immigrants has not always been one to be proud of, as the Windrush scandal has proved. If Windrush tells us—and EU citizens who live here—anything, it is that the UK Government cannot be trusted on immigration. We have all heard stories of individuals who went to visit family and friends in the Caribbean, only to be refused entry when they came back to the UK. We also know that some people died when they went away on such visits. Their homes and their lives were in the UK. I do not blame EU citizens for being scared and apprehensive; I would be if I were in their situation. The UK Government’s settled status scheme is frustrating enough, but EU nationals who have lived here for less than five years are able to apply for only pre-settled status, which provides even less security for applicants and their children. A guaranteed right to remain? It is just shocking.
“I have had constituency cases of EU nationals being denied settled status despite living here for years. This is a breach of the assurances I and other Leavers gave during the referendum.”
Scotland is in this mess because of the demonising of migrants and the surge to the right in UK politics. Unfortunately, the UK Independence Party, the British National Party, the English Defence League and others have helped to sway some people’s views by claiming that migrants are not welcome.
As we know, the Conservatives’ actions have also been well documented—for example, those in relation to the Windrush scandal and the “Go home” van. We also saw Labour’s infamous “Controls on immigration” mug. That is despite parties in this Parliament agreeing that immigration into Scotland is both positive and essential.
I will read part of a paragraph from the Equal Opportunities Committee’s report on migration and trafficking from 2010. Some of the members of that committee are still in Parliament today. Paragraph 689 states:
“The Committee believes that in this report it has been able to dispel many of the myths that have grown around migration. It found in evidence for example, that migrants’ demands on public services, including the health service are not as high as the general population’s; that migrants are housed largely in private rented accommodation rather than social housing; and that migrants do not depress local wages. More generally, there is also evidence available which states that migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits and public services.”
As BMA Scotland’s briefing to members told us:
“The NHS has always relied on international doctors to provide a safe, high-quality and reliable level of service for patients and to fill gaps in the medical workforce.”
Scotland has an ageing population: the number of pensioners is projected to increase by a further 25 per cent over the next 25 years, with population growth over that period projected to be among the lowest across comparator European and UK countries. The UK Government’s half-baked and ill-conceived measures will not help in any way. They will make things harder for Scotland and for our constituents.
My message to every single EU citizen echoes the First Minister’s comments: you are welcome in Scotland, where you are needed. Thank you for choosing Scotland as your home. Please stay.
The debate is about citizens of other European countries who have chosen to migrate to and make their homes in this country. However, as the minister said, it is also about citizens of European Economic Area member states, such as Norway, who have not crossed the North Sea permanently but who are able to use their freedom of movement within the EEA to work here and go back to their home countries between trips or between contracts.
That is worth noting, from the point of view of my region in the north-east. Offshore oil and gas workers from Aberdeen are at least as likely to work in Norwegian waters as they are in the southern North Sea, off England or Holland, and Norwegians are just as likely to work here while still living in Norway.
There are other economic sectors in which the same is true. The loss of that freedom of access will be bad news for those workers and for what is surely the highly desirable objective of economic activity in the North Sea that straddles borders.
It is important to bear those workers in mind while we focus on European citizens who have made the huge commitment to leave their own country to come to live in ours. Those citizens are already feeling the effects of the Brexit vote, and they are the focus of Labour’s amendment.
Labour’s amendment highlights the recent report entitled “How Brexit Impacts EU Citizens’ Mental Health And Wellbeing Research Findings” by researchers from Robert Gordon University with support from Feniks. The minister and I were fortunate enough to be at the launch of that report in June. Piotr Teodorowski from RGU, who presented at the launch, wrote about the report in
The Scotsman at the time.
The report matters because it goes beyond the legal issues of rights and entitlements to look at what the uncertainty of Brexit actually means for the lives of the people who are most directly affected by it. The evidence came through focus group meetings that were carried out in Edinburgh and Aberdeen and which featured citizens of 13 countries who had been in this country since before the referendum in 2016. The study confirmed just how damaging Brexit has already been for many European citizens who have chosen to make their lives here.
The research highlighted three impacts on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
First, there was the unravelling of people’s future plans. One witness talked about putting marriage plans on hold because of citizenship uncertainties. Another witness was afraid to the leave the UK in case it was not possible to get back in.
Secondly—and perhaps most important—there was the sense of rejection. People had been welcomed and made to feel welcome, but, suddenly, there was a public vote in which it was said that they were not welcome after all, and they, as active citizens and taxpayers—many were volunteers in their communities, too—were denied the right to participate in it.
Does Lewis Macdonald agree that those comments echo the evidence that the Fife Migrants Forum gave to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee when he was a member of that committee?
Indeed; I remember that evidence session well. Stuart McMillan is quite right. That was at an earlier stage, but that evidence nonetheless reflected how quickly the uncertainty impacted on people’s lives and people’s sense of what they were able to plan for and do.
Some of those who responded to the RGU study experienced direct discrimination as a result of the vote. Others were nervous at being marked out as different and were unsure how much even we British citizens who were most sympathetic could understand how they felt.
Thirdly, there was a sense of loss through change. Some participants described that as being like mourning. First, there was denial; then there was sadness; finally, there was acceptance of their loss. One talked about taking a different way to work to avoid seeing the endless and depressing headlines about Brexit and immigration. Others found that the mental ill health that they already faced was made worse by depression about the referendum vote or anxiety about what might happen next.
Those are consequences of the vote to leave the EU. To some degree, they are unintended consequences. Many who voted to leave the EU did not think about the implications for EU citizens any more than they thought about the implications for Gibraltar or for peace in Ireland. However, for others—including some in the Conservative Party—immigration was at the centre of their campaign to leave, and the pain and loss of EU citizens here and of British citizens elsewhere in the European Union were a price worth paying.
The report is one of many reports to confirm just how deeply irresponsible the leave campaign really was. As we all know, what will ultimately happen with Brexit is still to be determined. Whatever the outcome, the underlying sense of rejection for many EU citizens in this country will not simply go away. Even if Brexit is not taken forward, work will still be needed to convince them that they really are welcome, not just by some of their neighbours but by the community and the country as a whole.
The motion that we are debating does not propose an approach in Scotland that is different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The minister has proposed that the next UK Government takes a different approach to protect EU citizens throughout the UK in the event that Brexit goes ahead, and that is absolutely right and welcome.
The minister’s party and mine agree on the matters that we are debating today, just as we do on the wider impact of Brexit on people’s human rights. However, we should not ignore the implications of the debate for other potential referendums, which may also pose hard choices, and where some of our fellow citizens may also feel that they have a great deal to lose.
The report, and many other studies of the impact of the Brexit referendum on European citizens, is clear: hostile intentions are not required for there to be very distressing impacts when it comes to erecting borders that cut through people’s lives. We should all be open to understanding what that might imply for decisions that we might take now and in the future.
The position that EU nationals find themselves in, in the UK Government’s Brexit waiting room, is nothing short of scandalous. The abject failure of the UK Government to disseminate information about its EU settlement scheme has compounded the feelings of rejection and anxiety that have already been experienced by EU nationals in the UK, as outlined by Lewis Macdonald.
The scheme itself is fundamentally flawed. The five-year and pre-settled elements disrespect the dignity and rights of people who have contributed so much to our society. The scheme is not fair and it is not proportionate, and delay and uncertainty abound.
None of it is human rights compliant; the settled status scheme should have been scrapped and replaced with the declarative scheme that is already an option under the withdrawal act, and as proposed by the Scottish Government.
The people who choose to come to Scotland from the European Union make an invaluable contribution: three quarters of them are employed; a greater percentage of EU nationals have degrees when compared with UK citizens; and more than 70 per cent own their own homes after living in Scotland for 10 years. With all age groups in Scotland predicted to decline in the next 25 years, the importance of new lifeblood cannot be overstated, as population growth is the main driver of economic growth.
All of Scotland’s population increase in the next 10 years is projected to come from elsewhere—and 58 per cent from overseas. The rise in population, based on current net migration figures, will be from 5.4 million to 5.69 million by 2041, made up of younger people who migrate to Scotland from the EU, boosting the number of children and working-age people. Scots are right to be worried about anything that undermines population growth, and about an exodus from Scotland of EU nationals. The independent expert advisory group on migration and population said that the UK Government’s immigration plans will mean a decline of as much as 50 per cent in the number of migrants in Scotland, but we know that that figure could be a lot higher.
Make no mistake: the loss of freedom of movement will be catastrophic for Scotland’s economy. A slowdown in population growth will impact hugely on the working population in particular. Of Scotland’s whole workforce, 5.2 per cent is made up of EU nationals: 10,000 people in the food and drink industry; 19,000 in the soft fruit and vegetable industry; 4,000 in fishing; and 21,000 in tourism. In addition, EU nationals work in all our universities and research centres, and in our hotels, our restaurants and our manufacturing base. Of Scotland’s business enterprises, 98 per cent are small businesses. The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that 26 per cent have at least one EU employee, and 41 per cent of all businesses—large and small—across Scotland employ at least one EU national.
In Scotland, there are around 1,200 EU doctors; they make up approximately 6 per cent of the NHS medical workforce. Here, the UK Government’s utter failure to communicate its settled status scheme is evident. For example, 34 per cent of EEA doctors who work in Scotland are not aware of the scheme’s existence, and 30 per cent are looking to move abroad. NHS staff and patients are having to cope with a vacancy rate of almost 9 per cent. We cannot—and the UK Government must not—expect NHS staff and patients to suffer the harmful and unconscionable consequences that Brexit and the loss of freedom of movement will bring.
The impact of EU migration on Scotland’s economy is all good. It means increased GDP and Government revenue, and higher exports, consumption and investment. That is calculated on an inflow of around 7,800 additional employed EU nationals each year, based on trends between 2007 and 2016.
Two areas that I am privileged to represent, Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, have experienced a slow and steady overall increase in net in-migration between 2012 and 2018, as official statistics show. Rural areas such as those rely heavily on EU migrants for population growth and economic growth.
We know—other members have made the point well—that Scotland will be disproportionately affected by any slowdown in immigration. That means that our economic growth is in severe jeopardy.
We want and need to increase our labour supply to expand the production capacity of the Scottish economy. When our economy as a whole is more competitive, all Scotland’s citizens benefit. That is the future that the UK Government seeks to deny Scotland. It is not acceptable, and it is time that our success is no longer predicated on the woeful decisions in the Westminster farce that is Brexit.
In contrast to the lamentable efforts of the UK Government, the Scottish Government has communicated regularly and purposefully with EU nationals living here about the ramifications of Brexit. We want people to stay, and to build and share in Scotland’s success. The settled status scheme does not help Scotland build for the future that we want. The scheme is a mess and I support the Scottish Government’s call for a declarative scheme that is fair and respectful. Such a scheme should be given the force of law as soon as possible.
I have always welcomed—inside and outside the chamber—the contribution of EU and non-EU migrants to Scotland, and I want to see us continue to welcome them to our shores, even after we leave the European Union. We cannot underestimate the important part that they play in our society and economy. That contribution is enormous, especially in our rural economy. Up to 10,000 people are employed in the food and drink sector, 5,000 in our fishing industry and 21,000 in Scotland’s vital tourism industry. In our universities, one fifth of academic researchers are from the continent. As of August this year, EU citizens make up about 4 per cent of our total population.
Although the debate over their contribution is welcome, the problem is that the tone of the debate is surely not. I add that the contribution of migrants is not just economic; it is also about diversifying and enriching our country and our society—as many members have rightly said. You will hear no notion that suggests otherwise from me, or from the Conservative group. Any suggestion otherwise is disappointing, although not surprising.
There have been nearly 93,000 applications for EU settled status in Scotland, but as some members have mentioned, there are still deficiencies in take-up. There is a duty on all of us—irrespective of our views on Brexit or other matters—to ensure that our constituents know about such schemes. That raises wider questions as to why—given that we have talked of Brexit, day in and day out, every day for the past three years—so many have not come forward to apply.
I listened with interest to the minister’s comments on that. To be fair to him, his actions are welcome interventions. If the premise is to increase awareness in certain communities, then it is right to take those actions.
I would like to make my point.
The settlement scheme had flaws when it was introduced, not the least of which was the initial suggestion that there would be a fee. I think that the UK Government listened and did the right thing on that. There remains anecdotal evidence that the scheme is not working perfectly for everyone—we have had briefings from the SCVO and others to that effect. I listen to people and to those briefings. They talk about delays in process, the ability to appeal and technical issues with the process itself, so the Home Office ought to reflect on that important feedback.
However, I still maintain that there will still need to be, as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and if it transpires that we leave the market arrangements that currently permit EU-wide free movement of people—whatever one’s views on that—a physical mechanism for ascertaining who has the right to reside and work in this country. No country in the world with high levels of immigration is devoid of such a mechanism.
The people with whom the debate is concerned boil down to three different groups. The first group is people who are currently in this country, who have come from the EU and seek to identify themselves as such. The second is people from the EU who wish to enter the UK after Brexit. The third is people from non-EU countries who wish to come to live and work here after Brexit. They are distinct groups and there are distinct ideas about how we should deal with each of them.
However, some people appear to be apathetic about the idea that there should be a process at all. It does not seem odd to respect the rules of entry and residence that apply to us when we go to other countries, so why does it seem odd to some people that we should have our own reciprocal arrangements in this country?
Why does Jamie Greene think that we should have faith in any system that the UK Government comes up with? Only today, Hubert Howard, a Windrush immigrant who entered this country when he was three years old, died—just three weeks after getting his citizenship. Why should we trust the system that the Conservatives put in place when that system was obviously such a dreadful failure?
I do not disagree that there are huge lessons to be learned from the Windrush immigration policy. However, the Government has been clear that people from the EU who live in this country are welcome to stay and that, after we leave the EU, there will be a fair process of immigration. We need to have a sensible discussion about that. I appreciate James Dornan’s views on the UK Government at Westminster—he is entitled to them. However, what I am talking about is a fair and simple process that people need to go through.
There is a skills shortage in the UK and, indeed, in Scotland, so it is right that we have a debate about bringing people in. However, I must say that we should also be having a conversation about attracting talent from outside the EU and from the other nations of the UK. Future immigration policy should be about making everyone feel equally welcome in Scotland.
The motion in the minister’s name is somewhat odd in that it asks the chamber to agree that EU citizens’ rights should be protected in primary legislation. I do not disagree with that, but the agreement that the UK Government reached was called the withdrawal agreement, and it would have done just that. Indeed, the whole point of having a transition period in the first place was to offer continuity to give people time to prepare. It is regrettable that so many MPs voted against that transition and against the guarantee of enshrining those measures in law—including all SNP MPs, on four occasions. Therein lies the hypocrisy of the Scottish Government’s position on the matter: the SNP calls for action in this chamber but votes against it in another.
So, what next? Whatever withdrawal agreement is presented to the UK Parliament, it is out of our hands. However, if and when such a deal is presented—a deal that enshrines the rights of EU citizens—it should be supported. Actions speak louder than words. The question is, when it comes to securing EU citizens’ rights, will the SNP practise what it preaches? Only time will tell.
It is an honour to speak today to represent directly the views, wishes and concerns of EU citizens in my constituency. Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, the SNP Government has been unwavering in its commitment to EU citizens, who have honoured this country by choosing to live, work and raise families here. The message to them is clear and simple: you are welcome and we want you to stay.
As others have said, a few weeks ago, on the day on which we were supposed to leave the EU, the First Minister wrote her third open letter to all EU citizens in Scotland. It acknowledged the benefits and contributions of EU citizens to Scotland and finished with this assertion:
“You will always be welcome here.”
Although Brexit has caused anxiety among EU citizens living in the UK, studies have shown that EU citizens in Scotland feel more welcome than EU citizens in England feel. That is a sad indictment of the UK Government, and it is symptomatic of how it has handled the whole Brexit shambles.
We know that EU citizens contribute socially, culturally and economically to Scotland’s rich diversity—on that point, I agree with Jamie Greene. However, the uncertainty of the past two and half years has put that diversity at risk.
The UK Government has given EU citizens until mid-2021 to apply for the EU settlement scheme, but in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the application must be completed before the end of next year. The joint briefing that we received from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland pointed to the huge number of flaws in the current scheme’s application system, about which other members have spoken. Like, I am sure, every other constituency office, mine has heard of several instances in which a simple mistake or a wrongly ticked box has created immense delays and stress in dealing with the Home Office.
We are dealing with a very time-sensitive issue. I agree with the Government’s motion, which says that we should adopt a declarative system instead of the current application system. Such a system would be quicker, fairer and less likely to cause stress to EU citizens in all our constituencies.
I will talk about the Tory contributions to the debate. Donald Cameron and his colleagues have made their arguments, and almost sound as though they believe them, although I do not know who they can possibly be talking to. They are certainly not talking to the EU citizens who come to see me and are worried about their future, and who are being made to jump through hoops.
The Conservatives talk about the number of applications and say that we should all encourage our constituents to go through the application process, but not one of them mentioned that the application process often involves finding original flight details and providing job details and information on bank accounts and GP appointments. One constituent told me that they needed to provide every single prescription they had had. Sometimes I wonder how the Conservatives can possibly believe what they say. They need to ask themselves why they find sticking up for the Prime Minister and his policies more important than sticking up for their constituents.
I assure members that a lot of stress is being caused. Last December, I held a packed surgery for EU citizens in my constituency. I am sure that many other members have done the same. Many EU citizens were concerned about the homes that they had bought, the rights of their children who were born here, where they stood in respect of permanent jobs and pensions, access to healthcare and many other things. Those citizens are new Scots, and they are our families, friends and neighbours. The current system and process are making them feel like second-class citizens. It is absolutely shameful and horrendous, and the shame will likely be recorded in UK and British history as an epic national scandal.
Other members have talked about the benefits that EU citizens bring to Scotland, so I will not go over all those points again. I agree with Jamie Greene that EU citizens bring so many benefits: they bring diversity, they are our friends and families and, of course, they bring economic benefits. One in 20 workers in Scotland is an EU citizen. If those citizens were to leave, the food and drink, tourism, manufacturing and fishing industries would be disproportionately affected. We need EU citizens in this country.
At its heart, the issue is quite simple. It is not really about policies, frameworks, quotas and statistics, helpful though they all are. It is about basic humanity, love, friendship and essential human rights. We either stand for those things or we do not. Politicians in Parliament are elected by the people of Scotland, so shame on any of us who are not willing to stand up for our friends and neighbours—our constituents.
The UK Government clearly does not care about EU citizens. That is just one more reason why many more people are coming to the realisation that, for our future, it is right for us to be part of the European Union as a normal nation, and that that is the most sensible path for us to take.
I am delighted to speak in today’s debate. I begin by reiterating what many of my colleagues and friends have said before me: we in Scotland did not vote to leave the European Union, and we certainly do not wish to see our European friends and neighbours leave our shores.
It is undisputed that EU migrants have a positive effect on the Scottish economy. They help to drive our population growth and ensure that we have workers to meet the needs of businesses and the public sector. From the get-go, the Scottish Government has been committed to protecting the rights of EU citizens who live and work in our country.
I often think to myself about how those families must feel with all the current uncertainty that is coming from Westminster, and how I would feel if I were in a similar situation, with the uncertainty and fear of what might come. They have chosen Scotland as their home, and we want them to remain here. They need our support during these uncertain times.
That brings me to today’s contributions. Donald Cameron said that he agreed with most of what the minister said in his opening remarks. Donald Cameron might be a jolly nice bloke, and he might be easy to get on with: I do not know him, myself. However, at the end the day, his speech and its tone were somewhat disappointing. He used language that I would not have used in dealing with, and talking about, the families and individuals who are worrying about what is happening.
It strikes me, as always, that Conservative members must stop being the apologists that they have consistently been for the circus that is the UK Government. The UK Government is being laughed at worldwide because of the Brexit situation. The Conservatives have no idea what EU families are going through, and they still defend the morally bankrupt UK Government. Tory after Tory has said how important EU citizens are to Scotland: I agree with them and ask only that they stop bumping their gums in here and instead speak to the ringmaster general, Boris Johnson, to tell him exactly what they think.
The difference between us and them in the whole thing over the past three years has been that since the referendum, I and my SNP colleagues have waxed lyrical about the disgrace that is the Brexit process. It does not look as though a light will appear at the end of the tunnel any time soon: I sometimes wonder whether there are any lights left on at Westminster.
I am sorry to interrupt George Adam’s fine electoral rhetorical flourishes, but I will quote to him what the current Home Secretary in Boris Johnson’s Government has said. I and invite him to explain to Parliament where and how he disagrees. S he has said that we want to introduce
“a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from.”—[
Official Report, House of Commons
, 4 September 2019; Vol 664, c 10WS.]
That is the Government’s immigration policy. Does George Adam agree with it or not?
One thing that I have learned is that Boris Johnson is very good at making speeches and saying things out loud, but what he actually delivers is never what he has said. It is a matter of trust.
During the recent parliamentary recess, I became keenly aware that many of my constituents were growing increasingly concerned about the potential ramifications that leaving the EU could bring, and how it will affect their communities and families. Not only are they facing possible food shortages, increased electricity and gas prices and more expensive medication, but dragging Scotland out of the EU against our will opens the door for our communities to lose those valued and contributing members.
My wife has three long-term conditions, so the looming Brexit dark cloud appears darker still to me as most of Stacey’s medication comes from mainland Europe. I have had reassurance from the Scottish Government that it is working to sort the situation out, but there are people in the UK Government to worry about, which does not fill me with confidence. Many families who are dealing with long-term conditions have that fear, and I say frankly that they have all lost faith in Westminster.
The recent Migration Advisory Committee report, which was commissioned by the UK Government, dispels many myths about the economic impact of EU migrants under freedom of movement. I will be clear: EU citizens are not a drain on public services or on public finances. The truth is the contrary. It is clear from the report that, overall, immigration has made the UK a more productive economy and a more prosperous nation.
Approximately 5.2 per cent of Scotland’s total workforce is made up of EU migrants. The rural economy in particular relies on people from all over the EU. I will name but a few examples. Up to 10,000 EU citizens are employed in the food and drink industry in Scotland. We know how important that industry is to us. About 10,000 non-UK seasonal migrant workers are employed in the soft fruit and vegetables sector, and more than 4,500 EU citizens work in Scotland’s fishing industry. Others work in food standards. In all seriousness, EU nationals are vital to our economy and our way of life, here in Scotland. We are all proud of our tourism industry, and an estimated 21,000 EU citizens are employed in that sector.
We live in uncertain times, but I want EU nationals in Scotland to be under no illusions about the fact that we value every one of them. I hope that EU citizens will call our country their home for years to come. For me, it is quite simple: many EU citizens live in my constituency and because they choose Paisley as their home, they are as much Paisley buddies as I am.
We have certainly had an interesting debate, but it is a pity that it takes place against the backdrop of the settled status scheme. It is important that we discuss immigration and its importance to Scotland. I note that Professor Tomkins intervened on George Adam to talk about a UK minister referring to a “fairer immigration system”, but the reality is that much of the Brexit campaign was dominated by the issue of ending free movement as it was perceived to be bad for the country. As politicians, we need to be able to take that view on board. I think that most of us in the chamber would acknowledge that at some point when we have been on people’s doorsteps, the issue of immigration and the perception that it is a bad thing has come up. However, we often fail to take that argument on board and to acknowledge that it is easy to blame immigrants for a shortage of housing and a failure to get access to the NHS— that is often what happens. As politicians, we need to have those discussions and point out the positive aspects of immigration that have been highlighted in this debate.
I suggest to all colleagues in the chamber that the report that was published by the Equal Opportunities Committee in 2010, which I spoke about earlier in the debate, is a good starter for getting those arguments over to the wider population.
I am grateful for that suggestion.
I believe that if politicians at every level, but particularly those at UK level, had not ducked those issues that I outlined, we might not have had to deal with the Brexit issue. That is why it is important to discuss those issues.
A member mentioned earlier in the debate the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee, which reminded me that when it was taking evidence for a report, somebody from an employment agency in eastern Europe said that there were two things that many people coming to the UK did not want: to pick fruit or to go to Scotland. That is therefore an issue for us. I acknowledge, as I think that the minister would, that there are specific challenges and issues for Scotland when it comes to encouraging people to come and make their home here. That is why the Labour Party in Scotland is open to having further discussions with all parties, because we must recognise that, going forward, we need more people to come and settle here.
As many people have said, though, we are in the crazy position of people being discouraged from coming and from staying here. For example, the BMA highlighted that a lot of medical professionals might not want to continue to stay here, which would be a disaster for us. Lewis Macdonald highlighted the impact that such uncertainty has on people’s lives, including its impact on mental health, with many people being depressed. I understand that, because most people who I speak to are depressed about Brexit and want to see us get a solution for it. However, that solution cannot be a worse deal than Mrs May’s deal, which I believe is what Boris Johnson offers us. The best way forward is to go back to the people and ask them whether that is really what they want at the end of the day.
Joan McAlpine and many others say that the scheme is fundamentally flawed, but it is difficult for me to see where Donald Cameron and the other Tory members are coming from. I am not asking them to listen to Joan McAlpine or me, or to anybody else for that matter; they should look at all the briefings that have come in from people on the front line in our NHS and the third sector. All those briefings are saying that the scheme as it stands is fundamentally flawed and that we need to take action—hence my earlier question to the minister about putting more resources in. I welcome the resources that have been put in, but we need more.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand how Tory members can come here today and say, as Alexander Stewart put it, that this is grievance politics on the back benches. It is not grievance politics; it is listening to all those organisations out there and seeing what the real threat is to our NHS and to so many other areas. If many of those who have chosen to stay in Scotland end up choosing to leave, we will be in deep trouble. That is not grievance politics; those are the facts. As Professor Tomkins often says, we have to follow the evidence, and the evidence is that we have a real problem with the scheme. As a result, we need to think again. I urge the Tories to join every other party in here, follow the evidence and let us get this scheme changed, so that people do not have to go through what they are going through right now.
I agree with a lot in that speech by Alex Rowley, although not everything. It was a very thoughtful contribution. Conservative members and, I think, everybody across the entire chamber values the contribution made by EU citizens to all aspects of life in Scotland. We agree strongly with the opening words of the Government’s motion in Ben Macpherson’s name. He is right that this is an important issue and it is important that everybody who speaks about it in this Parliament puts on record the extent to which we all welcome citizens to Scotland and to the rest of the UK from the EU and, indeed, from elsewhere in the world. We all recognise
“the significant contributions that such EU citizens make to Scotland and the rest of the UK socially, culturally and economically”.
Those are the opening words of the Government’s motion and we agree with them.
Alex Rowley is absolutely right that we need to have an honest debate about immigration, and that honesty requires us to say those welcoming words, which are not boilerplate but genuinely meant. However, we also need to be honest about the drawbacks of uncontrolled immigration. Immigration is not an unalloyed good; it comes with difficulties as well as benefits and we need to be honest and candid both about the positives of immigration and about where we have got immigration wrong in the past. We all know that the Scottish economy depends on EU migrant labour, particularly in two sectors of the economy. In the rural economy, we know that up to 10,000 European citizens are employed in food and drink in Scotland and up to 10,000 non-UK seasonal migrant workers are employed in the soft fruit and vegetable sector in Scotland. We know that 4,500 EU citizens work in the Scottish fishing industry. We also know that in the sector of the economy I know best, the higher education market—I declare an interest as an employee of the University of Glasgow—there is a very significant and very welcome element of European labour. “Labour” does not sound quite the right word for what academics do, but they are a very important part of the employment market. Some 14 per cent of researchers in Scotland are from non-EU foreign countries and 67 per cent are from the UK. Some 19 per cent are from the EU.
Those are statistics that we are familiar with, and this is the importance of them: Scotland needs migrant labour, both from the European Union and beyond. Scottish Conservatives have consistently campaigned for a UK-wide immigration policy that recognises, supports and accommodates that need.
That is why Scottish Conservatives, led by Kirstene Hair, have campaigned for an increase in the number of places in the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, as Donald Cameron said, and that increase has now been delivered by the Conservative Government.
That is why Scottish Conservatives, led by my friend and colleague Liz Smith, have campaigned for the post-study work visa to be reintroduced, and that policy has now been adopted by the current Boris Johnson Government.
I will happily give way in two minutes.
That is why Scottish Conservatives have said that the £30,000 salary threshold recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee will, frankly, not work for Scotland. That is why Scottish Conservatives have welcomed the Prime Minister’s most recent announcement of a new NHS visa route that will benefit healthcare professionals. We recognise the need in the Scottish economy for migrant labour: we welcome it, we support it and our policies underscore that.
I have a great deal of sympathy for much of what Adam Tomkins has just said, but what he has described is very transactional—it talks to the economic impact that EU nationals and other immigrants make on our communities. However, they make a far more significant contribution across a range of areas, such as their creative contribution, which cannot be measured by the transactional mechanisms that Adam Tomkins has outlined, which the UK Government seems to be pushing forward.
I agree with Liam McArthur’s comments unreservedly. At the moment, I am just talking about the economic benefits because they have been the focus of so much of the debate, but I have no argument whatsoever with Liam McArthur about the social and cultural benefits that enrich our communities and our society in all the ways that he has described. He is absolutely right, and I do not think that anybody in the chamber disagrees with any of those points.
I have talked about where we agree with Ben Macpherson’s motion but, in our view, where the Government motion goes wrong is when it talks about “insecurity and anxiety”. The opening words of Ben Macpherson’s opening speech in today’s debate were about uncertainty. I very much recognise that there is insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty, and I very much regret that, but we have to be absolutely clear why that is the case. They are caused by those, including the SNP, who have consistently refused to back our carefully negotiated withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement guarantees the rights of EU nationals who are lawfully resident in the United Kingdom. That is what the SNP called for, and yet the SNP has voted against it again and again. I am afraid that that is what has caused the very uncertainty that the SNP now complains about.
The Government motion also insists that the existing rights of EU nationals who are lawfully resident in the United Kingdom should be maintained and that people should not have to apply for rights that they currently have. I have to say to Ben Macpherson that that argument is misconceived for reasons that were touched on in Alex Rowley’s remarks a few moments ago. Free movement will end when we leave the European Union, or at least it will end at the end of the transition period. Free movement is a nice phrase, but what does it mean? It means uncontrolled immigration—that is what it has come to mean. I was interested in what Annabelle Ewing, who was a lawyer in Brussels for many years before she turned to elected politics, had to say about that. She said that the European Union was created in order to prosecute peace in Europe “through trade” and she is right. When free movement was written into the treaties in the early days of the European Union, it was not about free movement or about citizens and citizenship; it was about free movement of workers. It was an economic right and it was “transactional”, to use the word that Liam McArthur used earlier.
Not at the moment.
Free movement has become so much more than that under the uncontrolled EU law. Free movement means uncontrolled immigration and under EU law, as Annabelle Ewing surely knows, it is increasingly uncontrolled through the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice.
I will be absolutely candid about this: I want controlled immigration and I do not want uncontrolled immigration. However, I want the controls to be fair, balanced and, crucially, based on need. I do not particularly care—
I will shortly, if I have time.
I do not particularly care where people come from. I care about what people can contribute to British and Scottish society, culture and the economy. I want a points-based immigration system that recognises all that in law, and that is exactly what the SNP said that it wants for an independent Scotland. It wants a points-based immigration system, Boris Johnson’s Government is going to deliver a points-based immigration system, and I think that we should all come together to agree on and support that.
Of course, the EU was founded on the four fundamental freedoms of workers, goods, capital and services. It is important to bear that in mind.
However, I want to go back to the fundamental question. Why should EU citizens in Scotland have to apply for rights that they have already acquired? That is the key issue. Why does Adam Tomkins not support a declaratory system?
The answer is that decisions that are taken in referendums change things. Annabelle Ewing and I were on the same side in the EU referendum campaign. We both campaigned for a remain vote and we lost, unfortunately. The fact is that referendums decide things, and one of the consequences of the decision that was taken by the British people in that open and democratic referendum was that we were going to have to change aspects of our law and we were going to bring back control of immigration.
I do not know how long I have left but I will close by talking about our amendment to the Government’s motion, and focus on its final words. It says that we want an immigration system that ensures that the UK is a place that
“attracts the best and brightest talents from around the world.”
“The UK should promote a narrative of being ‘open for business’ and seen as a welcoming destination for immigrants. It must be clear that, in particular, skilled and talented migrants are both required and valued.”
The RSE has much more to say but, in the interests of time, I will not read it all out.
I agree with much of what the RSE has said and I think that Ben Macpherson does too. I know Ben Macpherson. I know that he is capable of reaching out across the aisle and working with political opponents. I welcome that, and I would like to see more of it on this and other subjects. I know that there is an election on and that we are all politicians, but let us have less of the point scoring and grandstanding. Let us have a bit more cross-party working to ensure that we have a post-Brexit immigration system that works for all sectors of the Scottish economy.
I thank all members for their contributions to today’s important debate. As Alex Rowley said during his summing up, in the current context, and while considering Scotland’s story and Scotland’s future, it is important to talk about immigration, the value of the people who come here, and the contributions that they make and have made to our economy, public services, shared culture, and the welfare and enrichment of our communities.
It is also important to talk about how we continue to attract people from within the UK. We have net migration into Scotland from the rest of the UK and the expert advisory group will look at what more can be done with that.
We also need to continue to consider overall immigration policy and Scotland’s needs, aspirations and values, how we can continue to attract people in any post-Brexit scenario, and how we continue to make the case for tailored solutions for Scotland.
Although it is good for us to discuss the wider issues, and I welcome that discussion, today’s debate focuses on the EU citizens and EEA citizens who are here now and have, in many cases, been here for a long time. A number of members mentioned how the number equates to 4 per cent of the population, or 221,000 people. However, we need to think in bigger and much more nuanced ways than just numbers. The number of people in the different industries was touched on by a number of members, and it is hugely important to understand and value the contribution that has been made to different sectors of Scotland’s economy.
For me, the most powerful contributions that were made today came from Liam McArthur and Fulton MacGregor, who talked about emotional conversations that they have had with constituents, and the issues that those constituents have faced when dealing with the EU settlement scheme.
The Conservatives have said that they value the contributions of EU citizens, but they need to consider what has been said by other members. We have heard stories and received evidence from EU citizens throughout the country about their sense of rejection as a result of having to apply to maintain their rights. Lewis Macdonald referred, importantly, to the mental health consequences of that, and Joan McAlpine and others described the sense of feeling degraded.
It is a poor argument to assert that the application-based process is welcome or appropriate, so I would urge members of the Scottish Conservatives to hold events with EU citizens, like many of us have done, and listen to their experiences of that process. If any Conservative member wants to organise such an event, I would be happy to come along.
It is also a poor argument to equate the withdrawal agreement with citizens’ rights. Since the vote in June 2016, the Conservative Party could at any time have introduced primary legislation that would have enshrined the rights of EU citizens in law. Many EU citizens have argued that to bind their rights with the withdrawal agreement and the Brexit process was to use them as a pawn in negotiations. That is deeply unfortunate. It is wrong to bring the EU citizens’ rights argument into questions about the withdrawal agreement.
Like the Scottish Government, the Conservative MP Alberto Costa has argued for the enshrinement of EU citizens’ rights in law. I would encourage the Scottish Conservatives to listen to his arguments, which are incredibly strong.
The minister has been very generous with his time. Alberto Costa—hopefully soon to be an MP again—is a good friend of mine and of my parents. Is not the argument against that position very simple, which is that we need to worry about not only the rights of EU nationals lawfully resident in the United Kingdom but the rights of UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU? There needs to be reciprocity in the arrangements, but for all the will in the world, and no matter how we define parliamentary sovereignty, the UK Parliament cannot legislate for that.
The rights of British citizens elsewhere in the EU are incredibly important, which is why I met representatives of British in Europe to hear their perspective. However, very early on in the Brexit process, the UK Government drew a red line when it came to that issue, which was an unforgivable mistake.
The Conservatives’ argument for an application-based system on the basis of needing a physical mechanism, as Jamie Greene put it, does not stand up either. A declarative system that has a registration process is still a mechanism; it is just very different from a constitutive applications process, which is what the EU settlement scheme is. On the one hand, we declare people’s rights and then there is a registration process to ensure that the administration of the system works effectively. On the other hand, the constitutive application-based system that we have at the moment asks people to apply for rights that they already have, which, as many members have said, is insulting and degrading. Further, as Liam McArthur said eloquently but also worryingly, the threat of deportation hangs over citizens’ heads.
A number of members picked up on the fact that the motion touches on the issue of pre-settled status. I hope that, as a Parliament, we will be able to unite to argue that the five years’ residency requirement for settled status is nonsensical. It is part of the very bureaucratic process that Fulton MacGregor talked about, for which a great deal of evidence is required. There is no need for such a requirement. Indeed, it is completely unjustified to argue that people should have to have lived here for five years to demonstrate their contribution to our society. Pre-settled status is confusing and has the potential to create a sense of there being two different classes of EU citizens. We could well do without it. If we are to have a settled status scheme, let us make sure that everyone gets full settled status and all the rights that come with that.
I was grateful that Annabelle Ewing picked up on the point about physical proof. Not every EU citizen will want to have physical proof of settled status, but those who do should have the right to have that reassurance of their status, as they see it. If citizens from outwith the EU and the EEA, not to mention British citizens, can have physical proof, why should EU citizens be any different, particularly when, worryingly, as SCVO and others have highlighted to me, EU citizens are already being asked to present proof of their rights to different agencies and organisations? That shows that the electronic approach that the UK Government has taken is not working.
In their amendment, the Conservatives made a number of points about what the UK Government is doing, and I want to briefly pick up on some of those. Several Conservative members mentioned the agricultural workers scheme. The Scottish Government welcomes that scheme, but it is simply inadequate, even taking into account the scheme’s extension from 2,500 to 10,000 workers, given that the economic productivity of the horticultural sector in the UK currently relies on the utilisation of 60,000 migrant workers. I do not see how, logically, the removal of freedom of movement and the reduced scale of the agricultural workers scheme will support agricultural businesses here in Scotland and across the UK.
Although the UK Government’s proposed NHS visa has some advantages in that it will involve, the UK Government says, a fast-tracked application process, the fee for which will be halved, it will be a poor substitute for freedom of movement, because it will involve every employer paying £1,000 to facilitate such an individual to come here and it will be a much more bureaucratic process.
The Conservative amendment, which we will vote against, uses the phrase “the best and brightest”, which the UK Government is using on a regular basis. We in Scotland want to attract people who are highly qualified. That is why we have continually argued for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa. After seven years of campaigning, we are glad to see that happen, although we would like it to be implemented sooner. The phrase “the best and brightest” is unfortunate, because it creates a hierarchy of skills and does not capture the wider enrichment that immigration brings to Scotland, an example of which is the 16,000 workers who work in our health and social care system. It creates the perception that only highly qualified, highly paid individuals are welcome in the UK, and it fails to capture the wider importance of immigration to Scotland and, indeed, the UK as a whole.
The Conservatives also talked about the SNP’s policy in the white paper of 2013. It is true that we argued for a points-based system for people from outwith the EEA, but it was the clear policy for Scotland to stay in the EU. Unfortunately, as part of the UK, we face having our EU membership removed. However, I do not want to get into the constitutional question. I want to focus my remarks on EU citizens’ rights, because that is what is most important today.
In summing up, I would like to emphasise that the stay in Scotland campaign is up and running. I encourage members to use its materials and to encourage businesses, third sector organisations and other entities in their constituencies and regions to do all that they can to support and encourage EU citizens to stay in Scotland.
I also encourage members to support the Labour amendment in the name of Claire Baker and the Government motion, as amended, calling on the UK Government to move from the illogical and often harmful settled status scheme, which requires applications, to a declarative approach in which EU citizens, who contribute so much to our society and have done so much for the benefit of Scotland, have their rights secured in law and do not have to go through a humiliating application process. If we are going to keep the EU settlement scheme, I urge the UK Government to at least get rid of pre-settled status, because it is unnecessary, and to give individuals the option of physical proof so that they can demonstrate their rights in that way if that is what they choose to do.
EU citizens have made a huge contribution to our country and they continue to do so. I ask Parliament to back the motion, as amended by the Labour amendment.