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Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2006

I thank the Minister for that answer, but he will be aware that the population of Scotland has now risen for three consecutive years, that the population of Glasgow has risen for two years and that last year the population of Dundee rose for the first time in a generation. Will he and the Secretary of State make representations to the Home Secretary that, no matter what he does in managed migration from the new EU-accession states, he should do nothing that will jeopardise the fragile recovery of Scotland’s population?

The hon. Gentleman mentions the increase in Scotland’s population as though the figures fell out of a clear blue sky without any effort by the Government and the Scottish Executive to bring them about. He should pay tribute to the First Minister for the fresh talent initiative that has helped to attract some of the brightest and best young people to come to study in Scotland and to stay in Scotland. The strength of the Scottish economy, which is benefiting from the strength of the United Kingdom economy, makes Scotland a very attractive place. What would happen if Scotland broke away from the rest of the UK? Can we imagine anybody wanting to come to a Scotland governed by the Scottish National party, as the country would be economically unviable and would not attract any—

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend discuss immigration with their colleagues, will they seek to ensure that asylum decisions are taken much more quickly? A great deal of distress is caused to families who have put down roots once a decision goes against them. The quicker that asylum decisions are taken, the better.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and the new asylum model is designed to make sure that the initial decision is taken much more quickly and that any appeals that subsequently follow also happen more quickly.

May I make a point that I have made on previous occasions? Our immigration policies will have to be about the economic needs of Scotland as the host country and the UK in general, but asylum policy must never be about that. Asylum policy has to be about whether an individual has a well-founded fear of persecution and we must make that judgment, and make it quickly. If the person meets the criteria, we will welcome them and integrate them into Scottish society. If they do not, they will have to return to the country from which they came.

Does the Minister acknowledge that immigration into Scotland has been very beneficial right across the economy? Does he accept that those who have come in under the skills initiative and who were given the indication that they would have a right to permanent residence after four years, but who are now being told that they will have to wait five years, have effectively been misled? Will he make representations to the Home Office to make sure that those who applied for a four-year time limit will be allowed to qualify for it?

I do not know the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question, but I will certainly look into it on his behalf.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very serious point. While we welcome immigrants to Scotland, we have the right to specify the particular skills that we wish to come to the UK in general. That is what the managed migration policy and a points-based migration policy are about, so that we can have an independent body that recommends what the skills needs of the UK are and then respond to that. I will get back to him on the particular point he mentions.