I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Second Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Demography of Scotland and the implications for devolution, HC 82, and the Government response, HC 938.
It is a pleasure to serve with you chairing this short debate, Mr McCabe.
Back in February 2016, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs launched our inquiry into the demography of Scotland, to better understand the issues concerning our populations and the impact those trends will have on devolved services in Scotland. We had four sessions here in Westminster and one in Edinburgh, and we were delighted to visit the Isle of Skye, where we visited the Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and held an evidence session there. As always, we are grateful to all those who contributed to the inquiry.
May I start with the good news? It is very good news. Scotland’s population is stable and growing. We say in the report that that is good news. Something that differentiates us in Scotland so much from the rest of the United Kingdom is that we welcome population growth in our nation. When we get news of population growth, Ministers put out press releases saying that it is a good thing; when they get similar news down here in the UK, it could not make Ministers more miserable. That says everything about the respective attitudes in Scotland and the United Kingdom.
Only 15 years ago, Scotland was suffering what can only be called structural depopulation, and there was real concern that the population might actually dip below the iconic 5 million mark. Scotland’s population has been turned round and is now at its highest ever level, standing at 5.37 million people resident in Scotland. That population growth—not dramatic, but steady and good—is owed to increased fertility among the indigenous population and, more than anything else, immigration, particularly immigration from the European Union following the accession of nations in the early 2000s. After a century of sluggish population growth punctuated by periods of decline, and following centuries of emigration, Scotland’s population is now stable, and that is good news.
I mentioned our history because we as a nation are probably more familiar with historical issues of emigration than we are with immigration. That flavours and shapes Scotland’s response to the current debate about immigration that is raging throughout the United Kingdom—a debate that probably hijacked the whole conversation about exiting the European Union. There are concerns about immigration in Scotland—we find that in social attitude surveys and opinion polls—but it is absolutely clear to me and other members of the Scottish Affairs Committee that there does not seem to be the same heat in that debate in Scotland as there is in the rest of the United Kingdom. There is a healthy understanding of our immigration requirements as a nation and our need to sustain a healthy population and demography.
That is the good news, and it is welcome. The not so good news is that our population increase is lagging way behind that of the United Kingdom as a whole. That is a critical part of this equation and a critical relationship. The UK’s population is projected to increase to 70 million in 2027 and reach 74.3 million by 2039. That is an increase of 15% over a 25-year period. I know that we are ending free movement, that there are going to be new immigration policies in place and that the UK Government are confident that there will be some sort of Brexitised Canute to stand against this tide of an ever-increasing movement of people throughout the world. That is their ambition and what they intend to do, but according to current figures the population growth of the UK is expected to be 15% over 25 years. In the same period, Scotland’s population is expected to grow by 6%.
That population growth gap will have a huge implication for Scotland’s economy and our ability to support and sustain an increasingly elderly population. That is because Scotland is predominantly funded on the basis of its population in the form of a block grant that we receive and is calculated on the percentage-based Barnett formula. Increasingly, the distribution of resources throughout the United Kingdom will be on a per capita basis. The main concern, therefore, is that Scotland’s revenues will not keep pace with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. That could be increasingly acute as we come to renegotiate the fiscal framework in 2020, where population concerns will once again be factored in, possibly to Scotland’s deficit.
The other issue the Committee found is that population growth is variable across Scotland as a whole. That is why the Committee visited the Isle of Skye to try to better understand the regional variations and the issues in Scotland’s rural areas, in particular the highlands and islands. We found pockets of success, particularly in the highlands, but an otherwise ongoing story of decline in Scotland’s rural areas. For example, most of the new population growth happens in Scotland’s cities and conurbations close to them. In my constituency, in Perth and Kinross, we have solid population growth of around 15%; in Edinburgh, where my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) is resident, it is in the region of 20%, and in Midlothian it is 26%. That contrasts with areas of the highlands and islands that have experienced net population decline, the worst example being the Western Isles, which is expecting a population decline of some 14%.
Scotland has one of the lowest population densities in the whole of Europe. During the inquiry we heard that Sutherland in north-east Scotland has lower population density than Mali in northern Africa—a nation that is entirely covered by Sahara desert. More than anything, that suggests that Scotland is not full up and that we can accommodate many more immigrants to help us to address some of the issues in our economy.
Lurking underneath the statistics are demographic issues that really need to be tackled. The age profile of Scotland’s population is rising at a faster rate than that of the UK as a whole. Several witnesses we spoke to in the course of the inquiry identified the combination of Scotland’s lower population growth, ageing population and lower life expectancy as one of the key challenges it will face in the delivery of public services in the coming years and decades. Over the next 25 years, Scotland’s population will have a lower proportion of working-age people than it does now, and they will be expected to support an even bigger number of dependants. That is referred to as the “dependency ratio”—several groups took exception to that phrase when we visited Edinburgh, as my colleagues will remember. In the next 25 years, the dependency ratio will increase from 58 dependents to every 100 working-age people to 67 dependants to every 100 working-age people. That has serious implications for the delivery of public services.
The Committee found two particular areas where the dependency ratio might have an impact. The first is the size of the tax base and the ability to service through that tax base an ageing population. Secondly, it will be much more difficult to fill some vacancies in a number of sectors, including health and social care. An ageing population will increase demand for those services without there being a commensurate increase in the pool of working-age people available to fill those vacancies. That will have to be factored in to the planning and developing of Scotland’s public services over the coming years and decades.
Another thing the Committee found during our inquiry is that life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, especially for men, are lower in Scotland than in other parts of the UK. A new report, which we did not have the opportunity to take into account, has emerged in the past few weeks. That report, produced by the University of Glasgow, suggests that for the first time in 150 years life expectancy is not increasing in Scotland. It found a spike of more deaths in 2014 than at any time in Scotland since the second world war. We are not in a position to assess that, but it would be particularly worrying if that was a trend that is beginning in Scotland and was a reflection of some of the social policies that have been carried out not only in the name of this Government, but across both Governments in the United Kingdom. That is something we very much want to keep an eye on over the next few years.
The health inequalities are what concern the Committee more than anything else, and again we saw a disparity not only in the United Kingdom but in Scotland. The most revealing example was given by Professor David Bell, who talked about the train journey from Jordanhill in Glasgow to Bridgeton in Glasgow and how life expectancy declines by 15 years in the course of it. Professor Bell also told us that Jordanhill’s people have the same life expectancy as those of Canning Town here in London. Canning Town is a tube journey away from Westminster, where life expectancy is seven years higher. The disparity across the United Kingdom is 21 years, which surely should set off all sorts of alarm bells when we are planning services and considering how to reduce health inequalities.
The Committee considered what would be required to resolve some of the difficulties that we identified in our inquiry. First, we note the Scottish Government’s target of matching population growth with the EU15, which was set in 2007 to be completed by 2017. The Scottish Government have been relatively successful in ensuring that we have achieved the EU25 mean. Some witnesses praised the Scottish Government for setting the population target, saying that it was in the interests of the nation to aspire to be population healthy and demographically healthy. However, some—primarily those in the UK Government, who did not see much value in it at all—felt that there was no need for a population target and questioned the whole idea.
None of our witnesses could tell us the optimum population size for Scotland, although a few gave valid examples of their efforts to do so. Professor Jim Hunter, emeritus professor of history at the University of the Highlands and Islands, told us that it is difficult to establish Scotland’s optimum population. When we were on Skye, he told us about some of the reasons given for the clearances, including that the population in the particular area was unable to sustain itself, but he also said to the Committee, revealingly, that
“the population of London exceeded the capacity of the London area to grow potatoes and turnips a heck of a long time ago, so it depends entirely what sort of economy you are looking to create here.”
I thought that those were particularly wise words.
We found, unsurprisingly, that what is required to keep a healthy demography and a stable and competitive rate of population growth is an obvious equation between emigration and immigration. We must retain more people in Scotland and do more to attract working-age migrants to Scotland, but that will be a lot harder to achieve with the end of free movement of people from the European Union.
To give an example of the sort of figures that we are talking about, in 2014-15, net inward migration to Scotland was 27,968, while net migration to England was 298,882. That is a huge disparity in our ability to attract immigrants. We must do more to attract migrants to Scotland, but it is particularly difficult to achieve when the legislative levers remain in the gift of a UK Government resistant to immigration and concerned to the point of obsession with immigrant numbers. The UK Government, in their response to the report, defiantly refused to give the Scottish Government responsibility and opportunities to address their immigration concerns, and they have ended schemes such as the Fresh Talent initiative, which allowed us, at least in relation to the student population, to try to increase our population by giving incentives to stay in Scotland.
I mention that because something important and alarming came out in the statistics given to us by National Records of Scotland. There has been a positive spike in Scotland’s immigration figures: the number of people coming to Scotland in the critical 19-to-23 age bracket old has risen. That suggests that people are coming to Scotland attracted by the offer from our excellent, world-class universities. However, there is an almost commensurate spike in emigration among those aged 23 to 27. That suggests to me that people are leaving Scotland once they have been educated, because they do not have the opportunity to stay there.
As my hon. Friend might be aware, in 2015-16, Stirling University had 930 EU students and 1,350 overseas students; 20% of the student population came from overseas. It clarifies how important immigration is to solving the problem not just of the skills base, which he correctly identified, but to the universities’ health in the future. What are his views on that?
That is exactly what we found in the course of our inquiry. One of the report’s recommendations was that the Government reconsider their approach and attitude to the post-study work scheme offer. That would address the issues that my hon. Friend raises, but to me the problem is much more fundamental. It is beyond absurd that we attract all those talented young people to Scotland with the quality of our world-class universities and train and educate them to a high standard simply to watch them sail away, when we need those people to help grow and contribute to our community.
I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday and congratulate him on securing this debate. He is making an important point. One of the few issues that unites political parties in Scotland is the need to reintroduce the post-study work visa. Does he share my concern about the 80% drop in non-EU students remaining in the UK after graduation since the scrapping of that vital scheme? We must continue to press the Government to stop the brain drain of global talent from Scotland.
The hon. Lady is absolutely spot on. I wish we could do more to convince this Government that they need to reconsider and help us to ensure that we keep those talented people. Our statistics show that we require these people to remain in Scotland; they are welcome in Scotland, but there has been absolutely nothing from the Government in response. They have run some pilots on a post-study work visa scheme, but none of them in Scotland. We saw in the Government’s response why Scotland was not included. All of that is totally unsatisfactory. It is one thing that this Government can do that is straightforward, simple and easy to administer. Give us a break; give us a chance. Do something to help us address one of the pressing issues facing our community. We want it, we are ready to do it, the universities want it and it is in the gift of the Government to make that simple little change to help our higher education sector.
The Government say in their response that Scotland should use its range of devolved powers to attract immigrants, and they highlight powers that we could use to achieve it, talking about things such as health and education. I remember the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury sitting across from us in Committee and telling us that the one thing we could use to attract immigrants to Scotland was our planning powers. That was the sum total of what we had at our disposal. How we are supposed to attract immigrants without the levers of immigration powers is totally beyond me.
What I am hearing from the Government—it is a strange proposal and a sustained one, too, because we hear it practically every day—is that apparently Scotland’s offer for immigrants has been diminished because we now have powers over income tax. Somehow, we are disincentivising people because we have a differential rate of income tax in Scotland. I do not know about you, Mr McCabe, but I do not imagine potential immigrants in town squares in Krakow and Budapest being put off coming to Scotland because the higher rate of income tax kicks in at £40,000 instead of £43,000. I suspect that that would be the last thing on their minds.
It might not have crossed the hon. Gentleman’s mind, but employers considering where to locate might look at the rate of income tax for their new investment.
I am grateful to the Minister. I suggest that although that argument is always convenient, the evidence for it is flimsy, verging on non-existent. Nobody has presented us with anything to support that view.
Yes, income tax is a feature and a factor when it comes to the suite of taxation that people have to pay, but it is just one part of it. England, for example, has higher rates of council tax and higher house prices. We have free education for our young people and free prescriptions. Taxation comes in many forms. The ludicrous suggestion that Scotland is uniquely the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom does not bear any scrutiny at all. To suggest that it disincentivises people from coming to Scotland is beyond absurd and almost ridiculous. What changes people’s decision whether to come to a nation is powers over immigration and the ability to incentivise people to come through means such as a post-study work scheme, available jobs and a growing economy, and a growing economy needs a healthy working-age population. Those are the very factors we have considered and tried to address in our report.
Emigration from Scotland is an issue. Scotland is still an emigrant country; it is a feature that has characterised our nation throughout the centuries, and we are still losing far too many young people rather than retaining them. The Scottish Government have put in place a number of measures to hold on to young people in Scotland, and we wish them well in those endeavours, but as long as we remain a dependent nation within the United Kingdom, there will always be other attractions, particularly in huge centres such as London. We cannot build that capacity to retain people in our capital and other cities, so for as long as we remain a dependent nation, it will probably always be likely that our young people will be attracted to the bright lights of London. For example, when my son finished at Glasgow University, he came down here to look for work opportunities that he could not find in Scotland, because we have not been able to put in the resources there to develop our economy and give our young people those chances. As long as we remain part of the United Kingdom, I believe that we will always have difficulties.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his Committee’s important report. He knows as well as I do that one of the reasons we are having this debate is the UK Government’s paranoia about getting immigration numbers down to below 100,000. Have he and his Committee given any consideration to addressing some of the concerns that I have heard, particularly in the Irish situation, that if we allow Scotland to have its own immigration policy and bring in as many people as possible, we will not be able to prevent those people from going to Scotland for a fortnight and then coming down to England and completely upsetting the balance that people want to see? I think that is nonsense, but it is one of the reasons behind the Government’s refusal to let Scotland handle immigration. We have to work together to find an answer to that, because it is one of the reasons that the Government will use to prevent Scotland from addressing its genuine needs and achieving what the hon. Gentleman and I want to see happening in Scotland.
It was not within the scope of our inquiry to look at such solutions; we just wanted to get a snapshot of the quality of Scotland’s population growth and some of the demographic issues, and to suggest ways in which they could be addressed—but the hon. Gentleman is right about what the Government say. They say it all the time, but they are totally ignoring the fact that other nations throughout the world are able to manage sub-national immigration policies quite successfully, particularly Canada and Australia, whose policies work perfectly well and have none of the impacts that the hon. Gentleman mentions.
There is another solution, which has just come on the table in the last year. As a result of the Scotland Act 2016, there is now a Scottish rate of income tax set by the Scottish Parliament. We now know where Scottish income tax payers are resident, so if there is any breach, we know where they are. If someone came to Scotland from Krakow or Budapest, for example, with the sole intention of abusing the job opportunities we gave them by then disappearing to London, they would immediately disappear into a black market. They would not be able to work because they would be officially resident in Scotland. Why on earth would somebody want to disappear from a legitimate market, in which they have every opportunity to find a job and contribute to the economy, and go to a black market, in which they will be pursued relentlessly by the Minister’s Home Office team? That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but it was a good question and I am pretty certain that we will hear more on it from the Minister.
The Minister is giving me a thumbs up, so we can expect him to address the matter in his reply.
I will finish my speech because I know that other hon. Members want to speak. We will always be fighting a losing battle if we cannot grow our population through immigration. Our report calls for the Government to give us a chance, give us a break, and consider devolving some immigration powers to Scotland to let us grow our population. If the Minister and the UK Government do not do so, they will be holding Scotland’s hands behind its back, because the population gap between us and the rest of the United Kingdom will have massive implications for our economy and our ability to provide proper social services in Scotland. Population and demographic issues will be central to social planning, healthy economic outcomes and growth over the next decade, but Scotland has a UK-wide immigration policy designed by the Minister and his colleagues that practically works against our vital national interests. If there is one thing that the Government can do to help us to address those issues, it is to give us the levers to address them.
I am sure that we all wish the hon. Gentleman a very happy birthday.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr McCabe.
At the risk of being confused with a ray of sunshine, may I lay out some of the grievances rightly held by Scots about population and demographics and put them in some kind of historical context? Not all of them are directly the fault of this place—some of them might even be someone else’s fault—but hear me out. At the beginning of the 18th century, Scotland’s population was 1 million, while England’s was 5 million. That ratio of roughly 1:5 stayed the same throughout the 18th century and into the beginning of the 19th, but Scotland’s relative population shrank during the 19th century until the ratio was 1:7.
It was really the clearances that set Scotland’s population growth back on its heels. Private greed played a part, but so did Government decisions. The British Fisheries Board established fishing stations at Wick, Tobermory and Ullapool, dragging people from the land and the industry that they were familiar with and making them cling to the edges of Scotland, as someone once put it, in a barren and unfamiliar area. The Government were also determined to end the clan system; its organisation seemed all too militaristic and people’s loyalty to a clan chief, rather than to the Crown, could not be tolerated.
The clearances were the biggest drag on Scotland’s population growth until the de-industrial revolution of the Thatcher years, when the crushing of communities echoed the crushing of communities during the clearances. Scotland’s population shrank under Thatcher as young Scots were forced out and sought opportunity elsewhere, which removed a breeding population as well as an economically active population. It took until 2010 for Scotland’s population to recover to pre-Thatcher levels, and today it stands at less than a tenth of England’s.
There is now another Tory threat to Scotland’s population and prosperity: Brexit. The UK’s population growth from 2000 to 2015 was roughly a third native-born, a third EU-born and a third born elsewhere, whereas half of Scotland’s population growth was from EU nationals and only 14% was native-born. Scotland needs those people—those workers. Only 4% of EU nationals in Scotland are over 65, and 16% are under 16. The working-age population of EU immigrants is 80% of the total, with a 79% employment rate—six points ahead of the Scottish average. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) alluded to, almost a fifth of Scotland’s population is over retirement age. We need the supply of young, energetic workers from the EU, which is now under threat from a Brexit that might only mean Brexit to the Prime Minister, but means a potential major economic threat to Scotland.
From the clearances, through Margaret Thatcher, to Brexit, Scotland’s population has been getting a raw deal. Scotland needs to get out from under that and create a welcoming and entrepreneurial environment to grow our economy and provide a secure future. As my hon. Friend said, we need an open door for immigrants, and we need immigration policies that are clearly very unlike the policies touted in this place by this Government.
We cannot be left subject to this frankly xenophobic regime if we are to build the population and the economy that Scotland needs. I would prefer it if we agreed to be friendly neighbours and if Scottish independence created a new relationship, but it is possible to do it before then. My hon. Friend alluded to the examples of Australia and Canada, but it is possible for the UK to have different immigration systems for different areas. We know that that is possible because it already happens; the UK runs different immigration regimes for Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, for example. No, the circumstances are not the same—I am aware of that—but the precedent is there, and that example shows that it is possible. There is no reason why Scotland cannot have an immigration regime tailored to our needs even while we are stuck in the UK. We need to keep the door open for the free movement of the peoples of the European Union. Of the four pillars of EU membership, that is the one that I believe Scotland needs to keep most of all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and to follow two wonderful and detailed speeches.
I said in this Chamber only three months ago that
“the Government’s current immigration policy is completely failing Scotland.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 164WH.]
The Scottish Affairs Committee is now leading another debate based on a report that has concluded, yet again, that a different immigration system is needed for Scotland, rather than a one-size-fits-all UK policy. Hon. Members may ask why. Well, our report examined the different population trends in Scotland and why the challenges presented by those trends should be reflected in the UK Government’s policy making. One of the key challenges we found was that over the next 25 years, the average age of the Scottish population will increase dramatically, resulting in far fewer people paying taxes and fewer people being available to work in health and social care to support an ageing population.
The good news is that after years of decline, the population of Scotland is now gradually increasing, mainly due to the decrease in outward migration. However, if a hard Tory Brexit has a negative economic impact on Scotland, it is highly likely that outward migration will increase again. Over the next 25 years, the population of Scotland is predicted to increase by 7%, but London’s population is predicted to increase by more than triple that rate, meaning that the economy of the UK will be even more dominated by the needs of London and the south-east of England.
It strikes me that we have had debates in the House of Commons recently on boundary changes, during which the Government argued that those changes had to be based upon population. Based on the point that my hon. Friend has just made, does it not signal the failure of the current policy that according to the Government, Scotland’s number of MPs relative to England will be decreased again and again and again, as it has been over the last 20 or 230 years?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. In fact, if the number of MPs in one area, the north-west of Scotland highlands, is reduced, the area covered by one MP will be larger than Belgium. That is completely unacceptable, particularly in the face of Brexit and the amount of work that will result from it, which is likely to be a burden for all MPs.
Scotland’s recent population increase is partly due to inward migration. However, UK Government policies will undoubtedly have a negative impact on Scotland’s population growth. Those policies include barriers to immigration resulting from Brexit, which I have already mentioned; the scrapping of post-study work visas, which is already causing considerable damage; and the continuing uncertainty about whether EU citizens will be allowed to remain in the UK.
Our Committee’s report also found that population is a key issue in rural areas in Scotland that already have extremely low levels of population density and a pattern of younger people leaving to look for work elsewhere. On a Committee visit to Dumfries quite recently, we heard that in rural areas it is already hard to fill posts in social and health care, and it is predicted that that situation will get worse.
While Scotland’s land reform and rural broadband schemes are intended to boost economic activity in rural areas, which can only be a good thing, achieving that aim will not be possible if there are not enough people living in those areas to develop the economy. Again, the situation will become even worse if our exit from the EU reduces immigration and leads to more young people leaving Scotland to find work elsewhere.
I will give a more detailed example from my own constituency in Dundee. There are many issues in the demography report that have particularly serious implications for my city. To put things into perspective, Dundee has the highest proportion of students in higher education of anywhere in Scotland. The university sector is vital to the economic health of our city. Indeed, a quarter of University of Dundee students come from outside the UK and, as was set out in a report last week, more than 175 jobs in Dundee are fully or partially funded by EU grants. If Brexit leads to a reduction in the number of international students and a loss of EU nationals working in our universities, without doubt that will have a significant negative effect on the economic wellbeing of my city.
As many Members will know, Dundee is currently undergoing a £1 billion regeneration of its waterfront, at the heart of which is the new V&A Museum of Design. Immigration and population growth have the effect of enhancing economic activity and creating jobs. Therefore, any threat to immigration will hinder the positive transformation that Dundee is currently undertaking.
I will focus on one sector for a moment, because Abertay University was the world’s first university to have a degree in designing video games. I chair the all-party group on video games, so I will touch on that sector briefly. My constituency is a cluster for game designers. To give people a flavour of the kind of games that come out of Dundee, one of them—“Grand Theft Auto”—has already broken six Guinness world records. Within the video games industry, talent is the No. 1 priority for businesses, and it is vital that the industry is able to recruit highly skilled international talent without there being immigration barriers to their working here.
A UK-wide survey by the video games industry body UK Interactive Entertainment, which was published just yesterday, showed that more than 98% of respondents—we might as well say 100%, as we are just about there—believe that EU nationals with skills needed in the games industry should have a blanket right to live and work in the UK.
I turn to a sector that is important in my neighbouring constituencies, in particular that of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Each year, large numbers of temporary migrants from the EU come to work in the fruit picking industry in the constituency next to mine. If that flow of workers is cut off by Brexit, that will have a hugely negative impact on this vital part of our local economy.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning my constituency, and he is absolutely right that we have great concerns about what will happen in our world-class berry fruit sector. However, the situation is even worse than that. I am sure that he will have heard examples similar to those I have heard of European nationals in our constituencies who, just because of the current climate, are thinking about leaving, because there is a sense that they are not welcome here any more. They are feeling the chill wind blowing from the UK Government, which is putting their very existence here at risk, as they are used as bargaining chips. Has he come across anybody like that in his constituency?
Yes indeed. In fact, tomorrow, which is my constituency day, I have four surgery appointments with EU nationals who are similarly concerned about the future. The biggest issue that we have is in social and health care, particularly in our care homes, where there is a large percentage of EU nationals among the staff. As Dundee is growing to meet the needs placed on it to be a creative hub for Scotland, we also have a growing hospitality sector, which is again largely served by EU nationals.
However, despite all the evidence that the UK Government received though the Scottish Affairs Committee report, they have once again completely disregarded calls to ensure that any new immigration policies meet the needs of Scotland’s demography. Not only that, but they have once again completely rejected calls for a more flexible post-study work visa system for international students in Scotland. Therefore, it is crystal clear that Scotland has different immigration needs from other parts of the UK, and a one-size-fits-all approach simply is not working.
In 2014, the UK Government told Scotland to lead the UK and not leave it, claiming that it would be treated as an equal partner within the UK. Last weekend, however, the Prime Minister said that control over policy areas that have already been devolved, such as fishing and agriculture, may not go to Holyrood in the wake of Brexit, further raising fears that devolution will be undermined rather than enhanced. That is nothing short of a scandal and flies in the face of the devolution settlement of 1998.
If anyone is in any doubt about how difficult the UK Government have made our immigration system, they only have to look at a tweet put out by Faisal Islam the other night. It pointed out that under the same EU law a permanent residence form in Ireland is five pages long and free; in Germany, it is two pages long and costs eight euros; and in the UK, it is 85 pages long and costs £65.
Scotland is not full up. As I have said, our demographic and workforce needs are different to those of the rest of the UK. With UK Government’s current rhetoric signalling a move towards a hard Tory Brexit, it is becoming increasingly obvious that their polices will seriously damage Scotland’s population growth. The UK Government’s immigration policy in no way recognises Scotland’s needs or serves our economic and societal interests. The UK Government continue to resist pragmatic change that would not only reduce the impact of Scotland’s ageing demographic but help Scotland to attract international students. What would really benefit Scotland would be the full devolvement of immigration power, so that we can ensure our country’s prosperous future. If the UK Government are unable to tailor their immigration needs for Scotland, then Scotland’s independence will be the only solution.
As always, Mr McCabe, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I begin by commending the report of the Scottish Affairs Committee. It is a significant contribution to the debate and it is supported by numerous experts. It makes it very clear that Scotland’s population needs to grow and that Scotland requires immigration in order to make that happen.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) rightly said, the United Kingdom’s population is projected to increase by 15%, while it is reckoned that the population of my constituency of Argyll and Bute will fall by 8%. That situation is unsustainable and unworkable, because despite being an exceptionally beautiful part of the world, my constituency is—almost uniquely—suffering depopulation. We have an ageing and increasingly non-economically active population, and our young people are leaving to spend their economically productive years outside Argyll and Bute.
We desperately need people to come to work in our rural communities. We need EU nationals and others to be able to come to Argyll and Bute, and we welcome the overwhelmingly positive contribution they make day in and day out to Argyll and Bute and to Scotland generally. We need that to continue, so we need a system that will allow Scotland to find a bespoke immigration policy, one in which Scotland’s needs are met, rather than simply being subsumed into the needs of the rest of the United Kingdom, and—
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman; he was in full flow and I perhaps should have waited. Nevertheless, I am delighted to be able to intervene now.
In this report, we have concentrated a lot on migration. I agree with the report, which says there should be a much more flexible approach to immigration, right across the country—in all parts of the UK and not just in Scotland. Indeed, there is maybe even an argument for internal Scottish-type different approaches to immigration. One of the key recommendations of the report was about the number of young people in particular who leave Scotland to live in the rest of the United Kingdom. We need to find ways of making sure that those young people not only stay but are able to contribute to the economy. That is not about migration, because I am talking about young Scots who are moving. How does he suggest that we should deal with that issue?
I take on board what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I think there are two strands to it. In Argyll and Bute, we need to keep our young people and attract young people back into the constituency. That is about physical connectivity, digital connectivity and making Argyll and Bute an attractive place for young people to come back to and to not leave in the first place, but that in itself will not be enough. We have to be able to attract EU nationals and others to Argyll and Bute and make them stay. It is not an either/or situation; we should be able to keep our young folk and at the same time attract people into Argyll and Bute to live and work and to make it home.
Part of that is having a bespoke Scottish solution. If Australia, Canada and Switzerland can have immigration policies that differentiate between the different needs of the different parts of the country, surely there is no reason, other than political will, why that cannot happen here. Argyll and Bute Council’s plan for economic regeneration was predicated on it continuing to be able to attract EU nationals into the area. I am afraid to say that that plan seems to have been holed below the waterline since last June.
When I was first elected to this place almost two years ago, I came here knowing that I would fight austerity and oppose Trident renewal and that we would seek to deliver the vow in full, as was promised after the 2014 referendum. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my colleagues and I would have to stand in this place to defend the right of the almost 200,000 EU nationals living in Scotland to remain in the country they have chosen to call home. I did not imagine a scenario where I would have to stand in this place and argue that 1,800 of my constituents—EU nationals in Argyll and Bute—should have the basic right to remain in the country in which they have chosen to settle, raise their family and contribute.
What have we become? How in the 21st century are we debating whether 1,800 of my constituents—mums, dads, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, employers and employees—have to choose whether to stay or go? They are genuinely fearful for the future. I put it to the Minister that that is because the Government have chosen not to guarantee their future status within the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) said, that policy, coupled with the Government’s immigration policy, is holding Scotland back.
In the past week, five families from my constituency have contacted me, all deeply concerned. Last weekend, Rita Windham-Wright, a Hungarian national living in Oban with her Scottish husband and children, informed me that because of the uncertainty, they were thinking of leaving Scotland. Celia Krezdorn from Helensburgh—she is a Swiss national married to a German, and she has brought her children up in Scotland—said she was deeply worried about what the future holds and what the lack of clarity will mean for her family. Jean Michel Voinot, a French national living in Lochgilphead with his wife and young children, asked, “Will my family be allowed to stay?”
On Wednesday, another Hungarian woman, Edit Makai, asked me whether it would be okay to take her child to meet her Hungarian grandmother in Budapest. She was worried they might have problems getting back into the country. Just yesterday, Josianne, a French national who has lived and worked in Rosneath for more than 20 years—she is a highly active member of the community —contacted me to say that she is fearful she may have to leave her home and her family post-Brexit. The Minister may well dismiss those cases, but he has to accept that those are the genuinely held fears of constituents who have approached me as their Member of Parliament asking questions that I would never have expected to have to answer.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that Scottish or British people living elsewhere in Europe deserve similar assurances, or is he prepared to move ahead unilaterally to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living here without getting the same guarantees for the status of Scottish people living abroad?
I will come on to that point in just a moment, because it is a vital question, and I will answer it. As I was saying, those are the genuine concerns of real people, and I have to ask: what kind of Government know they are causing such fear and alarm, yet refuse to act on it? I raised many of those cases at Home Office questions on Monday, and I was told by the Home Secretary that it was up to me to reassure them of how valued they are. I have done that; I have written to every single EU national in my constituency telling them how valued they are, but it is not in my gift to make the problem go away. The only people who can give that cast-iron guarantee and reassurance are the Government, and sadly they have refused to do it—they have chosen not to do it.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case on one of the most important points. I have many similar stories. For example, in Tyndrum—it is just next to his constituency and on the edge of my constituency—I met with the staff of the Real Food Café, most of whom are workers who have come from the European Union. They were extremely distressed about what the future held for them and what the rules were. My frustration was that I could not give them any real answers to most of the questions that came up because the Government have not given us any real answers. Does he agree that the Government need to get their skates on and give us some idea of how this is supposed to look, so that we can reassure these people about their futures?
Sadly, it is a familiar tale. People are genuinely worried about the future, and the Government have to do something. They have to say to these folk that their future is guaranteed, come what may. It is not too late for the Government to do the right thing. Indeed, I implore them to do the right thing. I have heard the Government make the argument many times that only when other countries guarantee the position of UK citizens living in the European Union will they do the same. In direct response to the Minister’s question, I do not think that is good enough. I do not think that is doing the right thing. It is playing politics with people’s lives.
Doing the right thing is saying unequivocally—regardless of what others do—to those EU citizens living, working and contributing economically and socially to the wellbeing of this country, “We guarantee your status will not change with Brexit and you are welcome here.” If the Government choose not to guarantee European nationals the right to remain, history will judge it a national disgrace. I am proud and delighted that history will show that my colleagues and I had no part in that and opposed it every step of the way. So far as we are concerned, every single EU national living in Scotland is very welcome, and we thank them all for the positive contribution they have made, making our country a better place for all of us.
Finally, in my maiden speech in May 2015, I said that the Government had to recognise that the four constituent parts of this United Kingdom had, for the first time ever, voted four different ways and that as a result there could be no more one-size-fits-all policies covering everyone and everything from Truro to Thurso. That includes immigration. Our needs are not necessarily the rest of the country’s needs. If the Government are genuine about the respect agenda, they have to respect that and guarantee that our country can grow economically, culturally and politically into something different, if it chooses so to do, and that is with our EU nationals. I urge the Government to act accordingly and change their policy immediately.
It is a honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), for Dundee West (Chris Law) and for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) for taking part in today’s debate, as well as those who made interventions—my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Steven Paterson) and for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray).
I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for selecting the report for debate, and to the very accomplished Chair of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I wish him a very happy birthday. He shares his birthday with Yuri Gagarin and today also marks 31 years since the space station Mir was launched. Whatever his plans are after today’s debate, I hope he has a truly stellar day.
I did not know that—I am genuinely surprised. I am always told that I share a birthday with Martin Fry from ABC, who had much greater success than I did in music, selling many more albums than I did in his illustrious career.
I thank my hon. Friend for that informative intervention, which will now be in Hansard. Mir was succeeded, of course, by the international space station—arguably one of humankind’s greatest achievements, and a reminder that we achieve more working together than we do apart. That is an important thing to bear in mind, particularly as we enter an ugly, post-Brexit, insular, isolationist, anti-immigrant phase in British politics.
We are often referred to in this place simply as “the nationalists” but, in truth, we have more than proven ourselves to be the largest group of internationalists in the House. Of late, I and my colleagues have received what can only be described as a barrage of pro-EU and internationalist correspondence from all corners of the UK. It is, in fact, a lovefest for our strong, principled stances on the EU and immigration. What is very clear from those reaching out to us is that many people feel unrepresented in this place as we go through the process of exiting the European Union. The people of Scotland are being ably represented by a strong team of SNP MPs here and an incredibly effective SNP Government in Holyrood. We will continue to push for solutions that will help to solve the unique challenges that we face.
The UK Government cannot simply continue with their one-size-fits-all approach to policy. In its response to the Scottish Affairs Committee report, the Government state:
“Our immigration system is designed for the whole of the UK, taking account of Scotland’s needs.”
That is demonstrably not the case. It is completely at odds with the views of Scottish businesses and universities and of civic society in general. Scotland faces demographic challenges in the coming years. We are not unique in that respect, but our needs are not the same as those of other nations in the UK, and, despite the UK Government’s protestations, they are not being taken account of by the Home Office. While the UK Government continues with their increasingly bitter and nasty narrative on immigration, the SNP Scottish Government are focused on increasing population growth, which has been historically slow in Scotland compared with England, while also making Scotland an attractive place to work and live.
My hon. Friend attended the same sessions as I did and she would have heard from a swathe of Scottish public opinion—from business leaders, to trade unions, to higher education, to everybody involved in business and academia—that we require a differentiated type of immigration system. Does she therefore believe that, as we approach leaving the European Union, it is much more important and pressing that Scotland now has some sort of bespoke immigration system, in order to deal with the challenges we face as a nation?
I completely concur—I will come on to that point later in my speech. Population growth is a vital contributor to a more dynamic society, and it is crucial if we are to ensure our economy is fit for the challenges of the future. With an ageing population, Scotland will undergo a significant demographic shift in the coming decades, which will present us with challenges that we must be prepared for.
The Scottish Government want to address Scotland’s changing demography through population growth, which will provide a larger tax base to pay for services, as well as ensure that we have more people to carry out essential jobs. Immigration policy obviously plays a huge part in that. As we have heard again and again today, EU and international citizens play a crucial role in making Scotland’s economy successful. They and the contribution they make to our society are valued. It is utterly shameful that the UK Government have failed to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK almost a year on from the Brexit referendum.
It cannot be repeated often enough how much we respect those who have chosen to live and work in Scotland. In the words of our First Minister:
“You’re not bargaining chips, you are human beings with families, jobs, friends and lives here. I believe you have a right to certainty and peace of mind.”
We have heard it already today, but let us just stop this nonsense about speaking up for people who live abroad. Let us take the first step today and tell EU nationals who are living here that they are valued and that they can stay; then we can move on, because it is just going to be repeated again and again. We need action from the Government now before the issue causes any more distress to families and damage to Scotland and across the UK. One thing is abundantly clear: UK immigration policy is at odds with the values of the Scottish people. It does not meet our needs and the UK Government need to listen to those legitimate concerns.
The Government’s response to the report is disappointing in many ways. The report clearly sets out that, based on the evidence we received, there is a case for further consideration of sub-national migration powers for Scotland. The report calls for closer co-operation between the UK and Scottish Government on that. Simply put, the UK Government must deliver an immigration system that meets Scotland’s needs and they should allow Holyrood to have more say. By insisting that the immigration system is designed for the whole of the UK, the Government fail to take into account that Scotland’s demographic needs are different from those of other parts of the UK.
The UK Government remain absolutely committed to reducing migration to the UK to tens of thousands, as we heard from the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson). Growth in our population is crucial to the growth of our economy. Scotland’s people, including those who have chosen to live and work there, are key to our future prosperity and a strong economy.
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful speech, as always, but she is being too kind to the Government when she says that the UK immigration system is designed to do that. The Government’s UK immigration policy is for one thing and one thing only: to try and knock back UKIP from their right-wing backwoodsmen in their heartlands. That is what it is about and nothing more.
The hon. Gentleman has made his point and I do not need to reply; I am sure the Minister will have taken that point on board.
I appreciate that in his response the Minister will probably wish to highlight the fact that immigration policy is not some population panacea. That is very true. In order to grow the population, the Scottish Government are working a combination of measures, including creating a fair and inclusive jobs market that attracts the type of skilled individuals we need, investing to create a supportive business environment that attracts inward investment, improving the education, skills and health of Scotland’s population, and creating a fairer, more equal society through the delivery of key public services. The UK Government must acknowledge why immigration is essential in that mix as a key driver of population growth. As we have heard, the population of Scotland is projected to increase by 7% between 2014 and 2039, and 90% of the increase over the next ten years is projected to come from migration. However, projections for the UK as a whole show 49% due to migration. Scotland is different, and one immigration policy for the whole of the UK is simply not workable.
The damage caused by a single UK-wide policy can perhaps be seen in the withdrawal of the post-study work visa. Initially a pilot scheme that worked for Scotland, which was then rolled out across the UK, it was removed due to concerns it was not working for the rest of Britain. In our report, the Scottish Affairs Committee restated our call for the UK Government to work constructively with the Scottish Government to explore the possibility of introducing a formal scheme to allow international higher education students graduating from Scottish further and higher education institutions to remain in Scotland and contribute to economic activity for a defined period of time, as set out in the Smith Commission report. It is hugely disappointing that the Government do not intend to reintroduce a general post-study work scheme for Scotland, despite calls from across the political spectrum, our universities and civic society in Scotland.
Universities Scotland’s website states very clearly that it feels that the UK’s current student immigration policy is detrimental to Scotland’s businesses and industry, as there are high skills shortages across a number of sectors that are not being met by UK and EU-domiciled people. What does my hon. Friend make of that comment?
I am confounded by the fact that the Government are not listening to those people. We heard that in all of our Committee’s sessions, and we are now hearing it from all universities and businesses. I am not sure why their pleas are falling on deaf ears.
I am not going to take another intervention, because I am aware that we have hit the time for the Front-Bench spokesmen.
The Minister must surely realise that the trialling of the new tier 4 scheme in universities in England will be seen as a kick in the teeth for Scottish universities. It may very well be that
“There was no agenda to limit those involved to universities in any region of the UK”—[Official Report, 8 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 182WH.]
but given the repeated and sustained calls from Scotland for the reintroduction of the visa scheme, it is in poor taste that the Government are acting in this manner.
I hope the Minister will take my points and those of other hon. Members on board. It has been fantastic to have the opportunity to debate the issues raised by the report. I ask that the Government revisit their poor response to the report and acknowledge that they have got this very wrong.
I thank the Scottish Affairs Committee for doing such a thorough job. It did the job that we expect Select Committees to do, and it did so very well. I thank everyone who contributed to the debate for bringing to this place the voice of what is happening on the ground. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) talked about the real-life stories of human beings and the effect that policies will have on their lives. It is sad that the Government’s response is so dull and negative, but it is hardly unexpected because, as I have already said, the one thing driving their approach to immigration is their desire to get the numbers down below an imaginary figure of 100,000 a year. They have failed miserably to do so, but they are continuing to plough that furrow.
We have to accept the reality that the different nations, regions, countries and cities of the United Kingdom have different immigration needs. The needs of the north of Scotland are different from those of the central belt. I recently visited the north of Scotland, and I was told about the example of Walkers Shortbread. It has a factory in Moray, where there is essentially no unemployment. As a result, it buses two full coaches of EU nationals from Inverness to work in its factory every day. If those workers were not available, that factory could close. Can we imagine Scotland without Walkers Shortbread?
This is not just about places like that. Last autumn, we were told that there was a 14% reduction in the number of EU immigrants available to work in East Anglia, because they are worried about what will happen post-Brexit. If that carries on, we could see crops rot in the fields of East Anglia because of a lack of an available workforce. The Government have to look again at that.
As hon. Members have said clearly, the Government also have to look at the post-study work scheme. Sir Timothy O’Shea, the principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said in evidence to the Committee that his concern is that a world-class university such as Edinburgh may no longer be able to compete with the best in the world. That is a frightening scenario. We also heard from other hon. Members about the impact on other universities in Scotland and the fact that they have lost millions of pounds as a result of the scheme’s closure. Let us be realistic about the different needs that exist and address them as adults, and not be driven by the fear of hard right-wing ideologues.
I expect the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that Universities Scotland considers the UK to have one of the least competitive post-study work policies in the English-speaking developed world.
I am not surprised at all. As I said, our immigration policy, if it can be called a policy, is being driven by people who make you wonder if they went to school, let alone university—it is so ludicrously inadequate.
This time last year, we were being driven into a referendum by the ludicrous nonsense that if we did not pull up the Brexit drawbridge, 76 million Turks would flood into this country. That was how ridiculous the debate got in this country—the Conservative party is working within those terms. We need realism, pragmatism and good old-fashioned common sense to put in place an immigration system that benefits everyone’s economic and social wellbeing, not the narrow-minded view that all that matters is getting immigration numbers down to tens of thousands, no matter what harm is done to the economy, our public services and the great people who have made their homes in this nation. I suggest humbly to the Minister that working with the Committee in an open and positive manner would be great way to start.
There is one benefit to leaving the EU: we now have a chance to shape our immigration policy ourselves for the future. We can link it to an industrial strategy, with proper training and apprenticeship schemes, but that will be much harder to do if we carry on with the lunacy that the Conservative party is putting forward. It will not give guarantees to the millions of EU nationals living in the UK and Scotland. We need to understand the vital role they play in Scottish society. Some 80% of EU nationals in Scotland are of working age, compared with 65% of the overall population, and 20,000 EU nationals work in accommodation and food services. We were told last week in the Chamber that that is the fastest-growing industry in Scotland. The health and social work sector employs 12,000 EU nationals, and a fifth of EU nationals working in Scotland are managers, directors, senior officials or in other professional occupations. We can ill afford to lose those people, so it is time to stop playing political football with them. It is wrong to do so.
The Minister intervened on the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and asked him whether he is prepared to give a unilateral guarantee to EU nationals here if the British people living in Europe are not allowed to stay. I want to put it the other way round. What is the Government’s policy? If the EU says to us when we reach the end of the negotiations, “We are not prepared to give UK nationals living in Europe the right to stay,” what are they going to say to the EU nationals in this country? They have a right to know that. If the Government were to say, “We might throw you out,” or even, “We will throw you out”, although I do not want to hear that and nor does anybody else in this Chamber, at least that would be fair to those people and would enable them to plan their lives. But if they say, “If they call our bluff, we will throw you out anyway,” it is not a bluff worth having. The Government need to come clean.
Beyond all that, this is a moral issue. It is about human beings, and it is completely and utterly wrong that they are being used as bargaining chips. People have come here and contributed to society, and they deserve the decency and respect that they have earned. We should be good to them, and we should tell them now, “Yes, you are stopping here, in the same way as everyone else is.”
A smaller but equally important part of the debate, which the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) touched on, is life expectancy. He went through the stats. It is worrying that Scottish male life expectancy is lower than that of people in England. It is even worse when compared with the UK average. That is something that none of us can be proud of, and we have to work at it together. It is even worse when we dig down into the figures. It is bad enough that life expectancy is lower, but those living in deprived communities are 40% more likely to die from a stroke than those living in the least deprived areas. Amazingly, people living in the most deprived areas are 98% more likely to die from cancer than those living in the least deprived areas. I am not saying that to point out that it is bleak, but it is a moral issue for all of us to tackle. We need to get to the bottom of it collectively and do all we can to right that wrong.
The report suggests that the Government should work with the Scottish Government to ensure that we use the new welfare powers that have been given to the Scottish Government in an innovative way. I am glad those powers have gone to Scotland, and I would like to see them used to relieve the pressure on the people of Scotland. There is a continual attack not only on those at the vulnerable end but on those right across society who are affected by the benefit changes. I hope that the Scottish Parliament will take new powers and use the ones it already has in a way that achieves that. I hope that the Scottish Government will do exactly what is indicated in the concluding sentence of the Government response to the report, so that we can “look forward” to the use of “substantial new powers” for the benefit of all in Scotland, but in particular those most in need.
I join everyone in wishing the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) a very happy birthday. I am informed by my Parliamentary Private Secretary that the hon. Gentleman’s birthday is shared by our former colleague, David Willetts, famed for having one more brain than the rest of us.
I, too, want Scotland to continue to be a prosperous nation whose citizens are able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. I disagree with the Scottish National party in that I see Scotland’s future sustainability coming as part of the United Kingdom. We have heard several references to Brexit—I will come on to that issue—but, to be clear, for the time being the most important Union for Scotland is the one with England and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Being part of the UK single market presents tremendous social and economic opportunities for people and businesses in Scotland, as it does for us all throughout the UK. The lack of internal borders means absolute freedom for people and goods to move between Scotland and the rest of the UK, so there is a steady turnover of people moving to and from Scotland. The Scottish Government’s own global connections survey shows that the rest of the UK continues to be Scotland’s largest market for exports. Scotland’s exports to the rest of the UK are four times greater than those to the European Union.
I fully accept that Scotland needs immigration to continue to prosper, and I recognise the great contribution that generations of migrants from other parts of the UK and from beyond the UK have made to the socioeconomic wellbeing of Scotland. For our part, the UK Government remain committed to working with the Scottish Government on specific issues and on areas of common concern to harness the resources and talent available to encourage and support those who can contribute to the future vitality of our nation.
Migration is a reserved issue. We will, however, work closely with the Scottish Government as we develop future arrangements, and I welcome the recent publication of their paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which has already been discussed at the joint ministerial committee on EU negotiations and is the subject of intense engagement between officials from both Administrations. The truth is this: people will migrate to Scotland if the conditions are right and there are good job opportunities.
The Scottish Government now have significant policy levers to shape and secure their economy. They have the power to make Scotland the most competitive part of the UK, and to encourage and support more people to move to Scotland from other parts of the UK, the EU or, indeed, the rest of the world. They have levers for economic development and support for enterprise, for education and workforce training, for health and social care, and for digital connectivity and transport.
In addition, the Scottish Parliament has recently taken on new tax-raising powers, which have the potential to be used to make Scotland more competitive and a more attractive place to live—or, potentially, the opposite. I do not agree with how such powers are being used at the moment, but that is a matter for the Scottish Government. That is what devolution is all about.
We have heard repeatedly about the needs of the Scottish economy. For non-EU migrants, there is already a Scotland-only shortage occupation list for tier 2 of the points-based system, which is specifically designed to reflect any skilled labour market needs that are peculiar to Scotland. The independent Migration Advisory Committee consults extensively with employers and other organisations in Scotland when recommending changes to the Scotland-only shortage occupation list.
For the most part, since its introduction in 2007, the Scottish list has matched the UK-wide shortage occupation list. I therefore ask the SNP, where is the evidence that Scotland has a different set of needs from the rest of the UK? However inconvenient it is for the SNP, the evidence shows that Scotland’s skills needs are largely aligned with those of the rest of the UK.
I have a question for those who deem the existing levels of migration in Scotland to be too low. Given the significant powers that the Scottish Government have at their disposal and the high levels of migration we continue to experience in the UK, why is Scotland not attracting a higher share of migrants than other parts of the UK?
Will the Minister go on to outline exactly why Canada and Australia can have differential immigration policies, but not Scotland?
The evidence from the past about post-study opportunities is that large numbers of people participating in such schemes moved south to England. There is not evidence that those people would stay put. Where is the evidence to support the need for a differentiated migration policy for Scotland?
Will the Minister give way?
I will make some progress, if I may. On post-study work visas, which I suspect are the issue to which the hon. Lady was referring, the Government’s position has been set out clearly in evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and in Parliament, most recently in a debate on the topic in this Chamber on 8 December. For the reasons I set out in that debate, the Government do not intend to reintroduce a general post-study work scheme for Scotland.
For clarity, will the Minister name one body or organisation, whether in Scotland or in the United Kingdom, that supports the UK Government position on a post-study work scheme? Everyone I know, everyone I speak to and everyone I have heard from wants one for Scotland. Will he name one organisation in Scotland that supports him on that?
There are good opportunities for people who graduate in the UK to go on to graduate-level jobs, but we will not return to a situation in which people who get degrees here go into low-skilled occupations. That is not what the scheme should have been about. As I have noted, the United Kingdom has an excellent and competitive offer to international students, and there is no limit to the number of international graduates of UK universities who may move into skilled work.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire mentioned the tier 4 pilot. The four universities chosen for the pilot were selected objectively because they had the lowest visa refusal rate. There was no agenda to limit the universities involved to any particular part of the United Kingdom. If the pilot is successful, however, it will be rolled out more widely, including, potentially, to universities in Scotland.
The status of EU nationals living in Scotland and in the UK as a whole—the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) made a point about that—is an important issue for the Government. That is why the Prime Minister has made it one of her top 12 priorities for negotiation with the EU. There has, however, been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK, or of British citizens in the EU, as a result of the referendum. While the UK remains in the EU, EU nationals here and UK nationals in other EU countries continue to have the same rights and status, and are subject to the same residence requirements under EU law, as was the case before the referendum.
Incidentally, we welcome the most recently published figures showing a fall in net migration of about 50,000. It is interesting to note that the numbers of those coming from Romania and Bulgaria increased. Many of them would have been fruit-pickers and others so vital to our agricultural industry. It is encouraging that those numbers increased in the quarter after the Brexit vote.
As the Prime Minister said, it remains an important priority for the UK, and for many other member states, to resolve the challenge of the status of EU nationals as soon as possible. However, the fact remains that there also needs to be an agreement with the EU to ensure the fair treatment of British citizens living in other member states, including those from Scotland.
Why is the Minister so reticent about guaranteeing EU nationals leave to remain in the UK? Would that not be a sensible step? Let us take the first step, because we would probably then find that the 27 other EU member states followed, saying, “That’s great, you’re taking the first step to guarantee our nationals leave to remain, so we’ll do the same.” The reason we have the impasse is that the UK will not do that.
With respect to the hon. Lady, it was not the UK Government that showed reticence; the other EU member states refused to engage in purposeful and fruitful negotiation ahead of the triggering of article 50. We were keen to get that item resolved as soon as possible. For probably the only time, on that point I will have to agree with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and take a leaf out of his book, because last week he confirmed that he did not think EU nationals’ status in the UK would be jeopardised.
I will now make one or two remarks in response to points made in the debate, but I will leave enough time for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, who initiated the debate, to make some comments at the end. The hon. Member for Dundee West talked about the permanent residency form. The form covers several different scenarios, not all of which will be relevant to a particular applicant. The average applicant does not need to complete anywhere near 85 pages—about 25 pages is the average. There is a new online application process, which is straightforward for applicants to use and means that they can complete the form in about 15 or 20 minutes. Indeed, the online form leapfrogs ahead if sections of it are irrelevant. We have introduced a system so that documents such as passports can be validated by local councils rather than having to be sent off as part of that process.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) made a point about student numbers. I make it clear that we remain committed to attracting the brightest and best graduates to the UK. They help make our education system one of the best of the world and return to use that education for the benefit of their own country. I repeat that there is no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) referred to some of the points made during the referendum campaign. Indeed, I think he almost abused the intelligence of those who voted to leave the European Union. I respectfully point out that in the Gateshead borough, 58,529 people voted to leave the European Union and 44,492 voted to remain. In his area a clear majority of people wanted to leave the European Union. I for one—despite having been on the remain side—am pleased to follow the instructions given to me by the British people.
I am aware of the figures. Like the Minister, I was on the remain side. I was disappointed by the figures, but I am aware of the reality and I am working to make the best job of this. The problem with what the Government are doing is that the narrow aim of getting immigration down to 100,000 a year or less is the only thing driving their immigration policy, not the impact on the economy, on social services or on real people’s lives. That is what is insulting our intelligence, and the intelligence of the Scottish people.
Immigration was a key part of the referendum debate. Where we can control numbers—those coming to the UK from outside the European Union—we have seen falls. The Brexit negotiations give us an opportunity to control the numbers that come in in a way we have not been able to before. However, we will be committed to the needs of the UK economy and ensuring that we get the best possible deal.
A number of colleagues talked about the post-study visa scheme—indeed, the hon. Gentleman mentioned it. We remain committed to attracting the brightest and best graduates to the UK. However, the post-study provisions we have in place must strike a careful balance between providing competitive options for the brightest graduates from around the globe and maintaining standards against the type of widespread abuse that was seen in the previous Government’s post-study work scheme. Such abuse undermined our work routes and damaged the reputation of our education system. The Government welcome international students who choose to study in Scotland and are pleased to note that visa applications from international students to study at Scottish universities have increased by 10% since 2010. The most recent figures, for the year ending June 2016, showed a continued year-on-year increase. With our current post-study provisions, the number of international students switching from tier 4 to tier 2 has increased. In 2015, about 6,000 international students switched from tier 4 to tier 2 from within the UK, up from about 5,500 grants in 2014 and about 4,000 in 2013. Unlike those on the former post-study work schemes, those students will all move into skilled employment with employers, who have appropriate sponsorship duties placed on them.
I will conclude to leave a few moments for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. As the Government continue to develop their negotiating strategy for leaving the EU, we will work closely with the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations to get the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. We are considering the options for our future immigration system carefully. As part of that, it is important that we understand the impacts of different options on different sectors of the economy and the labour market around the UK.
Access to the UK’s single market presents tremendous social and economic opportunities for people and businesses in Scotland. The people of Scotland understood that when they were asked to vote in their own referendum. As I said earlier, I want Scotland to continue to be a prosperous nation, but I see Scotland’s future sustainability coming as part of the United Kingdom. I am grateful to the Scottish Affairs Committee for its work on this issue, and we will work closely with the Scottish Government as we move forward.
I am grateful to the Minister for leaving me a few minutes to sum up what has been an important and informative debate. First, I thank my colleagues from the Scottish Affairs Committee, my hon. Friends the Members for Dundee West (Chris Law), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), for contributing to the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) for contributing, too, as well as the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and the Minister.
I could have written that Government response. We saw it with the woeful response we had to our report, which was an in-depth look at the demographic requirements and population needs of Scotland. We hear this again and again—it always seems to boil down to the same thing. We raise lots of important issues and facts, and we sit and take evidence across Scotland, going to places such as the Isle of Skye, and people tell us clearly that we have particular issues when it comes to the demographic quality of our community and society. They ask us as a Committee and as Members of Parliament to take that issue forward, to do a report and to look at what we could do to resolve these problems and give Scotland some sort of chance to address them properly. We bring them to the Minister and the Minister says, “We’re not interested. All we are interested in is a one-size-fits-all UK immigration policy right across the United Kingdom.”
That is a singular failure to take into account the specific requirements and difficult challenges we have. We are left in a dreadful situation by the Minister. We are leaving the European Union against our national collective will. We wanted nothing whatever to do with that. Only one Member of Parliament was returned from Scotland with a pledge to have a referendum on the European Union. We voted against that referendum when it came to Parliament. Our nation voted to remain in the European Union. We put forward the solution that would spare us the worst of the madness by keeping us in the single market, which is just about to be rejected by the Government. Again and again, they give us no opportunity and no hope to try to address the real issues, problems and concerns that we consistently raise.
I do not know what a single UK immigration policy is. I do not think even the Minister knows what a single immigration policy is as we approach Brexit. I thought it was going to be a points-based system, but the UK Independence Party’s points-based system is actually too liberal for the Government, so they are looking to design something else. He talks about a single UK immigration policy, but I would like to know what that looks like. I suspect and suggest that he does not even know that himself—and he is only the Immigration Minister, bless him.
We need to say that there is something going on within our United Kingdom; something is singularly not working. A part of the United Kingdom has emerged, the nation of Scotland, which has a whole different history, culture and approach to issues of immigration and emigration, and that requires to be addressed. There is a particular difficulty with the quality of our demography, our ageing population and the shrinking of our working-age population, and that needs to be looked at and needs solutions. If the Government are not prepared to do that for Scotland—I sense they are not, because we keep bringing it to them and they keep on saying no and, to a certain extent, “Just get stuffed”—they must devolve responsibility to the Scottish Government, who are prepared to do the work. If the Minister sits complacently, just telling us that we have to go along with what the UK Government decide, that is not good enough. He must devolve these policy areas to the Scottish Government so that we can do the critical work required to address the issues identified in the report.
The requirements, problems and challenges are many, and they are manifest. If we do not start to challenge and address them, Scotland will be economically disadvantaged. We cannot proceed with a population gap to the rest of the United Kingdom, and we cannot proceed with a dependency ratio that is out of kilter with the rest of the UK. If we try to do that, there will be a cost to our economy and our community, and that will have an impact on every single constituency in Scotland.
England is different. We accept that. We know there is something particular going on when it comes to immigration in England that requires a different type of solution. However, the situation for England practically works against the interests of the nation of Scotland. That is why we require a different immigration solution. We require the powers to attack and challenge the issues we are confronted with.
If the Minister is not prepared to work with us in order to do that, he has to devolve the powers to us now. He has to give us the opportunity to address them, because if he does not there will be real issues and problems for Scotland’s economy. We have a way to deal with that if the Minister does not do it: we are at 50% for independence today—what a place to start for a new independence campaign. If he will not listen and will singularly, defiantly refuse to give us the powers, we will take them in a referendum of the Scottish people. Then we will get the powers, and then we will make progress.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
House of Commons Hansard
09 March 2017