Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is a great pleasure to appear under your chairmanship today, Mr Rosindell. I welcome the report, and not just because I was part of the Committee that drew it together back in February. I am a huge supporter of the Select Committee system. It does the House credit because, by and large, the people who serve on Select Committees park their partisanship to try to do a piece of work for the benefit of the people they are doing it for.
An exceptional thing that the Scottish Affairs Committee does is take the Committee out to the people. It goes around the country and not only takes advice from experts during sittings, but invites the public to come to play their part in discussions. Before, during and after the formal part of discussions, it engages with people who have an interest, which gives a much broader view that shapes the Committee's reports. Our discussion today reflects both that and how seriously people take this issue in Scotland.
What is the situation in Scotland? It is a nation that needs to stem population drift. I welcome the news from the Chair of the Committee that that is being reversed to some extent - I had not picked up on that, but it really is good news. It is a nation that welcomes students and workers from across the world and that has an education system that is second to none. It is a nation that has always welcomed strangers warmly, a nation that has a cultural history without compare, a nation that offers a lifestyle and standard of living as good as anywhere on this planet, a nation that wants and needs to build up its ranks of workers, researchers, scientists and everyone else capable of driving this great country forward. Where I come from, we call that a win-win situation for all concerned.?
What do we have against us? We have a Government in Westminster who act as if Scotland is some sort of colony, still under the rule of empire, a Government who are driven by fear of their own rabid Back Benchers and the xenophobes hounding them across the country, a Government who sign up to a ridiculous populist commitment to reduce immigration to below 100,000 - they have to accept that they have failed repeatedly to reach their own targets - a Government who are ignoring the needs of the nation as a whole to bolster their own political status in this House.
That is all shown not only by this debate, but, for example, by the desperate plea made last week by fruit growers in the east of England. This year they have seen a 14% drop in the number of applicants to come for the fruit-picking season from eastern Europe. The fear is that it will only get worse and could lead to the ridiculous situation of produce being left to rot in the fields of England and the whole country, all because of the attitude the Government have taken towards immigration.
Everything is a direct result of that policy, with the blurring of lines between asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants in the minds of far too many in this country, and we in this House have allowed that to happen - all those people being lumped together into one group is a negative for this country. Anything that can be done to drive down the immigration numbers to reach the Government's ridiculous targets is being done by our civil servants on behalf of the Government.
The Government are paralysed by the policy, and sensible discussions or suggestions such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) - that students are taken out of the immigration numbers - the Government dare not do. They dare not be seen as backsliding, because they know they will be attacked by people from the far right. Instead of having the bottle to stand up and take them on, saying, "It's the right thing to do because it's what the people of this country need", the Government are far too worried about the electoral consequences.
Everyone in this House will have seen immigration cases in their own case loads in recent months and years, with people saying that they, their family or dependants are not being allowed access to this country, whereas, in the past, they would have been allowed in on exactly the same applications. More and more obstacles are being put in the way of people simply as a mechanism to get the numbers down to a ridiculous target. If the Government were really serious about controlling immigration, they would start by putting real pressure on exploitative employers.
Pete Wishart (SNP): The hon. Gentleman was a very valued member of the Scottish Affairs Committee. I must say, on behalf of the Committee, that we miss him and we are very grateful for his remarks today. Does he share my concern with where we are going with all this? Currently, EU students can come to UK and Scottish universities uninhibited by any immigration rules. Maybe we will hear from the Minister himself, but does the hon. Gentleman share my fear that EU students might be treated similarly to non-EU international students? Will they also be expected to fall into all these immigration tests?
Mr Anderson: I thank the Chair of the Committee for his kind words. He is absolutely right. It is clear that the tone that is now set in this country is one of saying, "We don't want strangers anymore." We are not welcoming and that is abhorrent for people. I know that the Scottish people, people from my part of the country, and certainly people from where the Minister is from are not like that. We are warm, welcoming people. Virtually all of us who live on this island, somewhere down the line, are immigrants to this place. Hardly any of us can go back and say, "I've been here since the stone age", and that has created a country and a nation that is at ease with itself, and that has welcomed and led the world in so many ways, but we are becoming narrow-minded and not the sort of people we want to be. I accept that people from around Europe will look at us and say, "Why would I go there? I should go somewhere else where I'll be made to feel welcome." It is a real worry.
Getting back to where I was, if the Government are really serious, they would be putting the pressure where it belongs and disincentivising exploitative employers who are abusing workers they bring to this country; properly policing the implementation of the national minimum wage; and ensuring that health and safety legislation was properly and fully adhered to on behalf of the immigrant workforce. If they were really serious, they would prevent immigrant workers being forced to live in conditions that would have shamed the hostels used in the apartheid days in South Africa, and stop employers using bonds to tie unhappy workers into contracts that are not worth the paper that, quite often, they are not even written on. Disincentivising exploitative employers would do more to reduce immigration numbers in this nation than any of the ridiculous schemes being promised so far that are so clearly failing.
The report should be a wake-up call for the Government. They should drop this sham of a policy and look instead at the real needs of the nation, at what has been said and at what this is about - the future of the country and the future of Scotland, which needs people to come in for the betterment of us all. Failure to do so is a detriment to us all. This report was done in good faith and it expresses the real needs of Scotland. It deserves a much better response than it has had so far.
Back to front page | House of Commons Contents
|Promoted by Chris McHugh on behalf of Dave Anderson, both of St Cuthbert's Church Hall, Shibdon Road, Blaydon, NE21 5PT|