Scotland: Demography and Devolution

Commons Hansard
9 Mar 2017

Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): 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.

Peter Wishart, Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader: 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.

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Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): 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.

Margaret Ferrier: 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.

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Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): 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.

Deidre Brock: 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.

Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): 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 well-being, 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.

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Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): 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.

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