Economic affairs committee urges government to explore regional reform for immigration system
A REPORT from the House of Lords economic affairs committee has called on the UK Government to review options for a post-Brexit regional immigration system with powers over immigration devolved to the Scottish Parliament, saying “there may be some merit” in this proposal.
The report, released on Friday, also criticised the UK Government’s approach to formulating immigration policy, citing issues with data collection and potential consequences for businesses arising from the government’s commitment to reducing EU migration.
Among options for adapting the UK Labour market to the post-Brexit economy, the report assessed the Scottish Government’s proposals for a “differential arrangement” for Scotland, with powers over entry and visas devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
“Many respected institutions are sympathetic to devolving powers over immigration to the Scottish Parliament. It is remarkable that even the House of Lords committees are moving towards this idea.” Stuart McDonald MP
Speaking to CommonSpace, SNP spokesperson for immigration, asylum and border control, Stuart McDonald MP, welcomed the report, saying: “Many respected institutions are sympathetic to devolving powers over immigration to the Scottish Parliament. It is remarkable that even the House of Lords committees are moving towards this idea.
“When you explain the evidence to people, they do accept it.”
Scots law lecturer Dr Nick McKerrell explained that the questions surrounding a regional immigration policy have more to do with political and administrative problems than legal issues. However, he added that, currently, “Scotland does not have the legal power to determine what its immigration policy should be”.
He said: “There is a logic to having different approaches to immigration within the UK. The city of London and Scotland have very different needs as regards the migrant population. In large federal states like Canada this has happened.
“The difficulty is in the implementation – in a state like the UK how could you police visas that require the person to remain in one part of the state? This could involve invasive approaches to people’s civil liberties.
“There would also be legislation required to give the Scottish Parliament and government [the power] to rule on these specified areas of immigration law.”
Explaining the UK government’s position, then minister for immigration, Robert Goodwill MP, told the committee that regional policies “might work in places such as Canada” but would not work in a country the size of the UK as people could easily move from their permitted region.
“What we do not want is industries feeling that there will be a crisis or any cliff edges […] we understand that a number of other factors are in play, particularly the time it takes to bring doctors and nurses through for training,” he said.
Commenting on the report, committee chairman Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said: “The [UK] government must have reliable statistics on migration before it formulates new policy, otherwise it will be making crucial decisions […] in the dark.
“Businesses will have to accept that immigration from the European Union is going to reduce and adapt accordingly.”
Proposals to improve policy-making include introducing qualitative measures of migration, such as tax paid and benefits received, as well as better sharing across government departments.
“There is a logic to having different approaches to immigration within the UK. The city of London and Scotland have very different needs as regards the migrant population.” Dr Nick McKerrell
McDonald echoed the committee’s concerns, adding that “immigration policy in the UK is not evidence based”.
“There is a problem with Theresa May’s obsession with the net migration figure,” he said. “Regardless of perfect measurements, she would still seek to lower immigration, contrary to evidence.
“However, improving available information is always good for policy-making.”
The Conservative government has a long-standing commitment to reduce net migration, which is the difference in the number of immigrants and emigrants over a given period.
Goodwill told the committee that the government is “committed to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands, which is 100,000 or less. That has been our position for a considerable time.”
He pointed out that this is a “long-term target” that “will not be achieved in the next two or three years”.
CommonSpace contacted Jackson Carlaw MSP, Scottish Conservatives shadow minister for Europe and external affairs, but had not received a response by time of publication.
Picture courtesy of Jeff Djevdet
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