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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 7, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 07 March 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, European Union Settlement Scheme, Portfolio Question Time, Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 2019 [Draft], International Women’s Day 2019, Committee Announcement, Decision Time


Contents


European Union Settlement Scheme

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15513, in the name of Annabelle Ewing, on the settled status scheme for European Union citizens in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the UK Government’s decision to abandon its plans to charge EU citizens a fee when applying for their right to remain in Scotland through the EU Settlement Scheme; believes that it was wrong for the UK Government to oblige EU citizens who have built their lives in Scotland, and who contribute to the economy and communities, to pay for the status and rights they already have; acknowledges the persistence of the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats in their respective campaigns to abolish the settled status fee; considers that it remains unfair to oblige EU citizens in Scotland to apply to retain the rights that they already hold, regardless of the fee; recognises what it considers the significant economic, social and cultural contributions made by EU citizens in communities across Scotland, including in the Cowdenbeath constituency, and notes the calls on the UK Government to scrap the settlement scheme for EU citizens.

Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to debate my motion on the United Kingdom Government’s EU settlement scheme. I thank the members who added their names in support of the motion and, by doing so, facilitated this debate.

At the outset, I want to say that I find the UK Government’s approach to EU nationals abhorrent. It is, as a matter of principle, forcing individual citizens who have legally acquired rights further to international treaty to make an application to the UK Government to register in order to stay in the UK—in other words, the UK Government is forcing EU citizens to apply for rights that they already have. It is nothing less than the othering of EU citizens living in our country and, as students of history will know, such othering policies are not without risk to societal cohesion. Moreover, it is nothing short of a blatant rewriting of history with regard to the role that the EU has played on these isles since the UK became a member back in 1973.

Those individuals, who number 223,000 in Scotland and 3.5 million across the UK as a whole, have lived in our country for years, and they have contributed to its economic life and social fabric. They have paid taxes into the Exchequer, and they have paid national insurance contributions. They have their physical homes in our country, and they regard our country as home. EU nationals are our friends, our neighbours, our work colleagues and our fellow students—for many, in fact, they are family members.

This week, we heard the heartbreaking story of 87-year-old Tove Macdonald in an interview that was broadcast by STV. Although she was born in Denmark, she has lived in Scotland for almost 60 years. She has children and grandchildren here; she was married here; she has friends here; and she has built her life here. However, the UK Government has written to her, insisting that she apply to stay in her own home. She described receiving the letter thus:

“I got a letter to say that because of Brexit I had to register and I couldn’t understand why. I thought ‘This couldn’t be right’, because I’ve been here for so many years. I thought it was absolutely crazy. It makes me feel very sad because this is my home and I feel more Scottish than Danish ... I’ve got nowhere to go. This is my home.”

Who would ever have imagined that they would live to hear such a statement in 21st century Scotland? That is not who we are, and it is shaming not just for the UK Government but for Ruth Davidson’s Tories in Scotland, who are happily going along with this. Not one Tory MSP has seen fit to sign my motion.

The UK Government must bring this sorry saga to an end and scrap the policy, which is of dubious legality and must be viewed as motivated by the anti-immigration factions that are now rife in the Tory party across the UK. The policy is ugly and heartless and is causing considerable uncertainty, anxiety and distress.

Further to a concerted campaign by the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister bowed some weeks ago to pressure to abolish the proposed fee that was to be charged for each settlement scheme application. I urge all those parties to keep up the pressure and work with the Scottish Government to see the end of this truly grotesque policy.

It is worth highlighting that many concerns have been raised about the scheme’s mechanics, including the unrealistic deadline for applications, the limited means by which applications can be made and whether the already dysfunctional Home Office has the ability to administer the scheme. The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee has expressed concern that there will be no physical piece of paper if applications are successful; rather, there will be an electronic link only. Given the UK Government’s record on information technology and competence in general, that will be a chilling prospect for many.

Moreover, any delays in processing applications will have implications far beyond mere administrative issues. As the think tank British Future has said, such delays could result in many thousands of EU citizens being left with an insecure immigration status or no status at all. It should be noted that deportations have not been ruled out by the Prime Minister and her Tory party. It must therefore be asked whether the UK Government has wilfully learned no lessons at all from the Windrush scandal—Baroness Helena Kennedy has made that point in the House of Lords.

Here in Scotland, the Scottish Government is doing all that it can within our limited immigration powers to help our fellow EU citizens. Citizens Advice Scotland has been funded to provide a new advice service on rights, entitlements and requirements that will be available across its network, and a solicitor-led helpline is to be established for more difficult and complex cases. Here in our country—in Scotland—at this time of great uncertainty and anxiety, our Government is committed to doing all that it can to speak up for and support our EU citizens, while the Westminster Government in London is forcing EU citizens to apply to retain the rights that they already have. What a contrast that is. That contrasting tale of two Governments will not be lost on the people of Scotland, for we did not vote for this—we want no part of it and we will not put up with it.

I will repeat what Scotland’s First Minister said on the morning when the 2016 EU referendum result was announced. In speaking directly to citizens of other EU countries who live in Scotland, she said:

“you remain welcome here, Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.”

For my part, I reiterate that message and take the opportunity today to say to all the EU citizens who live in my Cowdenbeath constituency and across Scotland, “You remain welcome here; Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.”

12:53  

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I thank Annabelle Ewing for her excellent speech, which summarised the salient points brilliantly and in a measured way—that can be challenging in such debates.

I recognise the outstanding contribution of EU nationals in my Renfrewshire South constituency—of EU nationals in Barrhead, Neilston, Uplawmoor, Johnstone, Elderslie, Linwood, Brookfield, Kilbarchan, Howwood and Lochwinnoch. I recognise the contribution of EU nationals who volunteer in the third sector in Renfrewshire South and those who work for Renfrewshire Council and East Renfrewshire Council, in our businesses and in the hospitality sector. I recognise the contribution of EU nationals in every area of our life—they are our friends and neighbours in Renfrewshire South. I recognise the outstanding contribution of EU nationals who work in the Scottish Parliament. I recognise the contribution that is made by all EU nationals across Scotland.

I am not speaking about someone different when I say “EU national”, because I am an EU national. I am an EU citizen and I am proud to be an EU citizen. I will fight to my dying breath to ensure that we retain our EU citizenship and that one day we see an independent Scotland as a full member of the European Union, in which we are all European citizens.

European citizenship is not some abstract legalism; it was born out of the ashes of two calamities that befell the continent in the first half of the 20th century. The wisdom of EU citizenship and shared identity came at the expense of the blood of countless millions of men, women and children across the continent. If we forget that and allow ourselves to lapse into a numb, unthinking and bureaucratic state of mind, we will be in a very dangerous situation, because that allows the insidious creep of intolerance and othering that Annabelle Ewing spoke about.

I deeply regret that we are in such a position today. First and foremost, we must recognise the contribution of our EU friends, brothers, sisters, neighbours, co-workers and families and how they enrich us.

One of Europe’s great authors, Marcel Proust, said:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

In Europe, we can seek new landscapes because, through the principle of freedom of movement, we have the opportunity to travel. Through mixing, engaging and cultural exchange, we enhance and develop ourselves, and we also see with new eyes. We become better people and our EU citizenship enhances us. That is the great gift that the European Union, freedom of movement and the ability of all EU citizens to live anywhere in the continent have bestowed on us.

When we visit a country and go through passport control knowing that we have a mere three months to stay there and that we are only a visitor, our state of mind is fundamentally different from what it is when we know that we can go from Scotland to Paris, Kraków, Athens, Madrid, Lisbon or any European city and have the right not just to visit, but to settle, live and work there. That brings a sense of collective ownership and responsibility that binds the people of the continent together and realises the vision of the founders of the European Union, which was to ensure that the continent would never again go to war. When we start to unpick the rich, ennobling tapestry that we have woven over the past 60 years, we risk another catastrophe befalling our continent further down the line.

The practical reality for Scotland is that, without EU nationals, we will not be able to build the fairer, more prosperous and more equal country that we all seek. We know the challenges that face Scottish public finances as a consequence of the demographics. Although Scotland’s working-age population is just as productive as the working-age population in many other parts of the UK—if not more so—our population overall is ageing. Without freedom of movement and without sending the message to citizens throughout Europe and the rest of the world that they are welcome, we will not be able to build that better Scotland.

I thank Annabelle Ewing for lodging the motion for the debate, and I thank all those members who signed it. We will continue to fight for our fellow EU citizens and to ensure that their citizenship is restored in full as members of an independent Scotland within the European Union.

12:59  

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for allowing me to leave after making my speech, as I have individuals to meet and I need to be back in the chamber to ask the first question on the rural economy. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate and I congratulate Annabelle Ewing on bringing it to Parliament.

I value the significant contribution that migrants to Scotland make to our economy, culture and everyday lives. Recommendations with regard to the EU settlement scheme will be taken on board, which is why the scheme was initially launched as a pilot. During that time, the procedure will go through the prototype stage—just as any new scheme would initially go through that process. There will be strong opinions on particular procedures in the scheme, and the UK Government will listen to the options and act accordingly, if appropriate. That is why the application fee has been withdrawn and why any person who applied during the pilot scheme will have their fee reimbursed.

Annabelle Ewing

I hear that it is a pilot that it is moving towards a scheme and that the UK Government might or might not listen to some things—who knows? However, the fact of the matter is that there will be an EU settlement scheme. Why should citizens such as Tove Macdonald, who has lived in this country for 60 years, be forced by the Tory Government to apply for rights that she already has?

Alexander Stewart

I acknowledge what Ms Ewing says and the representations that the individual has made. I feel uncomfortable about the situation—I am not denying that fact. The process needs to be looked at, and I have no doubt that representations will continue to be made.

The nature of permanent status means that it is vital to offer individuals the ability to come forward for it. As I said, the UK Government will continue to welcome the best and brightest to this country—and it is vital that we do that. However, as with such schemes in the past, we must ensure that we understand the benefits for both the host country and the applicant. Therefore, like others, I am delighted that the UK Government has abandoned its plans to charge EU citizens a fee when they apply for the right to remain in Scotland through the settled status scheme.

Governments in EU countries have already said that UK citizens who live in other parts of the world will be treated in a similar way to how the UK Government treats EU citizens who live in the UK, and that is rightly to be expected. It is interesting that the UK Government has, additionally, reached agreements with non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein as well as a separate agreement with Switzerland. Those countries are happy with the current arrangements, and any national of those countries will be able to apply to the EU settled status scheme from 30 March 2019.

Our new system for obtaining settled status will be streamlined and user friendly, and it will draw on existing Government data and information to minimise the burden on applicants to provide evidence. Applications will not be refused on minor technicalities without the applicant being given an appropriate opportunity to rectify the situation. Caseworkers who consider applications will exercise discretion in favour of the applicant, where appropriate. As a result, the Home Office has said that it expects the vast majority of applications to be granted, with refusals most likely to be made only on the basis of serious criminality or an individual not being an EU citizen. It is also important that, once settled status has been obtained, individuals can stay outside the UK for up to five years without losing their settled status.

I heard Ms Ewing’s comments, and there is no doubt that this is a volatile issue in the current negotiations. As I indicated right at the start of my speech, I and my party recognise the importance and value of migrants coming to our country. Many have made their lives here and contribute to our business community and our academic and political life. They are most welcome, have a right to remain and should be treated with dignity and respect. As I said, however, the case that Ms Ewing raised indicates that there is some way to go in managing the process.

EU citizens have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to our way of life. I once again thank Ms Ewing for lodging today’s motion for debate. I look forward to seeing the progress that will be achieved in this area and to seeing all of us play our part in ensuring stability and continuity.

13:04  

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I welcome today’s debate on the settled status scheme for EU citizens in Scotland. I was pleased to support Annabelle Ewing’s motion, and I associate myself with the speech that she gave today. However, it is ridiculous that the Tories have brought us to a place where something that seems so obvious warrants discussion.

Those who live, work and have families and homes here should clearly have an automatic right to remain and should never have been subject to the proposal of the Tory Government at Westminster to pay for the status and rights that they already have. I am glad that the proposal was hastily scrapped by the Tories amid strong criticism from MPs and campaign groups, but the fact that it was proposed in the first place only serves to highlight how much of a mess the Tories are making of Brexit. The Labour Party would never have used people living in this country in cheap negotiation tactics, and it is shameful that they were ever treated as pawns in that way.

EU citizens living in Scotland contribute greatly to our country, both culturally and economically. Diverse communities experience wide-ranging cultural benefits, especially through exchanges in ideas and customs, as well as through our world being a more connected place. Migrants from the EU contribute £2,300 more to the Exchequer each year in net terms than the average adult. Over their lifetimes, EU migrants pay in £78,000 more than they take out in public services and benefits.

It is time that we, as a country, started talking about immigration. It has become an almost taboo subject to raise, which has, in turn, resulted in those with extreme views capitalising on the lack of discussion and playing up to people’s fears. We need to talk about immigration and try to disperse the myths and fears that people have about it. In Scotland, we need not less but more immigration. Scotland has an ageing population and, as a result, we will require more immigration in the future simply to sustain public services and support the increase in the elderly population.

We have only to look at the Windrush scandal last year to see that our immigration system is broken. Theresa May has proposed a post-Brexit salary threshold of £30,000 for skilled immigrants, which is just ridiculous. Given that so many of our carers and national health service staff are migrants and that many of those skilled workers will be blocked from working in the UK, how can we possibly maintain the required level of service? Our health service and social care system are already struggling with funding problems, so what will removing access to a huge workforce resource mean for those in need?

Brexit has highlighted, quite starkly, that we need to work on dispelling fears of immigration, but the Government has a huge role to play in that, and the Tories have to answer for stirring up fear with their rhetoric to score political points. It is time that they stopped using people’s lives as they have been and started standing up for the country as a whole. I am happy to support the motion.

13:08  

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I thank my friend and colleague Annabelle Ewing for securing this important debate.

The campaign, which has been successful so far, proves that, when parties work together, they can encourage or force political change. Every party in this Parliament except the Conservatives deserves some credit. The Tories, either willingly or through a blindly dogmatic approach, seem to have forgotten how important EU nationals are to Scotland and the rest of the UK. It has been a complete and utter embarrassment that the disgusting settled status scheme was instigated.

Tom Arthur spoke about the history of the EU project, and I cannot agree with him more. We must understand and appreciate why the EU came about and how important that was.

The fee was to be £65. Some would claim that, for many people, that would not have broken the bank, but the fee could have been 65p for all I care—the issue is not how much it was but the message that it sent out to people. It told them two things: first, that they were not wanted and, secondly, that they were a bargaining chip in the shambolic EU negotiations that were being led by the worst Prime Minister in history. They were being used to tell the EU negotiators that the UK would be tough in the talks. What the Prime Minister and her acolytes have done is turn Britain into a laughing stock. The so-called Great Britain that the Tories proclaim that they support and love will have a reputation that is not great across the EU and beyond. The Prime Minister and her revolving door of ministers—apart from Chris Grayling, of course—are telling people that Britain is uncaring.

It has been claimed that the UK’s negotiating skills have been reduced somewhat by its being a member of the EU. That certainly appears to be true. The EU is not kicking us out, but the UK seems to be hell-bent on leaving as sour a taste as possible as it exits the EU to make things worse for the future.

Tom Arthur

Does Mr McMillan agree that a fitting motto for the UK Government in the whole Brexit process would be “Stop the world—Britain wants to get off”?

Stuart McMillan

Absolutely.

Who genuinely thought that imposing a charge on people who are our neighbours, our friends, our family members or colleagues, and active members of society, such as teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, footballers, rugby players and many more, was a good thing? Who genuinely thought that imposing a charge on EU nationals would build up some good will during the negotiations? Brexit is serious. It will have a huge effect on the lives of everyone who lives in the four nations that currently make up the UK, as well as on those of people who live in the EU27.

This is not a game of chicken. We are talking about real people with real lives and real futures. Not for one minute do I think that all the Tories in this Parliament supported the proposal. They will have toed the line to support their London masters. I get that—I understand that we have internal party discipline. Every member will get that. However, on such an issue, forcing people who live here—many of whom have been here for decades—to pay for the privilege of being able to remain in their own homes, with their families, in their communities and in their jobs was the worst kind of dog-whistle politics. The Scottish Tories did not need to sign up to that. They could have been different, but they proved that, whether in Scotland or across the UK, the nasty party is well and truly back.

I truly welcome the Prime Minister’s U-turn on the £65 fee, but the damage has been done. I am a firm believer that prevention is better than cure. Every Government will make mistakes; this one was a howler of epic proportions. The sour taste will linger for many years, long after Brexit. That comes on top of the Windrush scandal, in which members of the population were told that, if they were different, they would remain different. It stinks and is deplorable. I understand why people were rightly angry, and I understand why people such as the former MSP Christian Allard were so vocal about the scandal. Every Tory who supported the scheme should hang their head in shame. The Tories need to apologise to our friends, our neighbours and every EU national who lives in and contributes to society, including those among the staff of the Scottish Parliament.

13:13  

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I had written a speech, but I have listened carefully to what members have had to say, some of which I accept. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to work together on such issues. We had a lengthy four-hour debate on Brexit the other day. There was a lot of theatre involved, but a lot of sense came out of the debate, too. My colleague Jackson Carlaw spoke about some of the issues that Ms Ewing mentioned to do with how people feel about the process. I share his sentiment and Ms Ewing’s sentiment on some of those issues.

There is a lot to agree with in the motion, but there are a few things that I do not agree with. If members will allow me to, I will explain why I did not sign the motion. I do not intend to talk about the wider issues of Brexit, what EU citizenship means to people who are Scottish or British, and what might happen with regard to Scottish independence. I want to talk specifically about the processes by which we will achieve what we all want to achieve, which is to secure the rights of EU citizens.

I welcome the U-turn on the fee. We did not have a specific role to play in that policy: it was a Home Office decision. Did it sit uncomfortably with some members? Perhaps it did. Was the decision to abolish the fee the right one? Yes, it was.

However, I have a conundrum about the process by which we secure EU citizens’ rights. Anyone who knows me, and members from across the chamber with whom I have discussions about immigration, including members on the Government front bench, will know that I think that there is a positive case for inward migration to Scotland, and that there is a sensible conversation to be had around that. However, people who are already here, and those who wish to come here after 29 March, need security and certainty that the process that they follow will give them the rights that they need—or, indeed, will maintain those that they already have.

Let me explain why that is important to me. I have lived in Europe—in Spain, the Netherlands and France. I have been through the process of turning up in a new country to live and work, but I have also been through and respected those countries’ domestic processes for applying for residency. I went through those processes because I wanted to enjoy the employment benefits that the citizens of those countries enjoy. I wanted to be able to pay tax locally and to be a meaningful part of the economies of those countries. I have had to apply for identity cards and registration of my citizenship.

This is partly why we are where we are: we are not in the Schengen area, we do not have domestic identity or residency cards, and no other country has ever left the European Union. It is against that backdrop that we have a conundrum about how we will guarantee the rights of people from a union of which we will no longer be a member. The motion

“calls on the UK Government to scrap the settlement scheme for EU citizens.”

If we do so, what legal means would we have available to us to secure the rights of EU citizens who are already here? It is not an automatic process, because the constitutional changes that will have taken place will mean that some form of process is needed.

Annabelle Ewing

Will the member take an intervention?

Jamie Greene

I have very little time and a lot more to say.

Annabelle Ewing

You are refusing to take an intervention.

Jamie Greene

For the record, I am not refusing to take an intervention. I will take an intervention if I have time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Ms Ewing, all interventions should be through the Presiding Officer. The member has every right not to take an intervention. He only has four minutes or thereabouts, and it is for him to decide.

Jamie Greene

I wish that we had longer. I would love to take an intervention, but I simply do not have time.

If the logic is that there should be no settlement scheme for EU citizens in the UK, surely we, as a Parliament, should be insisting that there be nothing for UK citizens in Europe. Spain has offered reciprocal rights for UK nationals, but has said that they will need to apply for something called a foreigner identity card. What do we do as a Parliament? Do we welcome that, because Spain has offered that reciprocal right, or do we condemn it because it involves a card, a process or some form of registration? That is the conundrum that we face. I want bilateral agreements that secure the rights of UK citizens in the EU, and I want to secure the rights of EU nationals in the UK, but let us ensure that it is as simple, fair and respectful a process—in both directions—as it can and should be.

There is much to agree with in the motion, but I cannot agree that there should be no process whatever, because that would make it difficult to secure the outcome that I think we collectively want to achieve—to secure the rights of EU citizens who are already here. I want them to stay and I welcome them. I do not believe that any Conservative member does not want them to stay. Any suggestion otherwise is not just unfair, but deeply saddening.

13:18  

The Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development (Ben Macpherson)

I, too, congratulate Annabelle Ewing on securing this incredibly important debate. I say so with regret, however, because Scotland is a remarkable outward-looking and welcoming European country, and we should not have to have this debate.

My message to EU citizens, as it has been from the majority of members who have spoken, is this: “Scotland is your home. You will always be welcome here. We want you to stay, and the Scottish Government will do all that it can to support you to stay.” We can none of us say that enough to our EU citizen friends, neighbours, colleagues and loved ones.

We must never lose sight of the fact that behind all the talk of amendments, withdrawal agreements, negotiations and abolition of fees lie people whose lives are directly affected by the situation. Tove Macdonald was mentioned; after 59 years of living in Scotland, her awful situation is that she must now apply for the right to live in her home. When I saw Tove’s interview, I thought of so many other people—from Poland, Italy, France and other EU countries—whom I have met and spoken to over recent months and years. They are real people with real stories—people who have made their homes here, have brought up their families here, pay their taxes and are valued members of their communities but are now being forced to apply for the right to stay in their homes. That cannot be right.

In response, the Scottish Government is clear about the need to ensure that EU citizens feel valued and welcomed in Scotland. That has been at the heart of everything that we have done since the EU referendum in 2016—but we are working against the backdrop of a deeply unhelpful narrative from the UK Government. Its hostile environment policy is hurting people.

Before Christmas, Parliament debated the rights of EU citizens, and one of our key asks was that the settled status fee be abolished—an argument that was rejected at the time by the UK Government. However, within a short time, and after pressure from the Scottish Government, this Parliament—with key partners including the3million—played a central role in getting the fee for settled status scrapped.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I have been listening to the debate. I, too, am concerned for the many EU citizens in my region. Members have been talking about the settled status scheme; I am also interested in the seasonal agricultural workers scheme that is being developed for fruit and vegetable pickers. Does the minister acknowledge that the UK Government’s design of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme has completely disregarded dairy farms, 48 per cent of which are in the south-west of Scotland? The work on dairy farms is not seasonal—it is all year round, and the jobs probably do not even meet the tier 2 £30,000 salary requirement for staying in this country.

Ben Macpherson

I thank Emma Harper for that question. The seasonal agricultural workers scheme is useful in some ways, but it is inadequate and will not be a substitute for freedom of movement. That is why the Scottish Government is pressing the UK Government to rethink its white paper proposals on immigration. We are also putting forward proposals for flexibility for devolution within in a UK framework, in order that we obtain solutions for Scotland in the post-Brexit environment. We do not want Brexit to happen; we would prefer to maintain freedom of movement, but in the face of what is coming, we are trying our best to stand up for the interests of Scotland, including the interests of dairy farmers.

With regard to the settled status scheme, let me make it clear that the scrapping of the fee was just a small concession from Westminster. Demanding that our colleagues, neighbours, friends and family members pay to remain in their homes should never have been suggested in the first place. The proposal to charge a fee was always unacceptable, but it is not the only issue with the settled status scheme.

EU citizens should not have to apply. I noticed that one of the Tory members talked about “the applicant” a number of times. They are not applicants. They are people who are embedded in our communities and are welcome citizens of our country. People should not have to apply for the rights that they already enjoy. To answer one Conservative member’s question, I say that they should and could instead have automatically been granted settled status, unless there was a very good reason not to grant it. The responsibility for obtaining that status should lie not with individuals, but with the UK Government that has imposed this wrong-headed scheme.

The UK Government could and should have chosen to secure EU citizens’ rights as a priority after the vote for Brexit—separate to any withdrawal agreement. It could have done that: it could have led on it and it would have been the right thing to do.

Jamie Greene

I hear what the minister is saying. By that logic, is it the Scottish Government’s official policy that the EU27 should—without any process or registration—give automatic residency to all UK nationals who are living in Europe at the moment?

Ben Macpherson

My understanding is that the matter became a live issue in the negotiations only because it was one of the Prime Minister’s red lines. If the UK Government had shown leadership—ethical leadership, in particular—by securing the rights of EU citizens, she could have encouraged the remaining EU27 to do the same. That should have been done years ago; it is certainly something that we would back now. The security of EU citizens in all EU member states should be paramount. We absolutely support that.

Despite assurances from the Home Office that the settled status scheme would be simple, with a presumption of acceptance, there are serious and mounting concerns about its operation. The UK Government has left a vacuum where it should be providing information, advice and support to EU citizens across the UK.

Many EU citizens simply do not know that they need to apply, because the UK Government has not done nearly enough to raise awareness of the scheme or to provide much-needed assistance with applications. That is why, in the weeks and months ahead, the Scottish Government will redouble its efforts to reach out and provide EU citizens with the information and support that they need. We have already made provision for an advice and support service to be delivered through Citizens Advice Scotland, which will provide assistance over and above anything that the UK Government is doing, despite that clearly being the UK Government’s responsibility.

The concerns do not end there. The UK Government’s insistence that all applications be made online does not work for significant numbers of people. The issue with Apple devices not being able to be used for applying for the scheme has been much debated. However, for many people it is not a question of which device they use; it is about having the digital skills and confidence to trust their future to an online application.

I know that many EU citizens are concerned about their ability to access services, housing and employment in the future. I hear consistently that many individuals want physical proof of their status—something that they can show in order to evidence their rights. The UK Government should listen and, in addition to the proposed electronic proof of status, provide individuals with a physical document evidencing their status. Again, that could have been proactively provided through a declarative process, rather than an application process.

The Home Office says that the vast majority of those who have applied during the test phase have been granted status, but there is no information on the number of people who were incorrectly granted pre-settled status instead of settled status. The Home Office must look at that as a matter of urgency. We acknowledge that those who have been granted pre-settled status face many more months, or even years, of uncertainty. The onus will be on them to remember, perhaps in several years, that they need to reapply for settled status. It is incumbent on the UK Government to make sure that that does not happen. The Home Office must notify individuals when they become eligible to apply for settled status.

My overarching concern is the same as that of Tove Macdonald—a grandmother who fears being the victim of another Windrush scandal. The UK scheme is unprecedented in its nature and scale. Entrusting its delivery to the department that was responsible for Windrush is wrong-headed in the extreme. The UK Government must look again at the fundamentals of the EU settled status scheme and address the urgent concerns that I and many others have raised, all of which could critically undermine the ability of our friends, neighbours, colleagues and family members to continue their lives here in Scotland.

I will conclude by saying again that this Parliament, and Scotland, welcomes and supports the many EU citizens who have built their lives here and call Scotland their home. We are better for having them here. We know that they love Scotland: we love them, too, and we want them to stay and continue to feel welcome as part of our communities.

13:28 Meeting suspended.  14:00 On resuming—