Scottish MPs send home a ticking-off on immigration
By Ian Swanson
Edinburgh Evening News
Published Date: 30 June 2009
A COMMITTEE of MPs today risked sparking a major row between Westminster and Holyrood when it objected to a Scottish quango's attempts to influence immigration policy.
The House of Commons' Scottish affairs select committee said it was “concerned” that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in Scotland had been acting beyond its remit.
And it warned that in future the commission should concentrate on dealing with the consequences of immigration for community relations rather than concerning itself with immigration policy, which is a Westminster responsibility.
The committee mostly made up of Scottish MPs also questioned why the EHRC had spent time making submissions to the SNP's National Conversation and the opposition parties' Calman Commission about more powers for the parliament.
The EHRC, set up in 2007, was the result of a merger of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission. Although immigration is a UK-wide matter, Scotland sees it as a way of boosting Scotland's population and meeting a skills shortage, while the thrust of policy south of the Border is to limit the numbers coming into the country.
The MPs' report said: “While we have no wish to close down the debate on immigration, we are concerned that the Scotland committee of the commission is seeking to influence immigration policy on the basis of economic analysis and workforce needs assessment, which are outside its remit.”
In evidence to the MPs, Chris Oswald, head of policy and parliamentary affairs for the EHRC in Scotland, said: “We feel we need to certainly have a debate in Scotland about whether there will be sufficient younger people, people of working age, to support the economy.” But the MPs' report said: “The commission is best occupied focusing on dealing with the consequences of immigration for community cohesion and good relations, which is its central task, rather than seeking to influence the nature of that immigration.”
“There are many other forums in which that conversation can take place.
“It should be careful to maintain its neutrality on issues outside its remit.”
On the commission's decision to submit evidence to the National Conversation and the Calman commission, the MPs said: “We challenged our witnesses as to why they were doing work based on assumptions about further devolution or independence, when there were many apparently more pressing issues with which they could be concerned.”