Migration is a good thing. People need the freedom to move about and seek a better life for themselves.
It is crucial that we create opportunities for young people, to stop outward emigration and to encourage inward migration.
In the Highlands and Islands, we have a history of emigration.
Our history tells us of the clearances, when people were forced off the land that they worked, to increase the wealth of the landowning classes.
People who could afford to leave did so, emigrating in large numbers to Canada, America and New Zealand, and taking with them their wealth and their entrepreneurial spirit.
Those people were economic migrants, who sought a better life for themselves and their families.
The economy of the Highlands and Islands still suffers from their loss, and because of that, emigration continues.
Our young people leave, seeking better opportunities, because our economy has never fully recovered.
Vibrant economies depend on people, so depopulation creates a downward spiral, which needs to be stopped.
Only with people can we build economies that will provide our young people with the bright future that will persuade them to stay.
We urgently need to address depopulation, because inward migration is an economic necessity.
EU nationals tend to be young and ready to put down roots and start families—the very people our communities are crying out for.
Many of the business sectors that are most prevalent across the Highlands and Islands are heavily reliant on migrant workers, whether for trawler crews or farm labourers.
There is also a need for seasonal migrants for the fruit-picking and summer tourism industries, which have long used international migrants to power the economies of otherwise vulnerable rural areas.
Although we recognise the need for inward migration, we must acknowledge that other parts of the UK do not need it.
That is why we need to have different migration policies in different parts of the UK.
Northern England and many parts of Scotland need inward migration, and we need to be able to put in place policies and rules that are different in order to suit the whole country.
The fact that 5 per cent of Scotland’s workforce is made up of EU nationals means that they are crucial to our economy, but that is also true of people from other parts of the world.
I was told by hospitality businesses in the Western Isles that they are facing great difficulty in recruiting staff.
They are becoming more dependent on students who are home for holidays, but once those young people return to university, they are having to close their businesses, despite there still being many tourists around.
As well as being a direct loss to those businesses, that represents a loss to the local economy.
At the same time, I overheard tourists complaining about the number of places that had been closed and the impact that that was having on their holiday.
We need to build up the hospitality industry by giving visitors a good experience, because if they have a bad experience, they will not come back again.
That being the case, I am surprised that we have had a number of high-profile cases in the Highlands and Islands in which foreign nationals—I am not talking about EU citizens—have been told to go home, despite the fact that they are making an important contribution to the economy.
Some of the people who are being asked to leave are playing a crucial role in areas that are suffering from depopulation.
New Zealand faces a similar problem, in that its young people want to leave and it needs to encourage others to inward migrate.
The New Zealand authorities spend much more time attracting people and supporting them when they arrive.
They put them in touch with other families, who buddy them for years.
That works as a way of attracting people to areas where they are most needed.
Brexit will impact on how people view the UK.
Even if we give them the security that they need in order to stay, the backdrop of the uncertainty that has been caused by Brexit will put people off coming here.
The RCN has said that there has been a 96 per cent drop in the number of nurses from EU countries coming to the UK, and we hear that almost a fifth of our EU doctors have made plans to leave the UK.
Our rural health boards are struggling to fill posts, and a huge amount of public money is being wasted backfilling those posts with expensive locums.
Surely common sense needs to prevail to ensure that we are as welcoming as possible to people from other countries in order to fill our skills gaps.
We need to learn from countries that encourage inward migration and do it well.
I have mentioned New Zealand, but we must also look at Australia, which appears to be attracting a high number of newly qualified doctors from the UK.
Why is that?
Many of the posts in question are based in areas that make our remote rural practices appear urban.
What is Australia offering our new recruits that we are not?
It might be offering them less pressure and more time for career development. If that is the case, we must find ways of replicating that to make our posts more attractive to our home-grown talent and to people from abroad.
We must also look at quality of life, which is crucial for keeping our young people and for providing an attractive destination for those whose skills we need.
It is clear that we need inward migration.
Rather than pick a fight with the rest of the UK, we must understand the needs and fears of people in the rest of the UK and make them understand ours.
The Labour Party has pushed for a constitutional convention to look at how the differing needs of the UK can be met within the devolved structures.
It is important to this island that we make the best of the strength that binds us while recognising and celebrating our differences.
I thank the Local Government and Communities Committee for its excellent report on building regulations and fire safety.
Ensuring the safety of new buildings in Scotland requires strong and wide-ranging building regulations that are enforced without compromise.
In that regard, I welcome the committee’s recommendation that the power of verification should not be extended beyond local authorities.
Gifting that power to the private sector would open the door to potential conflicts of interest and unaccountability, as well as a loss of valuable local knowledge.
It is key that the verification process supports new building projects not only on paper but in practice.
It is clear that delays in processing applications have had a significant impact on developers and they can also undermine confidence in Scotland as an attractive investment prospect.
Sadly, such delays are a result of an age-old story with which we have become all too familiar.
Cuts to local authorities have left staff burdened with increasingly heavier workloads, and having to spend more time on admin and less time visiting sites.
For example, almost half of the respondents in Unison’s “Building stress” report stated that they had faced budget cuts in the past year, and another 20 per cent stated that the cuts had been severe.
The eventual losers are building residents and the general public.
Of particular concern are reports that, because of delays, builders are going ahead without the proper consents, raising questions of how compliance can ever be verified.
If delays are to be improved and safety guaranteed, the only solution is for local authorities to be adequately resourced. All other options are merely unsustainable sticking plasters.
David Stewart has just said that buildings are going ahead without consent. If any member has evidence of that, I want to know about it.
Following the terrible events of the Grenfell tower disaster, I commend the committee for taking the initiative to extend its inquiry to encompass the safety aspects of building regulations.
Fire safety has been a significant issue in Scotland, even prior to Grenfell, so I wish to focus on that.
Over the past decades, the number of domestic fires has been decreasing across the UK.
However, Scotland has consistently had the highest rate of fire outbreaks compared to the other UK nations.
In 2015-16, there were almost 46 per cent more fires per million people in Scotland than there were in England and Wales.
Indeed, during that period, one was more likely to die in a dwelling house fire in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.
That is not to take away from the invaluable work of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, which operates under incredibly difficult circumstances.
Its efforts in assessing Scottish buildings and reassuring residents following the Grenfell tower fire should especially be praised.
However, budget cuts to the service are again a worrying trend.
When addressing issues of fire safety, it is crucial that we stay relevant to the situation in Scotland.
The reviews of the local government committee and of the ministerial working group have focused particularly on fire safety in high-rise buildings.
Although that is understandable in light of the circumstances at Grenfell tower, I encourage them to go further. If we look at the evidence, we see that in 2016-17, only 4 per cent of domestic fires were in flats of 10 storeys or more.
On the other hand, the effects of fire are not felt equally throughout Scottish society.
The risk of fire is much higher in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.
That is evident even in my home city of Inverness.
Regrettably, Scotland’s higher rate of fire death and injury is disproportionately carried by our most vulnerable populations.
With that in mind, I turn to a solution that has the potential impact of bringing about long-lasting change.
Fire suppression systems, often referred to as sprinkler systems, are a proven method of preventing the spread of fires and saving lives.
For example, despite Scotland’s high frequency of fire, there have never been multiple fire deaths where a working sprinkler system has been installed.
That is why, as members will know, I will introduce a member’s bill that will require installation of fire suppression systems in all new social housing.
Many fears around the use of sprinklers are unfounded urban myths.
Contrary to what we might see on television, whole properties are not drenched in streams of water at the appearance of a single spark.
Rather, heat-sensitive sprinkler heads operate individually to contain a fire.
The sophisticated technology actually limits the damage that is caused by the initial fire and the measures that are taken to fully extinguish it.
Studies suggest that, as well as being effective, sprinkler systems are reliable.
The most recent research from England concluded that sprinklers operated as expected in 94 per cent of all cases.
For those reasons, a 2015 cost benefit analysis that was commissioned by the Scottish Government accepted that :
“The evidence indicates that most of these deaths and injuries and much of the damage would have been prevented had the properties concerned been fitted with sprinklers.”
There have been improvements to Scotland’s existing approach to sprinkler systems, in relation to sheltered housing, for example.
As members will know, in 2016, following a successful member’s bill in the National Assembly for Wales, all new homes in Wales are being fitted with sprinkler systems.
However, despite the life-saving potential of such systems, Scottish building regulations require fire suppression systems only in high-rise buildings built since 2005.
The result is a postcode lottery, with older high-rise buildings and other domestic dwelling types not covered.
Across Scotland, some local authorities have embraced the use of sprinklers beyond the existing requirements.
The trailblazing councils in Angus, Fife and Dundee have adopted policies of fitting sprinklers into new social housing.
Their developments stand as shining examples of the housing that I want to see across Scotland.
I thank the committee and the clerks for their excellent work.
I flag up the point that the UK Labour Party is calling for all social housing tower blocks to be retrofitted with sprinklers, and I encourage the committee to scrutinise the deliberations of the ministerial working group on the subject.
It is crucial that we support the use of sprinklers in social housing. Lowering our high fire statistics in the future requires action now.
Our response to Grenfell should not be a mere knee-jerk reaction; it should be carefully considered and have a real impact.
It is time to invest in sprinkler technology and in the safety of all Scottish social housing well into the future.