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Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, December 14, 2023



The Convener (Clare Adamson)

Good morning and welcome to the 31st and final meeting of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee in 2023. I apologise for the slightly late start. We have apologies from Neil Bibby, who is substituted, not for the first time, by Foysol Choudhury MSP. We welcome him, and there is no need for him to make a declaration of interests.

Our second agenda item is to take evidence in support of people who have been displaced from Ukraine to Scotland. We are joined by Emma Roddick, the Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees. She is supported by Kirstin McPhee, head of ministerial support, and Fraser Dick, head of Ukraine resettlement finance, both from the Scottish Government.

I invite the minister to make an opening statement.

The Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees (Emma Roddick)

I am glad to attend the committee for the first time in my role as Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees. I am aware that the committee has taken a key interest in the Scottish Government’s response to the war in Ukraine and that you undertook several evidence sessions this spring. There has been much progress since then and I am glad to have the opportunity to update you on some key developments since you last considered that work.

Scotland stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law at home and abroad and offers unqualified support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

I am proud of how Scotland has responded to a humanitarian crisis and grateful to all who have opened their homes to displaced Ukrainians fleeing the war, providing sanctuary to more displaced Ukrainians per head of population than any other United Kingdom nation. We are glad to have been able to support so many people fleeing war by working with local government, the third sector and local volunteer communities. We have been clear from the outset: Scotland is their home for as long as they need one.

We are aware that many Ukrainians are already in the second year of their three-year visa period, and they are anxious about the future. I am engaging with my Home Office counterpart to seek clarity on the position, and I will work with the Home Office to ensure that we communicate that as early as possible to Ukrainians living in Scotland.

We published “A Warm Scots Future: Policy Position Paper” on 27 September. It outlines our new strategic priorities for supporting the longer-term integration of displaced people from Ukraine living in Scotland.

Scotland has the strongest rights in the UK for people experiencing homelessness, but we are committed to ensuring that no one needs to become homeless in the first place, including displaced people from Ukraine. More than 26,000 people from Ukraine have now arrived in the UK with a Scottish sponsor, more than 20,500 of them through our supersponsor scheme. As part of the warm Scots welcome, safe and suitable welcome accommodation is provided to those arrivals who need it. Our supersponsor scheme has ensured that all arrivals in Scotland have had access to suitable welcome accommodation and are now being supported into longer-term accommodation.

We are investing more than £100 million in the Ukrainian resettlement programme in 2023-24 to ensure that people continue to receive a warm Scots welcome and are supported to rebuild their lives in our communities for as long as they need to call Scotland their home. That builds on the significant funding of around £200 million that we have provided to support resettlement in 2022-23. “A Warm Scots Future”, which was developed in partnership by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Refugee Council and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, recommits partners to working to reduce the numbers of people in welcome accommodation and provides a framework for integration within communities. We have set out our plan to reduce the numbers of people in welcome accommodation and the length of time that people are spending there. We published our response detailing the actions that we are taking to reduce the use of temporary accommodation on 19 July.

We will invest at least £60 million this year through the affordable housing supply programme to support a national acquisition plan. We will maintain momentum in delivering the affordable housing supply programme, and we will work with social landlords to deliver a new programme of stock management. We will implement targeted partnership plans with the local authorities that are facing the greatest pressure, backed by an additional £2 million. Work to set the conditions for effective delivery has been progressing in parallel to preparing our response, and we are ready to hit the ground running in implementing the actions that are being taken.

To help continue to drive down the numbers of people in welcome accommodation, and to encourage guests to move on from welcome accommodation, we are introducing a new national moving on policy, which requires guests to accept reasonable offers of accommodation, with a re-entry policy to prevent future presentations. We have introduced two new policies to tackle our reliance on welcome accommodation. Local authorities will seek to make two reasonable offers of accommodation to all displaced people. Where possible, those offers will be within the original local authority area or in a neighbouring local authority area. Where necessary, offers can be anywhere in Scotland.

I hope that that has given a helpful overview of the work that has been going on. I will now take questions from members.

The Convener

As Motherwell and Wishaw constituency MSP, I know that we have been lucky to have North Lanarkshire Council engage with the fund for social landlords. There is a tower in my area that was dedicated for use in this regard, and that has worked out extremely well, with support services on hand. The families there are very well integrated into local schools and organisations. That was supported by a £50 million fund, and my understanding is that £23 million of it has been used to date. Can the cabinet secretary explain how the rest of that fund will be used? What barriers are there to getting social landlords to take up that opportunity for Ukrainians?

Emma Roddick

We have certainly been engaging with local authorities and social landlords to encourage the use of the fund and to encourage authorities to consider where stock might be suitable. There is already a pipeline of around 100 homes for future development. As more and more developments open up and we see their success and what that has meant on the ground, more people might view it as a positive way not just to support Ukrainians in the community but to ensure that there is a lasting legacy of social housing that can be used in the future.

Thank you, minister. I now move to questions from the committee. Mr Brown will go first.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

We have been given a really good briefing from the Scottish Parliament information centre, which includes details on the number of people who left the two ships, Ambition and the other one. In each case, quite a small number of people left to go to hosted accommodation. I think that the figure for the other one was 1 per cent and for the Ambition, it was 7 per cent. Do you have a figure for how many people generally—by which I mean not just the people on those ships—went to hosted accommodation?

Emma Roddick

The other one is the Victoria. That shows the success of having that support service on board. Residents had the space and time to explore all their options while they were in supported accommodation. I know that many of them were keen to take up offers, which allowed a group to be able to travel together and then continue to support one another after building up a support network.

I do not know whether we have any figures for the number of people who are in hosted accommodation.

Kirstin McPhee (Scottish Government)

We can certainly look into that. The issue with the homes for Ukraine scheme is that, if people do not come on a supersponsor visa, they might go straight to hosted accommodation, so we would not necessarily have access to those figures. However, we can do a bit of digging and write to the committee with an update on that.

Keith Brown

On a personal note, I hosted a Ukrainian family for six months and was able to get them both permanent accommodation and a job—in fact, two jobs. We have stayed in contact—they are now in the minister’s region—and their real worry is about what happens now. They see the 18-month deadline looming. Their home in Nikolaev was destroyed, and they have no idea where they would go back to. Having taken the opportunity to get a quite specialist job and having settled, after moving from Killin to me to where they are now, they are still really worried. Is the UK Government giving any reason why it will not confirm what its intentions are?

Secondly, given the possibility—I will put it no higher than that—that there could be a change in Government next year, and I know that you will have Government-to-Government relations, is there any indication of where the Labour Party stands in relation to the three-year visa?

Emma Roddick

Labour’s position is not something that I can speak to, but we are certainly keeping an eye on the possibility of a change in Government. For my part, I am willing to work with anyone who might be in a position to give Ukrainians in Scotland that certainty, because it is by far the issue that is raised most often with me and officials when we are out speaking to the Ukrainian community in Scotland.

Members might be aware that I wrote to my Home Office counterpart yesterday, along with COSLA and the Scottish Refugee Council, pressing for that clarity to be provided. I think that the Home Office’s current position is that it has not decided on its preferred option, so it is not yet able to communicate it to us or to Ukrainians living in the UK, but we are in regular communication about it.

I and colleagues in the refugee space in Scotland have been pressing regularly for any kind of timescale or update that we can provide. I know that the uncertainty impacts family and travel plans and it causes people to be hesitant about committing to long-term employment and housing. Everything in their lives is up in the air, so we are very much alive to the issue.

I also know that officials have been working with UK officials to try to move things along. In partnership with the Ukrainian Government, we want to make sure that clarity is provided.

Keith Brown

It was not the ideal way for people to come, but it was necessary at the time and, like the convener, I have to say that Clackmannanshire Council did a superb job, as did Stirling Council in Killin. Is any work being done to look at how that might be kept as an infrastructure, almost like a resilience facility? The committee has talked about whether people coming from Gaza could be accommodated in a similar way. Are we keeping that infrastructure? I have not heard a word about the scheme since the family left and I wonder whether we are thinking about how we might use it for the future.

Emma Roddick

I will bring in Kirstin McPhee on planning for Gaza, because I know that things are moving very quickly there. Although we are very focused on the immediate call for a ceasefire, which is absolutely the correct focus, we have also asked the UK Government to allow us to be part of a humanitarian response for those who want to leave and need to seek a place of safety.


The hosted accommodation is not the most appropriate infrastructure, and it is probably not our first option. However, the homes for Ukraine policy has allowed us to prove that it can work if it is managed correctly. Members will be getting similar correspondence from constituents who want to do their bit and want to help as I have been. Hosting can be a really helpful piece of the puzzle when we are dealing with humanitarian crises, but it is certainly not the immediate fallback.

Kirstin McPhee

I can add to that. Members will be aware that hosting is the sort of bedrock of the UK approach to the homes for Ukraine policy. We have taken a different approach by using the super sponsor scheme so that people can come to Scotland safely without the need to secure a host. However, hosting is still a very important part of the infrastructure and building resilience in Scotland, particularly when we are responding to situations such as that in Gaza. We have undertaken a review of our approach to hosting. There is a strategic policy focus on hosting to consider the current guidance and improvements that can be made; we will engage with host families and people who have stayed in hosted accommodation so that we can learn those lessons and apply them to future schemes, for example, if we had to stand up a response to Gaza.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I want to ask about the supersponsor scheme, which has been paused since July 2022, which is almost a year and a half ago. Plainly, visas that have been issued under that scheme are still valid, but is there any intention to restart it? Has it now served its purpose? Where does it stand?

Emma Roddick

We are very alive to the fact that things can change. We have been reviewing the supersponsor scheme pause regularly—previously at three-month intervals and now at six-month intervals, with the next review happening this month. Within that, there are a number of tests—including escalation in the war, which would mean that more people were in immediate need of support—and if those were met, we would consider reopening the scheme.

However, as the member noted, given the number of visas that the Scottish Government has sponsored that have not resulted in Ukrainian arrivals, it is difficult to balance the numbers. We would be in the position of not knowing the scale of the numbers of people to whom we might need to provide immediate support; we have a responsibility to everyone who comes for support to provide the best that we can, and to provide suitable accommodation and not end up with people having to stay in temporary accommodation for too long. That is quite a difficult situation to manage, which is why we need to keep reviewing it and make sure that the tests are met before reopening the scheme.

So the scheme is still live, as it were.


Was there any evidence that the pause in some way disincentivised people from coming? Are you content to say that the pause made no difference?

Emma Roddick

It is not something that I am aware of. It is near impossible to get information about the reasons why those who were issued visas did not then come to Scotland. It is not something that I have picked up on anecdotally.

Kirstin McPhee

We could say that the number of arrivals has steadily slowed. As the minister says, we cannot account for why that might be the case, but it has meant that we have had fewer people in welcome accommodation and have begun to be able to move the focus to integration rather than crisis response.

Fraser Dick (Scottish Government)

I can give some context to that fact. We should note that approximately 13,000 visas were issued to people who have not yet travelled to the UK and, as Mr Cameron mentioned, the pause came into effect over a year ago now. So, if someone has had their visa for over a year at this point and has not yet travelled, we might say that it is fairly unlikely that they will. They have probably made other plans or resolved to remain in Ukraine or a myriad of other things. However, as we say, that possibility is live and those people could still arrive. However, as Kirstin McPhee said, arrivals are slowing to a lower level.

Donald Cameron

That is really helpful. I turn to the issue of accommodation and rent guarantees. A while ago now, we had evidence from the Ukrainian consul that he was in favour of local authorities acting as rent guarantors to enable people from Ukraine to access private rented accommodation. Highland Council, the area that the minister and I both represent, already operates such a scheme, and I think that Edinburgh and Glasgow councils were part of a national working group that was looking into that. Has that group reported, and is there any action that the Scottish Government can take to help local authorities to introduce rental guarantee schemes?

I am aware that more than half of local authorities now operate some form of scheme, and we looked into the feasibility of something wider. I do not have the report from the working group.

Kirstin McPhee

The difficulty of accessing the private rented sector is, unfortunately, not unique to Scotland. We have on-going conversations with the other nations about how better we can facilitate access to the PRS. It is a really difficult question and, obviously, different areas do things a bit differently.

We have paused that national approach in order to pursue other measures to support Ukrainians into longer-term accommodation. However, as the minister said, a number of local authorities already have their own guarantor schemes. We continue to keep in contact with them to learn lessons and to support them to help displaced people to access the private rented sector.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I am aware that there are about 3,000 people who are still in their welcome accommodation and that councils are working very hard to offer people two options: moving into a tenancy or moving into hosted accommodation. However, is there a group of people who would prefer to stay in the welcome accommodation? I am thinking in particular about rural situations where somebody might have moved into a hotel—such as the Killin hotel, which Mr Brown has mentioned—got a job in the local area and become quite settled but the accommodation options in the community are pretty limited. I know that that was previously an issue, but is it still an issue? In that particular instance, a number of people moved out of the hotel—indeed, a family went to stay with Mr Brown, which is great. For people who have become quite settled in such areas and are quite satisfied with the situation that they are in, to what extent is there a bit of a residual issue in supporting them with what is appropriate and what they want?

Emma Roddick

That is a really good question, which helpfully recognises the nuance. There is a tendency for some people to view Ukrainians as a homogeneous group, but they are absolutely not. There are people who, although seeking safety here, view their residency in Scotland as extremely temporary and do not want to be here any longer than necessary. They are ready to move back to Ukraine any day. It is tough for many people to think about long-term housing options in Scotland when that is not where their heads are at.

It is not solely an issue for more rural areas. Members will be aware of the housing situation in Edinburgh. It is very difficult to find private rents here. I spoke to many Ukrainians on the MS Victoria who would have loved to stay on the boat for a good few years.

However, our focus is to get people into longer-term suitable accommodation as soon as possible. It is sensitive when our policies are at odds with the feelings of people who are not ready to think about being in Scotland long term. That is why we offer wraparound support, working with local authorities and the third sector to ensure that people know what their options are and feel supported and welcomed for as long as they need to be here, even if that is a bit longer than they had hoped.

Mark Ruskell

In that instance, Stirling Council has done great work in a complex and sensitive situation. Is it your impression that councils are able to support people right now, or are there particular areas where there is a difficulty and councils are struggling? You mentioned Edinburgh. There might be other areas where there are housing pressures.

Emma Roddick

There are certainly difficulties, but I would point more to the successes in councils. Edinburgh has certainly been one where the wraparound support has been good and the partnership working with the third sector has been very visible, despite housing pressures.

We work to encourage other local authorities to raise their game and ensure that they are doing all that they can to support Ukrainians in their areas or to let Ukrainians who are currently in welcome accommodation know what the options are within their area if they have not considered them yet. There are really good examples from across the country, despite the housing pressures, of creative thinking and of good work with the third sector.

Alexander Stewart

You have spoken about success and there is no question that there have been successes. What is the working relationship between the Government, the Scottish Refugee Council and COSLA? You have said that you want to take a targeted approach in dealing with local authorities. How successful has that been? That was very successful in the initial stages, when a large number of people needed, and were given, support. How has that progressed since then? Are you now finding barriers within certain local authorities that are not able to give as much support now as they did in the past?

Emma Roddick

I recognise that everyone is under pressure and that there are many competing priorities, but I am still very proud of the work that we have done in partnership with COSLA and the Scottish Refugee Council. I would describe our relationship as very strong. I meet extremely regularly with the new Scots partners—we have met twice this week—and I hope that they would also describe the relationship as strong and positive. The letter that went to the Home Office yesterday, pressing for clarity about the visa issue, came from us all, which shows that our partnership is strong and consistent.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

I visited MS Victoria and MS Ambition, where I spoke with Ukrainians and saw the service that they were getting. They are now in temporary accommodation and I am not sure if they are getting the same sort of service as they were. You have mentioned that Edinburgh is struggling with the housing crisis, but every council in Scotland is in the same position. What discussions are you having with councils? It does not look as if the conflict will end soon, so what discussions are you having with councils about long-term housing?

Emma Roddick

There has been really positive progress in moving displaced Ukrainians into longer-term accommodation, and the number of people still in temporary welcome accommodation is dropping steadily. We have seen that since the disembarkation of the two ships. Whereas we previously had to keep a lot of welcome accommodation available in case that disembarkation needed some support, we are now able to move away from keeping so many rooms available, which is bringing down the monthly cost of the Ukrainian scheme. That is possible because more and more Ukrainians are finding suitable longer-term accommodation.

Kirstin McPhee mentioned the supersponsor scheme. Is that still open?

It has been paused.

My last question is about the Westminster Government’s current immigration measures. Do you think that those will affect your negotiations with Ukrainians or with any other refugees who want to come to Scotland?

Emma Roddick

I hope that they will not have a direct impact on Ukrainians living in Scotland, and there are certainly no procedural reasons why they should, given the way that their visas have been issued. My main worry would be about the longer-term visa position and the need to give people clarity as soon as possible, so that they can start to plan and so that we, their employers and councils can also start to plan.

More generally, I am worried about the impact that the new immigration proposals, including the Rwanda bill, the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, will have on how the UK is viewed internationally.


Most Ukrainians with whom I have spoken have been very positive about their experience of being supported and welcomed by Scotland, but I worry about how well we will be able to get across the message about the support that is available here if their first impression of Scotland as part of the UK—for Ukrainians and anyone else seeking safety—is they are not welcome here.

I note the requirement for a salary of £38,000.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Unfortunately, I fear that Ukraine and the situation in the middle east will not be the last conflicts in the world. That may be stating the obvious. Scotland has always led the way in offering support and asylum where we can. What have we learned from the response to the need to help house Ukrainians that would inform our response to refugees from Gaza, if we are able to facilitate asylum for them?

Emma Roddick

Gosh, there are so many things. There was a positive response, not just through our partnerships with local councils and third sector community groups but in the way that people came forward to support Ukrainians, whether organising collections of aid or money or helping them in other ways. Whenever people heard that a Ukrainian family was moving into an island community, they surrounded it and came together to make sure that those people felt safe and felt that they were a part of the community. In particular, the difference between the 3,000 people that we said that we would take in Scotland and the almost 25,000 that we have ended up with—an incredible number—shows that we can support people when we want to do so.

Kate Forbes

Accommodation provision had to be identified at record speeds. Some of that provision was temporary. Might we in future be able to arrange for the rapid provision, from the very beginning, of temporary accommodation that is a bit more permanent, rather than having to draft in boats or whatever?

Emma Roddick

From the beginning, we have been willing to be creative about finding suitable accommodation with wraparound support. We would be willing to explore, as we have done, any ideas and any availability of suitable buildings or space that can be used effectively.

When it comes to MS Ambition and MS Victoria, I went on board one of those boats, as Foysol Choudhury did, and was incredibly impressed with the services that were available. That was an example of temporary accommodation being done well, whereby people were welcomed and given all the support that they required to find longer-term accommodation.

Kate Forbes

I have one last question. We may do all that we can to offer accommodation and services but, ultimately, we still do not have the power to grant visas or access to the UK. A lot of organisations and charities that worked closely with us when it came to Ukraine—in particular, the Sanctuary Foundation—also want to work closely with us when it comes to the middle east. This may not be a question that you can answer but, having worked collaboratively with the UK Government on the Ukraine situation, do we have tried and tested ways of saying, “Look, we have X number of homes available for refugees and we can look after them. Can you please enable that?” That is not unique to the middle east; it applies to anywhere.

Emma Roddick

Absolutely. We have been doing that for the past few months. I have been clear with the UK Government—as has the First Minister—that Scotland stands ready now. If the UK Government makes moves to open a resettlement scheme for people who need to leave Gaza and seek safety, we have been clear that Scotland will do its part to take in refugees and support them in the way that we did Ukrainians. Likewise, we have also been clear that we would use the Scottish NHS to support injured and sick children in Gaza. It is very frustrating that those powers do not lie with us.

During the past few weeks, we have been clear about what an independent Scotland would do differently. We set out what our immigration system would look like, and have been clear that it would be based on treating other humans with dignity, fairness and respect. However, in the meantime, this is the system that we operate in. We have been very clear to the UK Government that, if those routes were opened up, we would be ready.

Keith Brown

I have one small point to make, which is that we should always take refugees because they are refugees; we should need no other reason. However, although this may sound a little cynical, I wonder whether any part of the argument that you are making to the UK Government to move on with the visa extension—if that is what happens—is informed by the skills needs that we have in Scotland and the skills that the refugees who have come here have. Are you making the case that those skills are very important to Scotland?

Emma Roddick

Yes, that is an argument that we make for migration overall, but also in the context of individual schemes. I am aware that there are Ukrainians who are contributing massively to different sectors that were previously really struggling to recruit.

At the time when I was on the MS Victoria, 85 per cent of the people staying there were in employment of some kind. That shows that we have a cohort of people who not only need our support, but are willing and able to work, and very often in sectors that are struggling to recruit domestically. We have made that point to the UK Government, in relation both to Ukraine and to wider migration needs.

The Convener

Earlier, you used the phrase, “we can welcome people when we want to”. I am going to mention my constituency again, because in my lifetime we have welcomed Vietnamese boat people, Chilean refugees, Nigerians, Congolese, Syrians and now the Ukrainian settlement, so we are well used to doing that.

I am struck that, when the committee took evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture on Ukraine at an early stage in the situation, we were already talking about how to bring people in and everything was in motion, but that, when we had him in to talk about Gaza, at roughly the same point in that situation’s timescale, nothing was in motion on those issues. Do you have any explanation as to why the process for Gaza is so much slower than the response to the situation in Ukraine?

Emma Roddick

I would be guessing at the details of the UK Government's position, but from our perspective, one of the difficulties is that, although people are displaced internally in Gaza they are not classed as refugees while they are still in that place. The struggle that many have had to cross any border has made it a lot harder for neighbouring countries to provide support of the kind that Poland was able to provide to Ukraine.

The Convener

Thank you, minister. We have exhausted our questions for you this morning. Thank you for your first attendance; I am sure that it will not be the last. We were very glad to see you today.

09:53 Meeting suspended.  

10:21 On resuming—