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Scottish Work Visa Scheme

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2023

5. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of devolving the power to introduce a Scottish work visa scheme to the Scottish Government. (900321)

11. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of devolving the power to introduce a Scottish work visa scheme to the Scottish Government. (900327)

14. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of devolving the power to introduce a Scottish work visa scheme to the Scottish Government. (900330)

The United Kingdom Government have introduced a single, flexible immigration system that works in the interest of the whole United Kingdom. A separate visa system would create an economic migration border between Scotland and the rest of the UK, which would be harmful for employers and far less attractive for workers.

Last week, the CBI conference raised the serious issue of a lack of people to do vital jobs that we need filling, especially in hospitality and food production. Both the Fraser of Allander Institute and the highlands MSP Kate Forbes have suggested localised worker visa solutions to boost the economy. Why is the Secretary of State not listening to those smart voices, and why is he not acting in the best interests of the Scottish economy?

Because we have a specific Scottish occupation list for shortages, which gives us flexibility. The salary rate is set at £20,960. We believe that the best way is for stakeholder bodies to make representations to the Home Office to add to the shortage occupation list.

Five years ago, the Migration Advisory Committee said that the current system was failing remote communities. Recently published figures show that my Argyll and Bute constituency is suffering further depopulation, with the town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute particularly badly affected. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Government still insist that the current system delivers for all parts of the UK. Will the Secretary of State explain how a one-size-fits-all policy, simultaneous catering for the vastly different needs of densely populated urban areas and Argyll and Bute, can deliver equally for both?

Argyll and Bute is a beautiful part of the United Kingdom, but what it lacks is infrastructure, public services and affordable housing, because the Scottish Government have failed in all those areas. What it also has, with the rest of Scotland, is the problem of being the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. That is the problem the Scottish Government have to address.

The UK Government said that post-Brexit domestic employment would fill labour gaps, but the executive director of UKHospitality Scotland has said that the gaps left by excluding EU workers have not been filled, leaving huge numbers of specialist vacancies, such as for chefs and managers. When will this Government accept reality and stop destroying Scotland’s economy in the name of a purist Brexit ideology?

I think the hon. Lady lives in a parallel universe. We have the highest net migration to the UK since records began, far higher than when we were in the EU. As I say, if we want to attract people to Scotland, we must stop making it the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State has correctly identified that there are some who want to use immigration policy to enforce a hard border between England and Scotland as part of their aim to break up the Union. Does he agree, and in his assessment did he identify, that we need to ensure that immigration policy is not used as an alternative to offering the rewarding packages that key workers deserve?

Absolutely. We are one United Kingdom. We have no physical border. It is important that we treat immigration equally across the whole United Kingdom and give everyone equal opportunity.

Let me be clear: we are talking about the administration of work permits for people from overseas who wish to work in Scotland on a temporary basis. Just about everyone thinks it would be better administered in Scotland, but the Secretary of State insists that it should be centralised by his Government in Westminster. His argument would be plausible if the UK demonstrated that it is managing the migration service well but, given the catastrophe that is the UK immigration system, when will he wake up and realise this would be better done in Scotland, by the people who live there?

I point the hon. Gentleman to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. That is 45,000 people, with the ability to flex it up to 55,000. Those people come to work in a flexible system across the United Kingdom, and it has proved to be a huge success.

The Secretary of State is standing against everyone. He is standing against experts, against academics, against representatives of industry and even against the people of Scotland, only 28% of whom think immigration is too high. More than six in 10 think more immigration would benefit the country. When is he going to stop being the Secretary of State against Scotland and be the Secretary of State for Scotland?

It is good that the hon. Gentleman’s lines are written by Mike Russell. That is an old one, and not a very good one.

The reality is that Scotland is the most taxed part of the United Kingdom, which is not attractive for people to work there. We have the highest ever net migration. If the Scottish Government focus more on good public services, good infrastructure and lower taxation, hopefully those high net migration figures will see more people settle in Scotland.