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Immigration: Scottish Economy

Volume 653: debated on Monday 21 January 2019

8. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the Scottish economy of the policies set out in the White Paper, “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”. (908652)

The Government’s immigration White Paper sets out the principles of an immigration system that will work in the best interests of the whole of the UK. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made clear, the White Paper is the start of the conversation. I look forward to ongoing engagement with stakeholders in Scotland over the course of this year.

The Scottish policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses has said:

“The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses and local communities. These proposals will make it nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to access any non-UK labour and the skills they need to grow and sustain their operations.”

Is he wrong?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the importance of our engaging with business groups and stakeholders across Scotland. I was delighted to meet the CBI in Scotland in a business roundtable back in the summer, and that engagement will continue. I would also like to point out that the independent Migration Advisory Committee was very much of the view that Scotland’s economic situation is not sufficiently different from the rest of the UK to justify a very different migration policy.

Does the Minister accept that the idea of a skills-based immigration system is undermined by having an arbitrary salary threshold, which should be scrapped in favour of an honest assessment of the real skills demand across different sectors in the economy?

I would gently point out that it was not an arbitrary salary threshold; it was the one put forward by the independent Migration Advisory Committee. It is, of course, important that we engage with business and employers across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will use the next 12 months to do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) has referred to the concerns of the policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland. The chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Marc Crothall, has said:

“There is no doubt that the government’s plans will exacerbate the existing recruitment crisis considerably, placing our tourism industry and what is one of the most important economic drivers for Scotland in severe jeopardy.”

Is he wrong as well?

The hon. and learned Lady will be aware that the Migration Advisory Committee, which is independent of Government, made the point that it did not see the case for a wide range of sectoral schemes. In fact, it made the case that perhaps only in agriculture was one appropriate. However, it is important that we continue to engage with all businesses and sectors. I am sure she will be delighted to know that the tourism industry in Wales has already beaten a path to my door, and I look forward to Scotland doing likewise.

Clearly the tourism industry in Scotland are very unhappy with the proposals, and I beg to suggest that they know more about their industry than the Migration Advisory Committee. The reality of the situation is that people in businesses across Scotland are dismayed by the UK Government’s approach to immigration. Scotland already has different policies and approaches on taxation, climate change, tuition fees and social care. If those major areas of policy can be devolved and implemented to suit Scotland’s needs, why can immigration not be devolved? I would like to know the Minister’s views, rather than the Migration Advisory Committee’s views.

I am sure the hon. and learned Lady recalls my appearance before her at a Select Committee, where I made it clear that my view was that immigration policy was a matter reserved to the United Kingdom Government.