Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:11 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 8:11 pm, 28th January 2019

It is a privilege to follow Jess Phillips and my hon. Friend Alex Burghart. I was not going to mention this, but it now seems appropriate: my mother, Sheila Lillian Harman Kerr, passed away on Thursday evening. She was a daughter of Birmingham, so I have a bit of Brum inside me. Members may not be able to discern it from my accent, but a bit of Birmingham lingers in my heart. I feel she might be smiling at the fact that I am following such an excellent Member of Parliament for Birmingham and someone who represents someone who was a servant of the city of Birmingham.

I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill on a key matter relating to our departure from the European Union: control over our borders. I thank Ministers for their decision to scrap the charges for the settled status process for EU citizens. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend Huw Merriman for the very significant part he played in bringing that about. I know how much that means to people in my constituency. It is very important that our actions in government match our words. We must send a clear message to our family members, friends, neighbours and work colleagues who have come to this country from the European Union, and to whom this country is now home, that they are a vital part our community. They enrich our lives and play a hugely valuable part in our economy, and I deeply regret any suggestion from any source to the contrary. Members of this House owe it to their constituents and the reputation of this House to measure the way they express themselves about such matters, and in interventions they make in debates about our departure from the European Union.

I have several points to make about the Bill. The first is about the university sector, and the University of Stirling in particular. In a report for Destination for Education, KPMG calculated that every international student recruited to a British university brings a net positive economic contribution of £95,000 in total. For the academic year 2015-16, that was estimated to be worth £20.3 billion. We are talking about a major British exporting success. I am proud of the UK university sector’s global standing, and I am proud that the University of Stirling is consistently highly rated as a destination of choice for international students. Stirling loves its international students and welcomes them with open arms.

Our world-class university system is the envy of the world and an unrivalled source of soft power influence in the world. I do not believe that student visas should be subject to any kind of cap, and I was encouraged by the Home Secretary’s remarks on that matter. We are competing with other English-speaking countries. By making it more difficult to access British universities than those of our competitors, we are doing ourselves no favours. We are in danger of losing market share in a growing global market. International students applying for bona fide courses at bona fide institutions should be allowed to come here. After all, they will support themselves.

We need a visa system that reflects an unabashed bias towards attracting and retaining talent, including newly qualified international graduates and postgraduates from UK universities. Why on earth would we not want such talent to stay in the United Kingdom to the benefit of our economy and the public good? As with other issues that we examine in this House, we must look for the balance of fairness. It is not fair or right to expect an international worker, graduate or postgraduate to earn more than £30,000 per annum, and to say that they qualify as skilled labour only on that basis. That would be a terrible mistake. The average graduate salary in Scotland is in the region of £21,000. Instead of rigidly fixing the system to a formula based on notional taxation contributions, we should look at earnings potential and social contribution.

We must be fair to businesses of all sizes. I ask hon. Members to consider how difficult it is for a small business to sponsor an international worker for employment in the United Kingdom. I worked for a global businesses before coming to this House, but what works for a big business does not necessarily work for a small business. The test of what is good for our economy is not how a global corporation copes with an imposed process, but how it works for a small business with limited resources.

I say this to the Government: beware of a one-size-fits-all approach to skilled labour. I would have thought that it is stating the obvious to say that what works in London and the south-east will not be right for other parts of the United Kingdom, so we must build flexibility into whatever policy we apply. The variables must be weighted to ensure that skilled labour can be attracted and retained in all parts of the United Kingdom and all scales of business.