Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 2:14 pm, 26th June 2019

The hon. Lady is well aware that every social attitudes survey conducted shows that attitudes to immigration in Scotland mirror those across the United Kingdom. We Conservative Members are speaking up for the positive benefits of immigration.

If someone is running a hotel and looking for staff in Callander, the chances are that they have the same issues as someone running a hotel in Penrith or Penzance. The people who work in these industries—hospitality, tourism, food production, manufacturing, social care and many more—cannot be described as unskilled. Meet the people who make whisky and find out about how they make their product, and tell me that they are unskilled. They are not, yet the White Paper produced by the Government tells us that everyone who earns under £30,000 is assumed to be unskilled. The average salary in Scotland is £22,980. I would not begin to think, let alone say, that the average Scottish worker is unskilled. Herein lies the problem of relying on an arbitrary salary level to determine a policy. Whatever number is chosen, it is subjective and the methodology used to reach it is open to question and dissection.

Some of the most skilled people I know earn less than £30,000 a year. To call them unskilled labour is a travesty. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am sorry, but relying on the wisdom of a panel of academics, however learned they may be, none of whom, by the way, is resident in or has a connection with Scotland, and none of whom seems to have any connection with the country north of Watford Gap—that is what I thought, but apparently it is York—is not a wise approach. I am a critic of the Government’s approach on this. The White Paper on the Migration Advisory Committee report is a cut-and-paste job. Admittedly, it is expert-led, but where was the demonstrable use of critical faculties? Where was the consideration of all parts of the United Kingdom? Where was the Union test?

Speaking for myself, it is hard to discern what test was applied before the Government published their White Paper. If the Government publish a White Paper, it is not unfair to say that this is the starting position for Government policy. What is really needed is a system that is adaptive to the needs of specific sectors. We need to get under the skin of the UK economy and understand the needs of our businesses. Where they cannot plug gaps using training or automation, need seasonal staff or need a high supply of specific skills that are in short supply in the UK, those should be the drivers behind our immigration target, not an arbitrary salary figure. Only an economist cloistered in the halls of academe, with their theories and assumptions, would begin to consider this measure to be adequate.

As we move towards new leadership, I hope that our Government, Prime Minister and country will move in the direction of an immigration policy that will seek to meet the needs of our country dynamically. It needs to be an adaptive policy that changes as the needs of business and our economy change. Furthermore, we need to ensure that we attract talent. We should want to attract talent to our country—people who will want to settle here, make their homes and careers here, who are skilled, who work hard and who are ambitious for themselves, their families and their communities. These are the people we should welcome and encourage to make their homes here.

In conclusion, these issues are pertinent to Scotland, the whole United Kingdom and our economy. However, by focusing on constitutional arguments, as the SNP continues to do on every issue, it lets Scotland down. It fails to stand up for Scotland’s interests in the United Kingdom. We need positive engagement on immigration, a rational debate and an acknowledgement that the current proposals are not workable.