First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 6th March 2003.

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Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 3:10 pm, 6th March 2003

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Executive is taking to attract more immigrants that can contribute to growth and development to Scotland. (S1F-2568)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We believe that for a growing Scottish economy we need a growing Scottish population. That means that we must retain talent that is already here in Scotland. We also need to attract back Scots who have moved away and we must be ready to welcome fresh talent from elsewhere. As a start, we are improving our image abroad to promote Scotland as an attractive place in which to live and work. We are working with the Home Office to promote Scotland as a destination for people applying for UK work permits. We will also work with non-Scottish students domiciled here to encourage them to stay in Scotland after they have graduated from our universities and colleges.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I thank the First Minister for that helpful reply. Will he talk to ministers in London whose rules prevent asylum seekers from working for a long time even if they have useful skills? That is another pool of labour that we could tap and I hope that he will pursue the matter.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We have rightly been careful in the chamber not to encroach on the reserved responsibilities of the UK Government in relation to asylum seekers and refugees. Where asylum seekers or genuine refugees based in Scotland have been allowed to stay in the United Kingdom, we have done all that we can to ensure proper integration into local communities, which has been the right thing to do in those cases.

I stress that what I said today and what I said last week were not directed at asylum seekers. What I said was directed at a wide range of people, such as Scots who might want to move away, Scots who have already moved away but could come back and the many others from Europe, North America and elsewhere in the world who want to come to Scotland to live and work because this country is a good place to be. We have had an incredible response. There have been dozens of e-mails, letters and calls to the Executive and British embassies around the world. We will take those inquiries up and ensure that, in the future, Scotland's economy grows as a result of those skills.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

Does the First Minister accept that part of the process of attracting immigrants will involve recognising and valuing diversity in Scotland? That task will include the need to value and to invest in a highly skilled work force. Does he agree that excising Scottish Enterprise's skills budget is something that Scotland needs like a hole in the head?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It would be safe for me to agree with that.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The First Minister said that we would attract people from outwith Scotland. He mentioned that the British embassies had been responsive to that message. Will he say whether we will have people on the ground or whether the process will be done entirely through information technology? I would like him to take on board my suggestion that, if we cannot have commercial embassies inside the British embassies, we should have welcome-to-Scotland desks.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am eager to promote the policy in every imaginative way possible. We need to do that elsewhere in the world and here in the United Kingdom. Those who are already in the country and those who would come here should be told about the attractions of living and working in Scotland. If that means competing with other parts of the United Kingdom, I would be happy to stand up for Scotland on that basis.