David Davis pledges immigration cuts
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 12:27PM BST 12/06/2008
Immigration has been thrust to the heart of an imminent election campaign as the Tories pledged a “substantial” cut in numbers allowed into Britain.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, also proposed wide-ranging reforms on security and law and order.
He promised to scrap the ID card project, provide extra prison places, introduce zero tolerance policing, and end Labour's controversial early release scheme for prisoners. He pledged to cut red tape for the police as well as health and safety regulations that prevent officers from putting themselves in danger to protect the public.
On immigration, Mr Davis said a Conservative government would set an annual limit on non-EU migrants.
Last week, official figures showed the Government expected net immigration to be running at almost 200,000 a year for the foreseeable future.
Mr Davis told the conference in Blackpool: “Under a Conservative government that figure will be substantially lower. We can control it. We must control it. And under a Conservative government we will control it.”
Immigration is certain to be a major battleground in any forthcoming election. In previous contests the Tories have been accused of playing “the race card” but now Labour ministers are openly questioning the scale of immigration.
The Government has set up a migration impact forum to advise on the impact of record levels of immigration on public services.
A points-based work permit system will be introduced next year for non-EU workers to stop unskilled people settling permanently. But the key difference between the parties is the Tory promise of an upper limit.
Mr Davis said he could not put a specific figure on his proposed ceiling as it would change every year depending on the economic circumstances.
“We believe some immigration benefits the UK but not all of it,” he said. “We want the right people and the right number of people.”
Mr Davis also promised to strengthen the Border Control Force, with police powers of search and arrest, to tighten frontier controls. The savings on the ID card project would be ploughed into extra prison places and zero tolerance policing would enable officers to “reclaim the streets”.
“Labour claim police numbers are up,” said Mr Davis. “But extra officers can't fight crime buried in paperwork. And they can't restore order on our streets from behind a desk. It is no surprise that police resignations have tripled under Labour.” Mr Davis said 1,200 additional places would be needed when the Tories scrapped the early release scheme.
About 6,000 prisoners have so far been released before the end of their sentences to ease overcrowding.
Mr Davis also unveiled plans for an ambitious programme of abstinence-based drug treatment to try to tackle the root cause of the recent crime wave.
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