David Cameron: net immigration will be capped at tens of thousands
Immigration levels would be capped every year and be limited to tens of thousands more than the numbers departing to live abroad, under a Conservative government, David Cameron has said.
By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent
Published: 2:13PM GMT 10 Jan 2010
An annual cap on new arrivals would be announced, with a figure based on the number of people who left Britain to move overseas.
Overall, net immigration would be kept in the tens of thousands, rather than the current rate of hundreds of thousands.
Saying he opposed a rise in immigration which would take the population above 70 million, Mr Cameron said that limits needed to be imposed to ensure public services did not become overwhelmed.
He said: In a country like Britain youre going to have large numbers of people going and living abroad every year and working abroad, and also large numbers of people coming in. It seems to me what matters is the net figure.
In the last decade, net immigration in some years has been sort of 200,000, so implying a 2 million increase over a decade, which I think is too much.
We would like to see net immigration in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands. I dont think thats unrealistic.
Thats the sort of figure it was in the 1990s and I think we should see that again.
Mr Cameron was responding to the warning by George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that an increase in the population to 70 million would be intolerable and put Britains tradition of hospitality under strain.
The Tory leader said that he would put his concerns about immigration in a different way, adding: Im in favour of immigration, weve benefited from immigration, but I think the pressures particularly on our public services have been very great.
I think we should be focusing on the pressure on our public services on health and education and housing.
Reducing immigration to levels seen under the last Conservative government would mean around 50,000 more arrivals than departures a year.
In recent years, the Tories have shied away from putting the issue of immigration at the centre of the partys election campaigning, for fear of appearing as the nasty party.
But Conservative chiefs are said to feel that voters are now keen to hear more about limiting the numbers arriving from overseas.
Mr Cameron said that immigrants with skills which would benefit the economy would be encouraged to come to the UK through the use of the points-based system, which would operate within the cap.
He added: Well do that each year because part of this is to reflect our economic needs.
It should be a clear annual figure that people should see because I think a points system without a limit doesnt make much sense.
But we should be trying to capture the benefit of immigration for our economy.
Britain has got a massive competitive advantage great universities, great colleges, the English language.
We should be attracting the best students from India and China and Brazil, the countries of the future, to come and study here then to go home, but to want to do business with Britain for their lives.
Instead our system currently seems a lot of people come, do endless courses and are actually working here rather than being a proper student visa situation.
Frank Field, the former Labour welfare minister, and Nicholas Soames, a Conservative backbencher, who are members of an all-party group on immigration, welcomed Mr Camerons words.
In a joint statement, they said: “We welcome this statement from the Conservatives and hope the Government will follow suit, and that both parties carry manifesto commitments in this year's general election to keep our population below 70 million.”
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