Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Howard: It's time to set an annual limit to immigration

Speech in Telford

"It's wonderful to be in Telford today - I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk to you.

Thanks to all your efforts the Conservative Party has had a great start to this campaign. For the first time in many years, we're now in a position to restore principle to government, to stand up for common sense, and to put people's priorities first.

We're focusing on the things that matter to hardworking Britons: school discipline, lower taxes, cleaner hospitals, controlled immigration and more police.

We're being positive about our plans.

And we're being clear about our priorities.

So people will face a clear choice on May the fifth.

They can vote Conservative, to support a party that's taken a stand and is committed to action on the issues that matter to hard working Britons.

Or they can reward Mr. Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for another five years of talk.

In the coming weeks, there'll be one phrase we'll hear quite a bit from Mr. Blair: "It's time to move on."

Every time anyone hears him say "time to move on" they should sit up and listen hard. It's a sure sign there's something Mr. Blair doesn't want noticed, doesn't want questioned, doesn't want probed. In fact, he uses it as a "get out of jail free" card to escape what he hates more than anything else - being held accountable.

Accountability makes Mr. Blair angry.

Well Mr. Blair - come polling day you're going to be very angry indeed.

Because each and every day, from now until May the fifth, we're going to hold you to account for the money you've wasted, for the promises you've broken and for the contempt you've shown for your office.

Britain has everything going for it: creative flair; a talent for enterprise; hardworking and industrious people.

But today we are heading in the wrong direction.

We need to change track.

We need to reward people who do the right thing and who play by the rules.

A Conservative government will give hope to hardworking families - decent people who respect others, who take responsibility for their children and who contribute to their local communities.

We'll give youngsters the opportunity that comes from learning in well-disciplined schools - where the minority isn't able to ruin the education of the majority.

We'll give patients the security of knowing that they'll be treated in clean hospitals by putting matron back where she belongs: in charge.

And we'll give pensioners freedom from fear by putting more policemen - real policemen - on our streets.

I don't want members of the public looking over their shoulders - I want criminals looking round in fear.

It's time we gave these yobs a dose of the fear they've been dishing out to the rest of us.

By rewarding people who do the right thing - who play by the rules - we will build a brighter, better future for our country.

The Need to Tackle Immigration

As I travel round Britain, time and time again I hear one question.

Talk to people and whatever their background, religion or the colour of their skin - they ask the same thing: "Why can't we get a grip on immigration?"

These are the people who are always ready to welcome genuine refugees to Britain, or families who want to work hard and make a positive contribution to our country.

But today they feel that the British sense of tolerance and of fair play is quite simply being abused.

And I agree.

For too many years immigration has been a no go area for political debate.

If you said you thought that too many people were coming here, you were branded a racist.

Well - let's be clear.

It's not racist to talk about immigration.

It's not racist to criticise the system.

It's not racist to want to limit the numbers.

It's just plain commonsense.

I think it is offensive to brand as racist hard working people who worry about the chaos in our immigration system. If we don't speak up now and have a proper debate about immigration we'll only help the bigots who preach racial hatred and the people smugglers who profit from other people's misery.

Mr. Blair may want to pussyfoot around this issue, but I don't. The majority of British people, whatever their background, are united on this issue. They want immigration to be limited and controlled. We all pay taxes. We all use the public services. And we're all entitled to expect fair play.

Some commentators have accused me of being a traitor to my immigrant roots for raising this issue at all. They wrongly assume that people from immigrant families can have no possible interest in wanting to see immigration controlled.

But I've lost count of the times that British people from ethnic backgrounds have told me that firm but fair immigration controls are essential for good relations.

Benefits of Immigration

Everyone wants new people to settle here as long as the numbers are limited and the system is sensible, fair and orderly.

For centuries we've welcomed people from around the world with open arms. We have a proud tradition of giving refuge to those fleeing persecution. And we have always offered a home to families who want to come here, work hard and make a positive contribution to our society.

My father was one of them.

Britain has benefited from immigration - both economically and culturally. We are a stronger, more successful country because of the immigrant communities that have settled here.

Many of them came to Britain with almost nothing and had to start again from scratch but hard work, determination and a willingness to integrate propelled them forward.

They are a credit to our community.

Migration in both directions is part of a dynamic economy.

Our industries and companies sometimes depend upon skilled labour and expertise which can be found abroad.

Britain has an enviable record of racial integration.

Over the years hundreds of immigrant communities have successfully integrated into British society.

They have rightly held on to their traditions and culture, while also embracing Britain's and playing their full role in our national life.

But any system of immigration must be properly controlled.

There are, literally, millions of people in other, poorer, countries who would like to settle here if they could.

Britain cannot possibly take them all.

So the scale of immigration is important.

Mr. Blair's Failure on Immigration

When he came to power, Mr Blair promised "firm but fair" immigration control. That was all talk. Today Britain's immigration system is neither firm nor fair.

It's why Labour want to talk about anything but immigration in this election campaign.

Under Mr Blair, immigration has tripled. Over 150,000 people are now settling in the UK every year - that's the equivalent of a city the size of Peterborough.

The Government's own predictions show that Britain's population will grow by six million over the next thirty years.

Five million of that will be due to immigration - that's five times the population of Birmingham.

Someone has to stand up and say something. Our communities simply can't successfully absorb newcomers at this rate. The Government's own Community Cohesion Panel agrees. They say:

"The 'pace of change' (for a variety of reasons) is simply too great … at present".

It's obvious to everyone that uncontrolled immigration is putting a strain on our public services in some areas.

Nor is the system fair.

Our asylum system is being abused - and with it Britain's generosity.

Only two out of ten people who claim asylum in Britain today are genuine refugees.

And what happens to the people who are not genuine refugees?

Are they sent home when their applications fail?

No.

There are over a quarter of a million failed asylum seekers living in Britain today.

This chaos is wrong in principle - and it's also hugely expensive.

Here's an example of the scale of the problem. In 1997 local councils in England spent £13 million on asylum support. This year they'll spend £398 million - thirty times more. In total, local authorities have spent £3 billion on Mr. Blair's chaotic asylum system.

But asylum is not just a question of money. It's also a matter of humanity. The current system is deeply inhumane and profoundly unjust.

People can only claim asylum in Britain if they can get here - so our system penalises those who play by the rules and rewards those who trick their way into our country. This fuels the immoral trade in people smuggling.

Getting to Britain often involves a long journey, concealed in a truck with little food, water or air. People die in the process but, sadly for many, it seems a risk worth taking.

Mr. Blair has had eight years to sort out the problems that we face and what's happened?

He still hasn't got a grip on immigration and asylum.

We now discover that immigration officers at some of our airports are being forced to let people into the country they suspect are illegal immigrants. Why?

The official reason is that there is a shortage of trained staff and proper facilities. But is there perhaps another reason?

If suspected illegal immigrants are stopped, they will almost certainly claim asylum. They know how to work our chaotic system. Once they mention the word "asylum" they can't be put back on the plane. And of course they'll also be logged on the official statistics.

But if immigration officers are forced to a blind eye then they just walk through without being recorded - which of course helps to keep the asylum figures down and fulfil one of Mr. Blair's meaningless pledges.

This is also playing fast and loose with our security.

We face a real terrorist threat in Britain today - a threat to our way of life, to our liberties. Yet we have absolutely no idea who is coming into or leaving our country.

And why? Because the government, in its wisdom, abolished embarkation controls for non-EU countries and many of Britain's ports don't have 24-hour security. In an age of global terrorism we have no control over our borders.

What a farce.

People are waking up to the fact that immigration will never be sorted out as long as Labour stays in charge. All Mr Blair does is waffle.

A New Approach to Immigration

Unlike Mr Blair, I believe in action not words.

The Conservative Party has a detailed plan to get to grips with immigration and the abuse of our asylum system.

It's fair and effective.

We'll introduce an annual limit to immigration set by Parliament - and we'll stick to it.

We'll put in place 24-hour security at ports to prevent illegal immigration.

We'll set up a dedicated British Border Control Police with the sole job of securing our borders.

We'll introduce an Australian-style points system for work permits - giving priority to people with the skills Britain needs.

And we'll take genuine refugees from the United Nations - rather than simply accepting those who are smuggled to our shores.

Taken together our plans will substantially reduce the number of people coming to the UK.

Everyone who cares about Britain or who values fair play will support these measures.

They are based not on dogma but on reason, common sense and what has worked round the world.

For too long immigration has been a taboo subject.

However bad the situation has been, we've not been allowed to talk about it.

Well, I'm not going to let the Government sweep this under the carpet anymore.

Britain has reached a turning point.

We need to control and limit immigration.

So people have a very clear choice at this election.

Vote Conservative to limit and control immigration.

Or vote Mr. Blair or the Liberal Democrats for no limits to immigration and an increase in the population by five million over the next three decades.

After eight years in power and just weeks before an election, Mr. Blair claims he'd introduce a points system for people coming to work here.

But he also believes there should be no upper limit to immigration.

Well Mr. Blair - I've got news for you. A points system without a limit is quite literally pointless.

And Charles Kennedy doesn't believe in a limit either but instead wants to hand over control of asylum and immigration to Brussels.

Let me repeat that.

The Liberal Democrats want Europe to decide how we police our borders.

So anyone who wants action on this issue and wants to limit immigration has to vote Conservative.

Only by voting for your local Conservative candidate will you be sending Mr. Blair a clear message on immigration.

Conclusion

Leadership isn't about saying what's easy. It's about doing what's right.

Some people say I shouldn't talk about difficult issues like the abuse of our asylum system and those travellers who stick two fingers up to the law.

But we cannot make Britain a better place if we can't discuss difficult issues.

Everyone knows you won't fix a problem if you aren't even prepared to discuss it.

I'm not prepared to appease special interest groups because I believe passionately in fair play.

We are all British and we should all have to play by the same rules.

Britain deserves a government that upholds the law - not turns a blind eye when the rules are bent or abused.

Nor will I be distracted from doing what I believe is best for Britain by the smirking politics of Mr Blair or the woolly thinking of the Liberal Democrats.

So on each of these issues - on rewarding those who work hard and have contributed to our country, on schools, on hospitals, on crime and on immigration - we have a detailed, published Timetable for Action so the British people can hold us to account.

My message to the British people is clear.

Look for this commitment in your paper, check it on the net, put it up on your fridge door - hold me to it: because Conservatives won't just make a difference, we'll be different.

We won't say one thing before an election and do something quite different once the votes have been counted.

We only promise what we know we can deliver.

And what we start, we will follow through.

Mr. Blair is already secretly grinning about the prospect of his third victory.

Well you don't have to settle for that.

If you're thinking what we're thinking, it's time for urgent action on the things that really matter:

- Reward for hardworking Britons;

- School discipline;

- Cleaner hospitals;

- More police; and

- Controlled immigration.

So to those who voted Labour last time, who dream of a better life, who work hard, but feel let down, I say, come and join us.

We are the only choice if you want a government that gives you lower taxes and value for money.

To those who voted Liberal Democrat last time, who have lost faith in a criminal justice system with twisted priorities, who yearn for a time when children can walk home safely from school, I say, come and join us.

We are the only choice if you want a government that will wage a war on crime.

And to those who have given up on politics, who do not believe that casting a vote will ever make any difference to their lives, I say, come and join us.

We are the only choice if you want a government that is responsible and accountable to you.

The people of our country face a clear choice on May the fifth.

You can either reward Mr. Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for another five years of talk.

Or you can vote to support a party that's taken a stand and is committed to action on the issues that matter to hard working Britons.

It's your choice - and it's your opportunity.

You can vote for Britain to change direction.

You can vote for a better, brighter tomorrow. You can vote Conservative."

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