David Davis warned that “treasured” British values of tolerance were threatened by “uncontrolled immigration” yesterday as he committed a Tory government to heavy cuts in the numbers allowed to settle in this country.
In some of the toughest language used by a mainstream politician on race in recent years, the shadow Home Secretary claimed immigration could fill six cities the size of Birmingham within 30 years, and called for it to be halted “before it is too late”.
He also announced plans to lock up 20,000 more offenders, recruit an extra 40,000 police officers and impose stringent curbs on drug addicts. His conference address put law and order and immigration at the heart of the Tory election campaign, but his race comments brought accusations that he was using inflammatory language.
Mr Davis denounced the Government’s immigration policy as “clueless, chaotic and catastrophic”, with three times more people arriving than when Tony Blair won power in 1997. “Immigration alone could fill six cities the size of Birmingham over the next three decades,” he said. “It is too much, far too much, and we must do something to bring it down.”
He praised the contribution made by immigrants, but said that should not mean a future government backing away from its duty. “A Conservative government will substantially cut immigration. Uncontrolled immigration endangers the values we in Britain rightly treasure. We Conservatives understand how vital it is not to threaten what makes this country so tolerant, so decent, so respectful of other people’s rights and, yes, so welcoming of people who come here.
“Extremist political parties are hoping to batten on to the fears and resentments that exist. So . . . we will tightly control immigration because the country requires it.” The Tories would bring in annual quotas for immigrants, reform the work-permit system, bring in embarkation controls at ports and airports and process asylum claims overseas.
Mr Davis also plans to create 20,000 extra prison places over five years, bringing the jail population to 100,000. That would mean Britain locking up far more offenders per head than any other Western nation, but the Tories say it would not be disproportionate to the number of crimes. It would cost £760m, but the country would save far more by the resulting cut in numbers of offences.
The Government’s home detention curfew scheme, under which non-dangerous offenders are released from prison early on electronic tags, would also be axed. “Prison does work,” he said. “It is a deterrent. Criminals fear it and it takes criminals out of circulation; while they are locked up, they cannot commit crimes.”
Mr Davis also said fighting off the threat of a hard drugs “epidemic” would be a priority. He accused the Government of ignoring the problem, as he pledged to step up random drugs tests in schools and a tenfold expansion of rehabilitation places forcing addicted criminals to choose between treatment or jail.
A Conservative government would bring the total police strength to more than 180,000, and free them from red tape. He said: “We will set the police free to cut crime. There will be no more national targets, no more ring-fenced funding, no more Whitehall priorities; just good traditional policing.” Keith Best, the former Tory MP who heads the Immigration Advisory Service, said he regretted Mr Davis’s comments. “It’s opening old wounds which could lead to allegations of racism,” he said. “It doesn’t do any political party any good and I don’t think it’s going to help the Conservatives.”
Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, said: “David Davis’s speech marks a lurch into dangerous, ignorant, and inflammatory language and policies.” But Liam Fox, the Tory co-chairman, said charges the party was playing the race card were “ridiculous and juvenile”. He said: “Politicians have a responsibility to discuss these issues in reasonable and responsible terms. If they do not, there will be plenty on the political fringes who will deal with them in unreasonable and irresponsible terms.”
Mr Davis told the BBC that the Tories would set separate quotas for economic migrants and asylum-seekers. He said the asylum quota would probably be “about 20,000”, adding: “We will not make that decision yet, but that’s around where it is likely to be.”