Conservatives pledge to scrap early jail release

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BLACKPOOL, Oct 2 (Reuters) The Conservatives played the law and order card today ahead of a possible snap election, promising to scrap an early release scheme for prisoners and pledging a tougher line on immigration.

Home Affairs Spokesman David Davis said the party would ditch the government's controversial ID card scheme to pay for the building of more jail cells.

The move would allow the Conservatives to end the government's early release scheme, introduced to ease prison overcrowding by letting 25,000 inmates a year out of jail before the end of their sentences.

''We'll scrap ID cards, that expensive white elephant,'' Davis told delegates to enthusiastic applause at the party's annual conference in Blackpool.

''(We'll) put some of the early savings into extra prison places and scrap the government's reckless early release scheme.'' The party says the savings -- 255 million pounds over three years -- could be used in part to build and support 1,200 prison places.

Latest figures show that 330 prisoners were held in police cells last week because of jail overcrowding.

Davis, in a speech aimed at the party's traditional supporters, also promised an annual limit on economic migrants coming to Britain.

He said the Conservatives would keep the level ''substantially lower'' than the current net 200,000 influx a year.

The Tories need to close a gap of as much as 11 percentage points in the polls if they are to stand a chance of defeating Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour party should an election be called for this or next month.

Conservative leader David Cameron told the BBC he believed there was a more than 50 percent chance of a snap poll.

Davis said the Conservatives would create a dedicated border force based on a blueprint drawn up for the party by former London police chief Lord Stevens.

He contrasted it with the border service announced by Brown in July combining customs and immigration officers, which will not include police.

''His new border force is the same people with the same powers.

The only real change? A nice new uniform,'' Davis said.

The Conservative immigration restrictions would be limited to citizens from outside the European Union who do not have a legal right to work in Britain.

They would include transitional arrangements for new EU members along the lines of those in place for Bulgaria and Romania.

Reuters RS GC2050

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