UK opposition pledges to control immigration

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BLACKPOOL, England, Oct 2 (Reuters) The opposition Conservatives today pledged to control immigration, saying numbers of people coming to Britain under a Conservative government would be ''substantially lower'' than today.

Conservative law and order spokesman David Davis accused the Labour government of failing to think through the consequences of an ''open door Britain''.

Government statisticians last week raised their forecast of annual net migration to 190,000 a year from 145,000.

''Under a Conservative government that figure will be substantially lower,'' Davis told the Conservatives' annual conference.

The Conservatives, if elected, would have an annual limit on economic migrants coming to Britain, he said.

''We can control it. We must control it. And under a Conservative government we will control it,'' Davis said, setting out the Conservatives' stance on immigration and crime before a possible general election.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering calling an election in November, two and a half years before he has to.

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

Davis questioned how housing, schools and communities in Britain could cope with a large influx of people from new EU member countries.

The government greatly underestimated how many east European workers would seek jobs in Britain, forecasting that fewer than 13,000 new immigrants would arrive each year from new EU member countries.

In fact, some 600,000 workers from eight east European countries have been given permission to work in Britain since those countries joined the EU in 2004.

The government plans a points system to manage migration from non-EU countries. It will give priority to highly skilled workers such as scientists and engineers.

The government has praised the contribution immigrants make to the British economy by filling skills and labour gaps.

Policymakers say competition from east European workers has helped keep wage inflation in check.

The far-right British National Party has sought to take advantage of concerns over immigration to make election gains but the party remains a fringe player.

Davis said the Conservatives would ditch the government's identity 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.

Reuters SBA VP0200

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