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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 August 2007, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Immigration 'too high' - Cameron
David Cameron
David Cameron said the party was ready to win an election

Immigration over the past decade has been "too high" and needs to be better controlled, Conservative leader David Cameron has told the BBC's Newsnight.

People's concerns were "not because of different cultures" or the colour of someone's skin but pressure on schools, hospitals and housing, he said.

In a wide-ranging interview he said the Conservative Party had "fire in its belly" and was ready for an election.

He also defended his shadow ministers' right to have jobs outside politics.

To criticism that many of his shadow cabinet held part-time lucrative jobs outside politics, Mr Cameron praised his team, and highlighted the fact there was a ministerial code overseeing outside interests.

Hard-working top team

"I appoint the shadow cabinet on merit. The people I give jobs are there because I think they will work hard they will do a good job."

He said his "key people" - shadow foreign secretary William Hague and shadow home secretary David Davis - "work incredibly hard".

Of his own status, Mr Cameron acknowledged: "I am wealthy, I have had a wonderfully secure and fortunate upbringing, and I went to a great school.

"But I don't think in our country today that that should disqualify you from talking about issues and from making the changes you want to see in this country."

Asked if he thought immigration had been too high over the past decade, Mr Cameron said: "I think it has been too high.

"I think that there are benefits from immigration and I want Britain to capture the benefits from that immigration.

"But I think the levels of migration we've seen... have put too great a burden on public services and I think it needs to be better controlled."

Skills

He also said that transitional controls were needed for any future EU member states.

He said there should be a calculation each year of what skills "we need, what benefit we want migrants to bring to Britain, but then what are the costs of pressures on public services, and then put a limit on the number of migrants coming from non-EU countries".

On his tax plans, he said any tax cuts would only be introduced if they made the country "fairer, stronger and would ...help people climb the ladder of opportunity".

Taxing the richest people in the country or capping their income would not close the gap between rich and poor, he said.

Trapped in poverty

During the interview with Newsnight editors Michael Crick, Stephanie Flanders and Mark Urban, he said he wanted to cut the length of time people spend in poverty.

"That's what worries me in this country - because of poor education, because of family breakdown, drugs, alcohol, indebtedness, people are trapped at the bottom of our country."

Mr Cameron denied offering a tax incentive to married couples was a "bribe", but said there was a need for "a culture change in Britain" to encourage couples to stay together.

"It's not a moralising point, it's not a religious point but the evidence shows that kids do best if mum and dad are there to bring them up, and the evidence shows that marriage is a good institution which encourages people to commit to each other and to stay together."

Asked if his party had moved to the right, Mr Cameron said he had shown "complete consistency" with his policies.

"I've been very consistent on this issue of crime. Before people break the law, we need strong families, we need youth clubs, we need things to divert people away from crime, strong schools. That is the context to crime.

"But when people break the law, I am a Conservative, I've always been a Conservative.

"I believe in tough punishment. I worked for Michael Howard, for heaven's sake, who put through some very tough changes to the criminal justice system [when home secretary]."

I am only focused on winning
David Cameron

And he said Labour's boost in the polls at the expense of the Conservatives was "relatively short term", with the Conservatives - from the shadow Cabinet to members across the country - having "a fire in their belly".

"If you look at my leadership as a whole, 18-19 months, for the vast majority of that [I was] ahead of the polls, succeeding in the local elections, and that is what people will judge me on."

He brushed aside a question from a viewer about whether he would quit if the Tories lost the next general election.

"I am only focused on winning.

"I am totally focused on putting together the right team, putting together the right policies, but above all demonstrating our values and convictions about the big change that has to take place in this country."


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