Page last updated at 19:36 GMT, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 20:36 UK

Tories want 'best' migrants in UK

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Conservative Party conference

Damian Green
Damian Green says the UK is lucky to have 'got away' with mass migration

The Conservatives would launch a drive to get more highly qualified migrants to come to the UK, shadow minister Damian Green has said.

The party would keep the government's points based migration system but place an overall annual limit on numbers.

It would cut low skilled migration but push for more high grade workers.

"We want to attract more than our fair share of the brightest and the best," he told a Tory conference fringe meeting in Manchester.

Mr Green said he wanted to achieve an immigration system as close as possible to the Australian system, which as well as having quotas for some professions also set targets for highly qualified migration.

He said Britain was a global trading nation and it was vital for future prosperity to attract more entrepreneurs and highly qualified graduates to the UK than to rival economies such as Japan or the US.

'Scare stories'

But he also said it was important to control immigration by imposing an overall cap on numbers in order to ease pressure on public services and ease social tensions.

And he hit back at claims politicians on all sides were resorting to "scare stories" about immigration, insisting some such stories, especially about the impact on primary schools, were true.

But he said the Tories aimed to get immigration under control to "reduce the threat of social tension", arguing that people will feel "more welcoming" and "relaxed" about immigration if they have evidence it is not threatening their local services.

This was particularly important because despite the recession there had been no reduction in immigration and "actually the numbers are still rising and all the pressures are still there".

He also expressed concern about the government's earned citizenship scheme, which among other things encourages people to volunteer for activities, including helping political parties.

Mr Green said "forced volunteering" on a mass scale could have a potentially "horrific" impact on voluntary groups who would have to police it.

He also said Britain had been "really lucky as a country" that the big, unplanned influx of migrants from Eastern Europe that had happened in the past few years had been "hard working and respectable" people.

"We are lucky. We got away with it," he added.

Interest rates

All of the panel at the Work Foundation event agreed that the quality of data on immigration in the UK was inadequate.

CBI director general Richard Lambert said that when he was a member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, which sets UK interest rates, "we had no idea about the flow of immigrants into our country and what was happening to inflation as a result. Not a clue".

The Monetary Policy Committee, he added "at the time was flying blind".

He backed the government's points based migration system - even though some teething troubles still needed to be ironed out.

And he also suggested that the reason construction firms were bringing in labour from other EU countries - which led to industrial unrest over the summer - was more to do with the quality of the workers rather than their willingness to work for less.

"There are productivity problems which it seems to me is one reason why contractors are not hiring British workers," he told the meeting.

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