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TORY LEADER CLAIMS ASYLUM SEEKERS COST COUNCILS£400M PA

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Michael Howard: The cost of Tony Blair's chaotic asylum system...
Michael Howard: The cost of Tony Blair's chaotic asylum system

Michael Howard will today give a speech at Kent County Hall with Conservative Parliamentary candidates and MPs. He will outline the cost of Tony Blair's chaotic asylum system and tell the people of Kent that Tony Blair is only interested is in their votes - not their values.

Full text of speech:

'I am delighted to be here in Kent this morning with our Conservative MPs - Julian Brazier, Michael Fallon, Roger Gale, Hugh Robertson and Ann Widdecombe - and our candidates Tim Butcher, Gordon Henderson, Adam Holloway, Anne Jobson, Gareth Johnson, Mark MacGregor, Mark Reckless and Paul Watkins.

Conservative-controlled Kent County Council - led by Sandy Bruce-Lockhart - is one of the top performing councils in Britain. It's rated as excellent by the Audit Commission, is a 'Three Star' top-rated authority for Social Services, and is equal first out of 34 county councils on public satisfaction. Conservative councillors in Kent have demonstrated what we all know - that you can have good local services and low taxes.

Britain is a great country. But today we are heading in the wrong direction. If we are to make the most of our potential, Britain must change track. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our approach to immigration.

For centuries Britain has welcomed people from around the world. We have a proud tradition of giving refuge to those fleeing persecution. And we have always offered a home to families who want to come here and work hard. We are a richer, more successful, stronger and more creative country as a result.

But Britain has reached a turning point. The pace of change today is simply too great.

Mr Blair has presided over an unprecedented increase in immigration - it has more than doubled since he came to power. Over 150,000 people now settle in Britain each year - that is a city the size Peterborough.

According to the Government's own predictions, Britain's population will grow by six million over the next thirty years of which five million will be due to immigration - that is the equivalent of five times the population of Birmingham.

Our communities simply cannot successfully absorb newcomers at this rate. Immigration has got to be brought under control. Firm but fair immigration controls are essential for good community relations, the maintenance of national security and the management of public services.

Fair play matters. People want a government that upholds the rules - not one that turns a blind eye when they are bent and abused. And let's be clear. Our asylum system is being abused - and with it Britain's generosity.

Only two out of ten people who claim asylum in Britain today are genuine refugees. And what happens to the people who are not genuine refugees? Are they sent home? No. There are now over 250,000 failed asylum seekers living in Britain today.

This sends out all the wrong signals. People know that even if their asylum claim is rejected, they are more than likely to be allowed to stay here. It's hardly surprising so many people who are not genuine refugees apply for asylum in Britain.

And let no one argue that the current chaos is in any way humane. It is not humane to make desperate people prey to unscrupulous and illegal trafficking gangs. Abuse of the system keeps the abhorrent trade in people smuggling alive.

Just look at what is happening in Kent. Over the past five years, Kent County Council has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children arriving here all on their own, without their parents.

A few years ago it was just half a dozen or so children a year - today it's hundreds. And Sandy Bruce-Lockhart tells me that one of the first things they do is phone home to tell their parents to pay the second instalment of fees to the people smugglers who brought them here.

Britain needs a government with the courage to tell the truth about immigration - and the courage to act. Here's what a Conservative Government will do.

A Conservative Government will set an annual limit to immigration, including a quota for genuine refugees.

We will put in place 24-hour security at ports to prevent illegal immigration.

And we will introduce an Australian-style points system for work permits - giving priority to people with the skills Britain needs.

The British people are decent, tolerant people. They always have been willing to help those in genuine need. Tolerance and respect for others run in the bloodstream of British values. But many people now feel that their tolerance, their sense of fair play, and their desire to help others are being abused.

For too long, people have felt unable to talk about their proper and legitimate concerns. Why? Because they are frightened they will be accused of being racists. Well, I have a simple message: it's not racist to talk about immigration, and not racist to criticise the system. And it's not racist to impose limits on immigration.

Quite the reverse. If we do not dare to debate the future of our immigration system, let me tell you whom we are helping. The bigots who preach racial hatred, and the people smugglers who profit from today's unfair system.

And to criticise the system does not in any way lessen our desire to help genuine refugees. Quite the reverse. We want a faster and fairer system precisely so that we can help more genuine refugees.

I am determined to ensure that Britain takes her fair share of the world's genuine refugees. The anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz - where my grandmother was murdered along with over a million others - has reminded all of us that we have a moral responsibility to those fleeing persecution. But if we are to fulfil responsibility, we have to get a grip of the system.

We simply cannot ignore the scale of the problem. Kent County Council's asylum budget was less than£250,000 in 1996. Last year it was£53 million. WhenMr Blair took office local councils spent£13 million on asylum. That figure is now almost£400m - a thirty-fold increase. Since Labour took office local authorities have spent over£3bn on asylum - that is the equivalent to almost£140 a household in England.£140 per household.

That is the price that we are paying for a system that is in chaos, overseen by a Prime Minister who has run out of ideas about how to fix it.

He has had eight years to sort out the problems that we face. And now, just months before a general election, Mr Blair tells us that he has suddenly found the answer. That tells you a lot about Mr Blair: he's interested in your votes, not your values.

I think that people realise Mr Blair has had his chance. They can see that he's tried and failed. The British people want a government that shares their values. Trusting free enterprise; promoting individual responsibility; a sense of nationhood; rewarding hard work; admiring excellence; encouraging ambition - these are the right values. They are Conservative values. And they are the values of the forgotten majority - the people who make up the backbone of our country. They have been forgotten, neglected and taken for granted by Mr Blair.

The forgotten majority work hard. They save to buy their first home. They put money aside for their retirement. They take responsibility for their families. They deserve to be rewarded. But for the last seven and a half years their reward has been to pay higher taxes.

Britain deserves a government that will address people's priorities - more police, controlled immigration, school discipline, lower taxes, cleaner hospitals. And that is a Conservative Government.

People will face a clear choice at the next election; a Conservative Government that delivers value for money and lower taxes OR more waste and higher taxes under Mr Blair; a Conservative Government that gives power to local professionals, doctors, nurses and teachers OR more Whitehall initiatives, gimmicks and directives under Mr Blair; a Conservative Government that controls and limits immigration OR unlimited immigration under Mr Blair.

Everything I do will have one objective. That objective is opportunity. Like many of you here, I came from an ordinary family. I didn't have any special privileges. But Britain gave me the opportunity to get on life.

I want everyone - whatever their background, whatever the colour of their skin, whatever their religion - to have the opportunity to succeed. The opportunity to fulfil their ambitions. The opportunity to lead a better life than their parents.

In America, people talk about the American Dream. They talk about the ability of someone born in a log cabin to make it all the way to the White House. As it happens, in the States this is the exception not the rule. In Britain it does actually happen. There are countless example of people from humble beginnings who work hard and make it to the very top.

My hope for Britain is ambitious but simple - to give everyone the opportunity to live the British dream. That's why we need a government that values discipline at school and excellence in education. A government that let's people keep more of the money they earn by cutting taxes. And a government that brings back powers from Brussels so that it can always put the interests of the British people first.

That's what a Conservative Government will deliver. That's why Britain needs a Conservative Government. That's why it's our duty - each and every one of us - to pull out all the stops for a Conservative victory.'

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