During the Q&A after the speech, Mr Cameron declined to say how much he wanted net immigration reduced but promised that Conservatives would seek a "substantial" change. He ruled out any attempts to influence the number of children that families choose to have. He dismissed suggestions that this speech – his first on immigration and related issues – amounted to a shift from the centre ground. These issues, he said, concerned everyone – from the right, left and centre.
Immigration must be reduced: "We need policy to reduce the level of net immigration. And we need policy to strengthen society and combat atomisation. The right approach, as I will argue today, has three components. First, a sober and forensic understanding – and a total acceptance of – the facts: the scale and nature of this challenge. Second, action to ensure that our population grows at a more sustainable rate. Third, action to prepare properly for that sustainable rate of growth."
Population growth is accelerating: "Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that our population of 60.6 million today will grow to nearly 63 million by 2011, 65 million by 2016, and more than 71 million by 2031. These projected increases are on a different scale to what we have seen in the recent past. In the last twenty years, our population grew by around four million. Over the next twenty years, it’s projected to grow by around nine million – more than twice as fast."
Natural demography is a secondary factor in population growth: "Only around thirty per cent of the projected increase in our population by 2031 is due to higher birth rates and longer life-spans… more than two thirds – of the increase in our population each year is attributable to net migration."
Sources of immigration: "In 2005, the latest year for which detailed figures are available, 145,000 migrants to Britain were from the European Union, mostly from the new accession countries in the east, and accounting for around thirty per cent of the total. 91,000 were British citizens returning to live here. Another 189,000 came from the Commonwealth. And 140,000 from elsewhere in the world. But these bald figures do not give a very clear picture of what is happening. We must not confuse stock and flow. What matters in terms of our overall population is not who comes, but who stays."
Immigration has largely been positive for the economy: "When it comes to the economic effects of immigration, I would summarise the position as follows. Broadly, immigration has a positive impact on our economy. But there are negative effects too, and any responsible population strategy must distinguish between them, avoiding a broad-brush approach in favour of policy responses that are appropriately tailored to the varying economic effects of immigration, and which seek to share the costs and benefits fairly."
Pressure on housing: "2004 figures show that net migration will create
the equivalent of 73,000 new households a year in England. According
to the Government’s own figures, that’s a third of the demand for
housing in England."
Pressure on transport infrastructure: "Britain has the most congested
roads in Europe, and as we all know from our daily experience, simply
getting around is more and more of a hassle. There are now
thirty-three million cars on Britain’s roads: six million more than in
1997. That’s the year John Prescott promised that cutting car use
would be the measure of his success in office. The speed of a car in
rush-hour London is now only half the speed of a cyclist. And the
average worker in Britain spends nearly an hour commuting, longer than
in almost every other country in Western Europe. In many parts of the
country, our rail network is suffering from chronic levels of
over-crowding, seriously blighting the quality of life for millions of
commuters. As our Policy Review pointed out, on current trends,
transport congestion will be costing our economy £22 billion a year by
The problem of social atomisation: "A recent estimate suggested that
divorce and separation accounts for twenty-four per cent of the growth
in the total number of households. Twenty-seven per cent is due to the
changing age structure of the population and people living longer.
Immigration accounts for twenty-six per cent – although this
calculation was based on earlier, lower estimates of the level of
immigration, and so will have risen… a rise in the number of people
living on their own – does not just affect housing. It affects public
services – with evidence suggesting that people living on their own
place greater calls on public services like the NHS. It affects
transport – through more cars on our roads, as the one household, one
car structure moves to the two households, two cars structure. And
more single-person households means more resource use, for example, an
individual living alone consumes forty per cent more water than they
would if they were living with someone else."
Gordon Brown has nothing to say: "Today Gordon Brown cannot tell us
whether he thinks the population of the country is too low, too high,
or just about right. Whether our population is growing too fast, too
slowly or at about the right pace."
What Tories will do about immigration: "These are concrete steps that
we will take to control immigration directly. An annual limit on
non-EU economic migration, enforced by a new Border Police Force.
Transitional controls for new EU entrants. And changes to the rules on
marriages across national boundaries."
Increasing the skills of British workers: "Our domestic unemployment
rate is shockingly high – with nearly five million adults of working
age on out-of-work benefits, four million of whom, according to the
government’s own figures, want to and could work if they had the right
skills, incentives and support… So the next Conservative government
will implement both a revolution in skills training, to equip people
for the twenty-first century economy, and radical welfare reform, to
help people move from a life on benefits to a life in work. As I
announced last week, we will be publishing detailed proposals in these
crucial policy areas over the next few months."
Action to tackle atomisation: "Our pro-family welfare reforms will also
help us deal more effectively with some of the specific pressures on
housing, public services, transport and resources like water and energy
that arise from more and more people living on their own."