The very first audience question put to the leaders of the three main parties in Britain’s historic first live TV election debate this week was on immigration.
In the run up to the General Election on 6 May, ITV staged the first of three televised US-style election debates where questions are put to the leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
Labour’s Gordon Brown, the current Prime Minister, Conservative leader and poll favourite David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg all promised to control immigration.
David Cameron said immigration was ‘simply too high’ and that it needs to come down so that it’s in the ‘tens of thousands rather that the hundreds of thousands’. If elected, a Conservative Government would keep the points based system but introduce an annual cap on immigration.
He also said that when new countries join the EU ‘transitional controls’ should be imposed to limit numbers.
When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU they were not given the same rights to work here as the A8 nations, such as Poland and Slovakia, were given when the European Union expanded in 2004. The Conservatives look set to continue with this policy.
Cameron called for a ‘proper border police force’ to control illegal immigration, but Brown argued that he had already created the UK Border Agency.
Nick Clegg said the Liberal’s favour a regional based system, similar to those run in Australia and Canada, where migrant workers are deployed to specific parts of the country where they are most needed.
He also talked about entry and exits controls, but Gordon Brown said the Government are already introducing a system of ‘counting people out and in’ at the end of this year.
Clegg claimed that, despite tough talking by Labour and Conservatives in the past, there was ‘complete chaos’ in the administration of the system, and pointed out that a hospital in Cardiff had to keep a specialist baby unit closed due to new rules preventing them from bringing in doctors from outside the EU.
Brown said ‘net migration is falling’ and a Labour Government would ‘control and manage immigration’ and had introduced the points system so that no unskilled worker from outside the EU could come to Britain.
He added that he had brought in ID cards for foreign nationals which meant employers now know who to legally employ. He confirmed the Home Office plan to stop non EU Care Assistants and Chefs coming in by taking them off the shortage occupations list in 2012.
The Prime Minister then said he suspected that there would be ‘40,000 less students’ coming in this year as a result of ‘our tightening of visa controls’.