- "In 2001, inward migration [to Britain] was about
170,000... These are by far the highest levels of immigration ever. Ten
years ago the annual figure was about 50,000..."
- David Blunkett blew open the political debate over immigration
last night when he said there was "no obvious limit" to the number
of foreigners who could settle in Britain.
- With figures today expected to show that net migration
is running at a record level, the Home Secretary conceded that in some
areas people felt swamped or overwhelmed by new arrivals. However, he declined
to say how many people he thought Britain could comfortably accommodate.
- His comments are certain to ignite controversy over immigration
policy, which Mr Blunkett said had to be managed effectively if it was
to gain the confidence of the indigenous population.
- In 2001, inward migration was about 170,000. Today's
figures are likely to show a marked increase after the decision to increase
the number of work permits issued.
- These are by far the highest levels of immigration ever.
Ten years ago the annual figure was about 50,000; cumulative immigration
in the past five years is equivalent to a city the size of Liverpool. A
poll in the summer suggested that voters considered immigration a bigger
political issue than crime.
- But Mr Blunkett does not consider that ceilings or quotas
are practical and he seeks a "balanced" policy. Interviewed on
BBC2's Newsnight, he declined to accept that there was a maximum population
which the country could sustain.
- "I don't think there is. But I think we need to
work on much more robust projections of what is sustainable in the long
term. It is a crowded island. We've always been a crowded, vigorous island."
- Asked whether some communities felt swamped by incomers,
he said: "They do and I think we need to deal with that in terms of
reassuring them in relation to the services available, to the actions we're
taking, to the speed we deal with applications."
- Earlier, in a speech at the Royal Institute of International
Affairs at Chatham House, London, Mr Blunkett acknowledged that global
migration was one of the world's greatest challenges.
- A tough attitude was required towards illegal arrivals
and unfounded asylum claims but there had to be "tolerance and enthusiasm"
for legal migrants, who benefited the economy. While they constituted eight
per cent of the population, they contributed 10 per cent of the wealth.
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.