AGENDA: 'We Want to Give More Power and Opportunity' This Is an Abridged Version of Conservative Party Leader David Cameron's Speech on Immigration to the Policy Exchange Think Tank in London

Article excerpt

Byline: David Cameron

The modern Conservative Party has a clear vision for Britain's future. We want to give people more opportunity and power over their lives. We want to make families stronger and society more responsible. And we want to make our country safer and greener.

Opportunity; responsibility; security. We are developing policy in each of these three areas - policy that will bring about real change in our country, but also policy that will be practical, costed and deliverable. That means making sure that our policies meet every challenge this country faces, and it is one of the most important of those challenges that I want to address today.

That challenge is demographic change, and it's time we had a grown-up conversation about it. The argument is clear. Britain's population is set to grow rapidly. That growth will come mainly from a combination of higher life expectancy and higher net immigration. At the same time we are seeing another significant demographic change: the growth in household formation, partly caused by the increasing atomisation of our society. These trends will put pressure on our national infrastructure - particularly in key areas like housing, public services and transport - and on resources like water and energy.

These demographic changes, and the pressures associated with them, will make it more difficult for a Conservative government to deliver its vision of opportunity, responsibility and security. And so it's essential that we also develop a coherent strategy, and implement joined-up policy, to address population growth and the atomisation of our society. Of course we should recognise that in an advanced, open economy there will be high levels of both emigration and immigration.

But what matters is the net figure, which I believe is currently too high. Likewise, 'household formation' is part of the natural lifecycle - moving out, getting married, having children. But the atomisation of society - particularly family breakdown - is creating additional pressures.

It is time for change. 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.

This will require a level of strategic thinking and joined-up policy-making that seems to be completely beyond this government. We need to bring together policy on issues from housing to skills; planning to immigration control; the family to border control into a coherent longterm population strategy.

Both Labour and Conservative Home Secretaries have in the past made the argument that immigration control is a necessary part of good community relations. I have always held - and still hold - this view. But in this speech I want to focus on other aspects of this issue, and I want to start by considering the statistical picture of what is actually happening.

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 20 years, our population grew by around four million. Over the next 20 years, it's projected to grow by around nine million - more than twice as fast. And if you extend the time horizon, you find the same scale of change. In the last 40 years, our population grew by around six million. But again, over the next 40 years, on current trends, it will grow more than twice as fast. The first question to answer is: where is this growth coming from? …