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Spencer Pitfield: It's claimed that the CPF won't discuss weighty topics. Wrong. We're debating immigration.

Pitfield SpencerDr Spencer Pitfield, is the National Voluntary Director of the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF), a national group chaired by Oliver Letwin MP that gives its members the opportunity to discuss the major policy challenges facing Britain today. Over the coming months he and other members of the voluntary team will be writing a regular post for ConservativeHome. Follow Spencer on Twitter.

On 12 October we released our most recent discussion paper -Immigration. In my role as voluntary Director, I get regular comment and feedback from members up and down the country. A common view relates to the choice of subject for our nine annual papers and the perception that CPF doesn’t want, or indeed is not able, to discuss difficult or ‘weighty’ topics.

I hope the fact that this month our 250 groups will be discussing immigration begins to dispel that myth. I also trust that colleagues will see that our CPF national team does listen closely and respond to the areas of policy debate you would like to address. Indeed, we will turn our focus on Europe in early 2013 – another policy area which I am sure will create heated debate.

Of course, our papers form part of an overall policy analysis strategy, which senior volunteers together with Oliver Letwin MP - our CPF Chairman - and professional colleagues have agreed. It is right that we have a structured process and procedure for collating national views of Party members, putting those views before the relevant Ministerial colleagues, and making sure this Ministerial response is publicised. With over 10,000 individual comments captured to date it remains clear why such an organised approach needs to be adopted.

I would encourage all colleagues to take some time to read our Immigration discussion brief.

For me, our starting point in any discussion must be to look closely and accurately at the facts as they stand. In so doing, we have a much better starting point to debate the way forward – especially in such sensitive areas of national discussion.

Well what are the facts? For starters it is clear that the tough reforms the government are implementing to all the routes of immigration into the UK – the work route, the study route and the family route – are starting to bite. The latest figures show that in the year to December 2011, annual net migration fell by 36,000. And in the year to June 2012, there was a drop of more than 90,000 in the number of student visas issued by the Home Office. That means we can expect net migration to keep on falling.

Readers will not be surprised to know that under Labour immigration was uncontrolled. What does that mean in real terms? Net migration - the number arriving in the UK to stay for more than a year minus those leaving for good - increased from around 50,000 per year in 1996 to just under 200,000 in 2009, reaching heights of nearly 250,000 in 2004. This means that our population increased by over two million because of migration; that is twice the population of Birmingham!

Our discussion also touches upon asylum seekers, rendered more important because statistics relating to asylum often find themselves confused with economic migration figures. Asylum, granted in the UK under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees had 19,804 applications in 2011. This is down from the highest point of 84,132 in 2002. Most claims are rejected: only 5,648 were granted asylum in 2011.

Have these comments caught your interest? Then why not find out more and join the conversation over at I’m particularly pleased with the pictorial timeline in our appendix – showing migration ‘in flow’ and ‘out flow’ from 1975 through to 2010, along with some important policy milestones along the way.

Most importantly – we want to get your local community’s views of how immigration is affecting (both positively or negatively) your life and work. In so doing, the CPF will be helping to inform our senior elected colleagues and making sure the views of Party members on important national topics such as immigration are placed at the very highest table.


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