Howard: Immigrants cost £2 billion

Immigrants cost Britain £2 billion and many are "abusing" the system, Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard, will say today.

The former Home Secretary will tell party activists in Kent that spending by local councils on asylum has risen thirty-fold since Labour came to power in 1997.

Council spending on asylum support increased to £400 million in the last year from £13 million in 1997, Mr Howard will claim.

The Tories say immigration has doubled to 157,000 a year since Labour won power.

The speech is likely to be highly controversial, as Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the UN and charity groups have already signalled their strong opposition to the Conservatives' immigration and asylum plans.

The Tories have said they would withdraw from the 1951 Refugee Convention, set an annual quota on immigrants and refugees and stop processing in-country asylum applications.

The Liberal Democrats have said such plans are unacceptable, as they could lead to genuine refugees being turned away; Labour has demanded to know exactly where off-shore applications will be processed; and the UN has said it would not co-operate with the choosing of refugees.

Mr Howard - himself the son of an immigrant - will defend his plans, saying: "The British people are decent, tolerant people. They always have been willing to help those in genuine need.

"But many people now feel that their tolerance, their sense of fair play and their desire to help others are being abused."

Mr Howard will reiterate the party's stance on "firm but fair" controlled immigration.

"Fair play matters. People want a government that upholds the rules - not one that turns a blind eye when they are bent and abused," he will say.

"And let's be clear. Our asylum system is being abused - and with it Britain's generosity."