Tories take aim at asylum-seekers in alternative programme

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Proposals for a renewed crackdown on asylum-seekers, reversing proposed cuts to the armed forces and widespread reductions in state bureaucracy are promised in the Tories' alternative Queen's Speech.

Proposals for a renewed crackdown on asylum-seekers, reversing proposed cuts to the armed forces and widespread reductions in state bureaucracy are promised in the Tories' alternative Queen's Speech.

Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader, also promised Bills to increase the freedom of patients to choose hospitals for treatment and to give parents a greater choice of school for their children.

Mr Howard will condemn the Prime Minister today as being "all talk" while promising an alternative vision of a smaller state bureaucracy and more spending directed towards frontline services.

In an alternative speech which drew the battle lines for the general election campaign expected in the spring, Mr Howard promised yesterday to "cut back waste and bureaucracy in government". He said that the Conservatives' alternative programme would "ensure that taxpayers get better value for money and set Britain on a path to lower taxes".

Mr Howard promised a cabinet post devoted to deregulation, and said the Tories would introduce an immediate freeze on civil-service recruitment. Recommendations of the party's James Committee on cutting bureaucracy would also be implemented.

The paper promised to reduce police paperwork, recruit 5,000 extra officers and reverse the reclassification of cannabis.

On immigration, the alternative speech proposes a points system to "ensure that priority is given to people who want to come to Britain to work hard and make a positive contribution to the country". The system involves setting annual quotas for immigration, with people who have family links or sought-after skills being given priority.

The Tories pledged to reform visa rules to prevent people who enter Britain on holiday or student visas transferring to long-stay permits once their visas have expired. They also promised 24-hour surveillance at ports to "restore firm control of entry into Britain".

On education, the alternative programme promised to scrap university tuition fees and the Office for Fair Access, set up by the Government to ensure that people from low-income backgrounds can gain access to higher education. It also pledged to scrap central government examination targets for schools, alongside measures to abolish current restrictions on school expansion and to create 600,000 more school places so that choice is widened.

On the NHS, the Conservatives pledged to give all hospitals foundation status and to grant patients the right to choose where they are treated.

On housing, they also promised a Bill to extend the right-to-buy from council houses to housing association tenants and help to promote shared home-ownership.

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