In a controversial move, Britain's new government on Thursday pledged to impose an annual cap on immigration from non-European Union countries in what is seen as an attempt to please the strong anti-immigration lobby which has close links with the Tories.

However, no figure was mentioned. It was also not clear if the cap would apply to foreign students, the main source of income for Britain's cash-strapped universities.

The plan, which will affect thousands of potential migrants from the Indian subcontinent, is part of the common minimum programme agreed upon between the Tories and their coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

The Lib Dems had opposed the idea of a cap during their election campaign but were forced to compromise in return for concessions in some other areas.

The Highly Skilled Migrants Forum, an Indian campaign group, said it would lobby against the move. Many leading British businesses are also against an arbitrary cap.

Launching the programme at a joint press conference, Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described it as a “historic'' document which combined the “best'' of their respective election manifestoes.

The 34-page document includes agreement on a range of contentious issues including civil liberties, banking, defence, and voting reforms.

While Mr. Cameron hailed it as a blueprint for a “genuinely radical, reforming government'', Mr. Clegg sounded even more excited.

“Even if you've read 100 party manifestoes, you've never read a document like this one,” he said. “Not one party's ideas, not even just two parties' ideas, but a joint programme for government based on shared ambitions and shared goals.'' He acknowledged that compromises had been made but said these had “strengthened, not weakened, the final result''.

In a joint foreword the two leaders said: “We have found that a combination of our parties' best ideas and attitudes has produced a programme for government that is more radical and comprehensive than our individual manifestoes.''

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