Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Fourth Report


COM(01) 181



Draft Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants
for asylum in Member States.

Draft Directive laying down minimum standards for the reception of
applicants for asylum in Member States.

Draft Directive laying down minimum standards for the reception of
applicants for asylum in Member States.

Legal base:Article 63 EC; consultation; unanimity
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 8 April 2002
Previous Committee Report: (a)HC 152-xxii (2001-02), paragraph 12 (20 March 2002)
To be discussed in Council: 25/26 April 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:(a) and (b) Cleared
(c) Not cleared; further information requested


  3.1  The aim of the proposal is to harmonise the assistance granted to asylum seekers while their applications are being considered, and to ensure that applicants have "a dignified standard of living" (paragraph 6 of the preamble). It is one of a number of measures intended to set minimum standards in relation to asylum seekers as a first step towards establishing a common procedure and a uniform status for those granted asylum in any Member State.

  3.2  We have already considered document (a) three times. On the last occasion, in March, we decided to keep it under scrutiny until we received the amended text which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle) had told us to expect in the near future. The Minister has now sent us two unnumbered unofficial documents, with an Explanatory Memorandum which covers both. We concentrate below on document (c) which supersedes documents (a) and (b).

Document (c) and the Government's view

  3.3   In a full and detailed Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister outlines the most significant amendments to the text of the draft Directive, and gives the Government's view of them.

  3.4  Changes made to Article 7: Freedom of Movement include two additions to the grounds on which freedom of movement within the host Member State may be restricted — "the public interest" and "the attribution of administrative competences ..." (The latter recognises that some Member States, such as Germany, restrict freedom of movement to a particular administrative area.)

  3.5  In the same Article, the cross-reference to the draft Procedures Directive[1] dealing with detention has been omitted. The Minister tells us that the general view was that it was not possible to agree cross-references to a draft Directive still under negotiation. As a result, there is now no reference to detention: instead, Article 7.2 allows Member States to "decide on the residence of the applicant for reasons of public interest, public order or when necessary for the swift processing and effective monitoring of their application."

  3.6  The latest text obliges asylum applicants to notify authorities of any change of address. The Minister tells us that the Government welcomes this amendment which is line with UK policy.

  3.7  With regard to Schooling and Education of Minors, the Minister tells us that the relevant Article (now Article 10) has become more flexible. Member States are now allowed to grant access to the education system under similar conditions to those of nationals, rather than the same conditions. In addition, education may be delivered in accommodation centres. The Minister comments:

    "This is not intended to deny or restrict minors from access to education, however, for practical reasons it may be necessary to educate asylum-seekers' children or minor asylum-seekers separate from nationals in certain circumstances. The Government would welcome this added flexibility as it allows for educating minors in mainstream state schools as well as for future proposals whereby minors residing in accommodation centres will be offered educational instruction on-site, tailored to their needs."

  3.8  The Minister informs us about changes to the Employment Article (now Article 11) as follows:

    "The Government has previously expressed its concern regarding the original wording of this article, as it was not consistent with current UK policy on access to employment for asylum applicants. The original text obliged Member States to allow access to the labour market after 6 months even if a negative decision had been made before this time-period had elapsed. The amended article now requires host countries to grant access to the labour market if there has been no first decision on an asylum application within 12 months of the date on which the claim was made. Negotiations on the time-period in which employment is denied proved very difficult and a compromise of 12 months has been made. Although the Government would have preferred the original six month period, it is better to compromise for a maximum of twelve months in which access to the labour market may be denied rather than having no time-limit at all. Access to the labour market is now restricted to the principal asylum applicant and no longer includes accompanying family members."

  3.9  With regard to Vocational Training, the Minister says:

    "During the course of the negotiations this article proved contentious to a number of Member States with divergent views. There was no dispute as to whether asylum applicants should be allowed access to vocational training at some point, however, Delegations were eager for the host country to have greater flexibility on the form that the training would take. Although the amended Article ... is no longer obligatory the Government feels that it is better to reach a compromise on the provision of vocational training rather than deleting the article altogether. The former Article ... that allowed Member States to deny access to vocational training as a punishment for negative behaviour has now been deleted."

  3.10  The Minister discusses a number of amendments to the General Rules and the Modalities of material reception conditions. She welcomes the amendment whereby the standard of reception conditions available no longer depends upon the length of the asylum procedure, since it seeks to address the issue of a two-tier system. (To the same end, the distinction between the availability of different levels of healthcare in relation to the length of the asylum procedure has been removed.) The Minister also supports the deletion of the Article which allowed Member States to reduce or withdraw reception conditions once applicants were granted access to the labour market, considering it more appropriate to wait until a person is employed and receiving an income before considering taking such measures.

  3.11  The Minister tells us that the new provision which allows for different reception conditions for a short period under exceptional circumstances is not intended as a mechanism for delay. She explains:

    "It was inserted at the request of Delegations that felt it was important to retain an element of flexibility so that host countries could deal with a large influx of persons into one geographical area should this occur. It was pointed out that in these exceptional circumstances it was not always possible to provide reception conditions at the levels prescribed by the draft Directive due to a lack of resources. Frequently, host countries would be forced to temporarily accommodate persons in emergency housing for a short period of time before they could be moved on to somewhere more suitable to their needs."

  3.12  The Minister then turns to Reduction or withdrawal of reception conditions (now Article 16). She says:

    "In the most recent text in Asile 17, Member States may no longer reduce or withdraw reception conditions if there are serious grounds that Article 1(F) of the Geneva Convention may apply with respect to an application. Delegations agreed that it did not seem fair to refuse reception conditions on a mere suspicion of there being serious grounds for 1(F) being applicable, and, once an applicant was excluded under Article 1(F) they would no longer fall within the scope of the draft Directive. The Government is also pleased to see that Member States may no longer reduce material reception conditions if parents refuse to send their children to school.

    "Article 16.5 ... now forbids food and housing to be reduced in addition to healthcare. The article conflicts with our domestic policy which allows for withdrawal of support in certain circumstances if asylum seekers have failed to abide by conditions of support (in exercising this policy, we are bound by the principles of reasonableness and proportionality and by our international obligations). The Government considers Article 16.5 to be superfluous because all Member States are signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and must therefore honour their international obligations in these areas."

  3.13  All the different references to appeals in the original text have now been placed in a separate Article. There is now a right to appeal against any negative decisions taken under Article 7 (Residence and freedom of movement). The Minister comments:

    "The Government is satisfied that the wording of the current text remains compatible with UK policy; however, we must ensure that any future changes in this Article are acceptable to the UK. Any proposed changes to the appeals system could have an impact not only on UK policy but also on the rights of the individual asylum-seeker."

  3.14  With regard to the scope of the measure, the Minister tells us:

    "The new version of the draft Directive excludes those in receipt of temporary protection from its scope. This does not mean, however, that persons granted temporary protection will be denied access to reception conditions because the Council Directive on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States and in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof already requires host countries to allow access to the labour market, vocational training, healthcare, material reception conditions and the education of minors."

The latest version of the proposal also narrows the definition of "family members".

  3.15  The Minister then comments on the issue of consistent definitions:

    "During the course of the negotiations, Member States were concerned about the definitions in Article 2 of the draft Directive because they felt it was difficult to agree to definitions that would also be contained in the forthcoming Procedures and Qualification[2] Directives. However, a compromise had to be found in order to allow progress and agreement on Reception. Following Council Legal Service advice, an Annex has been added to the draft Reception Directive which allows for the definitions in Article 2 to be adapted once a final text has been agreed on both the proposed Procedures and Qualification Directive should this prove necessary."

  3.16  The draft Directive is on the agenda for the April meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, although it is not certain that the European Parliament's opinion will have been received by that time. The Minister comments:

    " The Government welcomes the amended text of the draft Reception Directive which has sought to address many of contentious issues of contained in the original draft. On the whole, Delegations have reached agreement on most of the wording; however there remains a need for minor changes to the wording of the draft Directive before final agreement can be reached. Subject to our concerns about Article 16.5 ..., plans to reach political agreement before the end of the Spanish Presidency do not appear unrealistic."  


  3.17  We thank the Minister for her detailed Explanatory Memorandum. There are several aspects of the amended text which we welcome and, in general, we consider it an improvement.

  3.18  We still have some concerns about the current state of the proposal, however. Clearly, the negotiation of a set of minimum standards is a complex matter and some degree of compromise will probably always be necessary. For that reason, we can accept the twelve-month deadline for access to the labour market, although, like the Government, we would have preferred the six-month period. We find it difficult, however, to understand the reasoning behind the decision to make the provision of vocational training optional, especially if, as the Minister tells us, the principle of access to such training was not disputed. As it stands, it is hard to see how the Article can constitute a "minimum standard". We ask the Minister to explain why the watering down of this Article was considered preferable to its deletion, and to tell us whether there is any scope for its renegotiation.

  3.19  We are also concerned that the very general nature of some of the new wording could allow Member States to impose unduly restrictive conditions. One example is the addition of "public interest" to the grounds on which freedom of movement within the host Member State may be restricted. Another is the new wording of Article 7.2, quoted in paragraph 3.5 above. We ask the Minister whether detention for the purpose of examining asylum applications (expressly prohibited under the old 7.2) would be permissible under the new wording.

  3.20  With regard to detention, we note that the only specific references to it left in the current text occur in Article 2 (where the term is defined) and Article 13, in relation to standard of living. We ask the Minister if she is content that the draft Directive sets no minimum standard concerning the grounds for detaining asylum seekers.

  3.21  Finally, we do not share the Minister's reservations about Article 16.5. Nor do we understand her argument. If the Article is superfluous "because all Member States are signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights and must therefore honour their international obligations in these areas", how is the UK able to honour its international obligations if it allows for food and housing support to be withdrawn, even if only in certain circumstances? We ask the Minister for an explanation.  

  3.22  We do not wish to delay the agreement of this proposal unduly. However, we are not prepared to clear document (c) until we have the Minister's response to the points which we have raised. We clear documents (a) and (b) as superseded texts.

1  (21792) 11622/00; see HC 28-v (2000-01), paragraph 8 ( 7 February 2001). Back

2  (22885) 13620/01; see HC 152-xxii (2001-02), paragraph 7 ( 20 March 2002). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 26 April 2002