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Third-Country Nationals

Third-Country Nationals

European Standing Committee B

Monday 1 July 2002

[Mr. James Cran in the Chair]

Third-country Nationals

[Relevant Documents: European Union Document No. 8237/01 relating to the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents, European Union Document No. 11803/01 relating to the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid employment and self-employed economic activities, and European Union Document No. 10865/01 relating to freedom to travel for third-country nationals within the territory of the member states.]

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The Government welcomed the communication on a Community immigration policy as a first response to the call by the European Council at Tampere for an approximation of national laws on the conditions for admission and residence of third-country nationals. The Government support the proposition that immigration policies must be transparent, rational and flexible. A common set of high-level objectives in line with the United Kingdom's own objective to develop migration policy in the interests of social inclusion and sustainable economic growth is to be welcomed.

The Tampere European Council called for long-term resident third-country nationals to be granted

    ''a set of uniform rights which are as near as possible to those enjoyed by EU citizens''.

The Government endorse the principle of fair treatment for third-country nationals. We support measures to ensure that the rights of long-term, legally resident third-country nationals are broadly comparable with those of member states' own nationals within their country of residence. That helps to encourage integration within the host community.

The current arrangements in the UK already meet that test, and are in some respects more generous than those proposed in the draft directives. The Government strongly believe that, when people are settled here, they should be given every assistance to integrate fully in both their interests and those of society at large. However, the Tampere conclusions referred to rights within the member state of residence. The directives go beyond that by conferring rights throughout all member states. That is one source of the Government's difficulty with the proposals. We wish to maintain discretion over the admission of third-country nationals and the circumstances of their stay. That means that there would need to be substantial amendments to the present proposals before we could consider opting in. In particular, the directives would

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need to be far less prescriptive and move a long way in the direction of providing a flexible common framework. That is particularly the case in relation to the draft directive concerning the status of long-term resident third-country nationals.

The Government's policy announced to Parliament in March 1999 is to look positively at participation in title IV measures, provided that the measure in question is consistent with our policy of retaining frontier controls and discretion as to the persons to be admitted to our territory. We make a decision on each proposed measure on its merits in light of that policy. We are keen to co-operate with our European partners. We shall continue to play an active part in the discussions of all proposals made in response to the Tampere conclusions. Even when we do not participate in particular measures from the outset, we shall take an active part in negotiations with a view to opting in if we are able to secure the necessary amendments, and will in any case seek to ensure that our policies are not unnecessarily out of step with those of our EU partners.

I shall now take the opportunity to provide a brief outline of the Government's position on the draft directives. The draft directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of paid employment and self-employment contains proposals for a common legal framework for dealing with third-country nationals who want to enter a member state to work or engage in self-employment. Within that framework, member states would introduce national legislation to provide the precise terms on which a person would enter.

The central proposals are for a joint residence and work permit to be processed together and for a transparent core set of rights and obligations on people who enter a member state. As the Scrutiny Committee was told last December, the United Kingdom decided not to opt in to that directive.

The UK welcomes the aim of producing a transparent framework for the entry and stay of third-country nationals. The draft directive is compatible with many aspects of the UK's existing immigration rules. None the less, the UK has concerns about some of the draft articles. In particular, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Inland Revenue have fundamental objections to draft article 11.3 and its legal base. They have said that they would want to seek its removal before the UK could consider a future opt-in to the directive.

The UK has the opportunity to opt in following the adoption of the directive. Meanwhile, officials are participating fully in the relevant working group discussions on the text, which began in March 2002. In total, three meetings have now been held. During those discussions, it emerged that many member states have similar reservations to those of the UK.

The draft directive on the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents would require the granting of long-term-resident status to all third-country nationals who reside legally in the member state's territory for five years. Having achieved that status, long-term residents would benefit from many of

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the same rights as European Union citizens. We have little problem with that, but the draft directive also gives long-term residents the right to reside in a second member state and to transfer their long-term resident status to a second member state after five years' residence there. The draft directive would not significantly affect our policies in respect of third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the UK. The difficulty arises in respect of the provisions that grant rights in a second member state. If we were to opt in, we would be obliged to admit someone with that status, to allow them to exercise their rights under the directive.

The Government have not opted into the third directive, which relates to the conditions under which third-country nationals who are legally present in a member state have the freedom to travel in member states' territory for periods not exceeding six months. It includes specific travel authorisation to determine the conditions of entry and movement for third-country nationals who plan to move in the territory of two or more member states for between three and six months.

The directive is a development of the Schengen acquis on borders and visas, in which the UK does not participate. It would give third-country nationals who are lawfully present in other member states the right to enter another member state and remain in its territory for up to six months. That would affect the Government's ability to maintain discretion over the admission of third-country nationals.

Little progress has been made on that draft directive. It is likely that a new measure will have to be drafted, as the Council legal service has determined that its legal base is inappropriate.

The Spanish presidency of the visa working group, in which the measure was discussed, issued a questionnaire in order to establish member states' positions on matters such as who should be covered by the proposal; beneficiaries of the specific travel authorisation; member states in which the proposal can be applied; and whether the Schengen implementation convention needs to be amended. Member states submitted responses that exposed varying views on what they hope to achieve in that area of policy. Most are in favour of a regulation that would, under certain circumstances, allow for extensions to the three-month period in which a third-country national who meets specific conditions can travel freely within the member states. A consensus still needs to be reached and a new measure must be drafted.

I have tried not to go on for too long, but I hope that I have given a run-in to the issues that we shall confront under the three directives.

The Chairman: We have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. They should be brief and asked one at a time, as I am sure that they will be. It is likely that there will be ample opportunity for everyone.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Cran. I have looked through the papers, and should like to turn

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your attention to page xxxiii of the ninth report of the European Scrutiny Committee. The text at the bottom of the page would suggest that there is more, but on the reverse of the page, there is paragraph 9.1 of another document. I wonder whether you could take advice as to whether some of the conclusion is missing. If it is, could it be supplied as soon as possible?

The Chairman: It seems perfectly clear that I cannot answer that question, although perhaps the Minister can answer it for us. I shall seek advice quickly and shall pass it on for the benefit of the Committee.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Will the Minister confirm on the record that the Government have no plans to opt in to any of the measures, and that they consider control over our borders to be a vital prerequisite to any future opt-ins?

Mr. Ainsworth: It is the Government's view that we should maintain discretion over our borders, and our ability to opt in to any of the measures, which might be quite positive in themselves, is governed by that policy.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): Which other countries have concerns about the draft directive? Are they among the richer or the poorer countries of the European Union?


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