Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Second Report




COM(01) 181

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

Legal base:Article 63 EC; consultation; unanimity
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration:Minister's letter of 7 March 2002
Previous Committee Reports:HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 22 (18 July 2001) and HC 152-xiv (2001-02), paragraph 2 (23 January 2002)
To be discussed in Council:No date set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Not cleared, pending revised text


  12.1  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.

  12.2  We have already considered the document twice. On the last occasion, in January, we asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle) to tell us how the proposed changes to UK asylum policy and procedures meshed with the provisions in the draft Directive. We also emphasised our concern to be kept informed of developments.

The Minister's letter

  12.3  The Minister has now replied. She begins by explaining that negotiations on the proposal resumed only when Spain took over the Presidency and decided to prioritise it. She says:

"Final changes have not been agreed and there are still divergent views amongst delegations regarding areas such as access to the labour market, vocational training and freedom of movement. However, Spain have increased the momentum of negotiations in hope of securing political agreement before the end of their Presidency."

  12.4  The Minister tells us that she expects an amended text of the draft Directive to be produced shortly.

  12.5  In relation to the UK's approach to the minimum standards, the Minister gives us a clear assurance, saying:

"We do not aim to negotiate a directive that will allow us to lower our current reception arrangements but hope that the Reception Directive will act as a catalyst to those Member States who currently fall below the minimum standards. Indeed, the proposed changes in the UK reception system builds upon what is already available to asylum applicants by aiming to provide more accessible support."

  12.6  The Minister then outlines the proposed changes and points out how they mesh with the draft Directive, as follows:

"—  the first stage of the asylum process will be the Induction Centre where applicants will be given detailed briefing regarding the asylum procedure, support arrangements, dispersal and obligations to comply with temporary admission and reporting arrangements. This is compliant with Article 5 of the draft Directive that obliges Member States to advise asylum applicants of their support entitlements and the obligations they have to comply with in relation to their reception conditions;

  • basic health screening will be available at Induction Centres which is compliant with Article 11 of the draft Directive;

  • there will be smaller units of accommodation available for single or pregnant women or special needs cases within the Induction Centres. Furthermore, it is intended that opportunities will be explored for joint commissioning of suitable accommodation for unaccompanied minors who are 16 or 17 on arrival. This supports one of the objectives of the draft Directive that is to ensure that vulnerable groups receive specialist support to meet their special needs;

  • accommodation centres will not just offer full-board accommodation but other services that will include healthcare, education and opportunities for purposeful activities that may in English language and training in IT skills. This complies with the draft Directive which aims to 'set out the minimum standards of reception conditions for applicants for asylum in the European Union, normally sufficient to ensure them a dignified standard of living'. On the whole, the UK exceeds these minimum standards...

  • from 8 April, subject to Parliamentary approval, all subsistence payments to asylum seekers on National Asylum Support Services support will be paid in cash and not in vouchers. This still complies with Article 15.3 of the draft Directive which states that 'material reception conditions may be provided in kind, or in the form of financial allowances or of vouchers."

  12.7  The Minister assures us that her officials are working closely together to ensure the compatibility of European and domestic commitments. She does not expect the UK to have to make any major changes to its reception arrangements in the light of the Directive.


  12.8  We thank the Minister for her letter, which helpfully updates us on the progress of negotiations, and describes the relationship between the draft Directive and proposed changes to UK asylum policy and procedures.

  12.9  We shall keep the document under scrutiny until we receive the amended text and accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

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Prepared 28 March 2002