Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Eighth Report







Green Paper on a Community return policy on illegal residents.

Legal base:



Home Office

Basis of consideration:

Minister's letter of 31 July and UK response

Previous Committee Report:

HC 152-xxxvii (2001-02), paragraph 7 (17 July 2002)

To be discussed in Council:

Date not set

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:





    1. When we considered this Green Paper in July, we noted that the Seville European Council had already endorsed some of its proposals and that the Danish Presidency had announced its intention of moving ahead in this policy area. We were, therefore, disappointed that the Government had not provided us with a full account of its views on this thoughtful paper, which tackles complicated and sensitive issues related to the return of illegal residents.
    2. We decided to keep the document under scrutiny until we had the Government's considered views on it. We also asked for a copy of the UK's response.
    3. The Minister's letter

    4. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Race Equality, Community Policy and European and International Policy (Lord Filkin) has now written to us enclosing a copy of the UK's response to the Green Paper, which represents the Government's considered position.
    5. The UK's response

    6. The UK's response provides full answers to all the questions posed in the Green Paper, following some general comments. It also includes detailed comments on the terms and definitions suggested in the paper.
    7. Both the general comments and the specific answers make it clear that, while the UK recognises the value of EU level co-operation over returns, it favours flexible arrangements rather than binding standards. It is not convinced that there is a pressing need for common standards on returns, and it is definite in its opposition to binding standards on detention. With regard to the latter, the response states: "The establishment of binding standards on detention (assuming these took the form of a time limit, place of detention, regime etc) would severely damage the UK's ability to implement removals effectively....It would be unacceptable to the UK if we had to release people whose removal was being processed or who were recognised as a threat to our national security because of an arbitrary deadline."
    8. The response is more favourably disposed towards the establishment of a binding and comprehensive system for the mutual recognition of return decisions, going beyond Directive 2001/40/EC[52], although it describes it as an "ambitious goal". It also supports further discussion on a mechanism for determining obligations between Member States for readmission of all third country nationals, and the creation of a European Return Programme. The response welcomes recent progress at EU level on readmission agreements with third countries, citing this as an area where the Community approach adds value to work carried out by individual Member States.
    9. Throughout the response, there is support for co-operative working between Member States. One of the general comments is that "co-operation at EU-level should be sufficiently flexible to allow groups of Member States to work together to devise solutions to common problems". There is also an emphasis on the importance of sharing best practice.
    10. The response also flags areas which must remain the responsibility of individual Member States, such as the basis on which return decisions are made. More generally, it states: "We should recall that Member States are likely to remain the main enforcement agents of return policy. We should therefore develop co-operation at EU level with this in mind, making sure that Member States retain sufficient scope to act according to their individual priorities and to work bilaterally with third countries".
    11. Conclusion

    12. We thank the Minister for providing us with a copy of the UK's response to the Green Paper. It has given us what we were seeking — a full exposition of the Government's position.
    13. We support the suggested redrafting of the section on definitions, which is a considerable improvement on the original.
    14. We now clear the document.


52  OJ L 149 of 2 June 2001, p.34. Back

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