HC Deb 15 December 1987 vol 124 cc435-6W
Mr. Wheeler

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the outcome of the recent meeting of the Ministers of the European Community concerned with immigration.

Mr. Hurd

The ministers of the states of the European Community concerned with immigration met on 9 December in Copenhagen under the presidency of the Danish Minister of Justice. A representative of the Commission of the European Community attended the meeting. My colleagues and I considered a further report from the ad hoc working group of senior officials which was established last year during the United Kingdom presidency.

The meeting reaffirmed the importance of the coordination of the visa policies of member states. It was agreed that from 1 March 1988 nationals of 50 countries would require a visa if they wished to enter any country in the Community. It was also agreed that, as a general principle, it was necessary to make a specific individual assessment of such applicants before issuing a visa. There will be consultation between member states about any proposal to remove a country from this list. The United Kingdom already requires visas of citizens of these 50 countries. The list includes the five countries to which our visa requirement has been extended since September 1986.

Ministers instructed officials to study the possibility of further countries being added during 1988 to this common list of those whose citizens required visas, and to study ways of achieving greater co-ordination of the criteria for the grant of visas. We shall consider again at our next meeting the proposal to draw up a parallel list of countries—notably other European countries which have close links with member states of the Community — from whose citizens visas will not be required.

A major problem facing all member states is the need to deal in a humane and orderly way with applications for asylum from those who apply for asylum in different countries, either at the same time or in sequence. It is necessary to establish clear guidelines to determine which country should examine an application for asylum (the "first country of asylum") both to reduce prolonged periods of uncertainty for applicants and to make it possible to deal more effectively with those applications which clearly fail to meet the requirements of the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees.

The presidency put before the meeting detailed guidelines drawn up by the ad hoc working group which would be used to determine the country responsible for examining and reaching a decision on any given application. Given that EC countries received more than 150,000 applications for asylum in 1986, it is important to devise an orderly system for dealing with them. There was a wide measure of agreement on the suggested guidelines, and Ministers instructed officials to continue their work so that agreement might be reached at our next meeting under the German presidency in the first half of next year. My colleagues and I endorsed proposals for the regular exchange of information and statistics about policy and procedure in considering applications for asylum and also for the exchange of information about the conditions in the country of origin from which those seeking asylum in the Community have come.

All those attending the meeting stressed the value of cooperation between Ministers and officials concerned with immigration, and the United Kingdom will continue to play its full part in this work.