Plaid Cymru’s leader in the House of Commons has called a claim from the Home Secretary that the Home Office consult ‘everybody’ on issues regarding the Penally asylum seekers camp as ‘astounding’.
In an exchange during questions at the House of Commons on Monday, Plaid’s Rt Hon Liz Saville Roberts MP posed the question to Home Secretary Priti Patel: “Given that planning permission for asylum seekers’ temporary accommodation at Penally in Pembrokeshire is due to run out by the end of March, can she confirm that the local community will this time be fully consulted on the camp’s future and that all new transfers to the site will cease in the intervening period?”
In a response that Plaid Cymru have since labelled as ‘obviously false’ - the Home Secretary stated: “I’m so disappointed to hear that colleagues across the house are simply not supportive of accommodation when many local authorities themselves failed to cooperate with the Home Office to identify sites in their constituencies.
“Quite frankly, the hypocrisy in saying ‘we don’t want asylum seekers here, send them elsewhere’ is simply not acceptable. We consult with everybody; I can give the Hon Lady that assurance.
“In the broadest possible sense, we cannot have this situation where local authorities literally refuse to engage with us, while at the same time saying that consultation is not taking place,” added the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP.
Following the Home Secretary’s stance, a spokesperson for Plaid Cymru remarked: “This claim that they “consult with everybody” is obviously false. The Welsh Government said on September 16 - "The UK Government didn't consult the local community, local services or us about their plans to use a military base in Wales for asylum seekers.”
After the session, Liz Saville Roberts MP remarked: “It is simply astounding that the Home Secretary would claim to ‘consult with everybody’ when we know that neither the Welsh Government, the local community or local services were consulted prior to the decision to repurpose the Penally camp.
“Despite widespread concerns, the Home Office decided to confine hundreds of people in inadequate conditions during a winter pandemic.
“It is high time the Home Secretary takes responsibility for the abject failure in Penally and urgently finds safe and suitable accommodation for those inside.”
Following the Home Secretary’s comments on Monday, and correspondence that was sent out to the constituents of MP for South Pembrokeshire and Welsh secretary of state Simon Hart last week where he stated that he had made a repeated request to the Welsh Government in finding alternative accommodation for asylum seekers currently residing at Penally camp, to hasten the closure of the facility, Plaid county councillor for Penally ward Clr. Jon Preston has in turn written an open letter to Mr. Hart asking him to respond to Priti Patel’s claims that the Home Office had consulted the local authority on the repurposing of the camp.
“I am confident that PCC have not refused to engage on this issue with the Home Office, however given that you, along with Welsh Government and Pembrokeshire County Council were not consulted prior to Penally camp being repurposed, it appears that the Home Secretary is unaware of how the Home Office took control of Penally camp last September - please could you advise why the Home Secretary believes that consultation has taken place and if this assumption provided the basis on which the Home Office proceeded to repurpose Penally camp last September,” said Clr. Preston in his correspondence to Mr. Hart.
“It has been estimated that that cost of providing services to Penally asylum accommodation by PCC amounts to a figure in the region of £55,000 per month. I trust you would agree that this is a significant cost for the local authority to divert towards providing essential services to the camp outside of the annual budget.
“It seems that approaches made to the Home Office by PCC to recover these costs to date have had little or no response. Due to the current pressures the local authority is facing at this time, I hope you can take this matter up with the Home Office as a matter of urgency.
“A planning application has not yet been submitted by the Home Office for the change of use. If no approval is granted before March 21, there will exist a possibility that enforcement action may be taken by the local authority.
“Due to the timescales this would involve, it is my understanding that the Home Office could continue to use Penally camp for an extended period ‘by default’.
“On behalf of the community of Penally and the service users at the camp I would welcome assurance that the Home Office will ensure that the return of Penally camp to the MoD is managed without the need of enforcement action and avoid further distress to those already affected by this situation,” he added.
Following the repurposing of the former Military of Defence facility at Penally back in September, Labour Member of the Senedd and MS for Mid and West Wales Eluned Morgan confirmed at the time that the Welsh Government received no prior notification of the decision taken by the Home Office
“The decision to select Penally Training Camp was taken solely by the Home Office without any prior discussion with Welsh or local government,” said Eluned Morgan, who is also Minister for International Relations in Welsh Government.
“The community has been robbed of the chance to have a proper consultation over this and the decision is causing a great deal of worry and anxiety especially for Penally’s older residents.”
An open letter was also sent to the Home Secretary from Pembrokeshire County Council, the Hywel Dda University Health Board and local stakeholders expressing concern about the controversial decision to relocate asylum seekers to Penally.
PCC’s leader Clr. David Simpson, and chief executive at the time Ian Westley called for the decision to be reversed, whilst local Health Board chair Maria Battle and chief executive Steve Moore, along with Senedd member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Angela Burns and Penally county councillor Jon Preston all put their signatures to the correspondence, as well as church ministers from the locality, stating that they are ‘particularly disappointed’ by the lack of communication and discussion with local stakeholders and the local community.
Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn also wrote an open letter to the Home Secretary stating: “I write to express my significant concerns in relation to the lack of a clear strategy, detail and consultation surrounding these plans.
“There is an urgent need for greater clarity on the strategic plan and considerable engagement to ensure we support and safeguard these vulnerable individuals whilst addressing local concerns.
“I am personally unable to fully understand the rationale for selecting the Penally site and would like clarification on how this decision was reached and how the proposed logistics will work,” continued Mr. Llywelyn.
You can watch Monday’s exchange between Rt Hon Liz Saville Roberts MP and Home Secretary Priti Patel here: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/48e268b1-05ed-4b19-b9cb-60d019f93086?in=15:39:00&out=15:40:19