United Kingdom Parliament
Jan 2004 : Column 102WH
Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con):
I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter in
the Chamber. I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing that the
sitting be suspended until 4 o'clock to enable those of us who wanted
to be on the Floor of the House to hear the Hutton statement to do
I must declare a non-pecuniary interest in that I am the Conservative
trustee of the Radiation Research Trust. I see the Labour trustee,
the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), in his seat. The
hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) represents the Liberal
I am not a scientist and I come to these matters, like so many
colleagues throughout the House, on the basis of constituency
experience. I want to mention three key constituency experiences that
have helped to inform my concern and are the reason for raising the
The first happened early in my time as Member of Parliament for
Sutton Coldfield, when I became involved in the matter of a mast
being sited adjacent to St. Nicholas school in Boldmere in my
constituency. I hope that I came to that with a clean mind; I
certainly came to it with no prejudice. I observed how the school,
together with the governors and parents, sought in a dignified way to
raise its concern about the siting of the mast. I also observed the
response of Orange and the way in which it dealt with consultation,
the school and me as the local Member of Parliament.
Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con):
As a matter of courtesy to the House, may I explain that I have
another meeting to attend at 4.30 pm and that if I do not remain in
the Chamber until the end of the debate I intend no discourtesy? I
shall read Hansard diligently tomorrow.
My hon. Friend rightly opened the debate, on which I congratulate
him, with a reference to his handsome constituency of Sutton
Coldfield, which is largely residential, one of the finest towns in
the midlands and a royal borough. As the representative of the
neighbouring seat of Solihull, which is also largely residential and
much like his constituency, will he acknowledge that many of my
constituents have similar concerns? They will read this debate and
the Minister's reply with great interest.
: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he shares many of the
concerns that I shall raise.
I observed the perfectly legitimate nervousness and concerns of the
governors, heads and parents at the lack of information and the
high-handed and arrogant way in which Orange behaved. I became very
involved in the discussions and was amazed at how blatantly Orange
merely paid lip service to them. I wrote to the chairman of Orange,
but to this day I have not received a response. One of his underlings
replied. I raised that experience with the then Minister with
responsibility for planning, Lord Falconer, who was extremely
sympathetic and I know raised my concerns at one of his meetings with
leaders in the industry. That was my first experience of the way in
which the health concerns of my constituents were dealt with by the
The second event was a meeting last summer in my constituency at the
Sutton Coldfield grammar school for girls, which is a fine school. A
huge number of members of the public attended. Some had a
professional involvement and interest in such matters and some came
from much further afield than the west midlands. We had assembled a
group of eminent experts to talk. I chaired that meeting and we heard
from Professor Laurie Challis, the successor to Sir William Stewart
as chairman of the mobile telecommunications and health research
group, who made an interesting and distinguished contribution. We
also heard from those who were concerned about the health aspects of
mobile phone masts and those who were not. Alasdair Philips was also
therehon. Members will be aware that he runs an organisation
called Powerwatchand he made an impressive contribution. I sat
and listened to the questions and the presentations for and against
mobile phone masts made by that distinguished group of experts. The
conclusion that I reached at the end of that lengthy meeting was that
research is inadequate. Not enough research programmes are being
commissioned by the Government and others, and much more needs to be
My third experience took place towards the end of last year. A mast
was vandalised early in November in Wishaw in my
constituencynot, I am advised, by members of what has become
known as the Wishaw protest group against the mast, and not by my
constituents. I know the people involved in the Wishaw group
extremely well. Many of them have campaigned against the mast for a
number of years.
I followed closely the events before and after the mast was
vandalised. For instance, once it had collapsed, the group
commissioned meetings with Crown Castle and T-Mobile. Two or three
meetings have taken place, and I followed what happened at them. It
is clear to meI hope that I am an objective observerthat
the meetings were a complete waste of time. The companies raised
false hopes among my constituents, and although lip service was paid
to making an effort to identify alternative sites, I am satisfied
that it was merely lip service and not a serious intent.
John Horam (Orpington) (Con):
We are all grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important
subject. There is huge concern about it in Orpington, just as there
is in Sutton Coldfield. He mentioned alternative sites. From my
experience in Orpington, I know that alternative sites that are often
quite practicable are not considered seriously enough, particularly
by the inspector and certainly not by the companies in question. I am
glad to support my hon. Friend on that.
: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. That will be the burden of my
case for alternative sites.
The Wishaw group's experiences repay careful study. Wishaw is a small
hamlet in my constituency. Let me outline what has happened in recent
years. Five ladies have developed breast cancer. There is one case of
prostate cancer, one of bladder cancer and one of lung cancer, and
there are three cases of pre-cancerous cervical cells. One person,
aged 51, who has motor neurone disease, has also had a massive tumour
removed from the top of his spine. Others have developed benign
lumps, and there are also cases of electro-sensitivity. We also have
three cases of severe skin rashes, and many villagers suffer with
sleep problems, headaches, dizziness and problems with low immune
houses surround the mast, at a range of up to 500 m, and 77 per
cent. of the hamlet has health-related illness, which is believed by
those who live there to be the result of radiation from the mast. The
outbreak of illness occurred in 2001, after seven years of exposure
to the radiation emitted by the T-Mobile mast. Incidentally, there is
non-scientific evidence in the village that, since the mast came
down, many of those minor ailments have cleared up. Doctors will say
that it could be as a result of the removal of the cause of anxiety,
but it is an interesting observation.
As I said earlier, I am not a scientist, and I am not qualified to
judge the medical responses. However, it seems to me that important
questions need to be asked. I have considered them carefully. I hope
that the Minister has forgiven me for making available to her a list
of 18 questions. I shall now go through them. I hope that she will be
able to answer them because it would take us a long way forward.
My first questions are on the guidelines of the International
Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. Will the Minister
concede that on its own, adoption of the ICNIRP exposure guidelines
will not fully allow for current gaps in scientific knowledge,
particularly the possibility of as yet unrecognised thermal or
non-thermal adverse effects at lower levels of exposure? Secondly,
the Stewart report stated at paragraph 5.59 that the biological
effects can occur at energy levels too low to cause significant
heating. According to paragraph 6.44:
"the possibility of harm from exposures insufficient to cause
important heating of tissues cannot yet be ruled out with
Given that the ICNIRP guidelines ensure only that exposure to
radiation of the kind used in mobile telephony does not result in an
adverse degree of body heating, do the Government believe that the
measurements are an appropriate test of the potential risk to health?
Thirdly, will the Government recognise that using a heat-based
guideline is insufficient if there are non-thermal effects from
radiation arising from the use of mobile telephony? Fourthly, will
the Minister explain why the allowed public exposure microwave
radiation levels from masts in the UK, based on ICNIRP, are so much
higher than those allowed elsewhere, such as in Salzburg, Italy,
Switzerland, Russia, China, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg?
The next questions relate to Government guidelines on planning policy
guidance 8. In a letter sent to the Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister on 5 June, the chief planning officer of Birmingham city
"I am writing as Chief Planning Officer of the largest local
planning authority in the country in response to concerns being
expressed to me regarding the lack of clarity in Government guidance
on the health implications of telecommunication development.
As Chief Planning Officer, I find myself in a difficult position.
Whilst Government guidance makes it clear that health issues can be a
material consideration, PPG8 states that it is the Government policy
'to facilitate the growth of telecommunications systems' and that
'the planning system is not the place for determining health
safeguards. It remains central government's responsibility to decide
what measures are necessary to protect public health'."
He went on to say:
"With respect this advice, allied with the inconclusive nature
of the Stewart Report, provides little help to local planning
authorities at the front line in dealing with the increasing number
of telecommunication proposals being submitted. I believe that there
is a pressing need for urgent further research into the health
aspects of telecommunication development together with a review of
the existing guidance and regulations on how such proposals should be
That is the opinion of the chief planning officer of the largest
local authority in Britain, and I hope that his words will weigh
heavily on the Minister and her colleagues.
Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con):
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this useful debate. In my
constituency, Mrs. Jane Lee of "Otterton Against Masts" has
campaigned successfully to stop Orange erecting a mast in a playing
field. The application was also turned down by East Devon district
council. Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Charlotte Sanderson and others have already
raised about £8,000 locally. There is a High Court case at the
beginning of March and Mrs. Lee has been told that if she loses she
will be personally liable for £8,000. The system is weighted
against the individuals making appeals. Does my hon. Friend agree
that it would be useful if the Minister could outline how, in the
case of an appeal, an individual can campaign successfully and
: My hon. Friend makes a useful point that is much wider than the
specific case in his constituency. He flagged up a specific problem
that the Minister will have heard, and I will say more on that later.
Does the Minister agree with Mr. Justice Richards' High Court
judgment on 22 October 2003, in the case of Mrs. Jodie Phillips and
Hutchinson 3G, that people's health fears must be taken into account?
Concerning the location of a mast and base station, he found that the
question asked should not be, "Is this an acceptable
location?", but, "Is it the best location?", and that
"for the purpose of answering that question, one can and should
look at whatever alternative possibilities there may be".
Will the Minister urge her colleagues, especially those involved in
planning, to ensure that PPG8 is amended to encourage operators to
consider fully all viable alternative sites for a mast and base
station so that the public are exposed to the lowest practical level
of microwave radiation? Does the Minister agree that a requirement
for operators to make available to the public a list of alternative
locations for masts and base stations would further the Government's
aim of "providing for more discussions between operators, local
authorities and members of the public"?
In the recent court case of Yasmin Skelt v. The First Secretary of
State and Three Rivers District Council and Orange PCS Ltd. on 26
September 2003, it was conceded that the ICNIRP certificate must not
be used as a bar to full and proper consideration of the public's
health concerns. If the ICNIRP certificate is to be no more than a
document informing people that an installation will not exceed the
emission levels set out by ICNIRP, and is not to be read as a block
on full and appropriate consideration of public health concerns
despite the assertion to the contrary in paragraph 30 of PPG8, will
the Government issue planning authorities with new guidelines
amending that paragraph?
Will the Minister concede that paragraph 30 of PPG8, which states:
"In the Government's view, if a proposed mobile phone base
station meets the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure it should not
be necessary for a local planning authority, in processing an
application for planning permission or prior approval, to consider
further the health aspects and concerns about them", encourages
planning inspectors to act unlawfully? I ask that in the light of the
ruling, given by Mr. Justice Moses on 26 September 2003, that a
Government planning inspector had acted unlawfully and had
"failed to adequately consider the weight to be given to the
health concerns" because he had followed that advice.
I have some more questions for the Minister on the subject of further
research, which is at the heart of my case today. Will she rule out
the possibility that increased incidences of sleeping disorders,
headaches, seizures, infertility and unexplained clusters of human
cancers in the vicinity of base stations can be attributed to the
increase in background radiation due to the expansion of the mobile
phone mast network?
Will the Minister state how much of the £7.4 million provided by
the Government, in conjunction with industry, for a research
programme on a number of important health-related issues identified
in the Stewart report will go towards research into the possible
effects on health as a result of exposure to base station emissions?
Does she agree that, given the increasing level of public concern
about possible adverse effects on health exposure to base station
emissions, the low priority given to that area of research in the
mobile telecommunications and health research programme is hugely
inadequate? Given the increasing level of public concern, not least
in Sutton Coldfield, about cancer clusters around mobile phone masts,
does she agree that there should be a study into the distribution of
cancers around mobile phone masts that have been in place for 10
years, using the cancer registry data and geographic information
Recent research commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive and
carried out by the highly respected professor, Anthony Swerdlow,
reveals that interference with melatonin at night could be the cause
of an increased risk of breast cancer among night workers. In the
light of studies such as the Schwarzenburg study by Abelin and
Altpeter, which have revealed that melatonin levels are significantly
different after exposure to weak radiation, will the Minister admit
the need for further research to ensure the future health of women
living near masts?
Will the Department of Health consider setting up an online voluntary
register for people who believe that they have been affected by
mobile phone handsets and/or base station microwave radiation? That
could be similar to the yellow card system for reporting the side
effects of medical drugs. If properly implemented, it would help to
provide a useful database of information to assist with the setting
of future research priorities. Of course, I understand the need to
screen out potential abusers of such a system.
My next two questions relate to Tetra, which I know is of
considerable concern and interest to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr.
Drew). On 10 July, in a House of Commons debate, the Minister for
Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety told MPs that concern
over the possible health effects of Tetra emissions arose from
research in the 1970s and that it had since been "virtually
impossible" to replicate those research findings. Given that
research findings on this subject, listed in the Stewart report and
the National Radiological Protection Board report on Tetra, show more
successful than unsuccessful replications since 1980the most
recent successful replication being in 1999how do the
Government explain her claim?
Is the Minister aware that there have been four cases of motorneurone
disease in the three-year period since the erection of a Dolphin
Tetra mast in Drumcarrow, Fife, in Scotland, despite that disease
being a rare condition that affects, on average, only one in 50,000
people? Drumcarrow has a population of around 800. Will the Minister
have the high incidence of this life-threatening disease in
Drumcarrow investigated in case it is connected with the installation
of the Tetra mast, and will she consider whether any findings that
result from it should impact on the countrywide roll-out of Tetra?
Does the Minister agree with the following quote taken from an
article in the South Wales Evening Post on 11 December 2003? In it, a
spokesman for Tetra Airwave mentioned that it was up to the Home
Office to decide on the safety of the system, saying: "The
safety of what we supply is nothing to do with us."
Do the Government agree that technology providers have a specific
responsibility for the safety of the technology they provide? Will
the Minister clarify exactly who is responsible for setting
precautionary guidance in these matters? I have given the Minister
prior notice of those questions, and I am grateful to her and her
officials for considering them.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):
My constituents have asked me how Airwave can say that safety is not
its concern when the suppliers of drugs, such as thalidomide, found
themselves responsible for the consequences of supplying them.
Mr. Mitchell :
My hon. Friend makes a good legal point and, although I am neither a
scientist nor a lawyer, it sounds right. Airwave's attitude is not
acceptable in providers of such equipment, as he said.
Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab):
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I am sure
that every MP has the same problem. Local newspapers, such as the
Evening News in Norwich, have taken up the clarion call, and people
like me are targeted by Orange. I expect that on returning home I
will find a mast in my garden, because I have asked for mobile-free
zones. It is said that people like mobile phones. What would they do
if they went home and found a mast in their front garden?
: My detailed response to the hon. Gentleman and my fellow trustee is
best left until after the debate, but I take his point. I want to end
my comments, so that other hon. Members can contribute. However, I
want to emphasise two key points.
First, I listened to the experts speaking at the meeting in Sutton
Coldfield, and I talked to the group in Wishaw, which is composed of
highly intelligent, sophisticated people who have looked at the
science behind the technology and who asked a series of highly
pertinent questions, some of which I have repeated today. Having
considered all that evidence, it seems to me that there is an
overwhelming case for the Government to accept the need for more
research to address the genuine health concerns felt by sensible,
The Minister will be aware of the Freiburger appeal, in which 2,000
medical professionals in Germany expressed their concern about
illnesses that may be caused by the masts. That appeal was originally
in German, but it has been translated into 15 languages. It may even
be taken to the European Parliament, although much good that will do
them. It shows that professional people are increasingly concerned. I
have read what the 30 doctors in Crosby said about the matter, and I
am sure that the Minister has, too. They said: "These are
legitimate concerns." They may be wrong, but we need a great
deal of research into that and a much greater sense of effort on the
part of the Government. The tiny budget that I mentioned earlier is
insufficient. When one considers that the telecommunications industry
has paid the Government something like £20 billion or more for
their licenses, it is right that money should be spent on such
Secondly, the precautionary principle, which was advocated by Sir
William Stewart when he was the Government's senior adviser, is
important. We must have proper transparency on alternative locations.
Cost is important, but it is only part of the equation. I want the
industry to be far more open with people about what the alternative
locations are and why it made the decision it did. I want the
precautionary principle to mean that, in most cases, it is accepted
that the masts should not be placed too close to people's homes,
schools and hospitals. I want the information about where the masts
are sited made widely available. I recently walked in the countryside
not far from my constituency in the midlands and came across a mast
that was cunningly disguised as a tree. We must be transparent about
where the masts are placed.
I want a change to paragraph 40 of PPG8 to enable the councillors who
have to make such decisions to take into account the fears of those
whom they represent. At the moment, the process is imbalanced. We
need to redress the imbalance in the system. It is too much in favour
of phone companies and not enough in favour of local people.
Decisions are made through their local councillors, who do not
adequately reflect their concerns. The Department, the planners and
those in the Government who are re-examining PPG8 would do well to
heed the wise words of Emrys Jones, the chief planner of Birmingham
Mr. Frank Cook (in the Chair)
: At the risk of being tiresome to those who know the drill in
Westminster Hall, I remind hon. Members that it is customary to start
the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the
debate concludes. Five hon. Members want to catch my eye, one of whom
was a late arrival. Nevertheless, will all hon. Members bear in mind
the time constraints when making their contributions and when
accepting or responding to interventions?
David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr.
Mitchell) on introducing the debate. I am pleased to see that the
chairman of the all-party group on mobile communications is present.
I apologise to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon.
Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), for having
to leave the debate a few minutes early. I have a meeting with the
Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for South Thanet
(Dr. Ladyman), at 4.30 pm. However, I am grateful for the opportunity
to spend five minutes talking about my problems with Airwave, the
main organisation behind Tetra, which, I always remind myself, stands
for "Trust your enhanced trunk radio systems."
I come to the debate with no alarmist views. In many respects, I have
been a defender of the system. In 2000, the police approached me
saying that they needed a new radio system. Having been out with them
on many occasions, I knew that their existing system was defective
and it seemed sensible for them to move towards a much more
integrated state-of-the-art technology. From the outset I was
supportive of Tetra, but the problem is that the way in which the
system was put in place does the opposite to that recommended in the
Stewart report, which is based on the precautionary principle.
Throughout the report, the precautionary principle is central to its
More inappropriate places could not have been chosen for the two
major masts that have been erected in the Stroud constituency. The
first was placed on top of Stroud police station. Given that the mast
was a police communications system, it may be thought right for the
police to be part of it. However, it is the biggest eyesore in my
constituency. It is on a hill and it is a dreadful building. The
problem is that the police station is a few hundred yards from a
school. From the outset, I asked Airwave to examine alternative
sites. It reached the conclusion that there were no alternative
sites. I have not seen any documentation to that effect. When I
suggested alternative sites, I just kept being told that they were
When the mast was put in place, it was agreed that its impact would
be monitored. That was in 2001. To be fair, since I raised the matter
in business questions, Airwave has sought a meeting with me. However,
although I have asked on occasions, I have received no real evidence,
one way or the other, about what is happening as a result of the
mast. We must remember that the mast is not fully operational yet. It
will be some months before it can do what it needs to be able to do
for the police to use the system properly.
The Stroud saga was bad enough. However, we needed another mast in
the south of my constituency, in the Dursley area. I thought that
lessons would be learned from the problems in Stroud. There are a
number of places where the mast could have been placed, but it was
decided to put it slap bang in the middle of Dursley, on top of the
old GPO building and right next to the Dursley tabernacle. The Rev.
Simon Helme was inevitably worried and came to see me with Shirley
Welsh, a member of his congregation. We agreed to go through the
process of seeking clarification about why the mast had to be there
and of trying to ensure that the radio waves were monitored.
I was unhappy from the outset. There has been a strong community
campaign, which reached a crescendo before Christmas when one lady
put metal curtains around her whole house in the belief that that was
the only way in which she could deflect the radio waves. It is easy
to see that as an emotional, over-the-top reaction. The Green party
has been active in alleging links to leukaemia, cancer and so on.
Things of that sort happen.
I had a meeting with the chief constable before Christmas, and we
were under the impression that the Tetra mast had not been turned on,
except on one occasion when it was tested during the course of the
Stroud half marathon. On that occasion, there was a full-blown
exercise so that it could be seen how the force on the ground
monitored the half marathon. I went along with that in confidence,
because we did not want the exercise to receive the full glare of
As I said, I checked with the chief constable and we were both under
the impression that the mast was not operational. However, I have a
problem because, on 6 January, I received a letter from the chief
constable that said that the mast had been operational for some time.
It had been used not in the locality, but on the motorway and for
other purposes. I was telling people one thing, and then I had a
completely different, and very honest, answer from the police, who
were also under the impression that the mast was not operational.
On the basis that we are talking about the precautionary element,
that process has left me naked in terms of how I approach
constituents who have been making allegations and saying, "Well,
it's bad enough thinking that we have the mast there, but let's have
some clarity about monitoring and testing things out fully before the
mast is turned on." It has been turned on for months. That is
not good enough. There is now a degree of alarm in the area, and
scepticism about the authorities having any control over what they
have agreed to. There were reservations in terms of the district
council, but because of the needs linked to the mast, those
reservations were overcome.
I would like some clarity from the Minister. We are considering the
precautionary principle. We have to be open, transparent and honest
with people about what is going on. That has not happened with the
two masts that I am talking about. I will have another meeting with
Airwave. I have to go to Airwave; it does not seem to be keen to come
to me. However, if it thinks that the issue will go away, it is
I use what happened in my constituency as an example. It is linked to
the health issue, because people are worried about their health, and
they have every reason to voice those opinions. The response that
they have got, basically amounts to nothing. Airwave has refused to
attend the meetings that they have held, and I have to say that the
police have not been much better. Things must improve; otherwise,
people will inevitably demand that the masts are taken down.
Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con):
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield
(Mr. Mitchell). Like him, I have many constituents who have
experienced problems when there are attempts to place
telecommunications masts in highly residential areas in which they
are not wanted. We have faced an extraordinary situation over the
past few years. There was a proposal to put a mast on top of a
hospital in my constituency and another to put one in a school in my
constituency. In the villages in my constituency and in Chelmsford,
the main town, there have been constant battles as companies,
particularly Orange, have sought to put masts in highly residential
areas. Such attempts include the latest saga in Linnet drive, where
Orange has made a planning application for the third or fourth time.
The people of West Chelmsford are fortunate, in that Chelmsford
district council has had a proactive and positive attitude towards
local people's representations. Fortunately, in many cases, the
council's refusals of applications have been upheld on appeal.
However, the trouble is that the companies come back again and again,
slightly modifying the plans after listening to why the local
authority refused permission. There is something flawed in the
current planning regime. It is outdated and does not take into
account the changes that have resulted from the greatly increased use
of mobile phones, which has necessitated more masts.
The reasons for concern are not always to do with the aesthetics of
the masts, although that is indeed sometimes the problem. The problem
is the genuine fear of ill health as a result of the positioning of a
mast in a highly residential area. The jury is out on that question.
Many references have been made in this debate to the Stewart report.
Notwithstanding that, the trouble is that there is not enough
scientific evidence to prove the case one way or the other. For every
Stewart report, there are other reports from around the world that
give conflicting views. In the absence of a comprehensive and
conclusive determination of the health risks, we should err on the
side of caution. The system should be weighted in favour of those who
do not want a mast in their residential area.
: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
: I will not, because we are on a strict time scale.
It is also wrong that many of the companies seem to have a
high-handed attitude to their planning applications for masts. Orange
has already been cited and the experience of my constituents is
similar. Representation is usually made both to the local authority
and to the company directly, but there is a sense of frustration in
local communities that companies go through the motions of listening
to people's concerns, but then do nothing whatever to meet them. More
should be done on that.
More powers should be given in the system to include all types of
mast in the planning regime and, importantly, to give local people
more powers to determine what happens in their communities. The
Government have a significant role to play in that, and I would hope
that the Department of Health could exert its influence on those
Ministers with responsibility for planning matters, to try to further
the debate. At the moment, we are perceived to have far too much of a
top-down rather than a bottom-up system. I would like there to be
more powers in the planning system to allow the genuine concerns,
views and wishes of the people who will be most directly affected to
influence the decision to erect a mast.
I would also like more consideration to be given to alternative sites
to those in highly residential areas. More masts could be put near
major trunk roadsthereby placing them out of sight, out of mind
in the domestic dwelling context. Far more should be done to make
different companies use the same mast, in order to minimise the
number of masts required, so that there is one problem in the
immediate area rather than two or three, although I accept that that
already happens in certain cases.
My ultimate message is that more should be done, because there is
argument and uncertainty about the scientific evidence. I welcome the
fact that, as a result of the research recommended by the Stewart
report, for which £7.4 million has been provided, the Government
have widened the research to include base stations. That is a
positive step forward. However, in the absence of conclusive
evidence, we should err on the side of caution. My constituents in
Linnet drive have had problem after problem with the siting of an
Orange mast that has so far been refused. Such local people should
have greater power and influence in the planning process so that they
are genuinely empowered to determine what goes on in their
Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD):
I apologise for letting my mobile phone go off earlier. That was a
tribute to the double standards that most of us stoutly maintain on
this subject; we make use of mobile phones while deploring the
possible spin-off effects of their technology.
I welcome the debate secured by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield
(Mr. Mitchell). I have six controversial mast applications in my
constituency, all of which have generated petitions and protests. The
key phrase in the hon. Gentleman's introductory statement was
"lack of clarity". The combination of a lack of clarity and
frustration causes so many problems for residents, planners and
members of planning committees. They simply do not know how to deal
with the problem.
Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con):
Even worse than a lack of clarity is the putting up of masts without
planning consent, as has happened in Rogate and East Harting in my
constituency. Subsequently, local people have to put pressure on
district councils to try to get those masts removed. That is a wholly
unacceptable way to deploy the technology.
: Yes, I know. There is a wider issue about the weakness of third
parties in planning appeals, but I will not pursue that rabbit down
that particular hole. The uncertainty stems from two issues; the lack
of clarity about the science, and planning guidance. On the science,
Sir William Stewart did us a considerable disfavour. He considered
the science and looked at the physics and the biology and concluded
that there was no empirical evidence of any health impact. He
considered the examplesthe clusters of illnesses that have been
citedand made the valid point that the research was not
epidemiological and did not stand up.
Having dismissed the scientific evidence, he could have said that
there was no risk, as did the chief medical officer in relation to
the MMR vaccine. Had he said that, we would have known where we
stood, but he did not. He said that there must be a precautionary
approach. He did not say a "precautionary principle", which
is an environment policy term, but that there had to be a
precautionary approach. Most people interpret his words on a
common-sense basis as meaning that it is better to be safe than
Sir William also saidthis is importantthat we have to be
particularly careful with schools, because children have thin skull
bones, so there may be extra cause for concern. In saying that, he
stated that there was a problem. Clearly, people will interpret his
words in a worried way. Local authorities can hardly be blamed when
they respond with particular sensitivity to planning protests in
respect of schools. In the review of the science that I know the
Department has carried out, the scientists did not help us as to
whether any clear conclusion has been reached about the new 3G masts,
which many argue are more potent and therefore more dangerous.
The second point is the confusion generated by the planning process.
As I understand it, PPG8 makes clear that local authorities have to
judge applications purely on planning groundsthe aesthetics, or
the visual impactand are not allowed to consider health impact.
However, in response to a debate that I initiated on 21 May 2002, the
Minister's predecessor said, repeating what has been said in other
"Our guidance is clear that health considerations and public
concern can, in principle, be material considerations in determining
applications for planning permission"[Official Report, 21
May 2002; Vol. 386, c. 274.]
Therefore, councils have been told that health impacts are not
relevant, but that public concerns about health are.
I have great difficulty in getting my head round this problem, and
planners have difficulty in understanding it. With the best will in
the world, members of planning committees of all parties cannot
understand what is expected of them through the planning process. My
own local council, a consensus of Liberal and Conservative members,
has taken a stand on a particular case to test the issue. It has
taken the case of a mast that beams directly into a school. The
planning officer said "We have no grounds for turning it down.
There is no planning problem. There are no visual amenity
issues." However, there has been a large petition from the
school, which closed certain classrooms for fear of the health
effect. The council has overridden the advice of officials, saying,
"Here there is a demonstrable fear about health. Let's test it
out in a planning appeal." I do not know what the outcome will
be, but we need clarification.
: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
: I shall take just one more intervention.
: I fear that the hon. Gentleman was not here when I made the point.
In fact the situation is worse than that. In the High Court judgment
in the case of Mrs. Jodie Phillips, Mr. Justice Richards said that
people's health must be taken into account. Therefore, there is a
complete impasse in the law; we cannot get it right.
: I was here throughout the hon. Gentleman's speech, but the comment
is helpful. I shall be interested to see whether the planning
inspector who hears my local appeal is aware of that ruling and takes
it into account.
We need to move on. I want to make a suggestion about the way in
which hon. Members' concerns for greater flexibility in siting masts
can be taken into account. The Government could help to solve the
problem by giving guidance along the following lines. They could say
to local authorities, "We wish you to contribute to the roll-out
of masts. That is a national obligation. Each local authority,
depending on its population, density and topography, should, as it
does with housing, construct a certain number of units. However,
there is discretion within that as to where masts are sited." If
a local authority chose to have a moratorium on masts within 100
metres of a school, it can do so, provided that it compensates with
additional masts somewhere else, leaving councils with discretion
over where masts are sited.
If that were to happen, the industry's objectives would be maintained
and our constituents' concerns substantially alleviated. I should be
interested to know whether the Minister thinks that guidance to
councils along those lineswhich could then be used as a basis
for dealing with planning appealswould help to deal with the
Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab):
I apologise for being late and for missing the beginning of the
debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr.
Mitchell) on securing a debate on this subject, which causes enormous
concern among our constituents. I am still a part-time practising
general practitioner, so I see a number of people who raise with me
health issues about mobile phones and, particularly, masts.
Mobile phones are an extremely important part of our society, and the
majority of people have them, including quite small children.
Therefore, people are using these phones, which are a useful
technology. I would not want to do anything that made phones more
difficult to use. People make their own choices about using mobile
phones and decide how often to use them, I hope with common-sense
guidance from the industry.
The problem is that people have that choice; they can choose not to
have a phone, not to use the phone or to use it on a limited basis.
However, they cannot choose whether a mobile phone mast is next door
to them. A mast is switched on 24 hours a day; it cannot be removed
from one's presence. It emits micro-radiation the whole time. Our
difficulty as parliamentarians in trying to guide people in this
matter is the lack of conclusive science. There is a fair amount of
science around, but none of it is conclusive.
Perhaps I may use the analogy of medical research. We can give a new
drug to 10,000 people and it has no side effects at all. That does
not prove that the drug is 100 per cent. safe. It proves that the
drug is pretty safe and may be extremely safe, but the next person
who takes the drug may get an idiosyncratic side effect from it that
turns the science on its head. The scientists would have to say,
"We were wrong. This drug isn't 100 per cent. safe, because poor
Mrs. Smith has just had an extremely unusual and nasty reaction to
it." We can never prove conclusive safety; we can prove only
relative safety. It does not matter how much science we do. Unless we
have new models of science, we can never totally reassure people.
The other problem is that it is said that the masts radiate energy.
It is difficult for the public to separate the radiation that comes
from mobile phone masts from the radiation that comes from nuclear
materialswhich they know for a fact are dangerousor the
radiation from X-rays, which are dangerous if used excessively. It is
difficult for many people to grasp the fact.
The point is simple. It will be extremely difficult to give people
100 per cent. conclusive reassurance that the masts are safe, so we
must take the proportionate approach. My approach with the mobile
phone operators is to say that I am happy to have phone masts in my
constituency provided that they are sited in a position that will
have the minimum impact on people's health. They are not put near
schools or hospitals, nor outside people's bedroom windows. They are
put in fields further down the road, or alongside trunk roads.
The mobile phone companies, however, say that that is a more
difficult solution. Yes, it might be; but what they usually mean by
that is that the solution is more expensive. It is much cheaper to
put a small mast on the top of a school than it is to put a more
powerful mast covering a larger area near a motorway. It is
technologically more difficult, and it is more expensive. We must
give local people the right, through the planning mechanism, to make
such judgments for themselves.
If putting up proper masts in sensible places costs more, we may have
to bear the cost, but people may be prepared to pay that price. If it
is more expensive to put masts in more sensitive or sensible areas,
the mobile phone companies may have to tell people that their phones
will be relatively more expensive. That at least can be debated and a
judgment made. The difficulty at the moment is that local authorities
do not have the power to be able to say to a company, "Thou
shalt not put that mast on that hospital roof" or "Thou
shalt not put that mast in the middle of that housing estate."
They do not have that right. The Government need to consider that
carefully; I believe that people should have that right.
Although there is a huge difference between fear and fact, what
really disturbs people is the fear. In the same way that that the
fear of crime is more real to most people than the experience of
crime, the fear of mobile phone masts is probably more real than the
: Another feature of the debate is trust and confidence. As we found
in the GM debate, once Monsanto made the move, it lost the argument.
The way in which such companies behave does not give people trust and
confidence, regardless of whether what they are being told is
: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Many companies should take note
In conclusion, the fear of mobile phone masts may significantly
outweigh the facts. However, as politicians, we must represent our
constituents; we must take note of people's fear because that is what
blights their lives. I urge the Government to look again at the
planning mechanisms. We should allow people to use their own judgment
and, in conjunction with the local council, ensure that mobile phone
masts are put where they are safe and where people feel happy with
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr.
Mitchell) for obtaining the debate, and I congratulate the hon.
Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) on speaking for less than six
This matter arose in my constituency because of a sudden flood of
applications for Tetra masts early last year. Some of them were
approved under delegated powers. One was rejected under those powers,
but the developer, Airwave, said that it was an emergency matter; it
was allowed to put it up as an emergency measure. That is the first
power that we must withdraw from developers.
Fortunately, Rod Burman, a constituent, and Richard White of the Isle
of Wight County Press organised a public meeting in Woodlands vale in
Seaview. More than 250 were present on Mrs. Burman's cream-coloured
drawing-room carpet. They were told by the planning officer that they
had to follow Government guidelines. I am pleased to say that there
was a muffled explosion from two of those present at the
meetingI was one, and the local district judge was the
otherwho were rather better versed in the law than the planning
officer. The consequence was that Westridge Estates withdrew
permission for Airwave to put the mast up. Meanwhile, however, a mast
had been erected on the Commodore cinema in Ryde. The problem was
that the Phillips case guidance had not been followedneither
Airwave nor the local authority had looked for the best site; they
just looked for any site, and permission had been given under
I am very pleased to say that John Ackroyd is now running an
organisation called "No to Tetra", and that followed from a
public meeting that I held at the Methodist church hall in Garfield
road in Ryde, because that particular mast is very close to as many
as four schools: Ryde school, Five Ways nursery, Dover Park school
and Greenmount School. The problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for
Sutton Coldfield pointed out, is that paragraph 98 of PPG8 suggests
that planning authorities have to allow these things to go up, but
there are doubts surrounding the legitimacy of the ICNIRP guidelines,
and since the Government base their directives on those guidelines,
the doubts need to be cleared up.
First, ICNIRP and the National Radiological Protection Board do not
agree on what level of radioactive output is safe. For example, for
one type of microwave system 900 W per square centimetre is allowed
by ICNIRP, yet the NRPB allows 3,300. Secondly, a contradiction is
built into PPG8. I mentioned paragraph 98, but paragraph 97 says that
"health considerations and public concern can in principle be
material considerations in determining applications for planning
permission and prior approval".
In addition, the Government have allocated funding for further
investigations into the health-affecting Tetra mast, which has
actually had the effect of heightening people's concern. Does the
Minister take account of people's bad health as a result of
uncertainty on the long-term effects of Tetra masts?
Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield quoted,
there has been the Skelt v. Three Bridges case, in which Mr. Justice
Moses overturned the planning inspectors' decision on appeal, and on
17 May 2002 the Court of Appeal stated that "a guidance circular
issued by the Secretary of State needed to be kept in mind but was
not direction, and also had to be HRA Convention compliant."
The Government planning policy guidance pre-dates the Human Rights
Act 1998, which raises two issues: first, the HRA, which applies to
public authorities, says in section 6(1) that
"it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is
incompatible with a Convention Right"
article 6 of the convention requires
"a fair and impartial hearing in public".
Without focusing on the public airing of perceived health concerns, a
fair, impartial hearing cannot take place, and yet planners believe
that because of ICNIRP's guidance and PPG8 they are not allowed to
take account of these considerations.
My constituents are genuinely concerned. They write, for example:
"I live within about 200 metres of this mast" the
mast on the Commodore cinema "well within the zone of
greatest influence, and am now living in constant fear for the health
of my five-year-old daughter, my 76-year-old mother and myself."
"A Tetra base station was erected only 50 metres from our house
and was soon making us feel ill. We were subjected to ongoing
radiation from the mast 24 hours a day and suffered a variety of
symptoms, mainly being headaches, deep nausea, inability to
concentrate, poor memory and general feelings of dizziness and
Mr. V. Philpot of Monkton Street, Ryde, says:
"I live and work in Ryde (as does my partner who is heavily
pregnant) . . . I am gravely concerned about the possible health
effects of this mast."
Mrs. J.C. Warwick writes:
"I am now extremely worried. I am a mum, I love my son who is
only six years old. Since I became aware of the mast and its effects
I have become extremely frightened for his health and well-being. I
am now so frightened that we spend as much time as possible away from
the flat . . . At night I cannot bear for my son to sleep in his
bedroom with the mast just outside."
I have seen photographs, and it is no further away than that wall is
from you, Mr. Cook.
"As a result he sleeps with me in my room."
What do we want done? First, we want the Government to make PPG8
HRA-compliant. Secondly, we want a proper system to receive evidence
from the public and explain to them, if necessary, how they should
keep that evidence so that proper scientific investigations can be
undertaken into the consequence of these and other masts. Thirdly, we
need a national register of all telecommunications apparatus of this
kind. Some of it is concealed, for example in shopping centres. It
does not necessarily look like a tree with sticky-out metal bits.
Fourthly, we need clear information on public liability. Do the
Government or the planning authority approving the development issue
the guidelines, or is Airwave legally liable for constructing such
Patsy Calton (Cheadle) (LD):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell)
on securing what is obviously an important debate, and one to which a
huge amount of information has been brought. I hope that it carries
some of the issues forward. Clearly, the debate has been initiated by
health concerns, but a number of other issues, such as the planning
regime, have been raised, and they need to be considered even more
carefully. It is undoubtedly true that large numbers of the public
are worried about the potential implications of masts erected near
In most of the cases of which I have particular knowledge, people are
worried not only about possible health implications but visual
amenity implications; often they are most concerned about that. They
are worried about possible effects on their homes and about going out
every day and seeing something that is often so incongruous with
There are two effects. One concerns health and the other is
environmental, and we must take seriously both those concerns.
However, I have said to people who have asked me about the issue that
the evidence so far is inconclusive. There is no clear evidence of
any directly harmful health effects caused by mobile phone masts. The
science can be complicated to the non-scientist and there is much
confusion, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate).
That the word "radiation" can be confused with known
hazardous forms of radiation is sufficient for people to feel that
they are perhaps being exposed to death rays close to their homes. We
cannot ignore that.
The hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for West Chelmsford (Mr.
Burns) and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable)
talked about the planning regime and the sense of helplessness that
people feel when they are faced with the fact that masts under 15 m
do not require the same planning controls as those over 15 m. Even
when the telecommunications mast companies apply for masts over 15 m,
there seem to be few ways forward for the public to make their
presence felt and to have their genuine concerns about health and
visual amenity brought to bear.
A few consultations are going on in this countryconcerned not
just with these issuesthat leave people feeling that their
views are being ignored. They feel that organisations go through the
motions but do not necessarily genuinely engage with people or take
notice of points made to them. My experience has been that only when
several hundred people have brought their feelings to bear on mobile
phone companies do those companies take notice of what people are
saying and site the masts somewhere else. That tends to happen when
large numbers of people come forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham made the point that the
Stewart report asked for the precautionary approach. It would have
been nice if as well as slightly muddying the water, the Stewart
report had given clear-cut advice that would not have caused any
I hope that the precautionary approach is applied to schools and
nurseries. However, it is difficult to see how governors of schools,
who must be consulted when a mast is to be put close to their
schools, can put pressure on the process. They can report and say
what their views are, but notice will not necessarily be taken. It
appears that the planning system only takes notice when concerns and
fears about public health are raised, and then not on every occasion.
There are concerns about the new third generation masts, although
there is no real evidence of health risks. There have been some
studies, but they have not been repeated.
The Liberal Democrats believe that a watching brief should be kept.
It will never be possible to prove that those masts are safe. As it
will never be possible to prove that they are safe, all of the
evidence that is and becomes available must be closely monitored and
The Government should take some notice of the Office of the Deputy
Prime Minister's review of permitted development rights, which was
published in September. It is a publication of more than 300 pages,
which, so far, has only been published on the website. It makes it
clear that permitted development rights need to be looked at. I was
somewhat reassured to hear that all that stands between the Office of
the Deputy Prime Minister and changes to the planning legislation on
permitted development rights is further public consultation. I hope
that that will take place in a timely fashion and will not be left
until the next Parliament. It seems that a great deal of good work
has been done that could be pursued to bring about the changes that
would remove the sense of helplessness that people feel. People feel
that they are not being listened to and that things go ahead without
their having any real say.
I think that I have just about managed to get through all of the
points that I wanted to make. We would like to see the precautionary
approach taken seriously and for research to continue. Although it
will never be possible to prove that mobile phone masts are
absolutely safe, it will be possible to set peoples' minds at rest
that there is no substantiated evidence that they are being exposed
My own view, and that of others to whom I have
spoken[Interruption.] I apologise to the hon. Member for
Westbury (Dr. Murrison) for stopping him, but I think that I am still
within my time. My view is that the issues of visual amenity and
health and safety concerns meet quite significantly in the middle.
Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con):
I will try to be brief, because I know that the Minister has 18
questions to get through. That will take a while, so I will try to
rattle through my remarks.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr.
Mitchell) on securing this debate. It is an important issue, and had
I not been speaking from the Front Bench, I would have contributed
nevertheless. The matter involves my constituents as much as anybody
else up and down the country.
There have been several criticisms of various operators. I add my
voice to that criticism; my experience of operators has not been
happy and has been largely characterised by a degree of unwelcome
arrogance, which is unhelpful.
We have had talk of clusters of cancers. I would counsel caution when
dealing with clusters, as Professor Challis, who was involved with
Wishaw, has said, because we will always get themthat is the
nature of statistics. People will inevitably be concerned,
particularly when there is a cluster of cancer. The debate is about
reflecting those concerns and establishing what the Government will
do to address them. Communication, as I am sure the Minister knows,
is part of public health. Clearly, we need better communication
because people are worried.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) voiced his concerns about
shabby dealings with a company called Airwave. My hon. Friend the
Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has also suffered from the
high-handed attitude of operators. The hon. Member for Twickenham
(Dr. Cable) was a little more conciliatory, but he commented rather
bravely on the Stewart report. Those of us who know Sir William
Stewart would be very reluctant to criticise his report. It was a
good report that struck a proper balance between the evidence at its
time of writing and the recommendations that, given that the evidence
was not great, were necessarily equivocal. The reference to schools
and schoolchildren had something to do with fears about leukaemia and
brain tumours and the sensitivity of the developing neuroendochrine
system, which obviously applies to children.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) was also cautious about the
Stewart report, feeling that it may have muddied the water and that
clearer answers would have been preferred. Owing to the necessarily
sketchy evidenceI suspect that we will come shortly to the
subject of research funding to ensure that in future evidence is less
sketchythe recommendations were going to disappoint those who
wanted clear-cut answers.
My view of health is rather more holistic than that of many people;
health is to do with well-being. Regardless of whether one believes
that radio frequency radiationRF radiationin the way that
we are discussing it causes tumours, one has to accept that base
stations have damaged people's well-being. It is evidenced by our
mailbags, by the concerns that people have, by the symptoms that they
report and by their general unease.
When we have a loss of well-being on the scale that we clearly have
from the masts, it becomes a public health matter and it is therefore
to the Minister that we look for a remedy to those concerns. I am
aware of the time, but I will be fascinated to hear what she plans to
doaddressing not only the 18 questions, but the public health
concerns that people have because of mobile phone masts.
In my constituency, we have concerns about mobile phone masts and
mobile phone operators. West Wiltshire district council is doing a
splendid job of representing the views of local people and using the
existing guidance to address their concerns. It is not easy because,
as hon. Members have mentioned, the scales seem to be weighted in
favour of the operators. Given the precautionary approach recommended
by Sir William Stewart, that seems odd. I fully accept that in the
Government's amended guidancePPG8they attempted to
incorporate some of his recommendations. However, most people feel
that they did not go far enough.
On a slightly more philosophical note, we must be careful about the
science. As I am sure the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson)
will admit, scientists and scientific inquiry are fallible. One
cannot simply interpret evidence directly into public policy; the
alchemy is far subtler than that. Most of our constituents have sound
good sense, and often it confounds the scientific evidence and is
rewarded in the fullness of time by being shown to be spot on.
The Stewart report found no evidence for harm, but that does not mean
to say that no harm was done or can be done. Very often it means that
the research has not been done, and the matter has not been
sufficiently investigated. That was probably the burden of the
argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield in arguing
for further research. We would all support that.
The Stewart report drew an analogy with exposure from handsets. That
is problematic because, as the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate)
mentioned, handsets are associated with acute, short-term, short,
sharp exposures. Base stations are not; the exposure is constant and
affects the whole body. Therefore, one cannot compare one with the
other. In considering exposures, one cannot just look at the dose. It
is necessary to consider how that dose is received and for how long
it is received.
Some research has been done on nematodeslittle wormsin
Petri dishes. They respond in a certain way when they are exposed to
RF. Some have said that that is evidence that RF causes problems to
biological entities. No one can interpolate that directly to the case
of human beings, let alone interpolate it to the issue of health.
That takes several leaps of logic. Nevertheless, those responses
happen; they can be observed and quantified, and that means that they
have to be taken seriously. Again, that points towards further
This really is a quintessential public health issue. The Minister and
her predecessors have dealt with a whole raft of public health
matters for many years. It has not been a very happy scene. I am sure
that she would be the first to admit that we have had problems with
TB, sexually transmitted diseases and other matters. We have an
opportunity to grip the issue, and I hope that the Minister will. In
particular, I hope that she will answer the 18 questions that have
been put to her. With that in mind, I shall wrap up a little earlier,
and give her the opportunity to address those questions.
Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton)
: First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr.
Mitchell) on securing the debate, which has been well attended. I
completely understand how important an issue this is because of my
Obviously, the matter attracts a great deal of attention from MPs,
the public and the media. All hon. Members have illustrated
particular difficulties faced at constituency level. My hon. Friend
the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) talked about the difficulty he had
with a particular company. My hon. Friends the Members for Dartford
(Dr. Stoate) and for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) talked about
problems of perception, an issue that permeated the debate;
perception versus some of the scientific evidence.
The hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) referred to the
importance of people's well-being in these considerations and how
planning mechanisms fit into that. The hon. Member for West
Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) explained how he had been pursuing the matter
on behalf of constituents with some vigour and raised issues that I
shall try to address later. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr.
Cable) talked about the problems of his constituents, and the graphic
descriptions of the public meetings attended by the hon. Member for
Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) showed the strength of feeling in his
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) talked about the
responsiveness or otherwise of mobile phone companies. I hope to
address some of those issues later because they are similar to those
raised by the hon. Member for Westbury on the attitude of operators
and how we can deal with them. We are addressing real problems caused
by the fact that more people want to use mobile phone technology. In
the UK we are in the forefront of that technology, but how does that
fit in with people's fears and health concerns?
I am sure that Members will have seen the recent report from the
National Radiological Protection Board's advisory group on
non-ionising radiationAGNIRon health effects from radio
frequency electromagnetic fields. The Under-Secretary of State for
Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson)
wrote to hon. Members with an update on our initiatives on that, but
this debate is an opportunity to address more of the issues and
answer some of the specific queries that have been raised.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield set out 18 questions in all, and
I shall answer as many as I can. I shall concentrate on the health
and research issues that have been raised, as many of the other
issues are for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I want refer
to a few of them in the context of how they have been raised today,
but if I cannot, I will ensure that the ODPM is made aware of the
points that were made.
Many Members referred to the Stewart report from May 2000. Its
conclusions remain central to Government advice, which is that the
balance of evidence to date suggests that exposures to mobile phone
radiation below national guidelines do not cause adverse health
effects to the general population. It also indicates there is no
general risk to the health of people living near base stations on the
basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of
guidelines. However, there can be indirect effects on their
well-being in some cases. As many hon. Members have said, a
precautionary approach to the use of mobile phone technologies should
be adopted until much more detailed and scientifically robust
information on health effects becomes available.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield asked about the adoption of the
International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection
guidelines incorporated into the 1999 European Council
recommendation. The ICNIRP and UK national guidelines are based on
the comprehensive assessment of current scientific knowledge,
including the possibility of harm caused by effects other than
heating. The guidelines are kept under review, and a recent report by
the independent advisory group on non-ionising radiation, which I
mentioned earlier, examined the evidence for biological effects and
"The weight of evidence now available does not suggest that
there are adverse health effects from exposures to radiofrequency
fields below guideline levels."
The Government acknowledge that there are uncertainties in the
science, and having accepted the precautionary approach recommended
by Stewart, we set up a research programme in conjunction with the
industry. It has a £7.4 million budget to investigate a number
of important health-related issues. The research is mainly concerned
with users of mobile phone handsets, as the mobile phone user
receives the greatest exposure to mobile phone radio frequencies, but
all the research is relevant to investigating possible health effects
from exposure to base stations.
More recently, the programme has been able to extend its range of
studies to accommodate concerns about exposures from base stations as
robust scientific protocols have become available. Two projects are
considering emissions from base stations in particular. One is a
study using volunteers to investigate whether base stations can be
shown to cause symptoms in the short term, while the other is
examining the incidence of early childhood cancer in relation to base
The mobile telecommunications and health
researchMTHRprogramme is possibly unique in supporting
two projects on base stations alone, and when other UK-based research
is taken into consideration, such as the Home Office research
programme on terrestrial trunked radioTetrawe see that
the UK has one of the largest research efforts in the world.
Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con):
Will the Minister give way?
: I cannot. I am sorry, but I have to gallop through these questions.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield asked specifically about some
aspects of the research programme. First, he asked whether a number
of different symptoms could be attributed to the mobile phone mast
network. Science cannot rule out the possibility of effects such as
sleep disorders and headaches occurring, but such effects can have
many causes and can predate the installation of base stations. There
is no clear scientific evidence that such effects are caused by
exposure to radio frequency fields from base stations or that they
have increased in recent years. The research programmes that we
support are investigating a range of disorders such as those that the
hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's queries on the
proportion of the programme being spent on base station research, but
I remind hon. Members that base station emissions are low intensity
compared with mobile phone emissions.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Westbury asked whether a
study of cancer clusters around mobile phone masts should be
undertaken. Research funding decisions by the programme management
committee are clearly based on sound scientific principles. I
understand that, in the absence of any clear indication of people's
exposure, there would be little scientific merit in such a study;
mere proximity is not likely to be a good measure of exposure.
Another question posed by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield
concerned melatonin and cancer. The melatonin issue is a complex one,
as his questions implied. Research papers on this issue are currently
being referred to the National Radiological Protection Board, which
has asked its advisory group on non-ionising radiation to undertake a
thorough investigation of melatonin effects and provide a report. The
report is expected some time next year.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made a helpful suggestion about
setting up a register of people who believe that they have been
affected by mobile phone handset and/or base station microwave
radiation. His suggestion is interesting, but it needs to be
carefully managed to protect against abuse, as he suggests. The
research committee is keen to encourage people to register with the
researchers, who are funded by the mobile telecommunications and
health research programme. Volunteers who feel that they are affected
in this way are asked to contact the researchers directly through the
I hope that I can answer the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield's
questions on Tetra by quoting directly from the report published by
the NRPB's advisory group on non-ionising radiation in 2001. It
"Although areas of uncertainty remain about the biological
effects of low level radio frequency radiation in general, including
modulated signals, current evidence suggests that it is unlikely that
the special features of the signals from TETRA mobile terminals and
repeaters pose a hazard to health."
That conclusion was reinforced in AGNIR's recent report, issued two
Several questions have been asked about Government guidelines on
planning for mobile phone base station masts. Responsibility for the
guidelines lies with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but I
want to make two brief points. Pre-application discussions should be
carried out with relevant groups, including residents, and
alternative sites should be looked at. Those are clear guidelines. I
know that there have been concerns about that that I shall take back
to Ministers in the ODPM, particularly on the issue of motorways.
This has been a comprehensive debate. I am sorry that I have not been
able to answer all the questions that were raised, but I hope that I
have been able to give some reassurance to hon. Members about the
research that is being undertaken.
Frank Cook (in the Chair):
We must now turn our attention to the issue of roads in the Honiton
and Tiverton constituency