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I congratulate Mr. Clifton-Brown on raising this subject. Many people are concerned about it, and we need to keep the way in which we deal with applications under review. To that extent, I agree with him, although I am not sure that I would want to go on a tour of Britain, particularly to places where there might be by-elections. Nevertheless, he gave a balanced account of his concerns.
Last Friday meeting I attended a meeting in my constituency and in a village called Ince Blundell. A number of applications have been made over the years to site masts in the village and in the nearby village of Thornton, causing widespread concern among local people. I shall start with a few comments about that meeting before moving on to the planning system.
The meeting was addressed by, among others, a gentleman called Dr. Highland, who describes himself as an associate fellow at Warwick university. The hon. Member for Cotswold avoided the issue of health and the planning system, but I am sure that he would admit privately that, although people sometimes express concern about the visual impact of masts, their concerns are often about health.
Dr. Highland gave a PowerPoint presentation, to which, I noticed, a disclaimer from Warwick university was attached. I sat and listened carefully. I became quite alarmed that someone who claims academic eminence could present anecdote as evidence, when the two are incompatible. With a wave of the hand towards the end of his presentation, Dr. Highland said, "And of course, all of those who disagree with me"—Government scientific advisers of one kind or another—"shouldn't be listened to because they're either paid by the Government or they're in the pocket of the telecommunications industry."
I raise that example not to attack Dr. Highland under the cloak of privilege, although that might be the perceived effect of what I have just said, but because I am concerned that a lot of "punk science" is being perpetrated, which alarms people. The issue is serious and needs to be addressed, but the Stewart report is being dismissed in certain quarters, for whatever reasons, which is making people frightened about issues close to their homes.
I do not say that there is no problem. The Stewart inquiry was methodical and thorough, and it concluded that we cannot be absolutely certain that there is no health problem. We should therefore proceed cautiously. The collection and analysis of scientific evidence should continue, and should be properly funded and taken seriously by the Government.
My other point is that, in a sense, we should probably not be having this debate, on these terms. Most people are concerned about health issues; however, I am not sure that the planning system is the right way to deal with those concerns, although a completely redesigned planning system might be able to cope. The planning system was invented, as it were, in the 19th century as a result of concern about the squalor in which people lived and its contribution to poor public health. The system has evolved over the past 50 years or so, but it can no longer properly deal with such problems. If people are genuinely concerned about the siting of a mast because of its visual impact or for other reasons, that will be a planning issue, but I contend that most people are worried about public health.