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Telecommunications Masts

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:38 am on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 10:38 am, 28th June 2005

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Olner; I will endeavour to ensure that the Minister can have his full 12 minutes of glory. It is a great pleasure to follow David Howarth, who was, I think, making a speech from the Front Bench for the first time. His speech was very reasonable. In particular, he was absolutely right when he congratulated my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown who, with his customary elegance of language, introduced this important issue for debate.

I confess that the elegance of my hon. Friend's language misled me for a moment. When he referred to the Government's inability to listen to their "interlocutors", I thought that he was introducing a new mobile phone concept, to join 3G and the others. Nevertheless, his point was extremely well made.

Members have pointed out with some elegance a difference that exists in the United Kingdom—between Scotland and Northern Ireland and the rest of us. Essentially, the rest of us are considerably worse off than Scotland and Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend Mr. Burrowes pointed out, the number of mobile phone masts is growing, as is the number that he can see from his constituency office. The case for roaming is increasingly becoming one to which we need to have an answer. That is something that my party is actively considering as a policy.

The most noticeable thing about the debate was that despite all the knowledgeable contributions, not a single person spoke in favour of the existing policy. I hope that the Minister will take that into consideration. People want to redress the balance in favour of the people. At the moment, things are very much in the hands of the mobile phone companies.

My hon. Friend Anne Milton referred to the health issues raised by the Stewart report, but that report also raises the question of powers. The report says:

"Public telecommunications operators have been granted a number of rights similar to those enjoyed by gas, water and electricity companies . . . We believe this approach is not optimal since it does not allow adequately for the uncertainties in scientific knowledge", and

"the possibility of harm from exposures insufficient to cause important heating of tissues cannot yet be ruled out with confidence."

To improve matters, we need to address several key issues, the first of which is the question of full planning permission, which I note has the support of the all-party group on mobile communications.

My hon. Friend Mr. Horam talked most forcefully about a letter that he received from Orange that said, with the majesty of people who possess enormous powers, that the public are not concerned about such matters—they do not write to the company about them, and are quite content. That grossly misrepresents the situation. The public believe right now that masts must have planning permission, and they think that that actually is the system. It is a considerable shock to them to learn that it is not.