Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 5:12 pm on 25th June 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 5:12 pm, 25th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank Tonia Antoniazzi for securing the debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

People are exposed to radio waves in the home, at work and throughout their daily lives. As the hon. Member for Gower mentioned, people have been talking about the issues for about 100 years, since early in the last century, but the numbers of devices and transmitters have increased rapidly, and the pace of change in how this technology becomes part of our lives can be very unsettling to some. People ask whether radio wave exposure levels are increasing and whether there could be health consequences, and I want to put on record right at the beginning that, very importantly, radio waves are non-ionising radiation. That means that the packets of energy that form the radiation are too small to break chemical bonds: the radiation cannot damage cells and cause cancer in the same way as ionising radiation. Even so, there are concerns that this type of radiation could have health effects, and a great deal of research has been done in the United Kingdom and around the world to clarify the matter, which is something the Government take very seriously.

A number of issues, both for my Department and for colleagues in others, have been raised during the debate, and I will try to address them. I will also pass them on to colleagues.

Health concerns about electromagnetic fields have been raised in relation to each successive wave of new communications services, from 2G to 3G and 4G mobile phone networks, and with wi-fi, smart meters and now 5G. I have certainly noticed the growing number of letters I have received from parliamentary colleagues, passing on their constituents’ concerns, and I am grateful for the opportunity to address some of them today.

Concerns about telecommunications networks first came to the fore in the late 1990s. A report containing an evidence review and recommendations was prepared for Government by the independent expert group on mobile phones, under the chairmanship of Sir William Stewart. A major research programme was undertaken and the international exposure guidelines were adopted, with a commitment from industry that they would be followed. Although many new services and technologies have been launched, the basic way they are delivered—by radio—has not changed, and the science of how radio waves affect the body does not change when a new technology is launched. However, the Government take people’s health concerns about electromagnetic fields very seriously. They have committed, and continue to commit, significant resources to supporting research and analysis on the topic, and policies are in place to ensure the exposure guidelines are followed.

Public Health England monitors the health-related evidence and collaborates internationally to ensure that any important new evidence is identified and responded to.