HC Deb 19 May 2004 vol 421 cc976-8 1.32 pm
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish need and safety tests before telecommunications masts can be erected; to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the General Permitted Development Order 1995; and for connected purposes.

I am delighted that we are not allowing our proceedings to be disrupted by the shenanigans earlier today. I for one will never be silenced on my concerns about the erection of mobile phone masts.

When mobile phones were invented, I had no idea of their ramifications for all our lives. They seem to dominate our very existence. Every MP I talk to has anxieties about mobile phones and mobile phone masts, so why did Parliament not seize the opportunity offered by the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr Spring) to legislate on the matter? I hope that it is not because Parliament is afraid of the power of the five large mobile phone operators.

Everywhere I go, people have mobile phones fixed to their ears, engaged in all sorts of conversations. We cannot help hearing what the conversations are about. Most of them are trivial nonsense—for instance, "I'll be home, dear, in 10 minutes", or "Would you like tomato ketchup with your meal this evening?" Who wants to know what those people are doing? I do not know, but everyone now seems to be talking on mobile phones.

As far as I am concerned, this new technology comes at a cost. The health risks from mobile phones—people cannot have mobile phones without mobile phone masts—are absolutely clear from what Sir William Stewart said. When it suits those who want to defend mobile phone masts, they quote Sir William Stewart, but what they do not say is that he amplified his personal concerns about phones to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in September 2001. He called for the cost of handsets to be increased to restrict their use by children. Sir William—the great expert in this field—said that he would not allow his grandchildren to use a mobile phone.That says it all.

I am concerned not only about the potential health risks of brain tumours caused by mobile phones, but about the mental health risks. Anyone with children must see how our children have been polluted by the way in which they use mobile phones and send texts and video pictures to one another. That is very serious. Given that many Members of Parliament are endlessly presenting petitions and saying how concerned their constituents are about the situation, the House should have no difficulty in giving full approval to my ten-minute Bill, without any need for a debate. I expect my Bill to be nodded through its various stages.

Mobile telecommunications masts are being erected all over the United Kingdom, and they are certainly being put up in large numbers in Southend, West. Mobile telephone users expect to have a reception at all times, but with that comes a price to local residents. My goodness, the people who put up those masts are clever in beating the rules and regulations. The masts might look like trees or flagpoles. They make them look beautiful, but those masts emit levels of radiation that can damage the thin skulls of our children—and perhaps some adults who have thin skulls as well—so the House should take seriously people's genuine concerns about the health risks.

The Bill that I am seeking to persuade the House to accept would amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Furthermore, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 amends the 1990 Act, but does not replace it. My Bill seeks to redress that anomaly. The 1990 Act does not deal with separate categories of planning permission according to the type of development involved. Mobile telecommunications masts are therefore included with all other types of development, despite the fact that mobile telecommunications masts are a different type of development.

Section 70 of the 1990 Act deals with the determination of planning applications. It says:

"Where an application is made to a local planning authority for planning permission—

(a) subject to sections 91 and 92, they may grant planning permission, either unconditionally or subject to such conditions as they think fit;or

(b) they may refuse planning permission.

(2) In dealing with such an application the authority shall have regard to the provisions of the development plan, so far as material to the application, and to any other material considerations.

(3) Subsection (1) has effect subject to sections 65, 66 and 67 and to the following provisions of this Act, to sections 66, 67, 72 and 73 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and to section 15 of the Health Services Act 1976."

I hope that the House is impressed by the considerable work done by the House of Commons Library on my behalf.

Those measures are outdated. Furthermore, the 2004 Act does not attempt to address the problem. The siting of a mobile telecommunications mast that is under 15 m is a very different type of development. My Bill would update that legislation and bring it into the 21st century. Rather than allow the telecommunications companies to get around the regulations and laws that the House passes, my Bill would put the onus on operators to prove to the local authority planning committee that the masts are necessary. They would also have to prove to the planning committee that the masts posed no health risks whatsoever.

Last week, as a prelude to my Bill, I called a public meeting through the Mobile Operators Association. The nonsense involved in trying to arrange such a meeting at which the operators could meet the general public went on for two years. To cut a long story short, in spite of complying with the advice from the Mobile Operators Association, I was told eventually that it is not an area that we wish to engage in. No wonder, because they do not want to face the general public; they want Members of Parliament to take the flak instead. Of the five operators, the only two that turned up were O2 and Orange, and the general public's comments gave them considerable food for thought.

Members of the public constantly tell all Members of Parliament that a mast is too near a school or that it is in the middle of a built-up area. The problem is serious and safety should be of paramount importance. That is why I was very glad that the noble Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked for further clarification on the matter in the other place from the noble Lord Warner, who is, I believe, about to report shortly.

The Bill is well overdue. As all hon. Members agree with it, we do not need any extra time because I hope that it will go through on the nod. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Mr. Simon Burns, Mr. Howard Flight, Mr. David Atkinson, Mr. Michael Clapham, Mr. Andrew Rosindell, Andrew Selous, Mr. Richard Spring, Tom Cox, Janet Anderson and Dr. Ian Gibson.