HL Deb 31 March 1999 vol 599 cc435-7

2.52 p.m.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest in that I am president of the Air Safety Group.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what information is available relating to the danger of mobile telephones being used on board passenger aircraft in flight; and whether they will take any action to increase the amount of such information which is available.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the use of mobile phones on board an aircraft may cause interference with the aircraft's systems and is prohibited under the Air Navigation (No. 2) Order 1995. It is the responsibility of each airline to ensure that its passengers are aware of, and comply with, this requirement. Consequently, as part of the safety briefing on UK aircraft, passengers are instructed to switch off their mobile phones for the duration of the flight.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, has he any evidence concerning the recent air accident where it was alleged that use of mobile phones by passengers interfered with air crew and ground communication? If so, is any such evidence available as yet?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is no evidence of an accident actually having been caused. However, the CAA has reports of six incidents in the past 10 years, five of them occurring during last year, where the use of mobile phones is suspected of having interfered with aircraft equipment.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a current television advertisement featuring a lady in her home telephoning her husband who is in an aeroplane? The lady is shown talking to him, the telephone is then passed to their dog who barks at the phone and the husband smiles happily. Nevertheless, the husband is still in the aeroplane and the dog is still at home.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not aware of that particular advertisement. However, there are a number of other advertisements where I believe that the performers in them are probably breaking the law in one way or another. Nevertheless, I am glad that the noble Baroness has drawn this particular advertisement to my attention.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, can the Minister say whether any similar dangers are involved in the use of mobile phones on board trains and indeed on the Underground railway system? Are there not warnings to discourage the use of mobile phones on trains? If there are not, perhaps the Minister can invent some.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the main danger identified thus far in terms of rail transport is that of being lynched by the other passengers. As the noble Lord will know, a number of operators have introduced quiet carriages mainly for that effect. However, there is no indication that such phones interfere with the actual mechanics of the train.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the CAA is carrying out any trials to detect mobile phones that are inadvertently left on and which may have caused these six incidents, or whatever? Further, can he tell us what systems are being affected by the use of such phones?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is difficult to identify precisely which systems because in the confined space of an aircraft all of the avionics could be affected. Therefore, a number of systems could potentially be affected. The interference which is suspected of actually having occurred relates to the communications system. As far as I am aware, no special equipment is available for detecting whether such equipment is switched on within an aircraft.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, would it be possible for the Minister to give the House further information about allegations in newspaper reports that it is even dangerous to use mobile phones on terra firma?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, when the noble Baroness said "terra firma" I thought she was referring to some obscure airline—

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

However, the Government are obtaining advice from the National Radiological Protection Board as regards the risk to human health from radiation, and that includes the use of mobile phones because they are low-power microwave transmitters. There is some alleged concern in that area. Although we have no reason to suppose that there is a serious problem, this is a new situation which involves large numbers of people. My colleagues in the Department of Health are supporting various research studies into the matter both in this country and internationally.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government have been in a position to advise air companies as to cheap and effective screening methods which obviate the necessity for these people being put to inconvenience?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not sure of the available technology in this area. However, if my advisers can identify such information, I will let the noble Lord know.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, further to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, can my noble friend the Minister say which agency would be responsible for ensuring that advertisements do not promote illegal activity?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I understand that the Advertising Standards Authority would be the appropriate body. My earlier comment was made in my other capacity as road safety Minister. It seems that a fair number of motor manufacturers show cars exceeding the speed limit by substantial amounts. I think that the Advertising Standards Authority has quite flexible rules in this respect. However, it would be that body because it is required to ensure that such advertising is not illegal.