Examination of Witness (Questions 20 -
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
20. You are saying that before any planning
permissions are granted it would be incumbent upon the planning
committee or whatever to take into consideration and possibly
act on the advice of the health authority and the specialist in
(Sir William Stewart) I think it would be a consideration.
21. Sir William, perhaps I can take you back
to the point about the ombudsman. Would that be something separate
for the process of it going to appeal, having a planning inspector
appointed and it being referred to the Secretary of State possibly?
Would that be completely separate from what exists now and would
it just be for this particular issue?
(Sir William Stewart) We were of the view that mobile
telecommunication is such a widespread part of UK life at the
present time and that disputes would arise so an ombudsman should
be available to adjudicate in cases of conflict.
22. The Chairman touched on schools at the beginning,
but you did mention particular concerns in relation to schools.
In your summary at paragraph 6.63 you talk about the vulnerability
of children especially as they are likely to be exposed at an
early age. Should not base stations be excluded from a far wider
range of institutions than just schools? There is one in my constituency
which is next to a pub, a row of shops and two streets away there
are young children in houses. In densely populated areas there
are lots of children in a concentrated area. Should not masts
be situated away from large centres of population, away from homes
and parks? Children are everywhere.
(Sir William Stewart) The issue is of applying a precautionary
approach which allows mobile telecommunications still to operate
generally. The reason that we mentioned schools is because in
younger children, skulls and nervous systems are not fully developed
and they are likely to be exposed for longer. The interesting
point is that we should get away from schools, in a sense, to
the issue that we highlighted in our report, that there should
be a random audit available to ensure that masts anywhere meet
the standard guidelines that are set down. You can pull a lorry
off the road to test to see whether it meets the guidelines, and
equally we recommended that we should look at random audit of
masts to see whether they meet the standards set down. If they
did not meet the standards they should be shut down. That is what
we suggested. Because of the sensitivity of schoolchildren, we
felt that masts near schools should be among the first to be audited.
In terms of emissions, base stations emit very much less radiation
than mobile phones. I want to emphasise something else that we
considered. First, the BSE inquiry impacted upon us. Never again
will any scientific committee say that there is no risk. Secondly,
looking at the ionising radiation saga over the past 50 years
one sees that the acceptable levels for ionising radiation were
reduced three times and years later they were reduced another
three times and I believe that they have been reduced another
three times. Are we at the same stage today as we were with ionising
radiation 40 or 50 years ago? I suspect that we are not at the
same stage, because, unlike ionising radiation, there is no real
evidence that non-ionising radiation can break DNA. That is a
hugely important issue.
23. I do not know that providing a random audit
will reassure people who are concerned about base stations near
schools. In the report you said that a macrocell base station
on the roof of a school would cause less exposure to pupils. You
also suggested an obligation to tell schools where the beam of
greatest intensity falls on their grounds and that the agreement
of the school and parents should be required, but the Government
did not go that far. Do you still think that that should be taken
(Sir William Stewart) We have not met subsequently,
but it is my view that it should have been done.
24. What about churches because they are used
for childcare, or hospitals? Do you think that there should be
national guidelines criteria for site selection?
(Sir William Stewart) My point is that I do not care
much whether it is a church or a football stadium, so long as
they meet the guidelines. Those are the guidelines that have been
nationally accepted at the present time. We should adhere to those
until evidence becomes available that they should be higher or
25. If they had to go through the full planning
permission for application for erecting a mast that would be established
in the planning process, would it?
(Sir William Stewart) I think that the industry has
to provide a series of answers to a series of questions. What
they provide at the present time and what the answers are varies
in different parts of the country and in a sense from industry
to industry. We are simply suggesting that there should be a standard
and that that should be followed whether near a church or near
26. As far as schools are concerned, you say
that under the precautionary principle that there should be an
audit. At a school in my constituency, one of the mobile phone
company representatives came around with me and we carried out
an audit. We found that all parts of the school were well within
the guidelines. It was something like 1 per cent of what the maximum
was under the guidelines. We found the most dangerous place in
the school was quite close to the school computers and the television
set. The danger there seemed to be 10 or 15-fold higher than it
was anywhere in the school playing fields and that was because
of the radiation coming from the PC and the television. Are we
alarming people unnecessarily in talking about having schools
near masts when there are all sorts of other exposures to radiation
that may be more damaging?
(Sir William Stewart) Yes. It is an extremely difficult
thing on which to get a balance. The argument that has been put
to us, not in relation to computer screens, but in relation to
microwave ovens, is that you have a choice about using a microwave
oven and you have a choice about using a computer but you do not
have a choice on whether a base station is stuck outside your
house or not.
27. With respect, in a school you do not have
a choice about using a computer. Computer rooms are set aside
and children are forced to sit in front of the computers. Do you
think that parents should have the right to withdraw their children
from computer rooms?
(Sir William Stewart) I shall not get involved with
computers. I am talking about mobile phones and masts and I shall
stick to that.
28. Do you have worries about the existing sites?
You are tending to talk about future permissions. Do you think
that there is a case, rather than random selection, of requiring
there to be a clear indication on a site of what the radiation
is? Most of us as Members of Parliament are presented with fait
accomplis in the sense that the mast is usually up or is in
the process of being constructed and, very often, as a mast has
planning permission, it cannot be stopped, or there has been a
small mast before but they have planning permission for a larger
(Sir William Stewart) That is one of the reasons why
we suggested that the emissions from the base stations should
be clearly stated. One would expect those emissions to be well
below normal levels. If that is the case, I think that is an important
point, otherwise why set standards? Also we said that there should
be a random audit because we know that base stations powers can
be increased. We wanted to ensure that it was possible to check.
29. You also recommended that a leaflet should
be sent to every household. Are you happy with the Government's
response to that?
(Sir William Stewart) We recommended that every house
should receive a leaflet. About a month ago I bought a new mobile
phone. I went into the shop and asked whether they had anything
on safety. The man said, "No, I do not think we have anything
on safety". Then he said, "Hey, Jim, have we got anything
on safety?" Jim said, "I think there is a packet of
stuff in the back of the shop somewhere". He went into the
back of the shop and came out saying, "Here is a leaflet,
is that what you are looking for?" I said, "Yes".
That is slightly different from a leaflet going to every household.
We made a series of recommendations that there should be information
available on the packaging. You have to go back to what we said.
Our overall conclusion was that the balance of evidence suggests
that there is no problem. What we are talking around here is a
subset of that, in a sense. I appreciate that one does not want
to scaremonger, but nevertheless I believe, in a situation where
there is virtually a mobile phone in every household, that the
public has a right to have the full information on what they are
30. To provide that information, I imagine that
a database would be required. Have you any indication as to what
extent the Government have taken up the idea of a national database
(Sir William Stewart) I think that is going ahead.
31. Can you report to us in relation to the
research programme on the effects on health of masts? What is
happening? Are there any signposts as to when we shall receive
more information to help us in this debate?
(Sir William Stewart) As you know, the Government
and the industry, on a 50:50 basis, have set up a research programme
valued at £7 million to carry out a programme of research
on areas that we highlighted in the report. That programme has
been announced. There has been a workshop involving many people
who are interested in this area, particularly scientists, because
it is a scientific area. They have discussed various ways forward
and a call has been made for proposals to be submitted. Those
proposals will be evaluated by a team with members from the UK
and from Europe, which I chair. We shall be making some grants
32. When will there be outputs from that research?
(Sir William Stewart) It depends on the research.
It is not like drawing a pint of beer. It will take time to set
up the research programme and to get the programme under way.
I say to you, do not ask for something too soon. My worry is that
there are issues concerned with the relevance of some of the research
programmes. A lot of research has been carried out that has been
extrapolated to mobile phones and some has involved radiation
frequencies nothing near the sort used in mobile phones. One has
to ensure that the programme that is carried out has relevance
to the mobile phone industry per se. Secondly, I am a
believer that perhaps we should look for a set of volunteers who
feel that they are adversely affected by mobile phones, by buzzing
in the head or sore heads. We need to know the extent to which
mobile phones are directly causing these effects. I would like
to see a programme set up that included people who would be prepared
to be volunteers. I have received letters from people who have
said, "Every time I pick up a mobile phone I get a sore head.
Could I be included in a test, if there is one?" That is
an important point. We get back to the point of populations not
being homogeneous. My general viewit is purely speculationis
that if mobile phones have an adverse effect they probably have
an effect on a sub-group of the population.
33. Will your research cover the anxiety and
stress of this sub-group of the population who may suffer stress
as a result of the fear itself and the anxiety that is encouraged
by this sort of debate? Certain people get very worried and those
worries may be rational or irrational, but they can still have
an effect upon their health.
(Sir William Stewart) We believe that well-being is
an important issue and should be included. We are not going to
dictate from the top down what the specific research programmes
ought to be. We shall leave that to the community to take account
of our report and to see how they propose to address some of the
issues that we have raised.
34. What about the recently publicised research
into the electromagnetic fields near power lines? What is the
significance of that?
(Sir William Stewart) Again, I do not want to get
into that. But it is an interesting point. For years, report after
report has come out saying that power lines had no effect. Now
we have a report that says that there is some evidence that power
lines may cause certain types of leukaemia. For years people have
been saying that they have no effect and now they are saying that
35. It does not seem as though you are including
in any of this research the other part of the equation. There
is a cost-benefit in all this. Have you worked out how many people's
lives have been saved as a result of mobile communications technology,
enabling them to reach hospital more quickly than they would have
been able to otherwise? A few weeks ago there was a story in the
press of a sailor in the South Seas who would certainly have been
killed had it not been possible for her to communicate via her
mobile phone with her boyfriend in Falmouth. Have you carried
out a proper cost-benefit analysis? Although there is a downside
to this technology, there is very much an upside as well. Do we
not need to keep such matters in proportion?
(Sir William Stewart) We have not carried out a cost-benefit
analysis because we did not consider that to be part of our remit.
As I said at the beginning, the benefits of mobile telephone communications
to the nation as a whole are very substantial. How does one seek
to allow that to continue as best as one can and complement that
by minimising any risks? Rather than saying that people should
stop using mobile phones, we have said that there should be a
precautionary approach. Every little change can add up, allowing
for a good mobile communications industry in this country and
such changes may well improve it. One can see how motor car engines
have improved as a result of rules and regulations coming in.
Consider the petrol consumption that you got 20 years ago compared
with what you get today. That is because the industry was asked
to look at issues that were of concern to the public. Here again,
we are asking an industry to look at issues that are of concern
to the public. I am convinced that the industry will do that.
We have a good mobile communications industry in this country.
Chairman: On that note, Sir William, thank you
very much for your evidence. If there is anything else we need
to ask you we shall get in touch. Thank you very much for your
time and trouble this morning.