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Julie Morgan: I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 14, Noes 7.

Division No. 148
[2.04 pm


Allan, Richard
Barron, rh Kevin
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Dawson, Hilton
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Khabra, Piara S.
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Morgan, Julie
Pugh, Dr. John
Stunell, Andrew
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Willis, Phil

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Win Griffiths and
Mrs. Betty Williams


Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Barker, Gregory
Blunt, Crispin
Garnier, Edward
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Loughton, Tim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Andrew Hunter

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than 40 Members had taken part in the Division, Madam Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

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18 Mar 2005 : Column 567

Telecommunications Masts (Planning Control) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

2.15 pm

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I have been a victim of passive talking out during today's proceedings, but I am pleased to have the opportunity to present my Bill to the House. I want to start by thanking the sponsors and giving special recognition to the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who introduced a similar Bill last year and was generous in allowing me access to the material that he acquired at that time. I should also like to thank for their help my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) and the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who is chairman of the all-party group on mobile phones. I could mention many other colleagues, but I have specifically referred to three colleagues from three parties across the House. Their support is a measure of the importance of this issue to many Back-Bench Members.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his choice of subject, which I also believe is an important one. As he rightly says, the Bill has a great deal of all-party support. It is essential to change the law, but I also want to highlight the importance of examining the health aspects of the problem.

Mr. Stunell: I agree, and if I can talk fast enough I shall reach that part of my speech in a few minutes' time. Some local authorities, again of all political persuasions, have passed resolutions in support of the principle of the Bill.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I would like to confirm that. Worthing is now Conservative-controlled, but I shall leave that aside, as the Liberal Democrats—except for the former mayor—were also worried about the issue. Given the chance, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and I will support the Bill.

Mr. Stunell: Right—well, I shall just carry on making progress. I would also like to point out that 119 of my own constituents have been in touch with me in support of the Bill. That gives me some hope about what will happen in a few weeks' time.

I doubt whether there is one Member of the House who has not, at some stage, heard community groups and organisations explaining their concerns about the introduction of mobile phone technology.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD) rose—

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con) rose—

Mr. Stunell: I give way first to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Willis: It is a pity that, after the procrastinations of Conservative Members earlier, we do not have more time to debate the Bill. One of the key issues arising from
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the Court of Appeal judgment in what has become known as the Harrogate case highlights a confusion that lies at heart of Government policy—the view that there are no health risks to be considered in respect of planning, while we hear from the Department of Health that there are indeed such health risks. In the light of the response of the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) earlier this week, does my hon. Friend believe that, whether or not his Bill succeeds, the Government must make it absolutely clear that health risks should be taken into consideration in dealing with planning applications?

Mr. Stunell: I agree. Indeed, one of the Bill's provisions gives the opportunity to assess whether a mast in a certain location presents specific health risks—for example, to schools or health facilities.

Mr. Maude: The hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier that there was support among all parties for the Bill, but he will recall that in a recent by-election, the official election literature said that Labour would

My constituents in Horsham are particularly concerned about the proximity of some proposed masts to large concentrations of children in schools.

Has the hon. Gentleman had any indication from the Government, particularly in the light of what was said at the by-election, that they will give time and support to the Bill, which commands widespread support, to ensure that it gets on the statute book, enabling local councils to do exactly what Labour said that it wanted to achieve?

Mr. Stunell: I may be able to answer the right hon. Gentleman, because the Under-Secretary wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) on 15 March. She commented on the fact that there was concern, but added that if there was major concern on the part of the school or the parents, they could ask the network operator to adjust the antenna. I draw the attention of the House to Marple Hall high school in my constituency, where a mast was fixed to a school building with the consent of the governors. However, there was subsequently a great deal of unrest and the governors rescinded their decision, only to discover that the contract that they, and every other person who has taken an antenna on to their land, had signed meant that they had no rights. They could not ask for the antenna to be withdrawn and they had signed away their rights in terms of replacement or repair. What the Government said to my hon. Friend is just unenforceable as things stand.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has been very generous, and some of my constituents have written to ask me to come and listen to him today. I have constituents, in Ashley Green and Chalfont in particular, who are very concerned about mast applications and installations. What would he say when a proposed site is near not a school but a nursery to which babies and young children go?
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The views of parents are not going to be taken into consideration. Is that not worrying? Would his Bill help to address this problem?

Mr. Stunell: Yes, the Bill as drafted does exactly that. It gives the managing body of a school, health facility and, explicitly, nursery the right to give notice. The Bill refers to a notice period of 28 days. I met the mobile operator companies yesterday and they told me that that was far too short. We may propose a longer period in Committee, but the principle must be right—that someone who owns and manages land should have the right to say what should be on it, and not be in a position where an oppressive contract signs away their rights for the future.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has been very generous. I particularly welcome the part of the Bill dealing with class D. Is it not iniquitous—this is happening in Sussex, which is why the county is disproportionately represented today—that mobile phone masts can be replaced by tetramasts on the same site as mobile masts without reference to the landlord and without planning controls, causing fear among local people about health concerns? Nothing can be done about that and 0 2 , which operates these things, does not want to know. Is that not disgraceful?

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