do everything we can to ensure that there are no more phone masts near schools and hospitals.
I want to make it clear to the Minister that the dissatisfaction is based not on party, but on hon. Members understanding of the concerns of their communities. The problem is that telecommunications masts were exempted from planning control in 1984. The huge elephant in the room is that the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer received some £30 billion for licence fees. That means that it is difficult for the Government to agree to tighten things up, because some of those people might want their money back.
There is a problem. I understand the broader national policy context. However, it cannot be right that if I wanted to erect a 15 m high conservatory I would have to apply for planning permissionI would, of course, be refusedbut if I wanted to erect a 15 m high mobile phone mast, I would not need planning permission and could not be refused.
The difference is that although a 15 m high conservatory may be aesthetically displeasing, it does not transmit radio waves. Does my hon. Friend
agree that as long as the science is still equivocal, local people have the right to expect a greater say in these matters? He may be interested in the fact that Alan Blood, one of my constituents, has written a play about the issue of radio transmission masts, which may not always be welcome in the local community.
Andrew Stunell: My hon. Friend is reflecting a fear that many of our constituents have. I do not want to base the whole of my argument on health considerations. Let us be clear: we will get more radiation from our mobile phones than from any mast, and 60 million of us have mobile phonesso we are in a bit of trouble.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): As the hon. Gentleman said, the radiation from a mobile phone is much greater than that from a mast. On occasions, the lack of a mast can mean that there is an even greater signal in the earpiece as the phone searches for a mast to which to connect. Therefore, counter-intuitively, sometimes it would be better for there to be more masts or for masts to be closer to schools than to have increased signals as a result of that searching. Our consideration of constituents fears has to be evidence-based.
Andrew Stunell: That brings me neatly on to the argument put forward by Sir William Stewart in his report. He mentioned the precautionary principle and recommended that children under the age of six should not have access to mobile phones for the precise reason that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. That is why my proposals in new clauses 3 and 4 refer to the need to validate what radiation is coming from masts that are close to schools, health facilities and nurseries.
There are straightforward solutions, andthis point has also been made in previous debatesthis is not an attempt to shut down the mobile phone industry. The industry has 60 million users and is a very important part of our national infrastructure. However, petrol stations and supermarkets are also such a part, and they go through a planning process; it is flawed in some ways, but they nevertheless go through it. If one looks north of Hadrians wall, one sees that the Scots have amended their planning rules so that mobile phone masts are subject to those controls. As far as I am aware, the mobile phone industry and mobile phone users in Scotland have not lost out as a result.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the solution may be to encourage mobile phone companies to go on to roaming so that there could be more mast sharing? Hopefully, that would reduce the need for so many masts.
I am beginning to wonder whether I circulated my speech notes before the debate, because the hon. Gentleman has certainly got close to what I was going to say. One of the things that the Minister may say, if she has any time, is that mobile phone companies are very responsible and that they have 10 commitments. They are 10 commitments, but they are certainly not 10 commandments; even if they were, commandments tend to be broken quite often. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) introduced a
Bill, as a Labour Member, to try to make those commitments into commandments, but he did not succeed. The phone companies have an exceptionally strong record on arrogance and oppression.
Susan Kramer: Does my hon. Friend agree that if mobile phone masts were subject to the planning regime, the companies would be far more likely to co-operate and we would be likely to have fewer mastsand in sensible locations, without competition for separate locations?
Andrew Stunell: I would like to think so; it is certainly true that in every realm of life, including what goes on in this building, if people have the power to do something, they go and do itjust because. That is what the phone companies sometimes do in local communities.
My case is not an attack on individual companies or on the industry; it is a straightforward case. The mobile phone industry no longer needs the start-up protection that it was given in 1984. It has 60 million customers, for goodness sake, and 40,000 transmission stationsbase stations, as they are called. We now need to reflect on the fact that our local communities need the assurance that local planning authorities and their local representatives have an effective say in how the mobile phone industry impacts on the local environment. It is surely a matter of public policy that at least a nod should be given towards the recommendations of Sir William Stewarts inquiry and the precautionary principle. The new clauses would require additional statutory assurances that where masts are close to sensitive locations they must have that validation. It would not be a ban or a moratorium but a formal process of validation of radiation levels in those places, somewhat similar to an MOT test for a car. At present, no car can go on the road unless it has type approval, but we do not see that as good enough for individual cars, which need to have MOTs.
Mr. Llwyd: I fully support what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he aware of last weekends reports in The Sunday Times of a link between the huge number of suicides in the Bridgend area and telephone mastsreports that proved to be rather interesting and frightening reading?
New clauses 3 and 4 would allow the House to bring the mobile phone industry back under public scrutiny. There can hardly be a Member in the House for whom this has not been a significant concern in their constituencies since they were elected, however long ago that was. Support for the new clauses would be a signal that we are serious about protecting and representing our local communities. They have all-party supportI was delighted to hear what the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said on behalf of the Conservativesand I hope that there will be an opportunity to test the view of the House later.
I am grateful to be able to speak in this debate. Time is marching on quickly, so I just want to make one or two brief points on this large
group of amendments with which the Minister dealt in great detail, which was extremely helpful to the House.
I support the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), who made a cogent case, although I am not sure that he quite understood my comments. I think that it is now technologically possible, via roaming, which happens much more extensively on the continent than it does here, for more mobile phone companies to share masts, which would mean that fewer would be required. However, that does not obviate his point that we still need to bring them within the planning system and they need to have a health check before they are erected.
I support the argument put by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), because I have argued strongly that planning powers should not be given to the regional assemblies. To give those powers to the regional development agencies is an even worse proposal, because they are less democratic than the regional assemblies. The regional assemblies have indirectly elected members, but regional development agencies have no democratic accountability whatsoever. Much of my constituency, which is in the south-west region, is nearer to the Scottish border than it is to Penzance, yet the regional development agency insists on having its offices in Exeter, which is one of the furthest points away from it. The idea that it should control housing numbers in my constituency is completely unacceptable to my constituents.
As I said to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), I have a sense of déjÃ vu about several of the issues that have been discussed today. He will recall that repeat planning applications came up in our previous debates in 2004, and I welcome those parts of the Bill, and the amendments, that deal with repeat and concurrent planning applications. I have taken part in previous debates on permitted development rights, and I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Streatham, who was right to say that the development in his constituency was carried out under paragraph 17, not paragraph 11, of the general development procedure order, where article 4 would have applied. The Secretary of State talked about using article 4 directives, but as she will know, as she has become such an expert in planning, local authorities are wary of issuing such directives because they have to pay compensation if they do so and permission is passed. They are wary of using that mechanism, and the right hon. Member for Streatham will remember that we had discussions about the difficulties of using such directives in the case of Gypsies.
I would like to talk briefly about local member review bodies, because there is a serious question about their membership. If they are to work properlyand they could be a good ideathey must seen to be properly objective by our constituents. If peoples rights to appeal are taken away in lieu of those local member review bodies, the composition of those bodies should reflect a fair membership that is truly objective, professional and able to act instead of the Planning Inspectorate.
Finally, I would like to say something about permitted development rights and the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). It is absolutely right that the Minister has agreed to meet members of the National
Farmers UnionI declare an interest as a farmer and a chartered surveyor. If farmers permitted development rights for erecting smaller agricultural buildings are taken away, that will be a cause of concern. Larger agricultural buildings and buildings near public rights of way have to have planning permission under the existing regime so it is only rights relating to small buildings in very rural locations that will be affected by the provisions. I am grateful to the Ministers agreement to meet my right hon. Friend, and I hope that productive discussions will stem from that.
There are a host of other issues that I could discuss, but time is moving on. I regret that we do not have more time to discuss them, and I regret the fact that we will not get to the clauses on the community infrastructure levy. That is a huge discredit to the Government, because we ought to be discussing that very important part of the Bill today.
(b) the reference in subsection (1)(b) to anything the Secretary of State has power to do by virtue of an England-only provision is to be read as a reference to anything the Secretary of State would have power to do by virtue of the provision, if it were in force.
(5) The Secretary of State may make an order in consequence of an order under subsection (1) for the purpose of ensuring that an England-only provision continues to have (or will when brought into force have) the effect in relation to England that it would have had if the order under subsection (1) had not been made.
(9) No order may be made by the Welsh Ministers under this section unless a draft of the instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the National Assembly for Wales.. [Mr. Dhanda.]
Mr. Dhanda: Let me deal with a group of clauses that were discussed in Committee about Welsh powers, Welsh blight, the Welsh commissioners and their representation and Opposition amendments, which would, in our view, restrict National Assembly for Wales legislative competence.
Lembit Öpik: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There was a programme motion earlier and we thought that we would run out of time. Is it in order for us to discuss all the important matters in the Bill that relate to the entire nation of Wales in less than two minutes?
I am sure that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) would have been a welcome member of the Committee. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) served on it and made a good contribution to its deliberations. We have taken on board some of his comments and I know that he agrees that some Opposition amendments, namely Nos. 298 and 299, are a bad idea. We want consistency, with some of the town and country
planning measures for England replicated for Wales. The amendments would provide for that.
Amendments Nos. 199, 247, 248 and 260 would enable Welsh Ministers to apply by order several miscellaneous reforms to the land use planning system, which are currently included in the Bill on an England-only basis. The Welsh Assembly Government believe that there could be merit in introducing the reforms in Wales. It is therefore appropriate for the Bill to recognise that and allow an opportunity for the reforms to be made in Wales. An order-making power is the most effective way in which to achieve that.