“Out of the red and into the black—Britain is back paying its way in the world today.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 770.]

He sounded less like Shakespeare and more like an episode of “Bullseye”. What he said was simply untrue. He will not achieve his objective of doubling exports by 2020. He is certainly not going to win Bully’s special prize of the keys to No. 10. I can hear the voice of Jim Bowen talking to the Chancellor: “Look at what you could’ve won.”

The OBR said yesterday:

“The current account deficit remains wide by historical standards.”

In the third quarter of 2014, the deficit was at 6% of GDP, which it said was

“the second largest quarterly deficit in National Accounts data stretching back to 1955.”

The contribution to GDP growth that is made by Britain selling things around the world is falling. Page 108 of the Red Book shows that in every one of the six years from 2014 to 2019, the percentage growth in imports of goods and services will exceed that in exports of goods and services. Our trade position is forecast to worsen in every single year. The Chancellor has failed to produce an export-led recovery.

In a very complacent and out-of-touch speech that was soaked in hubris and arrogance, the Chancellor said that people have never had it so good. After five years, he has failed. He has failed on debt, he has failed on deficit reduction and he has failed working families, who are on average £1,600 a year worse off. The Budget has shown what a further five years of Conservative rule would inflict on this country: a sharp acceleration in the cuts to public spending; a rollercoaster approach to managing the public finances; threats to our NHS and other valued aspects of British life; uncertainty for business that will lead to reduced investment; and, ultimately, poorer living standards for all. The British

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people will deliver their verdict on this Government in 48 days’ time. They deserve a better plan for Britain’s future, and that can be achieved only with a Labour Government.

4.42 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrea Leadsom): I thank hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber for their contributions this afternoon. For some, it will have been their last contribution in the Chamber. I congratulate them on choosing such an important final debate.

The truth is that everybody wants economic growth and greater employment. No Government in the world say that they want less growth and fewer jobs. However, there is a big difference between talking about something and achieving it. This Government are proud of our achievements: the fastest growth of any major advanced economy in the world, employment at a record high, unemployment at a record low, rising living standards, a falling deficit and the return of national optimism. And we have done all that within five years of the worst ever peacetime recession, which was caused not only by the financial crisis, but by the spending of the Labour party from 2001 onwards.

There have been some very good contributions this afternoon. The hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) raised the sale of the student loan book. I can tell him that the first tranche is expected to be sold by the end of 2015-16 and that over a five-year period the sales are expected to generate between £10 billion and £15 billion in revenues.

The hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) spoke about living standards. Perhaps I can lay his concerns to rest by telling him what Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said was

“the difference between Mr Osborne’s £900 better off and Mr Miliband’s £1,600 worse off”.

He said:

“In part the difference arises because Mr Miliband is talking about gross earnings, not net incomes. The latter allows the fuller description of what has happened to household living standards.”

It is important for all Members to understand the reality of how our economy is performing.

Ed Balls: Will the hon. Lady confirm that on the statistical measure she has just cited, between the first quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of this year—from the beginning to the end of the Parliament—living standards have fallen not risen?

Andrea Leadsom: The right hon. Gentleman will realise that I have just quoted Paul Johnson of the IFS. I stand by what the IFS has said, which is that, from 2010 to 2015, the average household is £900 better off.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) welcomed the fall in unemployment, the many who have been taken out of tax, and the fuel duty freeze, which has been great for his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) spoke about the fact that Dudley is full of hard-working people, and said how our support for businesses has helped them. He will certainly be missed in this place.

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The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) criticised many of the coalition’s cuts but did not say how he would sort out the huge financial mess left by the Labour party in 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) gave impressive figures for improvements in his constituency, not just to the local economy but also to local public services. As he pointed out, a strong economy means that we can pay for excellent public services. I wish him every success in his career when he leaves this place.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) welcomed the increase in personal allowances and the rise in gift aid for charity cash collections. I join her in congratulating Giggles and Games in her constituency on its prize for a thriving business. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) raised the important issue of housing. He welcomed the Budget creating 20 housing zones, and made important suggestions about the need to improve housing supply, including through self-build. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) talked about problems of poverty in her constituency, but acknowledged that the route out of poverty is work. She should welcome the fact that the total claimant count in her constituency is down by 39% since 2010. She also raised the issue of real-time data for credit reference agencies. The FCA is continuing to focus on achieving real-time data sharing, and significant progress is being made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) pointed out the economic benefits to her constituency of regeneration and making work pay, as well as the business rate reliefs for her high street and support for the creative industries. She highlights the urgent need for faster broadband and more new housing, and I agree with her about that. The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) challenged the quality of the jobs available, so I am sure he will be pleased to know that since Q1 2010, more than 70% of the increase in employment has come from full-time workers, two thirds of whom have been in high-skilled occupations, and that the claimant count in his constituency is down by 25% since May 2010.

Alex Cunningham: I welcome any jobs that are created in my constituency, but the statistics I referred to showed that hundreds of people have disappeared from the jobseeker’s allowance lists. Nobody knows where they have gone and whether they have died, left the country or something else. Is there any explanation for where those hundreds of people missing from the JSA lists have gone?

Andrea Leadsom: That is an extremely interesting question and the hon. Gentleman may well want to follow it up as the representative for his constituency. It is not something that I can answer at the Dispatch Box.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) welcomed the review of business rates and pointed out their importance, particularly for businesses in her constituency that are competing with online companies. She also pointed out the need for urgent action on superfast broadband for business, and welcomed the measures in the Budget.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) welcomed the penny off a pint and the freeze in fuel duty, but said that the Chancellor ignored the

19 Mar 2015 : Column 1002

NHS. In truth, the Government have chosen to protect the NHS through this tough period and have now committed to much greater support for mentally ill people. I would dearly love to hear the Opposition just once welcome this vital investment, which will do so much to help people struggling with poor mental health, rather than just ignoring it. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) told us about the choices that his grandmother gave us all—either earn more or spend less when in difficulty—and I am delighted to hear she would have been pleased with the Budget. I congratulate him on his long-standing support for small and medium-sized businesses and put on the record how much I have enjoyed being his constituency neighbour in the lovely country of Northamptonshire.

The hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) talked about the problem of the last bank in town, which I am very sympathetic to, but he might be reassured to know that I have held round tables, including with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, talking to banks about the need for smart ATMs that take in, as well as give out, cash and discussing improvements to post offices, including longer hours and upgrading security at counters for business banking, and we hope there will be a protocol for bank closures in the future. I am happy to talk to him separately about the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter), in his encore speech as a retiring Member, warmly supported the Budget and gave a considered assessment of the measures in it. It was an excellent swansong, and I wish him a successful and peaceful retirement.

Mr Bacon: Before my hon. Friend moves on entirely from the point about bank closures, will she accept that it is not just about protocol but about sharing resources, possibly between commercial banks and institutions such as the Post Office, so that instead of closures we have facilities that work for local people in very rural areas such as South Norfolk?

Andrea Leadsom: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend and assure him that that is precisely the point that the Secretary of State and I have been taking up with the banks.

The right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) might recall that I had the privilege of standing as a candidate in 2005 for Knowsley South against Eddie O’Hara. I am delighted that he welcomed the Help to Buy ISA and urge him to promote it to his local first-time buyers. It will be flexible for those on low incomes and will give a Government contribution of up to £3,000 towards a deposit for a new home.

Mr George Howarth: The Minister has quoted me out of context. I was making the point that we keep trying to subsidise owner-occupation by one means or another, none of which contributes to building new houses.

Andrea Leadsom: I apologise if I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman’s comment. Nevertheless, Help to Buy will provide support for young people in his constituency looking to get on the housing ladder.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) gave an interesting insight into her experience as an economics teacher,

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particularly in respect of the terrible time of our exit from the ERM. I was working in a dealing room then, and like her I have always thought that financial stability is key to our security, our jobs and our future. As she knows, I agree totally with her about the vital importance of interventions to support the mental health of children, mums and babies in the perinatal period, and I thoroughly congratulate her on her work in that area.

On the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), the best I can say is that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). Although I disagree with what the hon. Gentleman said, he is too courteous for me to pick a fight with him about it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry on two other points—first, that Northampton Saints are an excellent rugby team, and secondly, that it is people and businesses across the UK that, through their hard work and aspiration, deserve the credit for our economic recovery.

Finally, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) talked about the biggest increase in self-employment in 40 years, and then somehow suggested it was a bad thing. I hope her aspiring new business owners were listening. In truth, under this Government, the richest 20% of households are contributing in cash terms over four times more than the poorest 20%.

Debbie Abrahams: For clarity, I said that although some people might want to adopt the lifestyle, it had to be recognised that the average salary of people who are self-employed is about £10,000.

Andrea Leadsom: I am glad that the hon. Lady has clarified what she meant.

I would like to tackle head-on the lazy idea held by many Labour Members that when a country grows, it is the Government who do the running. It is not the Government; it is businesses and hard-working individuals.

In this Budget, as in all previous fiscal statements, this Government have demonstrated our pro-business, pro-growth credentials. That means more tax credits for key sectors, whether they be energy-intensive heavy industries or creative industries maintaining Britain’s status as a cultural centre of the world. It means further action to stimulate investment in the North sea through

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investments and tax cuts, and a long-term strategy for superfast broadband, enabling the next step in the technological revolution.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that next April we will abolish national insurance altogether for employing a young apprentice. We will be holding a major review of business rates, reflecting the fact that the old system needs to be reviewed so that it works better to support aspiring business owners in our country. He announced the abolition of class 2 national insurance contributions for the self- employed, and the abolition of the annual tax return altogether. I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I had phone calls to my office from two constituents, one of whom said that the Government’s Help to Buy ISA will persuade them to vote for me, while the other said that the abolition of the annual tax return will encourage them to do the same. On the basis of my own small opinion poll, this is already making a difference.

Meg Hillier: The Minister raises the important issue of national insurance contributions. Will she highlight for many of the self-employed people in my constituency what that will mean for their pensions?

Andrea Leadsom: We are consulting on that, and further information will come out in due course.

To help the food, drink and hospitality industry, we are freezing wine duty, cutting beer duty by a penny a pint, and cutting duty on cider, Scotch whisky and other spirits by 2%. To help any business that depends on a car, a truck or a van—or even a pink bus—we are cancelling the fuel duty increase scheduled for September. This is the longest duty freeze in over 20 years, saving someone filling up a Ford transit van £15 at the pumps every time they fill the tank. To help our businesses expand internationally, we are putting ourselves forward to be a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and we are doubling our support for British exporters to China. These are all vital steps to improve Britain’s ability to export and to support those businesses that are returning Britain’s economy to health.

This is a Budget that helps businesses from a Government who understand businesses. This is a Budget that will help secure Britain’s economic future for years to come. This is a Budget that will deliver prosperity for all, and I commend it to the House.

Ordered,That the debate be now adjourned.—(Mr Vara.)

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Shooters Hill Mobile Phone Mast (Stoke-on-Trent)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Vara.)

4.58 pm

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to put on record my thanks to Mr Speaker for granting me this Adjournment debate.

In the time available to me, I hope to catalogue what is sadly a list of incompetence, misdirection, deliberate misrepresentation of the truth, inaction, lies and alleged corruption that have surrounded the phone mast construction in my constituency since 1993. If an author thought about writing this case up as a book, he or she would be forced to publish it as fiction, because simply no one would believe such a catalogue of appalling behaviour could take place and could continue to be allowed to take place.

Our tale of despair begins back in 1974, when a radio mast was approved to relay information about water levels and so forth at the Shooters Hill reservoir.

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Vara.)

Robert Flello: The radio mast was a thin, whip-style antenna, and was effectively screened from sight. I am fortunate enough to have a photograph—not that I have pinned it up on my wall. As the Minister will see, it shows a tiny little mast.

Back in 1974, then, all was good, but in 1993 an application was made by Hutchison Microtel, on behalf of Orange, for a replacement of the existing radio mast at the reservoir site. It was, indeed, some replacement. What was built, supposedly to replace—I keep using the word “replace”—a thin radio antenna, was a 25 metre tower with microwave dishes and ground cabinets in a compound. I am fortunate, again, to have a photograph of what even a cursory examination shows is nothing like a thin, whip-like antenna. Was it owing to—dare I say—cock-up or conspiracy that the replacement mast was given permission by the council in 1993, with no reference to the planning laws that were in force at the time, no consultation with anyone, and no assessments or reports?

The icing on the cake, however, was the fact that the so-called replacement mast was not even in the same place. It was sited on recreational land behind the reservoir, rather than where the telemetry radio mast had been. The application form—I have a copy here—is simply wrong: it totally misrepresents what was being proposed. It is therefore not surprising that there was none of the compulsory publicity that was required by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and none of the publicity required by the Highways Act 1980. There was no reference to development on the green belt, as required by planning policy guidance note 2, and no reference to the fact that a 25 metre mast would be deemed visually intrusive under PPG8, the fact that it conflicted with the statutory local plan under BP10, or

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the fact that it contravened GP5 of the City of Stoke-on-Trent Local Plan 1990-2001. Indeed, many more policies and laws were completely ignored. That too is not entirely surprising, given that the application did not reflect the reality of what was being built.

During the intervening years, local residents have tried time and again to get the council and Orange to accept that the mast was not built in accordance with the planning permission that had been granted. They have tried time and again to highlight the fact that the mast was built on a public right of way across recreation ground, but they have been thwarted at every turn. Even in 2011, Orange was still putting misleading information on its applications in respect of the site. For instance, it responded “No” to the question

“Can the site be seen from a public road, public footpath, bridleway or other public land?”

It is incredible that, even at that early stage, Orange was issuing information that misrepresented the facts.

In January 2008, a request was made to the local authority to use its powers under section 102 of the Town and Country Planning Act to require the removal of the mast. A report—no, actually an utterly misleading and factually incorrect report—was presented to councillors by the then planning team, advising them that the section 102 request should be denied. Emphasis was placed on the potential costs to the authority, rather than on whether the advice was right or wrong. Officers suggested that the council could incur large costs if it lost the case—if it was found that the mast was not in the right place, and was not a simple replacement for a whip-thin radio antenna—and that, if it won, it would have to pay for the mast to be relocated, which was utterly bizarre. At no point did the officers take account of the fact that the permission that had been given back in 1993 bore no resemblance whatsoever to what was actually built.

Time ticked on. In June 2008, the residents and I went to see the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ask her to use the powers under Section 104 of the Town and Country Planning Act to issue a notice calling for the mast’s removal. I have brought the file of documents into the Chamber. It is a hefty file. Somebody asked if it was my speech; I was able to reassure them that it was not, but I could easily have made it my speech if I had had more than half an hour. This heavy file is the file of documents that were provided before the meeting with the Secretary of State, and they are pretty damning about what happened and set out clear grounds for ordering the mast to be removed.

Incredibly, however, it transpired that the civil servants had not properly considered the documents, but had instead advised the Secretary of State not to use the power under section 104. Their incredible logic was that the section 104 power had not previously been used and that she should not set a precedent by using it now. In the 10 years that I have had the good fortune of representing the people of Stoke-on-Trent South in this place, I have sometimes wondered why we pass laws if we are not going to use the powers that Parliament approved because we cannot be the first to use them. That is nonsense.

In August 2011, Orange submitted an application to undertake further development within the compound at the bottom of the mast, but this was disguised as a repositioning of existing cabinets, and a deal was done

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with council officers that the supposed repositioning would clear the way for the reinstatement of the public footpath that had been built over and therefore the council would be off the hook. Once again, city council planning officers misled councillors, telling them they could not consider anything about the site other than whether or not to approve the repositioning of the cabinets. Councillors on the committee were told that they could not raise the lawfulness or otherwise of a phone mast that was not in the same location and looked nothing like the radio mast it was supposed to replace. Unsurprisingly, the councillors accepted what the officers told them and approved the repositioning.

I do not know whether you have ever repositioned anything, Madam Deputy Speaker—perhaps the settee in the living room at home—but to my mind when someone replaces two cabinets with three, albeit in a different place, that is not repositioning. That is like moving the settee from one side of the room and repositioning it with two settees on the other side of the room. Again, that is absolute nonsense.

More time passed and the local residents put forward another application to the local authority for use of the section 102 order, based this time on the fact that the mast was on land now covered by village green legislation, but once again the council officers presented a flawed report, based on the flawed 2008 report. The officers refused to go back before the 2008 date and used as the basis of their new report the conclusion that everything in the 2008 report was factually correct. There was no independent review of the facts, and once more councillors were advised to reject the section 102 request.

So over the last couple of years, local residents and I have been arguing with and trying to persuade EE— Previously Everything Everywhere, previously Orange—to do the right thing and remove the mast, which should not be where it is and should not look like it does. To our delight we began to make some ground and finally—amazingly, after a lot of work and effort—EE agreed to decommission the mast and remove it, but then there were months and months of delay and we began to fear we were being misled yet again. Each time we spoke to the representative from EE we were reassured that decommissioning was on track, but then we would not hear anything again. Then the representative would come to see us, or go straight to see the residents—sometimes dropping in to see me first or afterwards—or see us jointly. Time and again we were assured that everything was on track, and that there had been some delays but everything was moving forward. Then there were months on end when we could not get hold of anybody—nobody from EE would respond—but then the representative would again appear.

Latterly, when we did speak to them we were told there were technical problems with handing off the service to other masts in the city, and that there were problems with EE, quite understandably, wanting to make sure their customers were not going to lose signal and would still be able to use their mobile phones. Despite all the years of, frankly, lies and deceit we were still prepared to be reasonable and said, “Okay, absolutely, we don’t want people to suffer loss of connectivity. We want to be reasonable. We’ve been treated very badly, and the residents have been treated appallingly for

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decades, but if there is a time-frame and work going on to overcome these difficulties and technical issues, we will be patient.” So we waited.

Then, on 23 July last year, the mast was switched off. “Wonderful news”, we thought. “Fantastic! Now, all we need is for this eyesore, this thin, whip-style mast that is in the wrong place, to be removed, and 30 years of wrong will at last be put right.” So we asked when the mast was going to come down, and we heard nothing. So we pushed again and again, repeatedly saying, “You promised to switch the mast off and you’ve done it— fantastic! That is great news. When are you going to take it down?” Again, there was delay and a wall of silence. The representative announced that he was leaving the company—we were concerned about that for a while—but that everything was fine and on track.

So, when would EE fulfil its final promise and remove the mast? To our horror and disgust, we have been told that the mast will not be removed. Apparently, there was never any plan to remove it. What we were told time and again over all those months about supposed technical problems and difficulties, along with the reassurances, was simply a way of spinning out time. There were never any plans to remove the mast.

Has EE no shame? Why has there been lie after lie, compounded by misinformation and misrepresentation and appalling behaviour? Sadly, previous council officers in the planning team—I stress, previous council officers—were happy to go along with anything and did not want to rock the boat. Time and again, this community has been let down. EE kept its word by switching the mast off. Why will it not now keep its word by actually removing the mast?

I appreciate that this is a difficult issue for the Minister to pick up now, but I hope that he has some words of comfort for the community at Shooters Hill, off the Sandon road, in my constituency. I hope he will get in touch with EE, ask its representatives to meet him if there is still time—I know we are only a week away from Dissolution—and tell them that this community has suffered for many years. It has been misled, abused and lied to time and again—keep your word, EE, and remove the mast.

I have left the Minister plenty of time to reply and I am sure he will not need anywhere near all of it, but I hope he will take on this issue and approach EE on behalf of the residents of Shooters Hill to see whether we can finally get the mast removed. Who knows—we might even invite him to the party we have been planning for years.

5.12 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a great honour to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to reply to the excellent speech from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello). In my speaking notes, he is described as “my noble Friend”, so my Department clearly takes a different view, and I bow to their respectful description of him.

It is interesting to hear the issues the hon. Gentleman has raised, and I have no doubt, given the cogent way he put his argument, that the mast is a source of enormous aggravation and annoyance to his constituents in and around Shooter’s Hill. It was painful to hear about the

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30 years of hurt, although I am pleased to learn that they have never stopped dreaming of a solution, so let us see if we can make some progress.

The roll-out of mobile phone infrastructure is a vexed question. Those of us who use mobile phones—that pretty much encompasses most of the population of this country—get very frustrated when we cannot get a mobile phone signal, but it depends, of course, on a mobile phone mast and mobile phone cells.

Robert Flello: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I appreciate that, having given him a lot of time to reply, I am now taking some of it back. I absolutely agree with what he has just said, which is why the residents were prepared to be extremely reasonable, despite the 30 years of hurt, as he describes it, and wait until such time as EE was able to make sure that people did not lose signal.

Mr Vaizey: I would not want my general remarks about mobile phone companies to be in any way construed as criticism of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. That certainly was not my intention. I was simply setting the scene.

We have recently reached a groundbreaking deal with the mobile operators that will increase mobile phone coverage to 90% of the geographical area of the country, in contrast to the current measure, which uses the coverage of premises in the UK. At the moment, the target is 98% of premises, but geographical coverage is much wider. In some instances, the benefits that the siting of a mobile phone mast can bring in terms of coverage can be outweighed by the loss of visual amenity caused by the mast. Despite years of deployment, their design has not moved on to one that could be described as aesthetically pleasing. Shooter’s Hill appears to be an egregious example of this, and it is important that local communities should have a say in where mobile phone masts are placed.

The Shooter’s Hill mast is owned by the mobile operator EE, which, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, has gone through a number of iterations. EE is the result of the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, which explains why the mast was previously operated by Orange. It is no longer broadcasting a mobile signal in the local area. However, that does not mean that the mast is redundant equipment, and it cannot be removed immediately. It continues to be part of EE’s wider network operations. Three other masts in the vicinity rely on the Shooter’s Hill mast for point-to-point wireless backhaul. That involves taking data back to the centre to ensure that people get good connectivity. For as long as the mast is providing this backhaul function, it is entitled to remain in situ. I will explain more about that in a moment.

The immediate removal of the mast would address residents’ concerns about its impact on the visual amenity, but it would lead to a loss of coverage for a much larger proportion of the local community because of the backhaul function that I have described. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. EE’s future investment programme will enable the mast to be removed. EE plans to upgrade the hardware on the three sites that are dependent on the mast. I hope that this is not going to be like the other promises that have been made to the

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hon. Gentleman and his constituents; I hope that this one will not be broken. Following the upgrade, EE will be able to remove the Shooter’s Hill mast. The company’s intention is to remove the mast no later than September 2016, which is some 18 months from the date of this debate. I appreciate that residents would like to see it happen more quickly, but I understand that the necessary upgrades on the other sites are significant and will take time.

If the Shooter’s Hill mast had been redundant, there would have been two ways to secure its removal. There are provisions covering this in part 24 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. Communications providers are required to remove infrastructure that is no longer needed, and to restore the land to its former condition or a condition acceptable to the local planning authority. Failure to comply with a part 24 condition would be a breach of planning control and in those circumstances the local planning authority in Stoke could have invoked part 24 and forced the removal of the mast. Where the equipment is installed on private land, the electronic communications code also provides for landowners to serve notices on communications providers requesting a mast’s removal.

To a certain extent, we have made a bit of progress in this debate.

Robert Flello: I sense that the Minister is coming to a conclusion. I am grateful to hear what he says, because at no point has EE mentioned to us that it has these plans for September 2016. We could have saved ourselves an interesting afternoon, although it is always a pleasure to have such debates. It is a shame that EE did not tell us that, because all it has told residents is that it has no plans to remove the mast. That is welcome news, but, as the Minister said a moment or two ago, let us hope that this is a reality and not yet another myth.

Mr Vaizey: I was going to say to the hon. Gentleman that I texted the chief executive of EE this afternoon. I have not received a reply, but I said that I was replying to this debate and was rather surprised that I had not been contacted by EE about it, although clearly my officials have spoken to the company.

I shall take up the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion of a meeting. We have only a few working days left, but that need not delay us in seeking a solution. When I hear back from the chief executive, I will see whether I can arrange for a senior representative of EE to consider the matter in some detail. Given the number of masts that a mobile operator operates, one would not expect the chief executive or his senior management team necessarily to have detailed knowledge at their fingertips of a particular infrastructure issue, but I shall ask them to consider it and send a senior representative to meet the hon. Gentleman. I will meet him as well if time can be found in both of our diaries. We are, I think, a week away from Dissolution, but I am sure that we can find a 10 or 15-minute slot in which finally to nail down this important issue.

Question put and agreed to.

5.21 pm

House adjourned.