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Response to the Stewart Report

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11 May 2000

A report welcomed by industry

The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) was set up last year by the Minister for Public Health to assess the current state of research into possible health risks from mobile phones and to make recommendations on further work that should be carried out to improve the basis for sound advice.

Under the chairmanship of former chief science advisor to the Government Professor Sir William Stewart, the IEGMP has consulted widely with members of the public, scientific experts, the mobile phone industry and others in preparing its report, which is published today.

The health and safety of the public, our customers, and employees is and always will be of prime importance to the industry. We believe the report is comprehensive and balanced, and we welcome it. The IEGMP was set up to address public concern and, in our view, it has done that very effectively. As such, we believe its report stands as a significant document.

The report contains many important recommendations for us, Government, and local government and we will play our part in addressing them, continuing to take policy forward in response to public concern. Set out below are some of the ways in which we will support this process.

Supportive of science

The industry recognises that the massive growth in the use of mobile phones and the associated increase in the number of base stations has been accompanied by public concern about their possible effect on human health. The industry will continue to address this public concern in a transparent and factual way.

The IEGMP has agreed with many expert bodies around the world in concluding that, "the balance of evidence to date suggests that exposures to RF radiation below NRPB and ICNIRP [International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection] guidelines do not cause adverse health effects to the general population".

The Group has proposed that "a precautionary approach be adopted until more robust scientific information becomes available and that the subject be reviewed again in three years time, or before if circumstances demand it." We will play our part in developing and actioning recommendations based on a precautionary approach.

The industry will continue to support scientific research internationally, monitor developments in research around the world to ensure its activities take account of the latest scientific findings, and continue to test its products for compliance with relevant standards and guidelines.

Specifically, the industry, in consultation with Government, will financially support the research programme recommended by the report.

Sympathetic siting

The UK's network operators will locate, as far as possible, new base stations on sites that minimise their social impact on the local community whilst ensuring the public's expectation of good quality of service is met. They will also support the development of new technology to help improve base station design, and continue to share sites and masts where practicable.

Better communication, more consultation

The industry recognises that local planning authorities are a key participant in the network development process and that improved communication with them is a vital element in addressing the issue. To this end, the operators will increase the provision of information to planners on network design strategies and give them access to the Radio Sites Databank . The industry is also in the process of setting up appropriate training packages on working with the community in network roll out.

The industry recognises that the location of some base stations can generate more public concern in the local community than alternative locations might. To address this, operators will help ensure that local communities are better informed about applications made for new base station sites and have appropriate opportunity to make their views known.

The industry is committed to reviewing, with Government, planning regulations relating to telecommunications development to ensure planning policy is balanced between community concerns and the need for the UK to have world-leading telecommunications networks.

The operators will allocate specific staff resources to respond to public enquiries and, where appropriate, meet with the local community to discuss their concerns. They will also ensure customers receive clear factual information on the health and safety issue to assist their understanding.

Public exposure to base station radio waves

The IEGMP's report recommends that "as a precautionary approach, the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure be adopted for use in the UK rather than the NRPB guidelines." This is the approach recommended by the EU Council of Health Ministers on 12 July 1999. The majority of existing base stations already meet these guidelines and all new base stations will be built to this standard. All existing sites will be checked and modified, if necessary, as soon as is practicable.

More help with handsets

The industry agrees that better provision of accurate information on the subject of mobile phone handset safety is very important in communicating with consumers. To this end, we will continue to provide information to the public and will co-operate with Government to develop appropriate materials for use at point of sale.

We support the report's recommendation that "an international standard for the assessment of SAR values for mobile phones be adopted for use in the UK once it has been demonstrated to be scientifically sound". We also accept the report's recommendation that "information on SAR (specific absorption rate) values must be readily accessible to consumers". We look forward to working with Government on identifying the most effective way to present this highly technical information.

Children

The health and safety of children is of paramount importance. In the spirit of a precautionary approach we will review the implications of the report in respect of our marketing strategies and information literature. We recognise the need to find a balance between appropriate precautionary measures and the personal safety benefits for children, referred to in the report, which many parents find reassuring.

Driving

The industry has already recommended that handheld mobile phones should never be used whilst driving, and that hands-free kits should only be used when it is safe to do so.

Working with Government

Health and safety is and always will be of prime importance to the industry. We are very conscious of the health and safety concerns of customers, employees and others. The industry's response to these concerns will continue to sit at the heart of the industry ethos.

We take seriously any potential health concern, irrespective of current substantiated scientific opinion on the issue. We recognise that quoting recognised scientific authority, whilst very important, is not necessarily the complete answer to the question of enhancing public trust in products and services.

Transparent and impartial decision-making, following wide consultation with relevant interest groups, is recognised as an important part of gaining trust and demonstrating integrity. This philosophy will continue to underpin our approach to this issue and any other issue with potential or perceived health and safety implications.

To this end, we are committed to working closely with Government and others to take policy forward in this area and successfully address public concerns.

61% of UK adults access the internet from mobiles

Mobile phones cannot work without a network of base stations (masts). There are approximately 52,500 base station sites (excluding microcells) in the UK. Only a third of these are large, free standing masts. A YouGov survey for MOA (Sept 2014) showed that nearly 8 out of 10 people recognise the link between masts and good mobile coverage. Mobile telecommunications are vital for the UK’s economic competitiveness and in promoting social inclusion. There are now 89.9 million mobile subscriptions in the UK. In Q1 2015 61 per cent of UK adults used their mobile phones for internet access. Tablet ownership is 54% of UK households.

No Established Health Effects

Mobile phones operate by using radio waves, similar to those that have been widely used for decades, for example in radio, TV and radar signals. A large number of studies over the last two decades have found no clear evidence of adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones or from phone masts.