New watchdog to check mobile phone dangers

AN ADVISORY group has been set up by the Government to look into the safety of mobile phones in response to widespread public concern.

Tessa Jowell, a Health minister, told MPs yesterday that she had asked the National Radiological Protection Board to create the body to look into potential ill-effects on health.

Ms Jowell told the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee that the working group would consist of lay members, including consumer groups, as well as scientists. Representatives of the mobile-phone industry will be barred to ensure independence.

The minister said that it was vital that the public had a group of experts acting on their behalf.

Recent studies, which have not been scientifically reproduced, have suggested that radio microwaves from the phones could lead to memory loss and cancers. But Ms Jowell stressed that current research showed that there was no "cause for concern" over the effects of the radio waves on human health. "This is based on limited data," she said. "There is a need for further research."

The working group will commission studies into the field in response to fears that there is insufficient evidence available. Ms Jowell said the Department of Health's research budget is pounds 60,000 and covers only two British projects.

But fears over the safety of mobile phones have failed to quell Britain's love affair with them. Mobile phone sales have helped to pull manufacturing industry out of recession, according to official figures yesterday.

Total manufacturing output was flat in the three months to April, the best it has done since September, government statistics showed. But surging production of mobiles and pagers made up for continuing weakness in other areas of industry. Compared with the same period a year ago, mobile phone output was 45 per cent higher. It leapt 12.8 per cent in the latest three months, falling back slightly in April from a record March level.

The Office for National Statistics said there had been a sharp upward trend since December in the number of mobiles being made, reflecting surging demand.

Companies such as Motorola and Ericsson make mobile phone handsets in the UK, partly for the export market. The number of subscribers in Britain has rocketed from about 12 million before Christmas to 15.5 million last month and is growing by nearly 4 per cent a month, according to the Federation of Communications Services. The introduction of pre-paid handsets before Christmas fuelled the boom.

Business outlook, page 19

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