Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)

MONDAY 22 APRIL 2002

MR JOHN GIEVE, MR VAUGHAN ASQUE MR PHILLIP WEBB AND MR JEFF PARRIS

  240. How many policemen have complained that their radios are making them ill?
  (Mr Asque) A number of people have expressed concerns on the health issues.

  241. How many?
  (Mr Asque) The numbers are not fed directly to us. We get representations from the Police Federation, which we have been in contact with, answering the concerns on behalf of their members. We have not dealt directly with policemen.

  242. I am looking at a letter in the police magazine from March 2002 from a Mr Nigel Wood from Lancashire who writes that he knows personally of new cases of skin problems, sleeplessness, migraines, depression, difficulty in concentrating and headaches. In the December 2001 issue there is reference to TETRA causing a variety of things including potentially heart and blood disorders, affecting the brain electro-chemistry, increasing the risk of leukaemia and so on. What is the current state of play on the health research?
  (Mr Asque) The current state is that we are addressing all of the recommendations which were made in the report you referred to. A list of recommendations was drawn up and we have research projects going on all of those recommendations, addressing them in great detail.

  243. Do the research projects have people wearing these things and making them operate and then checking out whether they get migraine or depression or whether they lose concentration?
  (Mr Asque) Projects are being developed which will have that sort of aspect. At the moment we do not have a user base. We are in negotiation with one of the police forces which has offered to participate in a trial of that order, but it has not started yet.

  244. That was July 2001. It is now April 2002 and you have just said that at the moment you do not have a user base. Do you not have people you can test this on?
  (Mr Asque) The issue is that there is no proof that there are any of these effects.

  245. I did not say there was. Nine months after that July 2001 report and a more recent report you say you do not have a user base, you do not have a bunch of people on whom you can test it specifically not relating to operability or interoperability but specifically relating to health. Is that correct? You do not have a user base of such people?
  (Mr Asque) The Airwave service is only now being rolled out. We have done work in the laboratory, we have done a lot of experimental work in the laboratory prior to the final trial which we are doing as part of a health programme which is not directly led by the Home Office. It is part of the mobile phone research.

  246. Are you responsible for the Home Office's input into health and safety on these issues?
  (Mr Asque) Yes, we are and we are feeding into the wider programmes because we have more users involved and a wider base of information.

  247. But you do not have a user base at the moment.
  (Mr Asque) We have had discussions with one police force who are going to collaborate with us.

  248. You have had discussions. I am just amazed. It was 1998 when you had the first review on effectiveness. Three years later you had a review on health safety specifically because of these concerns. Not quite a year later, but nearly a year later, you still do not have people to testify. Why not?
  (Mr Asque) There are two issues here. We have to have people using the system. At the moment we have a trial system and now we are starting operational use. We also have to have a research programme in which we have to agree how we measure this. This is very subjective. People will have concerns about this; it is a very emotive topic —

  249. These policemen are complaining about headaches and so on. You are in charge of health and safety. Have you thought of going along, getting on a train, going up to Manchester, participating, using it yourself and seeing whether you get headaches? It would be a quick way to move the thing forward, would it not?
  (Mr Asque) It would, but I suffer from headaches for all sorts of reasons and I cannot say whether it is due to using that handset or not. We need proper scientific trials to analyse these things because a lot of these things are so subjective.

  250. I am just amazed you have not started yet.
  (Mr Gieve) Vaughan is referring to a particular monitoring programme we are setting up with the forces which are starting to use Airwave. We actually have a whole programme of research, most of which has started, on the effects on rat brains and lots of biological stuff to try to find out whether, as has been alleged, features of this technology do have effects on animals and on biology. So far there is no reason to think they do.
  (Mr Parris) We take health and safety very, very seriously. The Airwave service operates within national and international guidelines which are laid down after years of research. Sure, more research is going on and it is absolutely right and proper that it should go on.

  251. If you want to send us a note on safety, I should be very pleased to see it.[11] Are TETRA and TETRAPOL interoperable?

  (Mr Webb) No, they are not fully interoperable.

  252. Are they interoperable to a degree? Presumably the answer to that is yes.
  (Mr Webb) If you provided an adequate interface, there is a degree of functionality which would be possible.

  253. But you do not have an interface at the moment.
  (Mr Webb) Right.

  254. Mr Alistair Philips was giving advice to PITO, is that right?
  (Mr Webb) No, he is not giving advice.

  255. Was he not giving advice to PITO?
  (Mr Webb) No.

  256. Perhaps he was giving you advice in the sense that any person is entitled to give you advice rather than that you were paying for it.
  (Mr Webb) I am sure he could have sent us an unsolicited letter.

  257. Do you think he was giving you free advice? Mr Philips' free advice says that he advised PITO to reconsider its backing for TETRA. He argues that TETRA carries proven health risks while the rival TETRAPOL technology is close to harmless. He also said that the proprietary nature of TETRA could have a detrimental effect on competition: suppliers do not like an open system, so this way the TETRA clique can set prices. Would you like to comment on that?
  (Mr Webb) The TETRAPOL technology operates in the same sort of frequency band as TETRA does, therefore one would suspect it would have very similar health effects. In terms of the ability to interoperate with it, we have had no requirement to do so as at the moment. We have looked at the technology. It is not as functionally rich as TETRA and therefore there are large amounts of functionality which would not interoperate. There are also problems in the way it handles signals to enable it to operate at all. The level of functionality which we could actually share would be very low.

  258. Are calls still dropping off?
  (Mr Parris) No, the call dropping which was referred to in an earlier question has been cleared.

  259. Call dropping is not happening any more.
  (Mr Parris) Correct.


11   Ev , Appendix 1. Back


 
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