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'No security risk' over mobile plan

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid has insisted the Government will not do anything that puts national security at risk after Theresa May apparently criticised plans to boost mobile phone network coverage.

After failing to secure agreement from the big four mobile providers - EE, O2, Three and Vodafone - on voluntary changes, Mr Javid is launching a consultation on possible legislative action, which could involve the introduction of "national roaming", allowing phones to switch between networks in the way they do on trips abroad.

But a leaked letter obtained by The Times suggests that Home Secretary Mrs May has raised objections to two of the options being considered, warning they could have a "detrimental impact" on the work of police and intelligence agencies.

Without spelling out the technical reasons why their work may be hampered, she reportedly asked for more studies to ensure that any changes do not stop police from accessing "information that is crucial to keeping us safe" from crime and terrorism.

It is thought that national roaming could make it more difficult to track suspects' movements. She is also said to have raised objections to the idea of packages offering access to all the major networks.

Mr Javid said it was unacceptable that phone users suffered from poor signals in a fifth of the UK, leaving them unable to make calls or send texts.

These areas - so-called "partial not-spots" - have coverage from some, but not all, of the four mobile networks.

Depending on which network they are on, consumers may have no coverage in a particular "not-spot".

As well as national roaming, options under consideration include requiring mobile networks to share infrastructure such as phone masts, allowing companies like Tesco or Virgin to sell packages offering access to all four networks, or obliging existing providers to cover a certain percentage of the UK.

Mr Javid insisted national roaming was a "serious" option, but stressed that no final decisions had been taken.

He also declined to confirm whether he had received the letter from Mrs May.

"I would prefer a voluntary solution from the mobile network operators," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But what the Government is setting out today through this consultation, and we're saying is, that we won't hesitate to take mandated action."

He added: "It (national roaming) is a serious option, but what I would point out in today's consultation... the reason it is a consultation is that we want to hear from everyone.

"The Home Secretary like every other member of the Government fully supports the strategy that we are setting out today.

"The reason this is a consultation is because at this stage we want to look carefully at each solution ... I would have lots of people write to me about each of these options and I wouldn't get into any one of them.

"Let me make one thing absolutely clear. W hen it comes to law enforcement, this Government is extremely proud of its record, and we would never do anything that would put that into jeopardy."

Mr Javid has made improving mobile phone coverage a key priority since taking the helm of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in April, but talks with the mobile companies over recent months have so far failed to deliver a voluntary solution.

Talks will continue during the consultation process, which ends on November 26.

Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said: "The detail of this policy needs careful consideration.

"Rather than briefing against each other as part of the ongoing Tory leadership squabble to replace David Cameron, Cabinet ministers should be making clear what the impact will be on 4G services for consumers and the emergency services, as well as any possible implications for national security and the fight against serious crime."

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