HC Deb 13 March 1963 vol 673 cc1370-9

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 32, at the end to insert: (4) The Board of Trade shall cause additional authorised copies of the United Kingdom primary standards of the yard and pound to be maintained aft Edinburgh. I move this Amendment because the Bill applies to Scotland. If one looks at the Schedule one finds that all the copies of the standards are maintained in the City of London, except one which is in the City of Westminster, in a wall in one of the passages in the House of Commons. We do not want the Scots coming there and taking the standard from the wall in one of the passages of the House of Commons as they came down and took the Stone from Westminster Abbey.

The purpose of my Amendment is to provide that not only shall there be official, authorised copies of the standards in various institutions in London but that we shall also have them in Edinburgh. The point has been brought to my notice by the Scottish weights and measures authorities and several other authorities. They feel that these facilities should be available in Scotland.

After all, Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom; this is the unity of two kingdoms, and Scotland is, therefore, itself a nation and a kingdom. It is not like the West Country, or the North-East, or East Anglia; it is a nation which has a capita—Edinburgh. The weights and measures authorities in Scotland believe that their reference to this Measure should not involve their coming to London, which is the Metropolis of England, but that they should have a reference in Edinburgh, which is the Metropolis of Scotland.

I know very well that if this were debated in Scotland there would be an argument whether it should be Edinburgh or Glasgow. I live in Glasgow. I see here my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), who is a patriotic Scottish Member. He represents an Edinburgh constituency. I will accede to the wishes of the east of Scotland that these copies should be kept in Edinburgh, and that is why I put Edinburgh in the Amendment rather than Glasgow.

Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)

Would it be a good idea to put it on the Loch Ness monster?

Mr. Bence

It is true that we have a monster in Loch Ness, but we have so much legislation made in London but affecting Scotland that many Scots believe that although they have a monster in Loch Ness, the worst monster they have on their backs is down here. The Loch Ness monster attracts many people to Scotland. Possibly if the Yorkshire Dales could find a monster in some of the potholes there, it would attract visitors to Yorkshire. But my aim is to attract to Scotland not visitors but copies of the standards.

There are a number of these copies and they are not difficult to manufacture. We are not asking for something which would be very costly or very difficult, and we are not adding appreciably to the difficulties of administration or of supervision in carrying out the Act, or of the difficulties of the body which is to be set up to supervise the standards. We shall not be adding to any of their difficulties. The copies will be in Edinburgh, and I have no doubt that the maintenance and supervision of these standards in Edinburgh will be a comparatively simple task for the Commission which is to be set up.

We have institutions in Scotland where standards could be maintained, we have a splendid university, we have the old Parliament buildings. I am sure that if he catches your eye, Sir Robert, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East will be able to give the Committee a detailed exposition of the suitable conditions in Edinburgh for maintaining these standards.

There is the standard of measurement of length—the yard—and the standard of liquid measure, for example, which have to be maintained. These are used as reference by weights and measures inspectors and authorities. I have met many of these people, and they tell me that they come to London for this purpose. They say that these standards are used especially for people training to become inspectors. They go to the institutions where these weights and measures standards are maintained.

I talked to two or three men who are now weights and measures inspectors and who, during their training, came to an institute in London to see these standards and to see how they are manufactured and maintained. They wanted to see how the instruments of temperature were maintained, how the meter standard is supported on rollers and how bend allowances are made. All that could be done by going to Edinburgh.

We talk a good deal in the House about the redistribution of population, and there is a move to get more people up to the North and more industry up to Scotland. Part of this process is to make Edinburgh more of a Metropolis than it is today. Too much of the centre of things is driven and maintained in the City of London, and the City of London is becoming choked with all the centres of research and development which are being established here.

This is a very important Bill. In this modern age, weighing and measuring is a scientific process. It is not the haphazard process of a hundred years ago. Weighing and measuring machines in use today are very complicated and highly technical.

I believe that if we can establish a centre to maintain standards, then around it we can maintain all the ancillary activities or help to stimulate the ancillary activities to enable certain industries connected with it to develop and grow. For centuries the Mint was in Birmingham. There is a factory in Birmingham still called the Mint. Out of the fact that the Mint was established in Birmingham, where coins and measuring instruments were made, there grew in Birmingham the artificial jewel industry. It sprang from the fact that the Mint was in Birmingham.

If we could maintain these standards in Edinburgh, and if the retail and manufacturing industry in Edinburgh knew of the existence of these institutions where standards were maintained, it would be a good thing for Scotland. It would help the whole retail industry of Scotland to be more competitive, and there would be a psychological appreciation of the growing need for more accurate and a better use of weighing and measuring instruments.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I support the Amendment, because I think that, being the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh is a suitable place for one of these standards to be maintained. It is probably quite accidental that Edinburgh is not the capital of the United Kingdom. If James VI, when he became James I of England, had kept his court in Edinburgh, instead of our meeting here today we might have been meeting in Edinburgh.

The unfortunate thing for Scotland was that James VI, when he became James I of England, came down here and set up his court in London. Had he not done so, and had he stayed in Edinburgh, a large number of things might have been different today. Apart from the speculation as to what might have happened had he established his court in Edinburgh, it is only right that one of the standards should be in Edinburgh.

I did not take part in the debates in Standing Committee, but I have been studying the Second Schedule. Mr. Baily's Metal No. 1 standard yard is to be in London. Mr. Baily's Metal No. 2 standard yard is to be at the Mint in London. Mr. Baily's Metal No. 3 standard yard is to be at the Royal Society, also in London. Mr. Baily's Metal No. 5 standard yard is to be at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, also in London. Mr. Baily's Metal No. 4 standard yard is to be immured in the Palace of Westminster. The other copies are to be deposited at the standard weights and measures department of the Board of Trade.

Why does London need all these copies of the standard? There is a good case for having at least one in Edinburgh. I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) will have a few words to say about this. If people want to check up, why should they have to travel to London? Why should they not be able to do this in Edinburgh? This is a reasonable request. I can see no reason why it should not be granted. It is not as though we are asking for the expenditure of millions of pounds. We are asking for something which could cost very little and would save quite a lot of money in other directions. What we are asking for is something that would assist Scotland and save much unnecessary travel.

I should not like to guess what the reasons can be for the Government not acceding to this request. I just do not know what they are. It is a form of English nationalism which I thought we had got over long ago in the United Kingdom. I very much deplore this display of a sort of arrogant nationalism which denies ancient and honourable kingdoms their rights.

Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

Would the hon. Gentleman say that this English nationalism of which he complains is akin to the Stalinism of which he accused the Scottish Office yesterday?

Mr. Willis

I am sure that if I began to talk about the Tories establishing Stalinism in the Highlands I should be out of order. In any case, I said what I wanted to say about that yesterday morning.

This is a remarkable business. I support my hon. Friend in his very reasonable and moderate demand. That is all that I can say about it. It is so reasonable that one would have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary would have leapt to the Box to save the Committee's time and would have said that he had great pleasure in accepting the Amendment. I should have thought that he would have congratulated my hon. Friend on having made such an eminently reasonable suggestion. It is non-political, non-party and reasonable. It would increase the efficiency of the running of affairs and it would also pay a humble tribute to the status of Edinburgh as the capital city of Scotland. It would also pay a little tribute to that ancient race, the Scots.

I hope that even though we have so far taken a quarter of an hour of the Committee's time, that time has not been wasted and that the Parliamentary Secretary intends to accept the Amendment.

4.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. David Price)

The assiduity of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) in all matters appertaining to Scotland was demonstrated on a number of occasions during the Committee stage of the Bill. The object of his Amendment is understandable. He has on this occasion got the support of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). I cannot help being reminded of these words of Sir James Barrie: There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make. I cannot advise the Committee to accept the Amendment. I do not think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has quite understood what we are doing in Clause 2, or in Schedule 2. The location of authorised copies is where they are at present. It is purely descriptive. Hon. Members will recall that the standards listed in subsection (3) are only to be the United Kingdom primary standard—primary standards can he in only one place, by definition, or authorised copies of those standards—I pointed out to the Standing Committee that it is where they are at present, not where they may be in future, as the case may be, and, I quote Until other provision is made by an Order under Section 8 of this Act. In other words, this subsection is a holding provision until the Commission on Units and Standards of Measurement has been able to consider the whole matter of where the primary standards should be maintained and under what scientific conditions—similarly in con- nection with the authorised copies—and to make recommendations to the Board of Trade.

As hon. Members are aware, the place of keeping of the primary standards and authorised copies is one of the matters on which the Commission may make recommendations under Clause 8 (1, b), and in making any recommendations on this matter the Commission will no doubt consider the claims of Scotland. What is at present drafted is simply a holding operation and we have described where these standards and authorised copies are now. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will, therefore withdraw his Amendment and await the recommendations of the Commission. I have no doubt that the Commission will pay due attention to his comments and the recommendation of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East.

Mr. Bence

I appreciate the Parliamentary Secretary's point about this being a holding Clause and that it describes where the standards are to be kept. I also appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has made a sort of promise for the future. I have been an hon. Member for twelve years and I can well recall some of the promises that have been made by the Government. None of them has been fulfilled and I am unlikely to be here for another twelve years to see whether this one or any of the others will be fulfilled. In fact, if I am here in twelve years' time I will have to be wheeled in in a bathchair.

Mr. Tiley

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that when he came here twelve years ago the Government of the day, his own Government, ignored all these things?

Mr. Bence

It is a good job that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) is not in charge of the Bill. I came here in October, 1951, in the midst of a Conservative Government.

Mr. Tiley

A fringe benefit.

Mr. Bence

The hon. Member's calculations are incorrect, but I must not pursue this, or I would be out of order.

I am rather worried about the Parliamentary Secretary's suggestion that I should withdraw the Amendment on what seems a very lukewarm promise. Could the hon. Gentleman give me a slightly better assurance? Perhaps he will consult his right hon. Friend and assure me that when the Commission is set up instructions will be given for copies of the standards to be deposited in Edinburgh.

We in Scotland are serious about this matter and believe that a good deal may depend on making Edinburgh a greater metropolis than it is at present. Edinburgh is a metropolis. It is the capital of Scotland—festivals of art and all sorts of things go on there—and my hon. Friends and I are asking for something extremely modest. We are not demanding the taxpayers' money, but air merely asking that Edinburgh be increased in its propensity of being a metropolis.

To illustrate Edinburgh's importance hon. Members should recall that we have even had a visit from the Royal House of Norway to Scotland and that it was received by our own gracious Queen in Edinburgh. Thus, what we are asking for may be the beginning of further moves to make Edinburgh art even greater metropolis. To do this Edinburgh will need to possess additional things—including various copies of the standards.

If the Parliamentary Secretary can give me a stronger pledge that he will do everything in his power to see that when the Commission is set up copies will be placed in Edinburgh.. I will be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. D. Price

I can give no pledge to the hon. Member because, as he knows, the Commission will be independent. It would not be independent if it felt that it could be nobbled by Parliamentary Secretaries into the advice it should give. I would also remind him that I lived for twelve years in Edinburgh and that I have great sympathies for his claims of the City.

Mr. Willis

I am not certain, but I think that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Commission might look into this matter. I would have thought that the Board of Trade should tell the Commission, when it is set up, that copies of the standards must be placed in Edinburgh. In any case, why should words to this effect not be clearly written in the Bill? We are not asking for much and I would have thought that this was a matter about which Parliament is entitled to instruct the Commission. The Board of Trade already has certain powers and if hon. Members consider it right that the words contained in the Amendment should be written into the Bill, what would stop them from doing so?

From my reading of the Bill the Board of Trade will be giving directions to the Commission, not necessarily about where copies of the standards should be placed but about other, equally important, matters. If so, I cannot see why the Department should not now agree to copies being placed in Edinburgh.

Why should we have to wait for a decision to be made by some Commission which we cannot get at, except in an indirect way? As to nobbling the Parliamentary Secretary, that is a rare occurrence, because if we attempt to put down Questions to his right hon. Friend we find that even when he is at the top of the list for answering, our Question is numbered 56 or thereabouts and we have lost him for another six weeks.

This is a matter of sufficient importance for us to include it in the Bill. I do not like this business of Edinburgh being left to the mercies of a Commission about which we know nothing. The Parliamentary Secretary has sidestepped the issue with the old familiar Government touch of "passing the buck" to a Commission that does not even exist. This is such an important matter that it deserves a reply from the President of the Board of Trade who, I hope, will now accept the Amendment.

I am surprised that something as simple as asking for standards of measurement to be placed in Edinburgh should be rejected by the Government in such an offhand manner and that the whole question should be left to a Commission which does not yet exist. After all, this is probably one of the most modest requests Scottish hon. Members have made for many years. No wonder my Scottish colleagues and I tend to occupy the time of the House. The only way we can do anything is to repeatedly try to impress our views on Ministers.

The President of the Board of Trade has not done a great deal for Scotland; certainly not sufficient. This is one way he could help us without causing any controversy. I hope that he will now say that in view of our modest request he will agree to have these standards placed in Edinburgh. We have many noble, ancient and historic buildings in Edinburgh. We would not be immuring the standards in the walls of a building one hundred years old. We are able to put them in buildings that are centuries old.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Put them in the Castle Rock?

Mr. Willis

Yes, that has an even longer history. I hope that, without having to impress our views any further on the Parliamentary Secretary, he will agree to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Bence

In view of what has been said in this short debate, and the obvious difficulty my hon. Friend and I have with the Parliamentary Secretary—faced as we are with this frightful English metropolistic parochialism—and since we will try later, perhaps in another place, to get something done to vindicate the honour of Scotland—especially Edinburgh, the capital of that ancient kingdom—and to ensure that it receives its due reward, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn,

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.