HC Deb 17 June 1968 vol 766 cc680-4
7. Mr. R. W. Elliott

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he will now make a statement on the progress towards the changeover to metric measurements in the construction industry.

Mr. Mellish

As this is a long and detailed statement, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Elliott

I thank the Minister for the Answer and will look forward with interest to the statement. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that two systems of measurement for any length of time will be very harmful to our export trade, particularly to European countries?

Mr. Mellish

Yes; I take that point. I am sorry that time does not allow me to make the statement to the House as a whole after Questions today, but there is other business. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will study my statement carefully. I am quite willing to meet him or any of his right hon. and hon. Friends on this matter. The statement I am making is at the request of the industry. It is not something I have foisted upon the industry. The industry is ready for the future as regards the change to the metric system.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

We have to anticipate the statement. When will the Government throw their whole weight behind these proposals by creating a metrication board? What initiatives are being taken to ensure that apprentices are instructed in metric measurement so that they will be properly qualified when they come to the end of their indentures in four or five years' time? Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—it is a statement. Finally, is it intended that the whole changeover should be complete throughout industry by 1975?

Mr. Mellish

The setting up of a metric board is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, but I will ensure in discussions I have with him that this board is established as quickly as possible. The Construction Industry Training Board has a number of training aids in preparation and it will have a number of courses. This aspect will be covered. This industry will be in the vanguard of the change-over to the metric system, and it is assumed that the other industries will join the industry in this changeover. I am confident that the target date of 1975 will be accomplished.

Following is the information:

This industry was the first to announce its programme for the change to metric measurement. When this was published by the British Standards Institution in February, 1967, my predecessor accepted it on behalf of the Government and said that it would be adhered to in the Government's own building programme. I should now like to outline the arrangements made to implement this undertaking in my own Ministry and in the other departments mainly concerned.

In my Department, most major new construction projects entering the design stage will, from the 1st January next year, be designed in metric measurement. I have appointed a senior professional officer as Metrication Officer; he will supervise the implementation of the changeover, issue guidance to the professional, technical and industrial staffs of the Department, and ensure that any necessary training is provided.

The changeover to the metric system offers a unique opportunity to introduce into the construction process the technique known as dimensional co-ordination, which will, if efficiently applied, greatly reduce the variety of components and fitments needed. A series of documents on this subject has already been published by my Department, which set out the controlling metric dimensions for various types of building; these will shortly be embodied in a Britsh Standard. My Department will adhere generally to the controlling dimensions laid down by this Standard, exceptions being allowed only for the most pressing reasons.

Other Departments with building responsibilities are adopting analogous policies, and I hope that local authorities, nationalised industries and others will follow this firm lead.

For housing, my right hon. Friends have issued guidance to local authorities setting out the time-table for the adoption of metric measurement and the arrangements to be followed. It has been made clear that designers should observe metric controlling dimensions and that British standards for new metric building components wll be made mandatory from the end of 1972 onwards. For house building, the National Building Agency will provide information both to the industry and local authorities on any problems that arise and on the rate at which metric work is coming forward into the programme. Lectures and seminars are also to be arranged.

Similar advice will be issued to hospital boards and will shortly be given to local education authorities by my right hon. Friends. In the meantime, work is going ahead on metric versions of the various Government design bulletins and similar publications.

My Ministry is issuing a series of bulletins on metrication intended to help all designers involved in the changeover. The first, which gives the general background, has already been published and is available at the Vote Office; others will follow shortly.

As the first large industry to change over to metric measurement, the construction industry is bound to encounter a number of difficult problems. I have recently reconstituted my National Consultative Council for the Building and Civil Engineering Industries to broaden the scope of its membership and to enable it to contribute effectively to the discussion of matters of common interest. One of the first steps of the reconstituted Council has been to set up a Working Party on Metrication, which will look into aspects of the change not covered directly by the work of the British Standards Institution. This Working Party will be particularly concerned with practical questions, such as the effects on construction of the changeover to metric measurement in other industries. It includes representatives of the construction industry and its related professions and of the materials industries. Its chairman is Mr. Herbert Cruickshank, Chairman and Managing Director of Gilbert Ash Ltd.

These policies, which I believe open up very considerable possibilities of technological advance in building construction, have been made possible by the very commendable initiatives taken in the construction industry in drawing up the time-table for metrication and dimensional co-ordination. I should like to acknowledge the far-sighted and imaginative thinking of this very vigorous industry.

15 and 16. Mr. Speed

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works (1) what discussions he had held with representatives of the engineering industries about the manufacture of construction equipment in metric measurements; and whether he will make a statement;

(2) what discussions he has held with representatives of manufacturers of technical and sales literature about text books illustrating the change-over to metric measurements in the construction industry; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Mellish

I have had no direct discussions with the publishers of text books or with manufacturers of equipment, but, as the hon. Member will see from the statement I intend to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I am taking steps to keep myself informed of the problems likely to arise in the construction industry during the change to metric measurement.

Mr. Speed

I thank the Minister for that reply, and we shall study the statement with interest. Does not he agree that, unless the manufacturers of equipment used in the construction industry are fully harmonised for the change-over to metrication, there will be the possibility of real chaos and confusion when metrication comes in? Second, is he having consultations with the Department of Education about the teaching of the metric system alone, particularly in primary schools, bearing in mind that the child in a primary school now may be a building apprentice in the early 1970s?

Mr. Mellish

There is an Inter-departmental Committee on metrication. These problems are coming before that Committee of all Government Departments. My statement, which the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to read shortly, will show that this is a story in which the construc- tion industry has taken the initiative and the lead. In my Ministry, for example, we are going over to the metric system, and all design and technical work will be in metric terms as from 1969, and I very much hope that the construction industry will be ready for the complete change-over by 1972, which will be a pretty wonderful achievement. The timetable provides for manufacturers to convert their technical and sales literature into metric terms by the end of this year. I shall be obliged if the hon. Gentleman would await the statement and then, perhaps, ask me other questions.