HC Deb 24 June 1968 vol 767 cc23-4
36. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Technology what recent steps he has made to establish the views of industry on the proposed change to the metric system of measurement; and if he will make a statement on the results.

Mr. Benn

As the Answer is rather long, I shall, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Taylor

Does the Minister agree that there has been a substantial shift of opinion, particularly in engineering, over this question? One firm in my constituency with a wonderful export record tells me that it will cost it £1 million over five years, and it sees no advantage, as the United States has not given any indication of when it intends to change. Does not he accept that the whole question should now be reviewed?

Mr. Bonn

The hon. Gentleman's question puts one side of the case. The Government accepted in principle the first approach of industry in 1965 on this. A great deal of work has gone on, and no country has been able to establish a complete cost benefit study in this area. But the advice available to me now from the Standing Joint Committee is being studied. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to await a further statement.

Mr. David Price

How extensive are the industrial contacts of the Standing Joint Committee on Metrication? Is it correct that it has recommended to the Government that British industry should go metric by the end of 1975?

Mr. Benn

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to await the report, which is to be published, but I can satisfy him that the Government would want to know the views of a very wide number of people before reaching and announcing their final decision.

Sir A. V. Harvey

As the Government in the past 3½ years have gone back on most of their declared intentions, and as this is costing a great deal of money, will the Minister see that a decision is arrived at as soon as possible?

Mr. Benn

I accept the need for speed, but I think that the House will recognise that changing the system of measurement in a country is a very fundamental decision on which public opinion should have an opportunity of expressing itself. As for the hon. Gentleman's comment on the Government, I can only reply that as far as his targets are concerned a miss is as good as a kilometre.

Following is the Answer:

The Government's general policy towards the adoption of the metric system by British industry was stated by my right hon. Friend, the then President of the Board of Trade, on 24th February, 1965. As the various sections of industry decide to proceed, and formulate their metrication plans, these will be examined by the Government and when accepted will be given general support, through purchasing activities and otherwise. The views of industry on the changeover are therefore reflected in the plans and timetables which are produced by consultation among the various interests concerned, as described in my Answer to a Question from the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) on 30th April.

The advantages and disadvantages of changing to the metric system in industry are easy to describe, but not to estimate in money terms. All the disadvantages appear to consist of the expenses and difficulties of the transition period, and are a once-for-all cost, whereas the advantages are considerable and continuous. In brief they consist of the benefits of the larger markets and rationalised production that result from adopting a system of measures which is already used by 90 per cent. of the world's population, and which already dominates international trade. It will be the responsibility of particular industries and firms to decide the optimum timing of the changeover, taking account of the benefits they expect to derive from it, and their own estimate of transitional costs. The timetable they adopt will be incorporated in any plans they draw up collectively and individually.—[Vol. 713, c. 32–3; Vol. 763, c. 183.]