HC Deb 29 January 1969 vol 776 cc1296-8
2. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Technology whom he has appointed to the Metrication Board; and what initial task he has given to the Board.

11. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Minister of Technology what progress has now been made towards metrication.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

Lord Ritchie-Calder will take up his appointment as Chairman of the Board on 1st March, and Mr. Gordon Bowen, C.B., C.M.G., who is at present Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Technology, will be the lull-time director. It is my intention to appoint a deputy chairman and I hope that I shall shortly be able to announce his name and those of the other members of the Board. The Board will decide its own priorities.

Mr. Taylor

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many industrial firms, particularly engineering firms, are becoming increasingly alarmed about the costs and complications of the changeover? Has there been a serious cost-benefit analysis of the change to metric, and, if not, will the Board be undertaking this task?

Mr. Benn

The request that this country should go metric came in the first instance from industry, including the engineering industry. The Report of the Standing Joint Committee on Metrication was published last summer and contained some passages about the difficulties of doing a direct cost-benefit analysis in this case. I have little doubt that the C.B.I. was right in saying that metrication and international standardisation of units were absolutely essential for this country's future prosperity.

Mr. Osbom

What is the present policy of the United States in this matter and are they remaining on the imperial system? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this transition is likely to take nearer 25 than five years and will lead to confusion and difficulty? Is he further aware that at this stage the transition must be treated as a matter of urgency in view of the difficulties that have been encountered?

Mr. Benn

As for the time scale, it will take some time to complete this task, as everyone realises. This is a transitional period involving transferring from one form of measurement to another with the two in parallal for a while, and this is bound to take time. As for the policy of the United States, there is a lot of pressure in America for a switch to metrication. I have little doubt that, measurement being international in character, it will ultimately lead to everyone coming into line, but I am not responsible for their decision.

Mr. Lubbock

Would the right hon. Gentleman ask Lord Ritchie-Calder to undertake urgent inquiries into the dangers of the B.S.I. staff shortage, which may inhibit the programme of change?

Mr. Benn

I do not need to ask Lord Ritchie-Calder to do that because I am myself in close contact with the B.S.I. The industries and firms involved also have an interest in seeing that the B.S.I. is not short of money. This is a joint responsibility, and we obviously do not want to see delay due to that cause.

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