HC Deb 18 November 1971 vol 826 cc613-4
7. Mr. Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will now issue a circular to local education authorities recommending them to take no further steps towards the introduction of metrication, either in equipment or curricula, until a decision on the subject has been taken in Parliament.

Mrs. Thatcher

At present, I cannot add to the guidance given in Administrative Memorandum 15/69. I shall review the position after publication of the White Paper.

Mr. Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many education authorities—I am a member of one—are ordering large quantities of metric equipment and many examination papers are set solely in metric, to the exclusion of imperial measurements? What action will my right hon. Friend take in the absence of a White Paper on metrication? Does this indicate that the House is not to have an opportunity to discuss the demerits or otherwise of metrication before a decision is made? Are we to be faced with a fait accompli by default?

Mrs. Thatcher

Advice about examination papers has been given through the Schools Council. It is reasonable to expect to see more equipment related to the teaching of metric units, but the important point is that teaching about imperial units should still continue so long as there is need for it to do so.

Mr. Terry Davis

Is not the right hon. Lady aware that a great deal of equipment is geared now only to metric measurements, particularly in primary schools, and many textbooks refer only to metric measurements, so that many teachers in primary schools are teaching only metric measurements? Will the Secretary of State take it that many teachers are most concerned that if she now gets cold feet over metrication we shall be left with a situation in which children have been taught metric measures over several years but this knowledge will not be applicable in examinations?

Mrs. Thatcher

The guidance in the memorandum to which I referred specifically asked schools to continue to teach imperial measures. How local authorities discharge that responsibility is not a matter for me. I cannot take powers of compulsion over them. Very firm guidance was given by the previous Government, and that guidance still stands in the memorandum.

Mr. John Hall

I express no view on the merits or otherwise of converting to the metric system, but I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend agrees that the present development in schools and elsewhere, before Parliament has had an opportunity to arrive at a decision, is a denial of the rights and responsibilities of this House. Is it not wrong that the Government should seek to introduce the metric system by stealth?

Mrs. Thatcher

I repeat that the guidance given was that an adequate knowledge of imperial measures should continue to be taught in schools. I cannot be clearer than that.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the right hon. Lady aware that private enterprise industry is of its own volition converting to metrication, and it was the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in his C.B.I. rôle who took the initiative in asking the Government to adopt metrication? If industry is going metric, ought not children to have an adequate education in metric measurements so that they may undertake meaningful jobs in industry?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that anyone quarrels with that. But they will also need an adequate education in imperial measures so long as they are in use.