HC Deb 08 March 1976 vol 907 cc21-3
17. Mrs. Joyce Butler

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what target date she has set for the completion of metrication; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Alan Williams

In common with consumer organisations and much of trade and industry, I should like to see the metrication programme completed as quickly as practicable in the national interest. I do not envisage a single target date, but under the Weights and Measures &c. Bill which was introduced on 2nd March the Government propose to take power enabling them to phase out or limit the use for legal purposes of imperial units.

Mrs. Butler

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. How does he intend to allay public disquiet about metrication, which has forced the furnishing trades to abandon metric measures for curtains and carpets? Is my hon. Friend aware that this public mistrust stems from experience of the phenomenal price rises which followed decimalisation, after the initial monitoring of the price rises? Is he satisfied that similar price rises can be avoided after metrication?

Mr. Alan Williams

My hon. Friend is quite right to express the concern of many people that conceivably there could be a repetition of what happened with decimalisation. The important distinction between the two is that, whereas decimalisation applied across the whole trading board literally overnight, metrication is moving sector by sector and therefore is more easily monitored. Also, it is subject to the Price Code, and we have the facility—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite must bear in mind that their party, when in office, adopted the same policy; it is not as though this were a Labour Government innovation in which they had no part. We can also use unit pricing where necessary to help to protect the consumer.

Mr. Jessel

Shall we keep the pint?

Mr. Alan Williams

As it is a matter of such great concern to the hon. Gentleman, the answer to his question is "Yes". I have indicated on numerous occasions that I can see no reason why the pint of beer should disappear. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), who previously tabled a Question about the dairy industry, is again asking about its prospects, though not in the normal supplementary fashion. The dairy industry has written to the Department—I have only just heard about the letter; I have not seen it yet—asking whether the pint measure can be retained for milk. I see no reason why it should not be retained.

Mr. Pavitt

Is my hon. Friend aware that the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) about the fears of housewives rests on the fact that on the introduction of decimalisation there was often a price levelling upward when there was a broken price? Therefore, will he make it illegal under metrication to level up when a lower price should be fixed?

Mr. Alan Williams

We must take a reasonable view and ensure that there is no profiteering as a result of metrication. We have had assurances from people in all sectors which have gone metric that they will pass on only the extra costs appropriate to the extra size, because in many instances the new unit will be about 10 per cent. bigger than the previous imperial unit.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be madness to apply metric standards to foodstuffs in the shops when prices are rising so quickly? Does the Common Market place any obligation on us to complete the metrication programme by a specified time? If so, what can we do about it?

Mr. Alan Williams

The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Conservative Government which supported the policy of metrication. He left that Government and rejoined them, so plainly he did not regard metrication as a great deterrent to his participation. He is right to pinpoint the fact of "M-Day", which was accepted by the Conservative Government when they signed the Treaty of Accession. The Conservative Government imposed "M-Day" on this country because they accepted at the outset that goods on shop shelves would have to be in metric units from 1st April 1978 and that the metrication process would have to be completed by the end of 1979. I am having to administer the agreement made by the Conservative Government.