HC Deb 02 November 1976 vol 918 cc1267-86
Amendments made: No. 15, in page 23, line 38, at end insert:
'1967 c. 80. Criminal Justice Act 1967. In Schedule 3 the amendment of the 1963 Act'.
No. 20, in page 23, line 38, at end insert:
1967 c. 29 (N.I.). Increase of Fines Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. In the Schedule the amendment of the 1967 Act'.
—[Mr John Fraser.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent, signified.]

6.38 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

Is the Minister moving the Third Reading formally?

Mr. Fraser

Yes, I am, but with the leave of the House perhaps I may reply to the debate.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I thought that the Minister was trying to move the Third Reading furtively and without saying anything, but I retract that suggestion since we have an assurance that he will reply to the debate.

We have a Bill before us on Third Reading which is very different from the Bill which the House considered on Second Reading on 18th October. It would be more appropriate now if the Short Title of the Bill were "Metrication Muzzled". The Bill was amended twice in Committee and subsequently in a manner which goes a long way to meeting the spirit of the amendments that were moved in Committee.

It is fair to say that it is a greatly improved Bill, and we may take justifiable pride in the fact that our efforts on each of the major points have met with either a total or considerable concession on the part of the Government. Important measurements have been preserved. The statutory metrication of basic foodstuffs, particularly important to poorer families, is to be delayed—not as long as we should have liked, but on a far wider range of items. Therefore, I think that the Minister has been fairly generous on this point.

We have also had acceptance from the Minister of the spirit of the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) with regard to weighed-out goods, so that small shopkeepers and consumers alike will be spared that change for some considerable time. At the same time, a number of the points raised in our reasoned amendment on Second Reading have been met as a result of the amendments that the Government have agreed to and the concessions which have been made.

Here, however, I should like to refute—I am sure that the Minister would want to do this as well—the imputation made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that there was some sort of collusion between the Government Front Bench and ourselves. I thought at one point that I could hear violins playing when the hon. Member for Walton was speaking. For one moment, I thought that he was actually going to support the Government. However, I am not quite sure whether in the end he had got, as the Minister said, quite as careless as that.

I should like to make it clear to all interested parties, both inside and outside the House—I am sure that the Minister will confirm this—that, by the amendments and the concessions, the delays and exemptions that we have obtained have in no way added to the uncertainty of business and industry. Far from it. They have afforded a greater degree of certainty in some cases, and particularly in one case, because an assurance is no longer so much an assurance but is actually written into the Bill.

The Minister of State has wisely adopted a strategy of appeasement—wisely because if he were to do otherwise he would not only be flying in the face of amendments carried in Committee but flying in the face of public opinion. I think it is fair to say that the Minister has made such concessions as he has made gracefully, and for that we are extremely grateful.

Having said that, I must say that we do not like the Bill. Speaking for myself —I make no bones about it—I do not like metrication at all. However, our main objection to the Bill is that it involves the statutory imposition of metrication. As I have said many times, I do not think that this is necessary or desirable. If people want metrication, let them have it. If they do not want it, do not ram it down their throats. If business and industry want to go metric, they can do so, following consultations with the Government, by voluntary agreement. As I said in Committee, trade and industry will always have to take into account, in doing so, the wishes of their customers in a free enterprise society. That is the important reason, among others, why we do not think that statutory metrication is necessary.

As I have also said many times, in many cases those who want compulsion in business and industry want it because they fear that metrication will be unpopular and they would like to be able to say to their customers "The Government forced us to go metric." I fear that with this Bill the Government are falling into that trap.

We object to the principle for which the Bill stands. We still do not believe—although the concessions that we have won will mitigate against this—that it will be possible completely to avoid confusion and higher costs to consumers. We call upon the Government to proceed with the utmost caution. Our Standing Committee debates have shown them to be still very largely unprepared on a number of important points. We ask them not to act until the fullest preparations are completed or before the businesses and industries concerned are absolutely ready, and, above all, before consumers can be adequately safeguarded.

For our part, we shall want to scrutinise very closely any orders made under the Bill and to reserve the right to oppose them whatever the circumstances may be if we consider it necessary to do so. Fortunately, as the first order cannot be laid before April 1978, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames has said, the problem is largely academic, because by that time we are likely to be the Government of the day and we shall be in control of the situation.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Neubert

It is still a relatively rare parliamentary phenomenon that only a fortnight after we have had the Second Reading of a Bill we have reached its Third Reading. When we recall what progress has been made in between, it is even more remarkable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) said, it has been a great triumph for common sense and in the interests of the shopper as well as, one would think, the shopkeeper.

Unfortunately, one has to put these minor triumphs in their perspective. Last week was the week in which we managed to save the mile, the foot, the inch, and the pint—but failed to save the pound. A drop of 6 or 7 cents in the value of our currency is a much more significant factor than any that we have been discussing in relation to the Bill in its implications for the economy and the people of Britain. It will have the effect of pushing up prices, very fast and high. That is why we have been concerned, throughout the passage of the Bill, to urge caution and natural evolution on the Government. We are naturally delighted that the cogency of our arguments has achieved such effect and that the Minister has been prepared to recognise the points put.

The case for the Bill always was an overstated argument. It has been overstated in many ways. It has been overstated in terms of the simplicity of the system. It will be a continuing irony that many of the new weights which are being introduced, such as 125 grammes and 250 grammes, represent vulgar fractions of one-eighth or one-quarter, which have little relation to a simple decimal system of measurement in units of 10.

It has also been overstated that this combining of two systems of measurement at the same time will cause great confusion and bewilderment among the public. Here particularly has been taken in aid the many hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren who have been educated in the metric system. I can only speak as I find. My son is a modern mathematician and is as metricated as anyone, yet he finds no difficulty at all in the pleasure of recording his height as 5 ft. ½ in, no difficulty in identifying and locating a pint of milk in the refrigerator, and no difficulty in bowling a good length on a cricket pitch of 22 yards. Just as some children become bilingual as they grow up without even knowing it, just as Molière's Bourgeois Gentilhomme was speaking prose all his life without realising it, so people cope with two systems of measurement and will continue to do so. There is no reason at all for the Minister to rush headlong into metricating our way of life far beyond the wishes of public opinion.

I should like to draw attention to what is a mini minor triumph for many people in outlying areas of Scotland. In his mood of generosity the Minister was able to accommodate an amendment that was moved in my name to allow coal to be sold by volume rather than by weight. This demonstrates the independence of the people of the outlying islands of Scotland and their common sense. Here we have a situation in which, if the Minister were to press his principles to the limit, it would make coal more expensive for those people. It might also make coal unavailable to them.

The present rather old-fashioned system—charming, none the less—is very suitable to their needs. There are steamers puffing to the islands and the less accessible parts of the Scottish mainland with coal on board, which they then offload. There is no cheap means of packing it in prescribed weights on loading and there is no weighing machinery available on unloading for the weight to be calculated, so the people in the islands are very happy to buy coal by volume because they depend upon these supplies. Therefore, on behalf of the people of Scotland, I am happy that the Minister has accepted our amendment.

I should like to express my personal pleasure at this because in preparation for moving the amendment I spent three weeks in Scotland during the recess, visiting such places as Tobermory, Craignure, Iona and the outer islands of the Inner Hebrides, such as Coll and Tiree. I also absorbed most of the late lamented Sir Compton Mackenzie's book "Whisky Galore". When one has the atmosphere of Scotland one understands that these practical matters are paramount and that we should not, from our ivory fastness here at Westminster, seek to undermine another way of life: and, as we so often discover in our discussions of consumer affairs, progress in consumer protection very often means a higher price. The people of Scotland and the outlying islands do not wish to pay higher prices and we have no wish to make them pay higher prices faster than they will have to anyway because of inflation. I am delighted that in two short weeks—at almost the speed of sound—so much common sense has been incorporated into the Government's proposals.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. George Thompson

I congratulate the Minister on remaining urbane throughout the Committee stage, even when he was defeated, and I put on record my appreciation of his conciliatory attitude to the problems of the remote areas of Scotland—which have a distinctive way of selling solid fuel—and over amendments passed in Committee. The Minister is an example to his colleagues, and I hope that they will follow that example.

I cannot pretend that I have ever believed in metrication or decimalisation. I do not see why the French Revolution should still be dictating to us 200 years later.

Charlemagne's librae, solidi and denari were good enough for him and would be good enough for me. They provided two barriers before reaching the pound, whereas the present system provides only one. I do not know whose foot provided the measurement for a foot, but it is good enough for me, and I am pleased that it has been decided that it will be good enough for us for a long time. These measures were also good enough for the people who placed certain standard measures in the wall of the staircase leading from the Principal Floor of this building to the Committee Floor. I am pleased that the statute of Lord Palmerston will not have to be removed and disposed of in the River Thames, or wherever the inconoclasts or Red Guard would like to throw it.

I cannot give my blessing to the Bill, though I dare say that some of my hon. Friends—the lovers of new things—will bless it. The ordinary consumer will bless it all right! Hon. Members will be able to receive those blessings as they go about their constituency business.

Like the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), I am puzzled to know why decimalisation and metrication were not wedded. If we are to have goods packaged in 125-gramme containers, we are thinking in halves, quarters, eighths, and so on. This seems to be a clear sign that the human mind works in vulgar fractions, even though we have 10 fingers and 10 toes. I sometimes think that the only reason that the presence and absence of SNP Members is reported in the Press with such assiduity is that it is possible to count to 10 without taking off one's shoes.

It would have been better if we had allowed the imperial system to wither away, if the people of this country so wished. Some years ago I was arguing with a girl in Brittany that she ought to speak her native language more often. She said that her people could not use it for official purposes because they did not use the metric system for counting in their language. Even 200 years after the French Revolution, the parts of France with their own language have not adopted the metric system.

We should not force the well-tried imperial measures down the road to extinction as we are, at least in part, by this Bill.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Joan Evans (Aberdare)

I am pleased that the House has reached the Third Reading of the Bill and that the Government will be given the enabling powers to bring in metrication in an orderly way.

I said on Second Reading that I thought that the Opposition were taking an opportunist line on metrication. Having listened to them since, to me they seem to have a Jekyll and Hyde approach—a split personality—on the subject. It is difficult to know whether it is Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde speaking.

I was unable to be here for the Report stage, because I was meeting a deputation, but I understand that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) chastised me for quoting the CBI. I did not quote only the CBI; I quoted also the views of consumer organisations, the Retail Consortium, the TUC and most of the organisations that have recognised that there should be an orderly transition to metrication in this country. I challenged the hon. Lady to mention one organisation on whose behalf she was speaking.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

She spoke on behalf of the British people.

Mr. Evans

It is true that when we introduce changes there is sometimes a reaction from people who are unwilling to see such changes. However, the argument now is how to bring in metrication. The Conservative Party is committed to the principle. The Treaty of Accession to the EEC says that we should accept a system of metrication. When the Conservatives were in power, they said on a number of occasions that they wished metrication to be introduced.

Some of my hon. Friends held up the Second Reading of the Bill because they were not satisfied that there had been enough consultation with consumer organisations. I praise the Minister for the way in which he has since consulted outside organisations. There has been a great deal of consultation about the reservations of some of these bodies.

It is no use hon. Members talking vaguely about speaking on behalf of British housewives when there are organisations in this country—recognised consumer bodies, the CBI, which represents large sections of industry, the TUC, which represents trades union organisations. and the Retail Consortium, which represents a large sector of retail trade—which have made serious representations to the Government and which hope that the enabling powers in the Bill will be approved by the House. We should take careful note of these representations.

Of course, we are sometimes conservative, with a small "c". We wish to carry on with the old imperial system rather than change to metrication, but we must recognise that children are being taught metrication at school and are told that although their school books include problems involving imperial units they should not attempt these sums. They are not learning the imperial system.

We shall get into grave difficulties if we teach our children metrication and they then go into shops having to purchase goods measured in imperial units.

We have had arguments about the mile and the pint. Some hon. Members have been like Don Quixote—tilting at windmills. The Minister has given assurance after assurance, and the amendment now included in the Bill should satisfy those who were trying to suggest that there was to be a change in the measurements.

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Member said that we should not be vague. Does he draw a distinction between compulsory progress towards metrication and voluntary progress towards it? They are completely different, and the hon. Member's failure to draw that distinction totally vitiates his remarks.

Mr. Evans

We had that argument in Committee, and I do not wish to repeat it. Decimalisation was compulsory. We cannot have two systems operating. The metric system is being introduced. If we have large packets with small contents, some being sold under the metric system and others under the imperial system, the consumer will face tremendous difficulties.

We are not suggesting that metrication will come in from an appointed day. The Government are taking enabling powers to bring it in in an orderly fashion. I appeal to the Opposition not to attempt to make political kudos by creating false fears among people that metrication will be brought in within a month. That is not so. The Government are taking enabling powers which will enable them to lay orders before the House to bring in metrication in an orderly fashion. Parents are concerned about their children knowing the metric system. We must go forward. The rest of the world has gone metric. The Opposition may still crave for the old Empire and want to hang on to the imperial system, but things are changing. We cannot afford to get off at this time.

7.4 p.m.

Mr. Giles Shaw

It is a fair distance in either miles or kilometres from Aberdare to Pudsey, but in many instances I must agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans).

I have not balked the principle of metrication, but I take issue with the hon. Gentleman that we have ill served the consumer by this process. We have gone a fair way to restore some sense of public credibility in the metrication process. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the public are ill favoured towards it. I know that the Minister is deeply conscious of this fact.

The discussions that we have had have gone over the ground time and again.

The Bill will probably achieve its Third Reading tonight. The Minister then has the consultation period within which to try to proceed industry by industry or sector by sector. I encourage him to go through this process with reasonable speed so that there can be an orderly programme sector by sector. The hon. Gentleman will not find many industries wanting in providing the time or the opportunity to agree on the correct and most orderly way to make the transition. The transition will involve an enormous lead time in terms of machinery, information and communication. A substantial lead time is equally involved in seeing that the precise ranges of metric weights, as translated into their new form, meet the most obvious consumer needs. I am fearful that a whole range of different prepacks could be offered at different metric equivalents rather than the simple imperial measures of 4 oz., 8 oz. and 1 lb. units.

I am sure that the Minister recognises the importance of having in each industry or sector dates by which the change can be achieved. The amendments relating to April 1978 and 1980 provide the ground work to enable this to be done. I believe that it is necessary for him to work on that basis.

I hope that the Minister will stiffen the resolve of the Metrication Board to realise that the problem only now begins—namely, that it must have the resources with which to guide the public at the time of conversion irrespective of what it has already spent.

Finally, the Minister has already accepted the need for consultation with the various trades. On weigh up, I ask the Minister to consult the confectionery industry before deciding whether to omit it from the list of industries whose products are to be exempted.

The inevitability of metrication should be carefully cultivated industry by industry to ensure that there is less muddle, more order and more preparation. That is the best possible ground work to safeguard the consumer.

7.7 p.m.

Mr. Newens

As I said on Second Reading, I do not regard this Bill as a desirable and necessary measure. I recognise that metrication has gone a certain way and had gone that way prior to this measure being thought about, but I see no reason for endeavouring to force the pace. I think that we have been quite mistaken in taking the steps we have taken to give the Government power to cut off the use of imperial measures. Therefore, I wish that this Bill had not come before the House.

I recognise, as the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) pointed out, that many august and important organisations support metrication and argue in favour of the Bill. I pay full tribute to the erudition of all the experts, but at the same time I maintain with complete confidence that the majority of ordinary people accustomed to the use of imperial measures would not, if they could be properly consulted, regard these organisations as speaking for them. In my opinion, ordinary people will find the change to metrication extremely confusing and difficult to cope with. I am sure that, over the years, there will be many complaints about the effects of this measure.

Many people will never grasp the new system of weights and measures. They will be left in a state of continual confusion. I think that it would be much better to allow the imperial system to wither away in its own time.

The Opposition have failed to oppose this measure in principle, as was perfectly clear from their amendment on Second Reading. I am opposed in principle to what the Bill seeks to do. We should not have legislated for this change at all. None the less, I recognise that the Minister has taken no end of pains to make this measure less pernicious than it might otherwise have been. I know from the consultations which many of us have had with him, apart from discussion on the Floor of the House, that he has been most concerned to mitigate the worst effects of this measure. At the same time, I still feel extremely unhappy about what we are proposing to do. Therefore, I appeal, even now, for some caution to be exercised by the Government when fixing the cut-off dates. I believe that, even with the lengthening of the period now proposed, the situation is not satisfactory, and that whoever happens to be in charge of these affairs at the time ought to proceed with extreme caution.

I certainly do not welcome the Bill. I regard it as a mistake. In these circumstances, if there were to be a Division, I certainly could not support the Bill.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) put my views so accurately that I need not repeat them. My hon. Friend wants this measure brought in in an orderly manner and, it is fair to say, with deliberate haste. I believe that is a correct description of his views. It certainly is of mine.

I found myself for the first time in this House abstaining on Second Reading of a Bill. I abstained consciously, because it confronted me with a conflict of right with right. I believe that this Bill is right in principle and that the Government have shown courage in bringing it in. Indeed, I believe that any Government, in present circumstances, would have brought in a Bill of this kind.

I believe that there was right, and still is, on the side of the Bill. It is a right which, in my view, arises from the needs of British industry. If all of us wish to be credible in giving support to British industry then I believe we must support this principle.

Secondly, I believe it was right on much broader European grounds. We committed ourselves under the Treaty of Accession and I believe that it is right that we should honour that commitment.

Thirdly, I believe it is right to give to our people, however unpalatable a matter might be, a sense of definitiveness so that the necessary preparations can be made by our industry and by the public.

Although I found that the principle of this Bill was right on Second Reading, I had severe reservations about some aspects of it. I think the Government and their advisers were misguided in having brought into the Bill the gallon, pint, mile, foot and the inch. This was one of those cases where the desire for tidiness and for a systematic covering of everything—which unfortunately underlines so much of our legislation—went beyond common sense.

I can remember several times, in the various Departments of Government in which I served, when the desire of civil servants to be logical and comprehensive, estimable qualities in their own right, conflicted completely with the common sense of the British people. I believe that it is the role of politicians, and particularly of this House, to weigh the logic, reason and the comprehensiveness of official advice on the one hand and at the other end to weigh the needs and desires of the British public. I believe that the Bill ends up a better Bill because it has merged the two rights together.

However, I believe that there was a moment when it became a conflict of wrong with wrong. There was a wrong on the Government's side in bringing in the gallon, mile, inch and the rest, which they did not need to, and there was a wrong on the Opposition Benches whenever it appeared as though we were going to resist the whole process—irrespective of the effect on British industry—simply because we were not prepared to swallow the removal of the gallon, the mile and the inch.

Fortunately, as so often happens in Committee on Bills such as this, and with a reasonable Minister and someone like my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), who has managed consideration of this Bill with grace and effectiveness, the Committee was able to change a conflict of wrong with wrong into a negotiated settlement so that we now have a Bill which best meets the needs of industry and the public.

I would make three points to which, 1 hope, the Minister will reply. The Bill, as its Short Title indicates, is not just about metrication. I quote the relevant phrase, which states: to make provision for the alleviation of shortages of food and other goods. I doubt if these matters, which are technical, and which merely revise previous statutes, commanded very much attention either in Committee or in the public. I draw attention to the short title and to Clauses 10 and 11 because, in my view, this country may be facing shortages before we know it. I believe that we shall be facing shortages of food because we are not treating our agricultural industry properly. I believe that we shall be facing shortages because we are simply not able, on foreign exchange, to afford to import the food we shall need. Therefore, it may well be that, while not in the least intending to raise anxieties of that kind, the Government, because there was a tidying-up exercise to be done, have equipped themselves with powers to deal with a problem not clearly visualised as yet but which could arise in this country before very long. It is right to put on record that this Bill equips the Government with powers to deal with shortages of food and of other goods which could arise in our country.

The second specific point that I would put to the Minister concerns one related industry—the weighing machines and scale makers. I have no interest to declare in this industry whatsoever, but I have read its literature and I have been approached by it in my constituency. I direct my remarks to the Minister, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, who may well find herself in office when it comes to putting the Bill into effect. I take it that the date of 21st April 1978, in respect of prepacked goods, means that the Minister will do nothing before that date. I hope very much that he will get cracking soon after that date. It is important that the industry and the trade should know precisely that this is the target date at which they ought to be aiming.

The date of 1st January 1980 reflects some effective negotiations by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester and I congratulate her upon that. I know it is a date which is somewhat earlier than she herself would have wished. I hope that the Minister will regard that date before which he cannot act as being a specific date at which point he would propose to act. Whether that is so or not I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, that he have in his mind a date so that there can be certitude in the industry.

What I am essentially saying is that it the weighing machine industry and the scale makers are to tool up, equip themselves and make themselves ready to build the new metric scales and new metric weighing machines, they must have a reasonable certainty that at some point in future the switch is to be made. Otherwise we shall find ourselves in a position where they have not tooled up or made preparations and the date will come out and most of the new metric scales will have to be imported from the long-run productions of Germany and France.

That cannot be in the interests of this country or our balance of payments. I hope that the Minister will at least give an assurance that he has it in mind that there shall be "M" days so that the industry and trade will be able to work to them. I hope that the Minister will accept the principle of what I am saying.

I recognise the repugnance of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester for metrication, and I feel much of it myself, but I hope she will not commit herself, or the next Conservative Government, to refusing to bring in the necessary orders so that there can be certainty in this matter. I realise that she preferred the whole matter to happen voluntarily and gradually as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) does. It would have been much better if it had been done that way, but I have grave doubts whether it would have happened in an orderly way if it had been left to the untidy voluntary procedures which are the only alternative. I am reminded of a certain African leader whom I once went to and who said that he was going to stop cars driving on the left and change to the right. There were so many casualties that he said it should be done gradually.

I realise that the change from left to right is not exactly the same thing as a change from one kind of measure to another, but there needs to be clarity and certitude in the minds of the trade and manufacturers and I hope very much that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester will not commit the next Conservative Government in such a fashion that they will not be able to carry this out.

I hope that the Minister will say a word about the Metrication Board. It appeared from the original Bill—I think I am correct—that it has cost £900,000 in one year. Will the Minister say how the Board has spent that amount of money and how much it will spend in the years to come? We should be able to handle these matters with more prudence and economy.

Overall, the Bill has been massively improved. As one who abstained on Second Reading, I shall support the Third Reading, thanks largely to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser

I should like to answer the three questions raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). He was being far too dramatic in forecasting shortages. In the Second Reading debate I gave the example of the temporary shortage of sugar which occurred a couple of years ago and said that it was necessary to have a relaxation in case a similar occurrence made it necessary to import packs not strictly within our weights and measures legislation. It would be to attach too much importance to Clause 10 to suggest that it was necessary because we expected shortages in future.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to get cracking with weighing machines. As a Minister, I find that half the people ask me to get cracking and half ask me to slow up. I try to steer a course somewhere between the two. I cannot dictate the programme. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) said that I had not prepared a timetable. I am not a metrication dictator and neither are the Government, certainly not in the interests of one group. When the Bill is enacted the Government have to consult all interests involved. After these consultations, bearing in mind the balance of payments question involved with weighing scales, the Government will lay down a timetable that will be in the best interests of consumers and the country as a whole and will bring certainty and reassurance.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked me about the Metrication Board. I do not propose to start a lengthy debate on that subject. I pay tribute to the Board for having gone a long way on a voluntary basis. Much of its work is below the surface and perhaps not fully appreciated by the average consumer. The sooner we complete the metrication process the sooner we shall wind up the Board and thereby save public money.

I am grateful for all the congratulatory remarks that have been made. Had

there been more congratulations, my reputation would have been totally in ruins. I should be less than fair if I did not pay tribute to the constructive spirit with which hon. Members on both sides of the House of all parties have approached the Bill during its passage through the House and in Committee. There were some almost euphoric moments towards the end of our debate. It seemed likely that the country as a whole would be congratulated on taking about 15 years to achieve a fairly simple change. I feel that it is perhaps a weakness in our national character—not a matter for congratulation—to take so long to adjust to change.

On reflection, I feel that it is a pity that Governments of both complexions did not put the principle of metrication to the House of Commons earlier and did not have the courage to seek a legal framework when this process was started. That is a criticism of previous Labour and Conservative Administrations.

In passing the Bill the House will demonstrate that it accepts the principle of change and will provide the legal machinery to bring about that change. Of course, there have been concessions, which reflect my personal predelictions. The Bill has brought reassurance and certainty. It does not sweep away the imperial system. It does not conclude the process begun by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) in 1965. It merely provides a framework for moving towards that goal. The Government and I are not metrication fanatics. We have not been seduced by the European Community. We believe, on reflection—my conviction has been strengthened as I have watched its passage —that the Bill and the framework it provides are, at the end of the day, in the best interests of industry, the consumers and the country.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 35.

Division No. 364.] AYES [7.25 p.m.
Armstrong, Ernest Bray, Dr Jeremy Cartwright, John
Ashton, Joe Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Clemitson, Ivor
Bain, Mrs Margaret Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael
Barrett, Guy (Greenwich) Buchan, Norman Cohen, Stanley
Bean, R. E. Canavan, Dennis Coleman, Donald
Blenkinsop, Arthur Cant, R. B. Concannon, J. D.
Boardman, H. Carter-Jones, Lewis Corbett, Robin
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Judd, Frank Reid, George
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Kelley, Richard Richardson, Miss Jo
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Robinson, Geoffrey
Dalyell, Tarn Lambie, David Roderick, Caerwyn
Deakins, Eric Lamborn, Harry Rooker, J. W.
de Freltas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Leadbitter, Ted Roper, John
Dempsey, James Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Doig, Peter Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Dormand, J. D. Lyon, Alexander (York) Ryman, John
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Selby, Harry
Drayson, Burnaby McCartney, Hugh Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Duffy, A. E. P. McDonald, Dr Oonagh Shore, Rt Hon Peiler
Eadie, Alex McElhone, Frank Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) MacFarquhar, Roderick Silkln, Rt Hon John (Deplford)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Evans, John (Newton) MacKenzie, Gregor Stiverman, Julius
Faulds, Andrew McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Small, William
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McNamara. Kevin Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Magee, Bryan Snape, Peter
Ford, Ben Mahon, Simon Spearing, Nigel
Forrester, John Mallalieu, J. P. W. Spriggs, Leslie
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stallard, A. W.
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Freeson, Reginald Mendelson, John Stott, Roger
Freud, Clement Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Strang, Gavin
Golding, John Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Gourlay, Harry Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertiltery)
Grant, John (Islington C) Miscampbell, Norman Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, lichen) Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Molloy, William Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Hardy, Peter Moonman, Eric Ward, Michael
Harper, Joseph Morgan, Geraint Watt, Hamish
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Weitzman, David
Hatton, Frank Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Whitehead, Phillip
Horam, John Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Whitlock, William
Howell, Rl Hon Denis (B'ham,Sm H) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Hughes, Rt Hon c. (Anglesey) Oakes, Gordon Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ogden, Eric Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Orbach, Maurice Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hunter, Adam Ovenden, John Woodall, Alec
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Palmer, Arthur Woof, Robert
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Pavitt, Laurie Young, David (Bolton E)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Penhaligon, David
John, Brynmor Perry, Ernest TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Johnson, James (Hull West) Prescott, John Mr. Ted Graham and
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Price, C. (Lewisham W) Mr. All Bales.
Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Kerr, Russell Ross, William (Londonderry)
Beith, A. J. Lamond, James Sillars, James
Body, Richard Lawson, Nigel Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Budgen, Nick Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Carson, John McCusker, H. Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Madden, Max Thompson, George
Crawford, Douglas Marten, Neil Welsh, Andrew
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Moate, Roger Wigley, Dafydd
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Molyneaux, James Wise, Mrs Audrey
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Paisley, Rev Ian
Heffer, Eric S. Par doe, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Mr. Dennis Skinner and
Hutchison, Michael Clark Rooker, J. W. Mr. Stanley Newens.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.