§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection (Mr. John Fraser)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have selected the amendment in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and her right hon. and hon. Friends to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House, while recognising the necessity of an orderly change over to metrication where this is essential for commercial reasons, declines at a time of continuing high inflation and economic crisis to give a second reading to a Bill for which there has been inadequate preparation on the part of the Government and which takes powers to phase out certain imperial measures beyond the requirements of the European Community Directive No. R/3070/75.
§ Mr. Fraser
It will probably be for the convenience of the House to try to conclude this debate by 7 o'clock. I shall keep my speech as brief as possible and, with the leave of the House, seek to catch Mr. Speaker's eye at the end of the debate. I start with the non-metric part of the Bill.
Public comment and indeed the Opposition amendment have dwelt almost exclusively on those parts of the Bill which deal with metrication. I propose to restore the balance by saying first about those parts of the Bill which deal with other matters.
I start with Clause 3. This clause empowers the Government to make regulations authorising the use for trade of prescribed weighing or measuring equipment where the stamp indicating that it has been passed for use for trade has been obliterated or defaced. This power is needed primarily to deal with price changes on petrol pumps. At the moment, on some pumps, adjustments of the mechanism as a result of a price change require the defacement of the stamp. At the moment it is technically illegal, although practically necessary, to operate under these circumstances.
The Government propose to make such operations legal in certain conditions and for limited periods of time. This is be- 948 cause with the number of pumps involved it is impossible for inspectors to re-examine and reseal equipment such as petrol pumps instantly after a change in price.
Clauses 4 and 5 have already been the subject of two Private Members' Bills and will, I hope, have the wholehearted support of the House. They confer powers to standardise containers. At present, many important household goods can be sold only in prescribed quantities. For certain products, however, particularly those with varying densities, standardisation by weight is not necessarily the best aid to the consumer. Washing powders are an example. Standardisation by weight would result in a confusing multitude of different pack sizes which would be of little or no help to the consumer, whereas standardisation on the basis of the size of the container would be of real assistance.
In the example I have quoted, the industry has recognised this. On a voluntary basis it has adopted standard pack sizes, and I am sure that consumers have found the standard "E" sizes a real help in making effective value-for-money comparisons. The Government believe, therefore, that the power to standardise containers will be an important addition to consumer protection. In addition, Clauses 4 and 5 contain power to prohibit the false indication of the quantity in containers. For example, an opaque pack only half full could be banned.
Clause 6 fills an important gap in existing legislation. At the moment, local authorities may charge fees for work undertaken by their weights and measures inspectorate in carrying out their national responsibilities, but there are no powers to charge fees for work undertaken in connection with EEC obligations. This work will mainly concern the testing and stamping of measuring equipment constructed in accordance with requirements of EEC directives. Under Clause 6, the Government will therefore be empowered to prescribe fees to be charged by local authorities for all services, facilities and documentation provided by them in pursuance of Community obligations.
Clause 7 merely makes corresponding amendments to the legislation of Northern Ireland.
In Clause 8, the Government propose to take powers to relax or suspend certain 949 statutory provisions during times of shortage. The need for such a power became apparent during the sugar shortage of 1974. During this time, packs of sugar were specially imported to cope with the emergency situation. In many cases the sale of this sugar was technically illegal either because weights and measures law relating to quantities or weight marking was being contravened or because certain labelling requirements of the Food and Drugs Acts were not being complied with. Very large numbers of retailers were therefore technically at risk of prosecution in selling this sugar. Under the clause, the Government would be able to suspend or relax these requirements if a shortage were to arise in the future.
I return to Clauses 1 and 2 and metrication. I do not propose to burden the House with a detailed history of metrication in this country. If I did, I should start with the comments of Sir Christopher Wren and James Watt, and I think that the House should be spared that.
Both Labour and Conservative Governments have accepted time and again that we should adopt the metric system. Progress towards it is well advanced in industry, commerce and agriculture and it is frequently used in retail sales of packed goods. Teaching is overwhelmingly metric, and we have a generation of children and young adults who have learned no other system. Parliament itself has approved many Orders facilitating a change to metric. Even the Opposition recognise the need for change—although, to do them justice, they recognise it a little less in their reasoned amendment than they did when they were last in government.
The issue is no longer whether the change should be made but the pace of that change and how best we can protect and assist the consumer. The question is not what should be done, but how best we do it. The hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) summed up the matter well in our metrication debate of 1973 when she said that, in the interests of consumers, it was more profitable for the House to discuss how and when.
Metrication began in earnest in this country with the announcement of the then President of the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Batter- 950 sea North (Mr. Jay), in May 1965, when he stated:The Government are impressed with the case which has been put to them by the representatives of industry for the wider use in British industry of the metric system of weights and measures. Countries using that system now take more than one-half of our exports; and the total proportion of world trade conducted in terms of metric units will no doubt continue to increase. Against that background the Government consider it desirable that British industries on a broadening front should adopt metric units, sector by sector, until that system can become in time the primary system of weights and measures for the country as a whole."—[Official Report, 24th May 1976, Vol. 713, c. 32.]A Standing Joint Committee on Metrication was set up in March 1966. Its main recommendations, which were accepted by the Government, were first, that the end of 1975 should be the guideline date for the adoption of the metric system by the country as a whole. No one can accuse us of pushing this too quickly.
Secondly, it recommended that a metrication board should be established as a central planning agency for co-ordinating the programmes of change and thirdly, that there should be the necessary legislation to remove obstacles to the adoption of metric units.
The Metrication Board was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in 1969. The Conservative Government White Paper of February 1972 demonstrates that the views of that Government differed little from their predecessors. At this stage I should like to quote simply one sentence from that White Paper:The move to metrication has been taking place over many years, but the Government believe that the time has now come when they must act to ensure the orderly completion of the process.The tenor of that statement is repeated in the Conservative White Paper time and again.
Successive Governments have quite clearly concluded that the adoption of metric units is in the national interest and have pursued through the Metrication Board and through individual metrication orders a bipartisan and consistent approach to this subject. The principle is not in dispute. Hon. Members may disagree. This is a matter for the judgment of the House, but I am entitled 951 to my view. I have quoted from the Conservative Government's White Paper and Labour Government announcements. It is not so much the principle which is in dispute. There is a justifiable concern about how we achieve it and the pace of the change.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
The Minister must not assume that, because he has quoted official statements from one side of the House or the other, this commits members of the party concerned to full support of the principle. Many hon. Members on both sides are very strongly opposed to the principle of metrication.
§ Mr. Fraser
I recognise that. It is not true that the principle has unanimous approval.
I turn now to the Common Market aspect of this matter. I hope that the short account I have given of the history of metrication will have dispelled one misconception. If not, then I again assert it, Metrication is not being foisted on us because of our membership of the EEC. It is our decision not theirs. Successive Governments had concluded long before our entry that it was in our own national interest to change over. Indeed, decisions of my right hon. Friends the Members for Battersea, North and Bristol, South-East would hardly be alleged to have been in anticipation of entry to EEC. It is true that under the Treaty of Accession the United Kingdom under the Conservatives accepted that the international system of metric units would in due course be the sole system of units throughout the EEC. But, as I pointed out during the debate on the Units of Measurement Directive on 7th July, this undertaking was a consequence of our own agreed national policy and not the cause of our policy.
The amending directive then being discussed has since been adopted and the various changes which I indicated to the House that I considered to be necessary, are all incorporated in the final version. This means briefly that our EEC obligations are, first, to adopt eventually the SI metric system; secondly, to authorise the use of this system; and thirdly, to phase out, or cease to authorise in legal terms, imperial units. The whole aim of 952 our negotiations on this latest directive was to ensure that our EEC commitment reflected our national position and did not dictate it. In this we have succeeded.
While, therefore, I am in no way seeking to disguise the fact that the Bill which we are now considering would give the Government the necessary powers to meet these EEC obligations, I hope I have shown that these obligations are geared to our own national needs and that the EEC dimension is of secondary importance in considering this Bill, which is first and foremost a measure brought forward in the national interest. It is our decision, not theirs.
What galls me about part of the Opposition amendment is the attack on the powerto phase out certain imperial measures beyond the requirementsof the latest EEC Directive. As the Opposition know full well, the Treaty of Accession obligations which they undertook is to phase out all imperial units. Under their terms they were prepared to see a 1979 deadline imposed. What this Government have succeeded in doing is to ensure that the major say as to the timeing of the phasing out of the most importan imperial units will be under the control of the British Government and our own Parliament, not under the control of the EEC. The Opposition surely cannot advocate seriously that this House should not have the power to control its own destiny in this way and that the timetable should be set by Brussels.
§ Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)
Will the Minister not accept that he is taking power to phase out the pint and other important imperial units sooner than under the Common Market directive? He does not have the power to phase it out later.
§ Mr. Denis Skinner (Bolsover)
Has my hon. Friend considered the mere possibility—and I put it no higher than that—that the Common Market did not impose its directives in the way he has suggested because it knew that as a result of certain diplomatic pressures it could induce a British Government to carry out the measures in the knowledge that they were 953 doing so by themselves. All the time, of course, the people who run the Common Market were happy with the situation because they knew that they would get their own way. Has he ever considered that this is a Common Market tactic which has been deployed ever since we got into this mess?
§ Mr. Fraser
I have considered it, and the answer is "No".
There are certain agreed requirements about some smaller and less important measures which the latest directive requires us to phase out by the end of 1979. The Opposition amendment clearly recognises these requirements. Perhaps they would explain to the House how this obligation can be met without the powers being sought in the Bill. I must say that I find the proposition that we should be limited by a Brussels timetable incredible.
I return to the situation in our own country. First, virtually all our trade is with countries which already use or are converting to the metric system. Only five small countries in the world are not yet committed to adopting this system.
§ Mr. Fraser
America is committed to adopting it. The President of the United States has signed a Bill which authorises the change to the metric system. Virtually every country in the world is committed to making this change, as is every single Commonwealth country. Therefore, there could be a domestic argument, an EEC argument, a world argument or a Commonwealth argument for metrication, as almost all our trade is conducted in the metric system.
British industry, in order to survive, has been forced widely to adopt metric units and to work to metric standards. Much of this metrication has not directly affected the ordinary consumer—for example the agricultural steel, engineering, construction and shipbuilding industries—unless the consumer in question happens to work in one of those industries. But now increasingly metrication is directly affecting the consumer. His children are taught the metric system and little or nothing about the other system [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] Hon. Members opposite must try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
954 The consumer durables the consumer buys—refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, kitchen equipment—are manufactured and described in metric; the capacity of his car is described in litres without causing great difficulties; the everyday items he buys—paint, cornflakes, sugar, clothing—are probably in metric sizes; the oil for his car or for his home heating is measured in litres; his trunk telephone charge is based on kilometres; the weight of the parcel or letter he posts is measured in grammes. There are many other examples. I repeat that the question is not whether we go metric but how best and how quickly we complete the change and for how long we retain for legal purposes two different systems of measurement.
I must tell the House that the Government have no intention of imposing a short, sharp change to metric. The Bill by itself does nothing to change the system. All that it does is to confer powers to be used later and after consultation.
At the same time I must point out the disadvantages of a dual system. If British industry is required to run separate imperial and metric production lines there must be penalties of duplication of design packaging stockholding and selling.
There are other disadvantages such as the education of our children in one system and their leaving school to cope with another. Another is the confusion to the shopper of a dual range of measures in the shops, sometimes in the same product.
Some purchases can he made only in metric quantities. I gave the example of sugar. On the other hand there are other products which are sold at the moment only in imperial quantities, for example, tea. In between these two extremes there are being sold today on the shelves of the supermarkets and shops throughout the country a vast range of products which may be in either imperial or metric quantities. To take just one familiar example, some shops sell fabrics and carpet in metric units; others in imperial units. The consumer is finding it increasingly difficult to make value-for-money comparisons and this position will get even worse unless the Government do something about it.
955 This country has a long history of consumer protection in the weights and measures field, and its reputation both for the quality of its weights and measures legislation and for its enforcement is second to none. It is no exaggeration to say that this fabric, so carefully constructed over many many years, could disintegrate if this situation is not brought to an end.
If anyone doubts the confusion I would urge him to visit his local supermarket and to look at the quantities in which goods are being sold today. Let him try to make value-for-money comparisons between, say, two washing up liquids, or even the same washing up liquid in different packs, one of which is sold in a 20 fluid oz—568 ml—container, and the other in a 1 litre container. Another example is that of bottles of fruit squash. Some of them will be of 25 fluid oz and others of 1 litre.
In many cases manufacturers already dual mark and give other useful information, but even where that is done it is impossible to avoid confusion in the mind of the consumer. Consumer protection disappears when the shopper needs either a degree in mathematics or a pocket calculator in order to make value for money comparisons.
It is a small wonder that the consumer organisations have been long pressing for the introduction of the Bill. It is small wonder, too, that the retail organisations, which do not stand to gain a great deal from metrication, have made it clear that the only way to avoid chaos is for the Government to step in and to ensure that the process is properly completed. The Government are persuaded, much against their inclination, that the most sensitive area of all—that directly involving the consumer—is the one area where the voluntary approach to metrication will not work and is not working. In that situation the Government have a clear responsibility to end consumer confusion. The Government can take only one logical direction, and that is toward the phasing out of the use by trade of imperial units.
§ Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston upon Thames)
The Minister said earlier that the Government had no intention of 956 imposing a short, sharp change in phasing out these imperial alternatives. If that is the case, is it not so that these dual specified quantities will exist side by side for quite a number of years to come?
§ Mr. Fraser
I turn now to the aims of the Bill. Put at its simplest it proposes to repeal Section 10 (10) of the Weights and Measures Act 1963 which in effect obliges the Government to maintain the use of imperial units. Let me expand on that point. I gave the example of liquid soap being sold in 20 fluid oz. packs and 1 litre packs. If the Government decided to bring forward a prescribed quantities Order for the sale of washing up liquid—
§ Mr. Fraser
It is all very well for my hon. Friend to say "God Almighty", but the wives of some working people have to go and buy washing up liquid, and making value-for-money comparisons can be an almost impossible task for them.
§ Mr. Fraser
I can assure my hon. Friend that I am using the normal terminology.
If one wanted to make a prescribed quantity Order, Section 10 (10) of the 1963 Act requires one imperial and one metric range. In this case, the very confusion which the Order is seeking to avoid gets built into the Order because it is necessary to lay down the dual range.
The Bill proposes that the Government should have more flexible powers than exist at the moment to bring forward proposals to remove or restrict the use of weights and measures for the purposes of trade. These flexible powers are necessary in order to make the sector-by-sector approach to metrication possible, and also to allow the possibility of, say, phasing out the use of imperial units at the manufacturing level in advance of, or instead of, action at the retail level, or deal with one product but not another. While the Bill removes an obstacle to the completion of the metrication process, 957 it does not in itself either advance metrication or make illegal the use of imperial units. The Bill by itself changes nothing. It provides a legal framework within which the Government, in consultation with consumers and other affected interests, can plan a transition. On each and every occasion that that happens the affirmative consent of Parliament to an Order will he required.
I know that hon. Members in every part of the House and interests outside were concerned when the Bill was first introduced that the consumer should be adequately protected, and I am grateful for the helpful, constructive and cooperative spirit in which I have been able to discuss these matters with hon. Members and consumer interests outside the House.
Perhaps I may remind the House of the consequences of discussions. Some people were concerned about the need to consult consumers. They wanted consultation to be the precondition of any Order. This has been done, and Clause 2 has that assurance written in.
I was asked whether the power to require dual marking—that is, to display the equivalent of a metric or imperial quantity on the pack or elsewhere—could be universal. As a result of the consultations, whe have taken the power in Clause 2 to do that. I was asked also to make display mandatory, and I have built that into Clause 2 as well. I was asked to give an assurance that the exercise of the Bill's powers would be linked wherever possible to consumer protection measures. An example of that would be for them to be linked to prescribed quantity Orders. It will be.
In the last Bill, but not in this one, the Opposition asked for a timetable for metrication. If I am genuinely to consult consumers, and if the House is genuinely to have its voice in the matter it would be inconsistent to lay down a rigid timetable. However, I regard pre-packed goods to be early candidates for change with changes in the sale of weighed-out foods to come at the end of the change to the metric process.
Many people were concerned that metrication might lead to unjustifiable price rises. There is a good deal of evidence, for example on conflakes and 958 dried vegetables, to suggest that the contrary is so. But what people believe to be true is sometimes as important as what is true. I therefore give again the assurance that the Government will not hesitate to use their powers under the Prices Act to freeze the price of essential goods during a period of transition if they judge it necessary to do so.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
In the process of the decimalisation of the currency there was a considerable amount of rounding up which undoubtedly imposed considerable burdens on consumers by way of price increases. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is still a danger that a similar process will operate when we go over to metric measurement if the Bill is carried through?
§ Mr. Fraser
My hon. Friend and I have discussed this. I do not believe that there is much evidence to support what he suggests or to indicate that there is quite the danger that he propounds. Nevertheless, I agree that what people believe to be true is also important. Any change in a price involves rounding up or down. I am determined to ensure, however, that before and after the change to metric the powers of price fixing should be used to ensure that the consumer is protected and is seen to be protected. I am determined also to use powers which exist under the Prices Act.
A reference to the Price Commission to monitor prices during a change over has already been made. I further accept the suggestion of the National Consumer Council that there should be a metrication monitoring unit to deal with queries and complaints from customers. I am grateful for the suggestion and advice that I have received from all parts of the House, and I hope that the Bill and the changes made by it, along with the assurances I have given, are acceptable to the House.
Let me turn finally to the Opposition's so-called reasoned amendment, if that be the correct description of it. It begins by recognising the need for an orderly change over.where this is essential for commercial reasons".This is one of the main arguments for the Bill, for without it no such orderly change over is possible. Perhaps the hon. 959 Member for Gloucester will be able to explain to the House how the Opposition can recognise the need and deny the means at the same time.
The second argument is that the House should oppose the Bill because of the economic situation. I have already pointed out that the underlying reason why we are going metric is because of the economic benefits to the country. These economic benefits are quite clearly spelled out in the Conservative Government's White Paper of 1972. That White Paper says:If the UK were to retain the imperial system, while at the same time having to use metric to an increasing extent for international trade, British industry would be less efficient and less competitive and the higher costs would be cumulative. This would have repercussions on the standard of living and we would have burdened ourselves with an economic handicap".The amendment then allegesinadequate preparation on the part of the Government".I will not burden the House with a recital of the list of all those organisations whose views have been taken into account by the Government, nor with details of the extensive discussions which have taken place with the consumer organisations. This Bill is the outcome of 10 years experience and discussion. I just remain baffled by the allegation, unless it is based on a total misunderstanding, of what the Bill does.
I repeat again that the Bill does nothing in itself. It simply provides the powers to plan for an orderly change from one system to another. In other words, the Bill is a precondition for planning—not the other way about.
I have said that we shall consult widely, and that obligation is built into the Bill.
Perhaps I can give the House a further undertaking. The Department of Prices and Consumer Protection will report to Parliament each year on the progress so far made on metrication and give a provisional forecast how progress is seen for the future and how it will be linked with consumer protection, information and education. The forecast would inevitably be a tentative one, but it would set the stage for consultations, not least with consumer organisations, and would provide a background to individual orders for prescribed metric quantities and cut 960 off dates and would help to put each step towards metrication in perspective.
I hope, by proceeding in that way, to demonstrate the link between the powers in the Bill and planning for change. The Bill is not some idiosyncratic whim of the Government. It has the support of every major consumer organisation: the Consumer Association, the National Consumer Council, the National Federation of Consumer Groups and countless other consumer organisations. It has the support of the CBI and, as Patrick Hutber failed to point out in his article yesterday, it also has the support of the TUC. It has the support of practically every organisation which has been concerned with the problem of metrication. I now ask for the support of this House.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)
I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House, while recognising the necessity of an orderly change over to metrication where this is essential for commercial reasons, declines at a time of continuing high inflation and economic crisis to give a second reading to a Bill for which there has been inadequate preparation on the part of the Government and which takes powers to phase out certain imperial measures beyond the requirements of the European Community Directive No. R/3070/75.With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should point out to the House that the directive number in the amendment has been changed subsequently. The directive referred to is Directive No. 76/770.
Because this is an issue of the greatest importance to the whole country and one on which many people feel very strongly, it is imperative that the House should understand fully the implications of the measure before us, the likely effects, the background and the reasoning behind the Opposition's amendment.
Not least of all, I deal first with the Short Title of the Bill—the Weights and Measures & c. (No. 2) Bill [Lords]—which is probably the understatement of all time. This is the metrication Bill. Despite what the Minister of State said, it is the means whereby metric weights and measures will be made lawful and imperial weights and measures will be made unlawful, and this will apply not only to those goods which are currently sold in prescribed quantities but to additional goods which will be added to the list and 961 go right outside the sphere of consumer goods and other areas.
Rightly or wrongly, successive Governments first initiated and then accepted the general principle of metrication for this country, not because metrication was an improvement, not because it was a sign of progress, but purely in the interests of standardisation. Because there has been a good deal of misrepresentation on the part of the Government and others, let me remind the House of the facts as they are clearly on record.
This country was committed to metrication by a Labour Government in 1965 outside the context of the Common Market and without consultation with Parliament. It was unbelievably announced in a Written Answer by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on 24th May in his capacity as President of the Board of Trade. In 1968, the commitment was reconfirmed by the present Secretary of State for Energy, who then set up the Metrication Board. Subsequently, a Conservative Government accepted the general principle of the previous Labour Government's commitment to metrication and started to examine ways in which there could be an orderly transition to voluntary metrication and gave the House for the first time an opportunity to debate it in 1970 and 1973.
In the first two instances, the decision was a purely arbitrary one. There was no debate and no vote on the principle. By 1970, when a Conservative Government came to power, matters had moved too far for a vote on the principle to be taken, though my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) renegotiated the commitment of the previous Labour Government and got the period by when we had to be completely metricated extended to the end of 1979 or beyond in certain cases.
To this very day, therefore, the elected representatives of the people in this House have never voted on the principle of metrication. That opportunity should have been provided in 1965 when the commitment was first made or at the very least in 1968 when the Metrication Board was set up.
§ Mr. Skinner
Will the hon. Lady tell the House whether on this occasion, after all these many years, the Conserva- 962 tive Opposition intend to vote on the general question of principle, because it seems from the Order Paper that the reasoned amendment will allow them once again as an Opposition to opt out of the making of that decision of principle?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
As usual, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is prescient. I was about to come to that very point. The vote tonight cannot be on the principle of metrication, and that must be made clear to those of my hon. Friends who feel the same. That decision has been taken already. Tragically for the House and for the country, we are no longer in a position to vote on the principle of metrication.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
That is a very queer argument. If the hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends wish to vote against the principle, they can vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that they have a reasoned amendment which accepts the principle, though they suggest that possibly it goes to far, when they can vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. Is she saying that the Conservative Party will not vote against the Second Reading but that they intend to vote only on the reasoned amendment?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
In the first place, I tried to make it clear that, by 1970, matters had advanced to far to enable a vote on the principle to be taken. Tonight's vote will be against compulsory metrication, and Government supporters will be very welcome to join us in the Division Lobby.
Once again, under a Labour Government, we were presented earlier this year with another fait accompli. They said "Here is our Weights and Measures & c. Bill. Time is running out. We must get on with things. Give us the powers and allow us in our infinite wisdom to impose mandatory metrication as and when we please." This piece of arrogance was followed by their last-minute shamefaced withdrawal of the Bill and its reappearance in another place, this time amended.
The fact that the Government were forced to amend the Bill by the action of the Conservative Opposition has, if anything, improved it, but in the light of 963 the Government's intentions, the economic situation, and the events that preceded it, the Bill is still not acceptable to us.
Given that we can no longer take a decision in the House on the principle of metrication, there are two overriding objectives that need to be met and reconciled as the essential prerequisite in any transition to metrication, whether voluntary or statutory. The first is the need to end uncertainty for business and industrial concerns. The second, and equally important, is the need, as the Minister appreciates, to protect consumers as far as possible from confusion and adverse economic effects. Both are essential and not, I believe, irreconcilable. Neither objective is fully met in the Bill.
The third consideration, to which the Minister referred only briefly, is the cost of conversion at present. In business and industry there has been a background of unresolved chaos for which the present Government and the former Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection have been largely responsible.
During the 1973 debate the former Minister of State, no doubt consumed with metrication mania which has characterised him, had an apopletic fit about what he described then as drift and delay, yet when he came to power as Minister of State at the Department for over 28 months he did very little to prepare a comprehensive programme, to put consultations in train, to invite consumer groups to confer with him to see what ways the consumer could be safeguarded. In fact, he became a kind of metrication fugitive. The only time he spoke on the subject was when asked to do so at Question Time; and then replies were mostly on the defensive. He did not deign to initiate consultation with business and industry but merely deigned to receive representations.
By the time he left the Department the situation had degenerated into chaos and havoc. Even his replies to parliamentary Questions were contradictory, conflicting and sometimes incorrect. No wonder business and industry were distraught by the time the first Weights and Measures Bill was introduced. Everybody accepts that business and 964 industry need to know about cut-off dates, and also need to know with certainty what extensions, exemptions and exceptions the Government intend to make. Some industries, particularly the weighing-scale industry, need an even longer period of pre-notification because they have special problems of their own.
I wish to clarify the position of business and industry as I see it. It is not so much the fact that overwhelmingly they all want change to metrication as that, above all, they want to see an end to uncertainty. It is true, as the Minister said, that some Orders have been laid under the existing Weights and Measures Act providing for metric alternatives, but those are purely permissive. Although they carry cut-off dates agreed after statutory consultation, they are not mandatory as long as the imperial alternative remains. I do not think the Minister when moving the Second Reading made that point very clear.
The Government's intentions as to a comprehensive and definitive programme for the transition to metrication had never been enlarged on or debated in the House by the time the first of the Weights and Measures Bill was introduced, nor are they now by any means clearly defined.
I must make it clear that it was not necessary to wait for the statutory consultations under the Act in relation to each order one at a time. The Minister's predecessor could have held less formal but constructive consultations to use as a basis for a phased timetable with details of exceptions, exemptions and consumer safeguards. We could and should have debated these matters before any Bill was introduced into the House. This would have ended the uncertainty for business and industry and would have led to a far more satisfactory outcome for the consumer.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Has the hon. Lady received a document from the CBI calling for early implementation of the Bill? I draw her attention to one point in that document, in which the CBI says:Little or no further progress can be made without legislation to remove the single most important obstacle to metrication, namely, Section 10(10) of the 1963 Weights and Measures Act. Industry has been urging government for 965 several years to repeal the section in the Weights and Measures (No. 2) Bill.The point is that the CBI is asking the Government to take urgent action.
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
I am well aware of the contents of that memorandum, although I do not agree with the point made by the CBI and I shall come to that a little later.
As I was saying on the subject of pre-consultation and debate before the Bill was introduced into the House, the inevitable result of past neglect has had to be a last-minute dash to metrication, and its consequences remain unsatisfactory. It is only fair to say that I do not attach any blame to the present Minister, who has done all possible to make up for lost time in negotiations and has conducted a more open and conciliatory consultation than did his predecessor.
For that sector of industry with which the CBI is largely concerned—and here I deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans)—which does not produce consumer goods for sale in this country, the implications of metrication are few. Many such industries have already gone metric, particularly if they are already exporting to metric countries. The main concern relates to industries producing and selling goods in prescribed quantities in this country and to measurements affecting everything beyond this category. One of the problems often advanced is that as machinery wears out, in particular packaging machinery, such industries do not know whether to replace it with metric or imperial machinery. This is a valid point that can be met by a firm commitment to dates agreed after consultation on a voluntary basis, however far ahead they may be.
However, one of the points that is frequently made by business and industry that I find most interesting and revealing is that they say that as long as metrication remains permissive there will be a reluctance to go metric where there is a competitive advantage in ignoring metrication. That says a great deal and shows how popular metrication is likely to be to the consumer.
This leads me to the second of the objectives to which I referred earlier—namely, the need to protect consumers from confusion and economic disadvan- 966 tage. First and foremost, it must be clearly understood that consumers are having metrication imposed upon them against their will. This was confirmed in a poll conducted for the National Consumers Council and reported in the Daily Telegraph on 18th July this year. It showed that the number of people who thought that metrication was a bad thing for the country had more than doubled since 1973.
One of the main difficulties in consumer reaction after the experience of decimalisation is that, whether rounding up in prices takes place, there will always be a suspicion that this has happened, thus creating an atmosphere of distrust and dissatisfaction which does no service to shopkeepers and consumers.
Most of the consumer groups which favour metrication do so on the grounds that a prolonged transition overall will lead to the existence of goods marked in both imperial and metric quantities together on the shelves. This will create consumer confusion and prevent people from "thinking metric", as they are admonished to do by the Metrication Board. Despite these admonitions, I cannot think metric voluntarily or by dictation. It is not that I cannot do the arithmetical calculations but that it is very difficult for people to envisage in their own minds actual metric quantities, even when they have carried out the arithmetical conversions. Nor do I accept that this Bill, the cut-off dates in existing Orders, or Government intentions in other areas of metrication will or can achieve a quick transition and thus avoid this confusion.
The experience of statutory metrication in Australia proves this view. I have with me a number of clippings of advertisements from an Australian newspaper dated 9th April 1976. Although Australia started to go metric in 1970, in one newspaper on one day in 1976, 20 advertisements refer to imperial quantities and measurements, only two to imperial and metric and only four purely metric. I think that that proves the point that statutory metrication will not lead to dual measurements disappearing from the shelves.
It has been pointed out by the Minister and others that where metrication has already occurred in this country, such as in the case of breakfast cereals, there 967 has been no great trauma. That is perfectly true. However, such items as have gone metric have been items of no great importance in family expenditure or items not usually bought or recognised by weight.
§ Mr. John Fraser indicated dissent.
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
With due respect, most people do not normally, and did not previously, buy cereals by weight. Perhaps they should have done, but they did not do so. They have bought them by the size of packet.
There is the exception of sugar. What has been the experience with sugar? When sugar went metric this summer at a price about 22p for a 21b. bag, we were assured that as a 1 kilo bag was approximately 10 per cent. more, the price would rise by no more than 10 per cent. However, in a letter to the Daily Mail of 15 September 1976, a correspondent says,For months, if not years, the Metrification Board have been telling me in adverts that metrification—as the correspondent calls it—would not mean that prices would go up. For the past fortnight my wife, my brothers' wives, my sister and my neighbours' wives have all told me that the price of two pounds of sugar, with three ounces added to make the metric weight, has increased to the price of two and a half pounds of sugar. So will any of the well-paid brains of the Metrication Board now tell them, not me, who nicked the other five ounces of sugar?My own office has telephoned the Metrication Board about this matter but got no further explanation.
There may be a perfectly good explanation for sugar being sold at 27p, but what good will a Government metrication prices monitoring unit be in reassuring consumers when, as the Government freely admit, prices will vary from shop to shop and from one part of the country to another, so that uncertainty and distrust will remain, and no monitoring board in the world will be able to show whether the real cause is rounding up on metric quantities?
The three-month price freeze will have precisely the same effect, for exactly the same reason. The freeze will only delay the confusion and delay price rises. It will not prevent either from happening.
968 The Government have—very helpfully, I think—put forward proposals for unit pricing and dual marking. There again, confusion cannot be avoided, because whereas the Order in question attempts to establish accepted rounding up or down as to quantity comparisons and to eliminate the objections of Housewife's Trust and others, it covers only a few of the examples given and the all-important 1-oz and 2-oz measures are missing. In two cases of dual transitional quantities there has been rounding down and not up. Also, perhaps above all, because we have a decimal system which includes the halfpenny, exact cost comparisons cannot be made. This is absolutely impossible, even with unit pricing, and, therefore, it undermines the principle of unit pricing in this respect.
The Government's timetable, as it exists so far in permissive Orders—and from what we have heard from the Minister of State—does not take sufficient note of the fact that one of the most important factors affecting poorer families and pensioners is that in almost every case the transition will be to a larger and more costly size. There should be a given period during which an important number of items in the family budget are not subject to metrication.
I turn to exceptions, exemptions and extensions, and how they can be reconciled with careful planning and organisation in the transition. First and foremost, because we are on the brink of another explosion in food prices, and people in this country have already been subjected to an unprecedented period of inflation, we believe that there should be a firm undertaking that metrication of pre-packed basic foodstuffs important in the family budget should be delayed until the latest possible date, that is, until after 1979, when they must be reviewed, but that firm dates must be agreed in each case following consultation and announced on a voluntary basis within six months.
We believe that weighed-out foods—fruit, vegetables, confectionery and meat—should be exempted until after 1980, but that once again a firm date should be negotiated and, following voluntary agreement, announced within six months, and that certain items should not go metric at all in the foreseeable future, 969 such as road signs, land measurement and petrol.
The price of petrol is already very high. Quite apart from the cost to the industry of conversion and the difficulty that the industry is having at present, uncertainty would be ended if the Minister were to announce that petrol would be exempted. There is an added consumer confusion which would be reduced, particularly as cars are often purchased on the basis of "how many miles per gallon" they are advertised to do, and the metric equivalent will be meaningless to many people for years.
The other red herring that is often advanced—not by the Minister of State today, but advanced by his predecessor—was that we have an undertaking not to refuse to allow pre-packed foods in metric quantities to enter this country after 1977, unless there is a derogation. Again, I submit that no such derogation would be necessary. Most of the pre-packed foods imported are luxury goods and if they enter in metric packs it does not matter at all. The two exceptions are tea and butter. Most imported tea is packed in this country, as is the majority of imported butter. As the British butter market is very lucrative for those who export to this country, I cannot imagine that the small minority who export to us in pre-packed quantities would want to do something that would put them at a monetary and competitive disadvantage.
As for road signs, quite apart from the cost, those who find it a little difficult sometimes to keep within existing speed limits could be joined by thousands more who would be even more confused by limits based on kilometres per hour.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I have been reading the Bill again. Will my hon. Friend say whether the Bill, if passed, will say that the change from miles to kilometres is to be mandatory?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
It gives the Government the powers, potentially, to lay Orders that are subject to the affirmative procedure, which would provide a statutory basis for this.
§ Mr. John Fraser
No. Perhaps I may make this clear. The mile is not used normally in terms of trade, and any changes in speed limits or road signs would, broadly, be outside the ambit of 970 the Bill. Speed limits would have to be subject to separate regulations laid before the House and would not flow from the Bill at all.
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
When the Minister is winding up the debate, perhaps he will say under which Act the new regulations would be made.
The other and main red herring is the EEC directive. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Bolsover is not in the Chamber at present. In the draft directive which preceded the directive, and which appears much more sensitive to consumer needs than the Government, it is specifically provided that while certain items, which are not important, to which the Minister has referred, have to go metric by 1979, other items, including all those I have mentioned,which the United Kingdom and Ireland are unable to abolish in the immediate future because of administrative complications (for example, alteration of road signs giving distances in miles or for psychological reasons (use of the pint, etc.) need not be reviewed again at the end of 1979.The draft directive said,In this field efficiency, which dictates that a uniform system should be adopted within the Community as soon as possible, should be coupled with the need not to cause too drastic an upheaval of deep-rooted habits and not to upset the economy of the customs of certain member States.I cannot see why the Government could not take advantage of the provisions in the draft directive, which has now become a directive, in relation to the items I have specified and, at the same time, end uncertainty in the industries concerned, which would then know that metrication of these items could not start before 1980, after which a firm date would have been fixed. I again emphasise that this date should be fixed and announced not later than early next year, following consultation and voluntary agreement.
Of course, there are scores of anecdotes about metric muddles, some amusing and some irritating, but time will not allow me to deal with them at present. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will fill that void. However, the metric foot available in "do it yourself" shops, and the continuance of aircraft engine spares in imperial units are but two examples. I also object very 971 much to having my height put in my passport as one and a half metres. I shall remain firmly in my own mind, and on my passport for as long as I am able, as 5 ft. 2 ins.
I turn now to one of the most important aspects of our objections. I refer to the overall cost of conversion, particularly in present economic circumstances. No estimate of the full cost of conversion has ever been given, although a rough estimate could have been collected industry by industry. However much preparatory conversion may have been completed in some industries, the cost will be immense and will nearly all be passed on in price.
There is never a right time for this to happen, but there never could be a worse time than now or over the next couple of years. I will give just one example in one area where we can make an estimate. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) will be interested in this. In an article in the Daily Telegraph on 9th October of this year an estimate was given that the cost of changing one letter—the number "3" —on road signs and relating to one speed only—the 30 miles per hour sign—in one county, was £20 a sign, or about £40,000 per county. On that basis, the cost of altering the signs throughout the country will be astronomical.
Yet we have received no reassurances from the Government that this will be delayed or that it need never take place. On 8th July—this is from Hansard, col. 666—the former Minister of Transport indicated that it was likely that the road signs for speed limits would change with the yard and the foot, so clearly the Government do not intend to exempt them.
Then what, for example, will it cost smaller shopkeepers to convert existing scales or to buy new ones? For many of them the expense will be the last straw. Although the Government have agreed to leave this sector to the last, presumably after 1980, no firm date has been given and the weighing scale industry is in great difficulty until the Government complete their consultations with it and announce the date.
Then there is the question of packaging costs due to conversion. Where new machinery is not already in existence, this 972 will have to be purchased over a period when there is bound to be a substantial increase in packaging costs, anyway.
It is against the background of all these difficulties and others that the Government have moved the Second Reading of a Bill which gives them virtually carte blanche to move to mandatory metrication as and when they want to. It is true that the Orders that will be laid imposing mandatory metrication and which the Government are empowered to lay under the Bill will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Both my hon. Friend and the Minister have said that these Orders will be subject to the affirmative procedure. I can find that nowhere in the Bill.
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
The Minister referred to some of the Orders being subject to the affirmative resolution, as are the prescribed quantity Orders at present. Our experience so far, even with those which are subject to the affirmative resolution, is that we have been given one and a half hours after 10 o'clock at night in which to debate them and no opportunity whatsoever to oppose them. In most cases under the Bill there will be no opportunity, because we are told that the statutory consultations under the existing Weights and Measures Act have been so protracted that any further delay or rejection would result in severe damage to the industry. So there is no doubt that there will be very little or no parliamentary control over the imposition of mandatory metrication.
I would not give this Government a blank cheque on an overdrawn account, let alone on such an important issue. Even hon. Members opposite, who may have more faith in their Government than I have, must be alarmed at the lack of parliamentary accountability and control that will ensue. Of course the Government would like to get the legislation through so that they can proceed with stealth and at night to lay their mandatory metrication Orders at a speed which suits them politically.
It is true that provision has been made, which is welcome, to consult consumer groups before the relevant Orders. There are other minor provisions for consumer protection in the Bill which are in 973 themselves unexceptionable and potentially useful, but the overwhelming impression is that these measures for consumer protection have been thrown in as ballast to divert attention from the main purpose of the Bill.
No one, not even the most fervent advocate of metrication, can say that the change-over can occur without being traumatic. Yet the Government expect us to allow them to proceed with mandatory metrication in this way without either putting it to the country or having proper parliamentary control, and then they expect us not to oppose the Bill in some way.
Of course there are problems for the industries concerned which must be resolved without delay. Of course there are the problems of a whole generation of schoolchildren emerging from schools not unaware of imperial weights and measures but perhaps more familiar with metric weights and measures. Then there are the problems of harmonisation of prescribed quantities as required by the European Community.
I do not underestimate or belittle these problems. It would be unrealistic to do so. However, the problems and the repercussions for consumers will be greater. The cost for business and industry will be very significant. We are living through a period of grave economic crisis that will no doubt be prolonged. Falling living standards, hardship, further inflation, particularly in food prices, are now inescapable. Surely it cannot be right at such a time to proceed to impose widespread metrication upon the country with the burdens and the costs that will be involved, except where this is absolutely necessary and where it has been agreed on a voluntary basis.
Above all, it cannot be right to impose on those who have suffered, and who will continue over the next year to suffer, a great fall in living standards and who do not know how they are to keep their heads above water, the extra burden of coping with the metrication of basic foodstuffs.
Metrication is far more complicated than decimalisation. There are many more variables involved. Even in good times and with the most careful preparation and the best will in the world, confusion and higher prices cannot be 974 avoided. In present circumstances they may well prove to be insupportable. People worry about these things far more than perhaps Ministers or administrators realise. They loom large in the lives of many people and cause them a great deal of anguish, particularly people living alone and the elderly. Already, tragically, we read in the Daily Mail of 8th October of the first suicide over metrication.
This should not be a political issue because, as we have said all along and have made clear, the vote tonight cannot be a vote on the principle of metrication. However, we should be failing in our duty, most of all to the poor, the elderly and the disadvantaged, if we did not say to the Government that the speed and the scale of their metrication programme, as they have so far proposed it, is unacceptable. We should be failing in our duty, further, if we did not point out that the Government have done nothing to meet the justifiable complaints of industry and to seek to remove the uncertainty.
We should also be failing in our duty if we did not say that we do not and never have supported the concept of statutory metrication and that we cannot, even at this late stage, in the present economic circumstances allow the Government, under the unacceptably sweeping powers of the Bill, to proceed on what is still a largely uncharted course, at an unknown cost, at too fast a rate, to impose mandatory metrication on a largely unwilling country.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
When the first Bill came before the House I had strong reservations, which I expressed at the time. A number of my hon. Friends and myself were concerned about some of the implications of the measure.
I greatly deplore the opportunist line which has been taken by the official Opposition. The setting-up of the Metrication Board and a move towards metrication appeared at one time to have all-party support. One realises that there can be certain difficulties with numbers in the Lobbies in the evening. We have heard what the Opposition Front Bench says, but we shall have to wait to see whether Opposition Back Benchers will follow their Front Bench on this issue or will take what seems to be a different 975 line from that taken in the past. It has been said of the Tories that theypromise, pause, prepare and postpone—And end up leaving things aloneAll we have heard from the hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) is that she believes in metrication.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim
I am sure that the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent what I said. I said that we no longer had an opportunity to take a decision on the principle of metrication. If we had that opportunity, I should be one of those against it.
§ Sir John Hall (Wycombe)
The hon. Member will recall that many of us on this side, as well as Members on his own side, have from time to time protested that we have never had an opportunity to debate this issue and come to a conclusion on whether we support the principle. I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides would have been opposed to the principle at the time and would certainly have voted against it.
§ Mr. Evans
All I say about that is that the Tories were in power from 1970 to 1974. If they were for four years denied the opportunity to discuss a major matter of this kind, that is a matter for their own party. The fact is that they took this country into the Common Market, and there are implications in the Treaty of Accession which lead us to move forward to the metric system.
I return now to my own position, since I had strong reservations about the earlier Bill and, with some of my hon. Friends, played a part in postponing it. I consider that the version of the Bill now before the House is an improvement on the earlier version and goes some way 976 to meet the assurances which those of us concerned about this matter wanted. Our concern rested primarily on the question of consumer protection, and we felt that those assurances had to be given.
I asked my right hon. Friend to give us and the House the assurances that were asked for by the National Consumer Council. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, in a Written Answer on 4th August, replied in these terms:First, the Government accept that there is a danger that metrication might be thought to be responsible for higher prices and that it is important that consumer confidence be established in this respect.He said, further, that the Government would beprepared to use their powers under the Prices Acts to freeze prices during changeover periods. The need to use these powers can be examined during the consultation procedure which is specifically required under the…Bill before individual Orders can be brought forward.Thus, on the question of consumer protection, that safeguard has been provided by the Government.
My hon. Friend dealt also with the suggestion that there should be a Metrication Monitoring Unit, saying thatthe Government accept that it is important that queries and complaints by consumers are properly dealt with and monitored, and, against the background of the need for restraints on public expenditure and manpower, are examining ways and means of doing this. The possible rôle of voluntary consumer groups is also being considered.The hon. Lady said that expense was involved. I thought she was arguing that the Opposition were not opposed to metrication in principle, although they were opposed to it now. But the longer we delay these things the more expensive they will become. Both sides of the House agreed to set up the Metrication Board to introduce metrication. If we do not proceed with introducing metrication, it will cost the country £1 million or thereabouts to maintain the board while it remains in existence. Therefore, that argument put by the hon. Lady falls.
§ Sir John Hall
The hon. Gentleman will know that time and again we on this side have tried to get from the Government at least an estimate of the cost to the country of introducing metrication. Has he any idea of that cost?
§ Mr. Evans
I can give no reliable figure. There will certainly be a cost, 977 but inflation has to be taken into account, as well as the way the new system is introduced. I can give the hon. Gentleman the view of the CBI. The CBI argues that the longer we delay the introduction of metrication the more expensive it will be for the country, because if we are to export, the question of imperial or metric weights and measures must be settled, and the sooner the world can reach an international standard of measurement the better it will be. I shall come back to that later.
Another matter which concerned us was the question of the availability of small packs for pensioners. The Government gave an assurance—this also comes from the Written Answer of 4th August—in these terms:Thirdly, whilst metrication in itself cannot solve the problem of increasing the availability of small packs for pensioners, I can give the assurance that all metrication orders have included and will continue to include provisions which make the sale of small packs legal".That was a matter on which we had reservations, and those reservations have been met.
Finally, the Government acceptedthat metrication will provide an ideal opportunity to extend prescribed quantity legislation to goods and products not at present subject to such legislation."—[Official Report, 4th August 1976; Vol. 916, c. 832.]Those were the main points regarding consumer protection which gave concern to many of us on this side, and they are now met. I remind the House that there was the National Consumer Council, set up by a previous Government but unfortunately abolished by a Conservative Government. That council, under the chairmanship of Dame Elizabeth Ackroyd, said at an earlier stage:The Consumer Council believes that conversion to the metric system will be of advantage to consumers.Further, the Consumers Association wrote to the Government recently to say:We are pleased that you are taking enabling powers in the Weights and Measures Bill, and we hope these will make rapid progress through Parliament. Each month that now goes by without these powers, the greater the possibility of utter confusion as some members of the trade change to metric measure and others do not.Many other organisations have expressed a similar view, and my hon. 978 Friend mentioned some of them. They include the National Federation of Consumer Groups, the Housewives Trust, Age Concern—which looks at these matters primarily from the point of view of elderly people—the National Council of Women of Great Britain and the Consumer Standards Advisory Committee of the British Standards Institution, as well as many local consumer groups. All have said that they support this measure. I am sure that Opposition Members as well as I have received representations recently.
The hon. Lady said that she would refer to the CBI. She did not come round to that, and I am still waiting. I referred to the CBI during her speech and to the fact that the CBI supported this measure. I shall read her speech tomorrow, but. I did not hear her reference, although I was carefully listening for it.
§ Mr. Evans
I now understand that the hon. Gentleman will refer to it. I have here a letter from the CBI. Perhaps the CBI no longer corresponds with the Opposition, so I had better tell them what the CBI says. [Interruption.] I hear an hon. Member opposite ask whom the CBI represents. My understanding is that the CBI represents a large part of British industry. We know that the TUC has said that, provided there is consumer protection, it will accent the Bill.
Here is what the CBI says:The decision in 1965 to go metric was made in response to the trend in the world at large towards adoption of the metric system. The trend accelerated sharply in the years following our decision; most recently the United States has legislated for the change and is planning to complete it within about seven years from the date of the Act, December 1975. The United Kingdom's decision was not dictated by our membership of the European Community".This might meet some of our reservations. We are anxious not to be pulled along by the Common Market. The CBI says that it would have been necessary to do this even if we had remained outside. That is the argument of the CBI. Whether in or out of the Common Market, we should have had to do something about metrication.
979 The letter continues:Our trade with the rest of the world demands that we proceed with the change; our competitiveness in all markets, including the home markets, demands that we derive all the potential benefits from the simpler, more efficient metric system.That is from the CBI. It is coming to something when we on the Labour Benches have to quote not only the TUC but the CBI. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) smiles—she is even laughing. We have reached a sorry state when the Tory Party appears to be out of step with most of the organisations in Britain.
The Retail Consortium expresses reservations about this proposal. If we are to implement machinery affecting the retail trade, we have to be careful. The Retail Consortium represents the Co-operative Union, the Multiple Shops Federation, the National Chamber of Trade, the Mail Order Traders Association, the Multiple Food and Drink Retailers Association, the Retail Alliance, the Retail Distributors Association and the Scottish Retail Federation.
The consortium states:The Retail Consortium welcomes the Government's commitment to introduce enabling powers for metrication, particularly on behalf of those sectors which have proceeded with metrication on a voluntary basis and which are at this time meeting continuing, not abating, consumer resistance and in some cases suffering a commercial disadvantage.The Consortium also welcomes the Government's intention not to introduce a timetable of statutory cut-off dates but rather to provide for full consultation with the sectors of the trade in order to take account of their particular problems.Special problems face the retail food trade dealing in catch-weight measurements. Thousands of weighing machines and scales would have to be converted at enormous cost to retailers and it is clear that certain sectors of the retail food trade would not metricate without statutory compulsion to do so, and indeed are asking the Government to obtain from the EEC a derogation until 1985 in respect of catch-weight sales.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he has similar testimonials from the housewives of this country or, if not from the housewives of the country, from those in his constituency?
§ Mr. Evans
I do not know whether the hon. Lady is presuming to speak for the 980 housewives of the country. Earlier, I gave a long list of consumer organisations, from the National Consumer Council to the National Council of Women. I do not know whether Conservative women are represented anywhere. How are we to get to know what the housewives are thinking?
§ Mr. Evans
With the introduction of metrication, we have to be sure that we do not experience difficulties similar to those which arose when decimalisation was introduced. I am sure that the Government will take that into account. I know that Tory Members are elected to accept change. I do not believe in change for its own sake. I believe in changes being made to improve things. The whole world is moving in one direction—towards an international metric system.
We know from our school days that it was difficult to learn the imperial system of weights and measures.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member may not have had any difficulty, but would he not admit that the metric system is easier? If he did mathematics at school, he must realise that that is so. Although I shared the reservations of those who were against decimalisation, I now find it easier to think in terms of 100p to the pound than in terms of pounds, shillings and pence.
§ Mr. John Page
It is a fact that many people who have to deal with change find it much more difficult to deal with lots of 50p pieces and with figures like 37p and 62p than they did when there were 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. There is no shadow of doubt that the introduction of decimalisation explains the high sales of pocket calculators. It is also why the Prime Minister this afternoon is calling for better teaching of the three Rs.
§ Mr. Evans
I do not know whether a pocket calculator has been invented to 981 work in imperial units. If the hon. Member considers inches, feet, yards, furlongs, miles and the other units that we have, I feel sure he will agree that metrication is better.
I want to quote a little from a letter I have received from the National Farmers Union. We tend to take the position of the housewife—the consumers' position—on food matters. Sometimes we are accused of not paying due regard to the farmers. In this letter the National Farmers Union says:The programme for the change to the use of metric units in agriculture and horticulture was to be based on the farming year 1975–76. This decision was taken in 1972 "—mark the year—after extensive consultation between the then Minister of Agriculture, Mr. James Prior—the same right hon. Member who sits in the Shadow Cabinet today—and the three United Kingdom Farmers Unions and the Country Landowners Association.We do not have all that many Socialists in the Country Landowners Association.
The NFU continues:The changeover is now well advanced and arrangements for conversion have already been made by the suppliers of fertilisers, agrochemicals, feedingstuffs, seeds, etc.…It is expected, therefore, that the transition will be largely completed by the end of 1976.There are those of us who had reservations about the first Bill that was introduced. We believe that the Minister and the Department have gone a long way to meet our reservations. At this time of high inflation and economic difficulty, we do not want unduly to burden retail organisations and others. The rest of the world is now going metric. We must think in terms of a tremendous export drive and we must therefore gear our machinery to produce in metric units. I hope that Tory Members will join in supporting the idea of metrication and assist the Bill on its way.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) wants to hasten the change or whether he takes the view that we must not rush it through. He said both one thing and the other during the course of his speech. Nevertheless, I am sure he would agree, as must be agreed 982 on all sides, that the change from weights and measures in imperial measurements to those in metric will cause a great change in our daily lives, both in our homes and at work. Therefore, on behalf of the public, Parliament should take a very close interest in, and make a very close examination of, any legislation on this subject. We must examine not only the Bill, which is merely an enabling Bill to allow the Executive to put it into practical effect, but also any Executive implementation of the Bill.
I want to call attention to the powers that the Bill seeks to put in the hands of the Secretary of State to bring the metric system into operation without effective reference to Parliament and without any genuine assurance that the exercise of those powers will be debated in Parliament. That is one further step in the process of the erosion of the function of Parliament by the Executive. Many of us were greatly impressed by the Dimbleby Lecture by Lord Hailsham a few days ago, in which the noble Lord pointed out the way in which the powers of Parliament were being overridden by the Executive. Although the Bill is perhaps one small piece of legislation I think it is another example of that.
When one looks back at the 1963 Act one sees that any order to alter lawful measurements under that Act had to be made by means of bringing a draft before this House, and by the Government seeking an affirmative resolution on that draft.
The 1963 Act made that provision about orders concerning transactions in particular goods; about orders relating to statements of quantities of goods, making the quantity known by weighing the goods, and so on. That Act even made an affirmative resolution necessary in the case of fees for testing standards, and equipment.
In the course of his opening speech the Minister said that orders which were to be made by the Secretary of State under the Bill would be subject to affirmative resolution. There are certain matters which will remain subject to affirmative resolution under the 1963 Act, but there are some substantial alterations in that Act which make orders subject only to the negative procedure, that is, subject to annulment by Prayer in this House.
983 I refer to Clause 1(1) of the Bill, which empowers the Secretary of State to amend, by order, Schedule 1 of the 1963 Act. That is to say, he can remove all the imperial measurements if he chooses. He can state what is lawful and what is not lawful and thereby create an offence for using unlawful measurements. But that order will in future be subject only to the annulment procedure in this House. Schedule 1 of the 1963 Act could not he altered by order, but it can now be altered by an order which would be subject only to annulment.
We all know the great difficulty in getting a Prayer against an order debated in this House. Time and time again when a Prayer goes down on the Order Paper it remains there, and further and further names are added to it, but never is it given time for debate. I say "never"; if one is lucky one may get a debate upstairs instead of on the Floor of this House. We have now reached the stage at which the Executive can persuade a Minister to provide in a Bill that orders can be made by the negative procedure, knowing perfectly well that that is an absolute power to legislate.
§ Mr. John Fraser
The right hon. Gentleman is making a rather sweeping speech. I ought to explain that Schedule 1 of the 1963 Act will in future only be a matter of record. The two schedules that are added to the Bill preserve a list of weights and measures for use, and these will be subject to all the present protections under the 1963 Act.
§ Mr. Page
I am not sure whether the Minister is not misleading himself. If he turns to page 2 of the Bill, he will see that a new Part VA is added to Schedule 1. The heading of that Part VA refers toDefinitions of units which may not be used for trade".That will be in Schedule 1, which may be altered by order, so that the Minister can add any number by an order subject only to annulment. He can alter by addition as well as by subtraction. I do not think he will ever be advised to use any other form of order. The Minister talked about the prescribed quantities order, but I do not think he will ever need to use that in future. He will 984 merely need to use an order under Clause 1. At any rate, he has got complete power to do that.
Clause 2 adds a Section 9A to the 1963 Act, and that section will not be subject to the affirmative resolution under that Act. It will be subject only to an order under this Bill. Under Section 9AThe Secretary of State may from time to time by order amend Schedule 1A or 3 to this Act".Schedule 1 of the Bill adds Schedule 1A to the 1963 Act which again is headedUnits of Measurement Lawful for Use for Trade".Here again, he can alter the units of measurement lawful for use for trade by an order subject only to the negative procedure of this House.
On page 3 a new Section 9B is added to the 1963 Act, which says that the Secretary of State may make regulations requiring or authorising a person to afford information giving equivalents, and so on. That is very important to the housewife, who will need to be informed, by advertisement, placard or poster in the shops, when she is buying her goods by the new measurements. The whole of that requirement for exhibiting that sort of information in the shops will be made by an order, which it is very doubtful will ever come before this House for debate.
The Department's draftsmen may be very fine draftsmen, but they are not always right. It is not the Parliamentary Draftsmen who draft orders; it is the Department's draftsmen, and they do not always know better than hon. Members. We are entitled to debate that sort of order.
One then passes to Clause 6, which states that the Secretary of State may by regulation prescribe the fees, again with no affirmative resolution before the House.
An extremely important clause is Clause 8, which deals withShortages of food and other goods".These are emergency orders, which will have a considerable effect on the housewife and on the public in general. They are orders which ought to come before this House for debate even if they are 985 emergency orders. They are orders which the Secretary of State should make by a form of order which remains in operation for, say, only 28 days unless it receives the affirmative resolution of this House. That is the type of order that should apply to these emergencies concerned with shortages of food.
But Clause 9(4) states thatAn order under section 8 of this Act, except an order which extends to Northern Ireland only,"—I do not know why Northern Ireland should be so exempt—shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of ParliamentThat is the negative procedure. It is true that Clause 9 states that the Minister must consult certain people; indeed, in his speech the Minister made a great point of the fact that there would be consultation. We know that everybody is consulted except Members of Parliament. Time and time again, Ministers come before the House and say, "We have sent out consultative documents to the town clerks, the CBI, the NFU" or whoever it may be, and an hon. Member is terribly embarrassed when someone presents a consultative document to him and asks, "What do you think about this?", when he has never seen it. It may well be that it has never been put before Members of Parliament—although everyone else has been consulted—until the order, drawn up and unamendable, has come before the House. That is treating Parliament with contempt, especially when it is dealing with matters as important as those contained in this Bill. I ask the Minister to reconsider his thinking on the Bill. It can be amended in Committee. At that stage we can provide for the right kind of orders.
When presenting the Bill the Minister argued that the principle of the change from imperial to metric has been accepted. As we have heard from interventions, that itself is contentious. For one thing, it has never been debated in the House. However, assuming that the principle is accepted, that does not give the Government any right to carry out the practical aspects of the change without proper reference to Parliament.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
We frequently hear criticism of the weight 986 of legislation that is caused by the large number of Bills passed through the House. I support most of the Bills that are attacked, but I believe that we could well do without this one.
The proposal to phase out imperial weights and measures has been argued on a number of grounds. We have been told that it is necessary to standardise our weights and measures in line with other countries. We are told that it is necessary to avoid having two legal and parallel systems of weights and measures. We are informed that our children have been educated in metric units. We are told of the ease of working out calculations in tens.
I agree that those arguments have considerable strength, but I am still unhappy about the proposed changeover. Surely there are other arguments that could be considered more seriously. The simplification that it is alleged will be brought about as a result of metrication may well be true for the younger generation, but apart from younger people metrication will make things more difficult. People will tend to think in imperial units, in some respects, for the rest of their lives. Many people never change habits of a lifetime in quite simple matters, and they will not change them in this respect.
The interests of the consumer mean that people should know what they are buying and what they are doing. Many people will spend the rest of their lives in a complete fog about what they are doing following metrication. They will be unable to detect whether they are getting full value for money.
I accept that the Bill is by no means as bad as that which was previously proposed, but it does not meet all the objections advanced by opponents such as myself. The major objection is that despite all the thought that has been given by the Consumers Association and other bodies which have expressed an oponion, the cost of the changeover will be astronomical. It is inevitable that prices will be rounded up. We cannot expect manufacturers and distributors to cut the price per unit when the change takes place. Rounding up occurred with decimalisation and I am sure that it will take place once again. When rounding up is permitted, many people will be tempted to 987 put on a little extra in addition. Above all, it will be extremely difficult for the ordinary shopper to tell whether advantage has been taken of the opportunity afforded by the changeover.
Costs will be pushed up because of the need to install new equipment and new machinery. There will be the need to provide new notices. The changeover will not apply only to the replacement of scales and measures; a great variety of equipment in industry and distribution will have to be changed completely. It will not be merely a question of changing the petrol pumps; a tremendous variety of other forms of measuring will have to be changed.
§ Mr. John Fraser
Does my hon. Friend realise that many petrol pumps are manufactured metric and that there is the cost of converting them back to imperial?
§ Mr. Newens
I realise that that is a problem. However, I think that my hon. Friend knows that there will be a serious conversion problem should the price of petrol exceed £1 per gallon in due course. There will be a serious problem in that respect if we change to metrication. I cannot believe that we should countenance a considerable outlay of funds for the purpose of metrication at a time when everyone recognises that we need much more investment in new equipment for productive purposes and when many people are calling for cuts in expenditure.
The Opposition have talked about a smooth transition. Let it be remembered that following the changeover many people will still have equipment, including many items of household equipment, built in imperial measures. The replacement of parts and components will be required over a considerable period. Presumably, imperial measurements will not be available after a period if we change to metrication components. The cost will be enormous.
§ Mr. Newens
I see that my hon. Friend is shaking his head. We must appreciate that many employers will say that it will 988 be impossible to manufacture according to dual sets of measurements. In those circumstances, replacement units will not be available and the scrapping of large items of machinery will become unnecessary.
The Bill provides in Clause 2 that it will be an offence to use any weight or measure for trade that is not in the schedule. That would be a quite outrageous power for the House to grant. Many people will continue to use the old measurements for all purposes long after the Bill is passed and long after the whole question of metrication is finally settled. I understand that in France some measurements that were in use before the French Revolution are still in use, despite the fact that they should have been discontinued nearly 200 years ago.
It seems that the Conservative Party is seeking to have the best of both worlds. It is posing as the champion of the consumer by tabling the amendment, but the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) has said that she accepts the principle of metrication.
§ Mr. Newens
I hope that the hon. Lady will clarify the situation. Do the Opposition accept or reject the principle of metrication?
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
The amendment is quite specific. It statesThat this House, while recognising the necessity of an orderly change over to metrication".That is an acceptance. The Opposition are accepting that metrication is to come.
§ Mr. Newens
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Clearly the Opposition are trying to have it both ways. They are accepting the principle of metrication but endeavouring to make political capital out of the stance adopted through the amendment. if they are opposed in principle to metrication, instead of introducing an amendment they should vote against the Bill's Second Reading. If the hon. Member for Gloucester is serious, she will known very well that many hon. Members sitting on the Opposition back benches would be extremely unhappy if 989 the amendment were carried, or if metrication were not accepted. It is hypocritical of the Opposition to take up these two positions. They should come down one way or the other. I am totally dissatisfied with their stance.
§ Mr. Newens
As I cannot support the Bill, it would be totally wrong for me to go into the Lobby in support of my hon. Friend. I recognise that he has tried to make the best of a bad job, but the powers granted by the Bill are unnecessary and could well be used by another Minister in a different way from that in which my hon. Friend intends that they should be used. If another Minister decided that all the road signs should be changed from miles to kilometres I understand that it would be possible for that step to be taken under the terms of the Bill. In those circumstances, I cannot support it.
At the same time, my position is different from that of the Opposition. I am not happy with the Opposition's amendment. I am opposed in principle to what is proposed, and in those circumstances I shall take the only step available to me and abstain.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
As with fluoridation of the nation's water supply, metrication will prove highly unpalatable to most people if it is thrust at full speed down their gullets. The Minister should not delude himself that the proposal has the support or backing of a great number of people, except through the lack of an escape route by any alternative.
Although I have not for long been a Member of the House, I understand that the principle of metrication has never been the subject of a vote in the House. Therefore, the verdict is unknown. No more did the British people express themselves in favour of large-scale immigration. We now have a multi-racial society, for better or for worse. Some people think that multi-racialism is a good in itself, but there was no opportunity until far too late for the British people to express an opinion one way or the other.
990 If we are to have a metrical multiracial society, let Ministers beware of claiming that it is on behalf of, and at the behest of, the consumer. There is no doubt in my mind that, had the principle been put to the people 11 years ago—I declare at once that the fact that the Secretary of State for Energy was instrumental in setting up the Metrication Board is not an argument in its favour—they might have expressed themselves clearly on that subject, but that question was not put.
Nor should the Minister think that consumer organisations are an adequate substitute for public opinion at large. I sometimes think that those organisations are as representative of the people they endeavour to serve as people sometimes think Members of Parliament are of their electorate. It is a matter of debate whether their views, even following the horse-trading that has gone on behind the scenes since the previous Bill was introduced, are necessarily those of the British housewife in every respect.
Another warning I give to the Minister is to avoid going round saying "Metrication is good for you". We have been through that with decimalisation. We were told that it would be much easier for school children and people in trade and industry and every walk of life if our method of calculation were in units of 10. When we finally achieved decimal currency, it was decimal fractions combined with the vulgar fraction of a halfpenny, which made it much more difficult in some respects for retailers and others than it had been under the old system. That vulgar halfpenny remains as a simple—and permanent, one hopes—reminder of the stupidity of prevaricating politicians.
So it is with metrication. We are told that it is a vastly simpler system. It has no basis in the world around us. Whereas the foot and the inch have some relevance to the human body and people's experience, the metre has none: it is purely arbitrary. It was originally intended to be a ten-millionth part of the are of the meridian from the North Pole to the Equator. Now it is an abscure measurement based on the krypton-86 atom, which we are told may eventually be measured in terms of the speed of light. These calculations may be fine in their place but they do not have much relevance to people's everyday lives.
991 Although the metric system may have some advantages, it seems to be arbitrary, in the way in which the system it supersedes is arbitrary. Let us have none of that claptrap in the argument on metrication. Although it may prove to be simpler in some respects, it has no anthropometric or natural justification. It is an arbitrary measurement. A better argument would be to say that metrication is the first step to world Government and that we were standardising measurements worldwide. That might be more acceptable to the British people than the spurious arguments that are put forward on these occasions.
It is Conservative and Labour Governments which have not challenged the principle of metrication, not the British people. We may end with a system which is forced upon us, which has come upon us gradually over 11 years and longer and which will continue, but there is no justification in the people's mind for having metrication compulsorily forced upon them by the Bill or by Government intervention.
If there were a commercial advantage in metrication, the interested parties in commerce and industry would have been able to overcome the obstacles and come together to their joint advantage, but they need the Government's help. Whether they need the help of the Bill is what we are debating. As the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) said, we should perhaps be voting upon the principle tonight, but the point has passed at which the principle can be voted upon.
As a nation we are amongst the exclusive band of countries that are not yet committed to metrication or are about to be committed. Having heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer only last week that we are now in the second division of the economic nations of the world, I should not like Britain to be relegated to the league containing countries like Liberia and Borneo. That would not be a suitable ending to our great Imperial past, or a suitable destiny.
I accept that we may be past the point at which we can withstand the onward development of metrication as a system of measurement, but we do not need to press the issue to the point where we have the Bill. Although the Minister disputed practically every part of the 992 amendment, he was not prepared to dispute the claim that we are still suffering continuing inflation and a state of economic crisis. I was glad to hear that, because that view is not shared by his colleagues in the Department. Less than a fortnight ago the new Secretary of State in a speech on economic affairs said that "signs of success abound". If these "signs of success" are so abundant, they must be very skilfully camouflaged. If they are in such great number and so difficult to see, people must be worried about bumping into them in the dark. I share the view with millions of others that there is still a state of serious economic crisis.
The Minister had to acknowledge that, since the Labour Government came to power, there had been an increase in prices of 55.9 per cent. He may well find, after he has been in office a few months, that the price he has paid for his seat at the Cabinet table is, like all prices under a Labour Government, likely to be far too high. Likewise, the Under-Secretary of State has said that we have reached a plateau in inflation. After coming down for 11 successive months, inflation has now risen for two successive months and is likely to rise again. The Under-Secretary seems to have discovered a phenomenon previously unknown to geology—an undulating plateau.
It is fair to say that we are in a state of considerable economic danger and it is not the time to bring forward such a measure, not only because of the inevitable cost—and such costs will properly and inevitably be translated into prices, at a time when they are rising too fast by far—but also, as we saw with decimalisation, the opportunity will be taken, whether consciously or not, for the myth merchants to claim that further increases in prices are due to metrication.
I do not believe that the changeover to decimal currency was responsible for the large-scale increases in prices. Every time we find ourselves a scapegoat to explain continuing high inflation, we do ourselves a disservice; because we conceal from ourselves the real reasons for our economic plight. Metrication gives yet another opportunity for politicians to fail to see the writing on the wall, for the public to be given yet another scapegoat. We saw the Minister's extreme Left colleagues last week preparing another 993 scapegoat in the shape of the relaxation of the Price Code. Metrication will be another smokescreen to cover the Government's failure to control inflation.
Already we have seen what damage can be done. The Minister has said in response to opposition to the Bill, that he will meet the transitional problems by a price freeze. It is not right for Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, to claim that industry should be allowed to put up prices in the interests of improved profitability, increased investment and jobs if they then come forward with such damaging, interventionist price-freeze policies, even for a period of six months at a time.
It is significant and depressing that the first action of the new Secretary of State was to intervene over the profits made by television rental companies. If we have reached the stage where it is distasteful, and an offence against public opinion, for a company to make a 16 per cent. return on its capital at a time when the minimum lending rate is up to 15 per cent., what hope has this nation of achieving economic prosperity again? For those reasons, I shall have no hesitation in supporting the amendment.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I declare an interest as a director and substantial shareholder in a retail concern.
It is surprising that I should have the unusual opportunity of following one of my hon. Friends. It is indicative of the interest in this matter, which is of great concern to industry and agriculture and, in particular, to the consumer, that so few representatives of the minority and Government parties wish to contribute to this short but important debate.
I hope that I am not misinterpreting the tone of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) if I say that he sounded unkeen on the metric system. I am glad to know from the wording of the amendment and what has been said from my own Front Bench that whether a change should take place is not in dispute. That is lucky because there is no doubt that we live in a metric world. So far as I am aware, people clap in cricket when one reaches 100 runs and not when one reaches 120 or 160.
994 We live in a metric world, because the vast majority of countries have always used the metric system or are rapidly going metric. We live in a metric world, as many are aware who, like me, are embarking for the fourth time on the problem encountered by children of learning tables. The ten times table is easier to learn by heart than the others. We are also a trading and a travelling nation and therefore, whatever system of measurement we decide to use, we shall still have to understand and use the metric system.
There is no question but that we should go metric. The question we must debate is how fast we should go metric, and what the rôle of the Government should be, if any, in the changeover.
There are a number of arguments which are relevant to the discussion. The education argument has been touched upon. I attach considerable importance to the fact that large numbers of children are going through our education system primarily learning metric. In my constituency, as nationally, all teaching and all examinations, with the exception of geography, have for some years been based upon the metric system. As long ago as November 1969 a report on mathematics in my constituency revealed that for some time new equipment had been purchased with metrication in mind.
We are a long way down the road in education, but we cannot reap the full benefits until we complete the changeover, because the school leaver will find himself in a partly imperial world. On the sports field one no longer talks of 100 yards. It is several years since anyone has been able to beat the 100-yards record, because the measurement is now 100 metres. When children leave school they find that imperial measures still exist, so we cannot entirely abandon the imperial system. We shall not achieve the real advantage of metrication in education until we have completed the changeover and children can be taught the simple and logical system.
The argument in favour of metrication in industry is even stronger. The CBI has made its attitude clear. It wants the changeover to be completed as rapidly as possible and points out that delays in metrication are harmful to our export performance in the present difficult and 995 dangerous circumstances. The trend towards metrication is important to countries like Britain which produce manufactured goods for export—Britain exports about 72 per cent. of its manufactured goods. Details of dimensions, performance, components and fittings can be described by the purchasers of the goods in metric dimensions. That is why it is difficult to live in a dual-measure world and why any delay will be harmful to exporters.
We have correctly concentrated most of our arguments on consumers and on how metrication will affect consumers in their daily and weekly shopping. It is helpful if we can consider this in a logical rather than perhaps emotional way.
Metrication is a curiously logical system of measurement. When we look at the facts, what we find is contrary to the illusion, which continues to be put about by some hon. Members—the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) has just repeated it—that decimalisation led to an increase in prices. Earlier this year, I asked the former Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she had any evidence that decimalisation had contributed to increased prices. She replied:The Decimal Currency Board in its Final Report—September 1971—expressed the view that the changeover had not put up prices. I have seen no evidence since that demonstrates that this conclusion was mistaken."—[Official Report, 3rd May 1976; Vol. 910, c. 274.]Similarly, a letter by the Deputy Director of the Consumers Association to The Times on 29th March, said:Among the arguments used to delay metrication is the one which says that metrication will contribute to inflation because shopkeepers will round prices up whenever they can, as they did with decimalisation.Which? carried out a survey at the time of decimalisation to find out whether or not shopkeepers were using it as an opportunity to put up prices.We found that they were not doing so.There is no factual evidence that decimalisation was used by shopkeepers to put up prices. There is every evidence, from the competition that exists in the high streets, that they did not do so. It is exactly the same in the case of metrication. We only contribute to the doubts the housewives might have if we continue to lend credence to the suggestion that decimalisation was a contributory factor in putting up prices.
996 I say to hon. Members opposite that if retailers had cheated and put up prices on decimalisation, the great co-operative movement was part and parcel of the cheating, because its prices moved in line with other prices at the time. That might be some reassurance to hon. Members.
I believe that metrication will be a help to consumers. It is an easier system to use, and because it is easier to use many weighing and calculating machines and cash registers in use in shops and industry will be simpler when they have to concern themselves only with metrication. Perhaps the most important factor of all is that it will be much easier to compare prices.
We have heard a certain amount about price comparison, and about prescribed weights. I have no doubt that when we have completed the changeover to a logical system, and we have both decimal currency and metric weights, price comparison will be considerably easier. The move to prescribed quantities, which must be in the housewives' interest, will, if in metric measurement, make comparison of prices that much easier.
We have to decide, as we make the move, whether we are to move to prescribed quantities that are metric or to prescribed quantities that are imperial. Given that in due course we are to go metric, the logical thing is to move to prescribed quantities which are metric, which, fortunately, is what is happening. If the housewife is still looking not at metric weights but at imperial weights, she will lose the opportunity to snake that comparison of prices.
I have here an interesting comparison of the weights in which various lines of biscuit are sold in seven leading retailing groups—I think that I can say that they are leading groups, since they include a group of which I am a director. Digestive biscuits are a popular purchase, and we find that no fewer than seven standard quantities are sold by these seven major stores. Surely it is in the housewives' interest that there should be prescribed quantities for the sale of digestive biscuits, as for other commodities, so that she should be able to compare prices not only in one store but between stores. There is no doubt in my mind that the present situation is confusing, particularly to housewives and school leavers.
997 If there are so many advantages, one may ask why it is necessary for there to be any Government action at all. Why should the trade not change over by itself? It is a relevant question, and there are two answers. The first of them we have already heard in the debate. As long as people go round suggesting that prices will rise because of metrication, there will be a reluctance by any retailer to be seen to be selling his goods in metric weights and quantities before everybody else changes over. It is as simple as that. There will be a fear, a misunderstanding, about the likely consequences.
Secondly, there will be some problems for consumers at the time of the changeover. We do not have to reflect very much to realise how much greater these problems will be if different stores change over on different commodities at different times. A housewife going into a store will not know whether she will encounter imperial or metric measurements. Such a situation will lead to more confusion. It is essential, therefore, that after full consultation, but as soon as possible, the Government should lay down timetables and should guide and lead the trade in making the changeover in a way that will cause the least inconvenience to the customer.
Too often we seem to be unable to bring ourselves to take the measures that will initially cause small problems but will bring about in the long term much more substantial and long-lasting benefits. An example is overmanning. There, not only among unions but sometimes among management, there is reluctance to make changes which in the long run will increase efficiency and competitiveness and enable jobs to be created and export orders to be won. That reluctance arises because a few jobs may be lost initially.
Another example is reducing Government expenditure to a level that we can afford. Government expenditure is not necessarily excessive of itself but it is excessive in relation to what we can afford. But it is the same argument. Because jobs might be lost in the short term, no action is taken and the country bleeds to death. Metrication is not such a great issue as that, but we still have to take positive action in order to obtain its long-lasting benefit.
998 We must recognise that initially there will be some problems in adapting to a new but better system of measurement, but I have no doubt that we should make the change to the metric system. Such a change will benefit schoolchildren, be of great assistance to industry and in due course help the consumers. To avoid confusion and increased costs we should now complete the changeover as quickly as possible. Unless we have this Bill the changeover will not be carried out as rapidly as possible, and therefore I support it.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). I have a modest interest in the food industry, but it is not nearly as substantial as his, for which I am profoundly ungrateful, if that is the word.
It is obvious from the debate so far that there is a love-hate relationship in the mind probably of every hon. Member when discussing the question of metrication. It is easy for us to find the arguments against it satisfying. It is the type of issue in which the arguments against tend to be emotional and historical, dealing with the way in which consumers think and with the attitudes that we have been brought up to believe are right, and to be seen to be seeking to change those ideas, and to be doing so by legislation, is anathema to many hon. Members.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) has said, the time has passed when the principle of metrication can be a matter for full and free debate and decision amongst us. As we are being asked to declare ourselves tonight, I say at the outset that I am among those who are in favour firmly of the principle of metrication, but the method by which the Government seek to introduce it is a legitimate question for examination.
I apologise to the Minister for missing the first few minutes of his speech, due to my train having run in a metric manner. But I confess to him that I did not feel assured by what he said concerning the timetable. As I recall the Government's commitment, it was that they would, through consultation and discussion, arrive at a point at which they could come before the House with a Bill which was not only an enabling measure 999 —which has to be the case—but which would make some very important proposals as to timetable.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove said, industry has taken the problem of metrication, broadly speaking, on its own chin or back—depending on one's point of view—throughout the various hazards of economic fortune under Governments of both colours. Industry has now reached a point at which it is clearly desperate for some kind of lead in relation to what it should be planning to do.
In looking at the proposals before us and in listening to the Minister, it appears to me that there is still a very large void concerning exactly how the Government would seek to implement the measure. To talk, as the Minister did towards the end of his speech, of probably having pre-packed foods first on the list and "weigh out" foods towards the end of the list, seems to me a very poor answer, at a time when industry needs guidance and a certain sense of decisiveness, having gone as far as it can already in a voluntary way. I hope that the Minister, in winding up, will be a little more forthcoming on this aspect.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove pointed out, retailers cannot be expected to introduce metric ranges of products while at the same time others are using the imperial system. The confusion to the housewife would be greater, and the trading confusion and competitive position between one retailer and another would equally be distorted.
We know that there have to be soundings up and down if we wish to have a package marketed to the nearest metric weight; and, if this rounding up involves an increased price, there will be a false comparison made by the shopper. It is this falsification of what really goes on in shops that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove is rightly seeking to avoid.
We have legitimately drawn attention in the amendment to inadequacies within the Bill as proposed. Obviously, one has to take the argument about consumer protection extremely seriously. We welcome everything that can be done to monitor the change-over. But, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, I am equally aware that the loose talk about profiteering taking place when 1000 changes of measurement or of price are made, is anything but useful if we want to see an orderly transfer. Nobody seeks to make the first move or to implement the decision on the given day.
I hope that the Government will go a little further in organising "M" days for various groups within industry, as well as having an orderly plan, so that, for example, by a certain date the food industry will have to be metric, by a certain date the clothing industry, and so on. If it were to be introduced in a piece-meal manner, I suspect that it would have least disadvantage to the consumer, and allow various industries to proceed with their planning in an orderly manner. This applies also to the industries concerned with providing metric measurement machinery. I have in mind the weighing scales manufacturers in particular.
The question of consumer protection seems to be cardinal to the whole discussion. One of the problems in holding the debate at this time is that there is still a very large gap in the public mind as to what metrication is about, and the public are very ill-prepared for its reception. This must be a criticism of what the Metrication Board has done, but when I compare the amounts of money spent in various directions, I find that the Board has spent £1.5 million over seven years, whereas the Government have spent nearly £1 million in a six months period to prosecute the Price Check Scheme—a total waste of public money and a major piece of public abuse.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
Recently I had an answer from the Minister saying that the total expenditure of the Board had been in the order of £4.5 million.
§ Mr. Shaw
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) might have indicated over what period of time the £4.5 million was spent. I think that it was over the six or seven years of its life. The comparison still holds—£4.5 million over seven years and £900,000 over six months. We cannot be surprised if the public are blissfully unaware of the scheme.
It is vital that in the preparation for the change-over—if there is to be an orderly progression, as we seek in the 1001 amendment to ensure—the Government recognise that larger sums will need to be spent on promotion. It must be recognised that this is necessary if the public are to be made aware of how metrication will affect products with which they are familiar. I hope that the Government will show a little more courage in prosecuting their intention, even if they find the principle somewhat difficult to sell on both sides of the House.
There are some rather elliptic expressions in Clause 4, which has had substantial amendment in another place. The clause still seems to me to be starting to interfere with the way in which products can be packaged and marketed. I recognise the consumer protection aspect in relation to the impression of quantity that is given, but I hope that the Minister will recognise the great difficulty of ensuring full competition in the sale and presentation of goods without having legislation which interferes with this by discussing the contents by percentage of total capacity. That is going a little too far, in my opinion, in interfering in the marketing process.
I remind the Minister also of the problems that could arise in the Restrictive Practices Court when it comes to getting industries to discuss together the best way of metricating and packaging goods. If the Minister, through the clause, is asking people to start designing packages which are of broadly comparable appearance and content, with precisely similar amounts of product, he is verging very closely upon the territory of collusion in regard to restrictive practices.
I welcome the principle of the Bill, but I think that the amendment is a fair one to table. The ground has certainly been inadequately prepared. Inadequate effort has been devoted to the promotion of the idea of metrication.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) concluded by commending the amendment, as I do, and it is a tribute to the skill of my hon. Friend and those who drafted the amendment that they have done it in such a way as to command the support and enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and the support—which has been described as unkeen—of my hon. 1002 Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert).
I have no wish to delay a vote, after having waited for one for some 10 years. The sooner we arrive at a vote, the better. It seems to me, however, that whatever our views might have been in the past, whether for or against metrication as such, that is no longer the argument. The argument is now about metrication versus total and mandatory metrication—or, to put it another way, it is between the whole-hoggers and the middle-of-the-roaders. I think that the amendment should attract the support of the British people, and of both sides of the House, in indicating the middle of the road as the best way forward.
Other hon. Members have expressed dissatisfaction with the wording of the amendment, but I stress that it neither rejects nor accepts the principle of total metrication. It recognises the need foran orderly change over to metrication where this is essential for commercial reasons".This is the fundamental point. Where it is "essential for commercial reasons", I suspect that the commercial organisations concerned will be able to make that change-over in the manner most suited to them.
Furthermore, the amendment declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill. That should satisfy any hon. Member who feels opposed to metrication. But apparently the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), who spoke earlier, only felt able to abstain. In view of the fact that he complained so bitterly about the principle, I feel that that was chickenhearted to say the least.
The other important part of the amendment which I urge the House to take on board is the concluding words, which say that the Bill takes powers to phase out certain imperial measures beyond the requirement of the European Community directive. The Bill takes us further than we need to go to fulfil our Community obligations. It goes further than the obligations which we thought we had accepted, apparently, in the earlier negotiations on Common Market membership. This latest directive has changed the situation. It has allowed us a way out of a situation in which we should never have been put. This is of fundamental importance, and it allows us to follow that middle-of-the-road course in the future.
1003 I turn to the directive. I emphasise its importance. In Chapter D there is a schedule of units, names and symbols which are to be reviewed by 31st December 1979. But the obligation is only to review them. Thereafter, they can be make illegal only by the unanimous agreement of the Council of Ministers, and if the British Government at that time say that they wish to retain in force these imperial units they will remain the law of the land.
We have this way forward, so I do not think that the British people should be deceived about the opportunities which exist for the future. Chapter D "permits" until 1979 and thereafter, if we wish, the continued use of the inch, the foot, the mile, the acre, the pint, the quart, the gallon and the pound—a whole range of familiar units and measures which can remain lawful after 1979 if we wish—
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Can my hon. Friend say how many square yards there are in an acre, if these units are so familiar?
§ Mr. Moate
I am more familiar with the acre than with the number of square feet, but I am less familiar with metric units, so I am not sure whether my hon. Friend's point is a valid one.
The question remains, however. We have that right, Therefore, the amendment expresses quite properly that the Bill is taking more powers than are necessary, and I suggest that it deserves the support of the House.
In expressing my own dislike of metrication, although I accept that we have gone so far that it is now impossible to argue the principle of metrication, and in opposing compulsory metrication, I am as much expressing my dislike of the arrogance of the Executive over the years. In saying that, I do not mean simply the present Government, because at least we have a Bill and the opportunity for a vote. When we think back over the history of this proposition, I feel that Parliament has failed the people and that this does disservice not only to Parliament but also to those who want metrication.
If, under the last Conservative Government, a vote had been taken on the White Paper, I suspect that the Govern- 1004 ment would probably have got a go-ahead for metrication in principle. But they never did that. They never called for a vote. They always dodged it, as did the previous Government. Because they dodged it, the British people have always suspected what Governments have denied all the time: that metrication was being imposed on them by stealth. They resent it the more because of that, and they will resist its implementation because of that. Even when listening to the Minister tonight, no one would have believed that at last we should be coming to a decision on metrication. The hon. Gentleman was desperate to prove that this was not a metrication Bill. He said that it was an enabling Bill which gave powers and that perhaps one day we might do it.
Let us be honest and clear about the present situation. Let us be bold about it. The stealth has continued. It still continues. When we think back to the original decision to go metric being introduced by a Written Answer, of the setting up of the Metrication Board again introduced by a Written Answer, of the White Paper which was never voted upon and of another Adjournment debate on which there was no vote, even someone who believes in metrication must feel that this is a record of which we should be ashamed.
Perhaps I might quote some words of A. J. P. Taylor, whose views might not always command universal support. However, his words sum up what I believe. He wrote in the Sunday Express on 15th February:Metrication is yet another product of those superior people who claim to know what is good for us and that they can run our lives better than we can ourselves. We were never consulted about metrication. We were never openly informed of what was happening until it was too late. Parliament proved useless as the protector of ordinary people. It swallowed the verdict of the 'experts' without complaint.In my view, that is a feeling which has been generated by our failure to take a clear parliamentary decision, certainly before 1970 when the then Labour Government made the decision, but even during the subsequent four years of Conservative Government when I believe that the Government would have got the verdict they wanted and subsequently would have had more support from the people.
1005 The position has been exacerbated by this process of stealth. I quote but one example. It came to us on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) spoke earlier in the debate. We owe a great deal to his diligence and vigilance on that Committee in scrutinising Statutory Instruments. Heaven help us if the Bill goes through in its present form without the proper constraints on the Executive.
In January of this year, the Select Committee issued a report criticising Ministers for an unexpected use of the powers because they had amended the horse-breeding rules by making metric measurements compulsory on forms from the owners of stallions applying for licences. They change the normal method of measuring animals by hands and inches. We took the view that this conflicted with the obligations under the 1963 Weights and Measures Act to ensure that imperial measurements were not rendered unlawful. To my great surprise, in the subsequent debate on 7th July the Minister said that he would like to see certain changes in the directive. He said that he would like to see the hands for measuring horses moved from Chapter B to Chapter C, putting off the change from 1977 to 1979.
All the time we have had these Statutory Instruments creeping up and, encircling us so that, when it came to the crunch, it would be hard to make any other decision than that we should go ahead with metrication. I accept that we have gone so far and that we cannot say "No" to further metrication. But I think that we should henceforth proceed voluntarily and do without the Metrication Board.
Let commerce proceed if it wishes. Let education proceed, as it is doing. Incidentally, I think it is sheer nonsense to say that children have learned no other system. It may be that the metric system dominates their education, but it is nonsense to suggest that children are leaving school not knowing what a pint of milk is, what a mile is or what a quarter of a pound of sweets is. I suspect that children in our schools are still studying a great deal of our traditional imperial measurements. If they are not, it is a dreadful condemnation of our system of education.
1006 I make one further appeal. Let us have clarity. Let us give certainty to the British people. Let us say that we have no intention of abolishing the mile on our roads, of getting rid of the familiar pint and even of going metric on measured goods in the greengrocer's shop. Here I part company from my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim). There is no need for it. It does not inhibit our efficiency. It does not prevent our trade. It preserves those traditional landmarks which are essential if we are to have proper consumer understanding of goods on sale.
The Minister said that we should be going metric in respect of all these items. We shall have metric measurements on our roads. We shall go over to kilometres. All that he has said at the moment is "Not yet". I do not think that that message has sunk through to the British people. If it had done, we should have been deluged with representations and this Chamber, instead of being pathetically empty, would have been full. The debate would perhaps have been more dramatic.
I hope that my right hon. Friend's amendment will be carried tonight with strong support on this side at least. The British people will be well served if the amendment is carried.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I agree with only the final sentence of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). I am a director of a small furnishing company and I object to metrication.
Everyone in the House knows that I am a modest, quiet sort of chap, but it was because of a question which was asked by one of my constituents, a Mrs. Swinhoe-Phelan, at a meeting in Pinner during the 1970 General Election campaign that the two debates we have had in the House on metrication took place. Mrs. Swinhoe-Phelan asked me for my views on metrication, and I gave her a full and accurate statement of the state of decimalisation. I was not aware of the plans which had been devised by the right hon. Gentleman who I wish was the second Viscount Stansgate. I promised that I would raise the matter of metrication on the Adjournment of the House 1007 and, if necessary, force a Division. Since then, I believe that there has been a move in Harrow to plan a small memorial to Mrs. Swinhoe-Phelan and myself standing holding hands for having saved the pint and saved the mile.
I was horrified to have doubts about saving both the pint and the mile put in my mind by the Minister this afternoon. I thought that the pint of milk, the draught pint, and the mile for British roads were absolutely sacrosanct, and I am not satisfied with the undertaking that the Minister has given about the mile.
I was distressed to hear that there is even a discussion going on about changing road signs. I understood from the Sunday papers that this was being done because the "3" in "30" had a square top instead of a round top, not because the signs were being changed to kilometres.
I thought that this Bill was designed to encourage exports, but we cannot encourage exports of miles on British roads. Nor can we export, without difficulty, pints of beer drawn in the draught manner from a British pub. Even if we managed to get export orders for it, it would be likely to be spilt before we could sell it in Calais. It is these differences about life in England which are important to our tourist trade. People come here to find something different. "Vive la difference", as we say when we arrive in France. If tourists coming here have to ask for half a litre of Eurogas or some such from a British pub, they will not want to come here and the number of visitors from abroad will go down.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham mentioned the term "hand" in horse breeding. What is the point of altering this measurement of horses? It has a prestigious atmosphere for Britain. At the Newmarket horse sales, for example, when people talk about hands it is known that this is a British industry. Once one starts mucking about with metres and other such measurements, no one knows where we are.
Two weeks ago I ordered a drainpipe from a local ironmonger. He telephoned my wife in rather a state and told her that I had ordered 9 ft. of piping. He said that I could not have 9 ft. because 1008 the measurements were all metric. My wife took a guess at it and asked for three metres. The ironmonger then asked her if I wanted 2½-in. or 3½-in. diameter piping. That is how ridiculous it all is.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Ioan Evans) said that it would be easier for people to understand the metric system than the imperial system. I doubt whether he would say that if he could see the difficulties which people have in measuring things like windows 10 feet above the ground—or should I say three metres—and trying to see how many millimetres there are. The metric rulers are all being marked off in feet on the other side so that people do not make mistakes.
The whole of this could have been done voluntarily by those in industry in their own self-interest. We have already had difficulty in selling engineering goods in South American markets because we are using metric measurements and those markets are still using imperial measurements. I think I should remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is Roman imperial and not British imperial to which we are referring so that they will not be prejudiced against it on an imperialistic basis. The change-over could and should have been voluntary.
If the Minister of State starts mucking about with our miles and our pints—and I hope he has not finally mucked about with hands—I warn him that the country will rise up against him. He can do what he likes with the minimum lending rate, but he must leave our pints and miles alone or he will have a real revolt on his hands.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is, of course, entirely for you at your discretion to decide whom to call, but I thought that there was an informal understanding with the Chair that the Front Bench speeches would begin at 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I am not concerned with any arrangements. I called Mr. Norman Lamont.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have no wish to intervene in a dispute between two hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I would point out that there is a tradition that when someone on that side of the House has spoken Mr. Speaker then calls someone on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Lamont
I thought I might begin by observing that it is particularly characteristic that this Government should introduce a measure which abolishes the scruple. But I would like to respond initially to the Minister's comments when he emphasised that there was a certain amount in common between the two sides of the House on this subject. We accept that where there are commercial reasons which are important, this may cause some industries to wish to go metric. We also accept in principle that when the understanding of the metric system is more widespread there will be advantages of simplicity. We also accept that eventually we shall have a predominantly metric system. That much is common between us.
Having said that, and having admitted that this is a better Bill than the one which the Government brought to the House before, I should say that we have a number of very important reservations. These are made clear in the amendment, and a number of my hon. Friends have supported it. Before dealing with the objections we have to the Bill, I want to make two points of detail and one more general one.
In the Bill there is no attempt to replace the minimum weight systems with average weight systems. The Government have said that that will happen and that if it does not happen it will be a barrier to trade. When will there be some announcement about that, and what legislation will be used to bring it forward?
My second detailed point refers to Clause 6 and is perhaps more of a Committee point. It has been mentioned by the Retail Consortium. Clause 6 deals with Community obligations upon manufacturers. It says that local authorities will be able to charge firms for certain services. It is not clear what those 1010 services are. There is some worry about this point, and people feel that they may be charged for general consumer protection services.
We frequently say that we are moving over to a metric system—perhaps I have done it in my speech tonight—but, of course, we are not actually doing that. We are moving over to the SI system. But by no means all countries which are metric use that system. Nor is it correct to say that the SI system is a clear diamond of logic. It is a ragbag of tradeoffs between different interests and different professions, and it brings in a whole lot of measures such as the rood, the quire and the punnet. There is a lot of talk about standards and about how, when this universal system applies in a large part of the world, we shall enjoy the benefit of universal standards. But as long as we have other systems in addition to the SI system there will be differences and modifications will be needed in the export of scientific equipment and a number of industrial goods.
One other important point arises out of the SI system. The adoption of that system has led to some unease of the medical profession because such things as the measurement of blood pressure will have to be done differently. It will have to be measured in pascals and kilopascals instead of millimetres of mercury. A number of doctors and hospitals, including the cardiac unit at University College Hospital, have argued that this is an unnecessary change which has been forced on them too quickly and which could lead to accidents and to some additional risk.
We have explained about how we shall vote tonight. We have doubts about the timing of the Bill and about going beyond the requirements of the EEC directive. Above all, we doubt the need for compulsion.
It is extremely important that any approach to metrication should be based on common sense. We do not want to ram down people's throats something they do not want. It seems to me that common sense has been lacking from the way in which the whole metrication issue has been handled in recent years.
We have been submitted to a stream of propaganda. Much of it has been irrelevant and misleading. I do not believe 1011 that people's attitudes to metrication will be changed because they are told that the British Solomon Islands have set up a metrication board. I cannot see why it matters or why we need to be told that the National Dahlia Society has decided to impose metric measurements in the judging and exhibiting of dahlias. That is hardly one of our most important export industries. Nor is it important that we should be solemnly told by the Metrication Board that John Wayne has ordered a metric bed.
On top of that, we have been submitted to a lot of rhymes put forward as a mixture of Noddy language and Maoist slogans.
We are toldThe metre measures three foot three,It's longer than a yard, you see.As one wit suggested, an equally good rhyme, which actually scans better, isWhen goods go metric prices rise.Surprise, surprise. Surprise, surprise.There is a serious point here. In spite of all the propaganda, the metric system is little understood. There are many misleading impressions around. In our talks with industry we found a great deal of misunderstanding and the belief that compulsion and the abolition of Section 10(10) of the 1963 Act were necessary before we could go metric. That is not true. Many people think that somehow the move to metrication is backed by law. That is quite baseless. The move is neither compulsory nor backed by law.
With such a lot of misleading propaganda around, it is hardly surprising that there should be so much fear, resistance and misunderstanding to what is involved. It is all the more understandable in the current economic situation. The move to metrication may not mean higher prices, but a lot of people believe that it will. Perhaps the reason why they believe it is that so many people moved over from the Decimal Currency Board to the Metrication Board.
Another reason is that when there are quantity changes there will be price changes. Many of the metric alternatives are larger than the imperial equivalent. In general, an article which now costs 50p, even without inflation, will go up to 55p because of the larger quantity. Most of the metric equivalents are something like 10 per cent. greater. We know 1012 from the Price Commission's report that so many similar packs are more expensive. Therefore, I do not think that the fear that people have about price rises is quite as irrational and unjustified.
The Post Office adapted its distances for parcel and letter post to metric measurement and took the opportunity of making some hidden price rises. I do not know whether the Minister studies the columns of the New Statesman. If he does, he will know that the cost of sending that publication abroad went up by 20 per cent. when the change to metric distance was implemented.
We say, therefore, that the time for the change is not right. If the Government get the inflation rate down below 10 per cent. the time might be right, but not before that. The European Community directive has changed everything. So many of the imperial measurements could now be used for a much longer period. We do not have to review them until at least the end of the decade.
But the central issue in this debate is whether we need compulsory metrication at all. What is proposed in the Bill is totally different from what was proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). His was a permissive and voluntary approach which was based on common sense.
Of course, Labour Members have told us that the CBI, the Retail Consortium and a number of other business interests say that the Bill is necessary. That is true. They also say that metrication is in the interests of industry and is overwhelmingly in the interests of the consumer. But when they say that they give the game away. If the Bill is so overwhelmingly in the interests of consumers, industry would not be so frightened of voluntary metrication. The CBI would not need to ask for metrication. The truth is that industry does not want to carry the responsibility for going metric which it knows to be unpopular. We believe that people should have the choice and the freedom.
I saw Lady White in a television debate in metrication. When confronted with the fact that carpet sales had slumped by 30 per cent. in stores which had gone metric, she said that they could not compete with the small shops selling imperial 1013 units. Why should not shops continue to sell imperial units? Why should not industry be able to continue to compete? Why should not consumers be able to continue to exercise choice?
It is perfectly possible to advance metrication on a voluntary basis. We always hear rather sneering references in these debates to the Yemen and Brunei but not many mentions of the United States, where progress towards metrication is entirely on a voluntary basis. Congress has had the opportunity to vote on metrication and has slung it out twice. The Executive has been forced to take it back. Metrication there is now continuing on a voluntary basis, and that is how it ought to continue here.
There is no need for compulsion and there are some areas where compulsion would be positively harmful. We do not want compulsory metrication in the mail order business or for weighed-out foods. The Retail Consortium does not want that either.
Above all, we do not want unnecessary change. I support much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) said. Land cannot be exported, so why are we to be compelled to measure it in hectares? We do not export thermometers, so why must we measure all temperatures in centigrade? Why alter road signs and speedometers on cars'? Why must we be compelled to give measurements in centimetres on our passport applications? I trust that no one will be refused a passport for not complying with that requirement.
It is no good the Minister saying that he has no intention of doing such things in the near future. We have heard that before. If there is no such intention, why do the Government have to take the powers in this Bill? We think that it is not necessary to have them.
It is said that we need metrication for our exports, but the United States, one of our largest markets, will remain an imperial measure country for at least 10 years. The use of imperial measures in this country does not stop other nations from exporting their goods here. Indeed, they seem embarrassingly good at it.
The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) said that the education system was increasingly making schoolchildren grow up in a metric world. There are 1014 15 million children who know the metric system but 40 million people who have grown up in a world of imperial measurements. We are talking about a slight inconvenience to schoolchildren but a massive inconvenience to the rest of the population.
In a recent Gallup Poll survey, people were asked whether they knew the imperial equivalent of 400 grammes. A total of 52 per cent. said they did not know, and of the 48 per cent. who said that they did know two-thirds gave the wrong answer. One significant point about the results was that the youngest age group was even worse than the older groups. So much for the myth that young people are waiting with open hearts and clear heads for the metric world to advance upon them.
We are told that consumers will be faced with two sets of standards, but the Minister undermined any weight this argument might have when he said that he would not remove imperial alternatives for specified quantities. We shall have two-size packs for many years unless the Minister did not mean what he said at the beginning of his speech. We say that it is not necessary for the Government to take these powers of compulsion. Public opinion remains deeply sceptical.
This is not an issue to be decided by the Retail Consortium or the CBI. It has to be decided by Parliament, and by the people through their Members of Parliament. The Government are putting forward a plan which is neat and tidy but which is tyrannical. The real world is messy; it does not correspond with the world of planners, civil servants, or the sort of people who sit on boards.
Let us avoid ramming things down people's throats and, above all, give people a choice in this matter. For that reason, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the amendment.
§ 6.45 p,m.
§ Mr. John Fraser
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) made an amusing speech—
§ Mr. Fraser
It was an amusing and good speech. Now perhaps the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) will keep quiet. He has not been present for most of the debate.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames fell into the same error as his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) in failing to act responsibly over a matter which is a problem to this country and in taking what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) described as an opportunist attitude towards the change to metrication. The Opposition are in favour of metrication in principle, but wish to deny the means to achieve it.
This is irresponsible because virtually every hon. Member opposite voted for the European Communities Bill knowing that they were supporting an obligation to phase out imperial units in this country. There was just one small escape clause. Now they congratulate me on amending the directive which they undertook to observe. The Opposition are runnning away from their responsibilities when, having accepted metrication in the Treaty of Accession, they now attempt to deny the means of achieving it. I do not believe that the Opposition regarded metrication as being foisted upon them by Europe. They reached the decision on its merits and followed the lead of the previous Labour Government. They are neglecting their responsibilities and flying in the face of reality in attempting to deny the opportunity to plan for the orderly completion of the metrication process.
I can tell the hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames, who asked about the average weight system, that we shall have it when the working party set up to consider this matter reports and the Government have considered its findings. Ultimately, another Weights and Measures Bill will be necessary, but I do not think that it will be brought forward next year.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames also asked about Clause 6. It is concerned with the fees incurred by traders and manufacturers who submit measuring instruments for marking as being in accordance with EEC requirements. The clause is not concerned with the routine retail checks.
1016 The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) may rest assured that for as far ahead as I can see, and probably for time immemorial, he will be able to have his pint of milk and drink his pint of draught bitter. For a long time ahead he will also be able to calculate road distances in miles. I told the House recently that I do not regard road signs or speed limits as a priority for metrication. They are not the subject of this Bill.
I believe that metrication is unavoidable. Let me give the House two quotes. The first isThe view of most consumer organisations and interested bodies coincides almost as exactly with the views of Macbeth:'If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere wellIt were done quickly:The other is:Metrication would provide a golden opportunity to move towards standardised or prescribed quantities which are already quite familiar to many people who have shopped in Europe."—[Official Report, 24th July 1973; Vol. 860, c. 1474–75.]Those are not my words. They were all spoken by the hon. Member for Gloucester in a debate on metrication. On BBC radio this morning the hon. Lady said that eventually we should have to go metric.
I agree with her judgment about the inevitability of the situation. We have a common view that the principle of metrication is not in doubt. We have an agreed view that metrication should be used as far as possible to achieve standardisation of weights and products—[Interruption.]—I sometimes agree with the hon. Lady even when she does not agree with herself. I shall take it on my own shoulders and say that it is right to link metrication to the standardisation of products. I gave some examples in the speech with which I opened the debate.
The hon. Lady has accused us of moving at too great a speed. How can we be accused of that when the present level of metrication has proceeded on a voluntary basis? I do not take the arrogant view that we can assume that metrication can be rammed down people's throats. I have enough political sense to know that that is not possible and that one has to make a judgment 1017 about how quickly to proceed. I do not believe that it should be done very quickly. We have to take the general public along with us and to provide for education and information. I do not think one can have a rapid process of change.
The hon. Lady first attacked the Government by saying that we were moving too quickly. She then said that we were taking unacceptable sweeping powers. She then complained about uncertainty in industry and among retailers about the pace of change. She said that they should be given some certainty and that I should lay down a firm timetable to be achieved on a voluntary basis. She must understand the realities of this world. It is not possible in practice to lay down a voluntary timetable whether for the conversion of petrol pumps, weighing machines or anything else. It is madness to suggest such a course.
The reason we want this Bill and the reason we want these powers is to provide a framework within which these matters can be planned. I believe that our objectives are the same—namely, to prepare for change but not to ram it down people's throats. Every section of industry—and this applies to comments made by the CBI, the Food Manufacturers' Federation, and the Retail Consortium—has decided that a movement to metrication without some kind of legal framework and orderly transition from one system to the other is impossible. This Bill will give manufacturers and industry in general, after due consultation, the feeling that they can cope with the problem of the change to metrication. The power to make orders is an essential precondition and nobody who examines the matter seriously can avoid that conclusion.
The hon. Lady instanced the question of imports of prepacked goods. The Conservative Government, when signing the Treaty of Accession, committed this country to open access to metric packs—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester keeps murmuring like a pigeon in Trafalgar Square, but she seems to have forgotten that it was her own party who took the United Kingdom into the EEC by signing the Treaty of Accession.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim
I am sure that the Minister would not wish to misrepresent what I said. I said that the commitment to let these goods into the country in metric quantities did not matter at all.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am grateful for that help. I think the hon. Lady said that very few of these goods are imported. I must point out that, in 1975, 38 per cent. of butter imports were prepacked from the EEC. Most other butter imports, including those from New Zealand and other non-EEC countries, were not pre-packed. Incidentally, New Zealand also is turning to a metric system.
The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) also spoke of sweeping powers. He asked whether many of the important powers in the Bill should be exercised by negative or affirmative order. I assure him that the important powers proposed in Clauses 1 and 2 will be subject to the affirmative procedure. If he looks at Clause 2(3)(c), at the bottom of page 4 of the Bill dealing with parliamentary control of orders, he will see that the procedure in the 1963 Act is preserved. If he feels that there is any doubt about the situation I shall examine the proposition again. The Government intend to see that important orders made under the Bill will be subject to affirmative consent of the House of Commons.
The hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester thought that the time available for orders to be debated by the House was neither convenient nor adequate. That is a sphere of influence that falls within the province of people outside the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection. However, the Government are always ready to consider allowing extra time for orders attracting special interest. I understand the hon. Lady's concern. I agree that it is important that phasing out or cut-off orders should not be debated late at night. I shall pay full regard to those matters.
Some hon. Members mentioned the subject of cost. It is impossible to give a firm estimate of the cost of going metric. The Conservatives, in their 1972 White Paper, Command 4880, said:There have been several unofficial estimates of the global cost of metrication never supported by any statistical evidence. No well-founded estimate exists or could exist.1019 The White Paper continued:None of the countries which has changed to the metric system, or decided to do so in recent years, has made an estimate of the total cost of change…If we examine some of the individual costs of change we note that the nationalised industries calculate the cost of metrication to be about 0.07 per cent. of turnover per year for a period of three years.
§ Mr. Fraser
That was the British Steel Corporation. Engineering firms calculated that it would involve a figure of 1 per cent. of annual turnover for a period of three years, but in the event they found that the actual cost was nearer a figure of 0.5 per cent. of annual turnover.
It is difficult to estimate the cost of the changeover. I do not deny that it is a matter of some importance to retailers, but we have also to think of the cost to this country in the long run of not going over to a metric system. I refer to cost
§ in terms of our children, our industry and so on.
§ The Government withdrew their first Bill because there was a clear need to discuss the matter further. I am grateful for what was said about the nature of those discussions and improvements to the Bill. I have spoken to almost every hon. Member in the House who has expressed a desire to talk to me over these matters. I am sorry that other hon. Members who are now critical of the situation did not take that opportunity to discuss these matters with me. I make no complaint about the requirements of outside organisations in terms of a further dialogue. We have now had that dialogue, and I believe that it has improved the Bill. I believe that we have the overwhelming support of the consumer protection movement, and I ask the House responsibly to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill and to reject the amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 171, Noes 194.1023
|Division No. 325.]||AYES||[7.0 p.m.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Jessel, Toby|
|Alison, Michael||Fookes, Miss Janet||Jopling, Michael|
|Arnold, Tom||Forman, Nigel||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Baker, Kenneth||Fox, Marcus||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Beith, A. J.||Fry, Peter||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Bitten, John||Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Knox, David|
|Blaker, Peter||Glyn, Dr Alan||Lamont, Norman|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Goodhart, Philip||Lane, David|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Goodhew, Victor||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Goodlad, Alastair||Latham, Michael (Melton)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Gorst, John||Lawson, Nigel|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Gray, Hamish||Loveridge, John|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Grist, Ian||Luce, Richard|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hall, Sir John||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||McCrindle, Robert|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Clegg, Walter||Hannam, John||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Cockcroft, John||Havers, Sir Michael||Marten, Neil|
|Cope, John||Hawkins, Paul||Maude, Angus|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hayhoe, Barney||Mawby, Ray|
|Corrie, John||Hicks, Robert||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Costain, A. P.||Holland, Philip||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Crowder, F. P.||Hooson, Emlyn||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Hordern, Peter||Mills, Peter|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Howell, David (Guildford)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Moate, Roger|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Molyneaux, James|
|Durant, Tony||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Elliott, Sir William||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Emery, Peter||Hurd, Douglas||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Farr, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morgan, Geraint|
|Fell, Anthony||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||James, David||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Mudd, David||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Neave, Airey||Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Nelson, Anthony||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Neubert, Michael||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Newton, Tony||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Nott, John||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)||Viggers, Peter|
|Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Royle, Sir Anthony||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Page, John (Harrow West)||St. John-Stevas, Norman||Walters, Dennis|
|Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Parkinson, Cecil||Sinclair, Sir George||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Skeet, T. H. H.||Wells, John|
|Penhaligon, David||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Percival, Ian||Spence, John||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Peyton, Rt Hon John||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)||Young. Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rathbone, Tim||Stradling Thomas, J||Mr. Fred Silvester and|
|Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)||Mr. Carol Mather.|
|Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Abse, Leo||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Allaun, Frank||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Archer, Peter||George, Bruce||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Gilbert, Dr John||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Atkinson, Norman||Golding, John||Noble, Mike|
|Burnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Gould, Bryan||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Bates, Alf||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Ovenden, John|
|Bishop, E. S.||Grant, John (Islington C)||Padley, Walter|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Grocott, Bruce||Palmer, Arthur|
|Boardman, H.||Hardy, Peter||Park, George|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Harper, Joseph||Parker, John|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Perry, Ernest|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Hatton, Frank||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Heffer, Eric S.||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hooley, Frank||Radice, Giles|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Horam, John||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Buchan, Norman||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cartwright, John||Hunter, Adam||Rose, Paul B.|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Conen, Stanley||Janner, Greville||Sandelson, Neville|
|Coleman, Donald||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||John, Brynmor||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Corbett, Robin||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Judd, Frank||Silverman, Julius|
|Cronin, John||Kaufman, Gerald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Kelley, Richard||Small, William|
|Cryer, Bob||Kerr, Russell||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Davidson, Arthur||Lamborn, Harry||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lamond, James||Stallard, A. W.|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Leadbitter, Ted||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Stoddart, David|
|Dempsey, James||Lomas, Kenneth||Stott, Roger|
|Doig, Peter||Luard, Evan||Strang, Gavin|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McCartney, Hugh||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Eadie, Alex||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Tierney, Sydney|
|Edge, Geoff||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Tinn, James|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||MacKenzie, Gregor||Torney, Tom|
|English, Michael||Maclennan, Robert||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Ennals, David||McNamara, Kevin||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Madden, Max||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Magee, Bryan||Ward, Michael|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Watkins, David|
|Faulds, Andrew||Marquand, David||Weitzman, David|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Flannery, Martin||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Forrester, John||Maynard, Miss Joan||White, James (Pollok)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Meacher, Michael||Whitlock, William|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mendelson, John||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mikardo, Ian||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Freud, Clement||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)||Woodall, Alec|
|Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)||Woof, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wilson, William (Coventry SE)||Wriggiesworth, Ian||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Wise, Mrs Audrey||Mr. James Hamilton|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on Second or Third reading): —1024
§ The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 21.1025
|Division No. 326.]||AYES||[7.12 p.m.|
|Archer, Peter||Gilbert, Dr John||Padley, Walter|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Golding, John||Palmer, Arthur|
|Atkinson, Norman||Gould, Bryan||Park, George|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Parker, John|
|Bates, Alf||Grant, John (Islington C)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bean, R. E.||Grocott, Bruce||Penhaligon, David|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Perry, Ernest|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hardy, Peter||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Boardman, H.||Harper, Joseph||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Radice, Giles|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Hatton, Frank||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Hooley, Frank||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Horam, John||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Huckfield, Les||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hunter, Adam||Scott, Nicholas|
|Cartwright, John||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Janner, Greville||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Cohen, Stanley||John, Brynmor||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Coleman, Donald||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Small, William|
|Corbett, Robin||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Judd, Frank||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Kaufman, Gerald||Stoddart, David|
|Cronin, John||Kelley, Richard||Stott, Roger|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Strang, Gavin|
|Cryer, Bob||Lamborn, Harry||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Leadbitter, Ted||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lomas, Kenneth||Tierney, Sydney|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Luard, Evan||Tinn, James|
|Deakins, Eric||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Dempsey, James||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Doig, Peter||McCartney, Hugh||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Dormand, J. D.||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Ward, Michael|
|Eadie, Alex||MacKenzie, Gregor||Watkins, David|
|Edge, Geoff||Maclennan, Robert||Weitzman, David|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||McNamara, Kevin||Wellbeloved, James|
|English, Michael||Magee, Bryan||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Ennals, David||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||White, James (Pollok)|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Marquand, David||Whitlock, William|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Meacher, Michael||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Mikardo, Ian||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Flannery, Martin||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Forrester, John||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Woodall, Alec|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Woof, Robert|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Freud, Clement||Noble, Mike||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Mr. A. W. Stallard and|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Ovenden, John||Mr Ted Graham.|
|Beith, A. J.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Brotherton, Michael||Lamond, James||Moate, Roger|
|Fell, Anthony||Lawson, Nigel||Molyneaux, James|
|Heffer, Eric S.||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Morgan, Geraint|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Marten, Neil||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Torney, Tom||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Rooker, J. W.||Winterton, Nicholas||Mr. Dennis Skinner and|
|Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)||Wise, Mrs Audrey||Mr. Max Madden.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).