HC Deb 11 April 1989 vol 150 cc837-60 10.17 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Francis Maude)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4102/89 on units of measurement; and welcomes the proposals as providing adequate transitional periods to enable businesses and consumers to adapt and become used to the new measurements. In 1965 the then Government announced their support to encourage the adoption of metric units as the primary system for weights and measures in the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members who are not remaining for this debate please leave quietly?

Mr. Maude

That was a decision taken for purely domestic reasons, in response to urging by the CBI and others; it had nothing to do then with possible membership of the European Community. In 1971 the then member states of the Community adopted a directive which established the sole use of the metric system throughout the Community. When the United Kingdom and Ireland acceded to the Community the Government accepted that eventually the metric system should be the only system to be used.

In consequence, a White Paper on metrication was published in 1972. It stated that all practicable progress towards the full use of the metric system should be made within the next few years, in the interests of economic prosperity. This led to the education system moving to the use of metric units in 1974. As a result, 11 million children since then have been taught only in the metric system.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

I am interested to hear that the Government now take orders from the CBI. If the situation is as my hon. Friend says, I wonder whether he can tell us why abolition of the Metrication Board was one of the Government's first acts on being elected in 1979.

Mr. Maude

In the hubbub my hon. Friend may not have heard that I was referring to the Government in 1965 taking steps in response to urging by the CBI. I am now dealing with steps taken by the Government in 1972 and 1974. My hon. Friend will realise that different considerations may have applied then.

In the late 1970s, discussion began, under the last Government, on proposals for a new directive. The directive was eventually adopted in late 1979, having been modified by the present Government to allow the yard to continue to be used. In its final form, the directive continued to authorise the use of the remaining imperial units in the United Kingdom and Ireland until a date to be fixed by those member states. However, the directive provided that there should be a further directive, to be agreed not later than the end of the 1989, which would set a final date by which the United Kingdom and Ireland should end the use of imperial units. The proposals we are discussing are intended to meet that commitment. They have been brought forward as a result of a binding commitment entered into by the Government, with bipartisan support, in 1979.

Following the Single European Act, the directive falls to be decided under article 100A by qualified majority, and the United Kingdom and Ireland alone do not form a blocking minority.

Let us now consider the detail of the commission's proposals. The first proposal covers the mile, yard, foot and inch for road transport purposes, the pint for dispensing draught beer and cider, the pint for milk in returnable bottles, and the acre.

We and Ireland will be able to continue to authorise those units for these purposes for as long as we wish, without any need for a further EC decision. Therefore, the mile, the pint in the pub, the doorstep pint of milk and the acre will be preserved.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Did my hon. Friend say as long as we wish or will there be a termination date of 1999?

Mr. Maude

There is no termination date and it will be for the member states concerned to set a termination dale if and when they wish.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

The Minister said that the directive will be determined under article 100A. The Select Committee on European Legislation said in its report: It appears to the Committee, in the light of the Department's response to the second point"— it was about article 100A— that there is no impediment to the Commission, if the present proposal is adopted by the Council, subsequently submitting a further proposal, under Article 100A, to fix the date for ending". That means the use of this particular group of measures could be ended under article 100A.

Mr. Maude

There is nothing to prevent the Commission from making further proposals about anything which lies within its competence to do. In the same way, there is nothing to stop anyone making a legislative proposal in this House. However, we are discussing the final step along the road. The Commission has accepted the concerns expressed by our Government and the proposals reflect those concerns. Fears that there will suddenly be another tranche of proposals are misguided.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Surely it means that the derogation could be ended unilaterally without consultation with us and without our consent.

Mr. Maude

For the derogation to be ended would require the Commission to make a proposal which would have to be agreed by a qualified majority. That would have to be negotiated in the usual way and, as with this proposal, the United Kingdom and Ireland would not, alone, have a blocking minority. There is no reason to suppose——

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It is not for ever then?

Mr. Maude

Nothing is for ever, as the hon. Gentleman knows. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the Commission has any desire to introduce further measures.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

I initiated the early-day motion on this issue and the Minister will know that I should be pleased to hear an unequivocal answer from him about the requirement that a date be eventually set. That is the issue tonight. It is not whether there will be a delay in having to fix a date to do away with the pint and the mile but whether, eventually, a date will be set to which a British Goverment, now or in the future, will have to adhere. Therefore, the evil day has been put off, but it has not been put aside.

Mr. Maude

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who is sitting next to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), is familiar with the 1979 directive. It is framed in such a way that this proposal must provide the dates to be set and the only legal means which enables this country to have the final say on when or whether the units are discontinued is the form in which the proposal is expressed. In practical terms, it enables this country to have the last say on whether the units are retained. It has not been easy to find a form of words within the constraints of the last directive that allows that position to come about. It has been achieved, however, and I must now seek to persuade other member states of the Community that it is an acceptable compromise which should be supported.

The second proposal covers the fathom, the therm, the pint and the fluid ounce for returnable beer, cider and soft drink bottles, and the pound and ounce for goods weighed out for or by the consumer. We would be able to continue to authorise these units for these purposes until the end of the century.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Given that weighed-out loose goods, weighed out from bulk in front of the consumer, are not items which are traded across the Community, what possible reason can there be to require a small shopkeeper to refuse to serve a consumer 5 lb of potatoes or 1 lb of peas from bulk goods? What will happen to the shopkeeper or consumer if, after the set date, the customer asks for, and the shopkeeper serves, 5 lb of potatoes?

Mr. Maude

Under the present weights and measures legislation, which has been in existence, subject to amendment from time to time, for a long time, it is, and has been for many years, a criminal offence to sell goods in measures which are not authorised under the legislation. The consequence of this directive would be that at the appropriate time—which, if this proposal remains in the directive, would not need to be until the end of the century—we would have to amend our domestic legislation according to these proposals.

Mr. Beith

What is the answer to my question?

Mr. Maude

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the fact that it is possible for the trading standards authorities to prosecute people now who sell goods in quantities and units which are not authorised under the legislation. There is nothing novel about that. [Interruption.] Amendments have been made continually to the list of such authorised units over many years.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister seriously saying that he envisages that weights and measures inspectors will prosecute little old ladies for buying 5 lb of loose potatoes after 1999?

Mr. Maude

It would not be a criminal offence for the customer to buy goods in those circumstances. It would be, as it is now, a criminal offence for a trader to sell goods in units which are not authorised, and there is nothing novel about that. The hon. Gentleman should know that. If he is asking whether trading standards officers will do it, my answer is that it will be a matter for those officers. But I should be surprised if, on the day after these measures come into operation, trading standards officers will be stamping around the streets trying to find people selling goods in pounds and ounces. If the hon. Gentleman believes that is a possibility, he has a lesser view than I do of the enforcement officers.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I asked my hon. Friend, in effect, if I was right in believing that what is proposed was fixed until 31 December 1999 and I understood him to say that there was no termination date. Technically that is true. But he went on to say that the pint and the mile could be used until the end of the century. That was precisely the point I questioned him on.

Mr. Maude

My hon. Friend asked me specifically about the pint for dispensing draught beer and cider and the mile. That was the first proposal I outlined and the answer I gave her was correct. There is no requirement for a termination date to be set. I am now dealing with the second proposal in the draft directive which covers the pint for other purposes—for returnable beer, cider and soft drink bottles—and it will remain possible for the United Kingdom and Ireland to authorise those units until the end of the century. I hope that that makes it clear to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Blunkett

To enable me to sleep easy in my bed, may I ask the Minister to explain into which category will fall the best service we in this country enjoy, the service that is most reliable and which we take for granted—the delivery of our pint of milk?

Mr. Maude

The pint of milk delivered to the doorstep falls into the first category. It will remain with this country to set an authorisation date, if and when we decide to do that.

The third proposal covers all the other remaining imperial units set out in chapter three of the 1979 directive. Those could continue to be authorised until the beginning of 1995. Special provisions for the troy ounce for bullion dealing would be made which recognise the international status of that unit. The proposals would also allow imperial units to continue to be used as supplementary indications to the marking in metric units until the end of the century. That would allow dual marking, which would enable us to provide a transitional period for consumers to become fully familiar with those metric units that will be used.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I have been reflecting on what the Minister said to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). Does he mean that dairies that deliver milk to the doorstep and also supply supermarkets will have to have different sizes of bottles after 1999 for each type of delivery? Will it be possible for supermarkets to continue to sell pints of milk?

Mr. Maude

It will be up to dairies to decide what to do. It is already possible for dairies to supply milk in metric units and some do so. It will remain open to dairies to choose which unit to use for doorstep deliveries. The permanent derogation, which is what it amounts to, would apply only to milk being delivered in returnable containers. It would be possible for milk to be sold in supermarkets in returnable containers in the same units in which it is delivered to the doorstep.

Mr. Skinner

Will we be able to buy these things at Harrods?

I have not finished; that was just an introduction. Is there not something sick about the Common Market? Bureaucrats who are well paid with British taxpayers' money have spent countless hours on this. Every family in Britain pays £16 a week to prop up this unmitigated disaster of a Common Market. The Minister is pouring out a load of gobbledegook based on trying to regulate milk bottles and stop old ladies buying loose tatties. What a state we have got into. The Minister should take it back to the Common Market and tell them to get stuffed.

Mr. Maude

As always, the hon. Gentleman is full of splendid advice. He should have put those comments to his hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) in 1978–79. Perhaps he did. The directive is the result of a legal obligation and arises from the directive negotiated by the last Labour Government and agreed with modifications and further safeguards by the present Government. It places on the Community an obligation to produce a further directive and agree it by the end of the year.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) did raise the matter with me, but I am afraid that he remains a convinced imperialist.

Mr. Maude

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) clearly failed to persuade the hon. Member for Norwood at that time.

We have consulted over 700 interested groups, from industry, trade, enforcement authorities and consumer bodies. Some of those consulted, including the National Consumer Council and the National Federation of Consumer Groups, have urged that the interests of consumers would be better served by the completion of metrication by the end of 1992 with no derogations at all. I cannot agree with that, because the Commission's proposals would allow such further changes as are necessary to be undertaken in a cautious and considered way, with the minimum disruption to consumers or industry. It would allow to continue to be used units for which the public have great affection and in respect of which it cannot be seriously argued that they constitute barriers to trade.

In respect of those units where such an argument does exist, the proposals allow us to move sensibly and without undue haste. I should stress that these proposals affect the use of imperial units only for the purposes of trade.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I missed what he said when he was talking about the consultation exercise. In the accompanying documents there is mention of a very disappointing response. In what respect was the response disappointing? How many of the 700 groups that were asked to comment were in favour of what the Commission is suggesting?

Mr. Maude

There were two responses which were hostile to the spirit of further metrication, a number which were neutral and some, to which I have just referred, which urged that we should move more quickly. I do not believe that those representations reflect a widespread view and I do not believe that we should move more quickly than these proposals allow.

Mr. Kennedy

On a further factual point, given that there were two that were hostile, a few that were non-committal and several that said something else, what were the total number of responses from the 700 that were circulated?

Mr. Maude

I can probably find how many responses there were. The consultation, which was widespread, did not elicit very strong views in any direction. The volume of correspondence which the proposals generated was not great and it seems to me that this is not an issue on which feelings are as deep as they were some time ago. Metrication has been growing organically. More and more goods are being sold and bought in metric units and as a result people are now very much more familiar with the use of these units.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Something just dawned on me, to my mounting horror. We shall not be expected to give litres of blood in future, shall we?

Mr. Maude

I did not catch the hon. Gentleman's question, but I suspect it was not serious.

I was saying that these measures apply only to purposes of trade and not to measurements which are only a matter of custom and practice. It would not become necessary, as some people have suggested, apparently seriously, to remeasure cricket pitches in metres and I see no reason why the use of imperial measures for non-trade purposes should not continue for as many years as people wish to use them.

There will of course be some costs in converting to the metric system. I believe, however, that the moderate nature of these proposals keeps these to a minimum.

There are also significant savings. The Institute of Production Engineers, for example, estimates the; additional cost of dual manufacture and stockholding at 3 per cent. of turnover.

I believe therefore that these proposals represent an acceptable compromise and I hope that we shall be able to persuade other member states that they fulfil our legal obligations under the 1979 directive. I hope that the House will endorse the Government's stance on this matter.

10.38 pm
Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)

It is clear that the draft directive before us today both confirms and reinforces the move to metrication, although it is true that it allows some latitude in this regard.

The subject of metrication obviously evokes a mixed response in Britain and, indeed—judging from my reading of earlier debates on the subject—in the House. Certainly a variety of views has been expressed on both sides of the House.

For some, the increasing use of metric measurements seems to strike a blow against the very nature of the British identity. Some feel a strong attachment to the imperial measurement system. Perhaps, like me, they were fascinated by the mysterious, romantic-sounding lists of measurements that used to feature on the back of school exercise books. For others, however, the pace of metrication seems all too slow, and many believe that more rapid progress should be made. The timetable for metrication envisaged more than 20 years ago has been put back and many who most feared the move towards metrication at that time would no doubt be agreeably surprised that we are discussing this document tonight. Whatever the different views on the subject, one real danger is that we are in a half-and-half position which is highly confusing. A metric muddle is being created.

The Minister referred to previous directives on the subject and explained how this one fitted in. He also described the provisions of the directive. I wish to ask him some questions. It seems clear from the Minister's responses to interventions that, although under the directive the United Kingdom and Ireland can fix a time to phase out remaining imperial measurements, there is nothing to stop the Commission itself from introducing a revised directive to make the timetable speedier, if it so wishes. If the British Government fail to come up with a date, presumably that is what the Commission will do. If the Government fix a date that the Commission feels is unrealistically far into the future, will the Minister confirm that again the Commission could take action?

When the matter was first discussed, it was on the treaty base of article 100, which provided for a unanimous decision by member states, but the present directive will be decided by a majority vote. I have attended a European parliamentary committee which considered the directive and it seemed to me that most of the other countries had little interest in how, when, or even whether the United Kingdom and Ireland chose to phase out imperial measurements. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that that is so.

Can the Minister also let us know whether, in his discussions on the matter, he has met other EEC Ministers? Many of us feel that too many of these decisions are taken by officials, often in the secretive workings of COREPER, the committee of permanent representatives, and that there is very little political input.

The mile is one example of a measurement for which the United Kingdom can decide on the changeover date. As the mile is not a barrier to trade, it would be reasonable for the Government to make their own decision on what they want to do. Nevertheless, I should like to know whether they have made any estimate of the cost of changing from the mile to the metric system. Some people feel that the Government are hesitating more on cost grounds than on the principle.

I am glad that there has been a reference to the pint because it should be made clear, to counter misleading impressions in the press, that doorstep milk deliveries are not threatened by the directive. No doubt the Minister will wish to take the opportunity to stress that again.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) raised a valid point about the sale of loose goods. Surely we do not want to make it an offence in all cases for small local shops to continue to sell by imperial measurements.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) about consultation, will the Government tell us whether they plan further consultations on the directive, particularly since the response so far has not been adequate? I note that the Government's explanatory memorandum was vague on the cost of changing for shops and firms. Can the Minister give us any further details about that?

I hope that we could all agree that in implementing the directive there should be no unfair jacking up of prices. I hope that the Government will monitor the situation closely.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Lady may be aware of what is happening now in petrol garages. The Government have allowed garages to cease displaying the price of petrol per gallon. Some garages took the opportunity in the week when petrol prices rose to stop displaying the price in gallons so the motorist did not know the price per gallon.

Ms. Quin

The hon. Gentleman's point reinforces the case for vigilance with regard to transferring from one set of measurements to another. Consumer organisations have made that point strongly to me in the past few days.

Earlier I mentioned the danger of metric confusion. We often see a confusing mixture of measurements in shops. For example, I have seen carpets quoted in metric sizes, but the underlay price quoted in imperial measurements. Many DIY shops sell wood so many feet by so many feet by so many millimetres. The various consumer groups with which I have spoken are all concerned about the confusion. That also applies to consumer groups which are in favour of full metrication straight away, such as the National Federation of Consumer Groups and the Consumers Association, which is less keen.

I refer the Minister to the interesting work carried out by Lady Attlee and the metric sense campaign. Lady Attlee feels that the way in which metrication is used in Britain at present and the way in which we have introduced systeme internationale measurements has increased the confusion and made metrication less user-friendly or consumer-friendly than it ought to be. She made the point that very often millimetres are used to quote a size which would be much easier to understand if it were expressed in metres and centimetres. For example, the standard size of a bath is apparently given as 1,700 millimetres, while it seems to me and to the metric sense campaign that 1 m 70 cm would be a more reasonable way of expressing the size.

I hope that the Government will examine the suggestions from the metric sense campaign in trying to present the metrication that we already have in a way that is helpful and not confusing to consumers. That would make necessary changes easier to achieve.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Would my hon. Friend agree—[Interruption.] In this matter, we are all friends in this country against Europe. Does the hon. Lady agree that when we consider organisations which make things user-friendly it makes them sound like pet budgies or lapdogs? Why should it damage a united Europe for this country to do what it wants and for Europe to do what it wants when we bear in mind that half the world will still use imperial measures anyway? Why should it destroy Europe if we do what 95 per cent. of British people want us to do?

Ms. Quin

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's intervention detracts from the point that I was making. I was simply saying that the consumer has the right to proper information and to have measurements presented to him in an understandable way. The hon. Gentleman seems to dislike the phrase "user-friendly", but it is common currency among consumer organisations, as I am sure that he appreciates. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I should be obliged if the debate at the far end of the Chamber would cease. It shows great discourtesy to the hon. Lady.

Ms. Quin

The Minister said that children are educated in the metric system. That is true, but when they leave school they step outside into a rather confused environment.

The Opposition are not officially opposing this take note motion, but we hope that the Minister will listen seriously and reply to questions that I have raised and that other hon. Members will raise during the debate. We do not like harmonisation for its own sake. We want to see a diversity of customs and traditions in the EC, but we recognise that moves to metrication have taken place and that common standards exist among many areas. However, if metrication is to be successful, it needs—I do not apologise for using the expression again—to be more user-friendly than it now is. It is vital that the Government take more fully into account the needs of the consumers as well as those of industry in the decisions that they are taking.

10.50 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I give a qualified welcome to the directive and memorandum that the Minister has presented. We should adopt the sort of programme that is being put forward tonight even if we were not a member of the EC. There is every reason for doing it for its own sake, not for the sake of harmonisation or because we happen to be a member of the EC.

My first qualification, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin), is that the use of the systeme internationale in the use of millimetres and other smaller measurements is not always appropriate, but, as a matter of practice, that does not occasion any difficulty. It does not seem to occasion any difficulty in Europe when we go on holiday, and it will not occasion any real difficulty here.

My second qualification is that the programme prolongs the agony by preserving—for example, in terms of traffic—the mile, the yard and the inch. I see no reason why the heights of bridges that are used by international traffic should not be set out in metres rather than in feet and inches; why the stopping distances on the motorways should not be in terms of 100 m, 200 m and so forth. The golden rule, followed in many other countries, is that if one wants to change from imperial to metric it should be as full and rapid a change as possible. The conversion from one method to another fails so long as one goes along with a dual signification. It is no good trying to have two languages of measurement working at the same time.

However, there is no reason why the traditional measures of a pint of beer or milk should not be preserved. Or we could have 568 ml, which is exactly the same size. The fact that we change from one system of measurement to another does not mean that we need to change the size or the weight of things; it is simply to change the way in which we measure things, and so I welcome this.

The case for metrication is overwhelming. First, there is the sheer beauty and simplicity of the metric system, which has been endorsed, embraced and developed by many British scientists. Many of the metric measures are named after prominent British scientists such as Newton. He was around some time ago and had no problems with the metric system.

A cube with a 10 cm base contains exactly 1,000 cc and 1,000 ml. Filled with water, it weighs exactly 1 kg. If its heat is raised by 1 deg C one has another measurement of heat. Put against something else it is a measurement of force. It is a beautiful and delightful system with a particular simplicity. Anybody who tried to do physics at school, learning foot pounds, will know exactly what I mean.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) can say how many square yards there are in an acre.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

But I do not need to know that.

Mr. Fraser

It is very much better that an area of land should be measured in hectares, which are units of 100 metres, rather than in one chain times one furlong, which is 4,840 square yards. I suggest that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, try working out the area of something that measures 3 ft 7 ½ in by 5 ft 8 ½ in. It is impossible to do without using a calculator.

Metrication does not mean that one has to change the size, speed or weight of anything. It just provides a different and easier set of relationships.

Every country has changed or is changing to metric, with three exceptions: the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. For an exporting industrial nation, we are crazy to pursue a different and more difficult system of measurement. Moreover, two generations or more of our children have been educated in the metric system, and I do not find that pensioners on trips to France, Spain or Portugal have any difficulty coping with metrication. I do not underestimate the intelligence or adaptability of the people whom I represent.

Furthermore, we have largely changed to metric already. As a result of changes that I made as Minister of State, virtually every prepackaged item of food is sold in metric quantities, as are coal and petrol. I shall illustrate how crazy it is to retain the imperial system in industrial terms. For a long time, this country imposed a huge cost penalty on itself by manufacturing petrol pumps for the rest of the world which dispensed in metric quantities, and which then involved the extra expense of being converted to dispense petrol in imperial quantities, simply because of our own eccentricity. That makes no industrial sense.

There is no way that we can export in imperial sizes products such as drills and fasteners to other industrial countries, which consider our use of that system to be eccentric, unusable and unacceptable. Our failure to adapt to the metric system says something about our failure as an industrial nation.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that one must take into account also small shopkeepers weighing out 1 lb of raisins. The hon. Gentleman admits that it is his fault that in my constituency small shopkeepers have been visited by weights and measures officers warning that the practice of weighing out a few bags of raisins in advance and putting them on the shelf so that a customer does not have to wait renders those shopkeepers liable to prosecution. Is the hon. Gentleman proud of that?

Mr. Fraser

Yes, I am, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why. If one is to help the shopper make a true price comparison between one item and another, it is no use having that product packaged in a multiplicity of sizes. The right way is that which I introduced for biscuits, for which there was a monstrous arrangement of different sizes.

Butter has been packaged in metric sizes for a long time. It is sold in packs of 125, 250 or 500 g, which makes it easy to make a price comparison. The same applies in comparing the prices of large and small packets of raisins. The little old lady whom the hon. Gentleman has in mind will get ripped off only if raisins, fruit or whatever come in a range of sizes that make it difficult to compare the price of one packet with another.

When those changes were made, they enjoyed the total support of consumer organisations across the country. They were made not for any ideological reason but to make life easier for the consumer, in the same way that life is made easier for the consumer when petrol is sold in one single measure instead of in both gallons and litres, which results in enormous confusion. The hon. Member for Selly Oak and his supporters—the imperialists who want to embalm and preserve the imperial system—are demonstrating not independence but insularity.

It would be senseless to drive into metrication overnight, but no one can accuse us of doing that. The French revolution embraced metrication more than 200 years ago. If we moved into the metric system quickly, we would give Japanese scale manufacturers and so on an enormous advantage in coming into our market. That is why it should be phased in over a period.

There is a beauty, simplicity, ease and saving in the long term in using the metric system. We should endorse it for our own sake. There have been many changes in measurement in the past, and the time has come to make a resolution, over a due period, to adopt the system which the rest of the world is going to use. If we refuse to do that, it says something about us as a manufacturing and exporting country and about our failure to do business with the rest of the world.

11.2 pm

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

I must admit that when I came to this debate I had not anticipated the kind of orgasmic enthusiasm that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who is obviously under the impression that he is still the Minister putting forward the measure. At least my hon. Friend the Minister had the decency to appear resigned and incredulous about the measure that he was supporting, but the hon. Member for Norwood actually purported to believe in what he was saying.

As the hon. Member for Norwood rightly pointed out, 200 years ago one of the consequences of the French revolution was the introduction of metrication and decimalisation in France. Indeed, the French went even further and decimalised the week. The 10-day week was not terribly popular, however, because it meant that people had one day off every 10 days rather than every seven. I have no doubt that, in due course, some earnest committee in the European Parliament and some earnest bureaucrat in the Commission will decimilise all the other things to which we are accustomed—not just the days of the week but clocks, times and everything else.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Minister who had the misfortune to have to try to make a fist of the subject today, but who is clearly a man of too great sensibility to believe in the case that his position in Government obliges him to put forward. As I listened to him I thought of the Peter Simple column in The Daily Telegraph——

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman was in favour of the Common Market.

Mr. Hamilton

I certainly was not in favour of the Common Market. I was one of the two members of the national executive committee of the Conservative party who voted against it in 1971. I voted against it in the 1975 referendum and to the best of my recollection I have not supported any Common Market measures since I have been in the House. As usual, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is misinformed.

Mr. Skinner

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that when it came to putting a guillotine on the single European market legislation he was not in the same Lobby as those of us who were against that legislation?

Mr. Hamilton

When it comes to guillotining the hon. Gentleman and his supporters, I am always to be found in the Government Lobby, but that has nothing to do with the point at issue.

As I listened to my hon. Friend the Minister, I thought back to Dr. Heinz Kiosk, the chief psychiatric adviser to the plastic stair-rod advisory council, and his effusions in the Peter Simple column of The Daily Telegraph. I contented myself with the knowledge that my hon. Friend did not believe in the case that he put forward.

I am astonished that the Labour party—which is now attempting to become voter-friendly, in the same way as the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) talked about becoming user-friendly—is supporting this measure, but perhaps I should not be too astonished as it is a highly Socialist and bureaucratic measure. I find it difficult to understand why any Government should wish to legislate for the weights and measures of this country. A free market Government should leave it to consumers to decide the measures in which they wish to buy goods on sale in the shops. If they prefer to buy in pounds, ounces or gallons, why should the Government interfere? That preference does not prejudice the achievement of a single market in the European Community which, by and large, I support because I believe in free trade, and these matters have no bearing on the wider European horizon which, if we believe in it, is supposed to be our reason for membership of the European Community.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to consultation. As we know, groups that are consulted by Government to discover what consumers believe often do not represent the views of the man in the street. If we had an opinion poll on whether this measure is acceptable to British people, 95 per cent. or more would be opposed to it.

I appreciate that power politics are involved here. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we do not have a blocking minority in the Council of Ministers, so I accept that force majeure, as a consequence of the Single European Act, means that we shall have no influence on what I regard as an important measure.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that, although we are making it a criminal offence to sell in pounds and ounces or pints and gallons, we have some refuge in the fact that this law will not be enforced. It seems extraordinary that this proposal will be a dead letter as soon as it is introduced.

I register my regret that the Government, for whatever reason, are giving credence to an unnecessary measure, which goes against the essence of what we have been trying to do since 1979—to elevate the consumer and his choices above those dictated by bureaucrats.

11.6 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

There is all-party agreement that the Government find themselves in a difficult position here, as they have on other harmonisation measures, especially emotive and traditional ones such as feet and inches and pints and litres. Essentially, within the context of Europe, the Government are trying to square a circle and have it both ways. In that respect, they are handling it as constructively as they can.

Having listened to the Minister, I suspect that we are stuck with a European fait accompli. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, we do not understand how, under the European voting mechanisms, the safeguards to which the Minister referred will be assured.

Mr. Skinner

What is the Scottish nationalists' view of the issue?

Mr. Kennedy

I shall come to that in a moment. Only Britain and Ireland are in an imperialistic position, so I do not understand how there will be any safeguard if we accept the spirit and substance of the directive. The Minister is not to blame because the issue was decided a long time ago.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) just mentioned the views of the Scottish National party, to which I do not subscribe, but were an independent Scotland represented on the Council of Ministers it could give the Republic of Ireland and England and Wales the force of its arguments and vote. This would be a good opportunity for Scottish National party Members to make that point, but they are not present.

On the question of practice within this country, again, the Minister is saying what his hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) has just said is absolutely correct. The Minister has said, "We will introduce this" but in response to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and others he has said, "Don't worry. We will be turning a blind eye to things. We will not be implementing it or following it up." [Interruption.] He is dissenting from that, but he gave the clear impression that it would be technically illegal for a trader to serve loose goods, for example, in the corner shop example mentioned by my hon. Friend. I cannot remember the exact phrase he used, but he spoke about how the inspectors would obviously be treating this with sensitivity, and the impression left with Labour Members, and I think with Conservative Members too, was that it would render nugatory the entire effect of the measure.

Mr. Maude

I am happy to repeat what I said, although not perhaps in the exact words. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was perhaps giving the impression that the day after any such measures came into operation there would be jack-booted trading standards officers roaming around the streets, seeking out small shopkeepers who were using imperial measures. All I was saying was that that was absurd. That is not the way in which trading standards officers operate, but that is not to say that this would be a dead letter; it would become a criminal offence for traders to sell in unauthorised units, as it is now, and I stress that we have a Weights and Measures Act which makes it illegal to use certain measures at the moment.

Mr. Kennedy

It seems to be a ministerial endorsement of circumspect illegality, as far as I can see, or a softly-softly approach. That may be sensible and welcome, but we, as a country, cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Beith

I never mentioned jack boots. I have never seen a trading standards officer in jack boots. They normally dress rather as hon. Members here are dressed. They simply come along, as I have known them do in my constituency, and challenge traders for illegally dispensing packaged goods in non-metric quantities, and it seems to me certain that those same officers will come along within a short time of this legislation coming into force and tell traders that they must stop meeting the requests of old ladies who say, "Please will you give me 5 lb of potatoes". For that situation to prevail in this country seems to be plainly ludicrous.

Mr. Kennedy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I think, in view of his reservoir of constituency experience, it is clearly something the DTI may want to look at as a matter of policy.

The Minister spoke about the consultation exercise. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Tatton that the Minister is either misreading the public mood or indulging in what would be quite understandable wishful thinking, given the measure he has to defend and, indeed, clarify for the House, in saying that the response to that consultation exercise would mirror attitudes in the country as a whole. That really is an exercise in wishful thinking by the Minister. Given that public opinion will be, I should have thought, rather strong on these matters, it would be as well either for the Government to launch a fresh consultative exercise or at least to embark on a programme of public education on inevitable changes towards metrication.

Secondly, in the DTI's own analysis reference is properly made to transitional periods, some of which will stretch over a decade and more. None the less, I hope that the DTI, or the relevant sponsoring departments in other parts of Government, will be sympathetic to any transitional difficulties which industries or small businesses will encounter as a result of having to change working practices and, perhaps, machinery or implements for the conduct of their business. I hope that the Government will respond positively to that point.

It is obvious that enthusiasm, or the lack of it, for this measure crosses party boundaries. My party will treat this as a conscience issue. The only point on which I seek a categorical assurance is that we shall continue to be able to talk about, to raise glasses of and to down drams well into the future.

11.15 pm
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

I am grateful to be called so that I may apologise for not being here for the whole of the debate.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), who clearly understands, as only a member of his party could, people who are proposing a schizophrenic situation. He said that his party would treat the issue as a matter of conscience and would vote both ways upon it. I remind him of the words of Mr. Gladstone at the time of the Turkish-Bulgarian difficulties. He said that he regarded it as a great insult that he had been accused of being a democrat.

If harmonisation, whatever that may mean, is to be undertaken, surely it is unwise to undertake it on the basis of the wrong system.

Mr. Skinner

Very profound.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I am glad that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) understands that simple concept.

I was the Member of Parliament who saved the mile. Under the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979 it was to be abolished on the basis that it would be an industrial danger to Britain if the mile were not the same as the kilometre. I asked the Minister how many things were measured in miles. I said that we do not measure miles of baked beans or miles of wire. Eventually the mile was saved. I see that the mile that I saved in the face of the idiocies of the then Government's concepts is again under threat.

If we harmonise measurements, why not get right the concept of the measurements that we intend to harmonise? My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) referred to the fact that during the French revolution there was a 10-day week.

Mr. Skinner

Not in here.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

If there is one concept on which measurements and mathematics are badly based, it is the repeat factor of 10. The decimal system is idiotic. If 10 per cent. is added to 10, we get 11—a prime factor that is useless. If we take 10 per cent. away from 10, that leads to nine, which is three times three. That is equally useless. A repeat system of counting should be at two squared, two cubed or two to the power of four, which is the best. Very few people understand it, but—

Mr. Skinner

I am waiting for the hon. and learned Gentleman to get to the mirrored J curve.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

The hon. Gentleman may feed me good lines, but he can do better than that.

Mr. Skinner

The mirrored J curve was what Woy Jenkins was into.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I do not know what Woy Jenkins was into, but I should be vewy suwpwised if he did not buy his clawet in dozens. At least under the duodecimal system it involves 2 squared by 3. If people are asked how much cake they want, they do not ask for a fifth of it. They say, "Halve it and halve it again", so two is the concept. People count on their fingers not because there are 10 of them, but because they are there. It would not matter if they had three fingers or 23 fingers on each hand, people would still count to 10. People with four fingers still count to 10. It is a fatuous concept that 10 is holy. As a counting system, 10 is the worst figure on which to base trade. It has no concept in sensible measurement or arithmetical relevance.

When we used the imperial system, at least children in school had to use their minds instead of a calculator or an easy system. Children can do their 10 times table, but it does not exercise their minds; they should know the other tables to understand the importance of arithmetical measurements. The sensible systems—the pint, the yard, the mile—all have much more relevant bases for intelligent measurement than any decimal system.

We are discussing a European matter. The measurement from which Europe started was the duodecimal system, the Roman system, which was a much more intelligent basic system.

If we are to change the system to a common system, we should change it to the right system, not to a stupid system. The decimal system is a foolish system. It has no helpful basis in trade; it costs enormous funds because of the complication of its mathematical incidences. If we are to change, let us stand up for a system of counting whereby the change is either at 12 or 6, thus making a major salvation in the costs of industry. In all seriousness, let us not move to something just because we do not understand that the repeat system is wrongly based. If we are all to use the same repeat system and the same weights system, let us use the most commercially sensible one.

11.23 pm
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

The absurdity in the mess of arrangements for the use of imperial and metric measurement that we have heard about tonight is principally because the European Community has bent over backwards to take account of British and Irish sensibilities over weights and measures systems.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said, it would have been far better had we moved much more quickly to the metric system, rather than maintained the imperial system with it. What hon. Members seem to forget is that at least those of us of my generation have children going through school who are being taught the metric system of weights and measures and are perfectly able to cope with all that that means. If there are difficulties for older people like the lady—she could be in my constituency or in the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon—Tweed (Mr. Beith)—who wants 5 lb of potatoes, the enterprising shopkeeper will sell her 2.27 kg and not worry about what the weights and measures people may say.

The use of two different systems at present gives rise to absurd situations. For example, as is my wont, I was doing the family's weekly shopping last Saturday at Leo's co-operative retail superstore in Pyle, in my constituency, and I happened to buy some coleslaw, of a reduced dressing variety, loose across the counter. It was sold in imperial units. As I wandered across towards where the prepackaged variety was on sale I thought that I would check to see whether I had got a bargain. Of course, the prepackaged variety was being sold in 227 g packs. Only because I knew that this is as close as we can get to half a pound was I able to make the calculation.

It would be perfectly easy to have common quantities displayed in both metric and imperial measurements for, say, the next 10 years to enable people, like some here who seem to find difficulty in using the metric system, to use it in an intelligent way. If there is concern about the doorstep pinta, the milkman can sell it as 0.5683 litre. Then we would know that we still had our pinta.

We are making a lot of fuss about something that is really not all that important provided that the public know exactly what they are getting. There is no need to be afraid of this directive. In fact, there is provision for the measurements that are used most commonly domestically —for example, the pint and the mile—to be protected for a very long time. I anticipate that no hon. Member need worry about being forced to give up the nomenclature "pint" when he is buying in a pub or picking up the pinta at the doorstep.

This is really a fear of facing the future—things that our children are currently being taught in school. The fuss that we are making about this directive is indicative of the general problems that we face in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

11.28 pm
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

I rise to make a brief plea for the continuance of the mixed system. We have a classic example of that system, of course, in the motor car. When W. O. Bentley set out to design his motor car in 1919 he said that it would be a 3 litre model. The wheel base was in feet and inches, and the car developed so much horse power—imperial horse power, not metric horse power. From the birth of the motor car this was the system of measurement of power and engine size, and we have all understood it.

In any case—going from that form of transport to the railway trai—we all know that the gauge of the track in this country is 4 ft 8½ in, and I defy anyone to express that in metric terms. I fear that if one were to go to any British Rail workshop and say, "In future we are going to have tracks of 1.853322 m" there would be even more engines off the rails than there are at present.

The House will recall that in George Orwell's "1984" Winston Smith bought an old man a drink in a pub which served nothing but litres and half litres. The old man said that half a litre was not enough and that one litre was too much as it set his bladder running. That is a classic example of "metricism". We are faced with a tyranny and hon. Members should remember that poor man in "1984". It is clear that the pint is designed for the British stomach.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) spoke about the little old lady who buys 5 lb of potatoes. Apart from the fact that if she does that with regularity she will be little no longer, she understands what 5 lb of potatoes looks like, as we do. We all understand what a 15-stone or an 18-stone man looks like. If I went to meet a stranger and somebody else told me that he weighed 200 kg I would not have a clue about him. Does that mean he is enormous or little? If I were told that he weighed 15 stone I would know the sort of person for whom I would have to look out.

I do not like all the talk about "phasing in" as it represents an uncertain process. The next thing will be a proposal, "phased in during two years", that we all drive on the right-hand side of the road. What a recipe for disaster. I suppose that, first, we shall have lorries driving on the right, followed by buses. The whole thing would be a complete muddle.

I am always worried when I hear of Governments giving "permission" for things as that implies that Governments have more in their gift than they actually have to give. My hon. Friend the Minister should keep a wary eye on the Commission on the other side of the Channel. Any further proposals to do away with the imperial measures, which we all know and which the man on the Walthamstow omnibus understands, will receive short shrift.

11.32 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I shall be brief as I know that this debate has to end shortly. I want to put down the marker that I do not like the directive and I do not like the idea that the proposal would authorise the United Kingdom and Ireland to fix a date for ending the use of miles, yards, feet and inches, even though the Minister may say that the Government will not exercise that right.

If this legislature had any sort of adequate scrutiny over the flood of statutory instruments which pour out of Departments at the rate of more than 2,000 per year, it might be arguable that all hon. Members could keep an eagle eye out for any Minister, who is but a pawn in the hands of civil servants, slipping one or two subclauses into a subparagraph of a statutory instrument—which is not amendable in any case—to get rid of the mile, the yard, the foot or the inch. In reality, however, this place does not give adequate scrutiny to statutory instruments, and any change to our measurements will be implemented by such means rather than by primary legislation.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments cannot report on the merits of a statutory instrument; it can report only on its technicalities. A statutory instrument cannot be amended and I do not believe that we have the power to keep an adequate grip on Government to stop some surge of ambition by a Minister deciding to metricate. I view the proposal before us with great caution.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has already said, it is not true that industry has been progressively metricated. We have not, for example, adopted universally the metric thread, which is a basic component of engineering. We consider ourselves to be a manufacturing nation, albeit less so under the present Government. There is American fine thread and unified thread, both of which are a basic requirement for any country exporting motor vehicles. The notion that metrication is a basic prerequisite to building up our manufacturing base to achieve more exports is not universally true. Millions of people use miles, yards, feet and inches as a matter of convenience and we should continue with the duality. If it is convenient for consumers to do that, why not let them do it? Why should we not retain gallons rather than litres as a matter of consumer choice?

It would be to our advantage in many respects to stay as we are. We would not have to calibrate instruments again. If people want the option of using metric measurements, they can use them, but I object to this creeping harmonisation for no purpose other than the harmonising of everything that the Commission can get its hands on.

In view of what the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) said about changing the side of the road on which we drive, I warn the House that there is a strong desire on the part of the members of the transport committee of the EEC to make us do that. It is the stated aim of many in the Strasbourg assembly that we should make that change. Let us retain the dual system of weights and measures and let this directive meander on for the next 40 years while we do nothing about it. I hope that hon. Members will take that view and vote against it today.

11.37 pm
Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

These debates take place late at night for a good reason—in a sense, they reflect the twilight of the power of the House of Commons.

Mr. Skinner

You can say that again.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

It matters not that we have spoken about this issue for an hour and a half. Indeed, whether or not we vote on it does not matter——

Mr. Skinner

It matters to us.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

—because what is proposed will happen all the same. These debates take place simply to humour us.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Do you agree, Madam Deputy Speaker. that if the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) wants to take part in the debate he should do so in a civilised way like the rest of us?

Mr. Skinner

Frankly, I get fed up listening to this sort of hypocrisy from Tory Members who take part in debates on EEC directives and often speak against them, but when it comes to a vote, as it will today, they—and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) in particular—are missing as usual.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Despite the cleverness of the hon. Member for Bolsover—I have his permission to say how clever he is—it is no good him saying that one is missing from this or that vote on a Common Market issue. Which Government sold this country out?

Mr. Skinner

I did not vote for it.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

It is no good the hon. Gentleman saying that he did not vote for it. He is not the only member of the Labour party.

Mr. Skinner

Get on with it.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Madam Deputy Speaker, do you intend to control this debate or is the hon. Member for Bolsover——

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Does the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) intend to proceed with his speech?

Mr. Skinner

That is a good question.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

If you intend to allow this sort of hectoring to go on minute after minute, hour after hour, we shall have no debate——

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Selly Oak does his share of hectoring. Does he intend to continue his speech, or shall I call the Minister to reply to the debate?

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

I am deeply wounded that you should suggest such a thing of me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I repeat that our votes on these directives matter not at all. We are given an hour and a half's debate to humour us. If we voted unanimously against what is proposed, it would still happen. That is why it is a waste of time having these debates and voting at the end of them.

11.39 pm
Mr. Maude

This has been a fascinating debate in which contributions have ranged from the crusty reaction of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), to the radicalism of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and the revolutionary approach of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn). Not content merely that we should oppose any further move towards metrication, my hon. and learned Friend thinks that we should unravel the whole system of counting and should abandon 10 as the base for anything. I fall neatly in the middle in this interesting debate.

I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) who says that such debates are simply for show and mean nothing. They are important, especially when they take place at an early stage in negotiations. That is the case with this debate. Such debates genuinely allow the Government to gauge mood and they inform the negotiating process. I should be disappointed if any hon. Member felt that contributions to the debate are not noted. They are noted and fulfil an extremely important purpose.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Is it right that this proposal was put forward in an explanatory memorandum in January? My hon. Friend the Minister has taken the opportunity to bring the measure before the House long before the Council of Ministers has to make a decision, which is expected before the end of the year. I congratulate the Minister on bringing this matter to the House so that it can express an opinion.

Mr. Maude

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That has been our intention and, as I say, matters are at an early stage of negotiation. The European Parliament has not yet made a final decision and there is still some way to go.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) is making her debut on the Opposition Front Bench, but if she is I warmly congratulate her on her appointment. We have faced each other in Committee. She made a distinguished contribution to the debate.

The hon. Lady asked whether the Commission might produce another proposal, but I have nothing to add to what I have said. As hon. Members know, there is nothing to prevent the Commission from producing further proposals, but there is no reason to suppose that it proposes to do so.

The form of words used in the group of measures, which it is in our power to retain for as long as we wish, is the most liberal—if I may use that word—that it is possible under law for the Commission to propose. There is no possibility under the law of that being further amended.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East and some of my hon. Friends asked about consultation. There were approximately 140 responses to the 700 letters that we sent out. Only two were firmly against the proposals and the others were in favour or neutral. I repeat that the consultation and the fairly wide publicity that the proposals received in the media did not elicit very strong feelings in one direction or the other. On that basis we have gone forward with the discussions.

The hon. Lady asked whether there would be further consultations. I do not anticipate further public consultations this side of the directive being agreed. At some time in future when domestic legislation has to be amended to give effect to the directive, it will be right to have detailed and extensive consultation about the way in which the directive is implemented and its timing. Of course I give the undertaking that that will take place.

The hon. Lady asked about costs and whether the mile could be argued to be a barrier to trade. There are those who argue that the continued use of the mile is a barrier to trade. We do not agree that it is a significant one, but car manufacturers have to produce cars with two different distance meters. That is, of course, a trifling inconvenience compared with that of having to put the steering wheel on the other side. None the less, it is argued by some to be a barrier to trade, but it is in our estimation a trifling one.

The cost of converting road signs into metric units would be very large indeed. It would be in the region, we estimate, of £30 million to £50 million, and clearly that is a powerful reason for not proceeding.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)


Mr. Maude

I must not give way because I have only one minute to go and I have a little more to say.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) paid me a slightly backhanded compliment—I hope that I am correct in referring to it as a compliment. He referred to specific requests for transitional periods. A number of those have been made and as far as possible they have been accommodated in the proposals. The hon. Member asked whether he and his constituents would continue to be able to drink drams and I can confirm that they will. I shall be happy to join him for one as soon as the debate is finished.

It being one and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 ( Exempted business).

The House divided: Ayes 107, Noes 27.

Division No. 155] [11.46 pm
Amess, David Couchman, James
Amos, Alan Cran, James
Arbuthnot, James Currie, Mrs Edwina
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Ashby, David Davis, David (Boothferry)
Atkinson, David Day, Stephen
Baldry, Tony Devlin, Tim
Batiste, Spencer Dorrell, Stephen
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Blackburn, Dr John G. Durant, Tony
Boswell, Tim Fallon, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Favell, Tony
Brazier, Julian Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bright, Graham Forman, Nigel
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) French, Douglas
Browne, John (Winchester) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Burns, Simon Gill, Christopher
Burt, Alistair Gorst, John
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carrington, Matthew Gregory, Conal
Chope, Christopher Griftiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hague, William
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Rhodes James, Robert
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Riddick, Graham
Hampson, Dr Keith Sackville, Hon Tom
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Shaw, David (Dover)
Harris, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Steel, Rt Hon David
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Stern, Michael
Irvine, Michael Stevens, Lewis
Jack, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Jackson, Robert Summerson, Hugo
Kennedy, Charles Taylor, Ian (Esher)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lang, Ian Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Thurnham, Peter
Lightbown, David Trippier, David
Maclean, David Twinn, Dr Ian
McLoughlin, Patrick Waddington, Rt Hon David
Maude, Hon Francis Wallace, James
Miller, Sir Hal Waller, Gary
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Wells, Bowen
Moss, Malcolm Wheeler, John
Moynihan, Hon Colin Widdecombe, Ann
Neale, Gerrard Wiggin, Jerry
Neubert, Michael Wood, Timothy
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Yeo, Tim
Nicholls, Patrick
Norris, Steve Tellers for the Ayes:
Paice, James Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Raffan, Keith
Redwood, John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McFall, John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony McLeish, Henry
Beith, A. J. Meale, Alan
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Nellist, Dave
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Pike, Peter L.
Dixon, Don Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Vaz, Keith
Fyfe, Maria Wareing, Robert N.
Haynes, Frank Winterton, Mrs Ann
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Winterton, Nicholas
Janman, Tim
Lewis, Terry Tellers for the Noes:
Livsey, Richard Mr. Bob Cryer and Mr. Dennis Skinner.
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4102/89 on units of measurement; and welcomes the proposals as providing adequate transitional periods to enable businesses and consumers to adapt and become used to the new measurements.