HC Deb 22 March 2001 vol 365 cc472-3
6. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

What recent representations he has received concerning metrication. [153636]

The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells)

Not a lot. However, several individuals have written directly to the Government or their Members of Parliament about the obligation on traders, under legislation made by a Conservative Government in 1994, to use metric weights after 31 December 1999 for the sale of loose goods.

Mr. Gray

I am grateful for that reply, as far it goes. The younger generation is happy and comfortable using metric measurements. However, try as I may to keep up with them, I understand "a couple of miles down the road" better than "5 km". I understand that it is a hot summer's day when the temperature is 75 deg F, but I am a bit muddled about 20 deg C. I understand a pound of butter or 8 oz of sweeties. I may be out of date, but I am comfortable with those measurements.

Does not the Minister regret the fact that the statutory instrument that he introduced last week removes the right of the retailer to offer an option? Currently, we are offered both sorts of measurements and people know where they are, no matter whether they are young or, like me, a bit of a fuddy-duddy. The statutory instrument means that we will not know what we are buying.

Dr. Howells

As far as I understand the question, I can reply that the hon. Gentleman knows that we negotiated a 10-year extension so that anyone who sells loose goods can use imperial as well as metric measurements.

It is too late for the hon. Gentleman to convince the people of his lovely county that he is more anti-European and anti-metrication than the UK Independence party—that is what he is really worried about. He has a majority of only 3,500, and the UK Independence party is pecking away at it.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Does my hon. Friend believe that the acute grasp of modern measurement that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) displays is one of the reasons for the Confederation of British Industry's announcement yesterday that a Tory Government would pose a threat to Britain?

Dr. Howells


Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

The introduction of metrication has been a confusion of European Union directives, opt-outs, derogations and statutory instruments. The final stage in that messy process was yesterday's deferred Division. A majority of Labour Members voted to end for ever the ability to display imperial measurements alongside metric ones.

Dr. Howells

indicated dissent

Mr. Duncan

Nevertheless, Lord Sainsbury gave incorrect information in the Lords debate on the matter. He claimed that supplementary measurements were already forbidden: that is not true. Will the Minister confirm for the record that the Labour party's vote has killed off imperial measurements for good? They would otherwise have been permitted in parallel. Will he also confirm that Lord Sainsbury' s comments did not reflect the truth?

Dr. Howells

No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. It will remain permissible until 2009 for weighing machines to be marked with imperial measurements, and for anybody to ask for a product in an imperial measure. The trader can measure it metrically if he wishes. There is nothing to prevent us from negotiating a further 10-year derogation if we choose to do that.