HL Deb 15 December 1965 vol 271 cc703-5

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have taken note of paragraphs 56 to 58 of the Second Annual Report of the Water Resources Board for the year ended 30th September 1965; whether they would not agree that, in order to keep pace with the advance in other countries of scientific techniques in the processing of hydrological data, there is an urgent need to introduce the metric system without delay in this country; and what steps they propose to take to secure the standardisation of hydrological information and of the instruments producing it.]


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are indeed aware of the Second Annual Report of the Water Resources Board and are grateful to them for it. As to the processing of hydrological data, I am glad to say that, far from lagging behind other countries, we are now in the van of hydrological progress. The fact that the metric system has not yet been introduced here is not prejudicing that position, although, as the Board rightly say, preparation needs to be made now for the change. This matter is being examined by the Board in consultation with the Meteorological Office, the Natural Environment Research Council and the other Departments and organizations concerned.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that sympathetic and helpful Answer, may I put a little supplementary? Would he agree that the end product of all this measuring—and there have to be thousands upon thousands of daily readings—is an intelligible graph, computer derived, showing us what our water resources tend to be? If that is so, will he use his best endeavours—I gather that he has already done something—to get the various instruments nationally standardized, with the help of the British Standards Institution, so that such instruments can come into use—the earlier the better, of course—and save a lot of money?


My Lords, I would, if I may, thank the noble Earl for that kind reception of my Answer, and say to him that as regards the arrangement of the data my own impression is that more than one graph might be required. I agree that the question concerns the trend of water supplies, and we hope to acquire at least one computer. These are really very complicated data; he is perfectly right about that. Also as to standardization he is right; we have made considerable efforts and we realize that there is a real need for standardization. We have also to consider in matters of this kind what is being done in other countries.


My Lords, could the noble Lord treat this as a matter of real urgency?—because, as he has just said, we must consider what is happening in other countries. Is there not here a great field for export? Is it not clear that the more rapidly standardization can take place, and the metric system introduced, the sooner will the cost of all these instruments be lowered? But, above everything else, it is going to make it far easier to export these instruments to all parts of the world. Therefore, it is a matter of urgency, so can the Government look upon it in that manner?


I agree there may be some opportunity for exports, but there is also a very serious national problem about water. Although we are not faced with immediate shortage, the problem has its urgency, as we all know, in a dry summer. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord in one respect. International efforts are being made, but they are being made in the course of the International Hydrological Decade. I hope there will be continuous progress throughout the decade.


My Lords, T do not know whether I am in order, but as this Question, quite apart from the question of water, asks whether we should introduce the metric system without delay in this country, may I ask my noble friend what progress is being made in that matter generally, which is so important not only for water but for the rest of industry in the country?


My Lords, I am afraid I am on water to-day. As regards water, in the course of about two years we hope to be able to get out our figures in a metric form, and when we are getting new instruments for measuring water—I hope I am using the right term—we have to see that they can easily be adapted from the present measurements in the ordinary traditional measures which we all know to metric measures. After all, at the end of the day, we are measuring the same amount of water or the same rate of flow. There ought not to be a serious difficulty in arranging for the necessary adaptability.