HL Deb 21 July 1970 vol 311 cc853-6

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Draft Weights and Measures Act (Amendment of Schedules 1 and 3) Order 1970 laid before the House on July 8, 1970, be approved. In a Written Reply in another place my right honourable friend said yesterday that the Government have noted from the Metrication Board's First Report the extent of the plans and commitments already made towards the general adoption of the metric system, and that the new Government propose to encourage these voluntary developments. We are, however, not as yet committed to general enabling legislation involving the amendment of Statutes. Before such legislation is introduced we consider it right and proper to provide time in your Lordships' House, and in another place, for the general question of metrication to be debated after the Recess. None the less, where individual industries have voluntarily progressed to the point where amendments are required to regulations couched in non-metric terms, we are ready, after consultation with interested parties, to introduce amendments under existing statutory powers. These two Orders to-day arc; examples of the process which we have in mind.

The first Order before your Lordships is concerned with changes in Schedules 1 and 3 of the Weights and Measures Act 1963, which set out the units of measurement and weight that may be used in the United Kingdom, and the physical measures and weights which can lawfully be used for trade in Great Britain. These Schedules were drawn up when the Imperial system was expected to remain predominantly used for trade, but they allowed for some use of the metric system. Now that much of British industry is maving rapidly towards the adoption of the metric system, certain changes are necessary to facilitate the changeover. The sand and ballast industry asked the Government to make certain changes, and we have included in the draft Order certain other changes which discussion with industries suggested would be useful. Nothing in this Order will compel anyone to adopt the metric system; it will merely make the changes easier for people who wish to make them. We have carried out widespread consultations with interested parties and we have succeeded in meeting almost all their wishes. The draft Order proposes three changes. The first is a change in nomenclature to bring us more into line with Continental practice, so that our industries can use the same terms as their trading partners. It proposes—and I hope your Lordships will not object to this—to add to the metric units in Schedule 1 the "tonne" or "metric tonne", usually pronounced to rhyme with "con", as in Sir Con O'Neill. This is a unit equal to 1,000 kilogrammes.

The second change affects Schedule 3. It provides for certain additional metric linear measurements and metric weights, and also for metric cubic measures for which there had been no previous provision. The new linear measures will result in a metric series as flexible as the series of Imperial linear measures. Fifty metre and 30 metre measures will be used by surveyors, 1.5 metre measures are needed by glass manufacturers, and the half metre rule will fill a useful gap between one metre and one decimetre. The two additional small metric weights are being added at their request to help pharmacists in their weighing operations. The cubic measures are needed to enable the building industry to adopt the metric system on January 1, 1971, and further provision is made to assist this changeover in the second draft order which I shall be asking your Lordships to approve.

The remaining change relates to the apothecaries' units and weights and measures. Section 10(3) of the Act provides that these may only be used for trade in drugs. Since the former Secretaries of State for Social Services and Scotland used their powers to require She use of metric units for dealings in drugs from January 1, 1971, the old apothecaries' system will become obsolete on that date. The draft Order therefore proposes to delete the references to apothecaries' units and weights and measures from Schedules 1 and 3 from that date. The medical and pharmaceutical interests have agreed with this proposal. This is in fact abolishing part of the old Imperial system, but the Act recognised that these particular units were indeed obsolescent and gave us special powers to abolish them.

I emphasise again, my Lords, that the draft Order is designed to help those who wish to adopt the metric system; it does not force anyone to do so. It meets the wishes of industry and so far as we can tell after wide consultations no responsible body is opposed to any of its proposals. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Weights and Measures Act (Amendment of Schedules 1 and 3) Order 1970 laid before the House on July 8, 1970, be approved.—(The Earl of Bessborough.)


My Lords, of course we support these further steps towards modernisation of our means of measuring, but I should like to make one comment and perhaps get an assurance from the Minister. If my schoolboy arithmetic is correct. a "tonne" will be equivalent to 2,200 lb. whereas a "ton" is equivalent to 2,240 lb.—that is a difference of 40 lbs. It seems to me possible that somebody could "con" you into expecting to get a ton when you only get a tonne. In other words, if you mispronounce the word you are likely to get 40 lb. less. I mention this because it seems to me that these two measures will continue to be used, and if raising the matter in this House to-day results in a little publicity so that people are warned of the dangers, it might be helpful.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for having made that observation, and I hope that any publicity that is given will assist in the matter. Otherwise he might be right; there might possibly be a danger of some misunderstanding, and I am grateful to him for making the point.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he will make certain, in consultation with his colleagues, that equivalent changes are made in neighbouring Regulations under the Food and Drugs Act? I am not certain whether that has yet been done.

Following on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brown, it is with a little misgiving that I regard the prescribing by legislation as to how things are to be pronounced, or indeed spelt. I do not think we can possibly prescribe how a "tonne" is to be pronounced or spelt and it will probably continue to be called a metric ton, as it always has been. As to the kilogramme, I do not see why we should adopt the French spelling. We send a telegram—ending with "m"—to France but we get it back with the "mme", and I do not see why we should adopt their spelling. This does not appear to be in accord with the preferred spelling of the Oxford English Dictionary. I think the briefer the better. Can we not have "kilogram" and "gram" without the "mme"? At any rate, I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure us that no one will go to prison for spelling words incorrectly.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his comments. On his point about the Food and Drugs Act I will certainly make inquiries, but I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer to-day. In regard to the spelling, noble Lords are perfectly free to call it a metric ton if they wish to do so. This is a suggestion, and I can assure the noble Lord that neither the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, nor any other noble and learned Lord will have cause to reprimand him or to suggest that he might be incarcerated. None the less, I know that my right honourable friend will take account of what the noble Lord has said about the pronunciation and the spelling of both the ton and the kilogram. I will look into this matter myself, although I should have thought that if we were intending to go into Europe the greater the degree of rationalisation in these weights and measures, the better.

On Question, Motion agreed to.