HL Deb 15 June 1976 vol 371 cc1111-73

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The principal purpose of this Bill is to provide powers for phasing out the use of imperial units of weights and measures, and to provide a framework for further progress in metrication. In several important respects it is an improved version of the Bill which was introduced in another place earlier this year. Noble Lords will recall that the Second Reading there was postponed to allow further consultations. These have proceeded satisfactorily, but in the meantime the pressure on the timetable in the other place has considerably increased and that is the reason for introducing this Bill here.

Later I shall indicate the changes which have resulted from the consultations undertaken by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, but first it may be helpful if I sketch the historical background of the Bill, outline the progress that has already been made in respect of metrication in this country, and explain how and why the proposed new powers will facilitate further progress. It is not often appreciated that this country already has a long history of involvement with the metric system. Indeed, in 1871 a Bill to make the metric system compulsory failed by only five votes. Four years later, following the Metric Convention, an International Bureau of Weights and Measures was formed with the duty of establishing and preserving international standards of length and mass.

The United Kingdom joined the Convention in 1884. It has participated in its work ever since and has played a major part in establishing the SI—Système International—metric system as it is today. In 1897 the Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act made metric units lawful for use in this country. Therefore what we are concerned with in this Bill is not making the metric system legal in this country. That was done long ago. What is involved is whether, and for how long, we are to continue with our present practice of having two systems side by side, the metric and the imperial.

This question was posed for us clearly in 1950 by the Hodgson Committee which reviewed weights and measures legislation. It stated the problem in these words: The real problem facing Great Britain and these countries "— that is, other countries using imperial units, principally the United States and some Commonwealth countries"— is not whether to adhere either to the imperial or to the metric system but whether to maintain within their boundaries two legal systems of measurement or to establish world-wide uniformity by changing over completely to the metric system and abolishing the imperial. That was how the Hodgson Committee set out the problem and it gave its answer to that problem equally clearly. It said: "… we have come to the unanimous conclusion that the metric system is, in the broadest sense and in the interests of world uniformity, a better' system of weights and measures than the imperial; that a change from imperial to metric for all trade purposes is sooner or later inevitable; that a continuance of the present option to use either the metric or the imperial until the inevitable comes about will cause in the long run more inconvenience than an ordered change within a specified period; and that the long-term advantages which would flow from an organised change in the near future would far outweigh the inconveniences of the change itself. We therefore recommend that the Government should take the steps which we outline below with a view to abolishing within a definite period all use of the imperial system in Great Britain and to establishing the sole use of the metric system for all trade purposes ". I thought that that quotation was worth giving in full because in my view it is a succinct statement of the case for the change.

In making that recommendation, however, the Hodgson Committee made two provisos which were very necessary in 1950 but are not necessary today. Because of our dependence on world trade, the Hodgson Committee said we should act in concert with North America and the Commonwealth and we should metricate our weights and measures only if our coinage was decimalised. Those two conditions are now fulfilled. Our coinage, of course, is decimalised. Commonwealth countries are well ahead with conversion and the United States last year passed its Metric Conversion Act.

The situation now, therefore, is that to all intents and purposes all our trade is with countries which use or which are in the process of conversion to the SI metric system and it is impossible, in my view, to overemphasise the importance of this fact. The market for exports in imperial units has shrunk dramatically over the past few years and will virtually disappear within the next few years. The inevitable result of this situation has been that British industry has been virtually forced to adopt metric units to a very large degree. A large part of industry is now metric as a result and I think that I should pay tribute to the work of the Metrication Board, whose chairman is with us, in helping forward this process.

Most inland and overseas freight tariffs are now based on metric units. Trading in industrial materials has been in metric for several years. Metrication in engineering is well advanced, with almost 60 per cent. of engineering products being in metric and more than 85 per cent. of engineering firms having some metric production. Nearly 60 per cent. of engineering firms do all their design work in metric. In agriculture and horticulture the situation is that by the end of this year farmers and growers will be working in a substantially metric environment. All major textile manufacturers work in metric units and commercial transactions are also in metric. Bulk deliveries of petroleum products changed over to metric units at the beginning of this year, and both postal and telephone tariffs are now on a metric basis. In our schools, colleges and other training establishments metric teaching is now predominant and children have been progressively, although not yet completely, released from the drudgery of having to learn by rote the complicated relationships between units in the imperial system.

The effect of this marked changeover to the metric system is, I suggest, already apparent to the ordinary consumer. Many products on sale in the shops are already in metric dimensions and weights. For very good reasons the metric system is in such widespread use and over so many areas of our national life that it is totally unrealistic to suppose that the tide can be stemmed, let alone turned back. The question is: can we, and should we, perpetuate the imperial system alongside it? Is the interest of the consumer likely to be best served by such a perpetuation, by what the Hodgson Committee called " an ordered change within a specified period "?

The hope has sometimes been expressed that it should be possible for industry to go metric without affecting the rest of us in our capacity as consumers. I suggest that we have to be clear about what would be involved if it were practical, which I do not believe it is, somehow to divide the economy into separate metric and non-metric compartments. First of all, both our domestic industry and foreign manufacturers wishing to export to this country would need to run separate imperial production lines for the United Kingdom retail sector. This separate production would entail duplication of design, packaging, stockholding and sales. Our schools would need to teach both systems in perpetuity and production workers would need to be familiar with both systems.

The result of all this would be that goods would be more expensive in this country than elsewhere and that British industry would be less competitive than its rivals. Living with two systems would be not only costly but confusing and the country would gain none of the economic benefits of going metric. In reality the ordinary citizen is inescapably involved; as I have said, many goods are already metric in the shops. If total and continuing confusion for the consumer is to be avoided and if the retailer is to be spared the headache of grappling with two sets of purchases, stock controls and pricing, we must standardise on the basis of a single system.

Quite understandably, it was concern at this stage of the process for the welfare of the consumer that caused the demand in another place for further consultations w hen the Bill was introduced there. As I have said, the Bill has been strengthened to meet the anxieties which were expressed. and I noted with pleasure that in a recent statement by the National Consumer Council (not all of which I agree with) they paid tribute to the changes which have been introduced. The Secretary of State will now be required to consult in particular with organisation representative of consumer interests before making an order under Clause 2: secondly, it will now be possible to continue to use imperial units of measurements for explanatory educational purposes alongside metric units. even though those imperial units may no longer be used as legal measures for trade. Thirdly—and this is the third difference from the original Bill—the Bill now provides for the display of conversion tables in order to help the consumer.

Perhaps. though. I should make it clear, since these were improvements from the consumer point of view, that consumer organisations favour the Bill. The message that we have received over and over again from all quarters is unequivocal: that the Government must step in and ensure that the final stages of the changeover are carried out in a planned and orderly fashion—otherwise there will be chaos—and that to do this the Government need the power to set cut-off dates for the use of imperial units.

Perhaps I may quote just one or two of the messages that we have received from organisations. Going back a little to the Consumer Council that existed in 1970, it said: The Consumer Council believes that conversion to the metric system will be of advantage to consumers ". The Consumers' Association wrote to us recently: 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. Other organisations that I could mention are the National Federation of Consumer Groups, the Housewives Trust, Age Concern, which looks at these matters particularly 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. have all in their messages to the Department advocated the adoption of the metric system. I have already menioned that there was a recent statement by the National Consumer Council. It came to me somewhat as a surprise in the light of the statements of so many other consumer organisations in favour of what the Government are proposing to do.

Although consumer organisations, as I have said, have for some time been asking for a speedy conclusion of the changeover, it is true that delays and postponements have created a feeling of uncertainty among shoppers themselves. This loss of confidence has been reflected in some research that has been undertaken for the Metrication Board. The research has shown a falling off in support for metrication since 1972. and particularly since July of last year. On the other hand, the most recent research shows that the majority (some 57 per cent.) of people who have come across metric units found they " were fairly easy or I found no difficulty. A much larger majority (85 per cent.) accepts that as metrication is bound to happen it might as well learn to use it; and that I think is a quite pragmatic and practical approach to this question. So a summary of public attitudes is that there has been some fall in public support, but experience in using metric has been favourable and, in the final analysis, " people believe that metrication is bound to happen and they want to learn how to use it ".

I recognise that a major worry about metrication is the fear that it will lead to higher prices. One can understand the fear, but I believe that experience shows that there is no basis for this suggestion. In cases where the quantity or size of the products changes as a result of metrication—and this does not automatically follow, as is sometimes supposed; it sometimes can be a smaller quantity or size—the price too will obviously change; but in the field of, for example, prescribed quantity goods, metrication which has been proceeding has not led to any increase in the price of the goods themselves.

The parallel is sometimes made of what happened, or rather what was supposed to have happened, at the time of the decimalisation of the coinage. Whatever is the truth of that argument—and I doubt whether anyone finally will be satisfied—I should stress to the House that there are three fundamental differences between the present position and the position of decimalisation of the coinage. From the consumer point of view decimalisation of the coinage happened overnight and across the board. Metrication has been a gradual process and it will continue to he a gradual process on a sector by sector basis. This means that the industry, the retailer and the consumer can closely monitor what is happening.

Secondly, there is now in existence the price control system which is administered by the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection through the Price Code and the Price Commission, and it is their task to ensure that no unwarranted price increases take place. This is a most important safeguard for the consumer which did not exist at the time of the decimalisation of the coinage. But I must reject the allegation in some of the suggestions that are put around, that most retailers are cheats who use every opportunity to make unjustifiable price increases. This is not only unfair to them but it fails to recognise that retailers in this country operate in a highly competitive market. So even if they were disposed to cheat, they would not have much opportunity of getting away with it.

Thirdly, to ensure that the consumer will still be able to make value-for-money judgments during and after the changeover, the Government have unit pricing powers under the 1974 Prices Act. These will be extremely valuable in this connection, and the Department is currently considering the way in which they can most effectively be used during the changeover period in the shops.

In bringing forward this Bill the Government are very conscious of the views of all sections of industry, trade and consumer organisations and, indeed, have been influenced by the strength of the views put to them. I have already indicated the strength of views from consumer organisations. But the CBI has consistently urged the need to bring in this Bill, which it believes to be extremely important for British industry. The Trades Union Congress has similarly placed on record its view that a prolonged changeover period is undesirable. I think it fair to say that perhaps until recently the retail trade has been more divided, some parts of it having been more enthusiastic about going metric than others. Traditionally, parts of the food side have been opposed to metrication. But over the past year or so there has been here a growing recognition by the retail sector that cut-off dates are desirable, indeed necessary. The recorded views of the very many trade associations are perhaps too numerous effectively to put on the Record here, but I think that the position of the Retail Consortium accurately sums up the overwhelming view throughout this sector of the economy.

My Lords, at a recent meeting with my honourable friend the Minister of State, the Consortium made it clear that while they did not particularly relish the prospect of metrication, they considered it to be essential for the Government to step in and take the powers proposed in this Bill if chaos for the trade and the consumer is to be avoided. Finally, I come to the Treaty of Accession to the European Economic Community which firmly commits the United Kingdom to the adoption of the SI system by 1978, and to the phasing out of the general use of imperial units for legal purposes. On the Accession of the United Kingdom to the European Community, this country accepted the commitment to the SI system and the Directive was amended to incorporate imperial units in a separate Annexe.

In the proposed amending Directive currently under consideration by the EEC Council, imperial units have been absorbed into the main body of the Directive, and the proposal is that certain units should cease to be authorised by the end of 1977, some by the end of 1979, and the future of the rest, which includes all the everyday important imperial units, to be decided by 1979. The main point to emerge from all this is that we are obliged to adopt. that is to say, obliged to authorise legally, the SI system for all purposes by April 1978, but we do have some flexibility to decide the timetable for phasing out imperial units.

I have felt it right to concentrate almost entirely on the metrication aspects of the Bill, and these are covered principally by Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. They simply establish the piece of flexible machinery to enable the Government to bring forward proposals to remove or restrict the use of units of weights and measurement for the purpose of trade. As a piece of machinery it is entirely neutral; it does not say that we have to get rid of or restrict the use of any units, nor does it establish any timetable. The Bill places an obligation on the Government to carry out full consultations before bringing forward any orders under it. It further provides that such an order will need to be debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament.

Briefly a word or two about subsequent clauses. Clause 3 empowers the Government to make regulations authorising the use for trade of prescribed weighing or weighing equipment where the stamp indicating that it has been passed for use for trades has been obliterated or defaced. This power is needed primarily to deal with price changes on petrol pumps. Clauses 4 and 5 confer powers to standardise containers. At present under existing legislation many important household goods, mainly foodstuffs, 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. A good example of this is the case of washing powders, where standardisation by weight would result in a confusing multitude of different pack sizes which would be of little help to the consumer, whereas standardisation on the basis of the size of the container would be of real assistance.

Lastly, Clause 6 will enable local authorities to charge fees for work undertaken by their weights and measures inspectorate, not only in carrying out their national responsibilities, but also in connection with EEC obligations. I said " lastly ", but I have found another.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Oram, comes to the final point, would he allow me to go back to Clause 4? I should like to ask what is the purpose of standardising material of which containers are to be made? What is the purpose of that provision? I think it will save some discussion if we know that now.


My Lords, I recognise that certain trade associations arc in trouble over this. If the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, would agree, I think it would be more helpful to take this up on Committee stage, because discussions have been going on about this point. Although I cannot indicate this afternoon how, I hope we can be helpful in that respect.

My Lords, I come to the last point in explanation of the Bill. In Clause 8 the Government propose to take powers to relax or suspend certain provisions of the Weights and Measures Act and the Food and Drugs Act during times of shortage. The need for such a power became apparent during the sugar shortage of 1974. Noble Lords may recall that during this period, packs of sugar were specially imported—from Holland in particular, I recall in my own shopping. This sugar was imported to cope with the emergency situation, but in many cases the sale of the sugar was technically illegal. I do not think any prosecutions were proceeded with, but it was technically illegal, and therefore retailers were technically at risk in selling the sugar. This clause would give the Government power to suspend or relax these requirements if a situation of shortage were to arise in the future, and thereby ensure the risk of prosecution would be removed.

My Lords, I am sorry to have taken rather long in introducing this Bill. However, I think it will be recognised that although its particular provisions are perhaps technical and those of establishing machinery, the Bill does deal with an important development in our national life, one about which there is some misunderstanding and some controversy. Therefore, I felt it was right to go over the background fairly fully. I hope that approach has been helpful to your Lordships, and that at the end of the debate you will give the Bill your approval.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Oram.)

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has been generous to us in the clarity with which he has introduced this Bill, and we would not grudge him the length of his introduction, which we are still able to measure in minutes. The public affected by this Bill fall roughly into two groups, and the noble Lord has already alluded to them. They are, on the one hand, the producers and the manufacturers, most of whom want it, and on the other, consumers, many of whom do not. There are exceptions in both. But the retailer is caught in the cross-fire. By and large, it is the retailer with a pair of scales who is concerned, and the retailer of prepacked goods is slightly more fortunate. Her Majesty's Government are, therefore, faced with a band of opinion that wants no compulsory legislation and a band that does, and the Bill falls neatly between two stools and satisfies neither group; for by its recourse to legislation it offends one group, and by its failure to specify dates it disappoints the other. The prospect now is not for one, as it were, capital M-day but a whole scattering of m-days, with food, one gathers, coming right at the end of the queue, a queue which will be marshalled by the Secretary of State by means of a series of Statutory Instruments made under Clause 1(2) and Clause 2(1), which will become the new Section 9A(3) in the 1963 Act, as amended by the Bill.

Where this procedure results in a delay, it may have one or two fortuitous but welcome advantages. The Government first attempted to bring this Bill in when inflation had reached a crescendo, or what we hope will prove to have been a crescendo. It remains to be seen whether the present attempt will coincide with something less fearsome; but inflation, and savage inflation at that, there undoubtedly still is. It is a feature, regrettably, under these circumstances of the imperial to metric conversion tables that the nearest metric equivalents to the normal convenient units of sale in grocery and other lines are, on the whole, 10 per cent. larger than the imperial equivalent. A public rendered sceptical by experience of new larger economy packs of this and that commodity are not going to accept easily the proposition that a 10 per cent. increase in price is necessarily the result of a 10 per cent. increase in quantity, even if they are absolutely clear as to what 10 per cent. in real terms is. It is just no good telling a lady with only 50p left in her purse that the smallest available quantity of a product which now costs 55p is bulk for bulk no more expensive than last week's smallest available package costing 50p. It may be no more expensive, but the fact remains that last week she could afford it and this week she cannot.

It has been suggested, first, that metric packs should be marked with both the metric and imperial measures of contents, and orders already exist to make this possible. I welcome the noble Lord's allusion to his intention to continue this trend. Secondly, it has been suggested that a watchdog body of some sort should be empowered to referee this aspect of the changeover and to disqualify price increases greater than those justified by increases of quantity. We hear this afternoon that the Price Commission will have this task. It will be the duty of the Government not merely to tell us that in this Chamber; it will also be their duty to tell us how they will convince the public at large, as convince them they must, that they are doing the job and doing it effectively.

I do not wish to imply that most producers, wholesalers or retailers, will take this opportunity to add an unacceptable margin to their profits. The noble Lord said that it was frequently put about that most retailers are cheats who make unjustified profits out of changes in the law. I join him in rebutting that allegation. I did not think it was as frequent an occurrence as he suggested, but it goes a long way to justify the doubts and reservations which some of the retailing organisations, some of the producing organisations and many individual consumers have about this piece of legislation. First of all, to increase by 10 per cent. the standard quantities in which commodities are sold, when those commodities may independently of metrication rise in price by up to 15 per cent. is to magnify the appearance, and, therefore, the psychological effect of inflation across a wide sector of the hoard. Secondly, for those for whom either poverty or the fact of living in isolation dictates that the smallest packs are always and only the ones to be bought, it increases the actual impact of inflation as well, since it increases by 10p in the £, as I hope my earlier illustration showed, the cash that has to be tied up in the necessaries of life week by week.

Some industries have taken great trouble to avoid any shred of justification for a charge of profiting by metrication. If it is not invidious to select one, the sugar industry in particular has undertaken to keep its prices within 1p per ton of the present level, and that is indeed a very close margin. It intends to change over on 1st July, thus demonstrating the superfluity of this Bill, at least so far as sugar is concerned. I should like to return to timing in a moment. But it is an irony of circumstances that that is the date on which the intervention price for sugar is due for revision, and the chances are that any change in the price of sugar will be attributed by the public not to this factor but to metrication. The sugar industry has chosen a date: it has acted voluntarily in advance of the Bill.

I would refer your Lordships to the very important paragraphs 103 to 105 in the Metrication White Paper of 1972. Although time passes quickly, it is not yet out of date. I think it would be trespassing on your Lordships' patience if I were to quote these three paragraphs in extenso, but the effect of them is that without reservation it is the view of those forming the report that timing is of the essence for the success of the scheme, and that the exact right timing will vary not merely from industry to industry but from factory to factory.

Retooling for packaging is a task of quite extraordinary expense, at least in my view, when you consider the flimsy cartons that finally emerge. It is most important that the Secretary of State shall bear in mind recommendations he is given when discussing the timing of individual orders to be made under this Bill. We ought to bear in mind that while a great part of the industrial and technical sectors have already voluntarily gone metric, and while this change affects a very large volume of trade both at home and abroad, a much larger number of individual people remain both to be exposed to the effects and to be convinced of the merits of metrication than have so far crossed this bridge. These are the purchasers for personal purposes, the consumers who can be recognised as the child buying a quarter of toffees, the housewife buying a lb. of potatoes, the pensioner buying an oz. of " baccy " and the householder ordering a cwt. of coal.

All the denominations that l have listed are due to be swept away. If the step is taken arbitrarily, and if in advance of the events great care is not taken to educate the consumer to a much greater degree than at present, then, in spite of the rhyming and often effective efforts of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and his Board, I fear the result will be confusion followed by resentment. Most people who feel confused by a transaction end up by feeling that they have been done when it is concluded, and the resentment will, quite unfairly, be directed, not at the Government, not at the Board, not at the EEC, but nine times out of ten at the supplier, who hence earns the reputation, which the noble Lord said he had had attributed to him so frequently already, of being a cheat who makes unjustified profits out of changes in the law. We, therefore, welcome the provisions included in the Bill to continue to use imperial measures for explanatory and comparative purposes during the changeover period.

We live in difficult times, but it is usually possible to gain advantage out of a difficulty. We are all aware that one cause of the underlying weakness of our industrial system has been a prolonged phase of under-investment. Many companies are operating with obsolescent equipment. Where replacement awaits a decision on adopting a metric standard for the product the decision will not be taken early or willingly so long as expenditure on new equipment remains so costly as to render retooling an uncertain way of maintaining or increasing profits. It should not be necessary to underline that without profits there will not be business or employment in the private sector, and that even the present Government cannot afford to borrow sufficient cash to take all private industry into public ownership.

It is essential, therefore, to remove some of the disincentives from re-equipping wherever they can be found and re-equipping to metric standards. There are occasions when a decision on the introduction of a metric item on a production line may prejudice and delay a complete retooling of a factory. Therefore, if it should be possible to find some incentive for what may amount to a considerable sum of reinvestment, then I think that this is something that the Treasury should look into. It is not the function of this House to interfere in fiscal matters, and I would not commit anyone, least of all my noble friends, to a policy on this, but it would seem sensible that some system of tax allowances or benefits should be made to coincide with any timetable of re-equipment so that the intervention in this aspect may not be unwelcome.

That scheme should apply not simply to the manufacturing and packing industries but also to the retailers. There is logic in this and also justice, for while it is possible to argue that the manufacturers' troubles will be over when metrication is complete, I strongly suspect that for the retailer that will he when they begin. It is he, after all, and not the manufacturer, who has to argue with the housewife. It is worth noting here that, while the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum says that the Bill will have no significant financial effects in the short term, this is correct only in so far as Government finance is concerned, and the cost to some industries of going metric and indeed to some retail groups as well will he very considerable indeed.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, could the noble Lord give us the basis on which he makes that last statement?


My Lords, I am not quite sure which half of the statement it is to which the noble Baroness refers, but I believe that there are something like 200,000 points of retail and, on average, about three pairs of scales at each. So taken across the country the sum is very large. Some of the multiples and chains are very large organisations. I regret that I did not anticipate the noble Baroness's intervention, which I should have done, and did not bring the figures in with me, but they are of that order and I think that that is sufficient to show that it is a considerable expenditure.

This is perhaps the right point to ask the Government to go a little further than they did on the matter of European legislation. The noble Lord referred to a document, which I have before me, R/3070/75, which is introduced ill the European collection of documents downstairs as being a letter from M. Lardinois to Signor Rumor, and proposing for a Council Directive amending the Council Directive of 18th October 1971. I am fairly confident that we are on the right document here. This document has in parallel another with the same reference which purports to be from the Minister of State for the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection describing the letter which I have mentioned as being a draft submitted by the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection.

The reason why I raise this matter at this point is that I think that a number of us, though perhaps we should not he, are a little in the dark about the procedures here, because if it is advanced that we are under an obligation to follow the ruling in this proposed draft Directive—and I. am not clear from what the noble Lord said whether in fact it inevitably will become a Directive or whether it may stay in the draft condition—and if this draft Directive is to become law, and if that law is to be binding on us, then it would seem to have been drawn up by a Minister prior to consultation with Parliament, and the Minister is then in the position to come to Parliament to say, This is what we have got to do, because, force majeure, we have no alternative." I think that the noble Lord will wish to reflect upon that. It is a matter of some importance, as indeed are the contents of the document itself.

The document contains four chapters in the Annexe listing measurements which it shall be, and which it shall not be, legal to use in, among other places, the United Kingdom. I am puzzled and will pursue in Committee the fact that the schedules in these chapters do not everywhere coincide with the Schedules in the Bill we are going to look at in Committee. I am sure there are reasonable explanations of this but they are not at once apparent. I notice that Chapter C, for instance, contains a number of items including the yard, the square yard, the cubic inch, the hundredweight, the quarter of a ton, but all these we are familiar with and we know how the Government propose to deal with them. We notice also the British thermal unit stamped on the side of so many of your Lordships' boilers, and the therm. But C is the chapter which contains the units to be abandoned by the end of 1979. Chapter A contains the units which are passed as acceptable: B the ones which have to be abandoned by the end of 1977 if the draft Directive becomes a Directive, and I take it that the actual existence of the Bill implies that that is the case.

In that we find, among other things, the calory, with which so many noble Baronesses have had a long-standing love-hate relationship: and also the hand, and many of your Lordships will find yourselves at a loss to describe your hunters if you are not allowed to use it. Those apparently, according to the document that I have referred to, have to go out of use by 1977. I have not yet found them in the Bill, which I find puzzling. Also we have a Chapter D which contains the items which may come under review by 1979. As I say, I will not dwell on this longer but it would be very agreeable to know what consultation, and particularly what Parliamentary consultation, was taken before these items were put into these chapters to be inserted into what it would appear is about to become a piece of legislation which Parliament has no choice but to accept.


My Lords, may I have the noble Lord's permission to ask him a question? In view of that long series of criticisms of this piece of legislation, is it the intention of the Opposition to vote against the Bill, because if that is their intention they can rely at least on one vote from this side—mine.


My Lords, it is always heart-warming to give way to the noble Lord because he always surprises one almost in the last sentence with the agreeable nature of his interruption. I should not like to go quite as far as that at this stage. I have asked, after all, for information. I have said that it may be regrettable that many of your Lordships are not aware of what processes this document has gone through. I am one of those, and for that I must apologise.

We shall be looking at this Bill very carefully between now and Committee stage with a view to removing what appear to be a number of anomalies, to elucidating a number of conundrums, and to making it a more serviceable tool for the purpose intended, and for assuring that no unnecessary or dictatorial powers are given to this, or indeed a successor Government. We shall also want to satisfy ourselves similarly about the powers given to the inspectorate, and the provisions for consultation by the relevant Minister before he sets in motion the machinery for making Statutory Instru- ments. We will be particularly interested in any proposals the Government have to render more satisfactory the present arrangements for rounding or approximating weights which at present can lead to exactly indentical packs of tea being half a gramme different in their translation, as it were, on the label from imperial to metric.

At present what we see before us is a Bill which, while it goes some way to satisfy some sections of the manufacturing and distributive industries, goes rather further to exasperate a few of them and a very long way towards antagonising the purchasing public. Your Lordships will be aware by now that it is the consumer with whom we are concerned principally in this and that there are no substantial difficulties in the industrial field. Let us remember that for more and more people in the consuming area, a shopping expedition has become a rather alarming experience in the last few years. More and more people on fixed incomes and on incomes that do not keep pace with inflation feel a vague sense of insecurity as they enter the supermarket or village store—though in the latter they are perhaps a little reassured by the fact that they can probably get credit—because they cannot be sure exactly how much of what they want or need they are going to be able to buy with the contents of their purses. If we add to that an element of uncertainty as to exactly what quantities it is that they must make their purchases in, and a sneaking suspicion that goods prepacked in metric sizes 10 per cent. above their imperial counterparts are dearer as well, we shall be doing them a grave disservice.

My Lords, I have already suggested that the poorest proportion of these customers may find themselves temporarily at least unable to buy one or other item on their weekly shopping list. It is this sort of feature that gives the Bill a bad name, that makes many of us sympathetic to arguments against compulsion, and that must be alleviated wherever possible. I feel that the Government have done less than is possible to convince the purchasing public of the desirability of this piece of legislation. If we do not welcome the Bill with enthusiasm, we will at least endeavour to see that it leaves this House better than it entered it.



My Lords, I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, adopted such a hostile tone towards a piece of legislation which, in my view, is very much in the interest of the consumer. I assure him that when he speaks of the consumer being the person with whom he is principally concerned, he is not alone in that. Everybody in this House and. I should hope, in another place is vitally interested in the effect of any legislation on the consumer, particularly legislation which is of such immediate impact as the change in the system of weights and measures. I hope, therefore, that Lord Elton will not claim any monopoly of interest on the side of the consumer. At least the noble Lord's speech elicited an interesting intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. It never occurred to me that one of the disadvantages of this piece of legislation is that Lord Shinwell will be deprived of the opportunity of measuring the height—or is it the width?—of his horses in units of hands. It was at that point in the speech of Lord Elton that Lord Shinwell intervened saying that he would he on his side if the Conservatives chose to press the matter to a Division

The only other point in the speech of Lord Elton to which I wish to refer is his reference to what he described as a failure to please any section of the community. The gist of his remarks seemed to be that the failure to specify definite end dates was annoying to some people and that the introduction of the legislation had disappointed others. If the noble Lord reflects on it, I think he will see that that was inevitable. We cannot always please 100 per cent. of the people; in legislating we have to do what is best for the vast majority and in my opinion, and in the opinion of my Party, that is precisely what this legislation does.

I have always thought that we had a tremendous amount to gain from the adoption of SI units and I sincerely believe that the longer we spend in the period of transition, the further we delay the time when these benefits can be realised. The worst possible situation we could face would be one of prolonged retention of imperial units for some purposes while metric units are already in general use for other purposes. Nothing could be more confusing to the public and wasteful to manufacturing and retailing industry than to have two completely different sets of measurements operating in parallel for an indefinite period.

The advantages of the SI system are well known and should not need rehearsing yet again. The fact is that throughout the world—this was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Oram—there are very few countries which have not yet decided to make the change, and it is worth naming them. They are Burundi, Burma, Liberia and the two Republics of the Yemen, which are hardly the markets which immediately spring to mind when that fine old cliche " export-led boom " is under discussion. But if the argument for change is so overwhelming, why is legislation necessary? That is a legitimate question, and the answer, as Lord Oram pointed out, is that manufacturing industry retailers, trade unions and consumer organisations have, virtually unanimously, asked the Government to lay down a definite time-table so that they can make firm plans and minimise the cost. And in speaking about the cost we should remember that it is a once-for-all cost, whereas the benefits which we expect will continue for ever.

It has been said by a few opponents of the Bill—not by Lord Elton—that this legislation, compelling us to use metric units by law, is an infringement of liberty. However, as Lord Oram pointed out, Governments have for many years laid down permitted sizes and weights, and if most people are agreed that it is necessary for these units to be expressed in metric quantities, then it is obviously a denial of democracy if a small minority is permitted to insist on the retention of imperial units.

There remains the question, the most important one—this is the only point on which I agreed with Lord Elton—What will the effect, if any, be on prices in the shops? It is widely believed that decimalisation of the currency triggered off inflationary price increases and some people fear that the same may happen with metrication. So far as I am aware (and Lord Oram confirmed this), there is no evidence whatever to suggest conclusively that decimalisation led to a general wave of price increases, although there were a few instances of profiteering. I was discussing this with the taxi driver who brought me to the House this afternoon. He told me of a café where, prior to D Day, the proprietor charged 4d for a cup of tea and 4d for a slice of toast, which meant that he could buy a cup of tea and a couple of slices of toast for a shilling. Immediately after D Day, he told me, the proprietor charged 10p—that is, until people noticed. This is where the point about competition comes in, although he did not protest at the time, he could have decided not to patronise that café or tea stall any longer, and the same option will be open to any consumer who discovers overcharging taking place as a result of the conversion to metrication. However, we are now far better organised to deal with this issue than we were at the time of decimilisation. At the same time, it is now less easy for the unscrupulous trader to " con " the public because so many goods are already sold in metric units. Thus, the consumer is familiar with them whereas, as Lord Oram said, the changeover to decimal currency occurred on a single day.

As to the costs falling on manufacturers which might legitimately be recoverable in higher prices, I disagree with Lord Elton that there should be any additional tax or other incentive given to them to cover their costs. That would obviously be grossly unfair on, for example, the sugar manufacturers, who are already making the change voluntarily, and I do not think that any group in industry or commerce has seriously advanced that case to your Lordships' House. Certainly, in none of the literature which I received before this Second Reading has there been any suggestion that public money should be used to help finance the changeover. If the metric packs are generally speaking very slightly larger than imperial ones, costs ought to fall because the amount of material used in packaging increases as the square of the dimensions, whereas the contents increase as the cube of the dimensions. Therefore, the amount of material necessary for a given pack would decrease as the 10 per cent. increase in size came into effect. We have already seen this in the case of cornflakes, where there was a 10 per cent. increase in the size of the pack and where the manufacturers offered the public only a 5 per cent. increase in price, so that the cost per unit was reduced.

Much more important. is the tremen- dous opportunity which metrication gives us to standardise the range of containers and pack sizes so that we should be able to exploit significant economies of scale both in manufacture and in the reduction of inventories in manufacture and retailing which should also lead to keener prices. I do not believe that people really think that the shopkeeper will have an opportunity to cheat them nor that costs are likely to rise. I believe that the few cranks who still oppose metrication—for instance, the English National Party, led by Dr. Hansford Miller—do so for purely emotional reasons which they have to cloak in a semblance of rationality purely for public consumption. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will reconsider some of the things that he said this afternoon so that he does not fall into that group.

4.13 p.m.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I suppose that there is no one else in this House who welcomes this debate quite as warmly as I do. For four years until last month, I was deputy chairman of the Metrication Board and I was therefore, by the conventions of this House, obliged to remain silent when these matters were discussed. I extend my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, who, being still chairman of the Metrication Board, is unfortunately not able to participate. On the other hand, Lord Ritchie-Calder, a former chairman, is now free from bondage and will be able to testify to the truth. I hope that we shall continue this debate on a higher level than, for example, the letter which appeared in the Daily Telegraph some 10 days ago—and no doubt it is a favourite newspaper of the noble Lord, Lord Elton—in which a gentleman from West Wickham asked, " If God had intended man to go metric why did he choose 12 Apostles and not 10? " He had failed to observe that the Creator in his wisdom had given us 10 fingers and 10 toes.

I was extremely disappointed in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I will say frankly to him that I thought it sour, superficial and, in a very important respect, thoroughly irresponsible, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in bringing in a quite spurious suggestion of incentives. That is a matter which I shall touch on in a moment, but I felt that the noble Lord fell so far below the standard that we are accustomed to expect from him in this House that I trust that, in the future stages of the Bill, he will reconsider some of the things which he has unfortunately said this afternoon. I would remind him that, hitherto, this has not until very recently been a matter of Party difference. The decision on the part of the United Kingdom to adopt the international system of measurements—and I would remind the House that it is not just a European system but an international one—has been taken with the full cognisance and consent of Ministers of all Parties in Government over the past decade and more. If I may remind the noble Lord that Ministers on his own side who have been responsible for and who supported this move include Mr. Rippon, Mr. Peter Walker, Mr. John Davies, Sir John Eden and Sir Geoffrey Howe, it will be seen that the support covers a fair spectrum of opinion in the Conservative Party. On our side, Mr. Jay and Mr. Benn, who are not exactly ardent Europeans, supported the change and the present Minister, who has given us perhaps the most effective support, is Mrs. Shirley Williams.

I would also remind my noble friend Lady Phillips, to whose remarks on the radio I shall refer again later, that she used the words before millions of listeners that the Government was " rushing into the matter ". She should know. It is true that she has not attended a meeting for nearly three years, but she is still a member of the Advisory Committee on Consumer Affairs of the Metrication Board, and she should know that we are now in the eleventh year of a programme of conversion to the metric system, the decision having been taken at the insistence of British industry in 1965. I stress that this was not a spontaneous notion of the Government of the day. They recognised that it would not be an easy or, probably a popular process, but it was under the consistent pressure of British industry that Britain decided in 1965 that we must face this change. It was because our industrial leaders—not the politicians—at that time quite rightly foresaw that the world was going metric. I know that certain people have been disposed to link the change with the decision whether or not to apply for membership of the Common Market, but that is really only a fraction of the problem. When, two days before Christmas, so it received no publicity in this country, the President of the United States signed the legislation passed by Congress, the very last argument of all on the international front for remaining imperial—and what an old-fashioned sound that has. anyway!—had really vanished.

We cannot, as the Confederation of British Industry has said in the notes which I think it sent to a number of' noble Lords in the last few days, afford to dilly-dally as we have for the past decade. It has done us no good at all. That is why I was so much disappointed with the lack of resolution in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He cannot possibly have devoted his considerable intellectual powers to this subject. Otherwise he could not have spoken as he did. If he had taken the trouble even to read the memorandum of the Confederation of British Industry he would have appreciated their view. I know that he said he was not addressing himself to the problems of industry but was concerned with those of the consumer; but they are indivisible.


My Lords, I merely wish to say that the noble Baroness has accused me of superficiality and something approaching incompetence, and also of reading the Daily Telegraph. I am not sure which is the more serious charge. I wish she would not also belabour me for not having done my homework. The fact that I do not draw the same inferences as she does does not mean that I have not done my homework nor, when she comes to read Hansard tomorrow, as I hope she will, will she find that I have followed a partisan Party policy or attempted to obstruct the Bill.

Baroness WHITE

Handsome is as handsome does, my Lords. We shall see what happens in the later stages. I repeat I that those concerned with industry and commerce in this country have been of the view, which they hold now almost with desperation, that unless the country really faces this problem with resolution we shall be wasting time and involving ourselves in quite unnecessary expense and shall be adopting a posture which cannot bring us respect in the rest of the world. After all, if so many other countries—now, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, virtually the entire globe—have decided to take this step, how do we look if we are so fearful that we cannot face the problems? I certainly do not belittle them, but if we tackle them with resolution they can be solved, and I am quite certain that that is the desire of industry and the desire of those concerned with commerce. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned organisations which were against this Bill, though he did not specify which they were. The majority of those of the highest standing in the fields to which I have referred—the CBI, the Food Manufacturers' Federation, and the Retail Consortium; I could give a long list—all recognise that the time for delay and hesitation has passed and that we should now bend all our energies to solving the remaining problems.

The noble Lord mentioned costs. I do not wish to weary the House with details of the extreme difficulty of calculating the true cost of conversion. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the immediate cost can be defined, but the ultimate benefit, which is spread over a very long period—possibly to infinity—is much more difficult to calculate. If one tries to estimate any global figure for this change it must be remembered that it has been the common experience of all countries which have attempted this exercise that it just cannot be rationally undertaken. I might refer the noble Lord, or any other noble Lords who are in any doubt on this point, to the experience of the Australians and the Canadians, and in particular to the very thorough study made in the United States before that country finally took the decision. The United States report to Congress on "A metric America", made plain that those responsible would very much have liked to be able to estimate the cost. They went to considerable trouble in their endeavours so to do. As was said in the report: The ideal outcome of the procedure would have been a simple aggregate figure representing the net benefit or cost to the nation of going metric under a co-ordinated national plan. This conceptually simple approach was not feasible. Virtually all the costs would be incurred during the transition period at a time when benefits were only just beginning. Many of the benefits would come after the transition, and some are intangible: others cannot be attributed purely to metric change. All I can say is that those of us who have studied this problem over many years have come to the conclusion that the costs of not going metric are difficult to calculate, but are very considerable indeed—more particularly the costs of maintaining two systems. That is really the final folly: to try to continue with two systems, with all the work and effort of accounting, of stock keeping, of thinking in two systems, as well as the delays and hesitations that obviously must arise from that situation. So the arguments in favour of a more rapid change are irrefutable. In the past few months, in fact from the moment when in another place the Minister, Mrs. Williams, under pressure from conservatives (I say that with a small c ") on both sides of the House, withdrew the Bill—so that we are now handling a No. 2 Bill in this House—the expressions of dismay which were received from every consumer organisation, except the one represented by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips—


My Lords, would the noble Baroness forgive me if I intervene briefly? I wonder why she assumes that anyone who happens to have a slightly different opinion from hers is either sour or conservative?

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Baroness thinks that perhaps she is both. I think she must know that the majority of consumer organisations in this country were very much disturbed by the statements made by the organisation which she represents, which has been in the business for rather less time than most of the others. My noble friend Lord Oram referred to a number of the organisations with which the Metrication Board has been in constant consultation, year in, year out, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, can testify. There is the Consumer Association, publishers of Which?, which is extremely well known, the Housewives' Trust, the Women's Institutes. One could go on indefinitely listing such organisations of people with whom we have discussed the very genuine problems of dealing with consumer protection. Not least among them is Age Concern. At the Metrication Board we went to the most considerable trouble and expense to commission a special study of the particular needs of older persons. Not everyone is such a robust nonagenarian as my noble friend Lord Shinwell, but obviously even he finds metrication a little difficult.

We recognise that there are difficulties, but may we look at the other end of the age spectrum, the young people? This is something which concerns me more than almost any other aspect of the delay in this change. In this country, in the past six or seven years at least, we have had a process of education based, so far as arithmetic is concerned, very largely on the metric system; and in many schools it has been based exclusively on the metric system. Among those who were most dismayed at the thought that the Bill which we are now discussing might be postponed or even abandoned were the educational organisations in this country. We reckon that by now 15 million of our population of children and young persons have been brought up in familiarity with the metric system and find our old imperial system—not the metric system—the difficult one. The metric system, when it is conjoined with decimal currency, which we now have, is infinitely simpler on its own merits. It is a failure to recognise that which leads me to despair of certain noble Lords and others who fail to see that we are really damaging the younger generation, and the efficiency of that generation, by our slowness, as an older generation, in consummating this change.

I have here pages of comments from all the main teachers' organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, protesting at the possibility of any further delay in bringing the world outside the school into line with the teaching which has been carried on, with great devotion and assiduity in most cases, within the school. The National Association of Head Teachers writes: Most serious would be the waste of human resources. A whole generation of young people now thinks metrically, and for the less gifted child, school mathematics are now a great deal less irksome. This is extremely important. The National Union of Teachers wrote last month: The union therefore reiterates its general support for the proposals which have already produced great benefits in our schools and strongly opposes the postponement of existing plans. Important developments have already taken place in the majority of schools and to defer the full implementations of metrication is an indefensible waste of valuable time and resources and could create problems in future educational planning. I could give your Lordships a number of further quotations—although I shall not—from the Headmasters' Association, the Association of Colleges for Further and Higher Education, and so on. Surely the message is clear: those who delay this change further are responsible for undermining the efficiency of our industry, for adding to the costs of our industry, our exports, and our commerce, and also for undermining the confidence of young people, who have been brought up to face a modern international world and to look outward and onward and not inward and backward.

My Lords, I appreciate that there are, as I have said, very genuine difficulties for many consumers, and that they are entitled to all the assistance which can be given them by Government, by voluntary organisations, by the retailers and shopkeepers, and by anyone else concerned; but one must be rational about this. For example, I understand that the National Consumer Council suggested at the weekend that goods in certain categories should be allowed to change to metric only if, in the previous six months, their prices have gone up by less than 5 per cent. My Lords, how unpractical can one be? When such a body makes a statement of that kind it can only mean that their natural and very proper concern for the consumer has completely blinded them to the practicalities of the case. No one who has weestied, as I and my colleagues on the Metrication Board have had to wrestle, with the individual problems of different industries, and who knows how important it is for them to have some kind of certainty as to timetable and how frustrated they are when they cannot have a point of time by which they can be assured that the change will take place in an orderly fashion, could for one moment be so irresponsible as to suggest that a factor of uncertainty of this nature should be built in.

It really is incredible that an organisation of public standing like the National Consumer Council should have been responsible for such a proposition, which can only mean that they have not studied what goes on before you change to metric in any particular sector. If you knew what had to go on before you could make the change you would never suggest anything of the kind. That is one reason why I greatly welcome the provisions in this Bill which will give the Government the power—not the duty, but the power— after due consultation and with proper discrimination, where necessary, and where it is fully agreed with the trade concerned, to have a cut-off date after which, for purposes of trade (and I emphasise that: only for purposes of trade), it will he illegal to continue to use the imperial system. This does not mean that you cannot go on using your old cook books or your old pattern books, or whatever, in private; this is purely in the trading situation.

I did my very utmost, in one particular sector of fabrics, furnishing materials and carpets, to go as far as I could on a purely voluntary basis, and I should like to pay tribute to those who co-operated to the full in this process. We had a date—February of last year—when the change was to take place. The large retailers, the major stores, the large consortia, took considerable pains. The Metrication Board did what it could to help them, but it was primarily their effort. We very largely succeeded, only to find that a considerable number of their competitors in smaller shops, who were of course under no compulsion whatever to change, decided that it would be simpler for them not to, and did not. The result of this was endless confusion for the consumer, for the shopper, and a gradual disillusionment on the part of those who had gone to such trouble to effect the change.

It was this experience, among others, which convinced the Government and also the retail organisations concerned that the only sensible thing to do was, after due consideration, as I say, and with full concern for the interests and conditions in any particular section of the trade, for the Government then to say, Look—from such-and-such a time all trading must now be done on a uniform basis; in other words, in the new metric system." It is really the only intelligent way to tackle this problem; and, therefore, I am very glad indeed that the Government have had the good sense to include such a provision in the Bill.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to refer again to the problem that we all face in educating the consumer. This is one of the most difficult things. The Metrication Board has a certain sum of money, and can spend it on advertising in the public Press, on leaflets, on conversion tables, on various aids in the shops and so forth, and ultimately, I suppose, if it was given enough money, it could go into some television advertising. I believe an even greater effort is needed—something which would be impossible for the Metrication Board even if it were more munificently financed and impossible for the voluntary organisations, on whose co-operation, for which we are all so extremely grateful, we have so greatly depended. It seems to me that this is something which should be tackled as a long-term national problem by our broadcasting system, particularly television. The BBC has done an absolutely magnificent job. I think, in tackling a quite different problem—that of illiteracy. Their " On the Move " programme has, I think, won tremendous renown.

It seems to me that, to help the consumer over the next year or two with the problems of shopping in metric, a comparable effort is needed, and I would hope very much that the Metrication Board, with the Government Department concerned, would have consultations with the BBC to see whether they could not take up this challenge. I think it is needed, not by means of one or two programmes here and there but as a sustained effort over a period, may be this coming winter and perhaps the winter after, so that people can adapt to the new system with confidence. We have made tremendous progress on the industrial front, and we are making substantial progress on the commercial and retail front. I do not think that any one organisation can really tackle the problem on the consumer front, and I would therefore hope that, in co-operation with the Government Department, with the Metrication Board and with all the voluntary organisations which have been so helpful up to now, not least with the educational establishment and the teachers' organisations, we should now pull ourselves together and, with the cooperation of our national broadcasting and television system, say, " Look—we have two years. Let us get through with it, let us get it done; let us face the problem, tackle it and win through ".

4.39 p.m.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, for I think the first time in my career in your Lordships' House I must preface my remarks with an apology for not being able to attend the whole of this debate this afternoon. This is not by my wish at all, but I have inescapable obligations to third parties; and I shall read the rest of the debate in Hansard with the greatest interest and attention tomorrow. I am sure anybody who knows how closely I have been associated with these matters in the past will exculpate me from any voluntary wish to absent myself.

It is difficult to conceive how to make a Second Reading speech on what is rather a Committee stage type Bill. But those who preceded me succeeded in doing so and f shall try to do the same. The most general aspect of the Bill is to empower the Minister to get a move on and this I thoroughly endorse. But getting a move on with what? Essentially a work of altruism. At a certain measure of inconvenience to ourselves, which should neither be overestimated nor underestimated, we can simplify the educational and arithmetical work for children for ever—for our children, our grandchildren, their children and their grandchildren, for as long as language has its present form; because our language is a decimal language and metrication involves learning the practical units in which we carry out our transactions within the structure of the language that we speak.

We count from nought to nine and then ten; and ten times ten is one hundred. Ten hundreds are a thousand and we have a word for it. The Greeks had a word for ten thousand, a myriad. The Hindus had a word for 100,000, a lakh. We have a million, a billion and a trillion. This is true of all the sophisticated languages. I am not talking about the primitive bush languages which have words for " one " and " two " and then nothing more except " many ". This applies to all sophisticated language: the Indo-European, the Turco-Tartar languages, the Semitic languages—all are based on decimilisation. The advice Jethro gave Moses about delegated authority in the Book of Exodus is a decimalised scheme: to divide the children of Israel into tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. So metrication goes back far into a time to which the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.

We must retrace this system of language in order to describe practical units. At the time of the French Revolution, European units of measurement were just a chaos. It has been my professional responsibility at one time to do my homework on the history of currency; and a long dreary tale of muddle it is. Every attempt to reform it always landed into deeper and deeper arithmetical difficulties for one reason or another until the French Revolution, when some theorists decided to make a new beginning with a decimal system. At the Treaty of Amiens in 1809 we had the opportunity to get aboard the band wagon. If only we had done so then, it would have been so easy. As time goes on, our society gets more and more complex and more and more interlocking interests need to be reconciled and they become more various and the operation of reform becomes more difficult. Therefore the job which is started earliest gets finished earliest.

I am at one with the noble Baroness, Lady White, in the need to get a move on. I think there tends to be a certain amount of misunderstanding between the units specified as legal units and the shopping module. You do not go into a wine and spirit merchants and ask for 26⅔ fluid ounces of whisky. I would take a bet that the majority of your Lordships do not know that a bottle of whisky contains 26⅔ fluid ounces. Whoever cooked up that extraordinary sum? It is quite simple. The unit in the wholesale trade is a two-gallon case of 12 bottles: and if you divide 12 bottles into two gallons you get 26⅔ fluid ounces. But you do not ask for that in the shop. You say, " Give me a bottle of whisky!" When we go decimal—and I shall declare an interest as a director of the Distillers Company—it happens, conveniently for us, that 26⅔ fluid ounces is almost exactly 750 millilitres, which is three-quarters of a litre. We are not going to one-litre bottles; we are not going to scrap our bottling plants and our commercial arrangements. We shall simply re-label: " 750 ml " or " three quarters litre " and we shall carry on selling just the same.

Again, if I go into a grocer's to do my weekend shopping—I sometimes do this to help my wife—I say, " Give me half a pound of cheese! " What I do not get is half a pound of cheese. I get a lump of cheese which the grocer holding the cutting-wire judges to be approximately half a pound. That is put on a 'price-calculating scale and I am given exactly the weight by price per unit and I pay the amount. I could ask for a " small half pound " and the grocer can wield the string or wire and say, " Like that? I say, " Yes ". That is how people do their shopping. That is why in France you buy cheese by the livre which is half a kilo. In fact, our pound is not half a kilo. A kilo is rather more than 2 lbs; but I have no doubt that in due course we shall modify the concept of the pound to mean half a kilo; so that the word will remain in the language after having changed its meaning.

It seems to me that people tend to make confusion over this. You do not necessarily buy things by the unit but by the bottle—and a bottle of soya bean sauce need not necessarily contain the same cubic centimetres as does a bottle of Tabasco sauce. This will have been settled by the marketing manager of the people who sell it. You buy a bottle.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is not here. I do not suppose that he is sorry, because he has got it hot and strong continuously and much as I should like to let him off the hook I must even in absentia give him a wigging over the special pleading that he indulged in. Let us take the first matter. This was the lady who was down to her last 50p piece so that she could not buy something which was priced at 55p. But you are always down to whatever sum of money happens to be in your pocket. There is always something that you are not able to buy. It does not matter whether it is 50p or 45p or £1.55p —whatever it is, there is still something costing £1.56 that you must either put " on the slate " (if you can) or go without.

To speak as though this situation is going to be transformed as a result of metrication is special pleading, the finding of bad reasons to justify your not doing what you had made up your mind in advance that you were not going to do. Then there was the question of resentment. People are continually suspicious that somebody is doing them down. Some people are. Some people always have to grumble. If they do not grumble about decimalisation they will grumble about metrication or they will grumble about the weather. If we were never going to take forcible executive action for fear that people might grumble, we should do nothing. Therefore it is time that we got a move on and I endorse the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Oram, gave for getting on with this Bill.

It is a mistake to go on shivering on the brink and putting off the jump into the water. You indulge in this in the belief that the water is very cold. My experience is that even if it is cold there is an even colder wind outside and the water feels warm when you get into it. I think we should get a move on and push this through as quickly as possible. I have two experiences of metrication in companies with which I was associated. In one, we had a large export order where we had to quote everything in metric. We said: " Do not let us take two bites at the cherry; let us go metric now. Bang!—this year ". We did it and it did not cost much. That is all ancient history now and we are metric. In the other case, we decided to metricate all new models and to keep the old system going side by side on old models and their spare parts. Then I listened to the special pleading by those who argued about holding spare parts in two standards, and what it would cost. But the old models would still have to be held, and the jigs and tools to make them. And the new models would have had to have spares held, too. So the special pleading was false and we metricated in stages. I believe that we should take no counsel of our fears but jump in and get a move on.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I was going to start my speech in exactly the same way as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, because I ought to be somewhere else, and might, in that case, be deprived of the pleasure of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Oram, winding up. I hope that he will forgive me if I cannot stay until the end of the debate. May I congratulate him on the lucidity of his speech. I envied him being able to declare the Government's position in this matter. Six years ago when I spoke from the Box, then before the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury (who said just now some things with which I did not disagree), I was not in exactly the same position of clarity of position as are the Government. It was only a year after the Metrication Board had come into being, and it was early days at that time so far as metrication was concerned. For my part, I welcome wholeheartedly the Government's measure; in fact, I can say that for years now I have been waiting for it in Government and out of Government. The changes which have been made are really very simple. I do not think I have come across a Bill before where the real " guts " of it are in the repeals provision—that is to say, Schedule 4. What that does is to remove the last few words in particular of Section 10 of the Weights and Measures Act 1963 which says: … but the Board shall not so exercise their powers under this subsection "— that is to add or remove any measures, or measurements or weights from Schedule 1 or Schedule 3 of that Act— as to cause the exclusion from use for trade of imperial in favour of metric units of measurement, weights and measures. We will never get to the end of this business until the Government do just that. I regard this as the real " guts " of the Bill. The sooner we get there and do it, the better.

Metrication has been going on ever since 1965. Then Mr. Douglas Jay told Parliament of the intention of the Government that this country should go metric. The interesting thing about this is that it was before any question of our going into the EEC, and of course Mr. Douglas Jay was not in favour of going into the EEC in any case. I say this merely to illustrate the fact that metrication at the present time is nothing to do essentially with our going into the EEC. Of course, the EEC are making rules now that we are there. This was done in the interests of our international trade before this question really arose, or at any rate came to a climax. At the time when I came on the scene and stood at the Dispatch Box and made a speech, in 1970, the CBI had just said this: After five years' intensive preparation, industry is irrevocably committed to metrication ". That was in 1970. Yet there are still some slaggards, laggards and recalcitrants who are still talking as if metrication were an open question.

My next point has been made clear by the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Oram. Industry committed themselves because our so-called system of weights and measures was complicated and irrational, and because, apart from the United States of America, all the major trading countries in the world were either already using the metric system or were well on the way to metrication. Now the United States of America, after seven years of study during which some metrication has been going on, has committed itself to metrication. Clearly, international trade is going to be conducted in the future in metric weights and measures, so whatever happens we are going to have to use metric weights and measures to a very large extent.

As the House knows, we are entitled to use either form of measurement at the present time under our present law. But is it really sensible for this country alone to carry on with imperial weights and measures for its own internal purposes? Would not this he a form of self-indulgence that we certainly could not afford? May I put it in another way. Those of us who I served in the Board of Trade (as it then was) found ourselves urging this country and others at all costs to remove non-tariff barriers as much as possible. Could one imagine a greater non-tariff barrier than our requiring all imports into this country to be marked in imperial weights and measures which were not being used anywhere else in the world except Burma, Brunei and one or two other places?

Australia started metrication after we did, in June 1970. As in this country, it is being carried out on a voluntary basis, and as in this country the aim was to complete metrication in 10 years. In five years 60 per cent. has already been completed there. Here in 10 years we have not got so far. It has been said that the costs of not going metric entirely are very considerable. That is true. There is the obvious savings in not having to keep double sets of stocks, in not having double sets of machinery, marking and all the rest of it, some for overseas and some for here. The savings for industry in terms of stocking are undoubtedly very considerable. I should like to take an example of fasteners which is contained in an Australian bulletin which was sent to me by Dr. F. T. Pearce of the University of Birmingham. I was very glad to see it. Marconi (U.K.) by adopting international fasteners have been able to reduce the numbers of types of screw used from 7,000 to 180. In Australia hinge manufacturers were producing 153 variations of imperial sizes for the building industry. They are now producing 11. They have reduced the number of sizes of fan belts from 1,000 to 100.

This is not only metrication; it is the opportunity that metrication gives for rationalisation. But it is a very important factor. Metrication is vital for industry and training. No doubt it is less important for road signs, speed limits and road distances. It would be silly in the long run not to express road distances in terms of kilometres once all the maps are being published in metric measurement. Metrication is a " must " both in manufacture and in commerce for us. Gradually it is becoming more acceptable for the consumer. An indication has been given of the progress which has been made in fabrics, carpets, hardware, and so on, and metric packs are already being introduced under recent regulations for pasta, salt, cornflakes and washing powder.

It has always been recognised that there were two main obstacles to progress in the consumer field. First of all, there are the requirements in Parts VIII and IX of the Weights and Measures Act that certain common foods— for example, butter, tea, coffee, jam, salt, sugar, flour, and so on—should only be packed in certain quantities. The second obstacle is the one to which I have already referred, the last words of Section 10 of the 1963 Act. These are the two main things that the Bill does—and high time, too! I congratulate the Government in doing this, even if the second major obstacle is removed in the obscure way which I have indicated.

My Lords, may I turn now to the question of the interim period. I hope that the Government will not allow dual marking to continue too long. The Australians, who are perhaps in some ways tougher and more realistic than we are in these matters, took the following line. I should like to quote to the House what they said: Experience has shown that sole metric marking of goods is an important part of consumer education rather than a phase to be introduced only after the education of the consumer. The Board believe that the dual marking serves little purpose in consumer education and merely extends the period over which reassurance must be given. Given the climate of opinion in this country and the great sensitivity to the consumer, I would agree that it is better to have dual marking for a time, even though it is likely to slow up, rather than hasten, the education of the consumer. So long as the BBC gave expected temperatures in both Fahrenheit and Centigrade, people only registered the measure they were accustomed to, and it is only by ruthlessly refusing to give temperatures in Fahrenheit that people who are more familiar with Fahrenheit will bother to learn the Centigrade equivalents.

Of course, many difficulties will be involved for all of us. I can never remember my collar measurement in metric, but I daresay I shall learn it in the future and shall at least jot it down in my diary. It is a case of " thinking metric ", just as it was a case of " thinking decimal " when the currency was changed. But do not let us keep dual marking longer than is really required. I fully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White, when she spoke about cut-off dates which would be arranged for particular groups of products. But we are coming to the stage, if we have not already reached it, where a cut-off date should be provided for converting scales and balances used in the course of trade. Until that is done, some loose goods will still be sold under the old system; but sooner or later that decision has to be taken and it would be a good thing to have it done as soon as possible. The first thing is to mark with metric equivalents all goods which are prepacked in certain quantities. Then we must require them to be marked in metric quantities with the imperial equivalents; and, finally, the imperial measurement must be dropped altogether. This can be done for each product in accordance with the pre-planned time, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, said, when the manufacturers and packers need to change their machinery and equipment to metric weights and measures. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, referred to loose goods sold by weight. Incidentally, I am not sure that I share his general experience, because when I buy cheese it is usually in a horrible little bit of transparent paper and of pre-packed weight, and of course you cannot smell it so you do not know what it is like and I would much prefer to have it cut for me. In selling goods by weight it seems essential to lay down a fixed date by which scales in shops must be converted to metric weights. I am sorry that this is not in the Bill and perhaps the noble Lord will be able to explain why it is not there.

It is also sensible to provide in the Bill for occasions when it proves impossible to meet deadlines without causing shortages, as is done under Clause 8. It also is sensible to provide for consultation as and when time permits, and not to tic the Government down to a definite amount of consultation. I am sure it is wise to provide for consultation with consumers as well as with distributors' and manufacturers' organisations, even though decisions must be taken on logistics rather than on what consumers would like to happen. Certainly consumer consultations on price, when local shortages appear, would he desirable.

Lastly, I would ask, as I did in my earlier intervention—and I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way—why it is thought necessary to give powers to make orders prescribing the descriptions of containers to be used for particular goods and the material from which such containers are to be made. I can understand the reasons for prescribing the size and capacity of a container, though there are good practical reasons for not doing so in certain cases. If a container is clearly marked with the quantity of the contents, the fact that one container looks taller than another seems to me irrelevant. Surely the consumer should be expected to read details of the weight or volume of competitive packs, whatever their dimensions. As to the material from which containers are made, I would suggest to the noble Lord that the provision seems rather unnecessarily inflexible. It will tend to handicap and delay innovation. It is also bound to discriminate against some manufacturers. I take it that the Government will apply this to imported as well as to home goods and to goods imported from countries other than EEC countries as well as to EEC countries.

I hope the noble Lord will be able to say a little more about this when we come to the Committee stage. Personally, I am absolutely convinced that this Bill is in the national interest. I believe that the noble Lord was absolutely right in saying that we must have an orderly and planned transition and as speedy a one as is practicable. I would assure the noble Lord that I personally would certainly not oppose this Bill.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, from the various murmurings I have heard, I seem to be cast as the villain of the piece this evening. If I am described as a crank, as irrational or non-intellectual, it does not bother me in the least because, so far as I can recall, from time immemorial anyone who dared to go against the mainstream was always described as " a crank ". One can read that even about Louis Pasteur.

We have been told that metrication is inevitable. So is death, my Lords, but one need not hasten the process unless one is convinced that it is to one's advantage. Metrication was first started in its more formal stages in this country in 1963, with the Metrication Board being set up under the Conservative Government of the time in 1971.


My Lords, I beg the noble Baroness's pardon, but the Metrication Board was not set up in 1963.


I did not say 1963. It would help if some noble Lords would really listen.


I was trying to.


I said that metrication was started in a formal state in this country in 1963. As I am surrounded by so many chairmen and ex-chairmen of the Metrication Board, I shall have to be careful about this. But I would suggest that even since 1969 the state of the nation has changed. I am not opposed in principle to metrication, but I am concerned that it might be introduced before inflation has really been brought under control. We have heard a great deal about what people believed happened during decimalisation. They believed that hidden costs were added because of decimalisation. I would be the first to agree that we have a very responsible distributive trade, and the industry certainly was not guilty of that, but the mere fact that people thought such a thing was happening means that we do not want to have the same belief arising again.

When we get the metric size packs, they are larger, as the noble Lord pointed out. Let us take the kilo, for example, which is 2¼ lb. Therefore even half a kilo will be more than a pound, and when somebody goes to buy a larger pack inevitably it will be more expensive. Therefore people will relate a higher shopping bill to metrication. No matter what kind of education people are given, somebody will have to think of a very clever way to get round that difficulty. We have been given various reasons about the introduction of metrication—for example. it has been on the stocks for a long time now and we ought to carry it forward —but only at the end of his speech did the Minister mention the European Community. When I heard one of the Ministers at the Department of Prices and Incomes speaking to the National Consumer Council, of which I am a member, he mentioned this first; and those of us who are on the Select Committee on the Harmonisation of Instruments, which is sitting in this House, know that at this very moment there are two Directives before us on the changeover to metrication. So it would be fatuous to suggest that there is not some correlation—I put it no higher than that.

I would correct one detail of the statement that was attributed to me. I said on the radio that one of the British Members of the European Parliament, who is related to me, spoke about this subject at Strasbourg and pointed out that if people are to be convinced of the reality of these harmonisation proposals they must not be railroaded into decisions which they deeply suspect may add to their cost of living. They deeply suspect that this will add to their cost of living, and I am delighted to see that following discussions the Government have made changes in the original Bill and it is only fair to pay tribute to them. It is equally fair to pay tribute to the people who made the points which enabled the Government to embody those changes.

However, in Committee I shall be seeking further changes; first—which one of your Lordships did not like—to get general inflation under control before the orders are laid. The figure of 5 per cent. has been mentioned and that is near the target of the Government for 1977, so we shall not be doing anything different. So it is reasonable for orders not to be laid before we have an annual increase which is down to the level of 5 per cent.

Secondly, I shall be trying to introduce a compulsory six months' price freeze on each food product as it is metricated. That suggestion was put forward by a Minister at the Department. He is not row there, and has been promoted or moved sideways, but he suggested it as a possibility. So that this is not something which the National Consumer Council has just pulled out of the air. Of course, I recognise that chaos can result if we do not move in a tidy fashion, but I am not certain why we have to move in the way we are doing.

I shall give your Lordships a little gardening sum which I saw in the Sunday Telegraph, and which some of you may also have seen. In reply to a letter in a South African newspaper, the gardening expert said: I think your soil is a bit too acid. Try adding 1.3 kg. of lime on 7.28 square metres. It seems to me that there is a simple way of putting over a proposition of that kind, and while it may not be an argument for opposing the Bill it is an argument for making certain that every consumer understands what is happening, and recognises that prices are not going up because of yet another change.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I think that most of the arguments in favour of this Bill have already been put forward far better than I can do it myself. I cannot really appreciate the arguments against, and I am afraid that what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said shocked me. I have great admiration for his ability, and I can only conclude that he may have been speaking on behalf of some other opinion, as is often done by those on the Front Bench, and hope that he was not representing the Conservative Party as a whole.

I do not think anybody has gone so far as to say that we should not have metrication, but there are two other alternatives. First, we can slow down the pace; and, secondly, we can have both imperial and metric units lasting for some time. As regards slowing down the pace, I think that nearly every consumer organisation, apart from the National Consumer Council—which does not surprise me—has said that the sooner we get over this slightly traumatic experience the better. There is no doubt that for some years we have been dragging our feet unnecessarily on metrication. It is bound to come, it is coming fairly quickly and it will not be very long—I think 1978—before metricised packs from abroad begin to come on the market here. So if we are to have a proper phased programme, and see that it works in the best possible way for consumers, it behoves us to get on with the job at a reasonable pace taking all the difficulties and factors into account.

One of the maxims in life that I have always believed in is that if a certain course of action has been decided on one should pursue it with resolution, because only if one does so will the full benefits result. But in Britain today—and this is just one more example—there seems to be a dither syndrome, which may well be the reason why we are in our present position. One of the most important factors is our gross national product and there is no doubt that metrication will help there, but it depends on our manufacturers and duality of goods is far more expensive for them and makes life far more difficult. So let us, just for once, press forward with a little more resolution and a little less looking backwards.

What have the National Consumer Council said? They have said, " Delay, certainly on food, until we get down to inflation of 5 per cent." That would be a wrecking Amendment, because it looks as if our imports—and we must not forget that we are dependent upon our imports of food to an immense degree—will not get down to 5 per cent. for many years. Furthermore, it has been argued that it is better not to wait until there is no inflation. I do not know why, because, if even some people try to make a profit out of the changeover, with our present rate of inflation it will be only a month or two before it evens out. At the very worst, they will have put up the prices two months early and with our present rate of inflation that will not make much difference.

This Bill is not a charter for unreasonable haste. It is a charter so that we can move at a reasonable pace in the interests of the consumer. I shall be very sorry if people put their ears to the ground and find excuses and reasons of little weight for delaying our changeover to metrication. It is not popular, and those who like to play to the gallery will no doubt have their ears to the ground.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I have to declare an interest and air a grievance. Your Lordships will already have had drawn to your attention the interest which I have to declare, that I was the first chairman of the Metrication Board; and my grievance is that I have been waiting ever since for this Bill. I do not know how much this has cost me in litres of beer because at my last Press conference in 1972 when I handed over to my successor, the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, I rashly wagered to sceptical Pressmen that Britain, for all practical purposes, would be metric by 1975. The sceptics were right and I was wrong because successive Governments have failed to remove the road block which would have made that possible.

As a word of personal explanation, may I say that in 1969 I undertook to introduce metrication by voluntary consent because I believed that that was the proper way to go about it and that in preparation for the acceptance and development of metrication in this country there was not much of an alternative. I ought to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips (who is not here at the moment), that what happened was not a rushed job. As has been pointed out already, we have been on our way to metrication since 1875; we have had permission to use the metric system since 1897 and we have been operating through the interested parties—that is not a pejorative term because the people who undertook and demanded metrication were doing so in the best interests not only of themselves but of this country—who were already in action by 1965.

As has been pointed out, the Government at that time, with Douglas Jay at the Board of Trade, agreed to phase metrication over 10 years. When I came into the picture in 1969 I found—as I think we all found—that there was an impressively growing concern in terms of the British Standards Institution, the CBI and the big trading and industrial concerns who themselves were undertaking this process. However, I took on the job in 1969 on the clear understanding that when the black list of reluctants had become the white list of co-operating industries, commercial firms, schools, et cetera, the Government would amend the statutory Weights and Measures Act to make the conversion progressively complete.

As I have pointed out, since 1897 the use of metric weights and measures has been authorised as an alternative system. The amendment of the Act is necessary to extend the permitted uses until the alternative system becomes the primary system. Throughout one must bear in mind what has been reiterated: that however much we do this progressively, in the various sectors and circumstances we must have a very well conceived cut-off, otherwise if we wait for everything merely to converge, almost by accident, we shall not get very far. I once described the Metrication Board as a marshalling yard—that our function was to bring together all the programmes of all the sectors and despatch them in the right direction. The only trouble is that we have got the signals fouled up by the Government's failure to give us the all clear.

I want to pay a heartfelt tribute, and I feel that it ought to be done in this House —my noble friend Lord Oram has mentioned the Metrication Board and I want to be even more forthcoming in terms of that Board—to my former colleagues on the Board: to the long suffering members of the Board and the staff, to the deputy chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, who was my first vice-chairman, and to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who joined the Metrication Board. We are very good at making converts when we get them inside and work upon them, although both noble Lords brought their convictions with them.


My Lords, the noble Lord had only 10 days in which to educate me.


Yes, my Lords, but what a 10 days! We did the job. Then the noble Lord went on to become our Minister. That is the point. I want also to pay tribute to the then Director General, Gordon Bowen, and to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and his Deputy-Chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady White. I say this with great feeling because they have gone through, as I was beginning to go through. an enormous sense of official frustration: but they have, kept metrication going forward, despite everything. I think that those who have been involved will support me in paying tribute to the members of the steering committees dealing with the various sectors of the economy, whose job it has been to provide the liaison, the instruction and the persuasion among their colleagues —because they are drawn from these sectors—and who have given the drive which has produced the voluntary changes. It was a very effective structure that we created and it has been very effective in its operation. As has been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Phillips, we have much to answer for—and by " we " I mean the Government and everybody else, including myself and the Metrication Board—because we ought to he concerned, as I am, about the 15 million school children who have already been taught metric. We had the early support of the Schools Council, and we had no difficulty whatever in persuading children to go metric because it is so much easier. It has been reckoned that a thousand hours per school life are saved simply by teaching the metric system and forgetting all the rote—I was going to say " rot " but I am deliberately putting an " e " on the end—of the imperial system. If you work it out. that means that we have saved 15,000 million school hours by metrication. We did not have any difficulty with the class teachers. At that time my daughter was a teacher and when she left to take her class every morning she always said. not " Goodbye " but " Go metric ". We had difficulty with certain head teachers in England but not in Scotland—there was no difficulty there whatever—to whom the discretion was left and who, we found, could be as cranky as some other people.

As has been stressed today, all the teachers' organisations have declared their support and growing disappointment at the present delay in going over to metric as the primary system. Therefore, I repeat that this may well be because they, we and successive Governments have betrayed their pupils who have emerged into a confused world, which we promised —at least I did—that they would not, of imperial measures. One must remember that as a result of this they have now to learn imperial as a second language of numeracy.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, can he say whether he thinks that the whole of English literature ought to be re-written for the benefit of the children to whom he has referred, who in future are apparently to be deprived of any instruction in the use of imperial measurements upon which so much of our Anglo-Saxon heritage is based, or does he think that such children should no longer read our literature?


My Lords, I have not quite grasped what the question means but I gather it means that because we are going metric, children will not understand Chaucer since a great deal of it is in imperial measurements—which even we would not understand. What I accept is that in teaching literature or any subject we have a function to make people aware of the folklore we are introducing. During my term I had to contend with two contradictory obstacles: folklore and the Common Market.

The vociferous critics—and there were fewer than the Government had thought—joined forces. There were those who saw the hallowed pint going to be threatened and those who were then opposing the Market who saw metrication as a kind of hi-jacking conspiracy to get us into the Common Market. I may say here that for other reasons my attitude to the Common Market should not have given that impression. It is really ironical now because whatever the fate of the Bill we shall be compelled to accept metric measurements by April 1978, as has been pointed out, under our EEC obligations, and we have to allow the free circulation of goods in metric quantities.

With regard to folklore, I am addicted to folklore myself, even when it accepts the length of a Viking's hug as the measure of a fathom or the stretch from the tip of a king's nose to the tip of his outstretched middle finger as the length of the yard. I am all for it. I would go into literature in these terms but I would not go into numeracy on the same terms.

When I was speaking as chairman to an audience of Scottish farmers and their wives I told them that I was in the invidious position of rewriting Robert Burns: Go bring to me 0.56827 cubic decilitres of wine And fill it in a silver tassie That I may drink before I go A tribute to my bonny lassie. But I also reminded them that Burns wrote in To a Mouse: A daimon icker in a thrave's a sma' request ". I asked them what that meant and one farmer's bright wife said that a " daimon " was an odd piece, and somebody else said that an " icker " was a head of corn, but no Scottish farmer there knew what a " thrave " was. So I said that if a farmer met a thrave he would run a kilometre but the fact is that a thrave is 24 sheaves of corn, and if anyone can catch up with that and put it into the literature, he is welcome! In measurement terms it makes no sense at all.

The point which raised temperatures by degrees celcius in this discussion was of course the pint, but I used to tell people that my job was not to abolish the pint but to liberate the litre. We discussed the possibilities of the " metric pint " or 500 millilitres. That was too little, but 600 millilitres would have given them six teaspoonsful more of either milk or beer. One of the loudest opponents of the metric system once said to me on television that he would go to the barricades to defend the pint. I pointed out to him that I had not seen him tearing up the kerbstones to oppose the 15½ fluid ounces of beer which is what he gets in the tins in his refrigerator. It seems to me it is the physical exercise of pulling the pint which is at issue, and not the quantity itself.

As has been pointed out, when we start to calculate the advantages of metrication as regards costs, they are practically incalculable. You cannot do it; it is a once and for all in actual cost. One of the great things which have been demonstrated (and this is why the years which the locusts have eaten have not been completely devoured) is the fact that in all the processes of going metric we have reminded people that just the fact that we have to think about changing the nature of the unit means that you have to think about processes and the rationalisation; the clearing out of the lumber is one of the biggest factors in it. In fact, one firm in Scotland called themselves " MacMetric " and their slogan was " MacMetric, MacMoney." There is a limit to our nostalgia. We must not treat young people as though we were persuading children to give up their comforter—an imperial dummy. This is nonsense, rubbish. The rational arguments are now completely and totally overthrown. I particularly resent the delays in this country when I recall how we at the Metrication Board were the tutors of our Commonwealth cousins and the Americans who came to learn from us how to go metric painlessly—Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and the United States. All of them are now ahead of us. I was invited to give evidence before a committee of the United States Congress. I reminded them that their last symbol of allegiance to George Ill was the imperial system of weights and measures. They did not take that too well and I found out afterwards that they altered it to conventional measures. I recalled that in the age of reason—and I say this to those who think we are hurrying metrication—Jefferson gave the United States the first decimal coinage, well ahead of the French, but stopped short of metrication because he lost his nerve when they transferred what was to be the length of the pendulum at the Equator, which was to be the length of the metre and then somebody started to work it out on the length of the quadrant of the meridian. That really foxed him so he gave it up. They did not go metric then. Quincey Adams as Secretary of State 40 years later put forward to Congress all the arguments for the metric system and then advised against introducing it ahead of the United States' main customer—Britain. Over a century later the argument was being turned the other way: Britain should not go metric ahead of the United States. In this Bicentennial year the United States are now going metric, and going metric in the way in which perhaps we should have done, because they have done the clearance Bill before they started. The rest is how far one can get the co-operation, which has gone quite far in the United States.

Canada had the same hesitation as the United States about going metric. As Trudeau said: When you are in bed with an elephant you have to be careful which way it turns ". Well, the United States has turned and Canada is going metric fast. Last week in Canada I was amused to find that the cigarette packages now provide a ready reckoner for conversion to metric units. They also have the compulsory notice about the danger of cigarettes to health, so now with the help of the cigarette manufacturers you can convert the size of your coffin into centimetres.

As so many other people here think, I believe that dual marking will he very dangerous and very expensive. People can play the " find the lady sort of game, and now we are really at the end of the road from which we are hoping to get through, because what we are doing here is to alter the locks, which I hoped we would do so many years ago, merely to open the door and let us go through and join the rest of the human race.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, unlike Mr. Patrick Hutber who wrote in the Economic Opinion column of the Sunday Telegraph on 13th June last as follows: Baulked in the Commons, the Government is trying to sneak in compulsory metrication by introducing the Weights and Measures (No. 2) Bill into the Lords ". For my part, I welcome the Bill, and therefore do not share his views. In effect it is an overdue measure, for I understand that for a number of years now, industry has been urging Labour and Conservative Governments alike—this was mentioned to some extent by the Minister in his opening—to repeal Section 10(10) of the 1963 Weights and Measures Act. One can understand this on the part of industry, on account of the intrinsic merits of the metric system itself: for instance,its simplicity and rational internal relationships. In this context, I was interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, refer to 1.3 kilos of dolomitic lime having to be spread over 9.28 square metres of soil. I should have thought it was fairly easy to spread 1300 grammes of this lime over land which was a fraction over 3 metres by 3 metres.

My Lords, secondly, what more frustrating when, in 1965, the case for a changeover to metrication was accepted by the Government of the day (with so many of our major imperial trading partners following suit) and still at that time no positive action being taken, especially taking into account the fact—which remains relevant today—that industry has to import, transform, export. British industry has also to contend with the fact that increasingly, countries wishing to buy our goods are refusing to permit entry to non-metric goods. This is an important aspect relevant to this debate.

Also, which foreign markets remain which have no plans whatsoever at the moment to change to the metric system? They are very small indeed. So far as I can ascertain, they are Brunei, Burma, Liberia and the Two Yemens, negligible in the context of the other countries in the world. For a small island like Britain which produces almost exclusively manufactured goods, every detail of whose dimensions and performance, components and fittings can be prescribed in purchaser's specifications, external trade considerations surely cannot be ignored in a debate such as this. I understand, too, that all the various inquiries that have taken place here and abroad which preceded the decisions to change over to metrication, stressed that the worst of all possible worlds would be a mixed, half-and-half situation.

In his opening remarks, the noble Lord the Minister referred in this context to the Hodgson Report. Perhaps in this instance we might look to Australia, to take one country which is a member of the Commonwealth, and referred to by the noble Lord who spoke before me. Australia is metricating positively, quickly and successfully. With your Lordships' permission I should like to quote what was said earlier this year by Mr. J. D. Norgard, chairman of the Metric Conversion Board. He wrote: All sections of the community had cooperated particularly well with the introduction of what, for most, was an entirely new system of measurement. This achievement could not be underestimated because metric conversion affected every man, woman and child in the country. The quickly expanding metric environment, together with the impetus the conversion program now had, indicated that Australia should be almost completely metric within the next couple of years, well ahead of schedule. Mr. Norgard said—and this would apply to this country as well—that metric conversion affected every man, woman and child in the country. Would those who advocate stopping the change in its tracks consider the penalties which such a decision would incur, and the disadvan- tages? So far as I can gather, these same advocates who are for stopping any change say, " Save the shopping public from this unnecessary doctrinaire decision ". On the other hand, Dr. F. T. Pearce of the University of Birmingham said in a paper that came out this month: A whole series of retail bodies, speaking for their members, have set their faces against voluntary metrication ". According to Dr. Pearce these would include butchers, grocers, dairies, bakers, chemists, voluntary groups, large multiples, departmental stores and coal merchants, all actually demanding mandatory terminal dates for imperial measures. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister, when he winds up, could confirm that I am right in this. In opening he mentioned that the retail trade—and he did not state which areas of the retail trade—thought that cut-off dates were desirable, but he did not go beyond that.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, sits down, could he tell us which products he is referring to? This is a very important point. As I understood him, the noble Lord said that countries were refusing certain goods which were not in metricated sizes. Is any food included in that? Do we actually export food which has been refused because it is not metricated?


My Lords, I was quoting from a report by Dr. Pearce, and I was asking for the Minister's confirmation on this. In his report, Dr. Pearce took a wider view of United Kingdom metrication. For instance, he quotes grocers, but he does not specify which food products in the grocer's are concerned. But this is a valid point, to give details of the grocers and foodstuffs and such things; but I am giving a general attitude at the moment.

My Lords, to come back to the remarks last Sunday of Mr. Patrick Hutber, to which the noble Baroness referred, one would assume he is an advocate in favour of stopping the change in its tracks. I am not criticising him, but I wonder whether his remarks are totally unbiased when he refers to the Amendments of the previous Bill as being trivial Amendments. As the noble Baroness will know, a consultation with consumer organisations is not trivial; a display of conversion tables is not trivial, and priorities as outlined in a Ministerial letter are not trivial. So I think that Mr. Hutber has been rather sweeping in his criticism of this Bill. Has he considered sufficiently these two facts?— that industry, for its part, has had to support the burden of working, stockholding and selling in two systems for long enough, and secondly, that after all, industry produces a substantial proportion of its output directly for the shopping public. Therefore, I should have thought it reasonable that industry should soon reach—the sooner the better so far as I can see—a situation in which these products are equally acceptable in home and export markets. So, in conclusion, although I have not referred to it earlier, I do not feel that membership of the European Community —and I am in favour of membership is a central issue in this present metrication debate, although I would agree that we must, as a member of the Community, heed its Directives.

The Minister referred to an April 1978 deadline, but we have a certain amount of latitude. I feel, on the other hand, that the two overriding considerations are the merits of a more rational system and our ability to trade worldwide. I think those are the primary considerations we should bear in mind. As Dr. Pearce said in his June 1976 report: Consultation and planning need to come to quick completion in the food industry and in retail trades. Metric periods or days need to be set to give the necessary manufacturing lead time, for … and I agree with him; I hope he is right— … it is possible to complete metrication by 1980, but time is possibly no longer on our side".

5.52 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I should like, first, to apologise to the Minister, in that I am afraid that because of an engagement I had entered into before I knew the date of this debate I will not be able to stay for the winding up. I am not this evening speaking primarily as a member of the Liberal Party but in my position as President of the British Standards Institution. The British Standards Institution, working as it does on both a national and an international basis, has developed standards on a metricated basis, and worked early in this field, so that by as early as 1970 it had prepared standards ready for metrication. Since 1970 it has not in fact worked out any standards in any form except a metricated form, and the message from the British Standards Institution is to say to the Government: " Go forward as fast as you possibly can with metrication. The delay is damaging us in a number of very important areas ".

My Lords, when one looks at the main arguments which have gone on in this field they surely boil down to the effect on industry and the effect on the consumer. So far as industry is concerned, the evidence that has come forward from industry, to a point, at any rate, speaks for itself. Overwhelmingly, industrial opinion is in favour of going metric and going metric quickly. May I say here that from the point of view of industry nothing can he worse than the indecision in which once again it finds itself. Industry's complaint about so many Governmental policies is not that Governments do the wrong thing—though no doubt they frequently think that Governments do the wrong thing—but that industry is left in a state of uncertainty because Governments cannot commit themselves to a line of action and follow that line of action to a logical conclusion.

I sometimes wonder whether politicians and civil servants fully appreciate the costs in money, in time, in manpower and in morale—and all are important—that are involved when industry embarks on a change of this sort. If metrication is to be introduced up and down the country, individual men and women in scores, no, in thousands of' offices, in hundreds of factories, have a very great deal of work to do, and they have embarked on that work in the expectation that metrication will be introduced. Indeed, they began on this work, as did the British Standards Institution, in the days of 1969 when the Metrication Board was set up, because that was surely taken by industry and by organisations working in the industrial area as an indication that it was intended that we should go metric.

Of course, it is quite impossible for industry to go metric at the drop of a hat. They have to make this investment of effort if they are going to be ready when the legislation is passed. And to be informed that the House of Commons has decided to drop this Bill is yet another example of the unreliability of Governments. and the extent to which industry, already frustrated and angered by the treatment it gets from politicians, is again saying " What do you expect? They have not the slightest idea of what running our businesses in fact involves." So to come to a conclusion, and to put this conclusion into action as soon as possible, can only be the desire of those very large number of industries and industrial organisations which have registered their approval of the idea of metrication, and have laid their plans and laid out their money on the anticipation that it is going to come about.

Surely, it must be self-evident that it is in industry's interest to go metric. Something like 99 per cent. of our export trade, our so precious export trade, is now with countries which either already are, or are in the process of going, metric. It cannot but damage our trade if we are not producing goods to the same standards and the same system of measurement as the countries to which we wish to sell. it was, I think, the noble Lord. Lord Drumalbyn, who pointed out also that metrication has meant that it is possible I to have a greater degree of standardisation,. and, therefore, to reduce the number of parts and the variations which have to be produced in a whole variety of different articles. This saves money. The more you have to have a wide variety, far beyond what is necessary to meet reasonable choice of variations, of the same article basically, the greater are the costs. The more you can standardise, when it is not a matter of taste that comes into it, the more you can cut your costs. The more you can make articles in the sizes that your consumers overseas want, the better will be your export trade. So, of course, industry sees that this is going to add to its profitability, and, of course, for that reason, they want to go ahead with it.

There are other examples of the way in which metrication will make for greater efficiency in industry. In the steel manufacturing industry it has been estimated that where the staff are working to all-metric standards there is a saving of 15 per cent. in both design time and manufacturing time, because the measurements are easier to use and a greater efficiency arises from this. So clearly it is, for all these reasons, and no doubt many others I have not quoted, in industry's interest to go metric. That, of course, links with the second argument, the argument with regard to consumers, because what really benefits consumers in the long run is for industry to cut its costs, for industry to be able to produce more cheaply. If metrication is going to enable us to improve our export position, to cut our costs and produce more cheaply, this in the long run is overwhelmingly more important from the point of view of the consumers than any temporary inconvenience they may experience, or the result of any temporary little fiddle that it may be possible for some manufacturers and retailers to pull off during the actual stage of moving from Imperial to metricated standards.

So the consumer surely has to gain from the improved trading of industry, and it is up to all those other organisations, including indeed the National Consumer Council, to see that the benefits of that improved export trade, and the benefits of the improved efficiency which will come when we are metricated, are genuinely reflected in reduced prices to the consumer. But that is the point at which the National Consumer Council ought to be intervening, not to stop the process of metrication which can, in itself, so greatly benefit consumers.

I was, I must say, amazed, and other speakers have been amazed, that the National Consumer Council could seriously suggest that metrication should be delayed until inflation has fallen to only 5 per cent. I do not wish to add to those who are knocking the pound, but if we are to wait until inflation falls to 5 per cent., I fear that we shall wait for a very long time indeed. With the fall in the value of the pound, does anybody seriously consider, even the Government—except when they are doing their most shiny public relations act—that next year, the year after, or the year after that, that we are really going to get inflation down to 5 per cent.? That can be, as other speakers have said, nothing but a wrecking Amendment; a determination to see that metrication is put off until the Greek Kalends.

It is indeed the greatest disservice that the National Consumer Council could have done to put that Amendment in that particular form. If they had said, " Stop metrication now, and never bring the issue up again ", then at least the people concerned with metrication, the whole range of industry, would know where they stand. But they are saying: " Delay. Do it one day. Of course we are not really against the principle. The time will come when it will be right to introduce metrication, but not now. " It is the old cry of St. Augustine: " Make us pure, O Lord, but not yet. " The argument of 5 per cent. inflation is so naïve that surely they cannot really have expected that any of us would believe it. Nor can I really accept the point made in the evidence that they produced in which they line up the effect of decimalisation on increasing prices. They have compared this with the effect of inflation and the expectation of how metrication will increase prices because of what will happen in the retail trade with the changeover. They compare this, in its effect on prices, with inflation. These are elements of such a totally different order that it is disingenuous in the extreme to mention them in the same breath. Nobody can seriously believe that whatever happens at the time of decimalisation, whatever could happen at the retail level at the time of metrication, could begin to be comparable with the rise in prices which has resulted from all the other reasons—which obviously we do not want to go into—for inflation in this country. The two things are simply not in the same world at all, and should not have been mentioned in the same paragraphs in the publications brought forward from the National Consumer Council. Further, I would say that metrication, even for the consumer, after a very little while makes life easier, not more difficult, for the consumer. True, you have to learn the new measures, but most of us—and I am no great mathematician; far from it—find it easier to deal in units of ten than to deal with these extraordinary Anglo-Saxon figures which we have inherited from the misty past. I always find it difficult to remember whether there are 16 ounces in a pound, and 14 lbs in a stone, or whether it is the other way round, because there is no logic whatsoever in the relationship between ounces and pounds and pounds and stones. You have to memorise the whole thing and keep writing it in your pocket book, like the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, if you want to know when you are told how many pounds you weigh whether your weight in stones has gone up or gone down. When it is in kilos one will know the worst all the time.


My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to present her with a BSI conversion slide, which allows you to make this change very simply?

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, it cannot be all that difficult if, as we are told on very widespread advice, that the primary schools are advanced at it. I know that it is easier to learn some things when you are seven than when you are 70, but if the primary schools can do it I cannot accept that it is beyond your Lordships on either side of this House. Of course, there are one or two things in the Bill which, at Committee stage, one might like to look at again. My noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran has asked me to say that he is worried about Clause 4(2)(3A) where it says something about the method of closing a container. The method of closing a container is something which is perhaps best not included in an Act of Parliament. But that, surely, is a Committee stage matter and one which really ought not to be raised this evening.

I should like to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. At least I would like to if everybody else had not done so. I am beginning to feel rather sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who has been ticked off by everybody from every Bench so far—from in front of him, from across the passage, and from behind him. But at the same time I must say that I find it extraordinary that he should have advocated incentives for industry to do something which is so preeminently in their own interest. The way in which the Tory Party deviates from the pure gospel of free enterprise surprises me again and again. If it is in their interests, then why in Heavens name should public money be spent on encouraging them to do it? It is in their interest, and it is not a matter for extra expense, especially at a time when we are all urging the Government to spend less and less. The case against this Bill is the case that comes again and again from people who believe that the Continent is cut off by fog, and who really want to make the fog thicker and thicker: and the people who do not accept that if we are to hold our own in a world which can get on very nicely without us, then we have got to get in line with the way in which they do their thing, and not expect that, against all the evidence, they are going on tolerating our old-fashioned ways.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I count myself fortunate in replying to a debate such as we have had on this subject, not only because of the almost unanimous support that the Bill has received—I think that only my noble friend Lady Phillips was an outright opponent of the Bill—but also because I am fortunate in having had the support of the first chairman of the Metrication Board in my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and the lately resigned vice-chairman, my noble friend Lady White. Not only did we all listen with great interest to what they had to say, but I found, particularly from the speech by my noble friend Lady White, that she was enabling me to say less in winding up than I might otherwise have needed to. I gather that even the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was endeavouring to express support for the Bill although, to coin a phrase, he could have fooled me, and I think he almost did fool quite a number of your Lordships. At least he said that he was not proposing to obstruct the Bill, and 1 took comfort from that. I found it difficult to know whether he wanted the Government to do more or less in this matter—whether he wanted us to move more quickly or more slowly—but no doubt on this point we shall have further opportunities to clarify his mind. or at least for him to clarify our minds.

However, Lord Elton produced some important points to which I want to respond. He emphasised the importance of timing; presumably he meant in the timetable as the orders come forward. On that, I entirely agree with him, and that is why we have put such stress on the need for my right honourable friend to consult with all the interests, and in particular now with the interests representing consumers, at each stage when an order is made. Although the noble Lord expressed some anxiety about a lack of consultation in other matters, I hope he recognises that we do intend there to be, and have provided for, the fullest consultation in working out the timetable under the Bill. I am grateful to Lord Elton for having given me notice of the questions he raised relating to Europe and our obligations as a Member of the EEC. He will recognise that I included in my opening remarks at least an outline of the position, and although it may not in detail fully satisfy him. I feel sure that he can raise other points in Committee. I was grateful that he recognised that points about the Schedules were better dealt with in Committee.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I ask him to answer my query about whether the draft Amendment of the Directive to which I referred is still in draft, as it was when the version which I have was printed, and, if not, whether it was discussed in another place or here before it was tabled with the Community?


My Lords, I was about to deal with that point. As I understand it, the draft Directive was prepared by the Commission. The noble Lord was quoting from a document which he said seemed to have been drafted by the Minister of State. It was in fact an explanatory memorandum on the draft Directive and was prepared by my honourable friend in order to help Parliament in its discussions; indeed, it has been dealt with already by the Scrutiny Committee of this House. Thus, while the noble Lord may not be entirely satisfied that every opportunity has been afforded for discussion of it, there has been that opportunity at any rate and if there is any further difficulty I am sure that we will be able to clear it up at a later stage.

I have already referred to the most helpful series of speeches made this afternoon. In particular 1 thank my noble friend Lady White for dealing so effectively with the question raised by a number of noble Lords as to the cost of the transfer to the metric system, and I entirely endorse what she said about it being up to us to avoid the cost of not proceeding with metrication. This could indeed be a serious cost, but experience shows that the actual cost of conversion is not nearly so dramatic as it is sometimes represented to be. She dealt also, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, very stringently with the proposal by the National Consumer Council that metrication should be postponed until some point indicated by a 5 per cent. inflation rate. I would not go so far as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, did in suggesting that this would be the Greek Kalens, but I think that this proposal would introduce a sad note of uncertainty into a field which has been ridden all too much with uncertainty and delay; and therefore, as other noble Lords have said, I do not think that this is a proposal which we can seriously look at.

Lord Elton and a number of other noble Lords pointed to the importance of information and education in all these matters, and I particularly noted what my noble friend Lady White said about hoping that the BBC would take this up. I entirely agree with what she said about the programme " On the Move in relation to illiteracy, and if someting of that kind could be done in this field it would be of enormous benefit. I am sure that we all enjoyed the intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and similar points made by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder in their historical references, which enlivened our debate, as indeed did the practical shopping illustrations which the noble Earl brought forward; I rather gathered that his diet consisted largely of whisky and cheese, an interesting combination.

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, quoted Section 10(10) of the 1963 Act and I tend to agree with him that if one were to pick out a point more important than any other in this Bill, that is probably i it, although I welcomed his support for a number of the other provisions in the Bill. I had a great deal of sympathy with his suggestion that we should not be too long about dual marking: he did not oppose this and I am sure that he would not wish to. I regard it as an educational method, or an explanatory method: in other words, something like a crutch when one has had an accident—it is needed for a temporary period but one does not want to use it unduly long. I think that that is a parallel which we would put forward in this connection. I was grateful to him for spelling out the point in connection with Clause 4, a point which he had already made in an intervention while I was speaking. I assure him, as I assured him then, that discussions have taken place already on this point. The issue was also raised on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. We fully anticipate that we will be able to meet the points about materials and closures of containers, and I have no doubt that the matter will be raised in Committee.

I come to the only opposition speech, that from my noble friend Lady Phillips, who feared that she would be called all sorts of unpleasant names, including a crank. I do not want to engage in any such name-calling, except to suggest that as she is a member of the Distribution and Consumer Committee of the Metrication Board, and as she is also, I believe, proud to have helped found the Housewives Trust, she would take the views of those organisations into account as well as the views of the National Consumer Council, of which she is also a member. May I suggest that she has tended to develop a split personality in these matters? That is the extent to which I shall go in name-calling, and I express the hope that her charming personality will soon be restored to its accustomed shape. I see that my noble friend is about to leave but there are one or two other points which I should like to make.


My Lords, which part of me would my noble friend like to remain?


My Lords, my noble friend quoted some awkward bits of arithmetic. One can play that kind of game in this transition period, but I suggest that this is not a very constructive approach to the problem. What she and the letter writers whom she quoted should do is not to think of funny or difficult correlations between different tables, but to point out how simple all this can be if we can only get along the road of metrication at a reasonable pace.


For the record, my Lords, my quotation was not intended as something funny. It was an actual reply from a gardening correspondent in a South African paper.


I am sure that gardening correspondents in South African papers are quite capable of trying to be funny and this one may have been trying to be funny. However, whether it was put forward seriously or jocularly, I feel that this sort of thing should be avoided. Let us all get on to the possibility of good education on the simplification of these things. On that, I would urge not only my noble friend but, if I may, the National Consumer Council and the Conservative Party to get on with this. I believe that we are embarking upon a very important transition in the matter of weights and measures. In my judgment, the case is overwhelming. I believe that the support that we have received from the debate confirms that. It would be far better if, instead of introducing unneccessary complications, we—the Parties in this House and another place, and the media—all got together and, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, sought to improve the measure. We will join in that. We shall seek to improve it, and improvements have been pointed to. But, for goodness sake! let us deal with the Bill in a constructive way so that its passage through this House and another place is made as smooth and as rapid as possible.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.