HL Deb 17 January 1978 vol 388 cc13-6

3.12 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what substantial benefits to the nation as a whole have been obtained through—

  1. (a) the decimalisation of the coinage,
  2. (b) the metrication of weights and measures,
  3. (c) the use of the 24-hour clock,
and whether they consider such benefits great enough to justify the confusion and inconvenience caused by their introduction.


My Lords, the decimalisation of the coinage has brought substantial benefits of simplification to offices, banks, shops and schools as well as to individuals. Again, metrication will simplify measurements and help to improve the position of our industry in world markets. The operational advantages of the 24-hour method of expressing time have long been recognised. The Government are not aware of widespread confusion or inconvenience.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Why is it that the answers that he has given seem to be so much in conflict with the experiences of other people as told to me? Every shopkeeper that I have visited seems to be extremely annoyed at the metrication of weights and measures. Is the noble Lord aware that a great deal of confusion will arise when metrication takes the form of changed speed limits?


My Lords, there are, of course, differences of view and of experience in this matter, but it is my experience that the metrication programme is proceeding smoothly. In many consumer commodities there is dual marking for a period, which enables most people to become accustomed to the new system.


My Lords, is my noble friend in a position to give an estimate of the total cost of the conversions in these three areas?


My Lords, no, I would prefer my noble friend to give ate notice of the question on the overall cost. Just before the Recess I indicated that the cost of the Metrication Board and its work was £6.5 million, but I should need to reflect a little more on that. I should like notice of a question about the total figure.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that decimalisation and metrication were acts of altruism undertaken by an older generation for unborn generations of their descendants for all time, by aligning the monetary and physical units that we use with the structure of the language that we talk?


My Lords, I agree that the benefits for children and future generations will be considerable. We have to suffer a little confusion in the meantime, but it is well worth while.


My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that we have been told it is the Government's policy to e encourage small businesses? Indeed, we are taught that reorganisation small is beautiful. Are we not continually doing things which cause no trouble to large firms with large staffs and resources—computers and so on—but which are apparently causing the greatest possible embarrassment in some industries? For instance, the use of some of the metric measures in methods of recording milk production and all the other details of recording milk, and indeed of cheese, are, according to the participants in the industry, being forced upon them at short notice in circumstances in which they just do not have the resources to get going.


My Lords, the metrication programme was thought out well in advance. It is proceeding step by step and in an orderly fashion. I do not think that the accusations which my noble friend has put forward in respect of small organisations are really justified.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, will my noble friend not confirm that all industries in this country which have been asked to undertake these changes have had ample notice—in fact, that they have had many years' notice? I can assure my noble friend Lord Hale that that includes the agricultural industry. Will my noble friend also confirm that there has been no precipitated action in this field?


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that intervention. In recent months I have had the duty of conducting quite a number of orders through your Lordships' House and in every case there has been extensive consultation with all the interests concerned.


My Lords, will the noble Lord not agree that there is a strong element of pointlessness in this discussion because any idea of going back to the old system is right off the cards?


My Lords, I entirely agree.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say how soon the Government intend to introduce a 10-day week and a 10-month year?


My Lords, not yet.


My Lords, can my noble friend give the House an indication as to when the metrication of distances is likely to be introduced into this country?


My Lords, I think that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport made a Statement about this not long ago. Speaking from memory, I believe he indicated that it would be quite a long time before that takes place.


My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that we do not export our climate to world markets and, therefore, there is no advantage whatsoever in denominating air temperature in Centigrade units, particularly as such units are almost 45 per cent. less precise as units of measurement than Fahrenheit ones?


My Lords, in science the Centigrade measure has been well established over many years. As long ago as when I was at school I found it convenient to use it. I think that many generations of school children will find it useful if we have that system.