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Metric Culprits

Prayer for Annulment

In February 2000, MPs including Conservative Party leader William Hague tabled in the House of Commons a Prayer of Annulment for two Statutory Instruments, designed to remove the right to use "supplementary indications".

Reproduced here are the supporting notes for this Prayer, referring to statutory instruments SI 2001 Nos. 55 & 85:

"1) The question of legality of the whole of the Metric Regulations, in compliance with the relevant EC directives, as extended now by the Units of Measurement Regulations 2001, is the sole issue whereupon depends the outcome of the current trial at Sunderland Magistrates Court, whose judgement is to be delivered on 9th April, subject to probable Appeal. The fundamental constitutional principles at stake in this test case - that no Parliament can bind its successors and that primary legislation (the Weights and Measures Act), that has been amended by Parliament, cannot be superseded by mere regulations deriving their authority from earlier legislation (the 1972 European Communities Act) - are so important as possibly to require ultimate resolution by the House of Lords. If these Regulations are valid, as the prosecution maintains, then Parliament has abolished itself and the UK constitution is dead. If, however, this House agrees with the defence in upholding those constitutional principles, then all these regulations are ultra vires, null and void.

2) Besides, since the law already demands that everything which has to be measured for the purpose of sale must be measured and priced in metric units, voluntary display of imperial equivalent as a "supplementary indication" is no more than the provision of additional information, that cannot be made a criminal offence. Indeed, its prohibition after 31st December 2009 would violate one or more Articles of the EHCR.

3) In any event, the derogation permitting "supplementary indications" has previously been extended (a) from 1st January 1990 to 31st December 1999 and (b) from 1st January 2000 to 31st December 2009, and would inevitably have to be renewed yet again (as envisaged in 13.VI of the "Full Regulatory Impact Study" accompanying the present Regulations), owing to:

  • the continuing unpopularity of the regulations among consumers and scale of resistance among retailers,
  • requirements for trade with the USA, which shows no sign of abandoning dual marking, and
  • the possibility of a legal challenge ref: EHCR.

4) The proposed Regulations would increase the damage to the economy already caused by:

  • the dissatisfaction and confusion in domestic trade between suppliers compelled to use metric and customers preferring imperial, and
  • confusion in trade with European and other countries arising from variations within the metric system (use of non-SI units and of indigenous metric hybrid units).

5) Further consolidation of the EU metric monopoly is unjustified, given that only in the UK and Ireland is it enforced by criminal penalties.

6) In a single European market, uniformity of weights and measures is clearly a lower priority than a single currency, yet the UK has still not even decided on the merits of that!"

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