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Metric Culprits

The Political Front

Links: House of Commons debate and Conservative Motion, March 2001
House of Lords debate and Conservative Motion, March 2001
Prayer for Annulment, February 2000, by Conservative Party leader William Hague and other MPs
    Early Day Motion, tabled in 1998 by Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody and signed by 89 MPs of all political persuasions.

BWMA's position with the government is summarised in this letter to the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs:

From: BWMA

To: Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry, London SW1H 0ET

Dear Sir

You may recall our previous correspondence on the issue of compulsory metrication, currently the subject of a DTI review initiated by your predecessor. Over the past year, BWMA has contributed two resarch documents to the review; A Fair Measure and a supplement Just for Good Measure. I am now pleased to enclose A Further Measure, looking specifically at the problems caused by compulsory metrication for product descriptions and unit pricing.

As you will be aware, successive British governments have proposed making Britain a metric country since 1965. In the beginning, this process was to have been voluntary. When it became clear by 1975 that people were volunteering not to use metric, the government resorted to piecemeal regulation. When the use of compulsion was defeated politically in 1979, the Conservative government signed an EC directive committing Britain to near total metrication by 1989. This was unachievable with the result that the deadline was delayed until 1999.

Even now, after so much time, the complete removal of Britain's traditional measures is still nowhere in sight and the EC is likely to delay the metric deadline by a further ten years, meaning that 45 years will have elapsed since Britain started this policy. And since the world's largest economy the USA is predominently non-metric, we expect the deadline to be extended again - and again.

We see no practical benefits from the government pursuing compulsory metrication any longer. Traditional units are entirely legitimate and are needed for a variety of trades and industries at local, national and international levels. Surveys show that even after twenty-five years of metric education, most consumers of all ages prefer to use traditional units, and businesses have indicated their view that metrication should remain a choice rather than a compulsion. In Parliament, almost ninety MPs have signed Gwyneth Dunwoody's Early Day Motion calling for traditional measures to be retained.

We have no objection to people using metric units if they wish but believe that conversion is most effectively determined by market forces. In this way, metrication can proceed where it has merit, but not where it is a burden to business or unpopular with the public.

We are not asking that the government looks for ways to make metrication more patatable or less costly, but that the drive for a metric-only society is brought to a formal close.

Yours sincerely, etc

Other political activity:

Member of the European Parliament Jeffrey Titford, then leader of the UK Independence Party, has played a crucial part in the campaign against compulsory metric conversion, responsible for:

  • commissioning barrister Michael Shrimpton's Legal Opinion showing that metric regulations are illegal;
  • providing free legal support to traders told by Trading Standards Officers to replace weighing machines;
  • correcting local authorities who install illegal metric distance signs.
House of Commons Lobby. On June 22nd 2000, Conservative MP Richard Page arranged for MPs to learn more about the issues surrounding compulsory metric conversion at a Lobby in the House of Commons. Members of the public are welcome at such Lobbies and a large number of people including traders attended.
Ten Minute Rule Bill. In June 2000, Conservative MP David Lidington put forward a Ten Minute Rule Bill (no 104), designed to remove from British traders the threat of criminal penalties for using pounds and ounces. Mr Lidington asked why a metric directive from the EC, intended to overcome obstacle to trade between EU member states, should be used to prevent high street British traders from using lb/oz for the benefit of their local customers. Mr Lidington argued that the DTI's policy of criminalising traders for using lb/oz flouted the European Union principle of subsidiarity.

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