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Mr. Maude : There is nothing to prevent the Commission from making further proposals about anything which lies within its competence to do. In the same way, there is nothing to stop anyone making a legislative proposal in this House. However, we are discussing the final step along the road. The Commission has accepted the concerns expressed by our Government and the proposals reflect those concerns. Fears that there will suddenly be another tranche of proposals are misguided.

Mr. Austin Mitchell : Surely it means that the derogation could be ended unilaterally without consultation with us and without our consent.

Mr. Maude : For the derogation to be ended would require the Commission to make a proposal which would have to be agreed by a qualified majority. That would have to be negotiated in the usual way and, as with this proposal, the United Kingdom and Ireland would not, alone, have a blocking minority. There is no reason to suppose--

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : It is not for ever then?

Mr. Maude : Nothing is for ever, as the hon. Gentleman knows. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the Commission has any desire to introduce further measures.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) : I initiated the early- day motion on this issue and the Minister will know that I should be pleased to hear an unequivocal answer from him about the requirement that a date be

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eventually set. That is the issue tonight. It is not whether there will be a delay in having to fix a date to do away with the pint and the mile but whether, eventually, a date will be set to which a British Goverment, now or in the future, will have to adhere. Therefore, the evil day has been put off, but it has not been put aside.

Mr. Maude : The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who is sitting next to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), is familiar with the 1979 directive. It is framed in such a way that this proposal must provide the dates to be set and the only legal means which enables this country to have the final say on when or whether the units are discontinued is the form in which the proposal is expressed. In practical terms, it enables this country to have the last say on whether the units are retained. It has not been easy to find a form of words within the constraints of the last directive that allows that position to come about. It has been achieved, however, and I must now seek to persuade other member states of the Community that it is an acceptable compromise which should be supported.

The second proposal covers the fathom, the therm, the pint and the fluid ounce for returnable beer, cider and soft drink bottles, and the pound and ounce for goods weighed out for or by the consumer. We would be able to continue to authorise these units for these purposes until the end of the century.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Given that weighed-out loose goods, weighed out from bulk in front of the consumer, are not items which are traded across the Community, what possible reason can there be to require a small shopkeeper to refuse to serve a consumer 5 lb of potatoes or 1 lb of peas from bulk goods? What will happen to the shopkeeper or consumer if, after the set date, the customer asks for, and the shopkeeper serves, 5 lb of potatoes?

Mr. Maude : Under the present weights and measures legislation, which has been in existence, subject to amendment from time to time, for a long time, it is, and has been for many years, a criminal offence to sell goods in measures which are not authorised under the legislation. The consequence of this directive would be that at the appropriate time--which, if this proposal remains in the directive, would not need to be until the end of the century--we would have to amend our domestic legislation according to these proposals.

Mr. Beith : What is the answer to my question?

Mr. Maude : The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the fact that it is possible for the trading standards authorities to prosecute people now who sell goods in quantities and units which are not authorised under the legislation. There is nothing novel about that. [Interruption.] Amendments have been made continually to the list of such authorised units over many years.

Mr. Beith : Is the Minister seriously saying that he envisages that weights and measures inspectors will prosecute little old ladies for buying 5 lb of loose potatoes after 1999?

Mr. Maude : It would not be a criminal offence for the customer to buy goods in those circumstances. It would

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be, as it is now, a criminal offence for a trader to sell goods in units which are not authorised, and there is nothing novel about that. The hon. Gentleman should know that. If he is asking whether trading standards officers will do it, my answer is that it will be a matter for those officers. But I should be surprised if, on the day after these measures come into operation, trading standards officers will be stamping around the streets trying to find people selling goods in pounds and ounces. If the hon. Gentleman believes that is a possibility, he has a lesser view than I do of the enforcement officers.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : I asked my hon. Friend, in effect, if I was right in believing that what is proposed was fixed until 31 December 1999 and I understood him to say that there was no termination date. Technically that is true. But he went on to say that the pint and the mile could be used until the end of the century. That was precisely the point I questioned him on.

Mr. Maude : My hon. Friend asked me specifically about the pint for dispensing draught beer and cider and the mile. That was the first proposal I outlined and the answer I gave her was correct. There is no requirement for a termination date to be set. I am now dealing with the second proposal in the draft directive which covers the pint for other purposes--for returnable beer, cider and soft drink bottles--and it will remain possible for the United Kingdom and Ireland to authorise those units until the end of the century. I hope that that makes it clear to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Blunkett : To enable me to sleep easy in my bed, may I ask the Minister to explain into which category will fall the best service we in this country enjoy, the service that is most reliable and which we take for granted--the delivery of our pint of milk?

Mr. Maude : The pint of milk delivered to the doorstep falls into the first category. It will remain with this country to set an authorisation date, if and when we decide to do that.

The third proposal covers all the other remaining imperial units set out in chapter three of the 1979 directive. Those could continue to be authorised until the beginning of 1995. Special provisions for the troy ounce for bullion dealing would be made which recognise the international status of that unit. The proposals would also allow imperial units to continue to be used as supplementary indications to the marking in metric units until the end of the century. That would allow dual marking, which would enable us to provide a transitional period for consumers to become fully familiar with those metric units that will be used.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I have been reflecting on what the Minister said to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). Does he mean that dairies that deliver milk to the doorstep and also supply supermarkets will have to have different sizes of bottles after 1999 for each type of delivery? Will it be possible for supermarkets to continue to sell pints of milk?

Mr. Maude : It will be up to dairies to decide what to do. It is already possible for dairies to supply milk in metric units and some do so. It will remain open to dairies to choose which unit to use for doorstep deliveries. The permanent derogation, which is what it amounts to, would

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apply only to milk being delivered in returnable containers. It would be possible for milk to be sold in supermarkets in returnable containers in the same units in which it is delivered to the doorstep.

Mr. Skinner : Will we be able to buy these things at Harrods? I have not finished ; that was just an introduction. Is there not something sick about the Common Market? Bureaucrats who are well paid with British taxpayers' money have spent countless hours on this. Every family in Britain pays £16 a week to prop up this unmitigated disaster of a Common Market. The Minister is pouring out a load of gobbledegook based on trying to regulate milk bottles and stop old ladies buying loose tatties. What a state we have got into. The Minister should take it back to the Common Market and tell them to get stuffed.

Mr. Maude : As always, the hon. Gentleman is full of splendid advice. He should have put those comments to his hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) in 1978-79. Perhaps he did. The directive is the result of a legal obligation and arises from the directive negotiated by the last Labour Government and agreed with modifications and further safeguards by the present Government. It places on the Community an obligation to produce a further directive and agree it by the end of the year.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) did raise the matter with me, but I am afraid that he remains a convinced imperialist.

Mr. Maude : The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) clearly failed to persuade the hon. Member for Norwood at that time. We have consulted over 700 interested groups, from industry, trade, enforcement authorities and consumer bodies. Some of those consulted, including the National Consumer Council and the National Federation of Consumer Groups, have urged that the interests of consumers would be better served by the completion of metrication by the end of 1992 with no derogations at all. I cannot agree with that, because the Commission's proposals would allow such further changes as are necessary to be undertaken in a cautious and considered way, with the minimum disruption to consumers or industry. It would allow to continue to be used units for which the public have great affection and in respect of which it cannot be seriously argued that they constitute barriers to trade.

In respect of those units where such an argument does exist, the proposals allow us to move sensibly and without undue haste. I should stress that these proposals affect the use of imperial units only for the purposes of trade.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I missed what he said when he was talking about the consultation exercise. In the accompanying documents there is mention of a very disappointing response. In what respect was the response disappointing? How many of the 700 groups that were asked to comment were in favour of what the Commission is suggesting?

Mr. Maude : There were two responses which were hostile to the spirit of further metrication, a number which were neutral and some, to which I have just referred, which

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urged that we should move more quickly. I do not believe that those representations reflect a widespread view and I do not believe that we should move more quickly than these proposals allow.

Mr. Kennedy : On a further factual point, given that there were two that were hostile, a few that were non-committal and several that said something else, what were the total number of responses from the 700 that were circulated?

Mr. Maude : I can probably find how many responses there were. The consultation, which was widespread, did not elicit very strong views in any direction. The volume of correspondence which the proposals generated was not great and it seems to me that this is not an issue on which feelings are as deep as they were some time ago. Metrication has been growing organically. More and more goods are being sold and bought in metric units and as a result people are now very much more familiar with the use of these units.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) : Something just dawned on me, to my mounting horror. We shall not be expected to give litres of blood in future, shall we?

Mr. Maude : I did not catch the hon. Gentleman's question, but I suspect it was not serious.

I was saying that these measures apply only to purposes of trade and not to measurements which are only a matter of custom and practice. It would not become necessary, as some people have suggested, apparently seriously, to remeasure cricket pitches in metres and I see no reason why the use of imperial measures for non-trade purposes should not continue for as many years as people wish to use them.

There will of course be some costs in converting to the metric system. I believe, however, that the moderate nature of these proposals keeps these to a minimum.

There are also significant savings. The Institute of Production Engineers, for example, estimates the additional cost of dual manufacture and stockholding at 3 per cent. of turnover.

I believe therefore that these proposals represent an acceptable compromise and I hope that we shall be able to persuade other member states that they fulfil our legal obligations under the 1979 directive. I hope that the House will endorse the Government's stance on this matter.

10.38 pm

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : It is clear that the draft directive before us today both confirms and reinforces the move to metrication, although it is true that it allows some latitude in this regard.

The subject of metrication obviously evokes a mixed response in Britain and, indeed--judging from my reading of earlier debates on the subject--in the House. Certainly a variety of views has been expressed on both sides of the House.

For some, the increasing use of metric measurements seems to strike a blow against the very nature of the British identity. Some feel a strong attachment to the imperial measurement system. Perhaps, like me, they were fascinated by the mysterious, romantic-sounding lists of measurements that used to feature on the back of school exercise books. For others, however, the pace of metrication seems all too slow, and many believe that more

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rapid progress should be made. The timetable for metrication envisaged more than 20 years ago has been put back and many who most feared the move towards metrication at that time would no doubt be agreeably surprised that we are discussing this document tonight. Whatever the different views on the subject, one real danger is that we are in a half-and-half position which is highly confusing. A metric muddle is being created.

The Minister referred to previous directives on the subject and explained how this one fitted in. He also described the provisions of the directive. I wish to ask him some questions. It seems clear from the Minister's responses to interventions that, although under the directive the United Kingdom and Ireland can fix a time to phase out remaining imperial measurements, there is nothing to stop the Commission itself from introducing a revised directive to make the timetable speedier, if it so wishes. If the British Government fail to come up with a date, presumably that is what the Commission will do. If the Government fix a date that the Commission feels is unrealistically far into the future, will the Minister confirm that again the Commission could take action?

When the matter was first discussed, it was on the treaty base of article 100, which provided for a unanimous decision by member states, but the present directive will be decided by a majority vote. I have attended a European parliamentary committee which considered the directive and it seemed to me that most of the other countries had little interest in how, when, or even whether the United Kingdom and Ireland chose to phase out imperial measurements. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that that is so.

Can the Minister also let us know whether, in his discussions on the matter, he has met other EEC Ministers? Many of us feel that too many of these decisions are taken by officials, often in the secretive workings of COREPER, the committee of permanent representatives, and that there is very little political input. The mile is one example of a measurement for which the United Kingdom can decide on the changeover date. As the mile is not a barrier to trade, it would be reasonable for the Government to make their own decision on what they want to do. Nevertheless, I should like to know whether they have made any estimate of the cost of changing from the mile to the metric system. Some people feel that the Government are hesitating more on cost grounds than on the principle.

I am glad that there has been a reference to the pint because it should be made clear, to counter misleading impressions in the press, that doorstep milk deliveries are not threatened by the directive. No doubt the Minister will wish to take the opportunity to stress that again.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) raised a valid point about the sale of loose goods. Surely we do not want to make it an offence in all cases for small local shops to continue to sell by imperial measurements.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) about consultation, will the Government tell us whether they plan further consultations on the directive, particularly since the response so far has not been adequate? I note that the

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Government's explanatory memorandum was vague on the cost of changing for shops and firms. Can the Minister give us any further details about that?

I hope that we could all agree that in implementing the directive there should be no unfair jacking up of prices. I hope that the Government will monitor the situation closely.

Mr. Beith : The hon. Lady may be aware of what is happening now in petrol garages. The Government have allowed garages to cease displaying the price of petrol per gallon. Some garages took the opportunity in the week when petrol prices rose to stop displaying the price in gallons so the motorist did not know the price per gallon.

Ms. Quin : The hon. Gentleman's point reinforces the case for vigilance with regard to transferring from one set of measurements to another. Consumer organisations have made that point strongly to me in the past few days.

Earlier I mentioned the danger of metric confusion. We often see a confusing mixture of measurements in shops. For example, I have seen carpets quoted in metric sizes, but the underlay price quoted in imperial measurements. Many DIY shops sell wood so many feet by so many feet by so many millimetres. The various consumer groups with which I have spoken are all concerned about the confusion. That also applies to consumer groups which are in favour of full metrication straight away, such as the National Federation of Consumer Groups and the Consumers Association, which is less keen.

I refer the Minister to the interesting work carried out by Lady Attlee and the metric sense campaign. Lady Attlee feels that the way in which metrication is used in Britain at present and the way in which we have introduced systeme internationale measurements has increased the confusion and made metrication less user-friendly or consumer-friendly than it ought to be. She made the point that very often millimetres are used to quote a size which would be much easier to understand if it were expressed in metres and centimetres. For example, the standard size of a bath is apparently given as 1,700 millimetres, while it seems to me and to the metric sense campaign that 1 m 70 cm would be a more reasonable way of expressing the size.

I hope that the Government will examine the suggestions from the metric sense campaign in trying to present the metrication that we already have in a way that is helpful and not confusing to consumers. That would make necessary changes easier to achieve.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Would my hon. Friend agree-- [Interruption.] In this matter, we are all friends in this country against Europe. Does the hon. Lady agree that when we consider organisations which make things user-friendly it makes them sound like pet budgies or lapdogs? Why should it damage a united Europe for this country to do what it wants and for Europe to do what it wants when we bear in mind that half the world will still use imperial measures anyway? Why should it destroy Europe if we do what 95 per cent. of British people want us to do?

Ms. Quin : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's intervention detracts from the point that I was making. I was simply saying that the consumer has the right to proper information and to have measurements presented to him in an understandable way. The hon. Gentleman

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seems to dislike the phrase "user-friendly", but it is common currency among consumer organisations, as I am sure that he appreciates. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I should be obliged if the debate at the far end of the Chamber would cease. It shows great discourtesy to the hon. Lady.

Ms. Quin : The Minister said that children are educated in the metric system. That is true, but when they leave school they step outside into a rather confused environment.

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The Opposition are not officially opposing this take note motion, but we hope that the Minister will listen seriously and reply to questions that I have raised and that other hon. Members will raise during the debate. We do not like harmonisation for its own sake. We want to see a diversity of customs and traditions in the EC, but we recognise that moves to metrication have taken place and that common standards exist among many areas. However, if metrication is to be successful, it needs--I do not apologise for using the expression again--to be more user-friendly than it now is. It is vital that the Government take more fully into account the needs of the consumers as well as those of industry in the decisions that they are taking.

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10.50 pm

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : I give a qualified welcome to the directive and memorandum that the Minister has presented. We should adopt the sort of programme that is being put forward tonight even if we were not a member of the EC. There is every reason for doing it for its own sake, not for the sake of harmonisation or because we happen to be a member of the EC.

My first qualification, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin), is that the use of the systeme internationale in the use of millimetres and other smaller measurements is not always appropriate, but, as a matter of practice, that does not occasion any difficulty. It does not seem to occasion any difficulty in Europe when we go on holiday, and it will not occasion any real difficulty here.

My second qualification is that the programme prolongs the agony by preserving--for example, in terms of traffic--the mile, the yard and the inch. I see no reason why the heights of bridges that are used by international traffic should not be set out in metres rather than in feet and inches ; why the stopping distances on the motorways should not be in terms of 100 m, 200 m and so forth. The golden rule, followed in many other countries, is that if one wants to change from imperial to metric it should be as full and rapid a change as possible. The conversion from one method to another fails so long as one goes along with a dual signification. It is no good trying to have two languages of measurement working at the same time. However, there is no reason why the traditional measures of a pint of beer or milk should not be preserved. Or we could have 568 ml, which is exactly the same size. The fact that we change from one system of measurement to another does not mean that we need to change the size or the weight of things ; it is simply to change the way in which we measure things, and so I welcome this.

The case for metrication is overwhelming. First, there is the sheer beauty and simplicity of the metric system, which has been endorsed, embraced and developed by many British scientists. Many of the metric measures are named after prominent British scientists such as Newton. He was around some time ago and had no problems with the metric system.

A cube with a 10 cm base contains exactly 1,000 cc and 1,000 ml. Filled with water, it weighs exactly 1 kg. If its heat is raised by 1 deg C one has another measurement of heat. Put against something else it is a measurement of force. It is a beautiful and delightful system with a particular simplicity. Anybody who tried to do physics at school, learning foot pounds, will know exactly what I mean. Perhaps the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) can say how many square yards there are in an acre.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark : But I do not need to know that.

Mr. Fraser : It is very much better that an area of land should be measured in hectares, which are units of 100 metres, rather than in one chain times one furlong, which is 4,840 square yards. I suggest that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, try working out the area of something that measures 3 ft 7 in by 5 ft 8 in. It is impossible to do without using a calculator.

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Metrication does not mean that one has to change the size, speed or weight of anything. It just provides a different and easier set of relationships.

Every country has changed or is changing to metric, with three exceptions : the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. For an exporting industrial nation, we are crazy to pursue a different and more difficult system of measurement. Moreover, two generations or more of our children have been educated in the metric system, and I do not find that pensioners on trips to France, Spain or Portugal have any difficulty coping with metrication. I do not underestimate the intelligence or adaptability of the people whom I represent. Furthermore, we have largely changed to metric already. As a result of changes that I made as Minister of State, virtually every prepackaged item of food is sold in metric quantities, as are coal and petrol. I shall illustrate how crazy it is to retain the imperial system in industrial terms. For a long time, this country imposed a huge cost penalty on itself by manufacturing petrol pumps for the rest of the world which dispensed in metric quantities, and which then involved the extra expense of being converted to dispense petrol in imperial quantities, simply because of our own eccentricity. That makes no industrial sense.

There is no way that we can export in imperial sizes products such as drills and fasteners to other industrial countries, which consider our use of that system to be eccentric, unusable and unacceptable. Our failure to adapt to the metric system says something about our failure as an industrial nation.

Mr. Beith : The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that one must take into account also small shopkeepers weighing out 1 lb of raisins. The hon. Gentleman admits that it is his fault that in my constituency small shopkeepers have been visited by weights and measures officers warning that the practice of weighing out a few bags of raisins in advance and putting them on the shelf so that a customer does not have to wait renders those shopkeepers liable to prosecution. Is the hon. Gentleman proud of that?

Mr. Fraser : Yes, I am, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why. If one is to help the shopper make a true price comparison between one item and another, it is no use having that product packaged in a multiplicity of sizes. The right way is that which I introduced for biscuits, for which there was a monstrous arrangement of different sizes.

Butter has been packaged in metric sizes for a long time. It is sold in packs of 125, 250 or 500 g, which makes it easy to make a price comparison. The same applies in comparing the prices of large and small packets of raisins. The little old lady whom the hon. Gentleman has in mind will get ripped off only if raisins, fruit or whatever come in a range of sizes that make it difficult to compare the price of one packet with another.

When those changes were made, they enjoyed the total support of consumer organisations across the country. They were made not for any ideological reason but to make life easier for the consumer, in the same way that life is made easier for the consumer when petrol is sold in one single measure instead of in both gallons and litres, which results in enormous confusion. The hon. Member for Selly

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Oak and his supporters--the imperialists who want to embalm and preserve the imperial system--are demonstrating not independence but insularity.

It would be senseless to drive into metrication overnight, but no one can accuse us of doing that. The French revolution embraced metrication more than 200 years ago. If we moved into the metric system quickly, we would give Japanese scale manufacturers and so on an enormous advantage in coming into our market. That is why it should be phased in over a period.

There is a beauty, simplicity, ease and saving in the long term in using the metric system. We should endorse it for our own sake. There have been many changes in measurement in the past, and the time has come to make a resolution, over a due period, to adopt the system which the rest of the world is going to use. If we refuse to do that, it says something about us as a manufacturing and exporting country and about our failure to do business with the rest of the world. 11.2 pm

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : I must admit that when I came to this debate I had not anticipated the kind of orgasmic enthusiasm that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who is obviously under the impression that he is still the Minister putting forward the measure. At least my hon. Friend the Minister had the decency to appear resigned and incredulous about the measure that he was supporting, but the hon. Member for Norwood actually purported to believe in what he was saying.

As the hon. Member for Norwood rightly pointed out, 200 years ago one of the consequences of the French revolution was the introduction of metrication and decimalisation in France. Indeed, the French went even further and decimalised the week. The 10-day week was not terribly popular, however, because it meant that people had one day off every 10 days rather than every seven. I have no doubt that, in due course, some earnest committee in the European Parliament and some earnest bureaucrat in the Commission will decimilise all the other things to which we are accustomed- -not just the days of the week but clocks, times and everything else.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Minister who had the misfortune to have to try to make a fist of the subject today, but who is clearly a man of too great sensibility to believe in the case that his position in Government obliges him to put forward. As I listened to him I thought of the Peter Simple column in The Daily Telegraph --

Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman was in favour of the Common Market.

Mr. Hamilton : I certainly was not in favour of the Common Market. I was one of the two members of the national executive committee of the Conservative party who voted against it in 1971. I voted against it in the 1975 referendum and to the best of my recollection I have not supported any Common Market measures since I have been in the House. As usual, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is misinformed.

Mr. Skinner : Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that when it came to putting a guillotine on the single European market legislation he was not in the same Lobby as those of us who were against that legislation?

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Mr. Hamilton : When it comes to guillotining the hon. Gentleman and his supporters, I am always to be found in the Government Lobby, but that has nothing to do with the point at issue.

As I listened to my hon. Friend the Minister, I thought back to Dr. Heinz Kiosk, the chief psychiatric adviser to the plastic stair-rod advisory council, and his effusions in the Peter Simple column of The Daily Telegraph. I contented myself with the knowledge that my hon. Friend did not believe in the case that he put forward. I am astonished that the Labour party--which is now attempting to become voter-friendly, in the same way as the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) talked about becoming user-friendly--is supporting this measure, but perhaps I should not be too astonished as it is a highly Socialist and bureaucratic measure. I find it difficult to understand why any Government should wish to legislate for the weights and measures of this country. A free market Government should leave it to consumers to decide the measures in which they wish to buy goods on sale in the shops. If they prefer to buy in pounds, ounces or gallons, why should the Government interfere? That preference does not prejudice the achievement of a single market in the European Community which, by and large, I support because I believe in free trade, and these matters have no bearing on the wider European horizon which, if we believe in it, is supposed to be our reason for membership of the European Community. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to consultation. As we know, groups that are consulted by Government to discover what consumers believe often do not represent the views of the man in the street. If we had an opinion poll on whether this measure is acceptable to British people, 95 per cent. or more would be opposed to it. I appreciate that power politics are involved here. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we do not have a blocking minority in the Council of Ministers, so I accept that force majeure, as a consequence of the Single European Act, means that we shall have no influence on what I regard as an important measure.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that, although we are making it a criminal offence to sell in pounds and ounces or pints and gallons, we have some refuge in the fact that this law will not be enforced. It seems extraordinary that this proposal will be a dead letter as soon as it is introduced.

I register my regret that the Government, for whatever reason, are giving credence to an unnecessary measure, which goes against the essence of what we have been trying to do since 1979--to elevate the consumer and his choices above those dictated by bureaucrats. 11.6 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : There is all-party agreement that the Government find themselves in a difficult position here, as they have on other harmonisation measures, especially emotive and traditional ones such as feet and inches and pints and litres. Essentially, within the context of Europe, the Government are trying to square a circle and have it both ways. In that respect, they are handling it as constructively as they can.

Having listened to the Minister, I suspect that we are stuck with a European fait accompli. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, we do not

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understand how, under the European voting mechanisms, the safeguards to which the Minister referred will be assured.

Mr. Skinner : What is the Scottish nationalists' view of the issue?

Mr. Kennedy : I shall come to that in a moment. Only Britain and Ireland are in an imperialistic position, so I do not understand how there will be any safeguard if we accept the spirit and substance of the directive. The Minister is not to blame because the issue was decided a long time ago.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) just mentioned the views of the Scottish National party, to which I do not subscribe, but were an independent Scotland represented on the Council of Ministers it could give the Republic of Ireland and England and Wales the force of its arguments and vote. This would be a good opportunity for Scottish National party Members to make that point, but they are not present. On the question of practice within this country, again, the Minister is saying what his hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) has just said is absolutely correct. The Minister has said, "We will introduce this" but in response to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and others he has said, "Don't worry. We will be turning a blind eye to things. We will not be implementing it or following it up." [Interruption.] He is dissenting from that, but he gave the clear impression that it would be technically illegal for a trader to serve loose goods, for example, in the corner shop example mentioned by my hon. Friend. I cannot remember the exact phrase he used, but he spoke about how the inspectors would obviously be treating this with sensitivity, and the impression left with Labour Members, and I think with Conservative Members too, was that it would render nugatory the entire effect of the measure.

Mr. Maude : I am happy to repeat what I said, although not perhaps in the exact words. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was perhaps giving the impression that the day after any such measures came into operation there would be jack-booted trading standards officers roaming around the streets, seeking out small shopkeepers who were using imperial measures. All I was saying was that that was absurd. That is not the way in which trading standards officers operate, but that is not to say that this would be a dead letter ; it would become a criminal offence for traders to sell in unauthorised units, as it is now, and I stress that we have a Weights and Measures Act which makes it illegal to use certain measures at the moment.

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