UNITS OF MEASUREMENT
Draft Directive amending Council Directive 80/181/EEC on the approximation of the laws of Member States relating to units of measurement.
|Article 95; co-decision; qualified majority voting
|4 February 1999
|Forwarded to the Council:
|5 February 1999
|Circulated by the Council in the original language:
11 February 1999
|Circulated by the Council in English:
12 February 1999
|Deposited in Parliament:
|25 February 1999
|Trade and Industry
|Basis of consideration:
|EM of 8 March 1999
|Not cleared; further information requested
4.1 Directive 80/181/EEC aims to harmonise
the use in the Community of units of measurement, "for economic,
public health, public safety or administrative purposes".
The Directive replaced earlier Directives, adopted before the
United Kingdom joined the EEC, providing for the use of the International
System (SI), a version of the metric system which had been adopted
internationally in 1960.
4.2 In 1976 and 1979, directives were introduced
which included programmes for phasing out non-SI units. The proposal
for the second of these, Directive 80/181/EEC, was debated by
the House on 19 December 1979.
It authorised a transitional period to 31 December 1989, during
which other units of measurement could continue to be used, alongside
SIs, as "supplementary indications" of quantity. These
included imperial units, customary in the UK and Ireland.
4.3 As the Commission comments in its EM
on this amending Directive, the change to the SI system has taken
a long time "due to the need to take account of the customary
systems previously in use in the Union". In 1989, a Directive
amending Directive 80/181/EEC, extended the transitional period
to 31 December 1999, during which supplementary indications of
measurement could continue to accompany SIs. However, it required
that the use of imperial units of measurement for most of the
purposes covered by the 1980 Directive be phased out by the end
of 1994. Exceptions were made, permitting the continued use until
the end of the transitional period of imperial units in certain
"specialized fields only". These included the sale of
goods 'loose from bulk', such as fruit and vegetables. As a concession,
it permitted the UK and Ireland to fix their own dates for ending
the use of imperial units for certain "specific uses only",
such as the pint for sale of draught beer and the mile for road
traffic signs. This proposal was debated on the Floor of the House
on 11 April 1989.
The Commission proposal
4.4 The amending Directive now proposed
(1) extend until 31 December 2009 the period
during which units other than SIs are permitted to be used as
(2) bring the legally authorised units, that
is SIs, into line with international agreements and decisions
that have been taken on SI units, by:
amending the symbols for Celsius temperature,
in line with the ISO 31-0 standard of 1992;
amending the definitions of units of
plane angle and solid angle, in line with the ISO 31-1 standard
incorporating new factors and prefixes
for multiples and submultiples of SI units, as agreed by the 19th
General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1991;
replacing the experimental values for
the electronvolt and the atomic mass unit by definitions of those
units and their symbols; and
(3) provide for the re-examination at a later
date of the application and functioning of the Directive.
4.5 The extension does not apply to the
sale of goods 'loose from bulk' and other "specialized"
4.6 After the expiry of this transitional
period in 2009, the UK and Ireland will continue to be permitted
to set the date for ending the use of imperial units for certain
"specific" purposes, such as the pint for draught beer.
Apart from that derogation, the Directive will only permit the
use of SI units.
4.7 The purpose of the extension is to allow
EU manufacturers to avoid having to comply with different requirements
for quantity labelling for the US market. US legislation, in particular
the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act, prescribes the simultaneous
use of the US customary inch-pound imperial units and the SI.
4.8 Noting that all the Member States have
adopted the SI as the legal system of units of measurement, the
Commission says that, while some sectors have been slow to change,
"positive progress" has been achieved in others, especially
foodstuffs and household goods. It assesses that the extension
should have only a limited impact on consumers, as it is only
those manufacturers that could have difficulty with marketing
products in the USA that will take advantage of it. The products
particularly affected are cosmetics and toiletries, artists' paints
and some foodstuffs. Federations representing those industries
have been consulted. The issue was also covered at meetings of
the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue in 1997 and 1998, when both
the US and EU were asked to find a permanent solution to the labelling
4.9 The Commission comments, in its EM,
that in its "firm view", shared by European manufacturers,
a global system based on the SI should be agreed. It regards the
extension of the transitional period as an interim measure and
notes that a Working Group of Member States experts has called
on it to ask the United States Government to change its requirement
for dual indications, as a short-term solution. The long-term
solution, it suggests, is for the United States, the only industrialised
nation in the world that does not use it, to adopt the SI.
The Government's view
4.10 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of
State for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr Howells) says in
his EM of 8 March that the Government agrees that uniformity in
the definition and use of units is essential if a system of measurement
is to be effective in promoting trade and protecting the consumer.
He also says that the Government agrees that EU manufacturers
should not be subject to different labelling requirements according
to the market in which they propose to sell their goods. The Government
therefore supports the ten-year extension for supplementary indications.
4.11 The Minister notes that the amendments
to the Directive would not impose costs on the private sector
or on Community or UK public funds. The Department, he says, has:
"...maintained a dialogue with the Commission
and with UK and other EU manufacturers. The Commission has consulted
Member States and EU manufacturers about the justification for
the proposal, particularly on extending the deadline for supplementary
The British Weights and Measures Association
4.12 This Association has written drawing
attention to the fact that the derogation permitting the continued
exclusive use of customary units, that is imperial units, for
goods sold 'loose from bulk' or 'weighed at the point of sale',
principally fruit and vegetables, expires on 31 December 1999.
"This is of entirely domestic concern, affecting
trade within Britain overwhelmingly small businesses
and the daily lives of the whole population, but of no importance
whatever to a single European market. Yet, for no good reason,
this derogation is not to be extended.".
4.13 The Association comments that the announcement
of the extension for dual labelling gave the false impression
that use of imperial weights and measures generally had been granted
a "ten years reprieve". It continues:
"So a large proportion of traders and even larger
proportion of the public still do not realize what is in store.
The metric-only régime for fresh foods, etc (what most
people buy most days) is to be imposed by stealth."
4.14 We appreciate that the proposal
from the Commission applies to certain provisions only of the
Directive. It is uncontroversial, but we note that the Government
has not taken advantage of this amendment to attempt to negotiate
a further extension of the derogation permitting the continued
use of imperial units in the UK for purposes such as the sale
of fruit and vegetables 'loose from bulk'. The issue has been
considered by Parliament and debated on several occasions over
the years, but the representation from the British Weights and
Measures Association suggests that there is still opposition to
this provision of the Directive.
4.15 We ask the Minister whether the
Government considered seeking to negotiate an extension of the
derogation concerned, to comment on the points made by the British
Weights and Measures Association, and to tell us what steps it
intends to take to raise public awareness before the legislation
comes into force at the end of the year.
4.16 Meanwhile, we do not clear the document.
4 Official Report,
cols. 809-834. Back
Report, cols. 837-862. Back
of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe. Back