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Mr. Ian Stewart: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: No.

We also know that the Government are in a complete muddle over their metrication programme. That is clear from the ludicrous persecution of a market trader in Sunderland.

Why do the Government not do something right for a change? Why do they not at least permit the indefinite use of imperial units alongside their metric equivalents? Why do they not put a stop to this metric madness, start listening to the public and start standing up for freedom? Unless we get some very good answers to those questions, we will certainly oppose the regulations.

10.27 pm

The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells): I welcome the opportunity to explain the regulations--[Hon. Members: "Oh no you don't!"] Oh yes I do.

The regulations were made under powers conferred by the Weights and Measures Act 1985, formulated and signed up to by a Government led by a Conservative Prime Minister--although, of course, the schizophrenia of the Conservative party knows no bounds. Conservative Members forget all this, but it is here in Hansard. The hon. Member for Stafford fought it tooth and nail at the time--

Mr. William Cash (Stone) rose--

Dr. Howells: No, I will not give way.

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Even if the Minister cannot get metric measures right,

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and even if he cannot get pounds, shillings and pence or any other imperial measures right, he should at least know that I am the Member for Stone.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not think that that is a matter for the Chair.

Dr. Howells: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for that, but I was paying him a tribute by saying that he stood up against that lot on the Conservative Front Bench.

Tonight's debate is really about the Conservative party's paranoia in regard to the United Kingdom Independence party. The Conservatives fear that the UKIP will take votes away from what they call their key seats in what is left of their heartlands: that is why they have jumped on the ludicrous case of a so-called metric market. It is total nonsense.

The intention of the directive that the Conservatives now criticise, but to which they signed up, is to establish harmonised use of the international system of metric units for economic, public health, public safety and administrative purposes in European Union member states, of which we are one. The directive originally set 31 December 1989 as the date after which non-metric units would no longer be authorised for use as supplementary indications. The Conservatives did not negotiate a never-ending derogation; they signed up for 10 years. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) has forgotten that, as he has forgotten many other facts, but I now remind him of it.

The current Government recognised that a further extension for supplementary indications would be necessary for two reasons. First, with the change to the gram and the kilogram for goods sold loose after 1999, it was clear that consumers would welcome a further period in which trade measuring instruments could display indications in metric and imperial weights.

Secondly, under United States legislation, consumer packages--including imports from the United Kingdom and other European Union member states--must be labelled in metric and US imperial units. Packing in metric-only for the EU market and in metric-US imperial for the US market would clearly add to costs for UK exporters. However, Conservative Members are so fixated with jumping on to the tawdry bandwagon of their big rival, the United Kingdom Independence party, that they will say anything. That is what they do these days.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Howells: I shall in a moment--I have not finished yet.

Conservative Members will jump on any bandwagon that is rolling along. This bandwagon is not moving very fast, but it is better than none at all. It is what Conservative Members do these days. I shall certainly give way to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). I had always considered him to be intelligent, but I am amazed to see him sitting on the Opposition Front Bench for this debate.

Mr. Gibb: If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, the Government sought an extension to the

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derogation for dual measurement, but not one for the directive on loose sales from bulk. Why did he seek a derogation in one case but not the other?

Dr. Howells: We did not need one. We negotiated a further 10-year extension for supplementary indications, until 31 December 2009. It is also important to recognise that a directive was passed by the European Parliament. If United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament, including Tory ones--there are Tory MEPs; the Tories did very well in the most recent European elections--considered that to be such a dastardly act, why did they not table an amendment to the directive? Not one amendment to the directive was tabled. That is very strange.

I know, however, why there was not an amendment. It was because that old United Kingdom Independence party had not found a metric martyr and the bandwagon had not yet started scraping along the ground. It was therefore not necessary for a Tory MEP to table an amendment. Then again, perhaps Tory MEPs simply forgot to table one, just as the right hon. Member for Wells has forgotten that it was a Conservative Government who signed up to all this and set themselves a 10-year target to end imperial measurements and convert entirely to metric.

Various regulations have been made, under the Weights and Measures Acts of 1963 and 1985, to set out constructional requirements and limits of error for different classes of weighing or measuring equipment. That has been done to ensure that when that equipment is used for trade, it will act as a fair arbiter between buyers and sellers. That applies not only to everyday foodstuffs such as fruit and vegetables and fish and meat, regardless of whether they are sold loose or pre-packed, but to other goods used in commerce and industry. It also applies to central heating oils and to supplies of petrol and diesel fuel.

It is an important task of trading standards officers to check that that equipment stays within the allowed limits of error. The equipment may drift into inaccuracy with the passage of time, it may be damaged through misuse, or it may be used fraudulently. TSOs have an important task on behalf of all of us in ensuring that weighing and measuring equipment stays within the bounds and continues to play its role of fair arbiter.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): The hon. Gentleman is telling us about the regulations implications, but would he mind sparing a thought for the housewife who now has to read recipes in metric measurements? The other evening, for example, I had to make some mashed potatoes. The instructions told me to take 628 cl of water, 235 g of potato and a knob of butter approximately 5 cm by 5 cm. By the time that I had looked all that up, worked it out and discovered that it was about 1 pint of water, half a pound of flakes and a knob of butter about an inch square, I was bored to death with trying to work it all out and opened a package of instant rice. The fact remains, however, that recipes are now all printed in what is gobbledegook to most people. There should be, if nothing else, a derogation allowing manufacturers of food products that require measurements to use good old imperial measurements.

Dr. Howells: As the hon. Lady knows, I always appreciate her analysis. However, I must tell her that

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since 1974--long after both she and I were in school, I fear--our children have been taught metric measurements. It may be that we find them gobbledegook, but I had a look at the best-selling cookery books today and found that they all contain metric measurements. Some of them have imperial equivalents alongside the metric, which is very helpful for an old-timer like me--though not, of course, for the hon. Lady, who is ageless. It is wrong to assume that our children have not learned about metric measurements. Even those who were educated way back in 1974 may well be able to boil an egg these days.

Let me return to the regulations before us, rather than the United Kingdom Independence party. The regulations are listed in the schedule to the present regulations and in regulation 3(2). They cover such equipment as, at No. 1 on the schedule, industrial beltweighers used for sand and gravel and for loading grain on to ships, and, at No. 8, petrol pumps, which are shown as measuring equipment for liquid fuel. There can be no competition on the basis of price if such equipment does not act as the fair arbiter of quantities bought and sold so that buyers of those goods can be confident that they are getting what they pay for. That is the point of the directive.

Mr. Fabricant: On that very point, is the Minister not aware that people still think about the cost of petrol as being £4 a gallon? They do not think about litres. That is how they know that petrol is so expensive. The Minister is being unfair to himself in saying that only old fogies like him still understand imperial units. If that were the case, it would not be that only 7 per cent. of the population said, in a recent survey, that they preferred metric to imperial units.

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