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The main directives were adopted in 1976 by a Labour government and in 1980 and 1989 by Conservative governments. The 1989 directive set 31st December 1999 as the date after which grams and kilograms must be used to sell loose goods by weight, mainly fresh foods such as meat, fruit and vegetables. The implementing legislation, which has been challenged in the Sunderland case, was made in 1994.
If we are to play the cards of libertarianism and British history, I remind the House that in Magna Carta for the first time the people of Britain established the case and the need for a single form of measurement in the country. With a general election coming up it is no time for the Conservative Party to line up behind King John on the ground that somehow having a series of weights and measures is a good thing. I say that by way of background.
I now take noble Lords through the regulations that we are debating. The regulations I am discussing are those listed in the schedule to the present regulations and in Regulation 3(2). The regulations set out constructional requirements and limits of error for different classes of weighing or measuring equipment. They also include the option for the equipment to display the quantity weighed or measured by means of a supplementary indication in imperial units.
The regulations serve to implement, in respect of the listed equipment, the provisions on supplementary indications in Directive 1999/103/EC, which amends European Community Directive 80/181/EC on units of measurement. Directive 80/181/EC originally set 31st December 1989 as the period after which non-metric units were no longer authorised for use as supplementary indications alongside metric units on measuring equipment or for other purposes such as the quantity mark on packaging or the unit price of goods.
In 1989 the directive was amended to extend the period for supplementary indications until 31st December 1999. The new deadline--and the other amendments to the directive--were debated on the Floor of another place in 1989. The present Government have now negotiated a further 10-year extension for supplementary indications for two reasons.
First, under legislation made in 1994, goods sold loose by weight were required to be sold in grams and kilograms after 1999. It was clear that consumers would welcome a further 10-year period during which trade weighing machines could display indications in both metric and imperial weights.
Secondly, under US legislation, consumer packages--including imports from the UK and other EU 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 the costs for UK exporters. It was
It is also important to recognise that the amending directive was passed by the European Parliament. If UK MEPs had considered that the 10-year extension period was not adequate, they could have tabled an amendment; and they did not do so. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that it would be open to a future government to seek a further extension if in 2009 there were an indication that a further extension was needed.
It seems wholly perverse, therefore, for the House to turn down regulations which extend the period during which supplementary indications can be used, the provision of which is wholly in the interests of consumers. The regulations extend the period in which supplementary indications can be given for another 10 years. I cannot see what is to be gained for the consumer by turning that down. If people still want supplementary indications in 2009, it will be open to the government at the time to seek to extend them for a further period.
Perhaps I may respond to points made during the debate. Since 1st January 2000 it has been unlawful to use imperial units only. That was as a result of legislation passed in 1994, and debated at the time in the House of Lords.
The consumer can ask for goods in imperial measures. The metric equivalent can be weighed out now and after 2009. The libertarian argument fails to recognise that one of the oldest functions of government is to define the legal units of measurement. Just as all governments have always had a monopoly on issuing notes and coins, if there was no legal definition one man's pound or kilo would differ from the next's.
I come back to this point. These are simple regulations. They act entirely in favour of the consumer by extending the period for 10 years. It is not appropriate again to raise the whole question of metrication. Both governments have supported metrication consistently for a long period. It is sensible to extend the measure for a further eight years. If, after that period, there is a wish to do so, it is up to the government of the day to seek a further extension.
Lord Monson: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, does he agree that the reason why governments have the power to regulate weights and measures is to prevent the consumer from being confused or cheated? That is exactly what we do by allowing the use of dual measurements.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, while in the short term it is clearly sensible to allow supplementary indications, as a general principle it is a good idea to have one unit of measurement and to stick to it.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the consumer can ask for goods and they can be weighed out in those measurements, but the shopkeeper would have to do that on a metric machine and make the conversion.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I do not want to tire the House; we have heard so much. However, when I spoke, the Minister intervened to explain that if I divided the House and won annulment of the regulations, we could not even now have the use of supplementary indicators. On the advice that I have been given, that is not so. If that were so, I would not ask the House to annul this regulation. We on this side of the House are looking for choice; I am glad that many others have joined us on this issue.
I mentioned the Measuring Equipment (Capacity Measures and Testing Equipment) Regulations. I shall not do so again. However, the Minister continues to say that the regulations are sensible. I wish to ensure that noble Lords understand the position. In the schedule there is reference to nine different regulations. The eighth paragraph refers to the Measuring Equipment (Liquid Fuel and Lubricants) Regulations. If the measure were annulled, one comes back to what that regulation states. The fourth point of that regulation states that any indication on measuring equipment referring in metric units of measurement to the quantity of liquid fuel supplied may be accompanied by a supplementary indication. That reflects the strong advice that I received today from a colleague who visited the Library, and from my honourable friends in another place.
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.