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Metrication: Cost Of Adaptation

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to state what expenditure has been provided in seeking to adopt the metrication system.

My Lords, the only expenditure specifically provided is the cost of the Metrication Board. Since the Board's inception in 1969 the total expenditure, including an estimate for the current year, has been £6.5 million. It is not possible to estimate the total costs and benefits to the country as a whole.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some members of the farming community have refused to adopt the metrication system and that in some parts of the country a process of intimidation is proceeding against many of them? Why should this occur? Further, if £6.5 million has been spent, apart from the expenditure involved in an ancillary and subsidiary fashion, would it not have been better, instead of having this confusion—metrication has not aroused great enthusiasm in the country and certainly not in the farming community—to have used the money in order, for example, to provide a reduction in the cost of married quarters for men in the Services?

My Lords, I am aware of the difficulty to which my noble friend referred in a part of the farming community, but I believe that this whole question should be seen in the perspective of the metrication programme as a whole, which is proceeding smoothly. In my view it is quite essential that we should go metric because, with one or two minor exceptions, the whole world is metric.

My Lords, it is the cost to us not to go metric, rather than the cost of going metric, that we should have in mind. Of course, £6.5 million could be spent in a variety of ways, but I believe that it is being very well spent in this particular case.

My Lords, when my noble friend refers to the whole world accepting metrication, is he aware that the whole world is now in the most crazy situation it has known for three centuries? Why should he indulge in a little boasting about metrication in the context of the situation in which we in this country find ourselves, apart from what is happening in many other parts of the world?

My Lords, I believe that the difficult world situation has wider causes than the use of the metric system. My noble friend knows that very well. I would remind him that we are not rushing into this question of metrication. Indeed, the first significant step was taken when the United Kingdom joined the Metric Convention in 1884—which I note was the significant year when my noble friend was born. This enables us to look forward to 1984 as an occasion when we can celebrate the hundredth birthday of my noble friend as well as the centenary of our joining the Metric Convention.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I object to this innuendo concerning the manner in which I was born? According to all the records, I was born in a perfectly natural fashion, in strict accordance with the rules.

My Lords, metrication was made legitimate in 1884 and I am sure there is no question in relation to my noble friend.

My Lords, will the noble Lord not agree that, unpleasant as the process of metrication is, it is better to be "metrified" than "petrified"?