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Dr. Howells: I believe that we should move towards metrication. The use of measurements has never been an entirely stable regime; it has evolved over the years. We have until 2009. I give the House the reassurance that if, in 2009, it is clear that consumers would like a further derogation, we will negotiate one.
Mr. Cash: As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said, the motion is no more than another piece in the jigsaw. There are so many other measurements and units that are not being turned into metric. The Government are clearly committed to the idea of a European superstate and to the sort of consolidation that obtained during the Roman empire or any of the other great empires. That is the way these things go. At present, however, they are picking and choosing: they do not have the courage of their convictions. That in itself condemns the pusillanimous manner in which they conduct themselves on so many issues.
The Government know that there are pressures under which they have to move, because they are prepared to accept the idea of going further and deeper into the process of European integration. However, they are not prepared to state that that is precisely what they want. That is why they vacillate so much over the single currency.
Why is it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells asked, that the Government are not prepared-- I would regard it as outrageous--to take the further step on all measurements and units? I invite the Minister to explain.
Dr. Howells: I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking me the question and giving me the opportunity to answer it. Like the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), I would find it difficult to order some commodities in anything other than imperial. However, when I order a pint, I am determined that I will get a full pint. The hon. Gentleman's colleagues talked out the legislation that related to a full pint. They do not want fairness for consumers--they are ready to allow the breweries to continue cheating them.
We should bear in mind the fact that it is only in the United Kingdom and in Ireland that these sorts of proposals are enforced by criminal penalties. I put it to the House--we shall see how this plays--that the only referendum to be held on the Nice treaty, unless the Conservative party wins the general election, as it surely will, will be in Ireland. There are many in Ireland who are becoming increasingly concerned about the manner in which they are being taken over. The question for Ireland, as for the United Kingdom, is increasingly, "Who governs us?" The proposal is a further example of trends that should be resisted and opposed.
It was clear when the measure was first accepted that the Government did not expect any prosecutions. Mr. Thoburn has been prosecuted but we do not yet know the outcome, and it is apparent that many members of the Government regard the prosecution as a big mistake. Do they propose to prosecute others in the United Kingdom? They have already nodded and winked at the prosecution of Mr. Thoburn, and it would therefore be extraordinary if they were not prepared to take the matter further.
The proposal is objectionable. It also illustrates the Government's vacillation and pusillanimity, because they are not prepared to put their money where their mouth is. We can understand the reason for that: they are prepared to go so far to comply with European requirements, but they are not prepared to stand up for the British people. The Minister knows that that is true.
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). His words convince me that the remarks that I am about to make are right. The Minister's opening comments were interesting. It was predictable that he would try to blame the current position on the Conservative party. That is the Labour party's great mantra nowadays. When they change something for which we were responsible, they claim credit for it; when they decide not to change something, they blame us.
The Minister could have made a good point, but it eluded him. The Conservative party's record on the subject of our debate is not entirely pure. When we entered the Common Market, we were told that it was, indeed, a common market. The White Paper that preceded
Let us go back many years, longer ago than when I was first a Member of Parliament. The Conservative party had something for which to answer then. It says much for our party that we are now capable of facing up to our actions and, as far as possible, to their consequences. If the Minister had made the criticism in that way, he would have made a valid point. However, he is not on such strong ground when considering the regulations.
The Government could have applied for derogations, but they chose not to do that. They allowed the lapse of a derogation that would have permitted the imperial pricing of loose goods. They did not even believe that that was worth doing; that says much about their attitude. If they find themselves in a position to consider whether to renew the derogation in 2008, their actions will again say much about their attitude.
Derogation means asking a foreign power for permission to continue to use our weights and measurements. It means going cap in hand to a foreign state and saying, "Do you mind terribly if we continue to adhere to our own laws, traditions and customs?" From time to time, a gracious foreign state will say, "Yes, you are entitled to do that." The mere fact that we have to go through that charade and consider applying for derogations so as to be allowed to continue our own customs says much about the European Union.
We are moving into a European state so quickly--it has no pretensions to be anything other than a European state. The only people who deny that it is a European state constitute a very small number, both in my party and in the Labour party. In Europe, this debate would not be understandable. If any European were listening to the debate, they would not understand what we were talking about. They would say, "What are they going on about? Surely, in a single state, the state has the right to make the law."
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): I apologise for having come late to the debate, but I am looking at the record for 11 April 1989. I may be completely wrong, but I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman told me whether he voted in favour of European Community document No. 4102, on units of measurement? I feel that there is a bit of inconsistency here. Is there?
Mr. Nicholls: Even for the hon. Lady, that is a uniquely silly remark to make. To drift into the Chamber and to ask me to recall whether I voted for a particular statutory instrument in 1989 is, even by her standards, particularly silly.
If the hon. Lady had been here for the whole of the debate, let alone the whole of my speech, she would have heard me say that there was something unsatisfactory about derogations. There is something very unsatisfactory about having to ask for permission to be able to retain one's rights and customs. However, if that is the position we are in, it is worth exercising that right. The charge against the Government is that they did not even think it worth applying for a derogation in this case.
As I said before the hon. Lady made her ill-fated intervention, the idea that it is necessary to impose such legislation to protect trade is complete nonsense. The point is that units of measurement are there for the convenience of those who choose to trade in them. If someone aggressively says, "I intend to trade in imperial measurements," when what is wanted are metric measurements, either they will cease to trade in that form of measurement, or they will fail.
Obviously, if someone is trading with the continent and wants to make his goods attractive on the continent, he will ensure that the pricing is metric. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with metric measurements, but the idea that they must be enforced on people with the full rigour of the criminal law to protect trade is nonsense.
We are dealing with a political agenda, plain and simple. We are dealing with a European state that arrogates to itself the right to ride roughshod over the domestic customs of a member state. This debate teaches us, more than anything else, that we cannot go on in this way. We cannot go on playing a part in Europe in a relationship in which we do not feel comfortable--