|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Monson: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, wholeheartedly--and not for the first time. We have heard one illiberal speech from the Liberal Democrat Benches, though not by any means for the first time, which was more than balanced by an excellent and highly liberal speech from the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, as is his wont.
I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other supporters of the Government that all law--in particular, a new criminal law--any breach of which may result in an individual being fined or sent to prison, should have some moral basis. That applies whether a law affects 10 million or only two dozen people. Similarly, it does not matter what date it comes
Where is the actual morality in outlawing dual marking? Is there anyone in the entire world who would be harmed in the slightest degree if these regulations were rejected? The answer is surely no. Is there any popular demand across the European continent for these regulations; for example, are the Greeks and the Belgians demonstrating in the streets, rioting and insisting that dual marking be outlawed in the United Kingdom? That is certainly not the case. Would the handful of zealots in the European Commission and among the EU bureaucracy really lose any sleep at all if the regulations were rejected? Even here, I suspect not.
Above all, it is the europhiles and euro-enthusiasts, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who should be worried by these regulations. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, suggested, nothing is more likely to provoke the British people into hating the EU, and all its works, than this sort of arrogant and unnecessary interference in our purely internal affairs.
On a technical point--here I declare an interest as a patron of the British Weights and Measures Association--it is worth pointing out that bicycle wheels all over the world, including the whole continent of Europe, are measured not in millimetres or even centimetres but in inches. If the regulations go through, we could end up in the year 2010 as the only country in the EU where sellers are forced to advertise bicycle wheel measurements in millimetres, while France, Germany, Italy, and so on, remain free to advertise them in inches. As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, there are also other examples of continuing Continental use of imperial measurements. I hope, therefore, that the House will reject these regulations as we are now--thank goodness!--fully entitled to do.
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I listened with some interest to those noble Lords who have spoken in favour of these regulations. I listened in particular to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe. So far, I have to say that the arguments fall with my noble friend Lady Miller. As other speakers have said, I cannot see what is to be gained by removing the right of consumers to choose how they buy goods. It is not a question of being for or against Europe, and it is not even a question of being for or against metrication: it is simply a question of being for choice and liberty.
It is certainly true that we must have a legal form of measures and that we have chosen to have the metric system in this country. However, what is generally missed is the fact that any two measurement systems have, by necessity, an exact conversion. It is not a question of using one measurement system to try to short-change the public by using short pints or bent rulers. It is not a question of fraud: one measure is exactly the same as the other. It is just expressed through a conversion factor. A certain quantity of produce will cost exactly the same in pounds and pence
The regulatory assessment that was issued with these regulations says that there is no cost involved in extending dual marking to 2009. If no cost is involved in extending dual marking to that date, it seems to me that there is no cost in extending it in perpetuity. However, there is a cost involved in bringing dual marking to an end. In economic terms, we know to our cost that any regulation introduced in this country is enforced. As the noble Lord, Lord Shore, pointed out, people will be travelling around the country enforcing the regulation and will be incurring costs in the process, as well as imposing costs on those on whom they attempt to enforce it.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, pointed out, there is a more important cost involved; namely, a cost as regards liberty. There ought to be a bias in this country that a strong benefit must be derived from introducing a regulation, or reducing a freedom, before it is implemented. I cannot see any benefit coming from the implementation of this regulation. It will reduce consumer choice and force people to adopt only one source of information.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but there is a further cost and that is that on 1st January 2010 everyone will have to throw away their existing scales because it will be a criminal offence from that date to have scales that have both traditional and metric measurements.
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I accept that point. It occurs to me that there is no calculation in the regulatory assessment we have been given of the cost of introducing this terminal date for dual marking. Does the Minister advocate a date on which dual marking should be abolished? If we had free choice in the matter, would he have advocated it in 1999? Does he advocate that in 2009 as a positive measure? If he believes that the prayer of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, is not an appropriate way of getting ourselves out of this "box", what can the Government do to extend--as it appears that the majority of noble Lords here would like to do--dual marking in perpetuity? What do we have to do to achieve that? Will the Government bring forward whatever measures are necessary to support that intent?
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I give an example which I hope may be helpful to your Lordships to demonstrate why this matter is so infuriating to those of us who support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon. It is all about subsidiarity. It is a living example of subsidiarity in your Lordships' House. I enjoy going to the Refreshment Department to order my steak for lunch and dinner. Only comparatively recently, to my horror, I found that the steak was described as weighing 200 grams.
I took the liberty of writing to my noble friend Lord Colwyn who is chairman of the Refreshment Sub-Committee. Sadly, he is not present at the moment. However, I saw him coming in so perhaps he will read Hansard. I asked him why it was necessary to have the steak uniquely described in grams. Like other noble Lords, I have no objection to dual marking but we do not have the choice. The figure is given just as 200 grams, whatever that may mean.
I did not receive a satisfactory answer from my noble friend Lord Colwyn. Therefore I wrote--I shall not say higher up as one can hardly get higher than the chairman of the Refreshment Sub-Committee--to Mr Edward Ollard. He informed me that it was a requirement that purchases should be conducted in metric measures and that that was far more convenient for what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, called the managerial mindset. That may be the case for people buying in metric measures. But why cannot we have both measures? Why cannot we have eight ounces? If a product happens to be 233 grams, it can be marked eight ounces or 233 grams. Why is it just marked 200 grams? Incidentally--
Lord Richard: My Lords, does the noble Lord feel the same about a bottle of claret, which we all know is 75 centilitres? There is no choice whatsoever there. The noble Lord has to accept that measurement.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, before my noble friend replies, Berry Brothers used to sell a very convenient pint bottle of claret which was exactly the right amount one wanted until it was forced to sell it only in 75 centilitre bottles. That applies also to imperial pints of champagne and imperial pints of claret, which were exactly the right amount.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow. I hope that that answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I do not want to intervene in the cross-Floor repartee. What I tried to explain before the noble Lord, Lord Richard, intervened is that 200 grams is seven ounces or 7.133 ounces. Noble Lords may not know it but they are being short-changed. When they buy a 200 gram steak and they think that they are getting an eight ounce steak they are not, they are getting a seven ounce steak. All I am saying is that surely we could have a choice in this matter. I wonder whether the usual channels could persuade the Refreshment Department to rethink the matter so we could have marked 200 grams or 231 grams and eight ounces. That is a living example of why this regulation is so absurd. If my noble friend divides the House, I shall support her.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page