One area where metric units have been banned in the UK is draught beer and cider. This is despite the fact that bottled or canned beer and cider is mainly available in round metric quantities. Compared with most countries the restriction of draught beer measures to pints, half pints and third of a pint is very narrow. Recently it was reported that the National Weights and Measures Laboratory has included a proposal for a two thirds of a pint beer measure – the twother – to be introduced. Continue reading “Twother or twaddle?”
Month: October 2008
Mystery shopper exposes imperial media stunt
UKMA has received evidence that the recent media hullabaloo about the prosecution of a market trader in Hackney was a deliberate setup, designed to reawaken interest in the flagging campaign to preserve obsolete imperial measures.
This is the report from UKMA’s mystery shopper:
“I managed to get away early today (instead of tomorrow) with plenty time to get off at Dalston for the Ridley Rd Market.
In brief..it is one of the most metric markets I’ve seen in the UK! It is even more kg-only than last time I went through.
All the meat and fish stalls and shops are either predominantly kg-only.. with some having per lb, usually underneath (but that would be about 3 out of approximately 10 shops).Â Â All the fruit and veg stalls showed both kg and lb, varying in kg first or lb first…but well signed and all scales set to kg/g. There were NO lb only stands. A couple of stands seemed empty so may have been where Devers (not to be seen) had/has her stall…
Finally, I walked a good 3/4 of the way through this very long market before I heard ANYONE speaking English! (Absolutely true).
Having done a lot of shopping there (as the prices are like a step back in time after Notting Hill) I did get a lot of chats with the traders. Mostly they were Asian, Middle Eastern, African (I overheard other shoppers all asking for kilos) and they said no-one has ever shown a sign of confusion there.
The English “barra boy” types, who had (like everyone else) scales set to metric, sold me my purchases without fault weighing up exactly in kilos. They were quite jokey, so I got to ask them where the “Ridley Road media star” was? They pointed further down where I’d been and told me it was all a set-up, as the so-called customers had been asked on camera “how many POUNDS do you think this weighs”. Then (God knows where they found these “confused Caribbean” people) they replied for the cameras an amount in pounds while filming next to Devers and her stand. Now that’s outrageous!!! (But typical of the media trying to create a story out of nothing.. Seems one big storm in an imperial teacup!)”
So now we know. Or rather our suspicions are confirmed. The great majority of both traders and customers in Ridley Road are perfectly happy with using metric scales and measurements, and there is little local sympathy for the antics of Ms Devers and the bogus “metric martyrs.” Some elements of the media have been complicit in trying to create the opposite impression. None of this is very surprising, but it is disappointing that senior politicians, who ought to know better, appear (or pretend) to have been taken in by it. Sad.
Imaginative media spin on a non-event?
Supporters of consumer protection have been alarmed at reports suggesting that the Government is to tell local councils not to enforce aspects of weights and measures law. Can this really be true?
Various newspapers and broadcasters have reported alleged comments by Secretary of State John Denham that he intends to “introduce new guidelines within months that would prevent local authorities from taking traders to court” (for offences connected with using illegal scales, and weighing and pricing in illegal measures). See for example BBC report http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7677438.stm.
In fact this report makes little sense. Mr Denham cannot change a law that has been passed by the UK Parliament, nor can he require Trading Standards Authorities (TSAs) not to enforce it. Indeed the existing guidance to TSAs, which is issued by the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) in consultation with the Mr Denham’s Department (which can be downloaded from http://www.lacors.gov.uk/lacors/ContentDetails.aspx?id=17089), already recommends that enforcement action should be “proportionate”. See for example, paragraph 3.1:
“3.1 Local Authorities must continue to demonstrate their commitment to consistent, proportionate action to ensure that those remaining traders who continue to trade in imperial units through ignorance of the law or misleading media coverage, do convert to selling in metric units, and to ensure that cohesive action is taken over any remaining high profile traders who refuse as a point of principle to comply.”
The debate, of course, is about what constitutes “proportionate” action, and the LACORS guidance makes it clear that prosecution should be a seldom used last resort. It is difficult to see how any new advice (whether from LACORS or the Government itself) could go any further in discouraging prosecution without actually telling them not to enforce the law.
With regard to the legality of non-enforcement, the LACORS guidance continues:
“3.6 Authorities are advised to have regard to the provisions of Counsel’s Opinion in relation to the duty to enforce. The relevant points provide that Local Authorities may not decline to perform their statutory duties under the Act, thus, whilst they enjoy discretion whether or not to prosecute in an individual case, that discretion may not be used to justify a general policy of non-prosecution and must be exercised reasonably. The Code for Crown Prosecutors advises that prosecutors must not be affected by improper or undue pressure from any source and Counsel advises that the exercise of the discretion not to prosecute, principally in order to avoid potential political difficulties, might well amount to “improper” or “undue” pressure.”
So local Councils may not have a policy of non-enforcement, and the Secretary of State cannot legally encourage Councils not to enforce the law.
Perhaps the most charitable interpretation is that Mr Denham was caught off guard and made some ill thought-out, populist remarks, leaving his civil servants to try to limit the damage.
UKMA will be writing to Mr Denham seeking clarification of his alleged comments and inviting him to confirm that he does not condone law-breaking or failure to enforce the law.
Hackney Council gets it right
Local Councils get a lot of stick, often undeserved, so when they do something right, we should congratulate them. So hats off to the London Borough of Hackney for striking a blow for genuine consumer protection – that is, for upholding that most basic consumer right – a fair and transparent system of weights and measures that enables consumers to compare quantities and prices on a “like for like” basis.