Yesterday, the Government published its response to the so-called TIGRR report. It was reported in some newspapers as announcing the return of pounds and ounces.
As previously reported by Metric Views, in June this year, the Government’s Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) had recommended the return of imperial weights and measures, citing the inability of traders to choose which measurement system they use as being “an example of overly prescriptive EU regulation”. This assessment of Weights and Measures law is of course misguided.
In order to protect consumers, the UK, and the vast majority of other countries around the world permit the use of only one system of weights and measures for trade. Any ability of traders to choose different weights and measures from their competitors will always adversely affect a consumer’s ability to compare prices, and thus leave them open to unfair practices. The best way to maximise consumer protection has always been for every trader to use the same system of weights and measures. This is a principle that has been with us since Magna Carta.
In what has previously been described by some, misleadingly, as “taking back control” of our laws from unelected bureaucrats, it is ironic that a statement, that included the Government’s plans for weights and measures legislation, was delivered in the unelected House of Lords by the unelected Minister of State, Lord Frost, on Thursday.
The Government’s response to the TIGRR report, entitled Brexit opportunities: regulatory reforms, could be described as a solution in search of a problem. What few proposals there are have a general theme of removing consumer protections, or otherwise appear to be plans to change for the sake of change, seemingly to deliberately create divergence from common standards that we have previously agreed with our European neighbours. A short statement on weights and measures is included:
“Review EU restrictions on selling in pounds and ounces – We will review the EU ban on markings and sales in imperial units and legislate in due course.”
This was reported in The Times, on the same day, in an article entitled, Pounds and ounces return in victory for metric martyrs, in the following terms:
“Under plans unveiled by ministers today it will once again become legal for market stalls, shops and supermarkets to sell their goods using only Britain’s traditional weighing system.”
In his statement to the House of Lords, Lord Frost spoke of introducing a “one-in-two-out system” to reduce the quantity of legislation. However, the proposal to add imperial weights and measures to existing metric measures, stands that approach on its head, with the adoption of “one-out-two-in” weights and measures legislation.
Whether the Government go through with this retrograde step in consumer protection remains to be seen.
It is clear that no impact assessment of a return to imperial measures has been carried out. Inevitably, there would be considerable costs:
- New imperial scales would need to be purchased by traders, which would in turn need to be tested and stamped by trading standards officers, who would need the necessary imperial calibration equipment.
- Imperial scales have not been authorised since the 20th century. Trading standards officers would need to be trained in the certification of imperial scales.
- There is a national shortage of Weights and Measures inspectors. This is a bad time to be creating needless work for existing staff.
- Would there be a public information campaign? The majority of people in the UK have no experience of imperial units when shopping.
- And last, but not least, our country’s reputation would take a massive hit. It is clear from the enormous backlash to this proposal on social media last night, that this is already making our country a laughing stock.
Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform independent report – 2021-06-16
Brexit opportunities: regulatory reforms – 2021-09-16
The Times – Pounds and ounces return in victory for metric martyrs – 2021-09-16