In response to letter from the British Weights and Measures Association (BWMA), the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, has confirmed that there is no change in Government policy on the units of measurement in use for trade.
The media like nothing better than an anniversary, so it was predictable that the 40th anniversary of “decimal day” – 15 February, 1971, when the UK finally gave up its archaic and inconvenient coinage and currency – would get a good airing. Some commentators have even recalled that decimalisation was originally supposed to be complementary to metrication, with both operating to roughly the same timetable. So it is interesting to compare the slick and successful operation to decimalise our currency with the incompetent bungling of metrication.
What is it about the British that makes it so difficult to implement a simple, obvious and necessary reform – the adoption of a single, rational system of measurement, used by everybody for all purposes? A newly published dissertation attempts some answers to this question.
Two brief anecdotes illustrate the difficulties still being experienced by customers because neither the Government nor “consumer advocates” will try to help them adapt to metric units in the supermarket.
The new coalition Government claims to be determined to clear up the “mess” left behind by the previous Government. So it is notable that Her Majesty’s gracious speech included no proposals to tackle one of the biggest “messes” of all – the intractable muddle of incompatible measurement units with which her UK (but not other Commonwealth) subjects have to struggle.
A recent correspondent expressed the wish “Let’s hope the new (Conservative) government puts a stop to metrication as far as is practically possible.” Naturally, we disagree with this sentiment – but, whoever wins the election, what could they actually do to turn the clock back? and, realistically, what would they do?
In response to UKMA’s patron, Lord Howe, the junior Health Minister, Baroness Thornton said she “absolutely agreed” that it is “time for all of us, in all parties,…. to work together to clear up this long-standing and very British mess.” She added “This is a matter that will solve itself over time but it is our job in government to move as fast as we can towards people recognising and feeling comfortable using metric calculations.”
A recent posting by NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has prompted this question: Are American labelling requirements now illegal under WTO rules?