Howe calls for metrication progress

Lord Howe of Aberavon, the former Conservative Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister, intervened in the Queen’s Speech debate on Tuesday to reiterate his call for the Government to complete the conversion of the UK’s weights and measures to metric units.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Howe (who is patron of the UK Metric Association) described the present situation as “a uniquely confusing shambles … that puts us all to shame.”   “Metrication has got stuck”, he said.  Stressing that the original decision to convert to the metric system “had nothing to do with our relationship with our European partners”, he went on to “urge the Government as a whole and the country across the board to resume the long drawn-out process of conversion to the metric system, begun in 1965.”

Text of speech

 

The full text of Lord Howe’s speech is here:

“My Lords, the topic which I propose to discuss certainly was not touched on in the gracious Speech, but it could and should have been raised at any time. It is a very simple proposition, which may surprise the House: British weights and measures are in a mess. We have litres for petrol and fizzy drinks but pints of beer and milk. We have metres and kilometres for athletics and the Ordnance Survey but miles per gallon for cars. We have the metric system for school but still have pounds and ounces in the market. Certainly, this muddle matters. It increases costs, confuses shoppers, leads to serious misunderstandings, causes accidents, confuses our children’s education and, quite bluntly, puts us all to shame.

This is even a constitutional topic because about 800 years ago, Britain’s first charter of human rights that dealt with constitutional matters—I refer, of course, to Magna Carta—proclaimed that there should be only,

“one measure of wine throughout our whole realm … and one measure of corn … and one width of cloth” ,

and so on. Long before then and ever since, every civilised society has recognised the need for one set—and only one set—of standard measures. By contrast, we have managed to come near to recreating Disraeli’s two nations—divided between, on the one hand, a metrically literate elite and, on the other, a rudderless and bewildered majority.

How did we get into this uniquely confusing shambles? It is because we have been dithering about it for some 150 years. As long ago as 1862, a Select Committee of the House of Commons unanimously recommended the adoption of the metric system which had swept across Europe and elsewhere. In 1904, the House of Lords voted in favour of a Bill to the same effect and, remarkably in a way, in 1965 the decision was finally taken—in response to requests from the CBI and others, and after long and widespread consultation—to go metric over the following 10 years. It is important to understand that that decision had nothing to do with our relationship with our European partners. It was our own decision on our own case, taken eight years before we joined the European Community.

How did we manage to end up in this very British mess? It is because successive British Governments have lacked consistency, candour and courage in implementing and presenting a policy which was, at the outset, rightly supported by a broad majority of all those who had given the topic serious consideration. It was the first Wilson Government who launched the process in 1965, and the Heath, Wilson and Callaghan Governments who carried it on. The whole operation was handled, without significant controversy, by a broadly representative commission: the Metrication Board, which, in its final report in 1979, was able to suggest that the change was by then almost complete. In the Heath Government I had been, as Britain’s first Minister for Consumer Affairs, responsible for the metrication programme. By 1979, however, I had myself become a penny-saving Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as such I readily accepted the decision to abolish the Metrication Board, which claimed to have completed the process.

So where should we go now? We simply cannot afford to go on crippling ourselves with acceptance of the present mess, and it certainly would be madness to go backwards. No one is now so foolish as to argue that we should actually move away from the rest of the world. The only solution is to complete the changeover to metric as swiftly and cleanly as possible. To sustain our present imbroglio would continue consumer confusion, perpetuate safety hazards and obstruct business efficiency.

I could have presented the case in this way: the most glaring omission from the gracious Speech is the lack of any reference to the need to complete the modernisation—and metrication, of course—of our system of measurement. Measurement is fundamental to industrial production, consumer protection, health and safety and science and education. The policy of all Governments since 1965 has formally been to change gradually from imperial to metric units, while continuing the option for consumers to continue using imperial measurements if they wish. However, there has been no further progress of any kind since the year 2000. Metrication has got stuck. As a result, we remain in a muddle of metric and imperial measurements, with some people using one system and others using the other, with all the resulting incomprehension, conversion errors and additional costs, giving the impression to visitors, especially in this Olympic year, that we are a nation living in the imperial past.

A particular recent concern, for example, was the failure of the Department for Transport to seize the opportunity to improve road safety by requiring all imperial-only height and width restriction signs on bridges over highways to be replaced by signs in dual metric and imperial units. That would be a simple thing to do and would cost about £500,000. If it were done, it would probably have huge financial benefits of over £2 million as a result of savings and reduced bridge strikes by metric drivers of foreign lorries on imperial roads with bewildering signs.

I urge the Government as a whole and the country across the board to resume the long drawn-out process of conversion to the metric system, begun in 1965. We should seize on opportunities for progress as they arise and make proper preparations for bringing us comprehensively up to modern international metric standards—a simple proposition that we have neglected for far too long but which we should courageously, carefully and swiftly undertake as soon as we can.”

 

Notes for editors:

(a) Lord Howe of Aberavon (then Sir Geoffrey) was Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister in the Thatcher government between 1979 and 1990.  He had also been Minister for Consumer affairs in the Heath government in the early 1970s.  (He should not be confused with the hereditary peer, Earl Howe, who is a Government Minister).

(b) The UK Metric Association (UKMA) is an independent, non-party political, single issue organisation which advocates the full adoption of the international metric system (“Système International”) for all official, trade, legal, contractual and other purposes in the United Kingdom as soon as practicable.  UKMA is financed entirely by membership subscriptions and personal donations.

(c)  The UK’s official metrication programme began in 1965 and has now lasted 47 years.  Government policy has been to change gradually from imperial to metric units for an increasing range of purposes.  Metric units of measurement are the primary system for most official and legal purposes, including pricing  and labelling of retail goods, although “supplementary indications” (imperial conversions) are also allowed.   The major exception is road signs, which are required to display exclusively imperial units for speed and distance measurement.  There has been no new Government initiative on metrication since 2000.

(d) Further extensive background information can be found generally on UKMA’s website at www.ukma.org.uk .

(e) UKMA also has a blog at www.metricviews.org.uk.

(f)   The following are available for interview or comment:

  • Lord Howe of Aberavon on 020 7219 8709 (House of Lords)
  • Robin Paice (Chairman of UKMA) on 023 9275 5268 for interviews in Portsmouth or by telephone
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45 Responses to Howe calls for metrication progress

  1. BrianAC says:

    At least this has been reported in New Zealand already (as of 18:00 GMT), nothing in the UK news though. It will be interesting to see if it even gets a mention let alone action. A timely shakeup though on the run up to the Olympics which may give some impetus.
    There is also another comment in the debate that could be loosely connected with this as a reason our (UK) poor overseas performance and commitment: -
    There is a "hint of imperial delusion" about the coalition's foreign policy, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has said. ... "Britain risks becoming less relevant in the two key relationships which have for decades defined our place in the world," he asserted, as "wealth and power [shifted] from north to south, from west to east".
    Ties with both the EU and the US are becoming less close, Mr Alexander explained, because "this government does not appear to have a compass to navigate the changes we are now witnessing".
    Not that either side has had much direction for some years now. Let us put these two together, one from each side of the house, and lets invest in a new compass!!

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  2. Michael Glass says:

    The story has now been picked up by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2145072/We-fully-metric-imperial-makes-Britain-look-like-stuck-past-Lords-told.html?ito=feeds-newsxml and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9268763/Imperial-should-be-ditched-in-favour-of-metric-in-time-for-Olympics.html

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  3. Skywalker says:

    I'd love to see metrication completed but I don't think it will happen for the next 10 years at least.

    The current mess in the Euro zone means anything that has a risk of been seen as pro-Europe is firmly off the agenda.

    Yes I know the issue of metrication should be separate from the issue of Europe, not least because our common wealth friends and also the rising power of China and India are metric. However that's not the way the issue is portrayed in the British press!

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  4. John Steele says:

    Well, I see it got some UK coverage:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9268763/Imperial-should-be-ditched-in-favour-of-metric-in-time-for-Olympics.html#disqus_thread

    The reader comments, however, are almost entirely negative.

    He really should have thought of this a few years ago, when a deadline of completing it by the Olympics was viable. It is a bit late now. Still a good idea, but there is no way complete by the Olympics, and the idea would immediately be forgotten afterward.

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  5. Skywalker says:

    Actually the Telegraph has reported this, and it has 850 comments, most them fairly predictable: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9268763/Imperial-should-be-ditched-in-favour-of-metric-in-time-for-Olympics.html

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  6. Cliff Steele says:

    Readers comments on metrication in the tabloids will always be overwhelmingly negative because the moderator controls what is printed and if the majority of comments go against the views of the paper they simply don't appear. Try to comment on this story on the Daily Mail website, if you can find it, and nothing will be published. The tabloid newspapers are masters of misinformation and are the main reason that metric measurements are not fully accepted by the general public.

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  7. Philip Parish says:

    The response to this speech in the comments / blogs I have seen - including the Daily Telegraph - is predictable. The trouble is that in so many minds metrication is associated with a) the EU and b) the French and/or Napoleon and both are guaranteed to escalate the resistance to any movement towards the metric system.

    Is there however a silent majority out there who would go along with a change?

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  8. BrianAC says:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18083345 is the Europhobic BBC report. "Britain remains unique in Europe as the only country to hold on to imperial weights and measures", BBC quotes.

    Very true yes, but deliberately very mis-leading also. Even including the US (which is not technically imperial, neither is Liberia) Britain is the only country in the WORLD using the imperial system, three only are non-metric.

    Reading some of the 925 Telegraph readers comments it beggers belief at some of the lack of knowledge of their readers, here are two I picked out: -
    "The rest of the world isn't metric, so why should it matter that the UK isn't when visitors from around the world come for the Olympics?"

    "Howe's right to say that our weights and measures are in a muddle, but why does he assume that the only answer is to go metric? Reapply the Imperial system throughout and harmonise it with the almost identical "English system" (as I believe it's called) in the United States."
    Another one thats votes for the US customary system not the UK version!
    I don't think they are worthy of further comment.

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  9. philh says:

    The BBC web site also has the story:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18083345

    I note the government response:

    "But government minister Lord Henley said the experience of the 'metric martyrs' - when grocer Steve Thoburn was convicted for using only imperial scales - showed the UK population was not yet convinced of the need for change."

    Lord Henley should know better regard a political stunt by UKIP as a test of the merits of the case. If the case for change is reasonable itself then it's up to the government to do the convincing.

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  10. Bob says:

    The comments at "The Register" are at least more entertaining. See:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/05/16/metric_uk/

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  11. Erithacus says:

    Lord Howe's speech can now be viewed online at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=10756. Starts at about 15:55 and lasts 9 min.

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  12. Alex Bailey says:

    Comments on these articles just go to show that no matter how much you try to make people actually think about the issues the same old tired excuses are still coming out.

    No matter how loudly and often you state that metrication has nothing to do with the EU a good proportion of respondents will still start their argument with something along the lines of "why should we do this because Europe want us to?"

    And of course there are the "older people don't understand metric" and "people are used to imperial" arguments are nothing more than excuses when you can present proof that other nations' peoples can easily adapt.

    And of course there's the "we're doing ok as things are" argument which people can get away with when combined with the "it will cost too much" argument because it's so hard to get over that the current situation actually costs us all money.

    I just don't understand why my countrymen seem so intent on holding Britain in the past, as one of the few countries that hasn't fully adopted metric we're fast becoming more of an island museum than a powerhouse of industry and technology. Those who are holding us back are doing no more than holding on to the notion that we still rule an empire and call tell the rest of the world that what we do is better than the rest!

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  13. Michael Glass says:

    The UK edition of the Huffington Post did a poll on whether Imperial measures should be dropped. 54% of readers said they should, when I looked at the survey. See http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/05/16/lord-howe-imperial-measurements-drop_n_1520293.html#postComment

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  14. Richard Ational says:

    So, Lord Henley believes that the UK population isn’t convinced. Were they convinced over the need to go to war in Iraq or Afghanistan or a host of other conflicts over time? Or to change the top rate of income tax? No. The government of the day governed. It took a decision in the belief that what it was going to do was in the best interest of the country and acted. So, why don’t they just get on and sort this mess out; start to behave like statesmen, govern and demonstrate to the world that they, and the UK at large, is ready to compete in the 21st century?

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  15. Robert says:

    Britain is doing rather well at the sport of cycling, and our cyclists should be gaining some medals for Britain in the Olympics. In my experience the number of cyclists in Britain has increased significantly over the last year, possibly partly because of the success of our sporting cyclists. In Birmingham the canal tow paths are used as some of the few official cycle routes, and thanks to British Waterways the signposting is entirely in metric (apart from the odd forgotten relic). Of course the road signs are still in miles or fractions of a mile (but never tenths of a mile to match odometers), whilst "walkways" (which cyclists may use) are in a mix of metric and imperial (and it's not always clear which is in use). The national cycle network is signposted in imperial, whilst OS maps are of course metric. I can set my odometer to use either metric or imperial (on initial setup only), but whichever I choose it won't match the signage for a significant part of the journey. What a mess! Having the odometer match the map is more useful than having it match road signs, so as far as I'm concerned the road signs are fit only for scrap.
    If I had chosen imperial I would have had an additional problem, as in imperial mode my cycle computer only accepts my weight in pounds, not the uniquely British stones. In metric both weighing scales and cycle computer use kilograms, making entering my weight a no-brainer.

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  16. michduncg says:

    I hope we have all taken the opportunity to post our replies where possible - I did on the Huffington Post and also on the Matthew Wright Show Facebook page. While many of the results were predictable, I also got some positive comments about the arguments I put forward. At work today several colleagues (who are Facebook friends) also discussed my comments and said how it had made them think how crazy the current situation is. I honestly do believe that to the silent majority this IS a non-issue and that they would adapt quickly to a wholly metric world, particularly when they know the true facts.

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  17. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your point of view - Lord Howe's warning of the dire consequences of failing to change to the metric system is somewhat undermined by the fact that he made many of the same arguments for Britain joining the Euro and got it so spectacularly wrong. See for example Steve Doughty in the Mail ("Lord Howe thinks it's madness to use imperial measurements? That's all the incentive I need.")

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  18. gary sear says:

    it would be nice if Mr Cameron would listen but I doubt it. Still its really nice to see the we hate metric brigade spit their dummies out because some one dared to stick up for the metric system. And they have the nerve to moan about metric forced on them?? It is they were are trying to force their views, ignore the fact that their children and grand children are taught metric, its more important to sabotage their educations. Says it all really.

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  19. derekp says:

    Our medieval measures are the survivors of a weeding process in 1824 that was passed into law by an unreformed parliament whose composition went back to medieval times – rotten boroughs and all that. The debate on The Queen’s Speech followed on from a faux medieval pageant complete with coach and horses, cavalry, peers in medieval costumes, and Black Rod in knee breeches.

    It could only happen in Britain, which might help explain why medieval/Imperial measures seem to be taking longer to die out here than elsewhere. (Except in the US, but US exceptionalism is another story.)

    Needless to say, I watched the speech on a flat screen TV, streamed via fibre optic cable from BBC i-player.

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  20. philh says:

    Re Warwick's comment above

    The anti-metric stance of some of the Daily Mail columnists is well known. Their reaction is likely to have been hostile no matter who stood up a and said it.

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  21. Erithacus says:

    This exchange in the House of Commons on 17 May may also be of interest:

    "Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we please have a statement on the UK system of measurement, to enable the Government to confirm—I hope—that this country will continue to have the freedom to use the traditional imperial system of weights and measures, and not be forced any further down the road of compulsory use of the metric system, which has been recently suggested by a former Leader of the House of Commons, the noble Lord Howe?
    Sir George Young: In this case, there is no solidarity between the Leaders of the House, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to retaining imperial units in all the areas in which they are currently legal units for trade. This includes retaining imperial units for use in dual labelling for as long as people find them useful."
    obtainable at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120517/debtext/120517-0001.htm#12051737000002
    (scroll down to columns 708-9).

    Note Sir George's skilful skirting around the issue. In fact there are no imperial units "legal for trade" except the pint for draught beer and cider and milk in a returnable container. "Supplementary indications" are of course authorised by the amendment to the EU Directive so it would not be possible to phase out dual labelling even if they wanted to. In this quotation, Sir George was careful to avoid mentioning road signs. So the answer tells us nothing.

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  22. Andy ferguson says:

    I think the attempt to link metrication with the Olympics wasn't a very good move as the idea of metricating to please or fit in with others is largely what irritates people about the whole subject. If you go abroad, you fit in with what they do and differences in the way things are done are what makes travel interesting surely? The idea that foreign visitors care that we don't use metric is nonsense, if anything they will probably find it endearing and quirky.

    The point that UKMA and its supporters need to get across is that we should go metric for OURSELVES - not for foreign visitors, for the EU or for anyone else! If you read the comments on these media articles, the vast majority are opposed not because they particularly like imperial measures, but because they object to being told what to do in order to fit in with others.

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  23. Ronnie Cohen says:

    @Warwick

    We are already experiencing dire consequences from the UK's failure to complete metrication. My article on the link between measurement skills and numeracy for Metric Views explains how the continued use of imperial units undermines children's education (http://metricviews.org.uk/2012/03/the-link-between-measurement-skills-and-numeracy/). The grossly disproportionate number of foreign lorries hitting British bridges is a consequence of our use of imperial-only restriction signs on British bridges. The use of different, incompatible units in the market place obscures price transparency, which is bad for consumers.

    On public transport in London, we have metres for tube maps in Underground and Overground trains, yards on public signs at stations, minutes for pedestrians and cyclists, yards and fractions of a mile for drivers, metres and feet in the Highway Code and so on. This is unhelpful for travellers, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, to say the least. The common practice of using metric in some places and imperial in others and, in some cases, mixing metric and imperial, in public places and in the media does none of us any favours and does us all a disservice. I could go on and on.

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  24. Cliff Steele says:

    Warwick Cairns: I read Steve Doughty's article in the Daily Mail and found it to be infantile drivel. Deliberately going against an idea for no good reason other than the fact that someone advocates it is so childish that the insane ravings of some of the posters, one of whom thinks Lord Howe is an evil traitor who should be denied UK burial for acts against the Motherland, seem almost normal.
    One poster, however, the one with the most red arrows for worst rated comments couldn't have summed up the metric-haters more succinctly when he stated: " It's nothing more than flat-out laziness. Get over yourselves, learn metric (finally), and stop whining."

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  25. michduncg says:

    The Daily Mail and other tabloids in the UK ran a smear campaign last year. At its heart was the argument that Britain should not be adopting a system that only 3 other countries in the world used. No other country had adopted this particular system for the past or 50 so years and as such it was unacceptable that we should even consider switching to it. Of course, the system they were having a hissy fit over was the Alternative Vote, and they may have been right.

    How can the Daily Mail, and the other papers, be such blatantly hypocritical over the metric system. The Imperial system is used by less than 3 countries in the world, and has not been adopted by a new country for hundreds of years - and yet they still champion it. Ridiculous!!!

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  26. metrication says:

    The last final push towards complete metrication needs to be accompanied by the following things to disarm opposition:
    - The decoupling of politics from this issue, in particular Europe
    - An emphasis on this being a British move to benefit the British economy, British school children and British business
    - That any further metrication is merely the completion of a long process started almost 50 years ago (by British business and the UK government)
    - That metrication has been achieved in most areas of British life already, everything spanning from the planning, engineering and construction of buildings to the measurement of 99% of products you find on supermarket shelves.
    - An emphasis that this will make people's lives easier
    - Some kind of message about the future of everything

    I think dropping the whole 500ml pint thing in favour of an Australian style rounding would be the best policy for pubs (pints of milk seem to be on their way out in a lot of places) as this is probably the biggest sticking point of all opposition.

    Getting people to use metric for their own weight and height could be more difficult of course. Settings kids tasks like finding out the difference in height and weight in metric between them and their parents (where all parties have to measure themselves) would be a good start!

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  27. Tim Bentley says:

    Metrication in Britain started much longer than 50 years ago. Our mapping system, was and still is the envy of the world and is based on the (METRIC) Ordnance Survey National Grid which has stood the test of time and been used by millions of people at work and play for over three generations. Most people call it the 'National Grid' but its correct technical name is OSGB1936.
    The clue is in the title .....Ordnance Survey Great Britain 1936. (the year in which it was designed). It was adopted two years later in 1938.
    Metrication is not new, it's just that we've been slow on the uptake, causing much confusion and time wasting. There's actually very little left to do, so why keep putting it off ?

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  28. Wild Bill says:

    Sorry if this seems a bit off-topic: it's hard to see where it belongs, but here will do for now!

    The BBC ran a story on SpaceX and their upcoming mission to the space station (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18108742). When it was originally published, it had a tiny mistake in it.

    Call up the comments and look at the oldest ones.

    Comments #2 and #3 point out that the SpaceX module will manoeuvre to within 10m of the ISS, not 10 miles as originally claimed by the BBC. It seems (from comment #5) that the original author of the article (Johnathan Amos) thought this was 'hilarious' and blames it on the 'subbing department' (whoever they may be).

    Later in comment #12, Amos points out that he (the author) submitted that article in metric only and that some interfering bunch of no-hopers(*) misunderstood his perfectly understandable "10m" as "10 miles" and then added insult to injury by translating that as "16km". What are they doing translating a science article to imperial in the first place?

    Luckily this was a harmless journalistic cockup, easily fixed, but we can all imagine how in a different scenario it might have caused an important, expensive error in a project - possibly with fatal results.

    And it could only happen in Britain - the only country on the face of the planet where children are routinely brainwashed into believing that "m" might ever mean "miles".

    There must be scope for an official level complaint to the D.f.T about this. A better example of British kids' educations being ruined by the blind stupidity of a government department (and its subsequent failure to correct a past mistake) I can't think up.

    (*) My interpretation, not his. He needs to keep his job.....

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  29. Tim Bentley says:

    Earlier this year the BBC created a new position with its first ever 'Science Editor'.
    I was hoping that this would counteract the anti-metric bias held by many journalists whose background and education is often more arts oriented and who are prone to making childish mistakes when it comes to measurements and their correct metric units.

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  30. philh says:

    @wild bill
    I have always found Jonathan Amos's articles a pleasure to read partly because they are always in SI only, as they should be, like this one for example:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18006933

    I sincerely hope they are not going to be spoiled by conversions in the future.

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  31. Peter K says:

    The official London 2012 site has this to say about the distance each Olympic torch bearer is running:

    "... Each Torchbearer will carry the Flame for about 300m before passing it on to the next person by lighting their Torch."
    http://getset.london2012.com/assets-uploaded/documents/Torch_Relay_fact_sheets_primary_11.pdf

    When reporting this information, the Telegraph (like much of the rest of the media) can't seem to make up its mind whether to use yards or metres. Like the DfT, when they use yards they actually mean metres:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/news/9278971/London-2012-Olympics-Rush-of-Olympic-torches-for-sale-on-eBay-after-one-fetches-150000.html
    "... 8,000 bearers will carry the traditional sign of the Olympic spirit across the country, each carrying in around 300m to reach 1,019 cities, towns and villages."

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9278263/Olympic-torch-bearers-surrounded-by-over-a-dozen-vehicles.html
    "As they carry out their 300 yard stint ..."

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/sport/jmagnay1/100024969/london-2012-olympics-things-we-have-learned-about-the-torch-relay/
    "... The distance for each torchbearer is only about 300 yards ..."

    I wonder how they will cope with the actual Olympic events. Will Usain Bolt be running 100m or 100 yards?

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  32. John Frewen-Lord says:

    Getting back to the original subject of this article, the Daily Mail on Friday last (18 May) published a letter from Vivian Linacre of the BWMA, titled 'Metric doesn't add up', and contradicting everything Lord Howe said, including the assertion that our Imperial measurement units are 'British', that going metric was a European plot against us, and suggesting that the US and the UK share a common ameasurement system. I sent a letter to the Editor, suggesting that Mr Linacre needs both a lesson in arithmetic and British history. In my letter I stated:

    - 95% of the world's population uses the metric system as their everyday way of measuring things, and they obviously think it adds up;

    - that the UK imperial and the US USC measurement units are far from common;

    - that both the US and the UK adopted metric standards to define their non-metric units (e.g. the inch is defined as 25.4 mm exactly);

    - that most imperial measurements are in fact European and not British (the degree Fahrenheit was invented by a German scientist who got his sums wrong, the mile comes from the Italian miglia, the pound is also Italian, abbreviated to lb, short for libre);

    - that the US is in fact significantly metric - all cars, medical drugs and various other aspects of American life are all metric.

    I ended my letter suggesting that if Mr Linacre would take off his blinkers he would find that the metric system is a WORLD measuring system, not just European, and that the world laughs at us for clinging on to an outdated past, at the expense of our industry exporting to a metric world.

    (Editor's note. John's letter was published in The Daily Mail on 24 April.)

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  33. Jake says:

    John Frewen-Lord: I suggest you send a copy of your letter to Mr Linacre personally (or perhaps you have already).

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  34. Mark Preston says:

    This topic got an airing on Radio 4s News Quiz last Friday well the extended version at least. Ok it is a satirical quiz but they ridiculed the whole point of the argument especially the comment that unclear measurements could cost lives. The programme is available on i-player, maybe about half way through.

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  35. WJG says:

    I commend Lord Howe for bringing into the political and public areas the problems with the hybrid mixed measurement muddle. The printed media's reaction has been as mixed as the mixed measurements. From comments from readers on the internet, my perception is that the anti-metric sector is not as vocal as it used to be, many attack Lord Howe rather than metrication, and that the pro-metric sector is growing in numbers. The silent majority however are still comfortable in the hybrid environment of metric and Imperial measures. Maybe this is an opportunity for the UKMA to analyse the pros and cons of metrication throughout the UK.

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  36. Jackthesmilingblack says:

    Metric/Imperial debate
    At same time greengrocer as Steven Thoburn was being hounded into an early grave for selling his products in Imperial measure (rather than metric), I was compelled to convert the speedometer on the passenger cars imported from Japan from metric to Imperial. That’s right, I had to change the speedometer/odometer to mph, although a sticker would have been perfectly adequate. Naturally Japan uses the metric measurement system.
    So what you have in Britain is the worst of all worlds. Namely, a confusing mix of both systems being used concurrently. And to muddy the water even more, keep in mind that a US gallon is some 80% of an Imperial gallon (3.8 as against 4.5 litres).
    Take your average car review: A total mishmash of metric and Imperial. How can you extrapolate data when you need to convert all the time? Now I’m all for a bit of local colour in the shape of the fruit and veg. market traders, or beer in pints, and if HMG is forced into an embarrassing climb down, that has to be a bonus. But check the big picture: For a country that does well over 80% of its foreign trade in metric, Britain you really is shooting itself in the foot with this Luddite attachment to Imperial. And when you do emigrate (go on, you know you’re going to), getting to grips with the metric measurement system simply increases the learning curve. Unless of course you plan to relocate to Liberia, Myanmar or the United States. Because those are the only countries that still officially use Imperial.

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  37. michduncg says:

    @Jackthesmilingblack - love your comments but you are preaching to the converted on this site - the UKMA promotes the Metric System in the UK. However if you want to post this to the Luddites, you will find them at the BWMA, and they need to hear your opinion.

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  38. BrianAC says:

    Here is a light hearted article in the Guardian.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/life-and-physics/2012/may/19/cern-particlephysics
    I found the comments amusing if not very informative, a bit like stones I guess. Am I the only person in UK that don't know his height and weight in feet and stones?

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  39. philh says:

    @michduncg
    We very much hope that visitors to this site are not restricted to the "converted". Anyone is welcome to read and comment whatever their views so long as they are reasonable and observe the ground rules.
    We are particularly interested in hearing from those who are at least open minded on the subject and wish to learn from or challenge us.

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  40. gary sear says:

    Brian. I've always weighed myself in kilos and measured myself in centimetres. I know a few people who weigh themselves in kilos only, and most know their weight in both.

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  41. derekp says:

    Looking for a "uniquely confusing shambles"? How about this from last week's Haringey Independent, describing the Olympic Lee Valley White Water Centre:

    "Set on a 25 acre site ..., the Centre has two separate courses, a 300 metre Olympic standard competition course with a 5.5 metre descent from start to finish pool, and a looped course, which were both ... completed last year.
    The white water is created by a series of high-powered pumps that push 3,300 gallons of water per second through the course, enough to fill a 25 metre pool in 30 seconds, with the water speed reaching seven miles per hour in places."

    Metric 3. Imperial 3. Looks like a draw to me.

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  42. Mark Preston says:

    I would hazard a guess that the data this report was taken from quoted 15,000 litres and not 3,300 gallons - as usual needed to be dumbed down for the 'simple' British public.

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  43. BrianAC says:

    I just happened to find myself in a pub last week, drinking a pint of stuff to while away an hour.
    Nice to see the bottom of the glass and read that our pint glasses are made in France!
    Bang goes another pro imperial argument that "getting rid of the pint means we will be flooded with cheap glasses made in (the dreaded) EU".
    I guess the beer is probably made in Germany as well.

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  44. derekp says:

    At a recent Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport forum on aviation, much was made of Chinese aerospace firm Comac's decision to set up its European headquarters in Paris over the London because the UK has failed to develop the transport connectivity it needs to China.
    Could it be that the UK's obvious lack of commitment to the international system of measures - obvious as soon as you leave Heathrow and head along the M4 to central London - influenced the decision too?

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  45. derekp says:

    You can watch Lord Howe's speech on UK Metric Association's YouTube channel:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/UKMetric

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