# Lord Howe: Imperial Measurements Should Be Scrapped

The Huffington Post UK  |  By Posted: Updated: 16/05/2012 10:30

Britain should ditch the "confusing shambles" of using both Imperial and metric systems of measurements for different things, a former chancellor of the exchequer has said.

Lord Howe of Aberavon, who served under Margaret Thatcher, said the British system of weights and measures were "in a mess" and gave the impression that we are a nation living in the imperial past.

"We have litres for petrol and fizzy drinks but pints for beer and milk. We have metres and kilometres for athletics and the Ordnance Survey but miles per gallon for cars," he said,

"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."

Speaking during a House of Lords debate on the Queen's Speech on Tuesday, Lord Howe said the country had come close to becoming divided with "on the one hand, a metrically literate elite and, on the other, a rudderless and bewildered majority".

He added: "The only solution is to complete the changeover to metric as swiftly and cleanly as possible."

He warned that successive British Governments had lacked the "consistency, candour and courage" to make the change.

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20:33 on 20/05/2012
Huh, how many pints are there in a metre anyway?
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Hugh Albert
Moderation in somethings
13:41 on 06/06/2012
The way to find out is to drink a yard of ale, divide by 36 and multiply by 39. It would probably be better to do the arithmetic before rather than after quaffing the ale ( in one go, remember!)
14:07 on 06/06/2012
laod a boollcks tride iit 4tems dindt wurk
13:53 on 20/05/2012
Unusually, I find myself in agreement with a Tory. While the surviving rump of the imperial measurement system is an interesting curiosity it is of little practical use. And yes, currently if asked I would quote my height in feet and inches and my weight in stones and pounds, but it's just habituation. Skis have always been measured in cm: anyone responding to "how long are your skis?" with "5 foot 6" would get very strange looks.

Some of the comments along the lines of "its fine for the youngsters but I'm too old to change" remind me of a classic comment in a radio interview at the time of currency decimalisation: one old dear said "Ah, this new money's all very clever, but they should have waited till all the old folk were dead."
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byronic
09:45 on 20/05/2012
We did it in Australia in 1966... it was entirely drama free...
15:56 on 18/05/2012
A CONFUSING MESS THAT SHOULD BE DROPPED....
Ih he talking about Europe and the Euro?
If so I would agree, if not, well he is a silly old person isn't he, probably found sums difficult when he was in school using 12 as a base instead of 10.
It seems to me there is a DIRECT link between falling standards in Maths in school and the introduction of decimilsation.
Having to know a thirtysecond/sixteenth/twelth/half/quarter of something, how many Inches in a foot or yard, how many yards in a mile, what the 220/440/880 yard race was in relation to a mile, 8 pints in a gallon, 16 ounces in a pound, 14 pounds in a Stone and so on, THEY all helped us to learn maths and about stuff in life. A quarter of sweets, a pint of beer a Gallon of petrol (what a CON a litre of fuel is) It is not so long ago that a GALLON of petrol (4.54Lt) cost less than a litre does today!
Pint of Milk.Pound of meat, a quarter pounder burger WE ALL knew what portion to expect.
HOWE, do away with Europe and Politicians in Europe, we will all get along much better.
11:38 on 19/05/2012
Quote: "It seems to me there is a DIRECT link between falling standards in Maths in school and the introduction of decimilsation"

The evidence for this can be found where? If you were right then the US would top all assessments of the mathematics abilities of school children, being a bastion of of the imperial system, but it doesn't. In fact the UK beats it,

Quote: "helped us to learn maths and about stuff in life"

Exactly how does the "stuff in life" follow from mathematics? What has integration revealed to you?

I'm afraid you fall into the cosy glow of yesteryear category where selective memory pervades. Go on tell me how people used to be so helpful and left their doors unlocked.
14:59 on 22/05/2012
The USA is a decimal society, they use the DOLLAR 100 cents.
They do not use imperial measures. Their Gallon is smaller as are their quarts.
In stores they use both weight measurements Kg and Lb.
Liquids with the exception of Diesel and Petrol are invariably in Litres,
10:03 on 18/05/2012
Never thought I would be in agreement with that famed 'dead sheep' man.

But he is absolutely correct. The biggest error was for the governments involved to listen to the wailing of a small but very vociferous minority who cannot abide the concept of metrication, and who have consistently, and constantly, harried whatever government to retain the old measurements in weights and measures.

Virtually everything in shops is now indicated in metric, be it by length or weight, and just because a new stance needs to be taken over those two main stumbling blocks, Miles and Pints of beer, for those are pretty well the only two still being utilised by the average Joe Citizen, we are being held to ransom at a very serious cost to the economy.

Howe is correct, the sooner the drinker gets used to his 'pint' being metricated, into a measurement to match the liquids on the supermarket shelves, and the motorist makes use of the Kilometre scale on his speedo, the better all round for everyone.
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10:01 on 19/05/2012
"...we are being held to ransom at a very serious cost to the economy...."

How much?
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Nathan0316
TrueBlueTory Age quod agis
02:34 on 18/05/2012
I'd be fine with scrapping the imperial units, except for the pint in a pub. That's just so ingrained in the British culture that I don't think any measure (!) to remove it will work.
16:19 on 17/05/2012
YES! At the moment we have a confusing patchwork of metric and imperial. Where is the logic in buying petrol by the litre and then calculating fuel consumption in miles per gallon? Or in buying clothes with measurements in inches but carpet by the square metre? Or in buying a pint of milk but 250 grammes of cheese? the metric system is far, far simpler and eaier to understand, and its absolutely ridiculous that metrification was not completed decades ago.
13:03 on 16/05/2012
YES.

There is absolutely no sane reason for us to continue with this daily unit confusion hell by not finishing the job when we've already come this far.

Since sole use of the imperial system is clearly never coming back, the only purpose the imperial system can ever serve now alongside metric is to perpetuate needless incompatibility that hinders what should be the simplest of everyday measurements and comparisons.

Let's just get shot of imperial right now and pass the torch to the Americans.
rabidrightwatch
Green lefty & active environmentalist
14:15 on 16/05/2012
well said - happy to be your first fan for your incisive comment...
17:21 on 16/05/2012
Quote; "Let's just get shot of imperial right now and pass the torch to the Americans"

I'm afraid the Americans are less likely to make changes. Having just spent six weeks in the US I can see that they are stuck in a different universe. They still use the Fahrenheit system for temperature, their "pint" is a wimpy 16 fluid ounces compared to a 20 oz British pint (even the definition of a fluid ounce is different by 4%) and most drinks sizes are specified in fluid ounces. Therefore the US miles per gallon figures are not compatible with the UK.

Furthermore the Americans can not write dates correctly as they write today 16 May 2012 as 5/16/12 (OK it's obvious for days 13-31) and the self prices in shops do not include sales taxes so when you go to the till, unless you know the tax rate and are brilliant at mental arithmetic (math!), the price you pay will be different.

Don't hold out any hope of change in America.
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19:26 on 16/05/2012
"...Furthermore the Americans can not write dates correctly as they write today 16 May 2012 as 5/16/12 (OK it's obvious for days 13-31) ..."

The only 'correct' way (i.e. Standard way ) would be 2012-05-16.

That's the ISO 8601 standard for writing a date.
novelist2000
veritas non olet
08:10 on 17/05/2012
They are so full of themselves that even the National Geographic refuses to list both measurements. For a person like me who has never lived with Imperial measurements it is pointless to see a mountain measured in feet.

But, they obviously like their closeness to Zimbabwe, the only other country still stuck in the past of imperial measurements.

Get metric, please. And while you're at it, do shoe sizes still have to be different?
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12:29 on 16/05/2012
"...Howe said the country had come close to becoming divided with "on the one hand, a metrically literate elite and, on the other, a rudderless and bewildered majority"...."

And, of course, there are those of us who are quite bi-lingual (metric and imperial) but prefer to use the 'old' system.
Lord Elpus
If you're going through hell, keep going
15:48 on 16/05/2012
I'd abolish Howe and leave the rest of us be - give them an inch and they'd take 25,400 mili-wossits.
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Shain Eighmey
Microbiologist
12:20 on 16/05/2012
I wish we would consider doing that in the US. Imperial measurements are indeed a mess.
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12:26 on 16/05/2012
Really?

That's why I enjoy watching US and Canadian home-improvement programs.

I can understand what they're talking about.
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Shain Eighmey
Microbiologist
12:30 on 16/05/2012
Well that's nifty, but outside of home-improvement programming exchange it really doesn't have much to offer. Besides, all of the Imperial Measurements were secretly turned into Metric measurements years ago. It would just remove the step of converting back to Imperial units for computer programs, as all under the hood math is done is metric these days.
12:11 on 16/05/2012
He's absolutely right!!!
My Mate Pat
Nobody's Nationalist
12:10 on 16/05/2012
Blimey. I wholeheartedly agree with a Tory!
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Paul Wagland
Resistance is fertile
11:15 on 16/05/2012
All measurements should be given in metric by law. If shopkeepers etc want to add an imperial equivalent, that's up to them.

We should have got it done 40 years ago.
13:35 on 20/05/2012
I agree entirely.
carneliancrystal
Do I believe all the propaganda of course I do
11:04 on 16/05/2012
Why do we have to give up everything that makes us British, why dont they go the whole way and move the Westminster lot to somewhere near Brussels. Change to driving on the right hand side of the road that will be next. The reason many come here as a tourist is because of our foibles and because we are different, why do we have to be sheep stick to who we are we have never been continentals. Tell this old man to fade away gracefully and mind his own business and stop politicians giving everything away, which makes us who we are. soon we will not be known as British but only as Europeans Why keep messing with systems that have sufficed for at least a thousand years, people all over the world used our systems but now we have to take the systems of the young countries of europe.
rabidrightwatch
Green lefty & active environmentalist
11:40 on 16/05/2012
30-odd years ago, aviation fuel was delivered in the UK in a variety of measures - imperial gallons, US gallons, pounds weight and litres - it was an absolute nightmare, delayed transactions and was open to elementary mistakes.. then someone suggested a rationalisation to litres - end of problem..

It doesn't make us less British (or you would probably say 'more European') because we use a more adaptable & universably acceptable measurement system; it makes us more sensible, that's all..

..and tourists wouldn't change their habit of coming here if we bought 500ml of milk, 500g of butter and drank 500ml of beer in a pub either...
Tourists come here for a variety of reasons, but our anacronystic use of the rump of an outmoded measurement system isn't one of them...

Brits have been famous the world over for being pragmatic, flexible and willing to learn - as well as being mired in tiresome tradition which is, in some quarters, the very reason why tourists DON'T come here, and go in far greater numbers to France, Italy and Spain instead.

The metric system hasn't affected their tourist industry, and it wouldn't affect ours..
carneliancrystal
Do I believe all the propaganda of course I do
12:07 on 16/05/2012
Well that's your opinion voiced as I have voiced mine! Although I dont subscribe to your's I can respect it.
12:53 on 18/05/2012
I agree with most of what you say but in relation to tourism I think the weather may have something to do with that.
11:50 on 16/05/2012
OK - lets get something straight here. It is NOT Brussels that 'made' us go metric. The UK government took a decision in 1965, upon advise from the CBI, to convert to metric. That is a full 8 years before we joined the Common Market. Did Brussels also 'make' Canada, South Africa, Australia, India, New Zealand and every other Commonwealth country go metric? Or China, Brasil and Japan? And if you are talking Britishness, then you ignore the fact that most of the key Imperial measurements were actually European anyway, and not British. The metric system on the other hand WAS devised by an Englishman, and a Bishop to boot! John Wilkins, President of the Royal Society of London, proposed an interlinked system of measures based on the decimal system, as long ago as the 17th century and the French acted upon his suggestions. Prototype units for the metre and kilogram were made in British foundries of Johnson Matthey, and British Scientists and Engineers(e.g., Watt, Faraday, Kelvin) give their name to many metric units. How much more British do you little Englanders want it to be! So be British and support the metric system which currently allows large , 100% metric companies like Honda, Airbus, BMW and Siemens (to name but a few) to invest in the UK.
carneliancrystal
Do I believe all the propaganda of course I do
12:32 on 16/05/2012
If it was/is so good why was it not introduced in the 17Th century Big Eng lander? and I am British and I support what I and millions like me have lived with all our lives. Inches feet yards miles acres hectares, pints gallons flagons, ounces pounds stones cwt and tons. And see no reason to change now we have managed to live with the difference all these years. Do you seriously suggest that a difference of measurement stopped companies investing in Britain until recently? I dont think so you suffer from Chamberlain syndrome just appease till we have nothing left.
12:53 on 16/05/2012
Couldn't have put it better myself. It's now 40 YEARS since I (and the rest of the UK) was first taught in metric - it's about time we fully switched!
rabidrightwatch
Green lefty & active environmentalist
11:00 on 16/05/2012
For once, I must agree with a Tory suggestion...

A simplification, that is, the full adoption of metric measurement, would be in everyone's interest.

Schools no longer teach Imperial measurement; it was a far more complicated system and used only here and in a few former colonies.

Lord Howe calls it a 'confusing shambles'... it is...

We could then - perhaps - leave behind the inevitable comparison with prices before metrication with current day prices...
Only yesterday on HP, there were people going on (and interminably on) about how much petrol costs, and quoting cost per gallon... petrol hasn't been sold in gallons for decades, but the irrelevant comparison keeps being made..

So, yes, let's get rid of the 'confusing shambles' and join most of the world in the metric system.

But, no doubt, the reactionary tory backwoodsmen & women will tell us it's part of our heritage and that we should plough our own furrow, or some such nonsense..

It wouldn't harm anyone if we join others in the 21st century, now would it..??