Britain needs a single system of measurement

Back to list of articles

Robin Paice

BBC online, September 2004

Every country needs a system of weights and measures which everybody understand and uses. This is necessary for consumer protection, designing buildings, specifying engineering components, prescribing medicines, signposting distances, fixing speed limits, and forecasting the weather. In all these instances, clarity and precision are essential. Failure to communicate clearly can result in mistakes, waste, accidents and incomprehension. Just as clarity of verbal communication requires that everybody understands and uses the same language, so communication about dimensions and quantities requires that everybody uses the same units of measurement.

Unfortunately, the UK has a muddle of two systems: litres for petrol and fizzy drinks, pints for beer and milk, metres and kilometres for athletics, miles per gallon for cars, the metric system for school, and yet, all too often, still pounds and ounces in the market. We have got into this mess because the Government decided in 1965 (long before we entered the Common Market) that we should go metric within 10 years – and then failed to carry it through.

We clearly need to standardise on one single system. Nobody would seriously argue that Britain could revert to exclusive use of imperial measurements. We must therefore go forward and fully adopt the International System of Units (the metric system), which is used by 94% of the world’s population, including all the Commonwealth.

There are other advantages of going metric. It is a proper system in which units are inter-related; it is easy to learn and to use because it is mainly decimal; it is adaptable to all situations – the same units can be used in both cookery and scientific research.

The time has come for the Government to finish the job which was started 39 years ago and make Britain a fully metric country – with a target date of 2009.