UKMA rejects the claim – sometimes advanced by opponents of metrication – that the metric changeover is somehow a threat to our civil liberties.
The failure of successive governments to take responsibility for and to justify the metrication programme has enabled opposition to take root and indeed to become organised. A mistaken belief has grown that somehow the routine enforcement of weights and measures law is a denial of civil liberties and an abuse of bureaucratic power. Even such an otherwise respected organisation as Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties), in a risible press release, has attempted to cite John Stuart Mill as an opponent of compulsion. Read for yourself what Mill really said.
UKMA considers these beliefs to be absurd. Since Magna Carta in 1215 it has always been held to be the responsibility of the state to establish which weights and measures shall be legal for trade and to ensure that the law is enforced. It has not been the case since the 19th century that traders could choose for themselves which units of measurement they could use. To have permitted this would have made price comparison impossible, thereby undermining one of the basic requirements of a free market. [Contrary to Liberty’s claim, John Stuart Mill accepted the principle of state regulation of trade as long as it was done in the interests of buyers].
The law has always – quite properly – been enforced against traders who failed to use legal measures. To this day it is still illegal to serve draught beer or cider in metric measures (and this law is rigorously enforced). Thus, the issue is not whether weights and measures law should be enforced: it is which units of weight and measurement should be authorised.
UKMA therefore believes that Weights and Measures law – like all laws – should be enforced, even if, regrettably, this entails prosecuting unfortunate market traders who have naively allowed themselves to be used for a political stunt. The law exists to protect the weakest in society, and failure to enforce it can only lead to anarchy.
“There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.”
Magna Carta, 1215 (see the British Library web site for a modern English translation of this historical document).