A pint is forever

Baroness Deech

Back to work this week on my Select Committee, Merits of Statutory Instruments.   Our job is to scrutinise weekly the delegated legislation made under the authority of an Act (that is, the detailed stuff that makes the Act work) and see if any of the statutory instruments fail to achieve their objectives, or should be drawn to the attention of the House because they have exceptional policy implications or inappropriately implement European legislation or are otherwise defective.  We also look in general at the way these statutory instruments are made and communicated to those who are affected.  We study over 1000 of them each year, and friends who come to my home at the weekend are amazed to see the pile, several inches high, which is delivered each week for me to go through over the weekend.  There are about a dozen Lords on the committee and each of us brings to bear our individual expertise on the legislation. 

We have certainly had some successes.  We managed to delay Home Information Packs for a while, and were sorry not to have been able to persuade the government to drop the idea altogether.  We blocked the building of a mega casino in Manchester.  This week, we spotted that the Department for Transport has attempted to exempt domestic train services from some new duties contained in European rail passengers’ regulations – namely, about information to be provided to passengers, obligations in the case of cancellations and delays, security and complaints.  For once, the carrying out of some European law would be truly beneficial, so why should the Department fail to implement it?  We seek an explanation.

And some really good news.  A statutory instrument has ended the obligation to set a deadline after which we could no longer refer to imperial units.  We can now carry on indefinitely referring to miles,  yards, feet, pints of beer and milk!  This is so welcome to those of us educated before metric measurements and to all those who still think of babies in pounds and ounces and land in acres.  It takes a possible burden off business too.

26 comments for “A pint is forever

  1. Troika21
    02/12/2009 at 12:24 am

    Bah! Nothing wrong with casinos.

    Metrification, though, would be very useful. The UK’s weights and measures system is a joke.

    I buy flour in grams and meat in pounds; I drive miles, but pay for it by the litre; and beer is the only liquid that comes in pints.

    Streamline the whole damn thing, please, and metrify, don’t support stupid tabloid campaigns.

    • Chris R
      04/12/2009 at 5:58 pm

      Quite – I guess it was painful at the time (before I was born) but I can’t imagine anyone could desire to return to old money… get rid of the whole lot!

  2. Adrian Kidney
    02/12/2009 at 12:25 am

    It doesn’t stop at the older generation, even young’uns like me think in a blend of both metric and imperial. I know my height in feet and weigh myself in stone, and I travel in miles, but I bake a cake using grams and set the oven in celcius! It’s weird.

  3. 02/12/2009 at 1:47 am

    I’m confused by your post. Surely if the statutory instruments fell foul of EU directives etc then the Commission would tell us to fall in line, when it noticed, as it does on so many occasions. Until then, why bother to expend effort (and cost)?

    On Imperial Measurements. EU Vice-President Günter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, has very kindly allowed us to keep using some imperial units. He has said:

    “After an extensive EU-wide consultation exercise including the Great British public, to assess the impact of Britain’s use of imperial measures on the EU Single Market, we’re delighted the results have confirmed what we always knew to be the case: there is no problem whatsoever with Brits drinking in pint glasses, operating in miles, or using pounds and ounces alongside their metric equivalent.”

    (See ec.europa.eu)

    • Croft
      02/12/2009 at 11:19 am

      If they always knew that then why did they spend decades trying to force the change. PR spin.

      As to “We can now carry on indefinitely referring to miles, yards, feet, pints of beer and milk!”

      Lady Deech, the law both EU and domestic still forces the sale of soft drinks, spirits and many other consumables in metric only. The fact that they allowed a handful of exemptions does not change the whole.

    • Gareth Howell
      02/12/2009 at 11:31 am

      Why also are the Statutory instruments still delivered in hard copy?

      Or does the baroness and her learnéd committee prefer to get its hands on something tangible to work with?!

      We’re 15 years from the revolution and 7 or 8 into digital now!

      If it were all on paperless file we could ALL examine it, and express an opinion?

      “Here! do a Statutory Instrument for me Gar!”

      It would be good practise for University law classes to know, the moment it is delegated and find for themselves precisely the faults with it.

      They can’t do that, if it is on the learnéd Baroness’ desktop, but not on anybody else’s, and one of the main movers of the EU is surely the internet itself.


      • baronessdeech
        02/12/2009 at 6:24 pm

        Statutory instruments are available online – http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si-2009-index.

      • Gareth Howell
        02/12/2009 at 6:52 pm

        There must be some way, whilst assessing those for errors, of having a good idea which are likely to be a problem.

        Getting hard copy at home may merely be technicality of the office.

        If Barclaycard can be paperless so can OPSI.

        The idea of mountains of hard copy is an amusing one nonetheless!

    • baronessdeech
      02/12/2009 at 6:25 pm

      EU law permits this exemption.

  4. Bedd Gelert
    02/12/2009 at 10:23 am

    What about trying to re-habilitate Fahrenheit for weather forecasts ? That would be a win !

  5. Gareth Howell
    02/12/2009 at 11:18 am

    Baroness Deech is doing some interesting work.
    My memories of being feet(!) deep in paper work, was that I could only sample, and test the accuracy or wisdom of what I was given.

    On the subject of metric/imperial do the Sms have an obligation to put accurate measurement of Imperial on their foodstuff any more.

    I get a lot of stuff which says “4” on the bottle or container, although I have bought metric, and it certainly does not seem like what I used to know as 4 pints!?

    I wonder whether the Dept.Transport fails to implement the DL, simply because it does not know, or thinks it does not matter!?

  6. 02/12/2009 at 2:51 pm

    I still think we should aim for full metrication. The argument is to keep things in imperial because some people “like” it. Why do they like it? Because that’s what they are used to. And so the whole thing is self-perpetuating. We have to break out of that cycle at some point. If some of the people commenting here had their way in the 60s or 70s, no doubt we’d still be paying in £sd, and be the laughing stock of the world as a result.

  7. Chris K
    02/12/2009 at 4:39 pm

    I’m not sure imperial units will ever die out completely. Everyone I know my age uses feet for height, stone for weight, miles for distance and, increasingly, pints (as opposed to “cans”) for drinks!

    Kilograms and metres are things we use in physics and which don’t mean much to us at all. For temperature I’d say we’re not particularly proficient in either scale.

    Is anyone else sad to see an EU mark on the side of pint glasses in place of a crown? I suppose their thought process was “if you can’t beat them, regulate them”.

    • Gareth Howell
      02/12/2009 at 6:43 pm

      I have been making Cider in Carboys and demijohns recently, and selling it to friends.
      Tell me what that is in litres and you’ll get a ticket to tea with lord Norton!

      no! no ! don’t!

  8. 02/12/2009 at 7:34 pm

    The problem with imperial measures is that it makes people more isolationist. Or is the cause and effect the other way round? I know many people from other countries, not just European ones either, and so it becomes natural to use metric measures. And while I understand heights in both metres and feet, and have a rough idea of a stone, pounds and ounces mean absolutely nothing to me (thankfully fruit and veg is always sold in metric measures now) and if someone (usually much older) gives a temperature in Fahrenheit, I have to do the mental arithmetic to convert to Celsius. I only ever use miles because that’s what’s on road signs. When I’m buying milk, some supermarkets sell it in multiples of pints, some in litres. All I know is whether I want a big or small bottle! The fact that some use pints just makes it harder to compare prices!

  9. Carl Holbrough
    02/12/2009 at 9:29 pm

    I am pleased that the Lords is there and have seen that most actually take their responsibilities very seriously. They appear to work very hard, though at times the speeches are less than elequent. They are though after all only people.

    Your work is appreciated my Lady.

    As far as weights and measures go, I`m old school I decried decimilasation and metrification of my potatoes and beefsteak. I lost and have seen Greengrocers taken to court for daring to sell in imperial measure. Now we have a system that is neither here nor there and to be honest the “pint” doesn`t matter anymore as we go for a beer instead, normally bottled in metric.

    I`m not saying to start driving on the right hand side of the road but we can`t go halfway with this. I say I`m 5`10″ and my kids say what`s that….I`ve no idea in metric and I`m not forced to find out so I don`t. If I`m measuring something, there`s two differing unitis on the tape but the wood I buy is metric as is most things.

    If there`s one thing I hate more than metric it`s gutless politicians who leave us half in, half out of everything. Are we in Europe or not, banning smoking or not, going metric ? Oh for pity`s sake sort it out.

    Shhh let`s not upset the electorate, there`s an election soon-ish !

    • Gareth Howell
      03/12/2009 at 6:13 pm

      If being deaf is metric, then I can’t do that either. A certain kind of nephew used to tell me I was deaf but was really speaking so quietly, I couldn’t hear.

      Imperial must have something to do with how old you are. And metric how young.

  10. Bedd Gelert
    02/12/2009 at 11:49 pm

    What is slightly annoying is that ‘imperial’ units differ on the other side of the pond, so that their gallon differs to ours.

    Of course, what is hilarious is that metric [or more correctly S.I.] was meant to make things easier, but children now have such poor mental arithmetic, they cannot even work out change or simple calculations in base 10, let alone anything more complex like pounds and ounces !

    • Thomas
      04/12/2009 at 12:38 am

      Poor arithmetics should be all the more reason to go metric. It is a lot easier, and if not easy enough, you can use the calculator to do the job. Try that with inches, stones, cups and furlongs, and unless you are already a math genius, you will find yourself in big trouble.

      Metric units are no more useful for measuring, probably even less so. But they are much easier to manipulate, and that is getting more and more important. So there is no turning back now.

  11. Mr Mulholland
    04/12/2009 at 6:38 pm

    Thank goodness. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been after having had a few to try to order a ‘five-hundred and sixty-eight millilitre glass’ of beer.

    • Gareth Howell
      05/12/2009 at 10:24 am

      “I lost and have seen Greengrocers taken to court for daring to sell in imperial measure”

      They don’t even have to sell tomatoes of all the same size now that the Guernsey tomato has been well and truly done out of business.

      Still you can’t beat their Jersey vertically grown (but not challenged) potatoes! Hanging potatoes!

      Has the taste gone metric too? When do you ever get a tasty, shop bought, spud?

      Nah! They have gone metric!

  12. Senex
    06/12/2009 at 4:24 pm

    Baroness Deech: Good stuff!

    Your mention of a pint may be a subliminal reference to a ‘half pint’ revered by the legal profession, no not Sarkozy but Napoleon Bonaparte. He gave us the ‘Code Napoléon’ (originally, the Code civil des Français). It was regarded as the first successful codification in use and influenced many legislatures around the world.

    I believe he is associated with the metric system per se and I believe a metric pint of 500ml is still in common use. As for the pint itself we have a US dry pint, a US fluid pint and our own imperial fluid pint. Didn’t one of NASA’s Mars Landers fail because they got imperial and metric measures confused?

    I suppose all that remains of Napoleon’s conquests is to have us drive on the left hand side of the road. So the statutory instrument is perhaps a last ditch attempt to resist him?

  13. Sarky Imperialist
    29/12/2009 at 8:16 pm

    What about pre-decimal currency? Lets bring that back! Why should we use a sensible and internationally understood monetary system when we can use our ‘own’ system! It won’t be easy to understand but at least we can use it to pretend we’re better than everyone else!

  14. Sarky Imperialist
    29/12/2009 at 8:20 pm

    “It takes a possible burden off business too”

    What? You mean the burden of having to deal with a single system of measurements? or the burden of knowing that when they label their product it will be understood by 96% of Earth’s population?

  15. 30/12/2009 at 12:08 pm

    There is absolutely nothing “sacred” about the pint as an official measure.

    If we re-labelled existing pint glasses as “568 ml” for legal purposes and to make the amount more meaningful in context with all the other non-draught alcoholic beverages bars serve, the glasses would be no different, the amount of beer would be no different, and there’d be absolutely nothing to prevent people from still referring to the glass as a “pint glass”, just like we call a 25 ml glass a “shot glass”.

    Even if we moved to continental half-litre measures to take advantage of cheaper glassware, would the absence of a measly 68 ml of drink make any significant difference to the experience? Hardly.

    If the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and now Irish can convert to solely metric measurements without a) mass confusion and chaos, b) losing their national identity and culture or c) surrendering sovereignty to the “EU superstate”, then so can we.

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