Metrication – continuing use of imperial units of measurement

The European Commission today (11 September 2007) announced its proposal to indefinitely extend the use of supplementary indications next to metric units. Vice president Gunter Verheugen also declared the intention to permit the continuing use of the mile for road signs and speed indications, the pint for milk in returnable bottles and beer and cider on draught, and the troy ounce for precious metals. The acre for land registration is no longer in use in the UK or Ireland and will be repealed. Derogations permitting the use of these imperial measures and imperial supplementary indications in accordance with Directive 80/181/EEC had been due to expire on 31 December 2009. The UK Government and the Commission have agreed that the derogation should be extended infinitum, and proposals to amend the Directive will be brought forward accordingly. The decision follows a Commission Consultation earlier this year.

The Unit of Measurement Directive (80/181/EEC) is currently subject to a derogation permitting the use of supplementary (imperial) indications up to the year end 2009. That derogation remains intact unless otherwise expired or amended. The Commission Working Document, referred to above, sought views on this and other requirements of the Directive. This consultation closed at the end of February 2007. The UK Government, via DTI, expressed its full support for the continued use of supplementary indications after December 2009 without limit of time. TSI supported this position in its consultation response, as did LACORS and others.

[Responses to this consultation can be found on the Commission’s website: TSI responseOther responses (external links).]

On 2 May 2007, Commissioner Verheugen is reported to have told the Commission’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee that, having reviewed the consultation responses, he was minded to propose the use of supplementary indications indefinitely, permitting imperial measures to continue to be used as a supplementary indication to metric measures. There has been particular reference to the benefits of such an approach to trade with the USA and globally, and support has come from the USA for continuance of imperial measures.

Notwithstanding media reporting and speculation to the contrary, as well as the headlines and statements emanating from various internet groups, the current position regarding units of measurement in the UK is clear. There is no change to the existing legal requirements which permit the use of imperial supplementary indications of quantity accompanying the required metric indication. The position up to and beyond 31 December 2009 looks equally clear in that there is again to be no change to the current position other than its continuance without limit of time.

As has been and is always the case, trading standards professionals across UK local authorities will be applying a pragmatic, proportionate and sensible approach to assisting business compliance with the UK legal requirements.

Ron Gainsford
TSI chief executive
11 September 2007