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Britain To Keep Pints And Miles, But Metric System On Its Way

October 26, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ The government has pledged to keep the pint and the mile but says that from gills and gallons to feet and fathoms, virtually all the rest of Britain’s traditional weights and measures system will vanish in the 1990s.

Detailing the latest draft directive from the European Economic Community on converting Britain to continental Europe’s metric system, Corporate Affairs Minister Francis Maude said Tuesday that the government sees no grounds for making unnecessary changes.

″We’re not going to have to re-measure the cricket pitch,″ he declared in a statement designed to reassure Britons over the planned conversion to the metric system.

Cricket pitches will indeed stay the same length, 22 yards. But measurements in yards, inches and feet will be phased out by the end of 1994 and replaced by meters, centimeters and millimeters under the terms of the draft directive.

The directive was issued by the Brussels-based executive commission of the 12-nation EEC, to which Britain belongs.

Other units from what is known as Britain’s imperial system of weights and measures that will vanish under the terms of the draft directive include the gill, the fluid ounce, and the fathom.

A gill is the equivalent of a quarter pint. A fluid ounce is a measure of capacity containing an avoirdupois ounce of distilled water at 62 degrees. The fathom (six feet), which is used to measure ocean depths, is already being phased out by the Royal Navy but its use will be allowed until 1999.

Maude said the draft directive was broadly acceptable to the government. It provides for exemption of the traditional pint for draught beer and cider in pubs and for milk in returnable bottles, and for the troy ounce.

The troy ounce, used to measure gold and other precious metals, is crucial to London-based bullion trading operations.

Maude said that to avoid wasting an estimated 1.2 billion returnable bottles in circulation for drinks other than milk, the government is seeking arrangements to allow the continued use of imperial-measure bottles until the end of 1999.

He said the government is also committed to keeping the mile as a measure for distance and speed on signposts and speedometers.

He said the furlong, a distance used in horse racing, would also stay because it was used only in a sporting context and was therefore not covered by the draft directive. A furlong is an eighth of a mile.

But for trade in fruit, vegetables, meat and other items the pound and the ounce will be replaced by the kilogram and the gram.

In 1965, Britain first committed itself to going metric - the system devised by the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1791 which is now in force throughout continental Europe.

British youngsters learn the metric system at school, many goods in British supermarkets show both the metric and traditional British measure side by side, and some business like measuring materials in dry goods stores is done entirely in the metric system.

Britain’s traditional system stems from its days of empire when it turned its back of continental Europe and went its own way. Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

″This does not mean that the United Kingdom will suddenly lose all its imperial traditions but it does mean that over the next five or six years we will see some changes in the way goods are sold in the shops,″ Maude said.

″In matters which are entirely domestic to the United Kingdom we see no reason why we cannot continue to use imperial units where they are customary,″ he added.

There have been efforts to put the United States on the metric system for more than a decade, including 1975 legislation. But progress has been slow. Not everyone is thrilled with the idea, especially some powerful business lobbying groups.

Under a law enacted in August, the U.S. government is required to start doing business with its private suppliers under the metric system starting in 1992.

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