Saturday, April 28, 2007


SQA has been raising the alarm about the effect of the total cultural, economic and political abolition of Imperial weights and measures (under EU Directive 80/181, which comes into force on 1 January 2010) in the heritage context for more than two years now. It appears our fears are increasingly being shared.

Europhile Dim Leb MPs are looking desperately for ways to neutralise the UK Independence Party whose candidates secured a greater number of votes in the last European Parliamentary elections.

John Hemming MP

On 18 April 2007, Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) tabled the following early day motion:

That this House notes the concerns of model engineers and other heritage engineering workers that they may not be allowed to use imperial measurements subsequent to the EU Directive 80/181; recognises that this could do a considerable amount of damage to the maintenance of imperial heritage engineering and the model engineering sector; and calls for an urgent review by the Government of mechanisms to facilitate the continuation of this aspect of British heritage, which may include a permanent derogation from this aspect of the directive facilitating the reporting of measurements in both imperial and metric units.

The motion is signed by the following MPs: Peter Bottomley, Ann Cryer, Andrew George, Mike Penning, Bob Russell, Bob Spink and David Taylor.

Presumably the other 638 MPs whose names do not appear on this motion do not care about British heritage or were having a lie-in. At least heritage lobbyists and archives lobbyists can gain some indication from this motion which and how many MPs are worth lobbying on heritage issues and archival legislation in future. Not a lot.

It isn't merely a matter of sentiment over heritage. Mr. Hemming and his colleagues in the House of Commons are presumably unaware of the weight of business opinion opposed to compulsory metrification. The British Weights and Measures Association has published details of organisations lobbying the European Commission for a permanent waiver to metric-only usage. It includes the UK government and makes interesting and enlightening reading click here

Thus the resistance movement is much wider than we might think.

Of course SQA is mainly concerned to avoid the anachronistic use of metric units in archival description. The use of metric units out of historical context also amounts to falsification, something archivists must avoid at all costs as a paramount professional ethic. However, we are strategically minded enough to understand our concerns apply equally in other branches of heritage too, more strategically minded than Mr. Hemming whose only myopic concern is the continuation of this aspect of British heritage.

It is so sad museum interpretation panels so often give only metric units.

The preservation of heritage as a political justification in itself, is even recognised in the Aesopian language of the European Union's recent Declaration on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome which proclaims:

We preserve in the European Union the identities and diverse traditions of its Member States. We are enriched by open borders and a lively variety of languages, cultures and regions.

Oh really? Don't British weights and measures come into this?

And by the way, please could one of our many highly educated MPs mention archives sometime? Surely our national documentary heritage extending from the Domesday Book to the 1901 census is as worthy of an early day motion as model engineering?

Further reading

Save Our Cultural Heritage

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