HC Deb 12 February 1857 vol 144 cc589-93

said, he rose to submit to the House the necessity for legislation to prevent the gross inequalities in the Weights and Measures of the United Kingdom. Parliament had intended to make the use of weights and measures uniform, but the Act had been inoperative in consequence of a proviso in one of the clauses. The 6th clause in the 5 & 6 Will. IV. abolished the use of all local and customary measures, but the intention of the Act was defeated by the following proviso:— Provided always that nothing herein contained shall prevent the sale of any articles in any vessel, where such vessel is not represented as containing any amount of Imperial measure, or of any fixed, local, or customary measure heretofore in use. The result was that at Bedford wheat was sold at 62 lb. to the bushel; at Chester, 75 lb.; at Launceston, 62 lb.; at Truro, 140 lb.; at Hereford, 60 lb. or 80 lb. This difference, which was equal to 20s. a quarter between the North Riding and Hereford, made it impossible to depend upon the corn averages. He trusted that the Government would bring in a Bill to render the law operative, and make it compulsory to sell by the Imperial measure, and no other, since it was difficult, if not impossible, for a private Member to pass such a measure. He would suggest that grand advantages would result from buying and selling all dry goods by weight, and adopting 10 lbs. as the stone, making ten stones or 100 lbs. the hundredweight, and twenty hundred weight the ton, as at present. A great deal of discussion had taken place on the decimal coinage, but the simple adoption of 10 lbs. for the stone and 100 lbs. for the hundredweight would be easily carried out, and would do much to accustom the public to the advantages of decimal calculation. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to weights and measures.


said, he thought that every hon. Gentleman present must concur in the observations of the hon. Member as to the desirableness of uniformity of weights and measures. It was one of those maxims easily laid down, and which, when laid down, commanded universal assent. But unfortunately the Legislature upon this matter often experienced its powerlessness in contending with the inveterate habits of different localities. There was hardly any spot in the rural districts that had not its own peculiar habits in buying and selling. Each locality perfectly understood its own customs, and they did not lead between persons accustomed to them to uncertainty and difficulty. When the Legislature attempted to enforce one universal system of weights and measures it was met by the passive resistance of persons habituated to their own weights and measures. That had been the reception of the imperial bushel and quarter. In many parts the imperial measures were used simply, in other districts other measures were used in combination with the imperial measure. It might be suggested, indeed, whether in selling corn it would not be better, on the whole, altogether to discard measurement, and, instead of selling by the bushel or the quarter to sell corn by weight. But then it must be remembered that the averages of the Tithe Commutation Act depended on the quarter, and that if the bushel and the quarter were discarded it would be necessary to reform their legislation in this and other respects. The decimal system was introduced at the French revolution. The introduction of those decimal weights and measures was a matter of slow progress in France, and even now was not universally established in all parts of the country. It was, however, a matter well worthy of attention, and he might remind the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lloyd Davies) that the decimal coinage was now under the consideration of a Commission. When he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) received the Bill of the hon. Gentleman he could assure him it should receive his attentive consideration.


said, that from first to last a great deal had been attempted but nothing material had ever been done in reference to the subject of weights and measures. A Committee sat on the question in 1790, and three others subsequently; Acts were passed upon the subject in 1824, 1826, and 1835; but the last-named Act had not only a loop-hole in it so large that a coach-and-six might be driven through it, but it contained an unfortunate proviso which rendered the whole legislation upon the matter perfectly valueless. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that certain localities in the country had their own peculiar kinds of weights and measures. That was not only so, but even in particular localities the variety of weights and measures and the difference in the customs of the people were so marked as to occasion a degree of confusion exceedingly detrimental to the trade of the country. While all that variety existed on the subject it was clearly the interest of the trading community at large to act on a prin- ciple of complete unison. His own constituents felt the present system so detrimental to their interests that a short time ago they urged him to undertake some legislation on the subject, and he fully intended to have made an attempt early in the present Session; but, on seeing that the hon. Member for the Cardigan district (Mr. Lloyd Davies) had a Motion on the paper, he (Mr. Adderley) left the matter for the present in his hands. The hon. Member had now brought the subject before the House, and he (Mr. Adderley) hoped he would not relax in his efforts to carry his measure in spite of the poor encouragement he had received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. All that was wanted was, that a stone, pound, bushel, yard, or foot, should be the same, and should be a fixed quantity in all parts of the country. After all, it was not so large a measure as the Chancellor of the Exchequer supposed, and he thought the hon. Member himself (Mr. Lloyd Davies) rather travelled out of the record when he sought to mix it up with the question of the decimal coinage. What he (Mr. Adderley) understood to be wanted was a far simpler thing,—namely, that the standards of weights and measures and the lineal standards in this country should be laid down by law, and should be intelligible to everybody and imperatively uniform. Besides the short-comings of the existing law, the penalties imposed by it were such that they were seldom or never likely to be enforced, and, indeed, there was no adequate machinery for enforcing them; so that practically the law was almost inoperative. However simple the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Lloyd Davies) was, it was nevertheless one which could only stand a fair chance of being carried with the assistance of the Government, and he (Mr. Adderley) trusted it would meet with their best consideration.


said, that the proposition before the House was not capable of being carried so easily as the hon. Member (Mr. Adderley) seemed to think. The greatest diversity of practice prevailed throughout the kingdom in reference to weights and measures. It was difficult to wean people from old customs. In London, for example, corn of all kinds was sold by measure, while in Liverpool everything was sold by weight. If it could be arranged that all dry goods should be sold by weight all over the kingdom, and all liquids by measure, the thing desired would be very easy of accomplishment and intelligible to every person. It was not worth while to make a change here and a change there unless a grand change was made all over the country, and that, in his opinion, should be the introduction of one uniform decimal system.


in reply, said, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would introduce a measure making it imperative to sell corn by weight. If the right hon. Gentleman would not do so he should bring a proposition before the House to carry out that object.


said, the question now before the House was not whether corn should be sold by weight or by measure, but whether there ought not to be a uniformity of measures. The Legislature ought to get rid of irregularity in weights and measures, but it ought not to command people to do a thing in a certain way when they were the best judges of how it ought to be done.


said, that at present he did not know the meaning and real value of the various measures employed within twelve miles of his own manufactory. He thought this was a state of things disgraceful to us as a commercial community, and that means should be adopted to secure uniformity. He doubted whether any Gentleman there could tell the precise amount of a sack of wheat in England, a barrel of wheat in Ireland, and a boll of wheat in Scotland. This was not a state of things which should continue, and he regretted that the Government were not disposed to take up the subject. He doubted the principle of making corn saleable otherwise than by measure, as that practice was adopted in the greatest corn market in the world—London.


observed, that poor people, who bought wheat by measure, were liable to be cheated by the farmers.

Leave given.

Bill—to amend so much of the Act of the 5th & 6th years of William the Fourth as relates to Weights and Measures throughout England and Wales—ordered to be brought in by Mr. LLOYD DAVIES and Mr. ADDERLEY.