HC Deb 18 May 1858 vol 150 cc913-8

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed—"That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he rose to move as an Amendment that the Bill be read, a second time that day six months. He agreed with the hon. Mover that it was quite desirable to have uniformity in weights and measures, but he objected to the mode in which that object was proposed to be obtained. The Bill proposed to make it compulsory that all descriptions of grain and fruit should be sold by measure. Now, in most of the large towns of England, and in all the towns of Ireland, wheat was sold by weight. The effect, therefore, of passing such a measure as this would be to introduce a perfect revolution. He had been in hopes that the bon. Gentleman, when he brought in the Bill, would have stated some satisfactory reasons why so important a change should be made. He had failed to do so, however, and he presumed, therefore, they must judge of the arguments in support of the Bill by a paper which had been very generally circulated, and a copy of which he (Mr. Horsfall) then held in his hand, entitled, "Weights mid Measures and Sale of Corn: Reasons in favour of the Bill." Now, in those "Reasons" he found some very extraordinary statements. One of these was, that the inspectors of weights and measures, although they were authorised to inspect weights and measures in shops, were not authorised to do so in the public streets, But no grain was sold in the public streets; at least he had never heard that it was in any town in England. Further, they were told that it was clear no person could effectually protect himself against fraud in the purchase of corn without having both weight and measure. All he could say, however, was that in most of the large towns grain was sold by weight; and after communicating with his constituents he had been informed that there had never been an instance of fraud known in Liverpool, where corn was sold by weight. It could not be said, then, that there was very much in that argument. Again, one of the "Reasons" stated that the articles which were sold by weight were almost invariably adulterated. Well, he had never heard of corn being adulterated, and, upon inquiry among those who were interested in the trade, he was assured that there was not an instance of the sort on record. But the main reliance of the promoters of the Bill was placed on a return which had been ordered by the House upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass). Now, he confessed he felt somewhat staggered upon looking at that return; but, recollecting that it came from his old Friends at the Board of Trade, he entertained sonic little distrust; and placing it in the hands of those whom he deemed to be competent to analyse it, he found that it was a purely fictitious statement—a complete fallacy. It stated, for instance, that at Bristol, Gloucester, Leeds, Macclesfield, Hull, and Newcastle, all important market towns, grain was sold by the imperial measure; whereas the fact was that in every one of them grain was sold by weight. He left the House, then, to say what reliance ought to be placed upon such a return as that. Yet this very return was one of the grounds upon which the House was invited to pass this Bill. The only semblance of an argument that could be urged in behalf of the measure was that the import duties were levied by measure; but this had not been put forward by the promoters of the Bill. If he were called upon to suggest any uniform system, he would recommend that, instead of making it imperative to sell by measure, it should be made imperative to sell by weight. But it was not his province then to propose a plan, but rather to point out the objections to that which was contained in the Bill, and having done this, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


seconded the Amendment. The amount which a measure would hold depended a good deal upon the skill of the measurer, and a measure, when shaken would hold much more than when the corn was put lightly into the measure; so that it was a common saying in the corn trade, that sharp measure would not hold out when carried to any distance. The intention of the Act of 1835 was that, with reference to grain, measure, and not weight, should be adopted throughout the country, but by an elasticity in one of its clauses weight was permitted, and the country divided itself into two great districts—one adopting the principle of measure, the other that of weight—and that state of things still continued. Throughout the cast and midland parts of the country, which supplied the great manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, weight had now become almost universal, though for a short time after the passing of the Act the principle of measure was adopted. For himself, he could say that for some years after the passing of the Act of 1835 he had endeavoured to carry out its provisions and sell by measure, but that system imposed upon him such an amount of trouble, and led to such frequent disputes, that he was obliged to resort to the principle of weight, since which he had scarcely had a single dispute. Where he had one dispute now, he should have at least ten if he went back to the principle of measure.


said, there was a strong feeling adverse to this Bill, particularly among the merchants engaged in the corn trade. He thought he could best explain the discrepancy pointed out in the Board of Trade Return by stating the practice,—which was that, although nominally took place by measure, they were actually carried on by weight. He believed that the passing of such a Bill as the present would not only entail on the dealer an additional amount of labour, but a considerable increase of expenditure. The present mode was perfectly satisfactory both to merchants and farmers, and he had never heard of a dispute between the seller and the buyer as to the quantity actually delivered; but he believed that under the proposed measure endless disputes would arise, and therefore he thought the plan highly objectionable.


would undertake to say that there were not two expert measurers in London who would measure twenty quarters of grain and produce the same result. What was wanting in the empire was a uniform method of transacting business in a sound way, and that was by weight. Everything ought to be sold by weight, and the pound avoirdupois ought to be the unit of weight. In retail business it was impossible to prevent fraud on the humbler classes by any other means, and, therefore, lie was decidedly in favour of weight as a standard.


said, he believed that actually and virtually the sale of all grain and all agricultural produce in Ireland was by weight. The great thing required was a uniform standard of weights and measures throughout the three kingdoms, and the simplest plan would be to fix the unit at one pound, as had been suggested by the hon. Member for Drogheda. Owing to the want of simplicity, farmers were obliged to enter into elaborate calculations, which it was desirable as far as possible to obviate. A bushel in one part of the country meant 67lbs., in another 70lbs., and in another 80lbs., and that fact alone was sufficient to show the want of that simplicity in our system which ought to govern all the calculations of a commercial community like this.


said, he understood that the object of this measure was to obtain some uniformity of weights in the three countries of Ireland. Scotland, and England. The great opponents of the measure of course came from Liverpool, as representing the Irish interest; but he did not think their opposition ought to prevail. The Bill gave weight tested by measure, or measure tested by weight, the only true test of quality; whereas at present all transactions were carried on by measure. Under the present system if a man sold a bushel of barley, there was no means by which its quality could be tested beforehand: in fact the system afforded no measure of capacity whatever. He purchased largely in Norfolk, in Suffolk, in Northamptonshire, in Lincolnshire, and in Yorkshire, but he never could buy except by measure, which had no reference to weight. On the other hand, he had recently been obliged to go into the German and French markets to buy grain, and there the rule was that you bought so many bushels of such a quality which should weigh so and so. Now that was all that was asked for by this Bill: it was to enable a buyer to ascertain weight as well as measure. If hon. Members would look at the Report of the Committee of 1834, they would find a great deal of information on the subject, and he might adduce in support of the views which he entertained the testimony of Mr. R. Page, who was perhaps better known under the name of "Daniel Hardcastle," and who stated that, with the exception of one or two places, corn was sold by measure throughout Europe.


observed, that in most counties there were two different modes of selling corn, and the disadvantage of this want of uniformity was, that if a man went from one county to another to make a purchase, he had to dot and carry one before he could ascertain the weight according to the measure of his own county. The object of this Bill was to correct that, and he, for one thought the House would be doing a great service to the farmers if it adopted some such system of uniformity as this measure proposed.


said, it was impossible to overrate the importance of the question raised by the Bill. Several gentlemen had waited on him during the progress of the Bill, but from all he had heard he was convinced that they were not yet in a position to legislate on the subject. He was sure that the hon. Member must see that there were a great many difficulties in the way of his proposal. The earlier speakers that night had declared entirely for weight, and for an alteration of the present mode of weight by the introduction of the decimal mode of reckoning. Was the country ripe for that? There were other parties, among whom were the supporters of the Bill, who contended that the standard should be, not measure, but measure combined with weight. It was said that uniformity would be attained by that system; but it was already in practice, and yet it had not secured uniformity. In Liverpool people sold by the bushel of 701b., and in Leeds people sold by the bushel of 631b. He wanted to know whether, if sales were to be made by the bushel of a certain weight, the sellers should add more corn to the bushel in case the weight was deficient. That was a point on which he found that a difference of opinion prevailed among the supporters of the proposal. Amid such a conflict of opinion, it appeared to him that the House would do well not to proceed with the Bill, and he should recommend the hon. and learned Gentleman the Mem ber for Southwark to withdraw it for the present. If, on the other hand, he went to a decision, he should be obliged to vote against him.


, in reply said, the right hon. Gentleman entirely misapprehended the first clause of the Bill, as he never contemplated to enact that by that clause the sale of corn by a certain measure ought to be of a certain weight. It was only intended by that clause to enact that corn should be sold by measure, but it was added ex abundante cautelâ that if the weight was in any case added, the sale should, nevertheless, be held to have been by measure. He extremely regretted that he had ever had anything to do with the subject, because hon. Gentlemen in the corn trade seemed to argue on a principle that if it were said twice two made four, they could prove that twice two made five. It seemed to him a rather good Bill, independently of the first clause, and if that clause were struck out there was sufficient good in it to justify its being read a second time. He entreated the President of the Board of Trade to allow the Bill to go into Committee, and promised not to occupy time with the question whether corn should be sold by measure or weight. He would give up either the vegetable part or the corn part of the Bill; but he hoped the provisions would be retained which prevented persons in the streets selling by false weights and measures, and enabled legal weights and measures to be properly verified.


said, the hon. Gentlemen who had the conduct of the Bill gave a different account of it—one saying that it had nothing to do with measure, and another that it had nothing to do with weight. He thought, however, the great advantage in the Bill was the uniformity of system which it tended to secure throughout the kingdom. He should be inclined to vote for its going into Committee with the view of introducing such Amendments into it as would remove the objections that were urged against it. He would, therefore, vote for the second reading.

Question put.

House divided:—Ayes 84; Noes 92: Majority 8.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Bill put off for six months.

House adjourned at One o'clock, till Thursday.