HC Deb 22 June 1864 vol 176 cc104-9

Bill considered in Commttee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short Title).


said, that having consulted the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, certain Amendments had been agreed to which removed the objections entertained by certain hon. Gentlemen, and he believed those Amendments were of such a nature as to induce the House to inaugurate the metric system, which he hoped would soon be adopted as the universal practice of the country. It had been adopted in many other countries with the greatest possible advantage, and no desire whatever had been manifested for a return to the old systems. The schedules to the Bill had been carefully revised by the most competent authorities, and he believed they would be found quite satisfactory.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 (The Use of Metric Weights and Measures allowed).


said, he should move that the clause be struck out, in order to insert an amended clause in its place.

Moved, That Clause 2 be omitted.


said, he had no doubt that the proposed system would be an improvement upon the old one, but he did not like the idea of its being a permissive measure. He wished to know if the President of the Board of Trade approved of a permissive Bill on such a subject. If county A continued the old system, and county B adopted the new one, very great confusion would probably arise.


observed, that at the present time the metric system was voluntarily used in many trades and manufactures. It was in an active state, and the object of this Bill was to promote its extension, and to render permissive that which was not now strictly legal.


thought the explanation of the hon. Gentleman proved that there was no necessity for the clauses which he proposed to substitute for those which had been objected to, because certain operations could now be performed by agreement against which there was no legal objection. If there were any legal restraints on private arrangements, the clause which had been prepared might be necessary; but if that was not the case the passing of such a measure might open a door for making experiments on weights and measures throughout the country. He differed from the sanguine author of the Bill, and did not believe it would be possible to introduce the decimal system in the ordinary transactions of this country. The working people were thoroughly habituated to the existing system. A penny in value and a pound in weight were stereotyped on the minds of the labouring classes. For the purposes of science every facility was at present afforded. He wished to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether there was at present any legal restraint on private arrangements of this description?


said, the restriction which at present existed was simply this—at present any one who pleased might make use of the system, but it was not recognized by any Act of Parliament, and therefore there was risk of litigation in any contracts based upon it. The present Bill simply legalized transactions which might be voluntarily entered into. With regard to the observation of the hon. and learned Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard), that the labourers were accustomed to the present system, he would only observe that it was the most complicated system in the whole world, differing, as it did, in different parts of the country. Many persons who were carrying on business on a large scale had adopted the metric system, and wished to have it legalized. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) seemed to prefer a compulsory to a permissive system. He (Mr. Adderley) had no doubt that the merits of the system would very soon bring it into general operation; but he certainly was not prepared to make its adoption compulsory on everybody.


said, that the present Act regulating weights and measures rendered it illegal to enter into any contract for the sale of goods by any other than the Imperial weights and measures; but a proviso had been introduced into the section, regulating sales by measure which legalized sales by measures other than local and customary measures, which had the effect of neutralizing that section of the Act. Then, again, the section which regulated sales by the Imperial weights contained a proviso at the end of the section, that nothing therein contained should prevent a sale by any multiple of a pound. In consequence of this proviso a sale by the long ton, which is not an Imperial weight, had been held by a decision of the Superior Courts to be legal, inasmuch as the Act did not specify that the multiple should be "numerically expressed." Therefore, in consequence of these two provisoes, the object of the Act, which was to prevent sales by any but Imperial weights and measures, was defeated. However, clauses had been introduced into the Bill to legalize contracts that might be made by parties under the metric system. This was a Bill that might be passed with the greatest safety, and would not occasion any inconvenience, as the schedule contained a table of equivalents of metric and Imperial measures. In consequence of the proviso introduced into the section relating to the sale by measure, articles were now purchased in Covent Garden Market in measures of which nobody knew the contents. To obviate this inconvenience, he (Mr. Locke) had introduced a clause into a Bill which he brought in in 1858, to compel market gardeners and others selling in the market to affix to the vessels in which they sold fruit and vegetables, the amount by Imperial measure which they contained. The market gardeners opposed this clause, and, having met them at the Board of Trade, and argued the question before the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, then President of the Board of Trade, that right hon. Gentleman, perhaps from being fond of agricultural pursuits, decided in favour of the market gardeners and fruit and vegetable salesmen; the clause was consequently withdrawn and the public left at their mercy. That inconvenience could never arise if the metric system were adopted. By the repeal of the two provisoes in the Act regulating weights and measures, the object of that Act—namely, one uniform system of weights and measures would be obtained with one exception—that is, the reputed quart and pint bottles which enjoyed such a very bad reputation. The reputed quart should be six to the gallon instead of four Imperial quarts, but that was not the case, for you never knew what a bottle contained, or how many bottles went to a dozen. The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Alderman Copeland) had told him that he had received an order to make some bottles which the trade called nineteen to the dozen. Why, if they went on in that way the three-bottle man would certainly not be what he was in former times, in fifty years he would not be as great a drinker as the one-bottle man was now.


reminded the hon. Member for Buckingham that, when he, the hon. Member for Buckingham, and himself were governors together of the Bank of England, it had been found convenient to divide the pound troy decimally instead of, as formerly, into 5,760 grains. The hon. Member approved that change, but it was necessary to apply for an Act of Parliament, or the contracts made in pursuance of that alteration would have been illegal. The present Bill would give to every person in the country the same benefit as the Bank of England derived from their Act of Parliament. That, he thought, was an answer to his hon. Friend's objection.

Motion agreed to.

Clause struck out.


then proposed the following clause in lieu of it:— Notwithstanding anything contained in any Act of Parliament to the contrary, no contract or dealing shall be deemed to be invalid or open to objection on the ground that the weights or measures expressed or referred to in such contract or dealing are weights or measures of the metric system.


said, that what the Bank of England did, was not to decimalize the pound troy, but to give a decimal expression to the divisions of the ounce. If the object of the clause was nothing more than to legalize voluntary arrangements between individuals for the use of the metric system, he would not object to it. But he wished to ask the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, whether people would be at liberty to make their entries at the Custom House in decimal expressions.


said, that in passing the measure of last Session the House undoubtedly gave its sanction to the introduction of the metric system into this country. His hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries had, however, agreed not to press the compulsory Bill, and to substitute a permissive one. He gave his vote for the second reading of the new Bill, on the understanding that he was not committed to all its provisions; but the clauses which his hon. Friend had now put on the papers exactly met his views on the subject. The first of the new clauses was simply to the effect that if a contract were expressed in the terms of the metric system, neither party should be allowed to escape from it upon the plea that it was expressed in terms not sanctioned by law. That got rid of the difficulty that by the existing law a contract in such terms as those proposed in the Bill was not deemed binding. The existing weights and measures would still form the legal standards in all cases in which the contracting parties had not of their own accord adopted the new system. On a former stage of the Bill the inquiry was very properly raised, what was a metre? That question was now answered by stating the relative relations between the metre and the English yard, and also generally between the metric weights and measures and the Imperial ones. There was thus no interference with any uniformity which now prevailed. The present lawful standards were left untouched, while facilities were given for the voluntary use of the metric system, which was rendered necessary by the great extent of our foreign trade. Of course, if a large number of persons were to insist on making their contracts in accordance with the metric system, there would be a considerable change in the existing practice; but no degree of compulsion would be used in the matter. Public feeling would be allowed to form itself freely on the subject. The Astronomer Royal had given a great deal of time and attention to the schedule, and it was submitted with his approbation. As to the question which had been asked in regard to the Customs, the use of the metric system would be entirely voluntary, and neither party to a transaction would be entitled to force the other to adopt the metric terms against his will.

Clause agreed to.

New Clause agreed to:3. The table in the schedule hereto annexed, shall be deemed to set forth, in terms of the legal weights and measures in force in this country, the equivalents of the weights and measures therein expressed in terms of the metric system, and such table may be lawfully used for computing, determining, and expressing, in legal weights and measures, weights and measures of the metric system.

Schedule of Tables of Equivalents.


urged that the calculations should be carried to the utmost possible point of scientific accuracy. Mr. Whitworth asserted that by a contrivance of his invention a measurement could be made of the millionth part of an inch; and making allowance for a certain degree of professional enthusiasm, he believed that the 100,000th part of an inch really could be measured. In the Schedule, however, the measures of length were carried to only four places of decimals, and this was also the case with the measures of surface. On the other hand, the weights were carried as low as the ten-millionth part of a dram. He thought that greater uniformity should have been observed in this respect in compiling the table, and that an effort should have been made to obtain the greatest exactitude.


said, he would consider the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, as amended, to be considered on Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 165.]