HC Deb 09 March 1864 vol 173 cc1721-40

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move the second reading of this Bill, said, that its object was to render permissive the use of the Metric System of Weights and Measures. He would not repeat what he stated last year as to the advantage the adoption of that system would lead to in an international point of view. The Bill which, he introduced last year was based on the unanimous Report of a Committee, except only that it was, prospectively, compulsory. The present measure was permissive. He would now confine his observations to three points—namely, to the aspect of the question at the close of the debate last year, to what had occurred since respecting it, and to the measure he now proposed. Last year it was the opinion of the Government and of the House that the Bill which he had introduced (though, carried by a majority) should be withdrawn, and that a permissive measure should be brought in instead. He would next proceed to show what had occurred respecting the question in the interval between the last and the present Session. An important congress at Berlin had come to an unanimous resolution in favour of the metric system; and Sir William Armstrong, in his introductory speech at the British Association in Newcastle, had strongly recommended its adoption. A Committee of the Chambers of Commerce which met a few days ago had adopted resolutions in its favour of the metric system, on the ground both of its utility and of its adoption by the majority of civilized nations. There was a universal agreement among all the foreign witnesses who appeared before the Committee as to the advantage of the system, and it appeared that no foreign nation which had allowed it to be introduced, had ever allowed it to be withdrawn. Last year he had alluded to Spain, Portugal, and other foreign countries in which it had been adopted and worked well; but there was another country which in the names and characters of its weights and measures much resembled England. He meant Holland. He had therefore been anxious to know what the result of the change was there. To a communication made to the Dutch Embassy he received for answer, that "there could be but one opinion on the subject" all over Holland, and that the interminable number of weights and measures in use in different places had been superseded in favour of the metric system to the entire satisfaction of the country. He would now state why he proposed only a permissive Bill. He had done so in deference to the opinion of the House. He should have been glad to go further and make it prospectively compulsory, but it was his duty to obey the wishes of the House. The question had been frequently asked, would any persons avail themselves of a permissive system? He believed that there were many trades and professions in the country which would gladly avail themselves of the metric system. That system was not lawful at present, and the object of this Bill was to render it lawful. It would be advantageous to watchmakers, who found considerable difficulty in dealing with foreign countries in consequence of the misunderstandings which frequently arose, owing to the variation in measures in different countries, and in different parts of the same country. When orders were given under the metric system, the uniformity of measure would be so exact that every workman, however distant, would be able with ease to execute the orders which he received. Some of the most eminent engineers were of opinion that the metric system might be applied with great advantage to the construction of machinery, Among other articles of machinery, he might mention the wheels of railway carriages. The adoption of the metric system would be of great advantage in executing orders from foreign countries. A great number of chemists had expressed their sense of the benefits which they would derive from it, and a considerable body of architects had petitioned for its introduction. With regard to the coal trade, which was now extensively carried on with, foreign countries, the introduction of the metric ton would be of the greatest advantage. And, generally, the use of the system would facilitate and extend our trade with foreign countries. If the House should pass a permissive Bill, he believed that the system would work its way gradually into the commerce and manufactures of the country, until at last the people would become convinced that it was desirable to pass a compulsory measure. In the mean time he believed that the present step was a step in the right direction. The hon. Member moved the second reading of the Bill.


said, he would second the Motion. It would at least do no harm to pass this Bill through the present stage, and would, no doubt, lead, in Committee, to the amelioration of the existing system of weights and measures, which, it could not be doubted, was extremely inconvenient and defective, either on the plan of his hon. Friend or in some other way. There could be no question that the assimilation of our measures to those prevailing in France and other countries would be of great advantage to all concerned in foreign trade. It would also, in his opinion, be of material benefit to the working classes in their small dealings with grocers and others. At present, there was no proper analogy between our weights and measures and our coinage, and consequently the working classes are the losers. For instance, twelve pence—one shilling, which was also equal to twenty-four half pence and forty-eight farthings; then sixteen ounces make one pound, and consequently, three farthings would answer to an ounce; but suppose a poor man wanted to buy half an ounce of something which cost three farthings an ounce, it was clear that there must be a loss of half a farthing on the side either of the shopkeeper or purchaser. This arose from there being no exact equivalent, whereas the French with their centimes had a great advantage over us in trifling transactions of that sort. They had a hundred centimes to a franc and five centimes to a sous, and that money division corresponded with the divisions of the weights and measures, so that there were equivalents in money to the smallest weights and measures. On that ground he thought it very desirable that we should have an assimilation between the weights and measures and the coinage in that respect. It would be a great boon to the labouring classes. A great deal had been said in the Committee on this subject about the objections that would be made to an alteration in the system by retail dealers and the labouring classes; but he was quite sure that if the labouring classes understood their own interests they would come to the conclusion, that it would be an especial advantage to them to have coins which would enable them to pay for the very smallest quantity of any commodity they desired to purchase. M. Michel Chevalier in his evidence before the Committee in answer to the following question, No. 620, put by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith)— Do you think that if we adopt the metrical system of weights and measures, we should also adopt the decimal system of coins, and that they should be adopted simultaneously?"—said, Yes. Tour present system of coinage has two imperfections. One is that it has no connection with the general system of weights and measures. Our system has the franc, which is a piece of silver weighing five grammes exactly. Your pound sterling has a complicated ratio with your pound weight. The other imperfection is that your divisions are not decimal. His hon. Friend's Bill did not attempt to carry out these views of simultaneously adopting the metric system and the decimal coinage; but it would not prevent that further step being taken if subsequently deemed desirable. If the metric system were found on trial to be easily understood and convenient for us, there could be no doubt that it would be adopted by vast numbers of persons, both high and low, for their own interest. The learning of weights and measures in youth was a most disagreeable pursuit. Nothing could be more intricate, perplexing, and, in fact, he might say, detestable than those tables which one had to learn in childhood, but which one usually forgot so completely when one grew up, that he did not suppose there was a single Member of the House who could repeat them. Each person learned the tables necessary for his particular trade, and carefully eschewed all the rest. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), objected to the Greek and Latin names given to the divisions of the metric system; but in Holland, when the system was introduced, the original Dutch names had been retained. The same course might be taken in this country. The French system was extremely simple, and could readily be learnt. It was said that there was no need to make any change, because when once a person was familiar with our weights and measures, he could calculate according to them without any difficulty. But when they considered the rapid growth of population and all the little boys at school, they must, he thought, admit that it would be a much greater benefit to the human race to adopt the new system than to adhere to the old merely because a certain number of grown up people knew the one and could not be bothered to learn the other. It could not be right to set the inconvenience of the present generation against the positive benefit which the adoption of the new system would confer on all future generations. There was another matter to which he wished to draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade. There were, he believed, certain authenticated standards of weights and measures by which all the weights and measures of the country were to be compared and verified, but where they were deposited nobody exactly knew. It was supposed that they were bricked up in some part of this House, and that consequently nobody could get at them. Copies of these standards were distributed throughout the country, but it was a long time since they had been compared with the originals, and he understood that great injustice was done by taking inaccurate copies as tests. The magistrates held themselves bound by the Act to impose penalties for the slightest deviation of weights or measures from the country standards, and he was told that many innocent persons were improperly convicted on account of the imperfections of the tests applied by the magistrates. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give his attention to these matters. In regard to the Bill, he believed it would be advantageous as far as it went, and hoped that some day we should have a system of weights and measures and a system of coinage analogous to each other.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read a second time."—(Mr. W. Ewart.)


said, that before he made any observations on the Bill he would reply to the two questions which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had addressed to him. His hon. Friend stated first that the national standard of weights and measures had been put away in some inaccessible place, and that consequently copies of the national standards had not been verified for a long time, and that, as these regulated the weights and measures throughout the country, without such verification there could be no assurance that these standards were correct. His hon. and learned Friend was mistaken in supposing that the national standards were bricked up in that building; the national standards were deposited in the Exchequer, and there were only certain copies of them immured here. He might state to his hon. and learned Friend that the question of the re-verification had been considered by the Government, and the Standard Commission had been revived by the Treasury, and it was very probable that a verification would shortly take place under their authority. The subject was under consideration, and he had no doubt that what was necessary would be done under the sanction of this Commission. "With respect to the present system of administering the law of weights and measures, it was not for the Board of Trade to comment on the proceedings of the magistrates in this respect. No one could for a moment doubt the expediency of having a system of penalties to prevent the public being defrauded by false weights and measures. No doubt such penalties might be carried into effect with undue severity, but he had not heard of any such case, and, if he had, he did not think it could be considered one of the functions of the Board of Trade to interfere.


said, that what he had intended to state was that, according to the Act of Parliament, it was imperative on the magistrates to inflict penalties.


said, that at any rate the Inspectors had no power to impose penalties. Their duty was to see that the weights and measures properly corresponded with the country standards, and were themselves liable to penalties if they neglected their duties, and it must be presumed that when the magistrates convicted fraud had been proved. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had argued that there should be a decimalization of the coinage in correspondence with a decimalization of weights and measures, and that means should be adopted for securing the working classes against the improper charges now put upon them through the want of convenient relations between money and weights and measures. He knew there was a great deal of truth in what the hon. and learned Member said; but really the question of decimalization had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. This was a measure for changing the unit. Our existing weights and measures might be decimalized. "When the present standards were legalized there was a clause introduced into the Act, which enabled secondary weights and measures to be used, simply by an Order in Council. They might then, in fact, have a decimal division of the existing weights and measures. Indeed, he believed, without any Order in Council, the use of decimal divisions by individuals would not be prevented by any statute of which he was aware. With regard to the coinage, of course that was a question for the Executive. There were no doubt great facilities of decimalizing the British coinage. The question before the House, however, was simply whether there should be a permissive use of a new standard. At present we had two standards, namely, the English yard, and the avoirdupois pound, from which all our weights and measures were derived. If this Bill were passed we should have a third one—namely, a metre, from which other weights and measures would be derived. We should then have three national standards— the English yard, the avoirdupois pound, and the metre. The metre was the 10-millionth part of the quadrant of the globe from the equator to the pole, and was supposed to be represented by a certain bar of platinum, in the possession of the Royal Society, and which, it was stated in the Bill, had been originally constructed in consequence of the Resolution passed in the House of Commons on the 15th of March, 1816. He found a Resolution stating that a comparison should be made with the French metre; but all that part of it which it was said regarded the Royal Society and this bar of platinum he could not find. But let them assume that the Royal Society had this bar of platinum in their possession. His hon. Friend proposed to put upon the Board of Trade an important duty—namely, to furnish at least 700 different places throughout the United Kingdom with sets of weights and measures according to his new standard. Supposing each set to consist of twenty separate weights and measures, it was obvious that the duty of the Board of Trade would be a very serious and expensive one; and the Board of Trade was to take this bar of platinum as their basis from which they were to derive all the new weights and measures. This was a duty which, the Board would find very great difficulty in discharging, and would be really going far beyond what was done in regard to our present weights and measures. All that was done now was to provide the three capitals of the United Kingdom, London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, with copies of the standard weights and measures; but he believed that all other localities provided those articles at their own expense. He did not think it fair, then, to call upon the State to perform the duties to which he had referred. This, however, might be said to be an objection that could better be taken in Committee. That might be true, but he felt it was necessary to state his objections at the outset, because the object of his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. W. Ewart) might to a great extent be obtained without calling on the Board of Trade to undertake so difficult and costly a labour. What was stated last year was this—that at present any contract made under the metric system was not legally binding. If a man, for instance, agreed to purchase a metre of cloth from a Frenchman, he might escape from his engagement, inasmuch as his bargain being made under the metric system, he could not be compelled by our law to fulfil his contract. That, he (Mr. M. Gibson) believed was the state of the law. But it would be easy to make a contract, on the metrical system, legally valid. Any person who chose might then make contracts on the metrical system, and could enforce the contracts by law, supposing that the other contracting party was desirous of escaping from them. Well; but he might be asked by his hon. Friend, supposing the goods to be delivered, where was the standard by which the correct measure could be ascertained? Now, nothing could be easier than to get rid of that difficulty; because, if in the clause of an Act there was simply a recognition of the relations existing between English weights and measures and metres, a table of equivalents, they would at once see, by using our own standards, whether the correct metrical measure had been given. There would then be no necessity for having a third standard in this country. That was the opinion of the Astronomer Royal, expressed in a paper he had put into his (Mr. M. Gibson's) hand, and which by some omission did not appear in the Appendix of the Report of the Weights and Measures Committee. With the Astronomer's per- mission, he would move to have it laid before the House. The opinion of that gentleman was this:—"If it appears that an action at law arises upon contracts made in respect to foreign measures, I think that the safe and proper course to take is to ascertain the relations between the British and foreign standards, and that the Legislature should recognize those relations." Now, it appeared to him (Mr. Milner Gibson), that the principle indicated by the Astronomer Royal might be easily acted upon without adopting a new national standard, and that, in this way, the evil complained of in regard to the use of the metrical system in our foreign trade, might be remedied without much trouble. Last Session his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries proposed a compulsory measure, which he (Mr. Milner Gibson) objected to. He stated then that to a permissive Bill, or to giving the powers of making a legal contract upon the metrical system, he would not object. He further stated that, so far as decimalization was concerned, he saw no reason why people should not use that system if they thought fit. But he objected to compulsory powers in enforcing upon the whole community the necessity, under pains and penalties, of adopting a new system of weights and measures. He was, however, put in a minority, and the House by a majority called for a compulsory measure. His hon. Friend now came forward with a permissive measure on the subject, and he (Mr. Milner Gibson) Should not oppose the second reading. But, at the same time, he wished to guard himself carefully against being supposed to agree to all the clauses of the Bill. To the principle of permission to legally use the metrical system, he should not object. But he declined to say, as at present advised, that it would be right to commence a system which the hon. Gentleman proposed, of establishing in this country a new standard of weights and measures from which 700 sets were to be made and distributed throughout the United Kingdom. He hoped that his hon. Friend would be satisfied if he obtained the legal use of the metrical system without imposing upon the Executive a very onerous and useless task—for he doubted whether the distribution of a new set of weights and measures would lead to the voluntary use of them by retail traders. He thought the only persons likely to desire to use the metric system, in this country would be those who were engaged in the foreign trade, and they would have the full use of it if all contracts made in them could be enforced by law: he hoped that would suit the views of his hon. Friend. Guarding himself as he had done against the provisions of the Bill, he should not oppose its second reading.


The statement we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is in some degree satisfactory; but I think it is eminently not so on one point. So far as the right hon. Gentleman proposes to sanction by law contracts made in any particular measure in which the relative proportions of our standard could be obtained, I agree with him; because to do so is merely preventing what amounted to fraud, and to prevent dishonest persons from getting rid of their just obligations. The right hon. Gentleman had no doubt guarded himself that the principle of the Bill must be restricted to this one point; but I must remind the House that the Bill proposes to set up two modes of buying and selling in all the retail shops throughout the country, which must not only present great difficulties to the humbler classes—when A. sells by the metre and B, by the pound—and subject them to be cheated and constantly defrauded from their not being able to understand readily and calculate with accuracy and facility the difference between the two systems. The shopkeepers would, no doubt, take care to understand the two systems to their own advantage, and therefore I cannot conceive a more objectionable proposition than that now before the House. I do not say whether the old English yard and the avoirdupois weight are better than the metre, but I contend that the use of both —which is the object aimed at by the present Bill—will be most disastrous in its operation to the working classes. If such a change is necessary it ought to be taken up and carried on the responsibility of the Government, and not by a private Member; for I object to a great measure whereby any man who chooses to become a rogue, and is clever enough to cheat another, being handled in this manner. It is perfectly true, as the hon. and learned Member for Southwark has said, that there is no analogy between our weights and measures and our coinage; but the same objection will remain if we carry this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman says with great truth, that if this Bill is carried, it will compel us to alter our coinage. But I think we ought not to touch one without altering the other at the same time, and that then it should be done by the Government, or else we shall throw everything into confusion, and lay every person open to be cheated for the next eight or ten years. All the advantage I can see likely to result from the present proposed legislation is, that it will save little boys from learning what was distasteful to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Southwark when he was—as I suppose he was at some time—young. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, has referred to the great labour and trouble and expense that will be incurred in sending 700 copies of the new standard all over the country; but that is nothing like what will be required—it will be but a drop in the ocean; because besides sending a copy to each county and corporate town, it must be again multiplied for the use of the various benches of magistrates in order to do justice between the parties when informations are laid for using defective weights and measures. A great deal has been said about a national standard. The one proposed last year was, as I understand it, only a copy; but we are now to have something very philosophic—namely, the 10-millionth part of some portion of the world, to be verified by a platinum bar placed somewhere, but where the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade does not exactly know. Last year we were to go to Paris to verify our standards; and it would be very instructive and no less satisfactory to know how long it was since the platinum bar and the something that is built into a wall in this building were compared and verified, because the hon. and learned Member for Southwark says great inconvenience now arises from the want of a proper verification of our standards of weights and measures. They are at present sent up to the Exchequer to be properly stamped, and we should not get out of the difficulty if we were to adopt the new system. It is a subject so great, whether for good or evil, that I think it ought only to be touched by the Government, and not dealt with in this bit-by-bit manner; but in consequence of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, I shall not propose any Motion for the rejection of the Bill.


It is certainly very easy to turn this subject into ridicule or to treat it as chimerical, and it is very difficult under such treatment to get the House to appreciate its value. So much has to-day been said one way and the other that the Bill makes unusually little progress, owing to conflicting statements. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade says, the Government is required to do so much under the Bill that they cannot possibly undertake it, and that it contains a great deal which must be left to private individuals. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, however, says the reverse, and that from the importance of the measure it ought to be taken up by the Government, and private individuals should have nothing to do with it. The object of the Bill is at all events an important one, and nothing but its difficulty can be seriously alleged against it. Of so immense an advantage must it be abstractedly to commerce to have an uniform system of weights and measures, that it is needless to argue the question. If, however, it is of so much importance to any country's trade, how much more so is it to international commerce? And it is no exaggeration to say that this country, dealing with weights and measures which are unintelligible abroad, is placed in the most disadvantageous position—a disadvantage so serious that it is not easy to calculate the tax which it represents on our commerce. But beyond the consideration of uniformity, a simple system in the place of our present complicated one would be of immense importance to trade, as well as to science and philosophy. Every one having any extensive calculations to make wishes to have a more simple system than the one now in use; the metric system is unrivalled for its simplicity; and the only objection raised to it is the difficulty of its introduction. If this is impossible, it is useless to waste more time about it. But we must first ascertain that it is so, before we forego what is so desirable. It is irrational to try to put down the measure by ridicule, and it is neither sensible, rational, or patriotic to impede its discussion by merely laughing at its terms and novelty. There is nothing, perhaps, more easy in England than to turn a new nomenclature into ridicule. Englishmen, beyond all men, like old terms and old habits; but I hope we are not to be diverted by such ridicule from discussing a practical subject like this. It does not seem to me that the sound of the word "metric" can be absurd to anyone but a fool who had never heard it before; no. more so than a "yard" to a man who had never heard of a yard before. To an ignorant savage the idea of basing a measure on the 10-mil-lionth part of a quadrant of the globe from the equator to the pole would not seem more funny than that of basing the English yard on the length of the second pendulum which depends on the force of gravitation. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down tried to turn the subject into ridicule by asking where the standard was to be kept, and whether we were to go to Paris for it. [Mr. HENLEY: That was the proposition last year.] It might be laughable to go every year to Paris to look at their standard, but not so to go there once for a copy, and so provide that a like platinum bar should be kept in London. The right hon. Gentleman opposite complains that there are now two standards—s s the yard and the pound: the one being the standard of weight, and the other of length.


They are both derived from the same principle. If you adopt the metric principle you will have a third.


That is a great argument in favour of the third system, the great recommendation of which is its simplicity. It is the chief merit of the metric system that it has only one unit for lineal measure, area, weight, and capacity. It is said that, pending the introduction of the new standard, two standards will expose the poor to being cheated. I should like to know now how many different denominations there are in use in this country of weight and measure. In some trades there are not only two but some twenty or thirty different meanings to the same terms of weight and measure. I believe the bushel has as many as twenty or thirty meanings in my own county. If so, you need not be so much afraid of adding another, which if it become the standard will reduce all to one. To get rid of the old system it would be fortunate if it were possible to pass a short Act to provide that the metrical system should be introduced, and that no contracts made under any other system should be legal. That is the way in which the autocratic Governments of the Continent have dealt with it. Napoleon so established it in France, and almost all the Governments of Europe have adopted it. In this respect they have had a great advantage over England. Their commerce has a language understood everywhere, and of great simplicity—an advantage over this country which nothing but inferior vigour in commerce has enabled her to compete with. But since we cannot compel its adoption here, we must be content with facilitating what I may call its self-introduction. There are many ways in which this may be done. To some extent, it may be done by Orders in Council. It may be prepared for by the Education Committee of the Privy Council introducing the tables into all schools under their control, and it may be done by the Government adopting it in their own departments, just as most of our large mercantile firms are beginning to use it in their establishments. But there can be no doubt that some legislation is wanted to introduce the metrical measures on a par with others, and to describe them. The provisions of the existing Act left it necessary, and hence the importance of passing such a Bill as the present, with its valuable clauses and schedules.


in explanation, said, that what he had stated with respect to the measure was, that if it was taken up at all it ought to be taken up not by a private Member, but by the Government.


agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the question was one which the Government ought to take up. But there was no hope of the Government doing so, as they had always thrown cold water upon it. After the division on the subject last year, they had a right to expect that some measure would have been introduced by the Government. The difficulties pointed out were chiefly of detail, and might be considered in Committee. He could not see the use of the President of the Board of Trade sanctioning the second reading when he declared himself opposed to almost every detail of the Bill. Under such circumstances, it was but wasting time to carry the measure further. As to introducing a third standard, he begged to remind the House that, though they had at present legally only two, yet, practically, they had several hundreds. He had always advocated the alteration of a standard which was admitted to be radically bad, and the adoption of a standard which most countries in Europe had deemed to be a better one. They ought, therefore, to make a similar alteration in this country, for the interests of both rich and poor would be promoted by it. It had been said that the Bill would be inoperative, and that the object might be carried out in a better manner by some other measure. If that were so, let another measure be introduced, and then the two Bills could be considered together. But he had no doubt that, although this Bill was permissive only, when the country once got used to the system, it would soon be made compulsory.


said, he hoped that his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley),'would not think him guilty of presumption if he told him that he intended to divide the House on this question after his right hon. Friend had expressed his willingness to refrain from doing so; but he felt so strongly about the inexpediency of this Bill, as well as about the impropriety of the shape in which it at present stood, that he conceived it to be his duty to take a decided course at the outset. He objected to the Bill partly because it was a permissive one, although he confessed that he should also have objected to it still more if it had been compulsory; because he thought that the use of weights and measures in this country, as well as the use of coins, ought to be subject, not to permissive, but to compulsory regulation. Nothing, he believed, could tend more to throw the trade and commerce of the kingdom into confusion than the adoption of a permissive scale of weights and measures. They might just as well try to gratify the whims and fancies of some people who would like to introduce the French coinage into this country. Suppose they had a permissive Bill to allow certain people to use French coins in England. Some persons thought that Napoleons and francs would be better than pounds sterling and shillings; and, according to the principle of this Bill, they ought to have their views carried out. Yet, they knew pretty well what reception a permissive Bill to that effect would meet with in that House. Partly on that ground, then, he opposed the present Bill; but he acknowledged that he had a still stronger objection to it. It was a revolutionary measure; it tampered with our whole system of weights and measures; and it introduced a foreign nomenclature, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley) thought so very light and indifferent an affair. They would not find it so treated or regarded in the country. The labouring man who wanted to buy a glass of beer would be obliged to ask, not for a pint or a half- pint, but for a "litre" or a "decalitre," or some such barbarous term, of quantity. Then, again, as regarded square measure, our yards, roods, &c, were to be superseded by new-fangled terms, all ending in "are," which would be taken to be nothing but a misprint of the word "acre" or "area." He believed it was impossible to exaggerate the amount of annoyance that would be caused, or the disrespectful remarks that would be made throughout the country, if they attempted to force a system of that sort down the throats of the people. But if they adopted the system at all it must be made compulsory, for in a matter of that kind a permissive measure was out of the question. With respect to a system of decimalization, if they wanted to decimalize their coinage, they had only to provide that 200 pence should, go to the pound sterling, instead of 240, and it would be decimalized to all practical purposes. And why was that not done, except because it would raise the value of our penny by one-sixth, thereby altering the whole character of those infinitely numerous transactions of the value of one penny? That was felt to be so great a practical difficulty that they could not decimalize their coinage, although the thing was most simple, speaking arithmetically. But it was a very much more complicated matter to adopt a metrical system of weights and measures. They had now got an excellent standard of measurement in the yard. "What objection was there to that? Was it too long or too short? If they found it a difficult thing to decimalize the yard by reducing it into inches, let them, if they preferred it, or thought it more philosophical, make the foot consist of ten inches instead of twelve. He did not recommend that, although it would be one way of decimalizing the yard. But why should they not keep their own weights and measures? Why were they, because a certain number of Frenchmen, animated by what he did not hesitate to call a spirit of fantastical pedantry, which led them to turn everything upside down—why, merely because a certain number of French savans chose to adopt as their unit of measurement the 10-millionth part of the quadrant of the earth's meridian, were we in this country bound to imitate them? He maintained that the metre of 39.371 inches was not nearly so handy a unit as our yard, and he would take the opinion of any carpenter whether, as a mere matter of convenience, the English yard had not the advantage over the French metre. At all events, he thought they ought not to abolish the name of the yard. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley), what did Professor De Morgan— a good authority, he supposed, and not a fool merely because he did not agree with the French system—what he did say of the principle on which the French metre was constructed? "Why, that they might as well think of determining their unit of measurement by the distance from the earth to the moon as to adopt the principle of the arc of the earth's meridian, and that there was no real philosophy in it. Reverting to the case of the coinage, one gentleman who was examined before the Select Committee on that subject, spoke of the introduction of the florin as a great step towards the decimalization of our currency. Now, he ventured to say, that in the history of this country there had never been a more useless and absurd coin, invented than the florin. What advantage was there to any human being in carrying two shillings in one piece instead of carrying them separately? There was some use in the half-crown, because it expressed three coins in one. The florin seemed as if intended only to afford a mean mode of cheating some unhappy schoolboy of his full allowance or gratuity. He was at the Mint some time ago, when Professor Graham, the Master of that Establishment, told him that they had to coin a great number of extra sixpences to make up the half-crown since the adoption of the florin. Children and other people would not be cheated by having a florin given to them where before they used to get half-a-crown, and surely it was much better that the half-crown should be in one coin instead of in two? He mentioned that to show the absurdity of carrying a preconceived idea to fantastic lengths. He said, then, that if they could improve their weights and measures, let it by all means be done; but they should take care to retain their own nomenclature. The present Bill had all the faults of the Bill of last Session, with some aggravation, and in order to test the feeling of the House, he must press this question to a division. He begged, therefore, to move that the Bill be read the 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."—(Mr. Walter.)


observed, that one of the articles of Magna Charta provided that there should be but one weight and one measure within this realm, but there were scarcely two counties in England where articles were sold by the same measure. There were nine different sorts of stones, and if a man sent a bullock up to London, it was nearly double the country weight, the stone in one case being 8 lb. and in the other 14 lb. So far from this Bill being a revolutionary measure, we were turning back to our original system, in order that the people might not be cheated in their transactions. The hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) was alarmed at a foreign nomenclature, and there could be no objection to the use of English terms if they were more feasible than French; but in the case of Holland, where the same prejudice against the French nomenclature had existed, great practical difficulty had been experienced from an adherence to Dutch terms. Great inconvenience would result from the adoption of a standard of our own, whereas great advantage would be gained by introducing the system followed in the other countries of Europe, He cordially supported this Bill, and regretted to find hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side, from whom he had expected more enlightened views, opposing the measure.


thought it a disgrace to us, as a civilized country, that it should be found lagging behind the rest of the civilized world in this matter. Even the Government of Chili had recently adopted the metrical system. If hon. Gentlemen had undergone as much fatigue, trouble, perplexity, and disgust as he had done in reducing foreign weights and measures into our own, for equivalents in scientific researches, they would think this no light or unimportant matter. He was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Berkshire say it was impossible to introduce a decimal coinage because it would raise the penny one-sixth over its present value. Why, if the penny were so raised in value the labouring man would get one-sixth more of the article he required in exchange for it. [Mr. WALTER: Take the case of the penny stamp.] With regard to a table of equivalents, which had been talked of by the President of the Board of Trade, he did not see the practical use of it. What farmer would understand it? and what farmer would make bargains in weights and measures of which, he had not the standards at hand to verify quantities? It was the duty of the Government to bring in a measure on this subject, and if they did so, the intelligence of the country would, in a few years, gradually come over to it.


said, he thought the President of the Board of Trade should either divide against this Bill, if he disapproved its principle, or, if he did not so divide, he should admit the thing wholly, and strenuously assist in its adoption. Nothing could cause greater confusion than any mere half-and-half changes in such a matter. The President of the Board of Trade should also put himself in communication with the Vice President of the Committee of Privy Council, in order that instruction in the metrical system might be given in the schools supported by the State, because, to make it work, the people should be broken into it from their infancy.


inquired if it was desirable to introduce a permissive Bill, and if a permissive Bill were passed, would the country accept it? The small traders would decidedly not accept it, nor would the agriculturists in the rural districts. The large traders might adopt it, but it certainly would not become a general measure. If such a measure as this were brought in at all, it should be brought in by the Government; and if the proposed system were adopted it would be necessary for every shopkeeper to go to school again.


said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman must have but a poor idea of the intelligence of the English people when he said they would be unable to understand an improvement which was now being adopted by every civilized nation of the world. He had lately seen it in operation in Sardinia and Tuscany, and he held in his hands little publications issued by the Italian Government containing a popular explanation of the Metric system. Even Spain and Portugal had recently adopted it. The other day an advertisement appeared in The Times inviting tenders for 80,000 pieces of the weights and measures of the new metrical system for the Kingdom of Spain. In Switzerland the utmost confusion had prevailed from the varying systems of the different cantons until a uniform plan was adopted. The standard metre of Switzerland was kept in the stonework of the Bridge at Basle; and there was a similar standard kept in the Palazzo Vecchio, at Florence. Did hon. Gentlemen think so lightly of the intelligence of their own country as to believe that they would not be able to appreciate and understand one of the most striking and important of modern improvements? As to the difficulties of a new nomenclature, we had now fifty-six different names for our weights and measures; whereas the Bill would substitute only four, with easily intelligible prefixes to signify their different decimal parts. He regretted the course taken by the hon. Member for Berkshire, whose admirable talents he should have been exceedingly glad to see arrayed on the side of that improvement; but he trusted that the hon. Gentleman would live to see his error in this matter, and to rejoice that his present Amendment had been, as it was to be hoped it would be, rejected.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 90; Noes 52: Majority 38.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday, 4th May.