§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. EWART
, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, he would shortly state the progress of the system. It was well known that it arose in France towards the close of the great Revolution, and was the production of some of the most scientific minds of that period in France. It encountered great opposition; and the practical philosophers sent on a mission to measure a quadrant of the meridian were often in danger from the partizans of the Revolution. The first Napoleon, who was hostile to new ideas in general, was also hostile to the metric system. He therefore restored the old system of weights and measures concurrently with the new one, and created a spurious system which was denominated the systême usuel. It was not till a much later period—the year 1837—that Louis Philippe fixed a term, within which it was enacted that the metric system should be compulsorily adopted as the system of France. That term was the year 1840. Such compulsory enactment was the only practical way of securing the introduction of the measure. During all this length of time—a period of between forty and fifty years—the metric system was comparatively unknown in England. On the important subject of an uniform system of weights and measures, the country seems to have gone to sleep, nor was it awakened till the period of the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was then found difficult to ascertain the 177 comparative weights and values of articles sent from countries whose weights and measures were at variance with each other, and the first steps began to be taken in favour of a reform of the system in this country. In the year 1862—the year of the Great International Exhibition—advantage was taken of the presence of many distinguished and learned foreigners to conduct an inquiry into the effects of introducing the metric system into foreign countries. A Committee of the House of Commons was moved for, of which he (Mr. Ewart) had the honour to be the Chairman. Many foreign witnesses were examined, English engineers, manufacturers, and workmen, some of whom had resided abroad, and all of whom gave concurrent testimony in favour of the success of the metric system wherever it had been tried throughout the world. A Report was drawn up to the same intent, embodying Resolutions for the gradual introduction of the metric system into this country, and the formation of a public Department for weights and measures. The Report was sanctioned by the unanimous approval of the Committee. A Bill founded on this Report was introduced, making the adoption of the metric system compulsory in this country. The second reading of that Bill was carried by a majority of 35. It was understood that the Government, though they opposed this first Bill, because it was compulsory, would not oppose a Permissive Bill. Accordingly, in the following year (1863), he (Mr. Ewart), or rather the Government introduced and passed a Permissive Bill, legalizing the use of the metric system. Unfortunately, it did not legalize the metric standards; and the Act became inoperative. We were therefore in as bad a state as ever; and the following words of Professor Leone Levi, which, six years ago, described our weights and measures, describe them now:—For measures of length, we have the ordinary inch, foot, and yard. In cloth measure, we have yards, nails, and ells. There are four different sorts of ells. For nautical purposes, we have fathoms, knots, leagues, and geographical miles, differing from the common mile. The fathom of a man-of-war is 6 feet; of a merchant vessel, 5½ feet; of a fishing smack, 5 feet. We have also the Scotch and Irish mile, and the Scotch and Irish acre. There are several sorts of acres in the United Kingdom, and there are a great variety of roods. We have in almost every trade measures of length specially used in those trades. For the measurement of horses we have the hand: shoemakers use sizes; and we are compelled to adopt guages where the French use the millimetre. The guages are entirely arbitrary. The 178 custom of the trade is the only thing which would decide the question in case of dispute. For measures of capacity we have twenty different bushels. We can scarcely tell what the hogshead means. For ale, it is 54 gallons; for wine, 63. Pipes of wine vary in many ways; each sort of wine seems to claim the privilege of a different sort of pipe. For measures of weight, we have ten different stones. A stone of wool in Darlington is 8 lbs.; a stone of flax at Downpatrick is 24 lbs.; a stone of flax at Belfast, 16¾ lbs.; but it is also at Belfast 24½ lbs., having in one place two values. The hundredweight may mean 100 lbs, 112 lbs., or 120 lbs. If you buy an ounce or a pound of anything, you must inquire if it belongs to Dutch, Troy, or Avoirdupois weight.Yet, while we stood still, other nations, whom we deemed less enlightened than ourselves, had advanced. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece, had followed in the footsteps of France. It had been recently calculated that a population of not less than 265,000,000 enjoyed the blessings of the metric system. Our trade with that population amounted to about £307,000,000—about half the total trade of the country. Other nations were beginning to follow the example of those above cited; among them the United States of America, who had passed a Permissive Bill exactly resembling the one passed in this country, except that it was valid, while the Bill we passed was inoperative. The Bill was introduced in the Senate of the United States by that illustrious man Mr. Simmer; and the celebrated M. Jacobi, in his Report to the International Conference at Paris, in 1867, in the presence of some of the most eminent philosophers in the world, said "that there is reason to hope that the day is not far distant to the complete adoption of the metric system in the United States of America." The Americans have therefore got the start of us already. But the question was gaining ground even in our own possessions. A Commission in Bengal had already reported in favour of the adoption of the metric system; and a Committee had been appointed from the different Presidencies to report upon the whole subject. In the Report of the Committee to the Government of Bengal, he (Mr. Ewart) found the following statement:—It is, then, our deliberate conviction that the simplest, the most efficacious, and the most convenient course which can be adopted will be to legalize the French decimal system of weights and measures, called the metric system; to put forth the whole strength of the Government in every practical direction, in order to familiarize the public with that system; and finally, after a convenient period, to render the use of it compulsory by penal enactments,179 The only course for our Government to adopt is to fix a term of years within which the system shall take effect, and to work up to that object, lengthening or shortening the term according to the circumstances of the case, and the educational progress of the nation. As we proceeded, difficulties would vanish, as they did in France and Portugal under the determined perseverance of the rulers of those countries; and the simplicity of the system would become more and more apparent. In the Report of M. Jacobi, which he could not sufficiently recommend to the attention of the House, the results of the metric system for the promotion of education, trade, and manufactures were exhibited in a striking manner. The fact is, the metric system is the complement and corollary of Free Trade. By adopting it, we shall extend the commerce of England and the commerce of the world.
§ MR. GRAVES
Sir, when my hon. Friend invited me to support the principle of the Bill which he has just submitted to the House, I felt some hesitation in acceding to his request, from the fact, that though long convinced of the necessity of a uniform system of weights and measures, I had not given that serious consideration to the precise character of the change which its importance deserved; it was, however, a question which, as representing a large commercial community, I could not shirk, and with the full consciousness of the responsibility attaching to such representation, I entered upon the consideration of the proposal, and I am bound to say the more I examined into it, the more was I satisfied of the inconvenience attending our intricate systems, and the greater appeared to be the necessity for adopting in lieu of them the metric and decimal, which are simplicity itself, and have the advantage of being extensively used in many of the commercial nations of the world. There is, no doubt, always a great difficulty in altering a system which has become interwoven with the daily and hourly avocations of a people, and the older the country the stronger the difficulty. England has always shown herself averse to change; but, on the other hand, when once the public mind has become impressed with the necessity for change, it is remarkable with what facility it is accomplished. Let me recall the House to what took place in Ireland not many years since, when a change was made in the currency; it was urged then, as I dare say it will be 180 to-day, that confusion would result and great dissatisfaction arise, but happily wiser counsels prevailed; the currency was altered; some inconvenience was felt, but in twelve months it was all forgotten, and everyone was delighted with the change. Everyone in this House will probably admit that the introduction of one uniform system throughout the whole country would be an immense improvement. Now, let me ask hon. Members to consider whether the inconvenience which must attend the securing of uniformity would be much increased by taking one step more, and making the change a perfect one? I think it would not, and that it will be wiser not to involve the country in any new system, till it is prepared for one which will meet our own wants, and which will bring us into communion with other nations. It is hardly necessary for me to dwell on the variety which exists in our present system, or the endless trouble and confusion which grows out of it; everyone is more or less cognizant of it. It is a heritage derived from the union of countries possessing different standards of weights and measures, each preserving its own to the disadvantage of the whole. We have, for instance, the English mile, 1,760 yards; the Irish mile, 2,240 yards; and the Scotch mile, 1,980 yards; and there is the English acre, 4,840 yards; the Irish acre, 7,840 yards; and the Scotch acre 1,980 yards, all differing in quantities. Then there is the stone of meat, 8 lbs.; of cheese, 16 lbs.; hemp, 32 lbs.; flax, 16¾ lbs., and many others which I could name. And there are the hundredweights, sometimes taken at 112 lbs, 120 lbs., and 140 lbs., in fact, putting aside all local customs, there are eleven systems of weights and measures, all well known and extensively used in the British Islands, and which are all sanctioned either by Act of Parliament or usage. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) has traced very succinctly the history of this question up to the present, and has shown that in any inquiry which has been instituted, there has been a large, if not a unanimous opinion expressed in favour of the abandonment of our present standards, and the adoption of a metric one, founded on the principle of decimal subdivision. The Bank of England, it would appear, some years since obtained an Act authorizing the decimal multiples and division of the Troy ounce for weighing bullion. In the year 1838 a Royal Commission was appointed, the Chairman 181 of which was the Astronomer Royal, Mr. Airy, for the purpose of replacing the standards that were lost by the burning of the Houses of Parliament. This Commission presented their Report in 1841. I will merely give one extract from it—The decimal scale, however, appears to us to be by far the most convenient for all transactions which become the subject of written accounts, and for all transactions of whatever kind in which great numbers of weights and measures are combined by addition or multiplication.In the year 1862 a Select Committee was appointed by the House of Commons in these terms—That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the practicability of adopting a simple and uniform system of Weights and Measures, with a view not only to the benefit of our internal Trade, but to facilitate our Trade and Intercourse with Foreign Countries.The result of their deliberations was to recommend unanimously the adoption of the metric system. And, lastly, we have just issued to us the valuable Report of the International Conference, which took place last year at Paris, composed of over twenty nationalities, and amongst them will be found the great commercial countries of the New and Old World. Now what does this Congress unanimously recommend?—First: That the decimal system, in accordance with the system of numeration universally employed, is best adapted to express multiples and sub-multiples of weights, measures, and coins.Secondly: That the metric decimal system is best adapted for that purpose in consequence of the scientific principles on which it is founded, the homogeneity which exists in the relation of all its parts, and the simplicity and facility of its application, in science, art, industry, and commerce.Thirdly: That the instruments of precision and the method employed to obtain copies of prototype weights and measures have attained such a perfection that the exactitude of these copies answers to the wants of industry and commerce, and also to the exigencies of science in its present state.Fourthly: That as every economy of labour, whether material or intellectual, is equivalent to a real increase of wealth, the adoption of the metric system, which ranges itself in the same order of ideas as machines and tools, railways and telegraphs, and tables of logarithms, recommends itself particularly in an economic point of view.And as a means towards an end, the conference advise the nations wishing to adopt its Report—1. To prescribe the study of the metric system in all the schools, and to exact the knowledge of it in all public competition.2. To introduce its exclusive use in scientific publications, in public statistics, in the Post- 182 office, in the Custom-house, in public works, and in such other branches of the Administration as the Government may think desirable.The Commission hopes that the competent authorities of different nations may give heed to the wishes of science and the manifestation of public opinion.If we had our home trade alone to consult, it would no doubt be more convenient to decimalize our familiar units of the pound, the yard, and the gallon; but we have to consult our commerce with other countries, and with this most important necessity in view, our object should be to adopt such a system as would receive the assent of other nations, and by an assimilation of standards facilitate the mutual exchange of our respective products; indeed, the advantages which would follow the adoption by the commercial nations of the world of an uniform system of weights and measures, is one of the most attractive aspects which this question can assume. Already the metric system is in use in about twenty countries, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and partially in use in Prussia and Austria—the whole representing some 200,000,000 of people, with £230,000,000 of trade. And the United States, notwithstanding that it possesses a decimal system, has recently introduced the use of the metric system into the Post Office, and has passed a Permissive Bill, providing at the same time for the issue of standards to every State in the Union, and the teaching of the metric system in all the National Schools. Exceptions have been taken to the metric system, and substitute schemes unheard of by other countries have been put forward by high authorities in the scientific world; but with such-an indication of national will we may dispel from our minds every idea that any proposal but the metric has the most remote chance of becoming International. The importance of decimalising our present standards instead of accepting at once the metric system in its integrity, and thus bringing ourselves into communion with the civilized nations of the world, is well illustrated by the case of Sweden, which country replaced some ten years since its confused system of weights and measures by a decimal system, in which their old standards were retained and decimally divided. The change was scarcely made when the mistake was discovered, and in 1863 a Congress, consisting of near fire hundred Swedish, Nor- 183 wegian and Danish Members of the three Parliaments and others adopted this resolution—It is expedient to adopt the French metric system, with attendant subdivisions and denominations, for weights and measures in the three Scandinavian countries.The difference between our ton and hundredweight, in which nearly all the external trade of this country is conducted, and the metric ton and cental is happily so small that it could not derange our ideas for long. The present ton of 2,240 lbs. would only exceed the metric ton of 1000 kilogrammes or 2,205 lbs. by 1½ per cent, while the hundred weight of 112 lbs. would only exceed the metric cental of 110¼ lbs. by 1¾ lbs.; while, by a similar accident, the practical standard of land measure in this country—namely, the surveyor's chain of 66 feet—does not differ from the metric chain of 20 metres by more than 4½ inches. Coincidences so fortunate as those between our principal measures and those of the metric system render its adoption much easier to us than any other that has been proposed. It may possibly be urged as an objection to making the system compulsory, that it has been tried permissively and failed; that if it promised all the advantages its advocates claim of it, public opinion would have seized hold of it, and we should to-day witness its formal adoption; but the fact is, that no provision has been made for the standards, and consequently there is no means of verifying those in use. Indeed, I may mention as a fact, that a firm in London, having foreign trade, weighed goods with metric weights, and were summoned for using a metre which was not stamped, for the simple reason that there was no stamp to verify and stamp it by. It would, no doubt, be more in consonance with our practice to rely solely on permissive powers, and make good this oversight in the Act; but I fear we should only be adding to the existing complication, and that it must be obligatory to use as well as disuse. But before this could he done it will be necessary to educate the young, and prepare the public mind for the change before it would be prudent or desirable to introduce it. My hon. Friend has wisely, I think, left a blank when the Act would come into operation, and there is no part of the Bill which will need more careful consideration at our hands than passing the number of years which should elapse before compulsion would attach.
184 Now, Sir, I will say a few words on the educational aspect of this question, for it is an important one in its consideration. The House of Commons objected to make the metric system compulsory, very much on the ground that the people were not sufficiently educated in it. Well, Sir, as soon as the Permissive Bill was passed, a deputation from the Metric Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Council of the International Decimal Association waited on the President of the Committee of Council for Education to ask that the metric system might be taught in the national schools; and what was the reply? "No; we cannot undertake to teach the metric system, unless it is made compulsory, because there is not time for teaching both systems." Now, let me dwell for a moment on this want of time, for it has a strong bearing on my argument, and it is admitted on all hands that a large amount of scientific instruction must be introduced into our schools. A Committee is now occupied upstairs considering how this can best be done, and the want of time will form no small difficulty in the desired introduction of science. The period devoted to education is not likely to be extended, and it can only be by economizing the primary blanches that it will be possible to embrace science to any extent. The evidence was taken before the Committee on Weights and Measures of 1862 as to the probable saving of time which would be effected by a substitution of the metric and decimal systems, and I will merely quote the reply of one witness, the Rev. Alfred Barrett—(1778.) How much do you think the boys' education would be shortened by the adoption of the decimal system?—Two years at least.(1779.) And would the learning of the decimal system be more agreeable?—Yes, I think so, and more complete.I can well believe that a large saving of time will be effected. Many of us will remember the difficulty we had in mastering the cumbrous "Table Book," and when acquired how difficult to retain; while the simplicity of the metric system is such that the youngest child can learn it; and, once impressed on the mind, will never leave it. It has been said by that large class of persons who dislike innovations, and will not take the trouble of thinking for themselves, that the proposed change is a theoretical one, and only advocated for purposes of science. This is a great mistake. There is scarcely a Chamber of Commerce in this country which has not 185 urged its adoption. The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce has, in a petition just laid on the table, demanded it for the second or third time, in the interest of the educator, the merchant, the dealer, and the working man, alleging that it would simplify all commercial and trading calculations, bringing them within the capacity of the humblest trader. The enormous increase in our foreign trade, the new markets annually opening up—especially in the Eastern world—all making England the great centre round which commerce radiates, has brought to those who are engaged in it an increasing strain both mentally and physically; and it would be a great boon if, by some easy and uniform system, the calculations of trade could be so simplified as to insure a saving of time, thought, and trouble. Let anyone take up the price currents in a merchant's office, and he will be clever indeed who could in one month reduce the weights and measures by which each commodity is sold to one common standard. In fact, if human ingenuity were to be set at work to devise a scheme for embarrassment, confusion, and trouble, nothing more effectual could be proposed than the batch of systems by which the commerce of the world is being carried on. Few in general business understand the quotations of articles in which they are interested without having reference to tables of comparison. Trade has made some efforts to remedy the evil, and with success where tried. The great grain trade of Liverpool has introduced a decimal system of weights and measures, and the cental of 100 lbs. is now the only standard by which wheat is there bought or sold. All approve of the change, and I think it likely ere long it will be introduced to other of the cereals. Government also, I am told, has adopted it in their grain purchases, tenders being now made by the 100 lbs. Thus we see the advantages of the simpler system gradually growing in favour and use. Our decision is watched with interest. Other countries are watching and waiting. We have seen by her Permissive Bill how close America follows us. Russia, through her delegates in 1860, said—"If Great Britain would only take the lead, Russia was prepared to follow, and wholly adopt the metric system." Let us, then, begin to lead, and to-day prepare the way to so desirable a change. Telegraphic communication has broken down the barriers of isolation, and has brought the trading community of the world into hourly 186 communication. We cannot speak with a common language; but we may have a common basis on which the commodities of commerce shall be interchanged, and the wants of industry made known, without having recourse to tedious calculations or tables of comparison, not always at hand. Economy of labour, whether material or intellectual, is an increase of national wealth; and, though it may be a work of time, I am persuaded we shall see the metric and decimal systems the law of England, and that those who come after us—on whom will devolve the duty of upholding the commercial and industrial greatness of our common country—will bless the man who devised and carried its adoption.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Ewart)
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE said
* Sir, in rising to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, I must congratulate my hon. Friends who have preceded me upon the manner in which they have conducted the debate. From first to last there has been on their part an admirable assumption of the whole question. From first to last the House has not been favoured with any clear definition of what this metrical system is which we are now asked in this sudden manner to force upon the people of the land. "Metricalisation"—I should have hesitated to use the uncouth word, only I have found it in the blue book of 1862, of the hon. Member for Dumfries, in which his case lies—is one thing, while decimalisation is a totally different thing; and yet nine-tenths of the arguments which they have used to induce the House to accept a change from the one system to the other are founded upon the assumption that they are one and the same thing. Decimalisation is a process of calculation for the benefit of the calculator. Metricalisation is not a process, but a system of measures, so called from its unit or base, which happens accidentally to be facilitated by the case with which its details may be worked out through means of the decimal notation. The metrical system in itself is an abstruse and philosophic one, founded upon the fancy of some French men of science at the time of the Revolution, who adopted as the starting-point of the system the measurement of the earth's circumference, and by way of a unit, measured the 10,000,000th part 187 of a quadrant of a meridian through Paris (about 39 5/13 inches) which they termed a "metre." No doubt those multiples and aliquot parts of the metre which form the French measures of length are adjusted to meet the decimal system, as are also the measures of area, capacity, and weight, which are by a further process built upon the metre. But decimal notation is equally applicable for the man who finds that it helps his calculations whenever he has to work out his sum in our own old weights and measures; for decimals are really not a system, but, as I said, a process for easily reaching a certain practical result, like logarithms or algebraical symbols. I grant all the advantages which their friends urge in behalf of decimals for the purpose of calculation; but it requires no Act of Parliament to enable those who appreciate them to make their own calculations by way of decimals. Least of all, is legislation needed for the merchant princes—the men of enormous means and gigantic transactions—whose advocate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) has made himself. They have but to keep a calculating clerk—an employé whoso one duty is to manipulate the decimals—and they have got what they want. The sufferers will be the little people—the small buyers and sellers, the hucksters and the marketers—who will be compelled under the penalties of a compulsory Act of Parliament, to learn and to use a system which is, in its outward type, as non-natural as it is novel. I will, in order to prove my point, take the most familiar instance, and show that although a great deal has been said about the advantages of the French subdivisions, yet, after all, our subdivisions are more natural for the ordinary purposes of life. If a boy has to divide an apple, does he ever think anything about the circumference of the earth and its aliquot parts, or about the decimal system and its unrivalled facilities for calculation? No; but he takes his apple, and cuts it into two parts if he wants to halve it, and those halves into quarters if he wants to make four parts of it. In the same way, if a housewife has to cut up the loaf for her family, she divides it into two, into four, into eight, or into sixteen parts, and the sixteen people share their bread naturally. Supposing the loaf to weigh originally a pound, each of these sixteen divisions comes out an ounce. Such is the rationale of our system of measuring—the binary system so-called—founded on continual 188 halving, and proved, by the common sense of mankind, before the great era of enlightenment inaugurated in 1789, to be the most convenient and natural one. But I may be told—Halve away, but then express your halvings in decimals. This is very easy for the merchant prince to do when he is totting up his large transactions in "centals," or for the Chancellor of the Exchequer when dealing with a nation's finances; but how will it suit the little transactions of daily life? I come back to my loaf. How are ordinary people to represent halves and quarters by decimal points? The symbol of a half is the figure "five," with a dot to its left hand; the symbol of half that quantity, that is of a quarter, is the sum twenty-five, also with a dot to its left hand. Arithmeticians understand how this can come about, and the symbols have grown natural in their eyes; but in what—even the most infinitesimal—degree do they toll their own story to the unlearned? What palpable relations towards each other can be disentangled out of these most frequently recurring symbols? What is there in the nature of things to show that the dotted five means a half, and the dotted twenty-five a half of that half, and a quarter of the "one," with no dot on either side, which stands for unity? Decimal notation is then, after all, as I have been arguing, a process, and not a system. It is a process good for the schools, and good for the bustling counting-house and the large sum, but the poor man would be completely thrown out if he had to employ—under penal legislation, too—decimal points for the purpose of measuring his little purchases by halves and quarters. With permissive means, such as now exist, the system will come in where it is wanted, and be kept out where it is not wanted; but under a compulsory enactment it will intrude itself everywhere, and show itself in its real colours as nothing less than a public nuisance. But the more we examine the Bill of the hon. Member for Dumfries, the more inapplicable do its provisions seem for the purposes of practical life. I have touched upon the principles of the metric system, let me now call the attention of the House to the language in which (after the French model) it is proposed to clothe that system. The new unit of weight is to be the "gram" or "gramme," which is attained by providing a square vessel, whose capacity is the cube of the hundredth part of a metre ("centi- 189 metre" to wit), and then weighing the amount of water which it will hold at a certain temperature. One-tenth part of this gram is to be a decigram, and ten times a grain is to be a dekagram, for the reformers decreed that aliquot parts were to be named after the Latin, and multiples after the Greek numerals. How in the name of common sense can we make poor people understand that because there are the letters "ci" in the one word it means the tenth of a gram, and that because there are the letters "ka" in the other it means ten grams, or 100 decigrams? My hon. Friends the Member for Dumfries and the Member for Liverpool come to this House representing great commercial transactions; but I stand up for the poor man. Only imagine an honest housewife going into a shop and asking for a decigram of pepper, and a dekagram of tea; imagine, too, the milkmaid selling her fluid by the litre. The Member for Liverpool is a kind-hearted man; is he then prepared, with all the stringent force of a penal statute, to enact that when one of his youthful constituents may desire to effect a commercial transactions in a manufacture for which one portion of that great borough is famous, he should be bound to go to the shop and tender his "dime" for three decigrams of Everton toffee? Fancy the farmer who has been accustomed ever since he entered on his farm to cultivate the "ten" or the "twelve acre field,'' having to consult the steward about liming the seventeen are field, or be a criminal and a contemner of the laws of his country. Fancy the bumpkin who was prepared to boast that he was within a decimetre of catching the fox as he crept through a gap about a decametre from the white gate. If the theorists and the men of wealth—men of brains, it may be, but as certainly men of self-assurance—have worked out this system for themselves, there are poor men, who form the majority of mankind, for whom it will never answer, and there are men of brains at least equal who are decidedly opposed to its adoption. Is it not possible that our present system is not only quite as convenient and useful as the metric system, but a little more philosophical also? Why should a standard founded on the quadrant of the earth's circumference passing through the meridian of Paris be a better one than ours? No doubt it looks very solemn, from the grand nomenclature with which it is propped, but all those odd names for the French weights and men- 190 sures were adopted at the first heat of the great Revolution, when the pedantic aping after ancient Greek and Latin terms led to their being applied to everything novel and French—from the scanty proportions of a lady's dress to the most intricate principles of jurisprudence and moral philosophy. Moreover, they have taken root in nations whoso vernacular languages are themselves derived from the old classical tongues. May it not, I repeat, be just possible that our unit is as good as that of the French, even upon the most abstract grounds? I have received from Sir John Herschel a letter which induced me to come prominently forward and propose the rejection of the present Bill, instead of giving the silent vote with which I should otherwise have been contented. It is dated the 6ih of April, 1868, and is in the following terms:—Pray pardon me for calling your attention to this Bill of Messrs. Ewart and Co., in the hope that you will oppose it—at all events by vote, and perhaps by word. It is most uncalled for and violent, and is supported, I believe, mainly by the chemists among men of science, whose reading and experimental practice bring them frequently into contact with the French weights and measures, and such engineers as have foreign contracts to execute. As respects a reference of our fundamental units to a natural standard, our national system is anything but the haphazard, indefensible thing it is usually represented to be. The polar axis of the earth is a much better natural unit than the quadrant of a meridian through Paris, and, dividing this into 500,000,000 inches, our actual imperial foot conies within a 1,000th part of twelve such inches, or a geometrical foot. I have by me two foot-rules—one by a good optician, the other purchased at a good shop, and none the worse for wear, which differ from each other by more than that quantity. Taking for the definition of our ounce the weight in air of 1966–1,000th part of such a geometrical cubic foot of distilled water at 62° Fahrenheit (our standard temperature), according to the rate declared in the Act 5 Geo. IV., our actual imperial ounce differs from such geometrical ounce by only 1–7,000th part. But if, as some later experiments seem to have shown, that rate is slightly incorrect, then, according to these experiments—that is, according to the best of our actual knowledge—the weight of that bulk of water in vacuo at a temperature of 72° in place of 62° is, with absolute precision, identical with our actual imperial ounce also weighed in vacuo. As for our measures of capacity, our half-pint is the measure of ten ounces of water. Were it worth while to legislate for the correction of such trifling deviations, our system would stand on a footing every way more scientific, as concerns its units, than the French—to say nothing of the actual deviations of the latter from its own theoretical basis, which are by no means insignificant. As to the expediency of sweeping away our national system, and the probability that our shopkeepers will ever be got by such dragooning to buy and sell 191 by the metre, litre, and kilogramme, or our farmers and landowners to measure their land by the hectare, and alter the title-deeds of their estates in accordance, &c, these are matters of statesmanship of which you are a much better judge than I profess to be. For my own part, I do not believe it; but the attempt would create the most extreme disgust and resistance.I may parenthetically notice the astuteness with which the promoters of the change have kept in the background the portion of their scheme which refers to the alteration in the measure of area. The inconveniences hinted at by Sir John Herschel give reason enough for their prudent reticence. I shall now quote the opinion of another man of science, who, as it will be seen, approaches the question in a direction different from that by which Sir John Herschel travels to it. Professor De Morgan, who, as he himself says, is not only Professor of Mathematics at University College, but practices as an actuary, was one of the witnesses examined before the Committee of 1862, and came under the intellectual thumbscrew of the Chairman, the hon. Member for Dumfries. Being pressed (Q. 2331) upon the "metrical units," he answered—With regard to the metrical system, I should distinguish between two distinct things. Decimilisation and metricalisation are two things which are often confounded; persons imagine that they must go together, which is not the case. Any system may be made decimal. I am as much for decimal division as any person can be; I believe that the decimal division of units might be introduced very easily; and I believe that it would coexist perfectly well with the binary division, which I am satisfied must always be used by the common people, so far as halves and quarters are concerned. The halves and quarters are easily converted into decimal fractions. The decimal system, therefore, if fully established throughout the country, might go on and thrive, consistently with the habit of dividing all units into halves and quarters in common life.(2332.) Then you draw a distinction between the decimal system and the metrical system?—The metrical system is the decimal system with the units of the French system superadded. I object to the introduction of the French units into this country. I object to it upon a balance of convenience and inconvenience. I admit that the change might be convenient to our foreign commerce; but I believe that it would create such an immense amount of confusion throughout the country that the inconvenience would far more than counterbalance the advantage we should derive in our foreign commercial relations.After submitting to a good deal of pressing about the experience of foreign countries, Professor De Morgan roundly stated (Answer 2338)—What I mean is, that there would be no advantage commensurate with the disadvantage 192 The advantage is in foreign commerce, and the disadvantage would be in the internal transactions of the country.This led to the point-blank question (2339) "What are they?" And I particularly direct the attention of the House to the answei—In the first place, change is in itself a disadvantage, and a great change is a great disadvantage. I must first have it distinctly proved to me that there are advantages which would more than counterbalance the disadvantages I foresee in other respects. I take an objection to the metre. It arose from a mere fanciful connection with the quarter of the meridian, which I think of no practical importance to any man alive. You might just as well try to subdivide the distance I from the earth to the moon. The metre is, of course, too long to be the common measure; it is a little longer than a yard. In decimal division the next thing would be the decimetre, which would be too short to take the place of our foot. The same thing applies very much to the other measures. I not only have a general objection to their size as compared with ours, but I think it would be necessary that a very strong case should be made out in their favour before any such change is effected.The House will observe that Professor De Morgan approaches the consideration of the desirability of the unit having a direct commensurable relation to the great mundane dimensions in a different spirit from Sir John Herschel. The latter accepts the theoretical desirability of the relation, and then shows that our unit fulfils the law more perfectly than the French. Professor de Morgan assumes the practical attitude of a man of the world, and makes light of the necessity. But wide apart as these two men of science are in their premises, they meet in their practical conclusion, and equally condemn the penal enactment in our realm of the metrical system. I will only trouble the House with one more quotation from Professor De Morgan's evidence, as throwing a light upon the frame of mind in which the theorists of France took up the innovation—(2408.) The metre, you chink, is fanciful?—It was obtained in a fanciful way. It was the ten millionth part of the quarter of the meridian.(2109.) Why do you consider that fanciful?—Because it was of no use to anybody, and among the reasons why it was adopted were such as this; that it would be a very pleasant thing for a small proprietor to say, 'I am lord of exactly such a fraction of the whole surface of the earth.' Now, I do not suppose that any little proprietor ever troubled his head with the fraction he held since the time when Adam began to delve the land.The next witness whom I shall summon is one whom I heard with exceeding astonishment brought forward by the hon. Member for Liverpool as an advocate for the deci- 193 mal system, namely—the Astronomer Royal, Mr. Airy, who also appeared before the Committee.(Q. 1950.) Chairman. What do you consider the conveniences or the inconveniences of the existing scales to be?—I do not think there is much inconvenience."… (He then describes the gradual growth of different standards.) "This has given rise to apparent anomalies in the form of the existing scale, but these do not, I believe, produce much inconvenience in practice.Mr. Airy next explains the comparative case of the change of weights and measures in France, from the antecedent separation of provinces under which there was no one system for the whole kingdom, from the confusion of the Revolution, and from the meddling with the details of education on the part of the Government, which enabled it to force its will upon the people in a wav which would create tumult in our own free land.(Q. 1964) Chairman, Do you not think that, as the trade of this country continues to increase, it would be of great advantage to the nations to meet together as it were under a common principle and a common system of weights and measures?—I do not think the advantage is worth mentioning in comparison with the extreme difficulty of introducing it; the number of persons is so small, and the daily transactions in foreign trade are very small in comparison with our domestics transactions.(Q. 1965.) Do you not think that these transactions must increase?—I suppose they must; but whether they increase faster than our domestic transactions I am not in a position to state. I think our domestic trade is far more active than it used to be.(Q. 1966.) Would our domestic trade he seriously inconvenienced by the introduction of the decimal system?—By the act of introducing it, it would. I am not remarking on the merits of the decimal system, but the trouble of the change would be inconceivably greater.(Q. 1967.) But if the change could be made per saltum, and you could be transferred from your present state into the decimal system, do you not think the change would be advantageous?—No.I beg to direct my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool's particular attention to this brief and decisive answer, It pretty conclusively disposes of Mr. Airy's advocacy of the decimal system.(Q. 1968.) Then do you think that the present system is a perfect system?—If I had a new nation to create, with a new system of weights and measures, I would give them the binary scale throughout. That, I conceive, would be nearest perfection; the binary scale, with means to enable us to use decimal multiples or submultiples.This scale is further characterized in the next answer as— 194The subdivision that has been adopted by the consent of mankind, and is undoubtedly the most convenient for the purpose.In Answer 1970, Mr. Airy says the decimal would "scarcely at all" be the means of facilitating calculations in this country. "In coinage it would; but scarcely in anything else." In 1979, those who want the decimal system "introduce it themselves without any difficulty," while—As a practical test, the inch is divided in almost every scale into eighths and tenths; but there are very few working men who ever use the tenth. They use the half, the quarter, the eighth, and even go do down to the sixteenth, and they call the next after that the half of the sixteenth.In Answer 1980, Mr. Airy does—Not think it of the least consequence that there should be a corresponding and uniform system between different countries.The House will allow me briefly to recapitulate my evidence as far as it has yet gone in reference to the compulsory application both of metricalisation and decimalisation. Sir John Herschel has proved that our scale is more philosophical in its unit than the metrical one. The Astronomer Royal has shown that the binary system of division, which is ours, is the "nearest perfection." Professor De Morgan has exposed the pedantic absurdity which lay at the bottom of the revolutionary change in France. But I have yet another witness to call, a gentleman for whom I hope the hon. Member for Dumfries will feel some respect, a teacher at whose feet he may not be ashamed to learn wisdom. It is the Chairman himself of the Committee of 1862, Mr. William Ewart, whose sagacious views I desire to offer for the consideration of the Member for Dumfries. The first witness called before that Committee as a leading advocate for the metrical system was Professor Leone Levi, and among the questions which the Chairman put to him I find the following:—Do you not think it was an act of indiscretion on the part of the French Legislature to introduce Greek and Latin terms?People utterly ignorant of Greek and Latin must have found great difficulty in understanding the terms used?Is there not this objection also to the use of Greek and Latin terms, that all nations appear, for the sake of brevity, to have adopted very short terms for their weights and measures? In England, for instance, we adopt the ounce, pound, ell. yard, and so on, almost all of the words being monosyllables; then in France, the toise, the aune, &c, almost all of which are monosyllables. In it not, in your judgment, more consistent with 195 experience to follow that common usage of mankind, rather than the more elaborate system of Greek and Latin terms?"—[Questions 74, 75, 76.]I will not trouble the House with Mr. Levi's replies at length, as I think the questions themselves amount to a condemnation of the proposed system. The witness sums up—If you have two difficulties to encounter, one to introduce a new system, and another to learn a new language, the difficulty of introducing it" (the system) "is immensely increased.Only let me entreat my hon. Friend not to be too proud to own himself wrong now, and return to a better mind. Mr. Airy has not been above doing so on this very question, for I find that he printed, in 1862, Notes for the Committee on Weights and Measures, referred to in his evidence, in which these paragraphs occurred—I once recommended the substitution of a measure of 2,000 yards instead of the mile of 1,760 yards; not only because it is decimal, but also because it approaches very near to one minute of a degree on the earth's surface, because it corresponds to the nautical mile, and because the Government possess the power (through the turnpike roads and the railways) of exhibiting the material symbols of the measure. But the inconvenience arising from the circumstance that 2,000 yards cannot be measured by the ordinary land chain of twenty-two yards would be so great, that I now doubt the expediency of such a course. I also once recommended the substitution of a weight of 100 lbs. instead of 112 lbs.; and I think that, in certain cases (as at the Custom House, where the duty on large weights of tea, &c, is charged not by the cwt. but by the lb.) it might be convenient. But, viewing the small connection which really exists between the use of the cwt. and the use of the lb., I now doubt the expediency of that substitution.Such is the Bill which we are asked to pass. Its merits, such as they are, are compressed into the small compass of the facility of decimal notation for a certain class of sums, and the convenience of a common scale by which English and foreign merchants can compare their invoices, and chemists can conduct their experiments. All these advantages already lie within the compass of an easy option; and those who clamour most loudly for the change, are those most easily able to purchase the convenience for themselves. Its disadvantages I have recapitulated. If the Bill is to become not only an Act, but an Act which shall be in deed, and not in name only, law—an Act which shall not be a mockery and an incubus to the statute book—it must be weighted with heavy penalties, inexorably inflicted. Last year several of the English papers expressed 196 deserved sympathy for an unlucky Belgian editor, who, in describing a great flood, innocently remarked that the river rose a certain number of toises. For this the unhappy man was dragged to the bar of justice ns a criminal; he had violated the law of his land; he had brought the Belgian statue book into contempt; he had rebelled against authority; and so his doom was fine and imprisonment. This is what we shall have to come to in England, if the hon. Members for Dumfries and Liverpool and Stockport are to make their law and use their law. I have read the language in which the Mover of the Bill exposes the inconveniences of his own proposal. I have also brought to the Bar of of the House men of the highest scientific eminence—Herschel and Airy and De Morgan—as witnesses against the Bill; but in asking the House to reject it, I do not rely upon their testimony. I speak in the name of the poor honest people of the country, traders and buyers, who will suffer infinite inconvenience and embarrassment, and who in their perplexity will have their small incomes cruelly mulcted, if this extraordinary measure becomes the law of the land.
§ 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. Beresford Hope.)
§ MR. POLLARD-URQUHART
said, he was sorry to find his hon. Friend, who held the position of Member for a scientific University where they had both been educated—a position in which he (Mr. Pollard-Urquhart) had assisted to place him—should sneer at a system of notation that was desired by so many eminent men, and by all the great merchants of the day. His hon. Friend had told a pitiful tale of what would happen to the small tradesmen, and the fruit women, if this Bill were passed. But did his hon. Friend never buy an apple from a woman in France or in Switzerland? The system prevailed in the retail trade of those countries, without any of the inconveniences which his hon. Friend had conjured up. It might be said that France was a highly centralized country, where the people were bound above all things to obey orders proceeding from head-quarters. But that was not true of such countries as Switzerland or Holland, where the people had as much social independence as in this country. Yet the system prevailed there, and the 197 change had been made there. There were two things to be considered in this matter: the one was, whether the proposed system was advantageous; the other was, whether the advantage was worth the trouble of change. Now he thought the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) was a sufficient answer to those who said that there was no practical advantage in the change. The hon. Member well knew the evils that arose from our system being different from that of all the rest of the world. He might also refer to the evidence of the late Sir William Brown in favour of this system, who said there would be a large saving in the management of his own business if it were adopted. This was not merely a great merchant's question; there was no class more interested in the adoption of this system than the working men who had to earn their daily bread; for it was only by adopting every possible economy, not only in manufactures but also in keeping accounts, that our country could make head against the competition of other countries. He might also refer to the case of a gentleman who said that his firm had often lost a post by the necessity of translating the system of weights and measures from that of our country into that of the Continent. He thought these were strong arguments in favour of the change, and they all came from practical men. Then came the question whether the change was worth the trouble. He believed that the inconvenience attending it would be so slight as to be unworthy of consideration. It had been made on the Continent without difficulty. It had been found to work well in countries where the small retail trade bore a much greater ratio to the wholesale foreign trade than it did with us. He himself was old enough to remember the introduction of the British currency into Ireland in 1825, and how rapidly after that alteration what wore called the Irish five penny pieces and the sixpence-halfpennies of the old system were forgot ten. He saw no reason to doubt that the other changes to which he had referred would be as easily carried out. The difficulties must be overcome sooner or later, and the sooner, he thought, the better. They had abandoned at a great expense the old methods of warfare, because the safety of the Empire required it. The preservation of the trade and commerce of the country, for which these changes were advocated, was of equally high importance 198 If we did not adopt this system, which was rapidly becoming the commercial notation of the world, we should be left as much in the lurch as those who, in the present day, crossed the Atlantic in sailing vessels, or those who went out shooting with muzzle-loading fowling-pieces. He should support the Bill.
§ MR. GORST
said, he was sorry to disagree with his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope); but as he had come to the conclusion that the change would be of great advantage to the country he had no alternative but to support this Bill. He was in favour of decimalisation, even though they went no farther; but if they adopted decimalisation be thought it would be foolish if they did not go a step further and adopt metricalisation also. If we were the only nation in the world, and were about to consider the unit which ought to be adopted, he would accept the evidence of Sir John Herschel or Professor Airy as conclusive. But they were not choosing a unit. A. unit had already been chosen, and was in use throughout the other countries of Western Europe, and though it might not be scientifically the best, they would be foolish if they did not choose the unit that was already in use among so many nations. He thought the learned men to whom the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge had referred were asked about things which they did not know much about. If they had been asked what was the proper scientific unit he would have had the greatest respect for their opinions; but when it came to be a question of the beet mode of keeping accounts he would rather take the opinion of the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) than that of all the professors in the world. The rest of his hon. Friend's argument only amounted to an abuse of strange new-fangled names of the system. But that had nothing to do with the system itself. The real question was whether the adoption of that system would be advantageous to the trade and commerce of the country. He believed it would be of great advantage to adopt the decimal system in their coinage; but if they adopted the metrical system—which was the decimal applied to a unit of measure—it would be still more advantageous. He was bound to say that one argument which was used in favour of this measure; did not commend itself to him—the argument that it would be of advantage to 199 the cause of education. Now, if education was to be considered merely as the teaching of an art of ciphering, that might be true; but if by education was meant instruction in the science of calculation, then the present system of arithmetic was much to be preferred. He wished to say one word on the subject of the compulsory nature of this Bill. A Permissive Bill would aggravate the inconveniences involved in the change. If it were made at all, that must be done by a compulsory measure, the operation of which the Government could facilitate, as the Austrian Government had facilitated the change in the coinage of North Italy, by printing tables and distributing them among the people. It was admitted on all hands that the change would cause inconvenience, and the quicker and sooner the change was made the less would the inconvenience be. They had a Permissive Bill already, but no one adopted the system; in fact, no individual merchant or trader would adopt it till the adoption was made general over the country. Suppose a Government were to adopt the decimal and the metrical system in their taxation and tariff, while the rest of the country adhered to the present system, one could easily see what a scene of confusion would ensue. Against the authorities cited he would quote that of Mr. Cobden, who, speaking of his residence in France, when he was negotiating the Treaty of Commerce, said—I was engaged for, I believe, six months in the constant study and conversion of English weights, measures, and prices into French weights, measures, and prices, and so much did I feel the disadvantages of our system as compared with that of France, that to say I felt mystified and annoyed would not express my feelings at the time; I felt humiliated. The one is simple, symmetrical, logical, and consistent; the other dislocated, complicated, uncouth, and incoherent.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, when this question was last discussed in 1864 they witnessed the anomaly of Mr. Cobden supporting the metric system as a means of facilitating the growing intercourse between nations, created by the adoption of Free Trade, while the Free Trade Ministers—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) and the Member for Ashton (Mr. Milner Gibson)—voted against it. The Government, however, were defeated by a large majority, and then engaged to take charge of the Bill. But what a Bill it had proved to be! According to the Report of the Warden of the Standards one of the Inspectors of weights 200 and measures had seized some weights in a tradesman's shop as being illegal, and brought the culprit before the magistrates. The simple-minded man took the Act of Parliament in his hand as his defence against the charge, and the magistrates dismissed the information, observing however that the Act was so loosely drawn they believed he was liable to a penalty. The Law Officers being consulted gave it as their opinion that, though it was lawful to use metric measures, anyone having them in his possession was liable to be prosecuted! It was absolutely necessary that a Bill should be brought forward to correct the blunders of the existing Act; and his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) now proposed the second reading of a Bill for the compulsory use, after a limited time, of the metric system of weights and measures. He (Mr. J. B. Smith) hoped that we should not now witness another anomaly—namely, the Government opposing this Bill, while in 1864 five of its present Members supported the metric system. The extraordinary progress which this system had made in other countries was sufficient evidence of its superiority to the old systems. It was now in use by 150,000,000 of people, and its use was permitted among upwards of 120,000,000 other people. The United States adopted it last year. A Royal Commission in India had recommended its adoption in the province of Bengal, and another Commission is now sitting to consider its adoption by all India. Last year the representatives of twenty nations assembled at Paris and recommended its adoption by all nations. M. Matthieu, the President of this assembly, in an admirable opening speech, observed—The establishment of railways and electric telegraphs, those great instruments of progress and civilization, has, so to say, changed the face of the world. Communications are now so easy and so rapid that the different countries are now in a condition in which they were not before, of being rather provinces of the same empire. We cannot now limit ourselves to attempting some simplification: we are led by the force of circumstances to extended reforms. This is the only mode for facilitating social transactions and commercial operations in the entire world.No less than 61 per cent of our exports go to countries using the metric system, and the time is arrived when we should no longer delay its adoption and thus facilitate our growing intercourse with all the world. The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge is opposed to this Bill, 201 and has read us a letter from Sir John Herschell condemning the metric system, and suggesting a better, but it is too late to attempt to persuade half the world to change a system which they have found so easy and convenient, that no nation has ever shown any desire to abandon it in favour of any other. The late Master of the Mint (Sir John Herschell) is no doubt a high scientific authority, but we have ' the distinguished authority of the present Master of the Mint (Professor Graham), who was examined before the Weights and Measures Committee, and who recommended the immediate and compulsory adoption of the metric system. We have also the authority of one of the hon. Member's constituents (Professor W. H. Miller of Cambridge), who was one of the members of the Committee for the restoration of the lost standard, and to whom was in-trusted the restoration of the standard of weights, no mean authority, who says—The great advantages of the metrical system are having convenient units, and the enormous advantage also of having decimal subdivision.Then we have the authority of throe men, who probably combine more scientific knowledge with practical experience than any other men of any age. Professor Fairbairn says, "the metric system is of all I know the best," and Sir William Armstrong and Mr. Whitworth bear similar testimony. With such overwhelming authority in favour of the metric system it were "waste of time to say another word. In these days of rapid advancement when orders for cotton were sent to America by the electric telegraph and replies received—as in a case he (Mr. J. B. Smith) had heard of—dated half an hour before the date of the order, it was impossible to stand still—we are the first commercial nation in the world, we must maintain our position—to stand still is to be left behind; let us press on then until an international language is established by the use of the same pound weight, the same yard measure, the same gallon, and the same money throughout the world.
§ MR. HUBBARD
said, he must oppose the Bill. Decimal coins and decimal weights and measures were so closely connected that it was unfair to test one apart from the other; because they worked so much more easily and naturally together. Notwithstanding their advantages, his conviction was that neither change would be for the general advantage of the great interests of the country. He admitted the 202 essential value of the decimal system upon which sales of bullion at the Bank of England were conducted under a special Act of Parliament; but there was a much larger question beyond upon which he felt bound to make a stand. On scientific grounds and for the convenience of large commercial interests, and perhaps with regard to very delicate machinery, it might be an advantage to introduce the decimal system; but it was one thing to state that for certain purposes a system was the more perfect of the two, and quite another thing to say, "You shall subvert an existing widely accepted system in favour of another simply because it is more perfect." Let the Committee look at the possible consequences of this measure before committing themselves to it. They were discussing not a Permissive, but a Compulsory Bill, and not the less compulsory because its operation was to be postponed for some years. The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) had not at all over-rated what would be the absurd if they were not the grievous hardships that the system would impose upon the people. Supposing that the foreign trade of the country was as important as the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith) said it was, still it was to be remembered that this trade was carried on on a large scale, commodities being dealt with in shiploads, and thousands of pounds worth included in a single invoice, and therefore the operations connected with them could be dispatched with comparative ease. But it was a different thing when they followed the domestic and distributed trade of this country through all its manipulations till they found their way into the small retail shops in the New-cut of Lambeth. On the poor the Bill would inflict the greatest possible inconvenience. ["Why?"] Why? because it would be a long time, if ever, before the poor of this country adopted the new system of weights and the foreign names which were attached to them. We could not substitute from a foreign vocabulary any expressions so convenient in quantity as the pound and the ounce. ["Why not?"] Because, as a matter of fact, the commodities which were the staple of their purchases were bought most conveniently in the quantities indicated by those weights. It had taken fifty years of arbitrary and despotic rule in France to obtain for the metric system its present position; and it was far from being general in Paris and still further in the 203 provinces. He might refer to a remarkable illustration of this fact which prevailed in the retail trade of Paris at the present day. A person going into a chandler's shop would ask for a livre or pound of candles, and the shopman would hand over a packet containing 485 grammes, or a pound, thus showing how completely the old system kept its hold on the mass of the population in France even though the new system had been introduced by a Revolution, and had been in use for half a century. He did not think the working men, still less the wives of the working men of England more likely to adopt the new system than the same class of people in France. Were Englishmen and Englishwomen to be driven out of their customs and into the adoption of a foreign nomenclature? At least, it was not worth while to go through a Revolution, as the French had done, for the sake of the decimal system. Our present arithmetical system was defensible as an intellectual exercise which developed the minds of scholars, and the decimal system would not be an advance from an educational point of view. Besides the change which had taken place in the corn trade proved that, consistently with the present system, the metric system might be introduced wherever it was considered convenient, whether with regard to weights or measures. The conclusion to which he had come was that, however convenient the metric system might be for the purposes of scientific investigation or engineering, it would be, as regarded the people of England, a grievous inconvenience to have a system introduced which was to be brought into compulsory action—to force upon them a system strange to them by name; of which they had a very imperfect comprehension; to which they could attach no definite idea; and which he believed would never take root in this country. The great diversity that still prevailed in measures of capacity, notwithstanding the efforts that had been made to obtain uniformity, showed the strength of custom in these matters and the difficulty of setting it aside, and the moral he would draw was, "Do not attempt to introduce a change still more at variance with the national taste and feelings, but endeavour to simplify our present system, and bring it into universal acceptance."
§ MR. MORRISON
said, he opposed the Bill on different grounds. He concurred in the arguments for a decimal and uniform system, and particularly one that was in- 204 ternational as well as national; but he could not ignore the fact that all the strength of a Government in the full fervour of revolutionary change in France had failed as yet to secure the entire acceptance of the metric system there, and he questioned whether the cause was advanced by trying to pass this measure in the last Session of a middle class Parliament, to be followed by one in which the working classes would be more perfectly represented. It would be one of the most unpopular measures ever passed by a House of Commons. A cry was sure to be raised against the middle class if the Bill passed; and this would increase the difficulty of putting it into practical working when the time fixed for doing so came. He, therefore, put it to the promoter of the Bill whether it was worth while putting his supporters into a false position by forcing a division. He was in favour of the principle of the Bill; but he could not vote for it in the last Session of an unreformed Parliament. He would urge his hon. Friend to be content with the discussion which he had elicited.
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
said, it seemed to him that this question might be regarded in two ways; first, with reference to this country alone; and, secondly, with regard to our communications with other countries. If this were merely a question regarding ourselves, he, for one, would hesitate very much before assenting to a change, even for the better, in an old country, with a vast population, accustomed to certain ways, a departure from which must necessarily involve very considerable confusion and annoyance. He admitted the inconvenience arising from the present system. Those who suffered the most from it, were those who were scarcely able to judge for themselves; and looking to this country alone, he certainly would be inclined to adopt the advice given by some hon. Members—namely, to endeavour to simplify and bring to one point the weights and measures which exist in this country, although he admitted there was very great difficulty in doing this. He himself attached no importance to the educational argument on the present system. He certainly was not one of those who would advocate unnecessary difficulty in learning for the sake of strengthening the mind. When everything had been made as easy as possible, there would assuredly be difficulty enough left to secure this object. There was quite enough labour 205 in running the race of life, without carrying lead in one's shoes. As Sydney Smith said, life had been distressingly abridged since the Flood, and anyone might be regarded as a benefactor who shortened the; time requisite for the attainment of any branch of learning. he had heard, indeed, difficulty in calculation defended by a great authority the other day, on the ground that Frankfort, where, it seemed, the currency was extremely intricate, had produced the greatest dealers in exchanges. For his part, he was willing to leave her that pre-eminence; nor would he enter upon the deeply scientific question of the origin of the two systems. There were many who had argued with great ability that our system should be adopted by the rest of the world. He thought, however, that whatever might be their opinions on ' this point, all who had tried a decimal system must feel that it was more easily ! mastered, and more rapid than the present. But, in reference to the second point, there could be no doubt that the progress of opinion in this and other countries ns to an international system of weights and measures, as well as of coinage, within the last few years had been remarkable, It might be dated from the Great Exhibition of 1851, and had received enormous impulse from the increased facility of locomotion and the growth of telegraphic as well as postal communication between the nations of the world. The French metric system had already been adopted as an international system in several countries of Europe, and by the United States of America. Its Introduction into British India in substitution for the existing complicated system was, as the hon. Member had said, now in contemplation. There could be no question as to the advantage to all persons engaged in transactions with foreign countries involving weights and measures in such an international system, and, considering the great advantages of the simplicity of its decimal scale, and of the relation of the measures of length, weight, and capacity to each other, as well as the adaptation of all these to the coinage, and the fact of its having been already adopted by several countries as an international system, it must be admitted that if a new system was to be adopted in this country, it could be none other than the metric system as established in France. But if the view were adopted of establishing the metric system in Great Britain as an international system, the questions 206 would arise—1. Was it to be established with reference to international transactions, and concurrently with the existing Imperial system for home transactions? 2. Or was it to be, as by the present Bill, exclusively adopted for both foreign and home transactions, and compulsorily enforced after a specified period, in substitution for the present system? The consideration of the second question involved many points, the discussion of which time did not allow. It would be scarcely possible, at the present time, that such a course could be practically carried out, when it was considered that from 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 of Imperial weights and measures existed in Great Britain, without considering the gas standards and measures. If any step was now to be taken for immediately introducing an international system of weights and measures, it could only be the permissive use of the metric system, as recommended by the Committee of 1862, concurrently with the Imperial system, should it be considered that the advantages to be gained by now establishing an international system were sufficient to counterbalance the evident disadvantages of two concurrent systems of weights and measures, and of abandoning the principle of uniformity which had always been deemed so important. As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) had said, the attempt to combine two systems had turned out very unsatisfactorily in France. At the same time the hon. Member was, he thought, impatient, when he expected great effects from a Bill only passed three years ago. The hon. Member for Liverpool, indeed, said trade was already feeling its way in this matter, and it was clear that so great a change could only make its way very gradually in any country. The Astronomer Royal had said, as to a portion of this Bill—With reference to the commercial value of an authorized Exchequer standard on the metrical system it is important to consider the present state of the British law. Contracts made in terms of the metrical system are legal; the values of the metrical units being ascertained, not by reference to an Exchequer standard, but by a table of equivalents, that is of proportions of these units to the units of British measure, of which there are Exchequer standards. As affecting transactions with foreigners, this system leaves nothing to be desired. Contracts with foreigners are always on a large scale, and the verification of such contracts by means of the British standards is as easy as by means of the standards of the foreign country (metrical or otherwise). If it is required to verify a contract for 1,000 metres of French silk, it is only necessary for the merchant to refer to the table hung on the wall or desk of the counting- 207 house, and he will at once see the number of yards, admitting of verification by a legal standard, which ought to be represented in the measure of the silk furnished to him. As affecting domestic transactions, the considerations are of a different class. If the use of the metre standard as a material measure, and not a tabular equivalent, be in any way made legal, it will be in the power of a single person hero and there to require that all tradesmen with whom he may deal to verify their asserted measures by exhibition of, and reference to, a material and metrical standard. And, in a district where not one inhabitant in 10,000 cares about the metrical system, a troublesome person may compel many tradesmen to keep, by the side of the yard measure of 86 inches, a metre measure of 39⅜ inches. The evils of a double standard must be great under any circumstances, but in no case can they be so great as when the two standards are sufficiently near to be occasionally confounded, and sufficiently different to alter every price by 9 per cent. It would be a very great misfortune for the country to be exposed to such an inconvenience.One of the points referred to the Standards Commission was to inquire and report whether any and what additions to the existing official standards of weights and measures were now required, and under this head was involved the expression of their opinion as to the establishment of the metric system in this country. With the new of placing before the Commission the fullest information upon the whole subject of the metric system in France, the mode in which it was established, and its practical working at the present time, the Warden of the Standards had been in communication with the head of the French Department of Weights and Measures, and had received from him copies of the laws, ordinances, and official instructions relating to the metric system, which would enable him officially to lay the requisite information before the Commission for their consideration. Such information had not hitherto been afforded in this country, and it would enable the Commission not only to form a better opinion as to the actual working of the metric system in France, but to contrast it with the working of the Imperial system in this country. It was suggested, therefore, that until such information should have been laid also before the Government and Parliament, together with the Report of the Standards Commission, any legislation to authorize the introduction of the metric system into this country would be premature. But it appeared to him, with all deference to the opinion which that House had expressed more than once, and to the general feeling of the commercial classes as interpreted by the Chambers of Commerce throughout the country, that 208 the Bill should be read a second time for the purpose of assenting to its principle, on the understanding that it should not he proceeded with in Committee until the Report of the Commission had been received, which would not be during the present year. It had also been suggested by the hon. Member who had last spoken, that it should be left to a new Parliament, like many other questions, inasmuch as that new Parliament would be better able to express the views of the large body of people who would be effected by the change. Sooner or later the country would in all probability adopt the metric system, but he did not at present see any prospect of carrying a compulsory measure, without causing serious, and even perilous dissatisfaction.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he was glad to hear from the Government that they would support the second reading of the Bill; at the same time, he was not quite sure that it was a Parliamentary course to read a Bill a second time merely for the purpose of sanctioning the principle on the understanding that the measure was to go no further. He wished to correct a misapprehension of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith), who had represented him as being an opponent of the metric system. That was erroneous. He had been always of opinion that of all systems of weights and measures now existing in the world the metric system of France was the most complete and most useful in all dealings between men and between nations. This Bill was founded on two principles. The first was that this country having already sanctioned the use of the metric system by Act of Parliament, the Government should be authorized to construct metric standards so that people might have an opportunity of verifying the metric measures in use, and having their accuracy guaranteed by the Government stamp. The second principle was that after a certain number of years our present measures should be abolished and those of the metric system substituted. With regard to the first part of the Bill he was prepared to accede to it. As they had passed a measure the Preamble of which stated that it was expedient to legalize the metric system of weights and measures, the natural consequence was that they should pass another to enable that system to be brought into operation; and at a future time it might be necessary to compel its adoption. If, however, they were to go too far at first 209 they might defeat the object they had in view. He thought that at present the United States had not gone beyond this—namely, the authorization of the construction of those metric standards which would enable tradesmen to use measures with the Government stamp thereon as a guarantee of their accuracy. He hoped the Commission to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred had power to inquire into the desirableness of such a proposal. He did not think it quite clear that the proposal came within the Order of Reference. He should vote for the second reading, reserving to himself the power, should the Bill go into Committee, of dealing with the compulsory clause as he might think most advisable.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided;—Ayes 217; Noes 65: Majority 152.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday 1st July.