HC Deb 26 July 1871 vol 208 cc261-99

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the Bill was founded on the recommendation of a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which sat in 1862, to consider the question of weights and measures, and which reported that there existed in use in this kingdom no less than ten systems of weights and measures. The Committee unanimously recommended the abolition of those ten systems, and, after a fixed period, the compulsory substitution of one uniform decimal system of weights and measures, founded on the unit of the French metre—a measure of about 39 inches English. In all old nations a great diversity of weights and measures has existed, arising from their being originally composed of small communities, each adopting its own weights and measures, and still retaining them after they were amalgamated into one large kingdom. In those rude ages, when there was no scientific standard to refer to, people adopted the standard of a barleycorn, a grain, a span, the width of the hand, the nail of the finger, or the length of the foot. It was a curious fact that, nearly 700 years ago, this diversity of measures was felt to be so grievous an evil, that it formed one of the demands of the Barons for redress, and Magna Charta declared that—"There shall be one weight and one measure throughout the realm." But that declaration of Magna Charta remained a dead letter to this day. France was the first country to grapple with the difficulty of diverse weights and measures. At the Revolution of 1789, Talleyrand proposed to the National Assembly of France the abolition of their complicated system, and the adoption of an universal system of weights and measures. He (Mr. J. B. Smith) held in his hand an official copy of the decree of Louis XVI., inviting the King of Great Britain to send members of the Royal Society of England, to meet an equal number of members of the Royal Academy of France, to deliberate and concert a plan for an uniform system of weights and measures. Unfortunately, England did not accede to that peaceful invitation; nevertheless France appointed a Commission to carry out that object, at the head of which was the celebrated La Place, who, in the face of the difficulties and dangers attending a state of revolution, with admirable zeal and perseverance perfected what was known as the metric system of weights and measures, which has been, more or less, in use ever since that time in France. English writers, and some few Members of Parliament, had from time to time called public attention to the question; but it was the International Exhibition of 1851 which first awakened a general feeling of the advantages of an international system of weights and measures. That Exhibition, projected by Prince Albert, was the first of the kind ever held, and created universal interest throughout all nations, and every country exhibited its varied manufactures, to every article of which the exhibitors were requested to affix the price. The result of that order was a perfect Babel of confusion: there was no difficulty in comparing the quality of the articles exhibited by different countries; but as each had a different system of monies, weights, and measures, no comparison of prices could be instituted without a difficult calculation. No wonder that the visitors of all nations to the Exhibition were impressed with the feeling of an international want, which was fitly embodied in the unanimous resolution of the jury, composed of the representatives of all nations, recommending an international system of monies, weights, and measures. In 1855 an International Exhibition was held at Paris, and the jury there unanimously adopted the resolution of the jury of 1851 in London; but they proceeded a step further, and established an International Association for promoting an international system of monies, weights, and measures, with branch associations in every country, Baron James de Rothschild being appointed the president. Congresses were subsequently held at Florence, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, and London, which were largely attended, to promote the objects of the association. In 1860, the difficulty in arranging the details of the French Treaty, for want of an identical system of monies, weights, and measures, and the experience of the simplicity of the Trench, as compared with our own S37stem, made a deep impression on the English merchants and manufacturers engaged with Mr. Cobden in that negotiation, and led to the feeling that the time had arrived when the question ought to be referred to Parliament. Accordingly, in 1862, Mr. Ewart moved for and obtained, the appointment of a Committee of the House of Commons, to consider and report upon our system of weights and measures. That year was notable, as being that of the second International Exhibition of manufactures in London, and gave the Committee the great advantage of availing themselves of the presence of many distinguished foreigners, by inviting them to give evidence before the Committee of the means by which the metric system was introduced in their respective countries, and its practical results. The Committee reported that there existed in use in this country ten systems of weights and measures, and that, as a specimen of the diversity of weights and measures, there were 19 linear measures of land; 14 superficial measures of land; 61 different measures for the sale of wheat; 13 for oats; 16 for barley; 9 for potatoes; 9 pounds weight for butter, varying from 16 oz to 24 oz in the pound; 14 different weights called stones; 4 weights for flour; 9 for coals; 9 for flax and wool; 6 for hay and straw. In addition to those, in 1820, Dr. Thomas Young collected for the Committee of Weights and Measures "a list of 154 weights and measures not known to the law, existing in different parts of the country, by which people bought and sold." The evidence taken before the Committee of 1862 was so conclusively in favour of the metric system of weights and measures that they unanimously recommended its adoption, in the place of the existing system. The following year (1863) Mr. Ewart brought in the Metric Weights and Measures Bill, which was opposed by the Palmerston Government; but the second reading being carried by a large majority, the Government offered the compromise of bringing in a Bill itself to render the use of metric weights and measures permissive, which was accepted by Mr. Ewart, and a Bill was brought in by the Board of Trade and passed the following year (1864). That Bill was, however, drawn with such extraordinary carelessness, that an inspector of weights and measures shortly afterwards seized some metric weights and measures in a shop, and summoned the owner before the magistrates. The shopkeeper defended himself by producing the Act of Parliament authorizing their use, but the magistrates expressing doubts on the subject, the Government obtained the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, and they decided that under the Act, a man might legally use metric weights and measures, but if they were found on his premises he was liable to be prosecuted. And this continues the state of the law to the present day. All agreed that some uniform system of weights and measures was indispensable. Professor De Morgan, in his evidence before the Committee, though not approving the metric system, said— I cannot put into language the advantages of the whole people using the same weights and measures. When people talked of a particular measure, everyone would know what they meant. The question then arose, what uniform system should we adopt? We might convert our present weights and measures into an uniform decimal system; but such a change would be attended with as great temporary inconvenience as the adoption of the metric system, and, after all, we should be as isolated from the rest of the world as we are now. The advantages of adopting the metric system would be—that it was one which by its extreme simplicity and the ease with which it was acquired, was gradually recommending itself to the world. Already it was in compulsory use by about 200,000,000 of people, comprising the following nations:—Trance, Holland, Belgium, Greece, Spain, Cuba, Porto Rico, Portugal and colonies, Italy, Roumania, Switzerland, Chili, Equador, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Argentine Confederation, New Granada, and Peru. Norway used metric weights, and on the 1st January, 1872, metric weights and measures would come into compulsory use throughout all the States of Germany. In addition to those countries, about 200,000,000 more people had partially introduced the metric system, including the whole of our possessions in India. Nothing showed more conclusively the progress that this system has made in the world, than the fact that, of the total value of our exports, only about 25 per cent was exported to countries using English weights and measures, while 66 per cent of our exports were to countries using the metric system! He (Mr. J. B. Smith) was desirous of calling the particular attention of the House to the important bearing the introduction of the metric system would have upon the education of the people. He had received many communications from clergymen, ever foremost in good works, calling his attention to the immense saving of time in learning arithmetic by the metric system—at least, one year out of three would be saved in all our public schools. One clergyman in Eutlandshire—a place where one would have thought the metric system had never been heard of—had kindly sent him an excellent little book he had published, showing the great simplicity of the metric, as compared with their own system. He had also been pleased to receive communications of a similar kind from ladies. One lady, of Worcester, had kindly sent him a copy of her little book, entitled, The Metric System; easy to learn, and pleasant to teach. That lady stated that— An introductory lesson was given to the first class of a girl's National School, with such success that they could within an hour work any sum in the higher multiples of each table, and they expressed a great desire to adopt the new system. Professor Leone Levi had also sent him his work on the metric system, which he called "a labour-saving machine," and entered into a calculation to show that the adoption of the metric system would effect a saving of £1,000 a-day in the cost of education in our public schools, and it appeared that that estimate was understated. It was important to notice that merchants and manufacturers, examined before the International Gold Coinage Commission, stated that the competition with foreign manufacturers was beginning to be severely felt, and complained that such manufacturers as used metric weights and measures, trading with countries which used identical weights and measures, possessed great advantages over them. Sir Rowland Hill, in his evidence before the Weights and Measures Committee, confirmed that view of the question. He stated that our weights, not being identical with those of foreign nations, we carried a greater weight for the same postage; and that the loss on our postage transactions with France amounted to 6 per cent, and with Germany, the loss was no loss than 17 per cent. Last year the Postmaster General entered into a postal treaty with France, and instead of adopting the recommendation of the Royal Standards Commission, to avail himself of that opportunity to introduce the public use of the metric system into the Post Office, he ordered 20,000 weights of one-third of an ounce, to be distributed to the post offices, in-instead of the French weight of 10 grammes. He thus stretched the law, because one-third of an ounce, not being an aliquot part, was not a legal weight; but he also, by that folly, continued to subject us to a loss of 6 per cent on all our postage transactions with France. We also lose 4 per cent in money, because the French penny was by so much of less value than the English penny. [An hon. MEMBER: What is a French penny?] Well, ten centimes. The Postmaster General laid on the Table a week or two ago, the postal treaty he had entered into with Italy; and, as that country used French weights and monies, we shall lose 10 per cent on all our postal transactions with them. This Bill, which he (Mr. J. B. Smith) asked the House to read a second time, was supported by the 43 Associated Chambers of Commerce of England, by the Chamber of Agriculture, the Farmers' Club, the Working-men's Association, and all the scientific bodies. It was brought in by the representatives of the largest commercial and manufacturing industries of the country, and of the largest population of the working classes—namely, the hon. Members for Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham and North Staffordshire, and by the representative of the agricultural interests, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire. Who were its opponents? The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), stood foremost as the opponent of the Bill, on the grounds that distinguished philosophers were of opinion that there are bettor units than the metre; that Sir John Herschel thought that the polar axis of the earth was a much better natural unit than the quadrant of a meridian through Paris, on which the metric system was founded; and that another philosopher, the Astronomer Royal, was in favour of the binary system. But what had the hon. Member to say to the theory of a Scotch philosopher, who contended that the Great Pyramid of Egypt was intended to be the standard of measure to all the world? The day was, however, gone by for discussing what the unit should be; 400,000,000 of people have decided that question by their adhesion to the metric system. Sir John Herschel's plan was submitted to the Indian Government, when they were deliberating as to the adoption of a new system of weights and measures for their Indian possessions, but they wisely decided to adopt the metric system, which the experience of so many nations has proved to be the simplest ever devised, and which is probably destined to be ultimately adopted by all the world. Sir John Herschel and the Astronomer Royal are high scientific authorities; and, if the world were about to adopt a new system, would be en-titled to the greatest attention; but we have the authority of three living philosophers, who probably combined, more scientific knowledge, with practical business experience, than any three men of any age — namely, Sir William Armstrong, Sir Joseph Whitworth, and Sir William Fairbairn—and what said these distinguished men? Why, "that the metric system, of all they knew, was the best."

Before he concluded, he could not avoid a reference to the proceedings of the Royal Commission, appointed in 1868— To inquire into the condition of the Exchequer standards, and to report what addition to existing standards are now required. That Standards Commission has not confined itself to the subjects it was appointed to inquire into, but has thought proper to criticize and misrepresent the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on Weights and Measures, in 1862, in the following terms:— The Commission are obliged to remark here, that the coincidence as to the feeling of the great class of vendors in shops, and ordinary tradesmen, is rather of an inferential than of a positive character. Among the witnesses examined by the Committee of the House of Commons, which sat in 1862, there is not one shopkeeper, and scarcely one person of the lower working class. It was greatly to be regretted that before making these assertions, the Standards Commission had not taken the trouble to read the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons of 1862; had they done so, they would have been spared a statement which they would find was simply untrue; or, had they made themselves better acquainted with the subject, they would have found that the organs of those classes in the Press supported the metric system. The Standards Commission, however, examined witnesses of their own, which fully confirmed those examined by the Committee of the House of Commons—and among others, Ralph Heaton, who was asked— How do you find that your common workmen appreciate the metric system of weights and measures?" Answer: "They get into it at once. It is so simple that if they know nothing of the metric system, it is but a matter of 10 minutes. The Standards Commission, instead of proposing the abolition of the ten existing systems of weights and measures, recommended only to abolish one of them—namely—the pound troy, and to substitute the permissive use of metric weights and measures, so that there would still remain ten systems of weights and measures. They also recommended— That Customs duties should be allowed to be levied by metric weights and measures, as well as by Imperial weights and measures, and should be adopted by the Post Office and other public Departments. Such a recommendation as this could only have emanated from philosophers, guiltless of any practical knowledge of business. Customs duties are levied in hundredweights, pounds, or gallons, of various commodities; but there was no identity between these and kilogrammes, and litres, metric weights and measures. If this recommendation, therefore, were to be adopted, we should require two tariffs, one for Imperial, and the other for metric weights and measures. Here, again, the Standards Commission have cause to regret that they did not read the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons of 1862, before erroneously stating that that Committee "had not examined one shopkeeper," because they would have found in the sensible evidence of Mr. M. Wood, the grocer, advice which might, had they seen it, have prevented their unfortunate recommendation. Mr. Wood, in answer to the question of using two systems at the same time, said— The best way, if you introduce one system, would be to do away with the other; if you have two systems at work at the same time, nothing but confusion can ensue. The Standards Commission also recommend a decimal system of coinage, which they think may be introduced without danger to public tranquillity; but they say— To introduce the metric system by legal compulsion, the Commission regard it as certain that very great confusion would be produced, and they think it highly probable that the attempt would be met by such an amount of resistance, active and passive, that it would totally fail. Such, in the opinion of the Standards Commission, would be the fearful consequences of obliging people by law to measure by a yard-stick of 39 inches, instead of by one of 36 inches; or to buy their meat by a kilo of 2 lb, instead of a 1 lb weight; or to measure their beer by a litre of 1¾ pints, instead of a quart of 2 pints! Such idle fears are a libel upon the working classes, and only provoked the laughter of those who were best able to judge of them—namely, the promoters of this Bill, the representatives of the largest constituencies, and themselves large employers of labour. He (Mr. J. B. Smith) understood that the Bill was likely to be opposed by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, from whom they would probably hear the hacknied common-place apology for doing nothing that it was a difficult question, and that the change would be attended with great inconvenience. There could be no doubt that this, like most other beneficial changes, would be attended by great temporary inconveniencies; but they were inconveniences which other countries who had adopted the metric system had sustained, and found to be, previously, greatly exaggerated. Mr. Ralph Heaton, of Birmingham, largely engaged in providing several foreign countries with copper coins, was examined before the Standards Commission, and stated— That he and his brother were in Italy when the various States adopted the metric system, and when Naples and Sicily were added to Italy. Only 18 months were allowed for the monies, weights, and measures to be changed. Some people complained about the changes—those who would not take the trouble to study it; but when the change was effected, they were unanimous in approving of the change. It was not improbable that the President of the Board of Trade might propose to bring in a Bill to adopt the metric system permissively. He (Mr. J. B. Smith) thanked him for nothing, it was permissive already. [Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE: No.] The right hon. Gentleman said "no," but the fact was as he had stated. There was an Act of Parliament now existing, brought in by the Board of Trade, and passed in 1864, which permitted the use of metric weights and measures, and it would now be unnecessary to pass another Act for that purpose, only that the Law Officers, of the Crown, as he had already stated, had given their opinion—owing to the blunders of the Board of Trade—that though the use of metric measures by any person was legal, if found in his possession he was liable to prosecution. But we do not want a permissive Bill. It would be better to leave our weights and measures in their present barbarous state than to have a Bill of no use, because it could not be worked. Have we not had an Imperial standard bushel for half-a-century? but because the use of it has not been made compulsory, we have to this day corn selling in the markets by upwards of 60 different measures. He (Mr. J. B. Smith) would venture to invite the attention of the House to the last speech of Mr. Cobden on the question in this House. No one was better able to form an opinion on this subject than that distinguished man— I was engaged (he said) I believe for 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 disadvantage 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. In conclusion, what we ask is what the Barons demanded nearly 700 years ago, and what Magna Charta declares to be the right of the English people—that "there shall be one weight and one measure throughout the realm." We further ask that that weight and measure shall be identical with the weight and measure in use by the peoples of other realms, that so we may look forward to the establishment of an universal language in the adoption of one weight and one measure throughout the world.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. B. Smith.)


said, in reply to the brilliant peroration of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith), he had only to say that the equal weight and the equal measure which the Barons of England asked for was that which he (Mr. B. Hope), and not his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, proposed to give. They claimed that England should have one weight and one measure, and that was what he (Mr. B. Hope) claimed; and that one weight and one measure—of England, and not of France. There was one assertion of his hon. Friend in which he thoroughly agreed — that various inconveniences would arise from the adoption of the new system. That was the common ground on which they met; and if he could show the House that the inconveniences would greatly overbalance the conveniences, he thought that would be sufficient to induce the House to remit the Bill to that shadowy three months hence from which he did not think it would soon again emerge. There was a confusion in his hon. Friend's speech—a confusion which was quite natural—between the metric system of weights and measures which he recommended, and the decimal system of notation by which he proposed to keep the account. Of the decimal system he had very little to say. It was an extremely useful machine as far as it went. When wanted it was easy for any man to use, and it was used in many of their counting-houses. But it was a machine which was just as available for, and applicable to, their measures as to the metric system. There was this convenience about the metric system, that like the decimal system, it took its jumps by tens; but, otherwise, it had no natural identity with decimals—and even the decimal notation, with all its advantages, had points at which it broke down. It was good in multiplication, but when they came to division its artificial nature asserted itself. When they had to do with halving and quartering—processes, on which a vast proportion of the transactions of ordinary life depended—then its weakness was obvious. To those who had really marked its theory, it was no doubt one of great scientific precision; but to the common man it was difficult, both arbitrary and disconnected. He was told that if he had to express a half he must put down a dot and 5 after it; if he had to express a quarter, he must put down a dot and 25 after it; while an eighth was represented by a dot and 125 after it. That notation rightly claimed to be scientific and strictly mathematical, but it was not natural, and those who looked at it with the eyes of common experience must confess that those symbols appeared to be both arbitrary and capricious. What visible relation was there between any one of those figures and the ideas of a half, a quarter, or an eighth; what relation was there between each of them and the rest? The notation was purely scientific and arbitrary; like the figures in a table of logarithms; but it had no necessary connection with those processes of dividing which it symbolized, and which were the essential things in the minds of the people engaged in buying and selling, the people who kept homes, and who had their little wants to provide for, their little pleasures to consult, and their little businesses to carry on—the people, in short, for whom that House ought particularly to care. He was not, therefore, wrong in stating that even the decimal system had its weak points. It was of value in the larger calculations of commerce and science; but those larger calculations had a sphere of their own, apart from the ordinary transactions of their natural life. They might pass decimal, and still more, metric Bills, but they would find that while those who cared for the decimal system would act upon them, the great majority of the people would continue to carry on their business upon the system with which they were familiar. He could personally give the House some information on that point. He had a friend, a gentleman who was at the head of the National Debt Office in Holland, and who might, therefore, be said to live and move among decimals. When he (Mr. B. Hope) explained to him the line he had taken upon the metric system, he encouraged him to go on, and said that practically speaking, the metric system, although enforced by law, did not prevail in Holland, where the old system was still in familiar use. Yet that gentleman was one who, of all others, might be supposed to be wedded to the metric system, for all the accounts of his office were kept in decimals. He (Mr. B. Hope) had some difficulty in grappling with the arguments of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, because his speech followed the old time-honoured instruction—"No case: abuse the plaintiff's attorney." If he were to analyze his hon. Friend's case, he might say that it consisted in depreciating Sir John Herschel. [Mr. J. B. SMITH: No, no!] Well, his hon. Friend did not rate his (Sir John Herschel's) authority as highly as others did; he subordinated the authority of Sir John Herschel to that of other men who supported the metric system; and he accused the Standards Commissioners, in their Report of 1869, of not having read the evidence taken before Mr. Ewart's Committee of 1862. He (Mr. B. Hope) could understand why the Report of 1869 was a sore point with his hon. Friend, for that Bill of his came before the House three years ago, promoted by the late Mr. Ewart and the then Vice President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. S. Cave), induced the House to read it a second time, in anticipation of that Report. He (Mr. B. Hope) thought his right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham acted unwisely; and he divided against it, for he mistrusted the too common policy of reading Bills a second time, on the plea that it was to mean nothing. He believed he would have then carried the division had not his right hon. Friend begged him to withdraw his opposition and allow the Bill to be advanced a stage, because the judgment of the Standards Commission was just then anticipated. He argued that that was the very reason why they should not commit themselves by reading that Bill a second time. But the arguments of his right hon. Friend prevailed, and the Bill was read a second time. But now they had received the Report of the Standards Commission, and they recommended three things: The first was, that if they were to adopt the metric system, it should be permissive, and not compulsory; the second was, that if there was to be a Bill, it should be introduced by the Government, and not by any private Member; and the third was, that if they deal with any part of that question of weights, measures, and coinage, they ought to deal with it as a whole. Now, the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport flew in the face of every one of those recommendations; it contradicted every one of the three axioms. It was a compulsory Bill, and not permissive; it was brought in by a private Member, and not by the Government; and it dealt with a fragment only of the question, with weights and measures, and not with money. He held in his hand a handbill which had been sent round by the Association of which his hon. Friend was a member and Parliamentary mouthpiece. In that handbill he read, with much surprise, what followed:— The adoption of metric weights and measures was decidedly and unanimously recommended by the Committee of the House of Commons in 1862, after most careful inquiry and discussion. It had been still more recently recommended by the Royal Standards Commissioners. The second reading of the Metric Weights and Measures Bill was carried by Mr. Ewart in 1863 by 140 to 75; and in 1864 by 90 to 52. That Bill became law, and is the present Permissive Act, 27 & 28 Vic. c. 117. The Bill now before the House was introduced in 1868, and carried on a second reading by a majority of 217 to 65. Of course, he exonerated his hon. Friend from any complicity with that paper, and he especially exonerated his right hon. Friend the Member for North Staffordshire (Sir Charles Adderley) from all complicity with it, and as they had had no hand in it, he would call upon them both to agree with him in declaring that "suppressio veri est suggestio falsi." It mis-stated and falsified both the action of Parliament and the recommendations of the Royal Commission. It was not in the sense of compulsion, but against it that the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1869 were made. Yet the author of the document did not blush to send it round, mis-state, and distort the facts, and mislead the public mind. His hon. Friend ought to take that matter to heart; he was an honourable man, and would at once see that his cause was weakened and degraded by manœuvres such as those. But all the paper was equally incorrect, for it went on to say that the Bill of 1864 was carried, and so it was; but it was only carried as a Permissive Bill. Again, it asserted that the Bill of 1868 had a second reading by a majority of 217 to 65; but it suppressed the incident, that the Vice President of the Board of Trade induced the House to read the Bill a second time, on the assurance being given that it simply meant nothing. He hoped that House would appreciate the enormous—the world-wide difference between a permissive and a compulsory system; to a permissive system they had no objection; they would like nothing better than to have the two systems recognized, and placed side by side, and then to see which of them would be preferred by the public. He trusted his hon. Friend had as much faith in his system as they had in theirs. If so, why not try the permissive system? If that compulsory change was to be applied not only to the form of keeping accounts, but as the metric party demanded, to the daily life, the every transaction, the every motion, the every calculation of all classes, high and low, educated and uneducated; all their fundamental ideas—expressed by bulk and dimension—of the material world would be revolutionized, for all their material ideas depended upon the conception of proportion; and that conception was reduced to ordinary language by weights and measures, which thus became the types and symbols of their ideas of the material world; so that if they changed them, the whole world must go to school again and learn new types for its ideas of the proportion and dimension of all common objects of material life. Their workmen, their farmers, their tradespeople, their cooks would have to learn a new language; everything would be changed that they had been accustomed to rely upon in the ordinary rounds of daily life. The very language of their proverbs would have to be transformed. If that Bill passed, it would be unlawful, under severe penalty, for anyone to say—even of his hon. Friend—that if they gave him an inch he would take an ell. His hon. Friend had very cleverly put in the background the alteration that that Bill would make in measures. On the back of the Bill they were told that it was a Bill for weights and measures; but his hon. Friend had not told them what he was going to do about measures. Look at the whole system of their land measurement; look at that gigantic work of the Ordnance Survey of the whole country, in which they were now engaged. That was a survey carried out by the old measures of acres, miles, and chains. Look at the title-deeds of every estate in the country; all would be thrown into confusion if the ares and hectares, metres and kilometres were to be rendered compulsory and not permissive. Let them imagine a farmer—whether a North Country farmer, whose acutness was proverbial, or a South Country one, of whom some hon. Members were accustomed to speak with very little respect—coming to take a farm, and being told how many hectares it was in extent, and how many kilometres it lay from the nearest market-town. He would say—"I come to take your farm; and I want to know how many acres it contains." But the landlord would be obliged to reply—" Softly, my good Friend, the eye of Parliament is upon us, and you and I will be subject to penalties if we use such language." He asked all those members of the Chambers of Agriculture who fancied that they were supporters of the metric system, whether the confusion, of which they complained, in the variety of bushels used through the country—which were met and ought to be met by the use of the Imperial bushel—was worse than that which they would create in establishing a new system? He believed they would think twice, if they saw clearly the revolution which that system would produce, before they committed themselves to it. He would not dwell on the infinite misunderstandings which this change would produce among their poorer fellow-citizens. What had come more under their consideration of late years than the use of false weights and measures, and the adulteration of food? Those were offences which they had been trying to guard against in every possible way; but if those abuses were hardly kept down even under their present familiar system, which everybody understood, what might be expected under a system whose proportions were unfamiliar, and whose terms were both new and strange, and arbitrarily derived from Latin and Greek? The amount of confusion and inconvenience that it would produce ought alone to induce them to throw out the Bill.

He now came to the Report of the Standards Commission, which was a sore matter with his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport. His hon. Friend said that the Fourth Report of the Commission had been sent out that morning, which he had not had the opportunity of seeing. He (Mr. B. Hope) had been more fortunate than his hon. Friend, and he now produced a copy of it; and he would read a passage to the House. It recapitulated the former Report, and it went on to say— Our Second Report bore particularly upon the question of the introduction into this country of the metric system of weights and measures, and embodied the results of our inquiries and deliberations in several practical recommendations, having for their object the permissive use of the metric system in the United Kingdom, more especially for international transactions. With that reference the Report went on to treat of other questions; but it said enough to show that the Commission still adhered to the opinion that the use of the new system ought only to be permissive. It bore the signatures of Mr. Airey, the Astronomer Royal; of Lord Colchester; of his right hon. Friend the late Vice President of the Board of Trade, who persuaded the House to consent to the second reading of the Bill three years ago; of the now Secretary to the Admiralty, who was previously Secretary to the Board of Trade; of General Sabine; of Professor Miller; and of the Warden of the Standards. He would now refer again to the second Report of that Commission, out of which he had already given recommendations totally destructive of the present Bill. In glancing over its preliminary considerations, he found that it by anticipation answered the arguments of his hon. Friend, who asked them to give a second reading to the Bill of which they hardly knew the A B C. The following passage, for instance, met the argument of his hon. Friend about the metric system having been adopted in France, North Germany, and India:— The Commission remark that in the statements introductory to the proposals for new systems in France, North Germany, and India, very great weight is laid upon the discordance in the fundamental units of these customary weights and measures, as adopted in different districts of the same Empire. These reasons have no force in Great Britain and Ireland, throughout which, whatever differences may prevail as to the multiples in local use, the fundamental units — namely, the yard, the pound, the gallon, are strictly the same; based upon natural standards which are constructed with the utmost skill and care, and supported by a system of inspection, which though with imperfections (to which the Commission at present advert no further) is on the whole efficient. As to the effect of changing the English system of weights and measures, what did they say regarding the English temperament and character?— It is obvious that in this country, where the people are more accustomed to self-government than in other European countries, the Executive has far less power of compelling obedience to the law in all the small transactions of trade against the wishes of the public. Should an attempt be made at the present to introduce the metric system by legal compulsion, the Commission regard it as certain that very great confusion would be produced, and they think it highly probable that the attempt would be met by such an amount of resistance, active and passive, that it would totally fail. He was sure they had confusion enough in the world just now without adding to the amount. As to a permissive measure, they said— Such permission, unless very carefully guarded, would lead to the most intolerable and enduring confusion, and the Commission expressly state that any enactment giving permission to the metric weights and measures for public sales and conveyance must be accompanied with such provisions for their form or other characteristics as will make it impossible to mistake them for weights and measures of the existing Imperial system. Was the appalling picture of metric weights and measures which had been hanging in their Reading-room intended to comply with that caution? He was afraid his hon. Friend would think it had been put there by some enemy to his cause, and, therefore, he hastened to explain to him that he (Mr. B. Hope) had no share in its exhibition. He should only trouble the House with one more extract from the Report of 1869— For sales in shops, which specially require the care of the Legislature, and for ordinary work, other considerations apply. Different bases must be adopted; for instance, the yard is a very convenient length for drapers' measure, but the foot is far more convenient for carpenters' measure. It has been remarked that the last, or coomb, the bushel, and the peck, are well suited for men's backs, arms, and hands. The natural inclination of the mind to halve and quarter continually exhibits itself in the sub-division of almost every base. Thus, in avoirdupois weights, and in measures of capacity, the progressive halving of the pound and bushel, and their lower denominations, is continued nine times, and the binary subdivision extends to 1-512ths. The metric system does not afford the same facility either for change of the adopted base, or for the continued binary sub-division. That just met the argument of his hon. Friend when he spoke of the barbarous origin of their present system. It was, in fact, a system of homely growth: the foot was the measure of the human foot; the yard has its relation to the human body; and the whole system grew out of the ordinary wants of their daily life. That they did not get in the metrical system. Professor De Morgan said, before Mr. Ewart's Committee— A metre, which is one yard and three inches, is too long a measure for ordinary use; while a centimetre is too short: but the foot supplies the natural mean. So, again, like considerations vindicated the pound. In a word, their system contrasted on every point in which practical usefulness was concerned with that pedantic figment which they owed to the vanity of France, which must put the stamp of Paris upon every tiling which it touched. His hon. Friend said that the philosophers carried out that system in France, in spite of the Revolution. He was wrong in his representation; he ought to have said that it was forced in consequence of the Revolution. It was the Revolution, and nothing but the Revolution that made the introduction of that system possible, and yet the old weights and measures were still remembered and employed in many parts of France.

Upon the question of the scientific value of their system, he might read a passage from a letter addressed to him in 1868, by Sir John Herschel, to show that their units of weight and measurement were at least the scientific equals of, if they were not superior to, those of France— 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 comes within a thousandth part of 12 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 1-4000th part of such a geometrical cubic foot of distilled water at 62 degrees Fahrenheit (our standard temperature), according to the rate declared in the Act 5th of George IV., our actual Imperial ounce differs from such a geometrical ounce by only l-7000th 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 degrees in place of 62 degrees, 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. He had another extract from the same authority, which he would not read; but it showed that the actual French standard was incorrect, and that it differed from the theoretic standard more than their English standard did. His hon. Friend dwelt upon the inconvenience to foreign trade of their existing system? But what did the Standards Commissioners tell them with regard to the comparative importance of home and foreign transactions?— If we refer to the accessible Returns relating to money transactions—the amount of stamp duty levied on foreign bill-stamps—about £350,000 annually implies foreign transactions to the amount of about £600,000,000, while the amount of cheques and bills passed at the London Clearing House (in which many of the London bankers take no part) is about £3,300,000,000; and the transactions in the manufacturing districts, and the interior of the country generally, multiply this in an unknown ratio. So much for the argument that was to be drawn from foreign trade. The inconvenience to that branch of their trade by the existing system was small, while upon the people at large the change would only be enforced by means of tyrannous force, which would disturb all existing arrangements, and upset all previous ideas. He might say a great deal more on that head; but it was self-evident that he would leave it to the imagination of hon. Members to work out for themselves. The scheme of the philosophers broke down as a scientific experiment; it broke down as a matter of domestic convenience; it broke down as a bond of international fraternization. What real good there might be in it would be met by a permissive system. As to the argument of his hon. Friend, drawn from the fact that the Bill was read a second time three years ago, pending the Report of the Standards Commission, the Standards Commission had since set aside that appeal, and had decided directly against the system in a compulsory form; and yet, with that adverse verdict in his face, his hon. Friend came forward bland and smiling, and desired them to set aside that verdict, and to accept a Bill which would create infinite trouble, infinite confusion, and infinite expense, for a problematic good. Heartily objecting to it, he would therefore move that that Bill be read a second time that day three months.


, in seconding the Amendment of the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope), said, he would discuss the Bill as one compelling, under penalties, the exclusive adoption of the metric system within a very few years. Great misrepresentation had been made as to their existing system of weights and measures having no uniformity, whereas at home and in America and the colonies, and wherever the English language was spoken, there was only one pound weight, one foot, and one pint, and these had a definite, well-understood relation to one another, though not always a decimal relation. The confusion of weights, and consequent frauds on the people, was one cause of the French Revolution, and a uniform system was a necessity. In Holland, there had been a like diversity, and so also in the different States of Germany. In 17 States of Germany there were now 16 different lengths of feet. We were under no such necessity of change. Germany, with France in close contact, could not help adopting the system which had been established in France, after nearly a century of pressure. In some French workshops the old Paris foot divided into 12 inches was still used. The English units were much more intelligible than the metric. Everyone could form a clear conception of a pound weight. In France, the "pound," of popular language, was a weight with 500 marked on it; and it was known, besides, by the three names of "500 grammes," "5 hectogrammes," and "1 demi-kilogramme." Every English workman had a clear conception of an inch and a foot; but these units were lost in the metric system; and as to their working men supporting the change, had they been told that they would have to burn their two-foot rules, and that they must no longer speak of "inch boards" and "nine-by-three inch joists?" If it was in international trade that the advantages of the change were to be reaped, he contended that they must first decimalize their money; but that project was no further on now than it was 20 years ago. No doubt in foreign trade the absence of common monies and weights must cause inconvenience to some one; but the circulars of merchants engaged in foreign trade showed that they easily made the necessary calculations of the equivalents of the foreign coins and weights. Why, then, should Parliament, with a view of saving these persons a certain amount of trouble, persons who must in any case make the calculations of freights and foreign exchanges, subject the whole of the population to the irritation and inconvenience of having to adopt an entirely new system under compulsion of a law, which, he believed, could never be enforced? In order to illustrate the difficulties which the compulsory abolition of the present units would cause, he gave some examples of the calculations necessary in a chemical manufactory, where the same substance had to be followed through its solid, liquid, and gaseous states, and its quantity estimated in each—calculations involving simultaneously weight and cubical capacity, based upon the units of the pound and the cubic foot. The present system was quite equal to such calculations, and the vessels used were constructed of dimensions in whole numbers of feet, and in round numbers of cubic feet in capacity. He could also give numerous instances where the manufacture of various articles would be wholly upset, which were of dimensions stated in inches, and halves, and quarters; for example, gas-pipes, augers, bolts and nuts, hinges, bariron, boiler plates, angle-iron. Lead was rolled of a thickness of so many pounds to the square foot. All these dimensions were part of the language of trade; for them the manufacturing machinery was adapted, and they were quite incommensurable with metric dimensions, and they could not be altered. Cotton yarns and goods were classified and known in all the markets of the world by width, fineness of thread, length, and weight expressed in English units; for instance, "7 lbs shirtings" and "forties yarn," which were quoted in every Indian telegram, the latter representing such a fineness of yarn that 40 hanks of so many yards weighed one pound avoirdupois. He could give endless similar instances where their present units governed the shape and dimensions of articles of manufacture. The question ought not to be discussed solely with reference to this country, for the United States and all their colonies had adopted their system of weights and measures, together with the English language in which it was embedded. The American Congress had gone as far as we had, and permitted contracts in metric denominations. He held in his hand the Report of the Committee of the University Convocation of New York, which was recently invited by the Chairman of the Committee of the House of Representatives to discuss that question. They quoted the opinion of John Quincy Adams, who, although he had a strong leaning to the metric system, yet estimated it as conceived with a disregard to human nature, and regarded the obstacles to its introduction as insurmountable. The Committee much preferred the English system even in an educational point of view, as the mind could grasp the conception of external magnitude far more easily by its units than by those of the metric system. And they stated that, in their judgment, the adoption of the metric system, and the entire obliteration of every unit of weight and measure which now formed the warp of our language and the base of our commerce, while it was yet uncertain how far the change would be adopted, would be most unwise. John Quincy Adams stated that the transition state in France had caused frauds on the poor, who got one-fifth of a kilogramme instead of half a pound, the decimal divisions becoming snares to the honesty of the seller. The hon. Gentleman concluded with the following quotation from Mr. Adams:— To the common mass of the people, the use of weights is in the shop and the market. The article weighed is to be carried home for the daily subsistence of the family. Sub-divisions of the pound, the half, the quarter of a pound are often necessary to conciliate the wants and the means of the neediest portions of the people—that portion to whom the justice of weight and measure is a necessary of life, and to whom it is one of the most sacred duties of the legislator to secure that justice, so far as it can be secured by the operation of human institutions.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Stevenson) seemed to have made the remarkable discovery that when a new nomenclature was adopted, the old one would be got rid of. The real point at issue, however, was whether it would be advantageous to adopt the new instead of the old: and when three-fourths of the world had adopted the new, whether they ought to remain isolated in that respect from every other commercial country in the world? The new system had been adopted even in the colonies. They had found that, although they inherited our old complex nomenclature, it was an intolerable sacrifice retaining it, and it was necessary for them to abandon it; and was it to be supposed that England could not get rid of her own incubus, when the colonies had emancipated themselves from its infliction? Canada had adopted the metric system, and had required no compulsion to do that which common sense dictated.


said, he wished to know whether the system was compulsory in Canada?


said, he did not say it was compulsory there, for no compulsion was needed; but the hon. Gentleman had urged that, even if desired, it would be impossible to change the terms habitually used by the various trades in this country; whereas the very fact of colonies, using in a great measure the very same terms they had taken out with them from this country, having effected the change, ought to be a convincing argument that the proposed measure could be effected, and the new nomenclature succeed.


Not the nomenclature, but the shapes and dimensions of the articles.


, in continuation, said, that the present shapes and dimensions would easily adapt themselves, provided the nomenclature was altered. The whole question was one of terminology. Settle that, and commerce would eagerly take to the simplicity and universality of measures. He could understand the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope), who was President of the Archaeological Association, saying — "Perish the commerce of the world if I can but retain the ancient phraseology." The hon. Member seemed to think that because some chandlers and other traders of Tunbridge would find it impossible to master the new system, their interests ought to be weighed against those of the whole world. It was gravely said that a simpler system would effect a moral revolution; but he was astonished that anyone should seriously augur for maintaining a complicated arithmetic to an educational exercise. The assertion of so great a man as Herschell, that the unit of the new system had broken down as a scientific index, did not affect the measure before the House. The simple question was, whether it was not desirable to have one unit for the whole world, and it mattered very little what that unit might be. It was the unity of the system which rendered it desirable to the whole world, and that was the real point to be aimed at. After all, they should think, not so much of terms, but of things, and he wished to point out how it ought to be considered, first, in connection with their home trade; and, secondly, in connection with the commerce of the world. As to their home trade, it was as disadvantageously affected by the existing confusion, as it could possibly be by the introduction of one more variety swallowing up all the rest. Did the hon. Gentleman forget that a stone meant a different weight in respect to almost every description of aricle, and that a hundredweight meant 112 lbs, 120 lbs, 128 lbs, and even 140 lbs, in different localities, and according as it was used with respect to different commodities? In his own county, a bushel meant 32 different measures. Was it of no importance to a commercial country like England that she should be able to speak the language of commerce as understood all over the world? [Mr. SCOURFIELD said, that this country should dictate what should be the language of commerce.] That would be all very well if they were establishing a new order of things; but they had listened so long to arguments like those from the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Stevenson), that the world had gone beyond them, and could not now be expected to hark back, and take a measure from us. Was it just that this country should force 300,000,000 people to give up the system they had, with prescience, adopted, and which they found well suited to universal commerce, in order that they should learn a later, even if better, system from us? The French system was as nearly perfect as anything human could be, and had been generally adopted, though it was true that Sir John Herschell had said that it would have been better had some other mode of measurement for the metre been adopted. The test of standard was a separate question; an universal unit, in the double sense of universal application to all kinds of measurement, and of universal adoption by all, was the subject of debate. After all there was only a difference of three inches between the metre and the yard, while 1,000 kilogrammes weighed within 15 lbs of their ton, two lbs being only slightly in excess of a kilogramme, and the chain was within a few inches of the corresponding metric measure. Under these circumstances, it would not be necessary to make any very great change in their weights and measures in order to adapt them to the metric system, even without using new terms; but, however that might be, a system which measured length, area, bulk, and weight by one unit, was superior to a system which had not only a separate unit for all modes of measurement, but 20 meanings for every measure. The Report of the Standards Commission, which had been presented to hon. Members that morning, showed that in consequence of the difference that existed in their weights and measures, they were unable to enter into any fair postal arrangement with foreign countries, and that, consequently, they had to put up with considerable loss on that score. He had to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Committee of Council for having introduced the study of the metric system into their primary schools, which was certainly a very important step in the right direction. Children would soon rebel against avoirdupois. In their last Report the Standards Commissioners had proposed the abolition of troy weight; and, in fact, they had recommended, on every occasion, every possible advance in the direction of adopting the metric system. He understood that the Government were about to offer the hon. Member who had introduced this Bill (Mr. J. B. Smith) a sort of compromise, to the effect that, if he would withdraw his measure for the present, they would, on a subsequent occasion, bring in a Bill rendering the adoption of the metric system permissive. In the event of such an offer being made, imperfect as it was, he should be inclined to advise the hon. Member to accept it, because once the metric system had a fair trial, it would be sure to gain for itself general acceptance throughout the country. He agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope) in the course of that debate, that that Bill should have been brought in by the Government, who, however, had not shown much alacrity in the matter; but, under the circumstances, perhaps it would be as well for the hon. Member to accept their offer, and to withdraw his Bill for the present.


said, in the few remarks he intended to offer upon the Bill, he should not attempt to deal with the subject upon scientific, archaeological, or theoretical grounds, but should confine his observations to the practical points which appeared to him involved in the question before the House. He could not concur in the depreciation which had been attempted of the able speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Stevenson), which he believed had thoroughly thrashed out the subject from a practical and commercial point of view. That speech, he considered, was not directed against the permissive introduction and legalization of the metric system in this country, but against its compulsory adoption. He could not accept the statement of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith) that their system of weights and measures must either remain as it was at present, or that they must adopt the metric system offhand and render its use compulsory. There were high authorities in favour of adopting the intermediate course of allowing two systems to walk side by side; at all events, for a time. That was the first time that the issue on that subject had been directly and fairly before the House, it having on all previous occasions when it had been under discussion been disposed of by a side wind. As a matter of course, it was impossible to expect that any legislation could take place on the question that Session, and the simple question for determination now was, whether the House was prepared to assert the principle that the early introduction, by way of compulsion, of the metric system, to the exclusion of the present system, was desirable. That question had never been directly before the House before, and it was important that that fact should be known, because he was aware that there was a general impression prevalent abroad that the House of Commons had already decided in favour of the early introduction of a compulsory metric system. But that was quite a mistake. Thus, when Mr. Ewart's Bill was before the House in 1863, it was read a second time on the understanding that the measure was to be converted into a permissive one. Again, the Bill of 1864 was got rid of by Mr. Milner Gibson, the then President of the Board of Trade, who substituted for it the short Act of which so much had been heard, and about which there had been much misconception. It was true that Act bore the title of an Act to legalize the use of metric weights and measures, but all it did was to render contracts under the metric system legal, which they were not before, while it by no means legalized the use of those weights and measures in this country, for at that moment any person who had metric weights and measures in his possession was liable to prosecution. Then as regarded the Compulsory Bill of 1868, it was read a second time on the definite understanding that it should proceed no further, but that the House should await the Report of the Commission which had now been presented. Great importance was attached to the recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee of 1862. That recommendation simply was that the use of the metric system should be rendered legal, but that there should be no compulsory measure brought in until sanctioned by the general conviction of the country, and they made precisely the same recommendation as the Standards Commission—namely, that a trial should be made by the Government sanctioning the use of the metric system in levying the Customs duties. The Royal Commission agreed on that point with the Committee. In short, all the principal authorities on the question were agreed that if the metric system were to be introduced into this country, it must be done by tentative and permissive preliminary steps, and that the use of the system must be rendered legal, not compulsory. While stating that such was the present condition of the question, he might mention, in answer to some observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, that the loss to the Post Office in their arrangements with foreign countries, occasioned by the difference between our weights and measures, only amounted to £500 a-year. In his opinion, the general feeling of this country was not at present such as would justify the compulsory introduction of the metric system. Before any system such as that could be compulsorily introduced it would be necessary to have the country in favour of it, because there was no country in which the difficulties of enforcing it against the will of the people would be so great as in England. The examples of France, Germany, and of British India would not justify a hasty decision; the evils which formerly existed there having been far more intolerable than anything of the same kind here. He did not deny that there were evils in this country; but they had a single yard, a single pound, and a single gallon, while in France, before the First French Revolution, there were some 50 such measures and weights. The Royal Commission of 1869 had reported against now fixing any future time at which the metric system should be made compulsory; and, further, that it would be inexpedient to legislate upon the metric system at all until the whole subject of weights and measures could be dealt with by Government in one Bill. He agreed with that, but, at the same time, admitted that it would become the duty of Government to make some proposal of that nature to the House at the earliest practicable time. Perhaps the best course would be to put the metric system on an equal footing with the present Imperial system for a time, so that the public might become familiar with its qualities. That course had been recommended by the Committee of the United States Congress, for the metric system was not, as had been generally supposed, compulsory in America at present. The Report of the Committee of the Canadian Senate in 1870 showed that the Canadians were under the impression that the metric system was already permissively established, and the Committee recommended that our example should be followed, and that the metric system should be adopted conjointly with the existing system. Under all the circumstances of the case, he would put it to the hon. Member whether it was desirable to ask the House to commit itself at once to the adoption of the metric system, or whether it would not be better to postpone the consideration of the matter, and leave it to the Government to introduce a complete measure next Session.


said, the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith), who had introduced that subject had underrated the difficulties involved in his proposal. He (Mr. Scourfield) thought the adoption of the metric system at the present time would be infinitely more difficult than it would have been 30 years ago, for the real question at issue was whether the penny should be abandoned or the pound. A Royal Commission had reported against giving up the sovereign, and the penny had been forced into almost every popular transaction in the country, and to abolish it would cause immense confusion, a result which he, for one, desired to avoid. It was the basis of their postage and their railway fares, and formed the standard for all the more simple commercial transactions in which, of course, the larger and less educated portion of the community were engaged. He was strongly opposed to abandoning the duodecimal system in favour of the decimal, which although affording a good basis for rough divisions, was in his opinion very much exaggerated with respect to its superior advantages. Obviously 12 was a far more convenient number than 10. 12 could be divided by four figures, while 10 could be divided only by two.


said, the Select Committee of 1862 had unanimously recommended that the decimal system should be cautiously introduced, and he was surprised to hear the trivial objections raised to it. His hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Stevenson) seemed incapable of divesting his mind of the influence of habit; but he would remind him that his neighbours, Sir William Armstrong, Sir Joseph Whitworth, and Sir William Fairbairn, were all strongly in favour of the metric system. The last meeting of the Chambers of Commerce had passed a unanimous resolution in favour of that system, and the Chambers of Agriculture had pronounced the same verdict; and it was used by the extensive chemical manufacturers, Messrs. Muspratt, of Liverpool, and the principal chemical firms in both England and France. If the permissive system were fairly tried, he should prefer it; but on the whole, relying on the promise of the Government, he would recommend his hon. Friend (Mr. J. B. Smith) not to divide. Those who spoke of it as incomprehensible had evidently never given a moment's attention to it. A single lesson on the black board would convince the House of its superiority, and as for simplicity, a mechanic who happened to go out to Lyons on a job, gave evidence before the Committee that he had mastered the system in three weeks, and was able to do his marketing there without assistance.


said, it was not often that a Representative of the agricultural interest appeared in the ranks of the Radical Reformers; but he had come to the conclusion that it was absolutely necessary that the weights and measures of this country should be adapted to one uniform standard. Within the last few years he had been induced to change his former opinion on this question, and he now believed the metric system was the best they could adopt. In the course of his experience, he had bought and sold in Oxfordshire, Norfolk, and Pembrokeshire by different weights for different articles, and referring to the numerous weights which answered to the name of "stone," he remarked that in Shropshire, not only were there different weights in different towns, but different weights on different market days in the same town. In these days of telegraphs and railways, when information and transit were so quick between their markets, it was essentially requisite something should be done in the direction of that reform. He had, in one town, seen beef sold by the hundredweight, mutton by the pound, and pork by the score. If the present age did not gain any advantage from a change, the next generation would derive incalculable benefit from the metric system, if it were adopted now. It would confer great advantage on the children of the working classes by sparing them the trouble of mastering the conflicting details of the present system of weights and measures, and of which he was conscious by witnessing the struggles of his own little girl who had lately passed through the ordeal. No one could doubt that they must have a compulsory system at some time or other; and while he admitted that the lapse of a long period might be advisable before a compulsory provision came into force, he contended that it should not extend beyond ten years, lest the subject passed out of the public mind, as might happen if 30 years were allowed to elapse.


said, the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith) had not condescended to prove that the system he wished to introduce was good, but had contented himself with stating how many countries had adopted it; and he seemed wholly to have forgotten the enormous cost that would be incurred by those who could ill afford to bear it, if this Bill became law all tradesmen would be compelled to replace all their weights and measures. He (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) believed that the advantages to be derived from the introduction of the system would never compensate the losses caused by the confusion and expense necessary to establish it. By the proposed change of measures it was probable, in respect to liquids, that the rich would gain, while the poor would most certainly lose; and how were they, for instance, to adjust the price to the difference between the litre or the half litre, and the quart or the pint, in the case of beer or milk? No doubt it would be well to have an uniform system; but they had an Imperial bushel, and the Government had found it impossible to secure its general adoption. What chance would there be of carrying out the decimal system on the basis of the Imperial bushel? Under the metric system the effect of the substitution of the litre for the quart would be, that the working man would get ⅞ths of a pint of beer instead of a pint. To the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfred Lawson) that might appear an advantage; but then for the less quantity of beer he would no doubt continue to pay the same amount of money. It might be said that these things would adjust themselves in the long run, and perhaps they would, after a long period of annoyance and loss to the many; but they ought to take care that the people should be able to understand any new system before it was introduced. It might be right that the metric system should be taught in their schools, and sufficient time ought to be allowed before it was attempted to enforce its adoption. He cordially endorsed the views enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and did not object to that system being made permissive, but on the part of the great body of the working classes he must firmly oppose any measure rendering its adoption compulsory. Whatever might be the case as to large foreign transactions, it was impossible in small transactions amongst the great body of the people, to carry out at the present time any system of weights and measures which did not admit of division into halves and quarters.


said, he thought that a measure of that extent and importance could not be fairly brought under the consideration of Parliament, except by the Government, for it was impossible that it could be advantageously legislated on by private Members. They had been told that it was desirable to have a uniform unit which should be common to all the world. That was a vast philosophical idea; but as to the prospect of its being universally adopted among all nations they were left very much in the dark, for there was only the Government that could inform them as to the likelihood of that universal adoption being realized. Then it was said that they were to go to a foreign capital for their unit—that was to say, that a piece of metal of certain dimensions was to remain in the custody of certain persons there. But in that foreign capital they were not the most certain people in the world; and it was impossible to tell how long it would be before that piece of metal was melted down, or otherwise disappeared; and then where would be their unit? It was said they would have to set to and measure the earth again, for that was the way in which their unit had been arrived at; but different people in different parts of the world might set to and measure the earth for themselves, when there would be no certainty that their calculations would agree, and thus they might possibly have not one unit, but two or even more. It was asserted by the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Read) that their agriculturists were most anxious that uniform measures should be adopted. If so, why on earth did they not do it? One could hardly conceive of a stronger law than that which said that the Imperial bushel should be the only measure by which grain was to be sold; but for some reasons best known to themselves, agriculturists in different parts of the kingdom—a class very apt to do as they liked—did not choose to sell by it. Before a Committee of that House, of which the late Mr. Cobden was a Member, that very question of the various ways in which corn was sold came up, and among the various suggestions made to induce all men to obey the law, was one made by Mr. Cobden—because they had really nothing to do but to obey the present law, and he did not know that they would be more willing to obey it if a new-fangled name, which they did not understand, were substituted for one which they did understand—it was asked, could they not easily have a policeman in the market to see that the sales were carried on according to law? The unhappy policeman, however, who had that to do might not have a very enviable position; but if their agriculturists would not obey the law, and persisted in soiling in such a variety of different ways that no man would pretend either to enumerate or define them, he did not see what they would gain by adopting that Bill. Was it to be supposed that their labourers would very easily understand the new system, and was it possible that the adjustments under it would be so equal as between master and man that neither of the two would think himself wronged in its application? Again, he did not believe that a change of weights and measures could be made in any year without involving a direct expenditure of some £3,000,000 sterling in the United Kingdom. That might seem a large sum, but he knew that in ten of their principal trades they had about 1,000,000 of retail traders, and how heavy would be the cost of a new set of weights and measures to them, not to speak of the private householders of the country! When the Government could say there was a reasonable certainty that all other nations would adopt the same uniform system, it would be time enough to ask our people to bear such a tax, and to make a change which would create great internal confusion. They knew what had happened in France; how. Frenchmen first began to cut off their King's head, declared there was no God, set up a social evil as an object of worship, and cast aside all the ancient provinces and limits of the land. There was also an enormous change of property, almost to the extent of being universal; and when that was done they set about measuring the world, and enforced that unit which people were so very fond of throughout France, where they had a vast number of different measures in every province. He should be very glad to hear how long it took, with all the despotism that existed in France, before the old system of weights and measures was fairly got rid of. That was a matter upon which the Government ought to give them some information. He should therefore be sorry to see a Bill of that sort passed until, at all events, they had an assurance that there was to be some uniform system agreed upon for all the world; that all the world was to agree where the universal measure or standard was to be kept, or could always be got at; and also, until they had some proof that there would be a greater disposition to obey any new fanciful law on that subject than experience had shown to exist in regard to the adoption of the Imperial bushel. For those reasons, he cordially supported the Amendment of the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope).


said, the difficulties of introducing the metric system into this country would be almost insurmountable; and as a large employer of labour, he was certain that such a Bill as that would meet with the strong disfavour of the working classes, who knew the present system perfectly well, and understood all its working, but who would have all their habits and notions in regard to work and wages upset by the introduction of a new system. Indeed, he believed it would be more unpalatable to them than even a proposal to reduce their wages would be. The trouble and annoyance to manufacturers and employers of labour would also be considerable, and the metric system would entail on them large expense, not only in the purchase of new weights, but in the manufacture of new machinery, for in his own business there were hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of rolls for manufacturing iron rails, and as those rolls were adapted to the English measurement, they would all have to be replaced. That would entail a vast expense, and it would paralyze for the time the industries of the country. For those reasons, then, he must say he was strongly opposed to the Bill.


, in supporting the Bill, said, he held that the balance of convenience was on the side of the supporters of that Bill, rather than on that of its opponents. The introduction of the metric system dated from about the commencement of the present century, and 500,000,000 of people had adopted it and made it compulsory, while other nations were introducing it in a more tentative manner. Those foreign countries had embraced it on the very score of convenience; while, as an example of the inconvenience of their present system, the documents presented to the House almost every week were exceedingly difficult to understand from the attempt to place the two systems side by side; he referred to the Returns of foreign trade from the Secretaries of our Embassies and from our Consuls. The owners and occupiers of land in the country had also given considerable attention to that subject, and were favourable to the proposed change. There might be reasons why that change should not be rendered compulsory; but they ought not to come from the Treasury bench after the proposal lately made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to apply the decimal system in levying the income tax. The hon. Member for London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) had asked how they were to adjust prices in applying new measures of capacity to milk and beer sold in that city. Nothing could be easier. In the one case there should be a less application of water; and in the other the "dashing" process might be advantageously adopted. Measurements of land were taken by the chain of 100 parts, and not by the foot or yard, the chain being commonly understood by the labouring class; for there was no doubt that the pole, consisting of 5½ yards, was a most inconvenient lineal measure. He doubted whether any legislation would succeed in forcing the sellers of corn in the different counties of England to adopt one uniform weight and measure; but the great corn merchants of Liverpool abandoned the system of quoting their prices by quarters and bushels, and adopted instead the decimal principle of 100 lbs. The Central Chamber of Agriculture had discussed that question twice, and while they saw that there would be some difficulty in introducing a great change at a moment, or even at a year's notice, the last resolution they had come to on the subject was to urge the Education Department to make the metrical system a part of the instruction given in their elementary schools—a suggestion which he was delighted to find was likely to be adopted. There would be no difficulty, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Stevenson) seemed to think, in measuring gas pipes, or in quoting lead under the new system contemplated by the Bill, and seeing that lead was weighed, and the quality appraised, on a different principle in various localities, it appeared that if there was one substance more than another which would supply an argument against the view taken by the hon. Member, it was that. After all, in their opposition to that Bill, were they not unconsciously animated by selfish thoughtfulness about the present time, and the inconvenience which would at first be experienced, rather than by that provision and that regard for others who were to come after them, which was the only becoming spirit in which to legislate? To those who were now growing up this system would, before very long, present itself as a necessity. As to the difficulty of finding names for the new weights and measures it was purely imaginary, for the people with their usual good sense would adopt the novel nomenclature; and if not, they could fall back on those already in use. His own opinion was, however, that those who were terrified at the introduction of strange names would, like the Fakenham cottager, "learn to love the sound that frightened them before."


said, there was considerable waste of time in reducing figures relating to foreign and English weights and measures to a common standard; and, in fact, it could not be done without reducing the English system to decimals, and he could personally testify, after the experience of half-a-century in dealing with foreign and English meteorological and statistical tables, that their reduction to a common denomination was a work of vexatious labour. And to save this labour was to save time, and with a business nation like ours to save time was to save money. In regard to the metric terms which seemed so uncouth and unpalatable to the bulk of Englishmen, why should they not preserve the old ones, such as the old English names of yard and ton, &c., and simply adopt the quantities of the metric system? Those who were opposed to the proposals of the Bill before the House urged as one of their strongest arguments the difficulty there would be in inducing people who had been for so many years accustomed to the present system to submit to the radical change which would be involved. The answer to that was that the change had been made by Continental nations, who had also been accustomed to a different system, and not only without inconvenience but with positive advantage. He would suggest that the best course would be to bring in a Bill next Session rendering the metric system legal, but making its operation permissive and confining it to a short series of years, after which its adoption should be compulsory in case the experiment proved successful.


said, it seemed to be generally admitted that the metric system possessed great advantages over that at present in use in this country; but it was thought that a compulsory change suddenly made would be productive of considerable inconvenience to the humbler classes. He believed it was not denied that the commercial classes, as represented by the Chambers of Commerce, would welcome the proposed change without delay. Now, it should be borne in mind that the great increase of trade in this country was of a foreign character, and the inconvenience resulting from the present system was annually on the increase. Most of the great commercial countries in Europe had compulsorily introduced the decimal system, while the United States and their own Indian possessions had adopted the permissive system. It appeared to him that the practical difficulty with which they had to contend was this—that so long as the metric system was only permissive in this country, they would find the schoolmasters and the school boards not sufficiently fixed in their determination to teach that system. But once let it be known throughout the country that the system would be enacted compulsorily, and would come into force in the course of ten years from the present time, and the school boards would make arrangements for teaching it; and thus in a very short time the minds of the children would become familiarized with the new and improved system. A near relative of his, who had a seat in the last Parliament, and who happened to have two large establishments in France, had expressed his astonishment that this country should have lagged so far behind France in this matter, and should not have before now turned its attention to the great advantages of the metric system; and many of the workmen employed by him had repeatedly borne witness to the ease with which the system was learnt by even the most inexperienced. He trusted that his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith) would have the courage to divide the House.


said, he also hoped the hon. Member in charge of the Bill (Mr. J. B. Smith) would not accept the sop thrown out to him from the Treasury bench. No doubt it would have been better for the matter to have been in the hands of the Government; but they had failed to take it up so far, and it was not likely that legislation on the subject would have much chance if all the weights and measures in the country were added to the other burdens now resting on the shoulders of the Executive.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 77; Noes 82: Majority 5.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for three months.