HC Deb 29 March 1881 vol 260 cc158-78

rose to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the introduction of a Decimal System of Coinage, Weights, and Measures ought not to be longer delayed. The hon. Member said, that in this country social questions were almost always postponed to political questions, as the latter involved few private interests, but stimulated Party spirit. The Motion he was proposing was essentially not a Party one, because it had been supported on many occasions by Members both of the Conservative and Liberal Parties. He noticed the President of the Board of Trade in his place, and he believed the subject of the Resolution would get the same reception as it did in 1863 from Lord Palmerston's Government, when they suffered defeat on this particular question. He hoped that defeat would be a good omen for the present Motion. It was quite intelligible that social questions should be sacrificed for political questions; but he thought it would be a rather serious blot in their representative institutions if the principle was carried too far, This question was first raised in the House of Commons in 1824; afterwards a Commission of Inquiry was appointed, in which Mr. Spring Rice, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and afterwards Lord Monteagle, took part. That showed that the Government of those days were less occupied with political matters than they were now, and more disposed to devote themselves to the interests of the commercial classes of the country, who had always supported and petitioned in favour of this measure. In 1843, another Commission, composed of scientific men, reported strongly in favour of this particular scheme. In 1853, a Committee of the House of Commons, which confined its inquiries to decimal coinage, reported in favour of that system. In November, 1854, a great amount of evidence, collected by that Committee, was published; but there was no Report. In the years 1862–3–4 there was great activity in relation to the question, and Mr. Ewart's Committee was appointed in 1862, and collected an immense mass of evidence, which had been the basis of all subsequent investigations. In 1863, Mr. Ewart brought in a Bill which, despite the opposition of Lord Palmerston's Government, was carried on its second reading by a large majority. That led to the Act of 1864, which made the metric system permissive in the country. No doubt, the argument against his Resolution would be that the system, being permissive in England, if it was advantageous would have been taken up. But there was a curious piece of evidence in the Report of the Commission on that point. An over-zealous Inspector of Weights and Measures having summoned a tradesman for having in his possession weights and measures of the metric system, the tradesman produced the Act of Parliament, and pleaded that he was permitted to use them. The magistrates disagreed, and the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, to whom it was referred, was that though a man might lawfully use the weights and measures at the metric system, he might not have them in his house. The House would, therefore, see that the permission was not of much use. In 1871, a Bill to make the system compulsory was rejected by a majority of 5. No doubt, the reason of the great outburst of activity on the subject in 1861 was due to the Exhibi- tions which were held; and after the Paris Exhibition of 1855 an Association was formed to encourage the decimal system throughout the world generally. The Commission, which had reported on this subject, had reported practically in favour of the system he proposed, and it was a great comfort to its advocates to think that the coinage of this country might be easily changed into the decimal system with so little inconvenience. The pound sterling would be retained as the unit, the florin would be retained, and the farthing, which was the 960th of a pound, would be the 1,000th instead. It would be admitted that that was a very slight alteration. Some said that if this system were carried out it would lead to the abolition of the half-crown; but he did not see that it should do so. The half-crown was a handsome and useful coin, and he was quite in favour of its retention. The sovereign would be 1,000 mils, the shilling 50, the sixpence 25, and the half-crown 125. The only alteration that would be required would be a slight alteration in the stamping of the coins, and that the number of mils should be indicated on one side of the coin. With regard to the copper coinage there would be more difficulty. What he maintained was that, with the retention of the pound sterling as the unit, the cost of the change in our copper coinage was not such as ought to deter us from making such a beneficial alteration as the introduction of a decimal system of coinage. The alteration in the case of the penny would be very simple. The penny would become the 250th part of a pound instead of the 240th part, as at present. He admitted that the change might cause a certain inconvenience in some of the small transactions of life; but it would be noticed that, on the whole, the balance would not be against the poorer classes. There would be a loss of 4 per cent; but it would fall rather on the dealer than on the consumer. To show that he was disinterested in bringing the matter forward, he might mention that in his particular business the alteration would be a distinct, though not a very large, loss to himself. He proposed to retain the sovereign and the whole of the silver coinage, and to make only a small alteration in the copper coinage. The only new coin he proposed to have was one of nickel of the value of 2½d., or 10 to a florin. He thought the decimal coinage had now arrived at a distinct, crystallized stage. The whole of the evidence collected on this subject was distinctly in favour of one course, and that course he proposed to adopt if the House approved of his Motion. The proposal was that a Bill should be introduced dealing with the coinage next Session. With regard to the system of weights and measures, there was a great diversity of opinion. The more radical course was the proposed adoption of the metric system pure and simple, as it existed nearly over the whole of Europe. This would immensely facilitate commercial transactions with every country in Europe. There was also the medium course, which he should be willing to adopt if it should be proved that the bulk of the commercial opinion of England was in favour of it, and which was recommended by the Commission of 1841–2. It proposed the retention of the yard, but the introduction of a measure of 1,000 yards in place of the present inconvenient mile, which was 1,760 yards. It also proposed to do away with the 60 or more measures of corn in use in different parts of the country at the present moment, and to introduce the cental, the measure now in use in Liverpool and other ports. It also proposed, instead of 5½ yards to a pole of ground, to adopt the measure already used by English land surveyors, the chain being divided into links. That system was already a decimal one, and might be conveniently extended, and made the only legal system. His personal preference was decidedly in favour of the general adoption of the metric system, because it would bring us into community with almost the whole of the European countries. It was a curious fact that our trade with countries which used the metric system increased so much more rapidly than with those which did not. A great saving of labour would be effected by the adoption of that system, and the Decimal Association had elicited, by means of a Circular to schoolmasters, the important fact that whereas it took an average of two years and ten months to teach a child the present English system of coinage and weights and measures, it would only take a few days over nine months to teach the metric system. It might be said that the common people would have a difficulty in learning that system; but it must be remembered that education had made, and was still making, rapid advances in this country. That system had been introduced into almost every country in Europe, and also into the South American Republics, where it could not be said that a very high average of education and general intelligence existed. He had read a good deal of commercial correspondence on the question, and he only found one of his correspondents unfavourable to the adoption of his proposal. In that single instance the objection was that the decimal system was already largely in use in commercial houses, the practice being to regard a shilling as .05 and a penny as .004 of a pound. So that the only objection to his plan was that it was already largely in use in an irregular manner. Mr. Locke, the eminent English engineer, when he was constructing railways in France, used the decimal system both in paying the workmen, and in respect to the finer and more delicate parts of machinery; and the testimony which he bore on the subject was, that it took English workmen in France only from a fortnight to a month to master the decimal and metric system. Mr. Locke also found the decimal system so convenient, that when he returned to England and commenced making railways hero he used that system first, and converted his calculations back into the English standards afterwards. Our scientific men had not used anything but the metrical system for the last 40 years; and the great accuracy now acquired in mechanical work, such as the casting of guns and the like, was only to be obtained by the use of the decimal system. Sir William Armstrong, B. Whitworth, and Sir Thomas Fairbairn—almost the greatest possible authorities on a subject of that sort—might be cited in favour of that system. Again, one of the most strenuous upholders of the decimal system, either as to value or as to weights, was the late Sir Rowland Hill, the author of the penny post reform. The actual saving of clerical labour which would attend the change would be very considerable. He thought that clerks in England were badly paid, and he should be sorry to do anything which would injure them. But though the saving of labour effected by the introduction of machinery had been very great, employers had, nevertheless, generally found their labour bills much increased. In fact, the moment they gave facilities for increased production, and made things simpler and clearer, although they might cause some little temporary suffering and inconvenience, yet they inevitably increased the demand enormously in a very short period. By the adoption of the decimal system, calculations would be rendered vastly simpler and easier, and the consequent saving of time that would thereby be effected would not only be one-third or one-half, as some authorities estimated, but far larger. Several important bodies of commercial men, including the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, had considered the question, and had passed resolutions in favour of the adoption of the decimal system; even Moshesh, the son of the famous Basuto Chief of that name, had, at a meeting of Basutos, thanked the Government for introducing a uniform scale of weights and measures as the greatest boon they could give them. As far as the difficulty of introducing the system into this country was concerned, he could only say that the difficulty was one which had been grappled with successfully in other countries. It had been adopted, for instance, in France, Holland, and Portugal; and the case of Holland was very similar to this country. The Dutch, while adopting the system, had retained Dutch words as the names of the divisions in their coinage, which might be very well done in this country. The question was, in his view, one of great importance to the commercial and agricultural classes; and it was clear that in other countries in which it had been adopted the classes in question had found great convenience from the use of the system. In fact, the evidence he had adduced showed that this view was held, and that the commercial classes, at any rate, wished the settlement of the question not to be delayed any longer than was absolutely necessary by reason of the pressure of other Business more important to the nation. The longer it was delayed the more difficult the settlement must be. Transactions were becoming more and more complicated, and there would be greater reluctance to deal with the matter. There was probably no civilized country in the world. which had such a puzzling system of weights and measures as we had in England; and, as far as agricultural trades were concerned, our present system was simply a disgrace. We had made improvements lately; but they had not yet resulted in anything very great, and we were not much further advanced than before. We had even been further on the road than we were now. When the Education Code was first introduced by a Liberal Government, the metric system was taught in our schools; but the first thing the Conservatives did when they came into power was to knock that on the head. We were as yet very far from being in the position in which we ought to be if we were to keep our place among the nations. One great reason for the commercial classes approving the proposal was that it was a measure of Free Trade, and one which would afford much greater facilities for commerce than existed under the present system. The metrical system was in use by more than one-third of the whole population in the world; and a small matter like this might very well turn a considerable amount of commerce from our shores, owing to the difficulty which foreigners had of understanding our complicated and difficult system of weights and measures. There would, no doubt, be some trouble in introducing a new system in this country; but it would not be anything like so great as was apprehended. The trouble he regarded as a mere bugbear. They had, no doubt, many good things which foreign nations had not. They had Free Trade, and their vast supply of coal, and, besides, they had great national energy; but they had not the good thing of which he spoke, and of which foreign nations were possessed. He admitted that the passing of an Act establishing the metric system would do harm at first to the Government who introduced it; but in the end that Government would be strengthened by passing such a measure. Every interest that was disturbed, and everyone who was put to a little trouble, however he might be benefited in the end, would grumble and growl; but, even though they might displease a few people, it would be well to risk a temporary unpopularity. It would not be the least or meanest achieve- ment of a Liberal Government to deal with a question which had been standing over so long against the distinctly-expressed wish of every commercial body of importance in the country; and it was to be hoped they would give it that attention which its gravity and importance demanded.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the introduction of a Decimal System of Coinage, Weights, and Measures ought not to be longer delayed."—(Mr. Ashton Dilke.)


thought they had had a pleasant illustration of the state of matters in that House in contrast to the period of "urgency" which had so lately existed, for they now appeared to be at liberty to spend an agreeable evening in discussing a proposal which he ventured to submit was by no means an urgent one. One would think, from the term of the Motion, that there was a movement in favour of change; but there was less demand than formerly for the introduction of the decimal coinage system, and he expected the movement would remain in a state of comparative quiescence for a long time to come. The House had in past times humoured Members possessing this hobby, and on one or two occasions majorities had been voted in favour of propositions by these Members, on the understanding that on the Bills being read a second time they should go no further. In the year 1853, when the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. J. B. Smith asked him, as a new copper coinage was about to be issued, whether he would take that opportunity of introducing the decimal system. Undoubtedly, if that system was ever to be adopted that was the proper time for it; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied "that he had no intention of making any change. A fresh supply of coin was necessary for this country and the Colonies. We had to consider the Colonies, who had adopted the same system as ourselves; and any interference with it was a matter of great importance and delicacy"—altering the value of those particular coins which were the basis of the whole idea of value to the mass of the population—"and so serious a change ought not to be undertaken on abstract opinions without ascertaining that the ground under our feet was secure." These words were as true now as then. We had to consider not only learned men and merchants, but also costermongers and their customers; and the latter had not memoralized the Government to say that they were defrauded and could not spend their money to the best advantage with our present system. A consideration of what was best for the great masses of the people would lead to the conclusion that we had better make no change. When a point was made of the correspondence between French coins and weights, it should be remembered that in the new bronze coinage, ld. weighed one-third of an ounce; ½d. one-fifth of an ounce, and ¼d. one-tenth of an ounce; so that 3d. made an ounce weight, and that the ½d. was an inch in diameter. In the debate of 1855, Sir William Brown ardently advocated the decimal coinage; but Mr. J. B. Smith deprecated the introduction of the decimal system, lost the unpopularity of the change should interfere with the metric system, of which he was as ardent an advocate. To establish a system of decimal coinage would simply be to introduce confusion, because it would interfere with that which was the standard of value in the minds of the people. The Government, however, consented to an Inquiry by a Royal Commission, who reported in 1859, and who fully exhausted the subject. The Commission, he might add, knocked the system on the head, and Lord Overstone had propounded a set of questions on the subject, which had never been answered. In a paragraph in the Report, too, it was stated that, as regarded comparative convenience for the reckonings of shops and markets, the superiority rested with the present system. The florin was introduced as a step to decimal coinage, but it had never taken its place as a unit of value in this country. It was one of the most stupid coins that had ever come from the Mint, which had stopped the coining of half-crowns—a most useful coin—many years ago, but only soon to coin them again. But it was argued that other countries had adopted the decimal system. That, no doubt, was so; but they had not destroyed their old unity of value—the Spanish dollar in America, and the sou in France—and the metric system of weights and measures could not in France by law be forced into the minds of the people. He might refer to a French cookery book, published in 1870, to corroborate that statement. There he found receipts in which all the old terms of weight and measurement—pounds, inches, ounces—were employed, which showed that the language of the kitchen did not agree with that of the law, which had introduced a new language by which all the old ideas were disturbed. The greater simplicity of a decimal coinage for calculation was asserted; but if they wished to add to 2s. 6d. the sum of 1s. 3d., they saw at once that the amount was 3s. 9d.; but expressed in decimal notation, it would be this—to 1 florin 2 cents and 5 mils (the value of 2s. 6d.) add 6 cents and 2½ mils (the value of 1s. 3d.), and you get the sum of 1 florin 8 cents and 7½, or, rather, 7.5 mils, as the equivalent for 3s. 9d. The argument of simplicity was in favour of the old notation. The penny and the mil were the unity for all statistics of cost on railways, such as the cost of fuel per train mile; and for this purpose decimals of a penny were voluntarily used. In like manner the inch, divided into 100 parts, was used at Woolwich. Parliament had already done all that was reasonable in the way of the metric system. They had rendered the language of it legal in contracts, and the Weights and Measures Act of 1878 had authorized the use of metric weights for scientific purposes and for manufacture, but not for trade. The Act also authorized the Board of Trade to sanction decimal multiples and divisions of existing standards. The Act also decimalized the troy ounce for gold and silver sales, abolishing penny weights and troy pounds. This useful Act has been copied in the Colonies. They were all familiar with the score and the dozen; but there was no similar word in any language he knew for a group of ten; and human nature did not work by decimals. Eggs, oysters, and bottles of wine were all sold by the dozen even in France; indeed, the French wine trade, partly, no doubt, in deference to the demands of English and American consumers, had reverted to making their cases hold 60 bottles instead of 50. Besides, our coinage fitted in with our existing system of weights and measures, and that was an important and practical consideration. It was observable, too, that for all the quotations of the stock and share market vulgar fractions were preferred to decimal, on account of the convenience of the natural use of halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. That, he believed, was the experience of the American markets, in common with our own, as he proved by extracts from a New York price list. Again, as long as we had the bulk of the carrying trade of the world, the British ton and the pound sterling would prevail. Such were the reasons—all of them connected with business and remote from theory—which induced him to vote against the Motion.


believed they were all perfectly agreed that there was very great difficulty in making this change; but he thought the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Stevenson) had considerably exaggerated those difficulties. For instance, when he talked about human nature working in dozens, he must say that was a proposition that hardly commended itself to his mind. He did not find, for example, that they were given 12 fingers or 12 toes. But they had 10 fingers and 10 toes, and that might be considered as a natural suggestion in favour of the decimal system. But he would not pursue that point. Even taking the difficulties, the hon. Member was not quite accurate in all his particulars when speaking of shillings being used in New York; because, wherever they went in America, the dollar and the cent were the current mercantile coins. Then the hon. Member said they must look to the Colonies; but in Canada, their premier Colony, they had the decimal system of coinage. The hon. Member (Mr. Dilke) had not said a great deal about money of account, and it appeared to him the money of account should be decimal rather than the coinage. From the Resolution placed upon the Paper it was impossible to gather what scheme was proposed, and it was for that reason he put down his Amendment that it was a fit subject to go to a Committee. The scheme suggested by the hon. Member was that a pound should be the unit; but it appeared to him that was much too large a unit. In France and Italy the unit was a franc, which was only the twenty-fifth part of a pound, and it would be a mistake to make the unit a pound. In America the unit was the dollar; and if they did not adopt an international unit, he thought the natural unit they should adopt would be the franc, as in Italy and France. If they were, however, to stick to their own coinage, in his opinion, a florin ought to be the unit, and that would be a unit that it would be easy to divide into hundredth parts. Then, he could not see the extreme difficulty that the hon. Member (Mr. Stevenson) saw in necessarily abolishing the penny. They had already changed the actual value of the penny, because they knew there was not a pennyworth of bronze in it; and it was, therefore, easy to change the nominal to four mils instead of five mils, and then they would not be abolishing the penny at all. He thought there was no doubt, as regards educational and mercantile matters, that the money of account ought to be decimal. It would be an enormous saving both in the cost and trouble of teaching children, and in the cost of mercantile transactions, if we adopted money of account which was decimal. But there was a very much greater difference when they came to weights and measures, because there was much greater confusion, and the change would certainly produce a very considerable amount of confusion in the country. He did not think the hon. Member (Mr. Dilke) had suggested any mode that was at all feasible by which they could take and decimalize their present weights and measures. They dared not hope to do it with their present weights and measures; and, consequently, there would be nothing for it but to make a complete change and adopt the metric system. No doubt, there would be a great gain in adopting a system that in the course of time would be international; and if it could be done with any moderate amount of present inconvenience to themselves they ought to do it. Possibly by remitting it to a Select Committee to consider, something might come out of it. It was now a long time since there was a Committee, none since 1862, when a great deal of valuable information was brought forward. The world was older now, and the decimal system had become more general. Therefore, it was now time that another Committee of the House should take evidence upon it; and, with that view, he should move— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether any basis can be found for a decimal system that would not so seriously disturb existing conditions as to make it practically inexpedient to change.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether any basis can be found for a decimal system that would not so seriously disturb existing conditions as to make it practically inexpedient to change,"— (Mr. Anderson,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that he was amused at the statement of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Dilke), that every Commission and Committee which had been appointed had reported in favour of a decimal coinage. He was one of a Royal Commission appointed in 1857, in which his Colleagues were Lord Monteagle and Lord Overstone, which collected a vast amount of evidence and expended great labour in the investigation of the subject; and finally, after three years' work, in 1859 issued a Report which was distinctly adverse to the introduction of a decimal system as a practical measure. He thought the educational argument of the hon. Member almost ludicrous, as he was at a loss to see how so simple a system could afford any valuable instruction whatever. Like logarithms, the decimal system was even now applied in computations whore scientific accuracy was needed—It was so employed in Insurance Offices and in the Bank of England. He did not think decimal measurements would be received by the agricultural community with much favour. Besides, a cadastral survey of the whole country was on the eve of completion, with the areas given by the acre, rood, and pole; and it would be a cruel thing for all that enormous labour to be thrown away. Nor was the system at all applicable to division. Commodities were naturally divided by the hand into halves, quarters, and eighths; but division into tenths and hundredths was virtually impossible. There was no unanimity whatever as to details among the authorities who re- commended the decimal system; and it ought not to be forgotten that, however willing merchants and actuaries might be to adopt it, it would be a very difficult matter indeed to force it upon the costermongers and apple-women of St. Giles's or the New Cut. The poor people, indeed, who received payments reckoned, by pennies would be suffering by the decimalization of the coinage to an extent something like 4 per cent—a loss which only the most urgent reasons could justify Parliament in inflicting upon them. Moreover, convenience was not altogether on the side of the decimal system. There was no doubt that, for the purposes of division, our own system was infinitely more convenient and more practical. Different units wore adopted for different articles; and he thought it would be much better, instead of imposing on the community an artificial system, to leave trade and finance to find the unit most convenient to them.


said, that although his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne had not found many supporters in the House, yet he might be congratulated on having raised a very interesting and instructive debate—not so exciting as some which had hitherto occupied their attention, but which had a very great importance of its own. The hon. Member had justly claimed credit for disinterestedness, since those who were interested in newspaper enterprize would be likely to suffer pecuniarily if anything occurred to depreciate the value of the penny, unless it were met by increasing the price of their advertisements. He could not pretend to the disinterestedness which animated the hon. Member for Newcastle, who said they (the Government) would have statues raised to their memory if they initiated this reform. He (Mr. Chamberlain) preferred much more that the constituencies should give them their votes now, than that they should raise statues a century hence. He complained that the Resolution said too much, because it jumbled together into one Resolution two questions which ought to be separately treated. The question of decimalization of the coinage was not necessarily connected with the decimalization of weights and measures; and one of these alone would cause such a disturbance in the habits of the people, that the hon. Member might have been well satisfied with ask- ing the House to swallow one morsel first. He complained also because the Resolution said too little. It did not tell them whether this great change was to be enforced compulsorily or was to be permissive. Now, that was a point on which they ought to have had some information before they were called upon to vote upon this question. The Committee of 1862 and the Commission of 1869 had both reported in favour of the permissive decimal system. If the measure was to be permissive, and if there were to be two systems running side by side, there would be great expense, great liability to fraud, and great confusion; and he very much doubted whether the new system could be successfully introduced. If they violently compelled the people to adopt this system before they were educated up to it, Parliament would be doing a very unpopular thing, and it would be easier to do away with the House of Lords, and to disestablish the Church of England, than to introduce the decimal system under such circumstances. His hon. Friend did not define the particular system which he wished the House to adopt. He (Mr. Chamberlain) did not see his way to absolutely pledging the Government and the House of Commons to an immediate and compulsory adoption of this great change without knowing what that change was definitely to be, and by what methods it was to be carried into practice. With regard to the decimalization of weights and measures, he was at a loss to discover what was the exact proposal of the hon. Member. He thought that the hon. Member said that he himself preferred the metric system, but that he would be willing to adopt certain alternatives, including the cental with a one pound unit. But the cental was already a legal weight in this country, having been adopted chiefly for the regulation of the enormous corn transactions of the Liverpool merchants; but had not superseded the old bushel throughout the country. Such a system would not in the slightest degree facilitate our international transactions. As a matter of fact, the weight of evidence was in favour of the introduction of the metric system if the change could be made without great difficulty; but there was by no means unanimity with regard to it. He had just heard that in the manufactory of Sir Joseph Whitworth, who himself was a great advocate of the decimal system, it had been found necessary to give up that system, and that the workmen preferred to work on the scale of eighths to a scale of tenths. The late Master of the Mint, Sir John Herschel, believed that the French system would not be found convenient in this country. Professor Do Morgan said that the inconvenience of introducing the new system at home would, in his opinion, far more than counter-balance any advantage which might result from its adoption in our foreign transactions. Sir George Airey also said that the advantages of the decimal scheme were not worth mention in comparison with the difficulties with which it was surrounded. Now, he was not himself prepared to endorse those statements to the full, though they came from very high authorities. Indeed, his own experience of the two systems, carried on side by side, led him to believe that there would be considerable saving of time and trouble from the adoption of the scheme proposed by his hon. Friend, if once established. Hon. Members must not, however, shut their eyes to the fact that the inconvenience would at first be so enormous as to amount to nothing short of a revolution. In the first place, there was the cost of the change. In 1869, evidence was given to the effect that no fewer than 30,000,000 separate weights and measures existed in the country. That number had, no doubt, since been doubled. The cost of replacing all these weights and measures and of providing new standards universally throughout the country would probably be between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000. That was, however, a mere fraction of the total expense. No one who had not seen the great works at Middlesborough and other ironworks, could have any idea of the enormous amount of capital which was embarked in implements, all of which would have to be altered. A new stock would have, in some way or other, to be substituted for the old, and a vast variety of articles, such as screws, hinges, bar iron, and rod iron, would have to be replaced, with the result of great inconvenience, suffering, and loss. They had had some experience, he might add, of the difficulties which stood in the way of change. They attempted some time ago to introduce the Imperial bushel; but it had in a great number of cases been rejected by the population, who went on measuring by their own bushel. He did not, in bringing those difficulties under the notice of the House, wish to over-estimate them, or to contend that they might not be overcome; but in considering the question they must count the cost, and there ought to be the most careful inquiry, and a really popular demand outside the House, before such a change was attempted. The experience of foreign countries was, he might add, not so much in favour of his hon. Friend's proposal as he seemed to suppose. Looking at the Report, the other day, of the Commission of 1857, he found certainly a Return from France stating that the change to the new system had been made there without the slightest difficulty; but there was another Return from the present Foreign Minister of France, M. de St. Hilaire, in which he spoke of the change as being most unpopular, and that at the time of its introduction the greatest difficulty was experienced in many districts in bringing the new system into use. Not only in France, too, but in the United States and in Holland, the use of the old money and the old weights had continued down to the present time. That was especially the case in Holland, where the old system was cumbrous to a degree of which they had no experience in this country. He would also point out that foreign nations derived advantages from assimilating their weights and measures to those of contiguous countries, with which they carried on a large commercial intercourse; but that it did not follow that we should find ourselves compensated for making the change in anything like an equal degree. He now came to the proposal to introduce a decimal system of coinage. Many of the considerations which he had already brought before the House also applied to this portion of the subject. But he chiefly wanted to know what system his hon. Friend proposed that the House should adopt. Did he advocate the pound and mil system? If he did, the analogies to be drawn from foreign countries were against him, for abroad a unit of low denomination was always adopted as the unit of the decimal system. In this proposition of the hon. Gentleman, however, he was not altogether disinterested, as he, no doubt unintentionally, made himself the advocate of class interests; and on that account, if on no other, he thought the hon. Gentleman's proposal ought to be resisted in the interests of the poorer classes. At present they had two units of value—the pound, which regulated all large transactions, and the penny, which was the basis of all the petty cash transactions in the country. In a decimal system both could not be retained; and his hon. Friend proposed to sacrifice the penny, and so to revolutionize the whole petty cash system of this country. The working classes were the least able to appreciate the results of such a change, and, consequently, it must cause them great inconvenience. The classes whom his hon. Friend would relieve from inconvenience were the most intelligent and best educated. But the inconvenience which the working classes would sustain by the adoption of the pound and mil system was not the only objection to the system. Under that system there was no equivalent for the coins in most frequent use among the lower classes. Lord Sherbrooke, some years ago, made an amusing calculation of equivalent values under this system. A fourpenny-piece would be .0166 and sixes ad infinitum; 3d. would be .0125; ld. would be .00416 and sixes ad infinitum;½d. would be .002083 and threes ad infinitum; and ½d. would be .0010416 and sixes ad infinitum. He (Mr. Chamberlain) did not say that it would be impossible to make an adjustment; but the working classes would suffer from it, and they could not afford to do so. The adjustment which was made in France was strenuously opposed by the working classes, because the retailers took advantage of the legal change to the detriment of their customers. By any such change the working classes would assuredly suffer, and they would not be patient under the suffering. A great proportion of the wages of the country, too, as well as trade prices, were based upon the penny, and any alteration of that basis would involve the greatest possible confusion and inconvenience, and an equivalent would be very difficult to arrange. If the House, however, was of opinion that the time had come when a compulsory decimal system of coinage should be introduced, he hoped they would not be in favour of such a system as that which the hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne had in his mind, which would carry with it the greatest amount of inconvenience to the greatest number of people. There were alternative schemes—the penny scheme, for instance, which had always been considered one of the most dangerous rivals of the pound and mil scheme. The objection to it was that, under that system, the highest unit of value would be 8s. 4d., and that would not be sufficiently high to be convenient for the great mercantile transactions in which this country was engaged. He could only say that if that scheme was rejected because it was unpopular with the mercantile classes, à fortiori, the scheme of the hon. Member for Newcastle should be rejected because it would be inconvenient to the working classes. It was not fair to ask the House to adopt a vague general Resolution without saying what scheme was to be applied. On the whole question one thing was generally agreed upon, when the matter was before the House in 1855, that in a change of this kind the greatest caution should be observed; that nothing should be done until the mind of the people had been prepared for the change; and that until a demand for that alteration was made with something like practical unanimity, the change should not be attempted. Mr. Ewart, when he brought in his Bill in 1863, although he proposed to make a compulsory change, urged that what was really required was that the minds of the people should be prepared, and that especially the metric system should find some place in the education of the young. Now, he asked his hon. Friend what proof he had given that since that time the question had made any progress at all? There was no evidence of Petitions or of public meetings. This was a question with regard to which it was no use going in advance of the general feeling of the people. It had been abundantly proved in the past that one could not by legislation destroy systems which accorded with the general practical wants of the people, and which had, perhaps, a hold upon their prejudices. A generation passed away in France after the introduction of the decimal system before it was finally adopted, and Portugal took 15 years before it finally adopted the metric system. He held also that they should not attempt to force a great change of this sort upon the people from the inside of the House of Commons. The pressure ought to come to the House of Commons from the outside; and when the people clearly expressed a desire for an alteration of the present system, Parliament would, no doubt, carry out their wishes. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Resolution to a division. If the hon. Member should do so, he would vote against him. He doubted, however, whether any good result would attend the reference of the question to another Select Committee. Five Select Committees and Royal Commissions had sat on the subject since 1840, and he did not think that any further information could be collected. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would be satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, and would not press a division.


said, that he was particularly anxious to see whether any change of opinion in that House had taken place within the last few years, and he therefore proposed to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow.


observed, that the litre system would be in favour of the upper classes, because by it they would obtain a pint and three-quarters of wine, whereas they now got only a pint and a-half in a bottle; but the effect of the system on the working man would be that he would get seven-eighths of a pint of beer or other liquor instead of a pint.


said, he did not propose to go into the general argument, which had been thoroughly exhausted by the speeches delivered on both sides of the House. He only wished to point out the practical position of the question. His hon. Friend proposed to abandon his Resolution and to accept a proposition which was entirely different, which, however, he did not think an expedient one. His hon. Friend proposed to accept, in substitution for a Motion that the introduction of the decimal system should no longer be delayed, an Amendment that a Committee should be appointed to inquire whether any basis for such a system could be found that would not seriously disturb existing conditions. His hon. Friend was certainly largely reducing his demand if he was disposed to be satisfied with such an Amendment. But the real question was, whether a case had been shown for a Committee. He fully concurred in the arguments of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) on the inconvenience of any system involving a change in money. He had never objected to a decimal coinage per se; but he had always opposed an alteration in the penny, which must operate to the prejudice of the poorer classes, and would affect nine-tenths of the transactions of daily life. He was sure no fresh information could be obtained after the laborious investigations of Lord. Over-stone's Commission. There was no one whose opinion on such a question was entitled to so much weight as Lord Over-stone. He did not think that that already overburdened House should have such a task thrown upon it as that which was proposed by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow.

Question put, and negatived.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The House divided:—Ayes 28; Noes 108: Majority 80.—(Div. List, No. 171.)