HC Deb 04 June 1883 vol 279 cc1712-7

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he begged to move the second reading of this Bill; but at that hour—12.40 a.m.—he would not enter into detail upon it. He would tell the House as briefly as he could its object. His reason for introducing it was to get rid of the state of chaos which at present existed in regard to weights and measures for the sale of corn. A great many of the so-called measures by which corn was sold were weights and not measures at all, and varied considerably in almost every town. There were about 40 weights and measures in common use by which wheat was sold, 15 of which were weighed bushels, varying from 58½lbs. to 80 lbs.; in like manner there were 22 for barley, and 24 for oats. It was needless to dwell upon the inconvenience which arose from such a state of things, as it must be patent to everybody. A man might buy corn in one town, and, desiring to purchase elsewhere, might go to another town and commence dealing under the impression that the measures in use were the same as those adopted in the town he had left. He might base his calculations upon that belief, and he would find that he had been mistaken, and considerable confusion would ensue. He could give many examples of different measures; but, considering the lateness of the hour, he would refrain from doing so. The principles of the Bill were—First, uniformity; secondly, weight, and not measure; and, thirdly, that the cental, or 100 lbs. weight, should be the system adopted in corn sales. It was very possible to make a bushel weigh different numbers of pounds; it was easy to fill up a bushel so that it might weigh more or less as the case might be. Weight, therefore, was by far the more convenient method of dealing with the matter. The general opinion of those who were interested in the trade, of those who were best able to form a judgment, was that the cental, or 100 lbs., was the most convenient weight to adopt. The two stock objections that wore urged against the cental were that the weights now in use would be altogether useless, and that the sacks now employed would be also useless. Both of those objections were of little avail. New weights would not be required, because the old weights of 56 lbs., 28 lbs., and 4 lbs., if taken together—namely, three 56 lbs. one 28 lbs., and one 4 lbs., weights would make up 200 lbs. In the same way the sacks now in use could easily be made to hold 200 lbs., 225 lbs., or 250 lbs., as required, and according to the grain put into them. He had heard the tithe collection mentioned as a difficulty in the way of the Bill. As a matter of fact, the tithe collection presented no difficulty at all, because by last year's Corn Returns Bill a bushel of wheat was legally fixed at 60 lbs. weight, of barley at 50 lbs. and of oats at 39 lbs.; and to reduce any of those weights to their value in proportion to the cental merely required a proportion sum. It was well, perhaps, that he should inform the House that 22 out of 47 Chambers of Agriculture who had answered his letter relating to the Bill had passed resolutions in favour of the adoption of the cental, or 100 lbs. weight; 13 other Chambers had passed resolutions in favour of a uniform weight, without specifying the cental; nine had not considered the question at all; but he was informed by the Secretaries of several of them that they were generally in favour of a uniform weight, and three Chambers only had passed resolutions against a uniform weight. He was informed that amongst millers the feeling in favour of the cental was even greater than amongst farmers. Millers Associations had passed resolutions in favour of the Bill, and a large number of independent millers and merchants in all parts of the country had expressed approval of the measure. Up to the present time 28 Petitions had been presented in favour of the Bill, while only one had been presented against it. It would be well known to most hon. Members that a great effort was made in 1878 to get this measure passed, and that the great consensus of opinion at that time was in favour of the adoption of one uniform weight—namely, the cental. The cental was now in use in the chief grain port of the country—namely, Liverpool; and there it had been found to work extremely well, the opposition springing almost entirely from one class—the small dealers—but at that late hour he would not dwell upon their objections. He merely introduced the subject in the expectation that it would receive the attention of the authorities; and he hoped the Government would see their way to take up the measure themselves. He was led to believe last year, from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that he was not altogether opposed to the principle of the Bill. He hoped they would hear from the right hon. Gentleman to-night that he was still in the same mind; because he was fully persuaded that the measure would be greatly welcomed by farmers, millers, merchants, and, in fact, by the majority of the persons engaged in the trade. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he was sorry the hon. Member had not had the opportunity of bringing the Bill forward at an earlier period of the evening, when it might have been more fully discussed. He did not wish to question the statement the hon. Member had just made, that when he did him the honour to speak to him on the subject he expressed himself personally in favour of the adoption of a uniform weight. He also said, however, that nothing could be more undesirable than to harass trade by insisting upon uniformity unless the trade was in favour of it. He also told the hon. Gentleman that he was anxious to receive proof that the trade, the persons chiefly concerned, were practically unanimous in desiring that this change should be made compulsory; and he was now bound to say that he had received evidence which went directly in the contrary direction. He had received Memorials from various important bodies, including the members of the London Corn Exchange, protesting against anything like a compulsory alteration of the present system. They had no objection to make the cental a legal weight; but they saw that, in the present state of trade, nothing but the greatest possible inconvenience would result from making one single weight compulsory. The experience of the Board of Trade was all in the same direction. He remembered that a good deal of evidence was given before a Committee which sat on Weights and Measures some years ago with respect to bushels and some other weights; and it was shown that weights which had been made illegal by Act of Parliament were, nevertheless, in constant use in certain districts. Under the circumstances, he could not to-night assent to the second reading of the Bill, although he would promise the hon. Member that the subject was one which the Board of Trade would not lose sight of. The Board of Trade would be glad, when opinions in favour of the proposed change was riper, to give whatever support to it that was in their power. They did not think that, at the present time, public opinion was ripe for the change. He gathered from what the hon. Gentleman himself had said that he had raised the question more for the purpose of discussing the question than anything else. If that was the hon. Gentleman's view, he would be glad to find that he would be willing, on the present occasion, to withdraw the Bill, and to rest satisfied with the promise which he (Mr. Chamberlain) was now pleased to give, that the matter should certainly continue to receive the attention and consideration of the Board of Trade. If the hon. Gentleman went to a division he should be obliged to vote against him.


said, he was sorry to hear the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, because he was under the impression that the feeling of the trade was unanimously in favour of the change. He had received strong representations that the feelings of the corn merchants of Liverpool was favourable to the adoption of the cental; and he was led to believe that not only farmers, but the members of the trade generally, approved of the proposed change. He was told that in Liverpool the cental had worked exceedingly well, and that the traders there thought it a matter of the greatest importance that there should be a uniformity of weight. He confessed he had hoped to receive a favourable answer from the President of the Board of trade. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would allow the Bill to stand over for a month, in the hope that, in the meantime, the opinion of the trade might be ascertained.


said, he did not think it would be wise for his hon. Friend (Mr. Rankin) to persevere in moving the second reading in the teeth of the strong speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be very undesirable to adopt a uniformity of measure such as was proposed, if, in reality, there was a strong feeling against it. He had hoped to hear the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade say he would consent to the second reading, on the understanding that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, in order that they might have ascertained what was the result of the Act passed in the last Parliament. He would now move the Adjournment of the Debate; and, in the interval, the President of the Board of Trade would, doubtless, receive a deputation on behalf of the promoters of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. J. G. Talbot.)


said, he thought it would be advantageous that some time should be given for an expression of opinion, which he ventured to think would be found in favour of the Bill.


said, he should be most happy to adopt the suggestion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Talbot); but he must say that, in order to save the time of the House, he had refrained from quoting the large mass of public support which he had received in favour of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman could hardly believe the support to the Bill which had come from all parts of the country; but, if desired, he should be glad to lay it before the President of the Board of Trade.

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Monday 2nd July.