§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
said that in moving the Second Reading of the Bill he was bound to confess that the subject matter of it was somewhat dull, and that there was nothing exciting in it. It was, however, a Bill of considerable practical importance—of even urgent practical importance to large classes of the community. Except for the last clause in it, which referred to the metric system, he believed there was no portion of the Bill which would be considered as otherwise than non-contentious. The measure, it was true, touched—though only to a very slight extent—upon very disputatious questions. It touched, for instance, the fiscal question; it also affected the religious question, because the principles embodied in a just system of weights and measures and true balances were the moral foundation, more or less, of our civilisation. He thought he would have the sympathy of the House with him in regard to the general principles of the Bill. The measure was divided up into three parts. There was the last clause to which he had already referred, and which was not a vital part of the Bill; and another portion which referred to certain small details, the object being to supply omissions in the present Act. They were essentially matters of detail which had cropped up in the course of the working of the Weights and Measures Acts, and which certainly deserved careful attention. But this, after all, was a matter for a Committee of the House, it did not involve any question of principle, and he did not think he need take up any time in explaining the details to the House. The broad question with which the Bill had to do was that of securing greater uniformity in the administration 303 of the Acts relating to weights and measures. It was, of course, no use having a uniform system of weights and measures unless, in practice, they could secure such uniformity in the administration of the system as would give, in practice, that which was supposed to be, in theory, secured. For instance, in one district twenty ounces was considered to be the measure of a pint, and in another part of the country twenty-one ounces, and how could they get uniformity of standard in practice unless they had equal measures of capacity in the different parts of the country? Moreover, in one part of the country the balance which was considered to be a true and just and a lawful instrument for measuring weights was in another part considered as an unjust and illegal instrument for ascertaining weights. Here again they had uniformity in theory, but not in practice. The principle of the Bill, so far as it might be said to have any principle, had reference to this question of securing uniformity of procedure. One did not desire to embarrass the local authority in the detailed administration of the system. The system was to have the law administered as far as possible by the local authorities; but, of course, the central Government would like to secure a certain measure of uniformity which was not inconsistent with perfect freedom on the part of the authorities who were to administer the law on the lines laid down by the central authority. The Bill provided for securing some such uniformity, and it would give power to the Board of Trade to make regulations with reference to the administration of the Acts, and it would also supplement those Acts with details which would carry out the principles embodied in the generalities of the existing Acts. That was a system which had been largely adopted for legislative purposes.
Perhaps it would not be out of place if he were to give the House a little sketch of the history of this matter as it stood at the present moment. The matter had been considered to be urgent for some ten years past. The first Weights and Measures Act was passed in 1878; there was a second Act in 1889, and in the early nineties it was felt that so many discrepancies and 304 defects had been developed in practice that further legislation was necessary. The matter was seriously considered at that time by a conference of inspectors of weights and measures and of manufacturers of weighing machines. The inspectors of weights and measures came from all parts of the country, and were a body of men deeply skilled in their particular department. They had to test all balances and to stamp weights and measures, and that was a matter which required a considerable amount of technical skill. The inspectors meeting together were enabled to exchange views so as to get those which obtained in all parts of the United Kingdom. The result of their deliberations was the appointment of a Committee to take into consideration all these matters. That Committee, which was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division, held no fewer than sixteen meetings, and they issued a very admirable Report. They also sent a deputation to the President of the Board of Trade—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon—who went into the matter very thoroughly and gave it his most careful and sympathetic consideration. It was a good many years ago, but, so far as he remembered, the right hon. Gentleman had no substantial criticisms to offer on the Amendments which were proposed, and he certainly was very sympathetic in regard to the Bill. At the same time a circular was issued by the President of the Local Government Board to a large number of local authorities, asking for their views in regard to the proposed Amendments. He (the speaker) himself asked a Question in the House upon that point, and his impression was that the reply he received was to the effect that something like one-third of the local authorities throughout the country had expressed themselves favourable to the Amendments which were proposed. It was said that the local authorities were apathetic in the matter, but it must be remembered that some of them were to be numbered among the sinners, and it was only natural that they should not agree to have their faults made manifest to the public. As the result of what then occurred, he introduced a Bill, and that Bill had been brought in year after 305 year. The fortune of the ballot, however, had been against him until the present year, and this was the first occasion on which he had had an opportunity of bringing the matter under the direct consideration of the House.
He might also say that the Association of Municipal Corporations had considered this subject. It did so in March of last year, and, on the motion of Sir Homewood Crawford, solicitor to the City of London, seconded by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, the following resolution was passed—That the Weights and Measures Acts urgently require amendment, for the protection of the public, and to secure uniformity of administration: and that it is desirable that this Association should approach the Board of Trade and urge upon the President the necessity for the introduction at an early date of a Government Hill dealing with this important subject.The Executive Council of the same society also subsequently passed another resolution on the lines of that proposed by Sir Homewood Crawford. It was—That the Weights and Measures Acts urgently require amendment, for the protection of the public, and to secure uniformity of administration; and that the President of the Board of Trade be urged to introduce at an early date a Government Bill dealing with this important subject.The municipal corporations were likewise requested to pass a resolution in support of an amendment of the Weights and Measures Acts, and to communicate the same to the President of the Board of Trade. Resolutions in similar terms to that adopted by the Executive Council of the Association of Municipal Corporations were passed by the Corporations of Birmingham, Blackburn, Bournemouth, Bootle, Blackpool, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Clitheroe, Don-caster, Dublin. Dumfermline; Edinburgh, Folkestone, Glasgow, Govan, Grimsby, Hastings, Huddersfield, Hull, Lancaster. Leith, Lincoln City, Liverpool, London City, Manchester, Nottingham, Oldham, Perth, Plymouth, Preston, St. Helens, Smethwick, Sheffield, Southport, Staly-bridge, West Ham, Windsor, Worcester, and Wigan. Airdrie and Forfar also expressed sympathy with the movement. The Executive Council of the County Councils Association, at a meeting on the 25th of last November, also resolved 306 respecting the administration of the Weights and Measures Acts:—(1) That the fee charged under the Acts should he uniform. (2) That the powers of the Board of Trade should be increased so as to secure uniformity of administration, but so as not to interfere with the rights of each local authority as to the officers who arc to carry out the administration of the Acts. (3) That short weight and short measure should be made a penal offence.The county councils were also circularised, and from a good many expressions of approval of the proposal were received.
Now he came to the provisions of the Bill. It was clear that it was important there should be uniformity of administration, otherwise there must necessarily be a certain amount of chaos. What was the principle of the Act of 1878 as applied to the Weights and Measures Act of 1880? No doubt it was intended to apply the same principle in the two cases, but with reference to weighing machines some difficulty had arisen from the wording of the Acts. His opinion was that the intention was in each case the same, and that it was desired that the Acts should apply to weighing instruments. It was not intended, for instance, that a weighing machine stamped by the authorities in Birmingham as being a proper and just weighing instrument should, in the case of the county of Warwick, be treated as being otherwise, and require to be restamped. That was a diversity of practice which accentuated the necessity for giving power to the Board of Trade to secure a more uniform administration. Different local authorities acted differently in the matter, but uniformity of administration was eminently desirable.
The Board of Trade had a series of model regulations in reference to the carrying out of the provisions of the Weights and Measures Act, but they had no power of imposing them on local authorities. One of these regulations required the maker's name to be upon every instrument. Makers of reputation would naturally adopt that course, but inferior makers might not be so eager to place their names on the instruments made by them. From the public point of view it was an important matter, because an instrument, though stamped as correct when made, might 307 soon develop defects, and it could then be traced back to its maker. Consequently, it was very desirable that that regulation should be enforced, but the practice varied in different areas, some authorities adopting the regulation and others declining to do so. Another of the model regulations, with reference to the stamping of pint pots, provided that an excess of 2½ per cent, might be allowed. Here, again, there was no uniformity of practice, the pint in some districts being twenty fluid ounces, in others twenty-one, and so on. There was also a great lack of uniformity in the mode of testing. For instance, the ordinary scales, such as those used in post offices for weighing letters, could easily be so manufactured as to weigh truly wherever in the pan the weight was placed. In the testing of these instruments in some localities the regulation was that the weight should be placed within a certain circle of the pan; in others, that the instrument should weigh truly wherever in the pan the weight was placed. Another matter in which uniformity of practice was much to be desired was the approval of new designs. Invention was constantly at work on new designs of weighing machines, but the new designs could not be introduced into practice without being approved. Some defects could be ascertained only by practice, others could be at once detected by experts, but the practice actually adopted varied considerably. In some cases there was an appeal to the Board of Trade, and he contended that the Board ought to have power to make and enforce general regulations so that uniformity of practice might be secured. He had not the slightest desire to interfere with the discretion of the local authorities in the carrying out of the Act, but these were matters which could be more conveniently dealt with by the general regulations made by the Board of Trade in accordance with the up-to-date knowledge now available.
Turning to the clauses of the Bill, Clause 9 dealt with a difficulty which had arisen in some districts with reference to the weighing of bread. Although the weighing instruments had passed the inspectors and been stamped, yet it was possible for the users to be convicted under the Bread Act. That was not a 308 satisfactory state of things. Clause 10 embodied the general principle of the Act, viz., that of giving the Board of Trade power to make general regulations. Clause Hi provided for a periodical re-verification of weights, measures, and weighing instruments. That was an eminently desirable provision in the interests of the public, because the wear and tear of the weight was always to the advantage of the tradesman, and it was strange that compulsory verification had not been provided for before. Clause 22 dealt with the officers. At present there was only the one class of inspectors who had to prove, by passing an examination, their competency to discharge all the duties of the office. But in districts where there were large numbers of weights and instruments to be tested as a matter of routine, it was possible to employ somebody with much lower qualifications. The proposal in the Bill was that this practice should be modified so as to have two classes of officers, namely, inspectors and verification officers. The latter class would be required to pass a less stringent examination and have a smaller salary. This was a proposal put forward by the officers themselves, and he thought it would tend very much to the improvement of the service throughout the country. Section 28, Sub-section 6, read—In Section 13 of the Act of 1889, for the words 'no discount shall be allowed,' there shall be substituted the words, 'no discount or rebate of any kind shall be given, nor any allowance made by such inspector for the use of tools supplied to him or assistance rendered him in such verification and stamping.'When weights and measures were brought to the inspector to be stamped he could charge certain fees. The Act of 1889 said that "no discount shall be allowed" but he had to charge the fees. Some ingenious local bodies had evaded this provision by allowing a rebate which was obviously the same thing. There were certain districts where imported goods were stamped in large quantities, and other districts where they were manufactured, and where it was the practice to give a rebate which practically meant that they were stamped free. That was nothing more or less than a bounty to the trade in those districts, and those manufacturers got an advantage which other manufacturers did not enjoy. They 309 were all opposed to bounties and they were agreed that any interference with free competition was wrong in regard to nations. He thought the House would agree that the giving of bounties was also wrong between different districts as well as foreign countries. There were only two or three local authorities who were sinners in this matter, and no doubt they would like the law left as it was because it would leave them free to go on giving these bounties. The matter had been under consideration by the Board of Trade who had expressed their views on the matter, but the answer of the manufacturers was that they would go on doing this until they were stopped.
As regarded the fourth part of the Bill, which dealt with the metric system, he did not regard it as a vital part of the Bill. He was, however, an advocate of the metric system and he should think that quite 90 per cent, of the Members of the House of Commons were also in favour of it. There was a Bill dealing with this question in the other House which would probably be sent down for the consideration of this House, and it proposed the adoption of the metric system en bloc. He should support that Bill because he felt that the country was somewhat in the position of a man who had a bad habit and who realised that he ought to break it off. The remedy proposed in the Bill was that they should change their habits and adopt the metric system. He thought, however, that this was a case in which they might alter their habits gradually. After the 1st of January, 1908, it was proposed, in this Bill, that they should make certain small changes and abolish troy weight and apothecaries' weight in favour of the metric system. Those weights did not enter into the daily life of large multitudes of the people. Actual practical use of the metric system for even those two small systems would help to familiarise them with the metric system and would not produce any great disorganisation or dislocation of trade. It would, on the other hand, simplify the system and abolish two abnormal systems, troy weight and and apothecaries' weight. He would leave Part IV. to the judgment of the House and he did not wish to treat it as a vital part of the Bill. But, if the 310 House thought this small instalment of the metric system ought not to be adopted, he would give way because the other parts of the Bill were of great importance, and he should not like to injure the chances of the measure passing to get a small instalment of the metric system. He begged to move.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said this Bill was one dependent very largely for its administration upon the local authorities and in seconding it he desired to say that so far as the Municipal Corporations Association was concerned they had considered the principle and provisions of the Bill, and although exception might be taken to some details they were in favour of the principle of the Bill and believed it to be an important reform in matters of local administration. His hon. and learned friend had stated that some corporations desired to retain the system of rebate in lieu of discounts, but he was satisfied that there was no general desire to evade the present provisions of the law in that respect. He heartily agreed with his hon. and learned friend in reference to the last part of the Bill dealing with the metric system. Many of them believed that the want of such a system had been a great obstacle to the development of international trade, and, as this proposal would familiarise the public with the system, it would be. an important reform.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
said his hon. and learned friend had said that Part IV. was not a vital part, but he did not say that he would abandon it. He also said that nine-tenths of the Members of the House were in favour of the metric system and therefore he thought the House would not be likely to strike it out. He might be told that he could move an Instruction to omit Part IV., but they all knew the pitfalls encountered by those who moved Instructions, and he should not like to rely upon that course while he felt such a very strong objection to the introduction of the metric system, especially in regard 311 to this particular matter. His hon. and learned friend who moved the Second Reading was a strong believer in that system, and he desired naturally to press his proposal as an instalment of the metric system. He would then feel, having got a footing, that a Bill ought to be passed adopting the metric system in its entirety. The metric system was nothing at all unless it was applied all round to all weights and measures, and to apply it to only these two systems would be absolutely illogical. He wished to refer to Parts I II., and III. of the Bill. In the first three parts of the Bill there were very valuable provisions which he should personally like to see passed into law. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading had pointed out that, under certain circumstances, buyers might, at the present time, get short weight, but while he desired to remove that risk there was nothing in the Bill dealing with the matter. The hon. Member also desired that no authority should be allowed to stamp a measure of capacity if it was in excess of what it purported to be. That was a proposal with which he had considerable sympathy. He did not see how the marking of the names of makers of instruments could be made compulsory. There was nothing in Clause 10 which would authorise the Board of Trade to make such a declaration as that. Provision was made for dealing with excess in measures of capacity in Clause 10, Sub-section (1). That was a provision to which nobody could have the slightest objection. But Clause 12 was a very different one. It defined the power of the Board of Trade to grant certificates of suitability for the use of appliances, and it empowered the Board to decline to certify if, upon examination, a particular pattern was not considered "suitable for use for trade." It appeared to him that placed too large a power in the hands of the Board of Trade. It was right that the Board of Trade should be empowered to prevent any instrument being used which would facilitate the commission of fraud, but under the proposal in the Bill they would be able to prohibit the use of a new invention, although they were unable to show that it was likely to 312 facilitate fraud. He thought that was too great a power to give the Board.
§ MR.HERBERT ROBERTSON
said inspectors had power to decide on the particular instruments brought before them for verification. That was a very different provision from giving the Board of Trade power to act under a general law. New inventions might be brought out which would materially benefit the community when used for the purposes of trade, but at first sight the Board of Trade might object to the use of the instruments. Were they to be stopped once and for all in this way, and were the Board of Trade to be authorised to lay down a general hard and fast rule that a now principle of construction must not be adopted? It seemed to him the clause would require a certain amount of consideration, but he had no doubt that it could be made workable. In connection with Clause 10. which referred to the powers and duties of the Board of Trade as to the making of general regulations, the more or less technical question arose as to whether the word "shall" or "may" should be used, but that was a matter of detail which could be considered afterwards if the Bill passed the Second Reading. He thoroughly approved of the system provided for by Clause 15 with respect to "verification and stamping by local inspectors of weights and measures." It was desirable that some general principle should be adopted all over the country, and the proposal made by his hon. and learned friend might be a very useful one. Clause 16, which provided for "periodical re-verification," appeared to be too drastic. It was proposed that re-verification should fake place '"not less often than once in every three years, as the local authority may decide." There were some weights and measures which might deteriorate in the course of three years, but he did not think that applied by any means to all. The proposal if carried out would add very much to the duties of the inspectors and the Board of Trade generally. Clause 28 contained 313 miscellaneous Amendments of the existing law. It was required at present that every measure of capacity must have its denomination marked upon it. His hon. friend now wanted that every measure of length should have its denomination marked upon it. He did not know what advantage would be gained by that Amendment. A measure of capacity was for one quantity only. It did not measure fractions of the quantity, but a measure of length—a two-foot rule for example—was marked at intervals for the purpose of indicating different lengths.
He thought the first three parts could be worked into a very useful measure, but he objected altogether to Part IV. with respect to the metric system. It would upset the business of an enormous number of persons in this country for no practical purpose whatever. One particular reason why this part of the Bill should not be passed was that a Bill dealing with the subject was being considered in another place. He strongly objected to the Bill to which he referred. With regard to the Bill now before the House he did not know whether it proposed to abolish the apothecaries' fluid measure. The fluid measure was just as much a measure as a weight measure, and if the existing fluid measure were abolished it-would he good for the glass trade, because the number of new glass bottles and glass measures demanded by the trade would be exceedingly great. It would be a most inconvenient thing for a great number of people if these measures were changed. Then he did not know how the Bill would affect the coinage. At present the coinage was regulated by the troy weight. It was impossible to make a gramme fit in exactly with troy weight; and it might lead to inconvenience, unless there was some provision in the Bill that it should not apply to the weights of gold and silver, for the smallest fraction of the change might be a very serious matter indeed. He was perfectly certain that the metric system could not fit in exactly with our coinage. Those who had been in the habit of buying gold and silver by troy weight would be placed in considerable difficulty if they were suddenly told that they were not able to use the old troy weight. Again, 314 he objected to the metric system because it had never been introduced for practical purposes, even on the Continent. Nominally it existed there, but practically it did not. They had never in France been able to introduce anything between a unit and a thousand. He had never heard of a centi-gramme. One would naturally think that there should be something to represent an English penny. Before the time of Napoleon the French wrote on their coins "Un Decime;" but the genius of the French people was strongly against it, as they had always counted in sous. His hon. and learned friend said that the change should come into operation in 1908, which would give the people plenty of time to become accustomed to the new weights and measures; and that the change might be made at any time during that period. But as a matter of fact, up to the last moment the people would continue to use the present system; and then there would be a regular convulsion of trade. They would have to encounter an entirely new unit—rhe kilogramme—which would be most inconvenient as being either too large or too small.
§ MR. GRETTON (Derbyshire, S.)
said he rose to second the Motion of his hon. friend for the rejection of the Bill on very much the same grounds as those he had advanced. He thought it would be quite impossible under the Bill, however careful they might be. to arrive at an absolute uniformity of weights and measures. Of course what they had to aim at was to have practical uniformity. As to the liquid weights and measures, the nearest metric equivalent to the pint was slightly less than that measure, and though perhaps the actual measuring vessel, allowing for a small margin, might hold exactly a pint in theory, it was well known that in practice a full pint could not be served in it. Thus it would be quite impossible for anyone who ordered a pint to get what he paid for. Liquid weights and measures were especially subject to variation according to varying temperatures. He took objection to the Bill chiefly on the ground that it seemed to him that the inconsequential fourth part, which provided that four years hence the existing troy and apothecaries weights should 315 be abolished and that metric weights should be substituted, was an attempt to introduce the thin edge of the wedge of the metric system. He did not see quite eye to eye with his hon. friend who moved the rejection of the Bill as to the grounds of his opposition to the introduction of the metric system, but he agreed that if this system was to be introduced at all it must be introduced in its entirety, and it would require the very careful consideration of the House. He objected most strongly to any attempt to introduce that system in one part of our weights and measures and to leave it out in other parts. Unless the mover of the Second Reading of the Bill dropped the fourth part of it, or the President of the Board of Trade gave an assurance that the Government opposed the Bill he hoped his hon. friend would press his Motion for its rejection.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Herbert Robertson.)
§ Question proposed. "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said he wished to congratulate his hon. friend on having introduced this Bill which would, he thought, accomplish a very necessary reform, far too long delayed. The first part of the Bill was not new legislation in the sense of altering the instruments of weights and measures. It simply dealt with the reform of the administration of the methods of dealing with these instruments; but the fourth part of the Bill was new legislation altogether, and altered the system of measurements and the instruments to be used. The fourth part of the Bill was therefore scarcely germane to the purpose of the first parts, and whatever might be the opinion of hon. Members in favour of reform, he thought that they would prefer to have further opportunity to consider the subjects therein dealt with. The hon. Gentleman opposite objected very strongly to verification of weights and measures for not more than three years. Now, he thought that was one of the most valuable parts of the Bill, for weights and measures 316 must have, in three years, a certain amount of wear and tear. Machines were continually subject to repair; and he thought it was of the greatest importance that no longer period than three years should elapse before they were verified as to their correctness. As to the proposal to give the Board of Trade the right to decide what machins or measures should be introduced, he thought it was a very important part of the Bill and should be retained. Inventors certainly desired it because they might take out a patent which might be accepted by one local authority and rejected by another. He could assure his hon. friend that that was one of the most valuable clauses in the Bill. The measure would, of course, throw very great additional responsibility on the Board of Trade, especially as it would require expert knowledge which the officials of the Department did not now possess. He hoped, therefore, that if the Board of Trade accepted the responsibility that they would provide themselves with such expert assistance.
The Bill would destroy most of the difficulties which now existed. His hon. friend seemed to speak lightly of the desirability of uniformity; but if his hon. friend knew the chaos which existed at the present moment, and the great annoyance to which manufacturers of weights and measures were subjected, he would know that one of the greatest desiderata was uniformity. A manufacturer might send a large consignment of weights and measures to an ironmonger, for instance, in the South of England; they would all be stamped but the inspector in the locality to which they were consigned might decline to recognise the marks. He himself had known, over and over again, manufacturers who received back consignments because dealers could not be bothered in getting the weights and measures stamped in the different districts. That was one, but by no means the only advantage of uniformity. Weights and measures had been all through the history of the country one of the most important questions: and he was afraid that the Board of Trade had not given it that attention which the trading community demanded. He did not know whether his right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade was 317 in possession of the Report of the Conference which sat with reference to this question about three years ago. He thought the Department was singularly fortunate in having the assistance of such a body and of all the knowledge and experience it possessed. It was one of the finest bodies of men that could be gathered together for any purpose, and he was in a position to speak as to their character, because he had presided over every one of their meetings. He had never met a more businesslike body or one with a greater knowledge of the subject with which it had to deal. It not only drew up the outlines of a scheme, but filled it in with all the reforms which were needed to bring about what the trading community required. If its recommendations were carried out generally, they would put an end to all the friction which existed and all the diversity of practice which occurred in different localities and which was a source of the greatest annoyance, especially to shopkeepers. He would only add that the matter was one to which the Board of Trade should give immediate attention, and he could assure his right hon. friend it was impossible to over-estimate the anxiety of the trading community to have the matter settled. The Bill would end the annoyance which now existed; and he, therefore, hoped that the Board of Trade would accept it.
§ SIR JOSEPH DIMSDALE (London)
said he gladly and cordially supported the Second Reading of the Bill. It did not go as far as he would desire, but he looked upon it as the first instalment towards uniformity in the system of weights and measures. For many years the Corporation of the City of London, in conjunction with the London County Council and other municipalities, had agreed on uniformity, and many deputations had waited on different Presidents of the Board of Trade on the subject. The City of London had for years been urging that postal scales should be put under inspection. In thousands of post offices throughout the Kingdom on one side of the shop the scales used for trading purposes were subject to inspection, but on the post office side they were exempt. He believed that there were many instances in which 318 it was proved that the postal scales were incorrect. That was obviously unfair. He should like to see uniformity carried still further; but, at any rate, the Bill was the first instalment in what he hoped would be a universally adopted principle. The absolute chaos which now existed was referred to by his right hon. friend who had just spoken; and, inasmuch as the object of the Bill was to remove that chaos, and to bring about uniformity, he felt confident the House would pass the Second Reading, and send the Bill to a Committee, where it would receive that consideration and attention which a matter of such importance deserved.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said theoretically they were all agreed with reference to the desirability of uniformity in weights and measures. They were also agreed as to the necessity for some change; but he would ask the House whether it was reasonable that they should revolutionise the system of weights and measures throughout the country by means of a private Bill. That ought only to be done in a comprehensive measure by the Government of the day, and not by piecemeal legislation such as the Bill proposed. The principle of uniformity was a good principle, but it could not be obtained under such a Bill as this, and he pointed out that if there was a real demand for it that demand would be made by the whole country, and not by means of petitions from ten or a dozen towns. He had great respect for the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, but neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the officers under him were competent to undertake the, responsibilities thrust upon them by Clause 12 of the Bill. They were not competent to say whether these instruments were" suitable for trade; "they were only competent to say whether they were just and accurate and did what they professed to do. The persons who were competent to say whether they were suitable for trade were the traders themselves, and the officers of the Board of Trade were not competent to settle that question. This Bill inflicted a very heavy burden on the small tradesmen. It was a matter of insignificance to the great trade houses whether they 319 had to bear the cost of verifying the accuracy of these instruments or not every three years, but it was a very different thing to the small tradesmen he had the honour to represent. It was quite true that weights and measures did vary, but he thought a man or two travelling about and calling accidentally on people, and verifying their weights and measures, would be infinitely more use than the army of men it was proposed to employ under this Bill. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the fallacy of the metric system. Theoretically it had many advantages, but as a mathematician he preferred the duodecimal system. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench would, he was sure, agree with him that the duodecimal system was far better than the metric system. Both in France and America where that system was in vogue it was completely ignored when it came to small purchases, and to revolutionise the whole system of our weights and measures for the small advantage that would be derived from the adoption of the metric system would, in his opinion, be a mistake. The onus of proving that this change was necessary lay upon those who wished to make it. He thought the game was not worth the candle, and that the system, if adopted, would not only prove a great mistake but a great misfortune to this country. The country, and especially the small traders, who were especially suffering now-a-days, were not prepared for this change in the law. If the Bill went to a division he should vote against it, believing that there would be no practical advantage by the adoption of the proposed changes.
§ MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)
said that, while recognising that there were good points in the Bill, he considered that the increased expense and irritation which the measure would occasion would not be justified by results so limited and incomplete. A uniform system he admitted to be desirable in the interests of trade, but little would be accomplished in that direction by this Bill. The prevision requiring the reverification of weights and measures every three years would cause unnecessary trouble to agriculturists, who used their weights and measures only three 320 or four times a year. The wear and tear in their case was so small that he urged, if the Bill were passed, some exception from the provision should be' made in favour of agriculturists and small tradesmen. A Bill for the establishment of a uniform system of weights and measures throughout the country would have his cordial support, as the present inequalities were extremely inconvenient. For instance, in agriculture in some parts the bushel was two pecks, in others six, and a stone of meat in some places meant eight pounds and in others fourteen. But the present measure did not deal with that question, and, as it would cause considerable irritation, involve extensive alterations, and do very little towards finally settling the matter, he did not feel justified in supporting the Bill.
MR. J. F. HOPE (Sheffield, Bright side)
did not think the criticisms of the Bill had been such as to warrant the House in refusing to give the measure a Second Reading. Most of the points to which objection had been taken could be amended in Committee. The portion of the Bill against which the strongest opposition had been directed was that dealing with the metric system, but every one knew that private Bills of this kind had no chance of passing if strongly opposed in Committee, and hence the promoters would probably be willing to drop Part IV. to secure the passage of the remainder of the Bill. There were considerable disadvantages and inconveniences in the present system, and he hoped that even Members who were opposed to Part IV. would support the Second Reading, and then secure the elimination of Part IV. in Committee.
§ MR. BOUSFIELD
said that, having regard to what had fallen from different speakers, and to what he understood to be the attitude of the Government, he would undertake to withdraw Part IV. of the Bill.
§ MR. JORDAN (Fermanagh, S.)
approved of the hon. and learned Member's decision to drop Part IV. of the Bill, but he strongly supported the rest of the measure, and urged that it should be passed in the interests of trade. 321 Nothing was so confusing in business as the want of uniformity in weights and measures. He had heard no statement, however, as to the cost of the proposed alterations. The stamping of weights and measures was a costly business, and if a second inspector was to be appointed it would mean increased expenditure. He suggested that there should be a minimum fixed amount for adjusting and stamping, and that it should be collected in one sum by the official inspector.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
said that he was very glad to hear from his hon. and learned friend that he was prepared to withdraw Clause 32 of the Bill. He believed that that decision was a wise one, and he ventured to think that the provision ought never to have been introduced into the measure at all. It only touched the fringe of the subject and it raised questions of very great difficulty without solving them. It certainly would have raised against the Bill the opposition of those trades which were more directly concerned with the troy and apothesaries' weight, and if his hon. friend had insisted on regarding it as a vital part of the Bill he would have felt bound to oppose the measure on behalf of the Government. Apart from this excrescence the Bill was the outcome of a conference held some years ago between inspectors of weights and measures and manufacturers of weighing machines, and to some extent it bore the impress of its origin, for its general tendency undoubtedly was to increase the independence of the inspectors by withdrawing them to some extent from the control of the local authorities and substituting the control of the central authority, the Board of Trade. In so far as the Bill tended to greater uniformity of administration he quite agreed with his hon. friend that that result would be fraught with very considerable advantage, but, in so far as it went beyond that, its effect was to reverse the principle laid down in the Act of 1889 that the administration of weights and measures should be in the hands of the local authorities and not of the central authority, and his inclination would be to exclude from the measure all those pro- 322 visions tending in the direction of the centralising authority which were not absolutely necessary to secure uniformity in the discharge of the technical duties of the inspectors. For instance, Clause 10 went considerably beyond the necessities of the case, for it extended the control of, the Board of Trade to the appointment and the control of the inspectors. Clause 24 proposed that the Board of Trade should determine whether any business occupation in which an inspector might engage was incompatible with the due performance of his duties, and that appeared to him to be a matter which the local authority should decide. He objected also to Clause 13, which provided that the Board of Trade should decide questions of the meaning of the Acts in case of a dispute between an inspector and a manufacturer or any other person. Furthermore, Clause 16, which provided that weights and measures should be reverified not less often than once in every three years, imposed on traders a serious obligation to which he thought the House ought not to assent. After the report of the conference to which he had alluded was issued, the Board of Trade sent a circular to the various local authorities concerned asking for their observations upon it. Out of the 289 authorities only 102 replied, the London County Council being one of the number that did not answer; forty-four, including some important places like Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, expressed general approval of the recommendations, and twenty-one were actively opposed to them. Nearly two-thirds of the local authorities never replied at all, which certainly appeared to show that there was no very great keenness on their part either in favour of, or in opposition to, the proposals of the present Bill. He had, however, no doubt that the Bill contained important and useful provisions which would conduce to greater uniformity in the administration of the Weights and Measures Act, and he was therefore in favour of its being read a second time. As his hon. friend had intimated that he would be disposed to accept such Amendments at the Committee stage as the Government proposed, he would not insist on the Bill being sent to a Select Committee, but at the same time he felt 323 bound to warn his hon. friend that there were a good many clauses in the measure to which the Government would have to object on their merits.
§ SIR FRANCIS POWELL (Wigan)
did not believe the time had yet come for the application of the metric system, and he should be strongly opposed to the fragmentary application of a system which the highest authorities declared to be, for the present at least, unsuitable to our trade. The Bill would require careful consideration in many particulars, but as Part IV. was to be withdrawn he should support the Second Reading.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said he came down to the House to support the Bill mainly because Part IV. was included in it, so that he was place 1 in a position of some difficulty by the announcement that that portion of the Bill was to be withdrawn. He had received a large number of letters in favour of the Bill, and he believed the time had come when all nations should adopt one system of weights and measures, one coinage, and one method of measuring distances. Anything which tended in the direction of such a system was for the good of international commerce. The great majority of traders in Sheffield were in favour of the adoption of the metric system. He was sorry, therefore, that Part IV. of the Bill was to be withdrawn, but, having regard to the other portions of the measure, he should support the Second Reading.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH (Bristol, W.)
said that he was responsible for the Weights and Measures Act of 1889, and at that time, with every desire to secure uniformity in the law relating to weights and measures, the Board of Trade was debarred from going as far as they wished by fear of opposition from the local authorities. He supported this Bill as far as it proposed to deal with the machinery of the law as to weights and measures, subject to any alterations that might be found necessary when fully considered; but he was of opinion that Part IV. ought never to have found a place in such a Bill. Though there might be some theorists who wished to establish the metric system in this 324 country, when they came to apply their theories they would find such a mass of opposition as would make their scheme impracticable. As Part IV. was to be withdrawn he should support the Bill.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON
, in view of the statements made on behalf of the Board of Trade and of the promoters of the Bill, asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main (Question put. and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c."—(Mr. Bousfield.)
§ SIR WILLIAM TOMLINSON (Preston)
moved as an Amendment that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. The President of the Board of Trade had stated that many alterations would be required before the Bill could be allowed to pass, and the measure was much more likely to receive the detailed attention it required from a Select Committee than from the Standing Committee on Law. They would then have the power of calling in any evidence as to the opinion of local bodies and others as to how the Bill was likely to work. He did not think that under the circumstances the Standing Committee on Law would be in as good a position to deal effectively with this matter as a Select Committee. This measure ought to be considered in all its details, because it was almost entirely a machinery Bill. He did not see that by sending the measure to a Select Committee the passing of the Bill would be delayed. He begged to move as an Amendment that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. GRETTON
said he desired to second this Amendment, and he hoped the House would decide to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. He was aware that it had been the custom to refer Bills to the Standing Committee, and on several occasions he had had the honour of serving on that Committee; but this was a Bill in regard 325 to which the Committee ought to have power to call witnesses on technical points, and therefore he hoped the Amendment would be agreed to.
To leave out the words 'the Standing Committee on Law, &c. and insert the words 'a Select Committee' instead there of."— (Sir William Tomlinson.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BOUSFIELD
said that all the matters raised by the Bill were thoroughly familiar to the Board of Trade. The acceptance of the Amendment would mean the postponement for another ten years of a question which had been waiting for legislation for the past ton years.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said he hoped his hon. friend would not press this Amendment, for it meant delaying for a long time a reform which affected almost every shopkeeper in the kingdom. Shopkeepers were often brought into Court and fined when they were quite innocent of any intention to evade the Act. In the interests of the measure unless his hon. friend was opposed to the Bill altogether, he hoped he would allow it to be referred to the Standing Committee on Law, because after the extreme willingness which had been shown by the promoters of the Bill to meet every objection, and especially after the statement of the President of the Board of Trade, whose objections were very reasonable, it was evident that, if they wanted the Bill to pass this session, they must send it to the Standing Committee.
SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
said the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had dealt with all the defects in the Bill, and had practically killed the suggestion to send the measure to a Select Committee. The necessity for referring it to a Select. Committee had now practically disappeared. Under these circumstances it would be a pity to delay those reforms which were dealt with by the Bill in order to have a more tedious method, 326 which would probably end in no reform being carried for some years to come. He therefore hoped that the hon. Member would not press his Amendment.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said he had some sympathy with the proposal of the hon. Member for Preston, but there were two considerations which weighed with him. In the first place, if the Measure was sent to a Select Committee there was no chance of it being passed this session. The other consideration was that the hon. and learned Member who had moved the Bill had stated that he was prepared to accept any Amendment which was proposed by the Government Department principally concerned. That statement he welcomed, for it did away to a very large extent with the necessity of referring this Bill to a Select Committee. He did not agree with the hon. Member opposite when he stated that he had stated all the objections of the Board of Trade to all the clauses in the Bill, because that was not so. All he, as the representative of the Board of Trade, had done was to state some of his principal objections, but there would be others. On the understanding that his hon. and learned friend would be prepared to amend his Bill in accordance with the views of the Board of Trade, he did not think there was any necessity to send the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ SIR WILLIAM TOMLINSON
said that after what had been stated he would not press his Amendment. He hoped, however, that the President of the Board of Trade would be able to put his Amendments on the Paper in good time in order that those who were most affected by this Bill would have ample time to consider them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c.