§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is rather difficult to expect the House to settle down to a humdrum subject such as that with which this Bill deals with, but, though the Bill be not of a very sensational character, it is certainly one likely to be very useful, and it is welcomed by all the various classes affected, which is not a feature of all Bills. This particular Bill is not really my own child. It was introduced last Session by the hon. and gallant Member for Montgomery (Major D. Davies), and to him deserves the real credit for the trouble which he has taken in bringing the subject before the House. The object of the Bill is to standardise conditions under which sales of corn are conducted in this country. There are very few people who realise the chaotic arrangements under which sales of corn and other agricultural produce are carried on. They are the result of local arrangements made long before railways, telephones, and other means of communication came into force, and they are utterly unsuited to the conditions of the present day. Within 30 miles of my own door a sack of wheat means three quite different measures. A quarter of wheat in different parts of the country may be 480 lbs., 496 lbs., 500 lbs., 504 lbs., or 588 lbs. A quarter of rye or oats has even a greater variation. Sometimes corn is sold by the load, sometimes by the coomb, sometimes by the boll, sometimes by the windle, and sometimes by the hobbet. I will not attempt to explain the various weights and measures, because I must confess that I am utterly unfamiliar with some of them, but those are the various measures by which corn can be sold, and it must be obvious that considerable confusion results. The Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee of the Reconstruction Committee, presided over by Lord Selborne, made a very strong Report on this subject, and on the need of some readjustment. I quote that Report with greater confidence, because I happen to know, from my experience in Committee on the Agricultural Bill, that it formed a sort of Bible for the Board of Agriculture. 1450 Whenever we wished to reinforce an argument, and whenever the Government wished to reply, an appeal was made to the Report of that Committee. If we could prove that the Department had departed from it, or if they could prove that our proposal differed from its recommendations, the whole thing was settled. We abandoned our position entirely to the judgment of that Committee. That Report, in this connection, says:There are something like 25 local measures or weights used in the sale of wheat alone: 12 different bushels, 3 different cwts., 7 different gallons, 13 different lbs., 10 different stones, and 9 different tons are known to exist. The result is confusion, misunderstanding, and ground for minor litigation, which are detrimental to the industry, and which place the producer at an obvious disadvantage in his dealings with those more experienced in market operations. In no other industry does such a chaos of different units, such a multiplication of divergent standards exist. In some oases their origin is lost in antiquity, in some they were introduced by settlers from abroad, while in others they were based on local custom, reasonable and convenient enough, perhaps, at a time when communication between districts was difficult and meagre, but entirely out of place since modern facilities of transit have opened every market to the producer.That is the Report of the Committee which is admitted to be the very last authority on agricultural matters. It is not only the producer who suffers from these chaotic conditions, but, obviously, the consumer suffers also if trade is hampered in this way. The Bill makes void any contract to sell corn and similar produce which is set out in the Schedule, except in terms of cwts. of 112 imperial standard lbs., which, as the House knows, equal eight stones. That will be an arrangement very easily adjusted to present conditions, because, for instance, in my own district a sack of wheat generally is about 18 stones. That is too heavy for the ordinary man to carry, and it is admitted that it is often a serious difficulty. The result of passing this measure will be that the ordinary sack of 18 stones of wheat will be undoubtedly reduced to 16 stones, which will form two cwts. A sack of barley is 16 stones already, and a sack of oats is 12 stones. Potatoes, I understand, are generally sold at eight stones to the sack, and the arrangement therefore will suit the potato trade very conveniently. It is not going to be difficult to adopt this arrangement, which has the 1451 general approval of all organisations connected with land and produce in the country. It has the approval of the National Farmers' Union both in England and Scotland, of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, of the Central Landowners' Association, of the Surveyors' Institution, of the Land Agents' Society, of the Agricultural Seed Trade Association, and of many other branches of these various organisations who have sent in separate resolutions.
The only objection which I have come across is one which can be easily disposed of. It is objected that when you are making this arrangement, you ought to adopt the decimal system. Everyone knows that agriculturalists do not like changes, and find some considerable difficulty with any alteration, but the adoption of the decimal system would cause far greater trouble than this change. This is the easier form. We may consider the decimal system later on, but for the moment I suggest that it is sufficient to improve the conditions under which corn is sold by an easier method. The whole of the railway arrangements of this country are worked by the ton, which is a distinct reason for selling corn on the basis of the cwt. All scales also are adapted to the cwt. In addition, feeding stuffs and all that form of agricultural produce are sold by the ton and the cwt. An Amendment to the Bill will be required to deal with sales by the acre as in the case of potatoes. I understand that under the Bill, as drafted, sales by the acre would be injuriously affected. It is not the object of the Bill to prevent the sale of anything, but to facilitate it. I particularly commend this point to my hon. Friend the Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce), because it affects the sale of potatoes in Lincolnshire as in Yorkshire. The question of sales by the acre will be met by an Amendment which I shall hope to have moved in Committee excluding that form of sale from the Bill and making it clear that it will in no way interfere with such sales. There is one other objection raised: there is no penalty for infringement. The penalty consists in the provision that any contract not carried out on the lines suggested shall be null and void, and I think that will be an amply sufficient penalty. With these few words 1452 I hope the House will accept this Bill. I know it will be welcomed by all sections of the trade affected, and I therefore commend it with every confidence to the House.
§ Mr. ROYCE
The promoter of the Bill has removed almost the necessity for me to do more than to support the measure. My object in rising was to announce that generally I am in support of the Bill—and in that I am supported by all the agriculturists in my part of the country. I wanted to notify the fact that it would be necessary to have an Amendment to permit the sale of potatoes and various other agricultural products by the acre. So long as that can be inserted in the Bill it will meet all the objections I have heard against it. The necessity for something like a standard weight in corn is so great, and it applies to many other products as well as agricultural products, that I have often wondered that this country has borne so long as it has the extraordinary mixture of weights and measures. An educationist friend of mine has often asserted that the children of this country lose three years of their educational life in attempting to master the intricacies of the weights and measures in this country. If that is true, or only partly true, it is quite time we had a change. Personally, I should like to see the decimal method introduced, but I am not wedded entirely to that method. It has, nevertheless, many advantages that I wonder it has not been more seriously considered than it has been. This Bill is a step in the right direction, and I hope it will have no difficulty in soon becoming law.
§ Mr. HAILWOOD
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
The introducer of the Bill has dwelt at great length on the multiplicity of weights that different sections of the community adopt in their sales of corn. He omitted to tell the House that the sale of homegrown corn only formed a fraction of the trade. The great bulk of the trade of this country is in foreign corn. The proportion of home-grown wheat, for instance, is considerably less than 25 per cent, of the total consumed in this country. Consequently the way this question has to be looked at is not so much what affects one quarter of the total wheat consumed but 1453 rather the other three-quarters. Those merchants who deal in foreign corn have always dealt in wheat in terms of the foreign quarter, namely, 504 lbs., and future markets have been based upon the cental. The cental is 100 lbs. and 10 centals are equal to a thousand kilos, and this is a convenient form which, after long usage, has been found practicable, and I consider it would be a retrograde step if any Bill were passed in this House which inflicted upon the community sales by the hundredweight, namely, 112 lbs. It may sound a little confusing to people who have no knowledge of the corn trade to have all the different weights for bushels and quarters, but it arises from the different kinds of grain. For instance, if you are measuring a bushel of oats it weighs differently from a bushel of wheat, because the one is heavier than the other, and the reason for the difference in weights is the old-fashioned way whereby grain was sold by measure rather than by weight. But if the corn trade generally is working towards a system of centals, and importing on the 100 lbs. basis, which is really the beginning of the decimal system, it behoves this House to walk very warily before taking the retrograde step of fastening an old English weight on the country by Act of Parliament. Whatever difficulties exist between one section of the community and the other with regard to weights can always be overcome by their various associations. It is not necessary for this House to come down between two bodies of traders and insist by law that such and such a thing shall be done in such and such a way. If the Liverpool Corn Trade Association can enter into agreements with the North American Exporting Corn Trade Association, surely to goodness the English farmers, or their various associations, can come to an arrangement with the importers and the millers and the various corn merchants in this country. I am always opposed to legislation unless there is very sound ground for promoting it. I believe there is more trouble and more difficulty and more expense caused by a plethora of legislation rather than by an insufficiency of it, and unless the whole trade has made up its mind to march in a certain direction, I think it is rather a one-sided affair for this House to impose a method of trading which seems to suit one side and one side only. Some inquiry ought to be made 1454 by this House, and a Committee ought to be set up if legislation is to be imposed. I think it would be a great mistake at the present time to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to second the Amendment.
The constituency which I represent is one of the greatest corn-importing, corn-dealing, and corn-milling centres in the country, and there is no sort of demand for the provisions of this Bill, as far as I can gather, from the corn dealers, merchants, and millers in that area. I am certain that if it were so badly needed, as the hon. Member (Mr. Lane-Fox) pointed out, we should have had a very strong demand from the Chamber of Commerce or the Chamber of Trade in the constituency. They are not slow, as my colleagues in the House know, to bring forward any demands in the interests of their legitimate trade, and I am certain that, if this measure were needed by them, they would have asked for something to be brought in long since. If this measure is required, why has not the Government, with its great schemes of reconstruction and turning the whole country upside down, suggested something of this sort? In all the wonderful things that we were told the Government was going to do, the unification of measures of grain has never figured. The Bill has the formidable backing of several able and distinguished Members of the House representing agricultural interests, and I should have thought that, if it were so unanimously demanded by the agricultural community, it would have been introduced by the Government. The greatest objection of all is one that was foreshadowed by the hon. Member who introduced the Bill. If we are going to cause the undoubted and admitted confusion that will ensue, at any rate, temporarily, to those who deal in corn under these different measures, why not go the whole way and introduce the metric system for measuring grain? Why introduce the uniform hundredweight of 112 imperial standard pounds, and not 100 imperial standard pounds? It is because I am a firm believer, as I hope are many other Members of this House, in the necessity and inevitability of introducing the metric system into this country, and because I believe that the passing of this Bill would make the introduction of the metric system more difficult in a trade 1455 in which it is very badly required, that I am prepared to support my hon. Friend (Mr. Hailwood) in resisting what we consider to be the retrograde step of stereotyping the 112-lb. hundredweight measure.
Major DAVID DAVIES
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill, which I am sure will receive ample encouragement in this House, and which I hope will find its way on to the Statute Book. This question is a very old one, and the reform is one which is very long overdue. If we look back over the proceedings of this House we shall find that in the year 1795 a Committee reported upon the buying and selling of corn, and recommended to Parliament that there should be a uniform system of weights, and that the system of measures should be regulated by weight in order to avoid deception on the part of buyers and sellers of corn. In 1834 a Committee was appointed by the Government of the day and reported on this matter. In 1891 a Committee reported to the then President of the Local Government Board, and made the definite recommendation that the hundredweight should be adopted as the standard measure for the sale of corn. In 1893 the Central Chamber of Agriculture sent a deputation to the President of the Board of Trade and asked him to introduce a measure very much on the lines of the Bill now before the House. In 1887 Mr. Rankin's Bill was introduced into the House, but was withdrawn. It was followed in 1891 by Mr. Jasper Moore's Bill, but unfortunately that measure did not go any "further at that time. In 1897 and 1898 Mr. Rankin again introduced Bills into this House, but after that the whole matter apparently fell into abeyance.
After the speech of my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading, it is not necessary for me to argue the need that there is for this measure at the present time. My hon. Friend quoted some figures showing the extraordinary differentiation, confusion, and chaos that now exists all over the country. That is a legacy which has been left to the country from the pre-railway days, when every agricultural district was a law unto itself. Nowadays, with increased transport facilities, the confusion has become very greatly accentuated. As to the legisla- 1456 tion which has passed through this House in connection with the matter, the House will recollect that in August, 1919, a Cereals (Restriction) Order was issued and that in that Order the quarter of wheat was described as weighing 504 lbs. In 1917 the House passed a Corn Production Act, and the quarter was then defined, not as weighing 504 lbs., as in 1919, but as weighing 480 lbs.; and in the last Agriculture Act, passed last year, it was defined as weighing 504 lbs. Therefore, even in the recent legislation which has passed through this House, there is great confusion as to how many pounds there really are in an imperial quarter of wheat. My hon. Friend also referred to the report of the Agricultural Policies Sub-Committee of the Reconstruction Committee. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) referred to the fact that practically nothing has been done by the Government to deal with this matter, but I would point out to him that the Government did go so far as to appoint this Agricultural Sub-Committee, which considered the whole question of weights and measures very carefully. Their recommendations are embodied in this Bill, and I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture are prepared to support them. These recommendations of the Sub-Committee for England and Scotland are as follow:We therefore confine our recommendations to the following general principles:I go on to
- (A) A uniform standard of weight should be laid down on which alone sales and purchases of agricultural produce, other than liquids and certain market garden produce, should be legal.
- (B) That a uniform standard of measures for liquids should be similarly laid down."(D) Official and other market quotations should be required to be in the terms of the standards laid down.(E) The several standards should be selected so as to cause as little interference as possible with existing methods.(F) A certain transition period should be fixed at the. end of which the new standards should be recognised.I think the Bill really incorporates all the recommendations of that Committee, which was specially appointed to consider what alterations there should be and how they could be adapted to agricultural methods in this country. 1457 No doubt some people would raise objections to some Clauses in the Bill, but I do not believe it will cost agriculturists of the country a penny-piece because the sacks which are now used for the loading of wheat are generally made in such sizes as to contain either 1 cwt., 1½ cwts., or 2 cwts. Also the rates for railway freights and all goods in transit are calculated on the basis of the cwt. and not the cental. Also the scales and weights which are used are all on the basis of the cwt. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) said there would be dislocation. I do not think there would be dislocation if the cwt. is adopted as the standard. If we take any other standard no doubt the amount of dislocation will be far greater.
Hon. Members have taken exception to the fact that the decimal system has not been adopted. Many of us would prefer to see it adopted, because I believe it would be a great advantage if the weights and measures and all industrial and commercial transactions were carried on in accordance with that system, but this matter has been under the consideration of a Committee over which Lord Balfour of Burleigh presided some few years ago, and after going into the whole question very carefully they reported against the adoption of the metric and decimal system, to weights and measures. In view of that fact I think it would be unwise to press that that system should be incorporated in this Bill. The Bill is really a step forward, because we have consolidated the existing weights and measures and set up a uniform standard. Therefore I appeal to all those who are supporters of the decimal and metric system to support this Bill. If this reform can be carried out, and if you adopt the cwt. first of all as the standard, it will be very much easier to go a step further and secure that the metric system shall be the one for all commercial transactions throughout the country. The hon. Member for East Manchester said the Bill was very unpopular with the corn trade in Liverpool. I did not quite follow his arguments, but I gathered that even now in Liverpool they make their calculations on the basis of the ton, and if that is so, it would not be very difficult to adapt this system.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
The whole of the futures market of Liverpool, which is the 1458 only futures market in corn in this country, is based on the cental.
Major D. DAVIES
I understand that the freight on imported corn is paid on the ton and it is not a very difficult calculation to reduce tons to hundredweights. The Bill has nothing whatever to do with futures, because it only applies to corn after it is actually imported into the country and is bought and sold within the boundaries of the United Kingdom. Before the War we imported oil seeds which were all sold in varying weights. Calcutta linseed was sold per quarter of 416 lbs.; Russian linseed in quantities of 424 lbs.; sesame seed in quantities of 384 lbs.; and other seeds were sold in different weights. When the Government took over control the Ministry of Food insisted on the standard quantities being revised and all sales were made by the hundredweight or the ton. If it was possible for the Ministry of Food to insist that these imports which were marked up at these different weights should be standardised, surely the same thing is applicable in the case of corn. After many discussions in Holland and meetings of 15 of the principal associations in the grain, seed and other trades, it was decided that everyone in Holland should quote their produce in terms of 100 kilograms after 1st March, 1921. I do not think the Bill can be looked upon as a serious interference with the liberty of the various trades and associations which deal with cornstuffs and other agricultural products.
An hon. Member opposite referred to the support which the measure had received. I should like to quote a few of the recommendations which we have received from various agricultural and other bodies all over the country. The National Farmers' Union says:The draft of the Weights and Measures Bill came before our Trades Advisory and Transport Committee and Cereals, Livestock, and Wool Committee. In each case the provisions of the Bill were given unqualified support and that decision was endorsed when the reports of the Committees were considered by the Council of the Union. My Committee will be glad to co-operate with you in any way possible during the progress of the Measure through Parliament, for which it is hoped facilities will be granted.I do not think any stronger testimonial could be received from a most important 1459 body representing the farmers. The National Farmers' Union of Scotland say:The Central Executive Committee unanimously approved of the Corn Sales Bill and resolved to give the Measure every support.The Central Chamber of Agriculture:At the Council Meeting a resolution was passed approving of your "Weights and Measures Bill, and I am instructed to ask members to ballot for it at the opening of next Session.The Central Landowners' Association:The Executive Committee welcome the Bill as a contribution to a much-needed reform.The Surveyors' Institution:The Council approve the proposals contained in the Bill as in the interests of agriculture.The Agriculture Seed Trade Association of the United Kingdom:The Council are heartily in support of the Bill. In their opinion the Bill should be applied to all farm seed.The National Federation of Fish Friers, the British Empire. Producers' Organisation, the Burnley and District Chamber of Trade, the South Wales and Monmouthshire Hay Merchants' Association and many other bodies also approve of the Bill.
These quotations prove that the consensus of opinion in the agriculture industry of this country is strongly in support of this Bill. May I venture to appeal to all sections of the people to support it, because it appears to me to be a business proposition, and is a reform which is required? Seeing that the farmers and the agriculture community generally support it, and as my hon. Friend (Mr. Lane-Fox said he would be quite willing to consider any Amendment when the Committee stage is reached, I have every confidence in commending the Bill to the support of the House.
§ 1.0 P. M.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
My views on this Bill are very much divided. I cannot help feeling with those who have introduced the Bill and the agricultural community as a whole that the multiplicity of measures is a scandal and an unnecessary burden upon commercial transactions. On the other hand, the Liverpool Corn Trade Association are strongly opposed to the Bill, and I ought to tell the House why. They say that the whole of the future market in this country, that is to say, the market upon which all contracts to arrive are based, and which is used as 1460 the head by the whole of the imported trade in this country, is based upon the cental. I have a letter from the Corn Trade Association on the subject. They say that it would be a very grave inconvenience to all operating in the market in Liverpool if they had to translate their purchases in centals into a measure of 112 lbs. These questions of practical inconvenience are very difficult for those of us who are not in the trade to fully appreciate, but I will ask the House to take that as a statement written by the Corn Trade Association officially, and made as a statement of fact which ought to be taken as proof. Hon. Members representing ports where there are other corn trade associations, I think, take the same view. On the other hand, we have to recognise the fact that we have this ridiculous system of different weights and measures at present in this country. What ought the House to do under the circumstances? I agree with the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken who is really the father of this Bill, that the decimal system is the right system, and I submit that this House ought not to commit itself to a crystallisation or a perpetuation of a system which is not a decimal system. Therefore, as a compromise to the conflicting views in the matter, I suggest that the Bill should be given a Second Reading on the understanding that the unit of 100 lbs., which the hon. and gallant Member for Hull suggested, should be substituted for the unit of 112 lbs. proposed by the Bill. In Committee all instances of difficulty in the application of that unit in the inland trade to which the hon. Member who has just sat down referred, can be dealt with. I cannot think that they will be anything like as great on the balance, as the difficulties attaching to the preservation of the unit of 112 lbs. I suggest, therefore, that we should pass the Bill on Second Reading, on condition that the 100 lbs. is substituted for 112 lbs. On that footing the Liverpool Corn Trade Association, in their letter to me, say that from their point of view the great objection to the Bill would be removed, although they would like to have the Bill not applying at all to any imported grain. That I do not think is feasible. They do not think they could object to the Bill as applying to inland trade. If there is no opposition to the Bill qua inland grain, 1461 and if the futures market and its convenience could be consulted by substituting 100 lbs. for 112 lbs., that would be a very feasible compromise and a helpful solution to a very difficult problem.
The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir A. Boscawen)
After the speech of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Leslie Scott), it would be as well if I said something as to the position of the Government. This is not a Government Bill, but so far as the Government are concerned they will certainly recommend the House to give it a Second Heading. Speaking from the agricultural point of view, we realise that there are great advantages in the Bill. When I say that we should give the Bill a Second Heading it must be clearly understood that there can be no such condition attaching to the Second Beading as that which my hon. and learned Friend suggested. Apart from other considerations, from the Parliamentary view the House of Commons cannot tie in any way what a Committee may do. The question as to whether the unit should be 112 lbs. as suggested in the Bill, the ordinary cwt., or what is called the cental, the 100 lbs., is a matter for the Committee to decide, and I am not prepared here and now to state an opinion. I can see very grave objections to the course suggested, from the practical point of view; in any case, no Bill can pass through this House subject to any such condition.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
That is a different proposition. If the Bill gets a Second Reading to-day as I hope it will, then any hon. Member on the Committee or on the Report stage can bring forward such Amendments as they desire, and if the Bill is not amended in the sense that they wish they can vote against it on the Third Reading. I wish to remove any misunderstanding in the minds of any hon. Members that this Bill can be passed under a condition which I do not suppose the promoters are prepared to agree to without very full consideration. On the merits of the Bill generally I certainly think that there is a strong case for legislation in the present position of weights and measures as regards corn and other 1462 produce. The position is absolutely chaotic. Corn is generally sold in terms of a measure, namely, a bushel or a quarter, but as a matter of fact it is sold by weight, so that the bushel or the quarter always has relation to some particular weight. Unfortunately, the weights differ. A bushel or a quarter have different weights when we are dealing with wheat or with oats. They do not always have the same weights in connection with those two particular cereals. In some parts of the country a quarter means one weight and in another a different weight, and great confusion arises. For example, a quarter of British wheat means 504 lbs., and a quarter of British oats 336 lbs. Those are the customary weights, but for the purposes of statistics under the Corn Returns Act the quarter of British wheat means 480 lbs., and for oats there is a different figure. Again, in most parts of the country a bushel of British oats is 42 lbs., and in some parts 39 lbs., while in others it is no less than 126 lbs. These differences are exceedingly confusing and hampering to trade, but they cannot be removed, so strong is local custom, without legislation whereby the State will set up a standard of weights and measures. Though I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester that very often we may have too much legislation, still if there is one elementary thing which the State can do, without any suspicion of Socialism, it is to set up a standard of weights and measures. This has not been done in the corn trade, and in reference to agricultural produce up to the present. As to the objections which have been raised by the hon. Member for Manchester and other hon. Members, which proceed, I understand, from the corn trade in Liverpool and elsewhere, there is much misunderstanding. First, I do not think that the trade in future is affected. The Bill lays down specifically that it only affects sales made in the United Kingdom.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Therefore I do not think that the question of futures arises at all. The corn, I understand, is usually imported in quarters, but for the purpose of resale in this country the quarter is translated into the cental.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
That is not my information, I understand that the grain is actually landed and paid for in quarters, but on resale is translated into centals. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Whatever it may be there is the difficulty of translating one measure into the other, and I do not anticipate that any great additional difficulty will be caused by the provisions of this Bill. Apart from the corn trade, I cannot discover that anybody has opposed the Bill. On the other hand we have received a great many requests that it might go through. This change is recommended by Lord Selborne's Report. It is supported by the National Farmers' Union all over the country. It is supported by the clergy who have a great interest in this on account of the tithe rent charge. The "Church Times" has advocated the standardisation of weights of cereals to put an end to the confusion and waste resulting from the present system. The proposal is also supported by the National Federation of Fish Friers. I think therefore that it would be wise on the part of the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, and the anticipated difficulties can be considered fully by the Standing Committee, after which it will resume control of the measure, and can take any action it likes on the Third Reading.
§ Major HAYWARD
I quite understand the necessity for having some uniform measure adopted, and therefore I shall support the Second Reading of this Bill, but the provisions for enforcing compliance of the Act will require close scrutiny by the Committee. It seems to me that it does introduce a new principle into the law of contracts, whereby the parties to a contract have, so far as I know, always been enabled themselves to define and limit the subject-matter of the contract. That point was not raised by the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, and therefore I am a little diffident about submitting it. But another point was raised that, according to the custom, after importation of corn the measure was transferred into a different form from the 1464 measure under the original contract. Is that always so? Is it ever the custom to transfer, after the corn is imported, merely by the transfer of the documents of title, because, if that is so, I take it that such transfers would be null and void unless in the first instance the measure was transferred into the new measure provided by this Bill. Other points occur, so that this particular part of the Bill will have to be scrutinised in Committee.
I support this Bill. It is surprising to find at least two Bills on the Order Paper to-day coming from a part of the House where Friday legislation is always strongly objected to. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) is responsible for one of them, and I expected him to be here objecting to this bit of Friday legislation. But there is one objection to this Bill which I have, and which is of a sentimental character. I object to this craze for standardising everything. Too many things in our national and social life are being standardised. It is to that I object People connected with the land are especially a class of people from whom I would be the last to expect revolutionary proposals of this sort. There is a good deal to be said for the Bill, all the same, and I support the general principle, but I would ask, What harm has hay done? The confusion existing with regard to hay measures is a very considerable disability in transactions, particularly amongst small people in the trade. In Scotland hay is usually sold wholesale by the ton, but between man and man it is usually sold by the stone, and the stone varies from 22 lbs. to—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that "other crops" means rye, oats, and so forth. It would be going beyond the leave given to bring in the Bill if hay were included among cereals.
If hay cannot be introduced into this Bill, the Bill to me is comparatively useless. Therefore, in sympathy with the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), who always objects to Friday legislation, I feel very much inclined to go into the Lobby against the Bill.
We hear much about the cost of education. In this country, apparently, they spend so much time in learning the various weights and measures that they are not in a position to be able to spell the word "pea," and it has now become "pees."
I think that is worthy of Adam when he blamed Eve for the fall. The hon. Member ought to have read his own Bill before he brought it into this House, and have accepted responsibility for the Clauses and for the spelling and phrasing of them. How can the House discuss a Bill when we do not know from the spelling what the Bill means? I think the Bill should be postponed, and I am inclined to review my decision to support it. I do not know whether I shall or not.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
With reference to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott), I am sure he represents the views of the Corn Trade Association of Liverpool, but I am equally certain that he does not represent the views of the shipping community of Liverpool, neither does the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) represent the views of the shipping community of that port. The shipping community is heartily in favour of this change, for the simple reason that every pound of grain imported into this country is imported on the basis 1466 of the hundredweight of 112 lbs. Every grain merchant who has handled a Bill of Lading—I can speak with some knowledge on the subject—has had to pay his freight on the basis of 112 lbs. to the hundredweight, or 2,240 lbs. to the ton. I fail to see how there can be any confusion among grain importers because of the proposed change. It is really farcical to suggest it. We should have more uniformity, not only for the convenience of the agriculturists, but of trade generally, and I support the Bill.
§ Captain Sir B. STANIER
Representing as I do the division of Ludlow, I do not think I should be silent after the way in which my predecessor always advocated this reform. I thoroughly endorse everything he said in byegone years. We cannot do better than follow the many points that he made. Reference has been made to the question of weights. It must be remembered that every farmer must have a set of weights on his farm, and that they have to be passed by the weights and measures inspector of his county. We have every farmer with weights suitable for carrying out the purposes of this Bill. What is more, the corn itself works by its own measures to suitable parts of the measures that we are advocating. The weights that the farmers use are all in unison in the same direction. It is a very strong argument that the Seed Trade Association of this country has blessed this proposal from beginning to end. I have here a letter from the Secretary of the Association, dated 15th March. He says:My council have carefully considered the Bill since it was first mentioned to them by the Member for Montgomery, and they strongly support it.He adds that the Association is of opinion that if the Bill applies to certain agricultural seeds only, others should be added. That, however, is a Committee point. The hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division (Mr. Scott) has tried to make out that the corn trade will be put to grave difficulties by the change proposed. The cental difficulty is as nothing compared with the difficulty that the farmers would have if they had to change the whole of their weights and scales. The farmers would have the difficulty in the same way as the railway companies and the dealers. If you make a change in any other way than by this Bill, you will have every railway company 1467 in the country up in arms. Every railway company has its scales and its weights, and consequently you would have them up in arms and grave difficulties would be created. The farmer also experiences the greatest difficulty because it is almost impossible to compare one market with another. There is another question, which you will perhaps consider a minor one, and that is the prevention of fraud. I am very glad to say it is very seldom that fraud is carried through in dealings in corn. This Bill will be a prevention of fraud and will also enable the farmer, the corn merchant and others associated with them to be able to compare the markets and see which is the best. It is for those reasons, amongst others, that I hope this Bill will very soon find its way to the Statute Book.
§ Major MOLSON
I rise to give my whole-hearted support to this Bill, which I think is most necessary. The list of those supporting it shows that it is in the interests of the agricultural community, and the fact that it is receiving the support of the Chamber of Trade of Burnley and district shows that there is a large amount of interest in the Bill on the part of the various trades. The agricultural community is put at a great disadvantage in having to explain what is the weight of each quarter of corn or oats which is being sold, and the interests of farming generally will, I think, benefit from this Bill. I do not see why it should be thrown out on account of the opposition which has been offered to it, and I hope the Minister of Agriculture will give it his whole-hearted support.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.