HL Deb 12 May 1868 vol 192 cc107-10

, in moving— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to request that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to order that there be laid before this House, the Proceedings of the International Monetary Conference held in Paris, June 1867; and to call Attention to the Report adopted by the International Conference on Weights, Measures, and Coins, held in Paris, June 1867,"— said, that the account of the proceedings of the Monetary Congress held at Paris was exceedingly interesting. It clearly showed the loss of time caused by the existing system, and of that labour the loss of which was the loss of wealth to the commerce of the world. The matter was one of importance to every civilized nation, and perhaps to none more than to that which stood at the head of the commercial The Lord Chancellor nations of the world. There were now several foreign nations, including the Danubian Principalities, the source of a great part of our corn importations, the Brazils, and several South American States, among whom the use of the metric system in its entirety was compulsory. When he reminded their Lordships that among a population of 146,000,000 of the most civilized nations of the world the use of the metric system was compulsory, and that our trade in imports and exports with these States amounted to no less than £180,000,000 annually, they would allow that a case had been made out for assimilating to this more perfect system our own most confused, inconvenient, and anomalous system of weights and measures. There were other States, containing a population of 70,000,000, whose systems of weights and measures had been more or less assimilated to the metric system. Over and above these, there were two great commercial nations—the United States of America and this country—in which the use of the metric system was permissive; but in our own case in the least satisfactory method. By the English law no weights or measures could be lawfully used which were unstamped; but there was no authority in any public Department to stamp these weights or measures according to the metric system, so as to enable them to be used without exposing the users to a penalty. The United States had in like manner made the use of metric weights and measures permissive; but they had gone a great deal further. Far from refusing to stamp these weights and measures, the Secretary of the Treasury was authorized and invited to furnish each State of the Union with a series of weights and measures on the metric system, and the Director of the Post Office had provided the Post Office with postal balances for foreign, letters, graduated in metric grammes. The metric system was, in fact, viewed with constantly increasing favour in the United States. The metrical system was at present being used by various communities, numbering 150,000,000 persons, and the Report which had been come to by the International Congress had been assented to by representatives of twenty different Governments. Mr. Hoffman had declared that a consequence of the diversity in systems of weights and measures works on chymistry were sealed books to foreigners, although the language in which they were written was understood by the reader. Merchants were unanimously agreed that the metric system would save them a great deal of time, and enable them to get their business conducted by fewer clerks than at present; and all persons engaged in educating the young were convinced that the saving of time which would result from the introducton of the metric system would permit them to enlarge the curriculum in sources of primary education. The noble Earl concluded by moving— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Proceedings of the International Monetary Conference held in Paris, June 1867."—(The Earl Fortescue.)


begged to remind their Lordships that the subject of international coinage had been referred to a special Commission composed of men distinguished for scientific and commercial experience; and he would recommend their Lordships to wait until their Report had been made; for if it should prove to have been arrived at with anything like an approach to unanimity it would be impossible for their Lordships to withhold their assent from its decision. At the same time he must observe that any measure would be of a most dangerous character that should tend to alter the standard of value in England. The noble Earl was the avowed representative of an association who were continually thrusting upon the people of this country a universal international system of weights and measures. It was very remarkable, however, that while they did this they did nothing to remedy a much more practical evil—the utter want of uniformity that there was in the weights and measures used in this country. That was a clear, plain, practical grievance, and one that had repeatedly been made the subject of remonstrance with Parliament. Yet while that was left unnoticed by the noble Earl and his friends, they insisted that the want of an international system of weights and measures was a grievance of an intolerable character. This reminded him of the story of an unfortunate person who, having received an injury, brought an action to obtain redress, and retained Mr. Erskine to conduct his case. At the end of the learned counsel's speech the suitor burst into tears. "What is the matter," asked his attorney; "surely you could not have had your case stated better?" "I know that," was the reply; "but, Heaven have mercy upon me! I never knew how injured I was till that man told me." Was the noble Earl prepared to state on the floor of their Lordships' House that even the French Government, with all the powers of coercion at its command, had been able to force the metrical system upon the provincial markets? That was a plain question, to which he should be glad to have a distinct answer. The case of the United States was sometimes referred to; but Professor Kelland said that, while on a holiday tour in America, he noticed that the booksellers' list of New York gave the prices in cents, because the law positively said that must be done, but that the prices were not such sums as 20, 50, or 100 cents, but were indivisible sums, such as 77 or 3 cents. Mr. Kelland was a good deal puzzled at this phenomenon—a decimal currency, but non-decimal prices—till it was explained to him that those prices represented sums arranged on the old shilling system. The very highest authority, Sir John Herschel, had again and again asserted that the basis of our system of weights and measures was less liable to error and more universally adopted than the French system. For all abstract purposes the decimal system was most convenient for obvious reasons; but a great variety of considerations, eminently practical in their nature, entered into the question as to whether the system should be adopted for the purposes of daily life, and these, he submitted, could be best examined by the Commission to which the subject had been referred.


expressed his regret that the amusing and instructive speech of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Fortescue) had not been made at an earlier hour in the evening, when a larger number of Peers could have been, present to have listened to him, There could be no difficulty in giving the noble Earl the Papers he asked for—in fact, all but one had already been laid before the House. Should the noble Earl enter into this question with the view of initiating legislation with regard to it, he hoped that he would commence by endeavouring to render uniform the weights and measures of this country, leaving the International Law upon the subject to be dealt with at some future period. The lower classes invariably regarded changes of the character advocated by the noble Earl with suspicion, and it was, therefore, almost impossible to induce them to adopt them. The task that the noble Earl had set himself was so involved in difficulty that the Government were not likely to take it off his hands.

Motion agreed to