HL Deb 22 July 1878 vol 241 cc2038-44

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the measure simply consolidated a number of existing Acts, some of which had been found to be obscure and in some cases contradictory. Of course, in a Consolidation Bill it was impossible to avoid introducing some new matter; but, in the present case, what new matter there was arose out of the process of consolidation itself, out of the need for removing doubts and inconsistencies and correcting mistakes, or out of certain Amendments inserted by the Select Committee of the House of Commons. That new matter would make the Bill practically complete as a consolidating measure, and would go far towards establishing an uniform system of weights and measures throughout the Kingdom. The Bill was brought into the House of Commons and referred to a Select Committee, who went most carefully into the measure and took evidence on the subject, the result being that the Bill now came before their Lordships in as perfect a shape as possible. A great deal of trouble was taken in drawing the Bill, and in that respect the Government were fortunate enough in securing the services of a gentleman who was not only acquainted with the legal questions concerned, but was well versed in the scientific part of the subject. It was, therefore, very doubtful whether at any other time, or under any other circumstances, the matter could have been dealt with more satisfactorily. The Bill, it would seem, gave a more scientific definition of the various standards in use; and it laid it down most clearly and distinctly that only one standard—that was, the imperial standard—should be used in all the trades of the country. Although a consolidating measure, the Bill did not interfere with any of the old jurisdictions except in the way of laying down certain rules for the proper performance of the duties cast upon them. The metric system was practically recognized in the Bill, but without making it part of the imperial system of standards. Those who advocated the metric system should, he thought, be content with what was given in the Bill; for if it were found to work well, no doubt their argument for its general introduction would be very much strengthened. On the other hand, if it were not found to work well, there would not have been any disturbance of existing arrangements. The Bill, at any rate, went far enough in the direction of the metric system for the present. The chief object of all legislation on this question should be the maintenance of just dealing between buyer and seller; and in the present Bill that was secured without unnecessarily disturbing existing methods or arrangements, and without undue interference with local authorities. He believed that the Bill would place not only the law, but the whole system of weights and measures, on a more satisfactory footing.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Henniker.)


observed, that it was now eight years since the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into this subject had concluded their work; and as one of those who had taken part in it, rejoiced that the Government had at length introduced a measure of this kind. He only regretted that as it in some respects went beyond mere consolidation, it did not go further. As contracts were legalized in terms of the metric system, and provision was now made for verifying metric standards, he did not see why metric weights and measures should not be allowed to be used for the purposes of trade, where both buyer and seller desired it. The only precaution necessary, besides stamping them with their proper denominations, would be that they should be of a different shape or material from any imperial measures. He also thought that the clause relating to boroughs not having separate quarter sessions should be imperative, rather than permissive, as those small municipalities had no particular fitness for acting as local authorities in regard to weights and measures, many of their members being tradesmen, whose own weights and measures required vigilant inspection. He also wished that the Board of Trade had taken the power of initiating bye-laws to be pressed on the local authorities, instead of simply allowing them to submit bye-laws for the Department's approval, as he believed great advantage would result from the drawing up of model bye-laws by the Department. He also deprecated the obsolete system of annoyance juries and the powers of Courts Leet over inspection. He trusted the Bill would be a prelude to, not a substitute for, a bolder and more comprehensive measure dealing with the subject.


said, he had no desire to detain their Lordships; but there was one point in connection with the subject under discussion to which he desired to call their Lordships' attention. The Bill did not contain any provision for remedying the system under which the local standards in Ireland had to be sent over to this country for examination. It was necessary that these standards should be sent over to London in the custody of a sub-inspector of police and a police constable; and as this had to be done at stated intervals—namely, every five years—it became in itself a very expensive business. When the standards reached this country they had to remain a considerable time before verification. The money for the expense thus incurred had to be voted by the Grand Jury of each county out of the county cess, and frequently it was a heavy charge. He had made inquiry the other day what the charge was in his own district, and he found that the sum of £29 was paid last year out of the county cess for this purpose; the standards being sent over to England in charge of a sub-inspector of police and a constable, who were in London three weeks doing nothing, while the standards were waiting to be properly verified. If he were to put the average cost at £35 in each of the 32 counties, this would make a total of £1,120 every five years, or an average of £224 a-year. What he had to suggest to his noble Friend who had charge of the Bill was that some means should be found of lessening this expense to Ireland. It might easily be done by the present Bill, and it was not a new question, because the matter had been brought under the attention of the Government before, but the suggestion was not carried out at the time, as it was held that the period was inopportune, and that they should wait until the whole subject could be legislated upon. Well, the time had now arrived when they were proposing to legislate on the whole subject; and he, therefore, suggested to his noble Friend (Lord Henniker) that standards should be established in Dublin which should be the imperial standards for the rest of Ireland, and that these standards should be subject to verification every five years in England. This would save a great deal of money in the shape of travelling expenses, and it would also save a great waste of time. In saying this, he would draw attention to Clause 37 of the Bill, from the perusal of which it appeared that it was quite in the power of the Board of Trade to deal with his proposal as to Ireland in the present measure. The clause set forth that the Board of Trade should cause to be prepared standards, to be verified in such places as the Board might think fit, where they might correct the standards of any local authority. Now, if this clause would allow the Board of Trade to establish standards at such places as Manchester and Liverpool, where the standards of the local authorities might be verified without the expense of coming to London, the same course might be taken with regard to Ireland, by establishing similar standards for verification in Ireland. He hoped his noble Friend would see the necessity of doing something for the purpose of extending this privilege to Ireland. If this suggestion were not agreed to, he should be prepared to move an Amendment when the Bill got into Committee; but if his noble Friend could give him any assurance that the suggestion would be entertained, it would be unnecessary for him to take that course.


desired to call the attention of their Lordships to the peculiar character of the legislation in this country. He rejoiced that three years after the Report of the Royal Commission that was appointed to investigate the subject a consolidated statute was passed, which was likely to be of great value to Continental countries in reference to this subject. Having himself taken some part in carrying that measure, he naturally felt some interest in the matter. An Act to render permissive the use of the metric system of weights and measures had been passed; and although the question had rather retrogaded than advanced in public favour within the last few years in this country, yet in other countries the system had extensively been adopted. It had been adopted absolutely throughout Germany, Italy, Spain, and other countries, altogether containing a population of more than 200,000,000, and permissively in various others, such as the United States, &c.; but this country—a country carrying on the largest commercial transactions in the world—had, as yet, refrained from adopting it. He held that the metric system had become more and more necessary to England under her system of Free Trade; because she was the great depôt for merchandize of all sorts from all the countries of the world. It certainly did seem to be a matter for great regret that, while the Act rendering the use of of the metric system legal for contracts was embodied in the present Bill, yet, practically, the use of those weights and measures could not be rendered conveniently available, because no unverified weights and measures could be legally used, and under the Bill metric weights and measures could only be verified for scientific purposes—it being expressly provided that they were not to be verified for trade purposes. It was suggested that it was desirable for metric weights and measures to have a different shape to the ordinary weights and measures prescribed for them by law, in order that they might be easily distinguished from each other; but this seemed hardly a valid reason for referring those who had occasion to verify contracts and dealings, which they could legally make under the metric system, to a table such as that contained in the Bill, instead of to metric weights and measures verified by the standard recognized in the Bill. The metre was one of the measures most used under this system, and in order to verify the metre, recourse was to be had to an equivalent in British dimensions, which was set forth as 1 yard 1.3708 inches; giving four places of decimals. He thought that in legalizing contracts on the metric system Her Majesty's Government should have sanctioned the adoption of the metre itself, which was a measure now in use among upwards of 200,000,000 of the inhabitants of the globe. With regard to the litre, on which the metric measure of liquids was based, considering the large proportion of fluids sold under the metric system, how unnecessarily difficult was the equivalent given in Britsh quantities rendered as 1.76077 pints, with no less than five places of decimals, while the gramme, which was the foundation of the metric system of weights, was equally rendered by five places of decimals. He could not help expressing a hope that Her Majesty's Government might see their way to sanctioning some rather more convenient mode of verifying contracts than the legalizing of equivalents such as he had just read from the Bill, and which extended to so inconvenient a number of decimals. He did not wish to detain their Lordships longer than by saying that he fully endorsed what his noble Friend had said as to the small municipalities. In Devonshire there was a number of very small ones; and he did not see that because they enjoyed the privilege of quarter sessions, that places containing less than 4,000, and some less than 3,000, inhabitants, should have quite such extensive powers confined to their petty local authorities as were to be preserved to them by the present Bill. On the whole, however, the Bill was one which he regarded as a very valuable measure, and the last thing he would do would be to make any attempt to delay its passing.


remarked, that the Board of Trade had had the assistance not only of scientific men in preparing the Bill, but they had also had the most valuable information collected by the Royal Commission of 1870, over which his noble Friend behind him (Lord Colchester) had presided. He was glad that his noble Friend approved of the Bill, although he wished it to go further than it did. The Commission obtained a great variety of valuable information; and if his noble Friend desired to bring forward any Amendments, they would have the consideration of the Board of Trade. With regard to the point that had been brought forward by another noble Lord (the Earl of Donoughmore), he might say that no doubt, under the 37th clause of the Bill, what the noble Earl proposed might be carried out, provided there was no substantial objection against it, and it was possible that there might be such an objection on considerations of finance. He could not give the noble Earl more specific information at present; and he would suggest that the best way would be for the noble Earl to put down what it was that he desired to include in the Bill, so that it could receive due consideration before the Bill went into Committee.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.