HL Deb 25 July 1878 vol 242 cc208-11

(The Lord Henniker.)


House in Committee (according to Order).

Clauses 1 to 37, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 38 (Power of Board of Trade to verify metric weights and measures).


moved an Amendment, the object of which, as he explained, was to legalize the verification of weights and measures on the metric system. To him it seemed very remarkable and invidious that in this, the greatest commercial country in the world, engaging in large contracts on the metric system with other nations, the only weights and measures authorized by law to be verified should be the imperial, the equivalent of which in the metric system were given in the Act in figures running to five places of decimals. Though the metric system had rather retrograded than advanced in the favour both of Parliament and the public during the past few years, yet it had now been adopted compulsorily in countries numbering some 200,000,000 of inhabitants, and permissively in countries with some 100,000,000 more. Considering the constantly increasing extent of our commercial transactions with many nations, and especially with the French, using the metric system, it did certainly seem to him desirable that the facilities now given by the Bill for the use of that system for scientific, should be extended to trading, purposes.

Amendment moved, in page 10, line 15, to leave out from "trade" to end of clause.—(The Earl Fortescue.)


observed, that he did not intend to move the Amendments, of which he had given Notice, to the 50th and the 53rd clauses, the noble Lord in charge of the Bill having given Notice that he could not adopt them. He hoped, however, that the noble Lord would hold out some hope that hereafter some legislation would be attempted on the lines of his (Lord Colchester's) suggestion, if, after a reasonable trial, it was found that the "local authority" did not satisfactorily discharge the duties which devolved upon them under the Bill. He did not hope, or desire, that the imperial system should be superseded by the metric system. As he said on the second reading, all he wished was that the two systems should be put upon an equality, and that where buyer and seller agreed, the metric standard might be used.


said, he had already stated that the Board of Trade were strongly of opinion that the Bill went far enough in its provisions as to the metric system, and that it could not go further, at present. He could not, therefore, accept the Amendment of the noble Earl opposite. He must add that this Bill was a consolidating measure, and he did not think a Bill of this kind was the proper place for the introduction of a new principle—namely, a change of such great importance as the establishment of a new system of weights and measures. He thought the noble Earl, and those who agreed with him, ought to be content with the step taken by the Bill in the direction he desired. Should this Amendment be carried, no doubt, the Bill would be lost. He did not believe that this was the wish of the noble Earl—to throw away all the labour which had been expended in preparing the measure, and to put off carrying out the many improvements in the system in force which it contained. He, therefore, appealed to the noble Earl not to press his Amendment.

On Question? Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 39 to 49, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 50 (Local authorities and local rates).


said, he had an Amendment which he feared would fall under the same objection as the Amendment which had just been negatived. He had, however, seen and heard a great deal which convinced him that the permissive power granted to these local bodies should only be temporary, and that it should only be continued until they saw whether those bodies were willing to gracefully abdicate the functions for which they were in no way fitted. What were the facts of the case? These strong municipalities were intrusted to the control of Inspectors in this matter, and the poorest class of householders were not likely to get much consideration at their hands. The members of small corporations were, on the other hand, very often the very class of persons whose weights and measures required inspection, and the very class liable to be called to account for negligence, or worse, in this matter; and even those of them who were not likely to be called to account themselves were animated by an esprit de corps which would render effective inspection exceedingly difficult.


said, it was quite impossible for him to accept the Amendment of his noble Friend. Here, again, the question of a new principle was involved. The Amendment proposed to take away all power from the local authorities which they at present possessed, and this it was proposed to do in a consolidating measure. The Board of Trade were by no means prepared to propose so great a change, and he could not agree to the Amendment.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 51 and 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 (Power to local authority to make bye-laws as to local verification, &c).


said, he had also an Amendment, the object of which was to transfer the machinery for carrying out the Act from the local authorities to the Board of Trade, giving the local authorities, however, the power to make bye-laws which the Board of Trade might enforce. There was no fear, he said, that the local authorities would be too vigorous in the application of the law. It was much more likely that they would neglect the matter altogether. He thought the Department of the Board of Trade would be well qualified to work the Act in all cases. It ought, at all events, to have the power to recommend bye-laws, which could be enforced if the local authorities did not voluntarily draw them up and apply them. Considering how much they favoured centralization in some other matters, he was surprised at the Government's enthusiastic worship of local self-government in this. He did not wish to press the Amendment, but he hoped it would before long be adopted in legislation. He would inquire, in future, how far the local authorities had made use of this clause, and if they had not applied it, he would again propose that the power should be taken away from them. He suggested to the Government the desirableness of enabling Inspectors of weights and measures to visit canteens to which civilians were admitted to make purchases. It was important to stop some scandalous abuses arising from clashing jurisdictions in this matter.


said, this was a most important clause. The powers it gave to the Board of Trade were most valuable—to make bye-laws, to make regulations, and secure the proper enforcement of the law at the request of the local authority. To force them to make certain bye-laws was quite a different thing. The Board of Trade were not prepared for such a change. The powers they considered to be quite sufficient under this clause. Hero, again, a new course of procedure was involved by the Amendments of his noble Friend, and this measure was not the proper place for its introduction. Both this and the former Amendment to Clause 50 pointed to centralization of the most complete kind. He could not accept the Amendment. The noble Lord had mentioned canteens. He was aware of the Hounslow case mentioned by his noble Friend. It could not be expected that the commander of a regiment would willingly consent to the interference of an Inspector. He would, however, call the attention of the proper authorities at the Board of Trade to the subject, so that the law might be clearly denned by bye-laws, when an opportunity arose.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 54 to 77, inclusive, agreed, to.