HL Deb 23 February 1904 vol 130 cc674-701


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I feel considerable diffidence owing to its large and universal scope, affecting every person within the United Kingdom. I would gladly have left it to His Majesty's Government to have initiated legislation on a subject which a very great number of people regard as one of vital importance to the welfare of the country; but, from answers which have from time to time been given by Ministers to deputations which have advocated this measure, it is clear that, however much they sympathised with the object and believed in its utility, they did not consider, at the time those answers were given, that public opinion was sufficiently ripe for the compulsory introduction of the metric system. It will be my object to-day, among other aims, to show how very strongly public opinion has now come round in its desire for this measure. I will not go further back in the history of the movement than the year 1895, when a Select Committee of the House of Commons sat for a considerable time and took exhaustive evidence on the whole subject. In July of that year the Committee published their Report, and I have caused that Report to be printed with the Bill in order that your Lordships might have an opportunity of studying it at your leisure. I will therefore only read the three recommendations contained in that Report—

  1. (a) That the metrical system of weights and measures be at once legalised for all purposes.
  2. (b) That after a lapse of two years the metrical system be rendered compulsory by Act of Parliament.
  3. (c) That the metrical system of weights and measures be taught in all public elementary schools as a necessary and integral part of arithmetic, and that decimals be introduced at an earlier period of the school curriculum than is the case at present.
Of these three recommendations the first was complied with by the passing of the permissive Act of 1897. By this Act the use in trade of a weight or measure of the metric system was made lawful, and a person using or having in his possession such a weight or measure was not by reason thereof liable to a fine. The Act further provided that the Board of Trade standards should include metric standards, and it was made lawful for the Queen, by Order in Council, to make a table of metrical equivalents. Such tables have been published by the Board of Trade. This Act was a great relief to those manufacturers who were making goods for export to countries where the metric system was in force, but there appears to have been a serious omission in that Act, in that inspectors of weights and measures were not given power to verify and stamp the metric weights and measures so used.

The third recommendation—I pass for the moment over the second—of the Select Committee has also been complied with. The metric system has been taught in the elementary schools under the Educational Code of 1900, but it is to be regretted that though the teachers give much time and trouble to teaching this new subject, in many cases the examiners have not asked any questions in that section of arithmetic. Therefore school teachers are very much disheartened when they find that inspectors seem to look upon it in a half-hearted way and they get no credit for the time they devote to the teaching of it. If this Bill passes it will be the means of infusing a great deal more energy into this particular subject. But while the first and third recommendations of the Select Committee have been acted upon, the second—the most important of all—which proposed that after two years the metric system should become compulsory by Act of Parliament, has not been noticed, notwithstanding that over eight years had elapsed since the recommendation was made. It is to meet that recommendation that the Bill now before your Lordships has been introduced. After the Report of the Select Committee had been made the advocates of the metric system continued their campaign. In November, 1895, a deputation from the Chambers of Commerce throughout the Kingdom, supported by the Decimal Association, waited upon Mr. Balfour. In reply, Mr. Balfour expressed himself in favour of the metric system, and concluded with the following words— The compulsory change to which we all look forward could not, with safety or advantage, be undertaken by the Government till public opinion is more prepared for it than at present. The public opinion with which we have got to deal, and which we are bound to consider, is not the public opinion of the great manufacturers alone, but the public opinion of every man and woman you meet in the street. While I look forward to the time, and no distant time, when they will adopt the change without difficulty and without repugnance, I should like to see private enterprise do more than it has done up to the present to show that the change can be adopted without inconvenience, and that it carries with it all the benefits which I, in common with you, firmly believe to be attached to the metric system, and which it is hopelessly impossible to associate with the arbitrary, perverse, and utterly irrational system under which we have all had the misfortune to be brought up. In March, 1899, a deputation from the Decimal Association waited on the President of the Board of Trade, and Mr. Ritchie replied much in the same terms. He recognised that the proposed change would be an advantageous one for the country, but he was of opinion that the public demand for it was not yet sufficiently strong to justify the Government in making it compulsory. In June, 1900, a Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire was held in London, when a strong opinion was expressed by resolution that the metric system should be rendered compulsory after two years. An important point in the history of this subject is that in August, 1902—the period of the Coronation—there was a Colonial Conference attended by all the Premiers of the self-governing Colonies, and they passed this Resolution— It is advisable to adopt the metric system of weights and measures for use within the Empire, and the Prime Ministers urge the Governments represented at this conference to give consideration to the question of its early adoption. Since that time our self-governing Colonies have taken the matter up with great earnestness. The Federal House of Representatives for Australia passed strong Resolutions in its favour. In New Zealand a Weights and Measures Act was passed by the Colonial Parliament last year, Clause 25 of which empowered the Governor, by Proclamation, to enforce the compulsory introduction of the metric system; such proclamation, however, was not to be issued prior to 1st January, 1905. The Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire met again, in Montreal in 1903, and passed a similar resolution. The Cape of Good Hope House of Assembly has agreed to a Motion in favour of a communication being addressed to the Imperial Government on the subject of the adoption of the metric system. The Transvaal Chamber of Mines have also signified their cordial approval of the proposal, and their willingness to co-operate in giving effect to it. The Governors of Malta and Bermuda have intimated the desire of the inhabitants of those islands for the introduction of the metric system.

The present system of weights and measures, under which this country and its Colonies and dependencies are suffering, is most cumbersome, and is absolutely unsuited to the enormously developed business of modern times. All civilized nations, with the exception of Great Britain and her dependencies, the United States of America and Russia, have abandoned their antiquated system and adopted the metric one; and in the two latter countries steps are being taken in the same direction. At the present moment there is a Bill before the Congress of the United States in which it is proposed that— On and after 1st January, 1906, the weights and measures of the metric system shall be the legal standard of weights and measures of and in the United States. I do not know whether that Bill will pass or not, but I believe there is a strong probability that it will. Russia has done a little in the way of moving towards the adoption of the metric system, for instructions have been given by that Government to iron and steel works to alter their rolling machinery so as to produce only rods, rails, and sheets on a metric scale. And, again, both in the United States and in Russia the prescriptions in the Pharmacopoeia have been made out according to the metric formulæ.

The disadvantages under which we are labouring, and which it is the object of this Bill to remove, may be classed under three heads: (1) The loss both in time and money which is involved in business and trade within our own country; (2) the serious waste of time in the education of children of all classes caused by the teaching of complicated tables of weights and measures and their application to arithmetic; and (3) the lamentable loss of our commerce with foreign countries through the use of weights and measures which are perfectly incomprehensible to foreigners who are accustomed to use the simple metric system. Dealing first with the measures used in this country, the inch, foot, yard, furlong, and mile are those most familiar, but nails, palms, hands, links, cubits, paces, fathoms, rods, poles or perches, chains, and many others are used in different trades and professions. When we come to smaller measures than an inch, especially where extreme accuracy is required, as in mechanical engineering, the usual system is to divide the inch into a half, a quarter, one-eighth, one-sixteenth, one-thirty-second, one sixty-fourth, and even further. Here is one of the first difficulties we come to. In laying out some work the workmen may have in succession such quantities as these—3¼ ins., 2⅛ ins., 1 7/16 ins., 39/64 ins., and so on, and to add these quantities together requires much calculation with considerable liability to error. Frequent mistakes occur in reading a plan by taking l 3/16 for 13/16, or 1.l¼ins. is read as 11¼ins., and vice versâ.

In the measurement of fields and larger areas of land some attempt has been made to work on a decimal system by measuring with a chain divided into 100 links, and reducing square chains to acres by dividing by ten. But this is not always the practice, especially in the case of building land where the measurements are taken in feet and inches. Such mixed quantities, when multiplied together, produce square feet and a remainder of square inches. These are reduced to square yards by dividing by nine. The next step is to divide by 30¼ to get to rods, poles, or perches, as these are alternatively called in different parts of the country. This being accomblished the poles are divided by forty for roods, and again by four to get the number of acres. We now have the area of our plot of ground in so many acres, roods, poles, square yards, square feet and inches, and when the next step is to find the value of the ground, at, say, £76 16s. 0d. per acre, the whole process has practically to be gone over again. How different is the simple method of measuring the length and breadth in metres and decimals of a metre, multiplying these, shifting the decimal point four places, when we get the number of hectares, with fractional part expressed in decimals, when the price can be worked out by simple multiplication.

Turning now to measures of capacity, both dry and liquid, we come to such a multiplicity of names that I should weary your Lordships if I were to enumerate them. The whole of these names do not apply both to dry and liquid measure, and they have no precise connection with their cubic capacities expressed in inches. For instance,. the pint contains 34.66 cubic inches. There is also an apothecaries' fluid measure into which fluid ounces, drachms, and minims are imported. But the climax of complication is arrived at when we come to weights. Here we have the avoirdupois system as well as troy and apothecaries' weights. In troy weight there are twelve ounces to the pound, in avoirdupois there are sixteen; at the same time, a troy ounce is not the same weight as an avoirdupois ounce, nor is a troy pound equal to an avoirdupois pound. The apothecaries' ounce is divided into drachms, scruples, and grains, whilst the troy ounce is divided into pennyweights and carats. Again, a stone in most cases is fourteen lbs., and such a stone is habitually used in talking of a man's weight, as also with live meat; but, in the case of dead meat, a stone is only eight lbs, and in the case of glass, five lbs.

I have been speaking only of legal weights; but all over the country there are customary weights, peculiar to each county or district, which complicate matters more than ever But the people do not care to change their habits only to deal with an equally cumbersome legal weight. If the simple metric system were introduced it would quickly displace the local customs. And here I would especially draw the attention of your Lordships to the evidence of Mr. Kyle, County Inspector of Weights and Measures for Buckinghamshire, before the Select Committee of 1895, which I here refer to as showing the very great secondary benefit which will be obtained by passing this Bill—I mean the facility it will give to put down illegal weights and measures which assist unjust dealing, by giving opportunity to unscrupulous dealers to take advantage of the ignorant and uneducated. Mr. Kyle mentions in reply to question No. 2923, that a bushel of corn in Sunderland equals 46 lbs.; a bushel of corn in Shropshire varies from 72 to 75 lbs.; a bushel of corn in Hereford equals 63 lbs.; and a bushel of corn in Newtown equals 80 lbs. This shows how easily people may be defrauded in ordering bushels of corn from various places. Speaking of these customary weights and measures, and in reply to a question, Mr. Kyle said— No inspector would endeavour to put down the customary measures, as he has the power to do, because he would handicap his own traders and his own ratepayers. Take my instance. We send to London a large quantity of milk from Buckinghamshire by two special trains a day, and that milk is sold by the barn gallon to London wholesale milk-buyers. If I were to abolish, as I have power to do, the barn gallon, I should handicap all the farmers in Buckinghamshire, to the advantage of farmers in Hertfordshire, and other counties. If an Order came universally, that is to say, from the Board of Trade, that every inspector was to put down customary measures, I feel certain that there are very few inspectors who would not immediately carry out the order; but when every inspector has the power to please himself, he is not likely, at any rate, to handicap his own ratepayers. He also went on to say— The Act would have to be obligatory to remove all these local measures, as they assist unjust dealing and do not give people a fair opportunity of trading. As in measures of capacity there is no direct connection with measures of length, so in weights there is no connection with capacity. For instance, in Cornwall a bushel of potatoes is sold as 224 lbs., and in Nottingham as only 84 lbs. In several places apples are quoted as 16 lbs. to the peck, potatoes as 20 lbs., and pears as 18 lbs. to the peck. In Worcestershire a pot equals four pecks, but in other counties the pot varies from 64 lbs. to 94 lbs.

The second objection to our present system is the waste of time in teaching it to children. It is not alone the teaching of the tables which I have just referred to—it is the whole system of compound addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and the system of computation called "Practice." It is estimated, on high educational authority, that every child wastes one year of its arithmetical school time in learning these subjects and that in many cases the time lost is much greater. Last year inquiries were made of headmasters of schools on this subject, and 197 sent replies, of which 161 said that saving of time in teaching the metric system would be one year, thirty said it would be two years, and six that it would be three years. This gives a French or German child a great advantage over an English child, as the time saved can be applied to some more useful subject. I should like to quote from one of the many letters received. The senior mathematical master of Edinburgh High School wrote— An average scholar would save at least a year and a half, probably two. This saving is great in itself, but if it be considered how much he saves by not being subjected to a wearisome process of acquiring the knowledge, say, to convert ordinary yards to poles and vice versâ, or square yards to perches and give a rational remainder, and the wearing out of his nervous system—not to speak of the teachers'—I conceive it to be not only a saving of time but an economy of mental effort which is incalculable. The objection does not lie only in the time which is wasted. The child is wearied and disheartened by the difficulties of the subject; and, in the case of boys at our public schools, many get such a distaste for arithmetic that they lose all desire to study mathematics afterwards, and I think this has much to do with the low standard of mathematical knowledge in this country.

The third evil resulting from our present system is by far the most important. It is the great loss of trade and commerce resulting from our using, for our exported goods, a system of weights and measures that is so incomprehensible to foreign nations that they prefer to pay more and get less good quality from sources where weights and measures are used that they can understand. For many years the British Consuls in foreign countries have reiterated, time after time, the loss of British trade from within their district from this cause. I will read two or three extracts from these reports, but it would not be difficult to pick out a very large number of similar statements from Foreign Office Papers. In the Board of Trade Journal of 15th February, 1900, a report was published which had been forwarded to the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce by the British Consul at Amsterdam. This report dealt with the commercial value of the metric system, with special reference to the classification of German iron manufactures. The following is an extract from it— The Iron and Steel Manufacturers' Unions of Germany have adopted a uniform system of dimensions (based on metric weights and measures). The classifications are making more and more progress in Germany, not in the iron trades alone, but in other manufactures. In the future Germany, and the Continent generally, will have a constantly-increasing advantage over British manufactures in foreign countries, unless the metric system be fully and entirely adopted by Great Britain. I may mention, as an undoubted fact, that the preference which Germany has obtained here over Great Britain as regards railway bridges and other railway material is mainly owing to the existence of this metric classification. I have in my hand two of the most recent reports, and I will therefore omit several of the older ones which have been published. The Consul-General of Frank-fort-on-Main, writing in July of last year, said— The advantages which would accrue to the exporters of British goods if the decimal system were adopted for the export, at least, of such goods as go to countries enjoying the decimal system of weights and measures, have been repeatedly demonstrated. Generally speaking, it is clear that the more intimately this system is connected with the habits and customs of a people, the more difficult will, in days of a very close competition, be the sale of goods differently weighed and measured. The Consular Report on the trade of Sardinia, for the year 1902, contains the following entry— The principal causes of the fall in trade in British industrial products are the heavy duties imposed on British industrial imports, the successful competition of other countries, especially of Germany and France, and the refusal of British manufacturers, traders, and merchants to use the decimal system of weights and measures for the sales here. There is one feature connected with our export trade which is of especial interest—I refer to the drug market. According to Mr. Charles Umney, a manufacturing chemist, in his evidence before the Select Committee of 1895, London was almost entirely, at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, the drug market of the world; "and" he added, "it is so now" (i.e. 1895) "perhaps to the extent of 70 or 80 per cent." He said we were losing at that time every year because many of the drugs were sent to Amsterdam and Havre, and that this loss of trade was accounted for by our paying for imports according to slips made out in English weights and measures. But it is in the export trade of prepared medicines that the principle loss is found. Mr. Carteighe, president of the Pharmaceutical Society, says that the preparation of medicines from the raw drugs would be made in London on a much more extensive scale if the metrical weights and measures were permissible. Instead of that, there is a loss of business, for the South Americans go to Paris for their wholesale medicines. It should be borne in mind that our export trade to countries using the metrical system is considerably greater than that to countries not using it, including our colonies and India. Thus, taking the tables for 1900, we find—exports to the United States, 6 per cent. of our total exports; to other non-metrical countries, 9 per cent.; and to India and our colonies, 30 per cent., making a total of 45 per cent. So that to the metrical countries we export 55 per cent. But if this Bill becomes law, and our colonies and India follow our example, we shall have 85 per cent. value of trade with metrical countries, against 15 per cent. with non-metrical. There can be no doubt that even this small quantity would rapidly decrease and that very shortly the metric system would become universal.

My Lords, I will now very briefly describe the metric system which it is proposed to substitute for the existing weights and measures. The basis of the whole system is the metre, and we have already within this building an exact copy of the international standard. The metre is divided into 100 centimetres or 1,000 millimetres, and these subdivisions are used by different trades and businesses according to the degree of accuracy which may be required. One thousand metres make a kilometre, a convenient measure for roads and railways, being very approximately five-eighths of a mile. I say "or" because centimetres and millimetres are not used on the same plan or in the same specification. The measure of surface or area commences with a square metre; 10,000 square metres make a hectare, which is equal to about two-and-a-half acres. There is an intermediate measure called an are, containing 100 square metres, and 100 ares make a hectare. The are is a quarter of an acre. Cubic measure, or measure of capacity, whether for liquids or grain, has its basis in the litre. A litre is the cube of the tenth part of a metre, or, in other words, the cube of ten centimetres. One thousand litres make a cubic metre, while the one-thousandth part of a litre is a cubic centimetre. Here we have a simple co-ordination between measures of length and measures of capacity.

The system of weights is equally in agreement. The weight of a litre of water is a kilogramme, that is to say, one thousand grammes. A cubic centimetre of water weighs one gramme. For larger weights we have 1,000 kilogrammes equal to a ton—i.e., a metric ton—and this is the weight of a cubic metre of water. See how admirably simple this is for the engineer, the builder, the manufacturer, and, in fact, for every business in life. You have only to know the specific gravity of any material—wood, metal or stone—and you know that a cubic metre of such material weighs that specific gravity in tons, or the cubic centimetre of any substance weighs its own specific gravity in grammes. There are several other multiples and decimal parts of metres, grammes, and litres in the metric nomenclature instituted by the French savants who evolved the system, but which are not required in the ordinary business of life; and we shall do well to follow the example of the Germans by the elimination of all unnecessary names, for these are not only unnecessary but in some cases confusing.

There is another advantage which is gained by the use of a decimal system. The slide rule is hardly known, at all events it is very little in use with us, but on the Continent it is in constant use for every sort of calculation. A sum in multiplication or division can be worked at a glance by means of this instrument, but it is quite useless where mixed quantities of feet and inches, or tons, cwts, and lbs. are used. A curious illustration of this occurred to me yesterday. I was in a mathematical instrument maker's shop in the Strand, and I noticed a slide rule. I asked if many were sold, and was told that hitherto very few, but that now there was a demand for them by electrical engineers. As electrical calculations are all on a decimal system, this is a strong confirmation of the above statement. In the same way accurate calculations can be made by logarithms with wonderful celerity where a decimal system prevails. If this Bill becomes law, as I greatly hope it will, I would strongly urge on the the Board of Trade, when publishing any fresh tables of weights and measures, to adopt the spelling of the words "meter," "liter," and "gram," used by both Americans and Germans, rather than the foreign-looking words of the French language which they employ in their last tables.

I will next refer to some of the objections which are raised to the measure now before your Lordships, with a view to showing how trifling they are compared with the advantages which I have quoted. I will begin with the objections stated by Ministers on several occasions to deputations which have urged this measure. They have said—but this was some years ago—that public opinion was not ripe for the change. The answer to that is the quantity and the quality of the petitions which I have presented to your Lordships' House this afternoon, and a list of which I have had printed and circulated to each of your Lordships. The list comprises some thirty town and city councils, some forty chambers of commerce, a very long string of retail dealers, trades unions representative of 289,000 workers, teachers' associations, inspectors of weights and measures, and a large number of individual signatures, bringing the total number of individuals represented to 333,000, whilst the population of the cities and towns whose councils have signed petitions is 2,800,000. There is also a large number still to come in, and I shall probably be able, in a week's time, to present nearly as great a number of supplementary petitions. This will, I hope, show that there is a very strong feeling in the country in favour of this Bill. It will be observed that the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce is not included in the list which I have circulated. I should like to explain this by saying that the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce have sent their petition to my noble friend Lord Avebury to be presented, and as that is one of the most important chambers of commerce in the Kingdom, I have thought it desirable to mention it separately.

The second objection, and a most reasonable one it is at first sight, is that the mass of uneducated people will be puzzled and irritated by an innovation which affects their ordinary habits in the sale and purchase of their every-day wants. My answer to that is that it has been done in every country on the continent of Europe, and in many other countries beyond, and that in ten days or a fortnight from the commencement of the change the new weights and measures have been understood, and, in a short time more, they have been so thoroughly appreciated that no desire is shown to go back to the old ones. I could read to your Lordships a number of replies from His Majesty's representatives in foreign countries as to the ease with which the change was made, but I think it will be sufficient if I say that the replies were to the effect that the change was made without much difficulty, although some countries were more rapid in adopting it than others; that there had never been any desire to return to the old system, and that the adoption of metric weights and measures had assisted the development of trade. Switzerland commenced to use the metric system eighteen months from the passing of the law. I here was no great difficulty found there in the towns, but it was some time before it: was adopted in remote country places. In Germany it was adopted more quickly than anywhere else. Two years and one month were allowed, and the interval thus granted was sufficient to insure the adoption of the new system in all details; it was an accomplished' fact by the day named. There is no desire to go back to to the old system, and the change has contributed to a rise of German trade and commerce, foreign trade deriving much benefit. If this Bill should become law, although there is no provision in it to that effect, it might be desirable, at the time the Act comes into force, to exhibit in all shops simple tables easily understood showing the practical equivalents of old and new measures suitable to the special trade carried on there. This might be left to the local authorities to see to, or it might be embodied in the Act.

There may, again, be others who do not come under the category of uneducated, but who, from a dislike to mental effort, would oppose the use of weights and measures to which they are not accustomed, and would prefer to muddle on with a system described by the Prime Minister as "arbitrary, perverse, and utterly irrational." To these I would reply that the metric system is bound to he adopted sooner or later, and that personal inconvenience for a few days should not be allowed to interfere with a measure calculated to promote the trade and prosperity of the country. A third objection is that the change would throw upon traders in general, and especially on the small trader, an expense which it would be unfair to saddle them with. The reply to this is, that the small village shopkeeper who uses a 7 lb. set of iron weights would obtain new ones for about half-a-crown, while those using a 7 lb. set of brass weights would be put to the expense of about 16s. over and above the value which would be given for the obsolete weights. When it comes to large houses of business, or to railway companies and factories, the saving effected by the simplification of accounts on the metric system will quickly compensate for any expense on weights and weighing machines, or in re-placing mile-posts with those marking kilometers.

I have heard another objection made, that the full benefit of the change to metric weights and measures will not be obtained until we adopt a decimal coinage. My Lords, it is true that the system will not be perfect until such is the case; but there are many more objectors to altering the currency than there are to changing weights and measures. Besides, it would be putting an excessive strain upon the minds of the less well-educated to make the double change at one time, and therefore we have confined ourselves in this Bill to weights and measures and have not touched upon the coinage question. Weights and measures are unquestionably the more important matter of the two.

In conclusion, I will briefly examine the clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 provides that as from the 5th day of April, 1906, or such later date as His Majesty may, by Order in Council, fix, the metric standards of weights and measures shall respectively be deemed to be the Imperial standards in substitution for the existing standards. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Clauses are purely technical; Clause 5 deals with the verification of Parliamentary copies of substituted Imperial standards. Clause 6 is the first important clause, and it makes it compulsory that every deed, contract, bargain, sale, or agreement relating to weights or measures made in the United Kingdom, or entered into after the commencement of this Act, shall be made or entered into in terms of the metric system of weights and measures, and that any such document made in terms of any other system shall be void and of no effect. Clause 7 provides that all references contained in any Act of Parliament in force at the commencement of this Act, or passed thereafter, to the Imperial weights or measures now in force, shall be deemed to be and construed as references to the respective equivalents in the metric system. The remaining clauses are purely formal. I have endeavoured to explain what the old system is and the new one which is proposed, and also the disadvantages of the old system and the great advantages of the new. I can only hope that your Lordships will recognise how important this matter is to the trade of the country, and that in order to facilitate that trade you will give it your support. Above all, I would appeal to His Majesty's Government to let the measure pass as quickly as possible through this House in order that it may be thoroughly ventilated and an opportunity given for the opinion of the country to be ascertained on the subject. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Belhaven and Stenton.)


My Lords, as I am one of the only few survivors, if any, of the tandards Commission of 1870 which went fully into this question, I would venture to ask whether the time has really come for taking the very much larger step proposed by the noble Lord. This is a measure which will not only affect one class of business or one class of traders—it is a measure which will affect the daily life of almost everyone. The metric system has been made permissive, and the only question is whether the time has come for making it absolutely compulsory. I recognise all the arguments in its favour as regards the conduct of business on a large scale, especially foreign trade; but I doubt whether it would be wise, at the present moment, to sweep away entirely the existing law and enforce the use of the metric system alike upon those who find it convenient and those who do not. We have to consider the 45 per cent. of our trade with countries where the metric system is not yet adopted; for whatever disadvantage we are placed at with regard to countries using the metric system, yet with regard to 45 per cent. of our trade we have the advantage over our competitors who use the metric system. I think those advantages largely compensate us for the disadvantages we experience in regard to the other 55 per cent. There is, at any rate, only a slight balance of disadvantage. We have to consider those engaged in small transactions as well as those engaged in large ones, and the question is whether we should force this system upon those who have very little or nothing to do with foreign trade or with countries where the metric system is in use. Those who wish to use the metric system in order to facilitate their business are quite entitled to do so. The noble Lord stated that when once this system was introduced it would be very easy to displace local weights which are of no legal value; but I venture to think, from the experience of Prance and some parts of the United States, where the livre as a measure and the sou as a price are still in use, where strange fractional prices continue as equivalents of those under the old system, that the adoption of the metric system will not be so easy as the noble Lord imagines. It will be very difficult to displace existing weights or to get rid altogether of the existing system. As to the educational side of the question, I do not wish to dispute the opinions which the noble Lord quoted, of persons engaged in education, but one would have thought that it would have been advantageous for children to be taught the two systems. At present it is open to anyone who finds this a convenient method, to use the metric system, and to my mind there is no necessity to go further. I do not think it should be imposed compulsorily upon those who do not desire it; but if the system is made compulsory, then I think there should be a longer interval than the two years proposed by the Bill before the change becomes effective.


My Lords, we are losing enormously every year, as has been amply proved in the admirable speech of my noble friend in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, by dilatory tactics such as has been suggested. We have had nine years of permission to use the metric system without thereby rendering ourselves liable to punishment for a breach of the law, and experience has proved that the change from the system that has been so long in use in this country to a new system cannot be made over the whole country voluntarily. It is a case for compulsion, and I think the Legislature will be thanked by the country for having applied compulsion. Of the objections raised against the definite and compulsory introduction of the metric system, there is not one to which I attach the smallest weight. I understand that the noble Lord who spoke last, does not disapprove of the metric system. [Lord COLCHESTER nodded assent.] I am glad that I can accept the noble Lord as a supporter of the principle of this Bill, but I would ask him to consider how much we should lose by a single year more of waiting. We sometimes regard this country as the wisest in the whole world, and think that we are right in everything we do and that the rest of the civilised world who differ from us are entirely wrong. I do not think we should take up that position at all. I think we may with advantage follow the example of other countries with regard to the compulsory adoption of the metric system. In Germany, France, and Italy, no inconvenience has resulted from the introduction of the metric system, and there has never been such a thing as a complaint. I am astonished at the shortness of time in which the system was adopted in Germany. The change there occupied only two years. I have in my hand a statement by Sir William Ramsay, in which he wrote— I was in Germany during the change there; it gave no trouble whatever and was recognised within a week. I believe that whatever difficulty may be caused in shops, in factories, or in engineering establishments, great or small, will, in a fortnight's or a month's time, be far more than compensated for by the diminution of labour which the change will produce. While we are grateful to France for having given us the metric system, while we see France, Germany, Italy, and Austria rejoicing in the use of it, and benefiting every day by the use of it, it is somewhat interesting to know that, after all, the decimal system, worked out by the French philosophers, originated in England In a letter dated 14th November, 1783, James Watt laid down a plan which was in all respects the system adopted by the French philosophers seven years later, which the French Government suggested to the King of England as a system that might be adopted by international agreement. James Watt's objects were to secure uniformity and to establish a mode of division which should be convenient as long as decimal arithmetic lasted. He curiously anticipated Herbert Spencer's objection to the metric system, which was that it ought to be duodecimal. If we had six fingers on each hand, then duodecimal subdivision might be convenient. In point of fact, decimal arithmetic is a thing which we may consider is absolutely settled, and there should be no complicated subdivisions whatever. Just think of the subdivisions we have in the troy pound, which is 5,760 grains: the avoirdupois pound is 7,000 grains—the troy ounce and the avoirdupois ounce differing so considerably as to render a very serious accident possible. My noble friend did not refer to another denomination in which the difference is still greater. The avoirdupois drachm is 27 11/32 grains, whilst the apothecaries' drachm is 60 grains. I speak feelingly with regard to that difference. Some forty-four years ago there existed an epidemic which Lord Palmerston called a "rifle fever." I was myself afflicted with the disease; so much so, that I had the honour of being appointed to the captaincy of the 77th Company of the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, and I made numerous experiments in my laboratory on rifles. While experimenting I was very nearly blown up, in which event I should not have been here to-day supporting the adoption of the metric system. Two and a quarter drachms was the proper weight, but I had weighed out two and a quarter drachms of sixty grains. I thought it appeared rather large. I looked up the matter and discovered the mistake just in time to prevent the rifle exploding and killing me. I have a strong recollection of my feelings as to the danger arising owing to the resemblance in name of two weights drawn from different tables. I feel that the case is proved up to the hilt. I hope that the Bill will be allowed to pass the Second Reading, and that it will not be referred to a Select Committee, which might involve a year's delay. I hope it will be sent forward with full pressure to the other House, 333 Members of which have declared themselves in favour of it and ready to support it. I urge that course because I am convinced that its final passing into law would be a tremendous gain to the British people.


My Lords, we have listened to two very interesting speeches, and, speaking for myself, I am very much in favour of the Bill, and congratulate the noble Lord on the success he has met with in the country. I am not, however, here to speak for myself but to explain the attitude of His Majesty's Government on this question. Mr. Balfour, addressing a deputation on 21st November, 1895, said that if he might express his own opinion upon the merits of the case, there could be no doubt whatever that the judgment of the whole civilised world, not excluding the countries which still adhered to the antiquated system under which we suffered, had long decided that the metric system was the only rational system. Scientific men in this country, said Mr. Balfour, had long been driven to use it in their writings and in their calculations, and, if he might so express it, to think in it—to think out the problems in which they dealt in the system which we owed to the ingenuity of the French. I am afraid, my Lords, after what has been said by the noble Lord who has just spoken, the Prime Minister was not correct in that latter statement, and that we can claim that the metric system originated in this country. I have quoted the words used by the Prime Minister in the year 1895, and I do not think that his attitude on the subject has changed since then. On behalf of His Majesty's Government I shall place no obstacle in the way of the Second Reading of the Bill. The Government think, however, that in view of the great importance and magnitude of the question it should be referred to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. It seems to me that we could find in this House a fitting tribunal before whom all this evidence could come, and I believe that the evidence brought before that Select Committee would have a remarkable influence upon this question in the country. Whilst assenting to the Second Reading of the Bill, the Govern- ment reserve the right to amend it at a later stage.

I will place before your Lordships a few arguments to show that it is desirable that this Bill should go before a Select Committee. In the Memorandum which accompanies the Bill it will be noticed that there is a reference to the Conference of Colonial Premiers in this country and to the opinion they expressed in favour of the metric system; but, as I understand from a note taken of the proceedings at that time, there was no strong expression of opinion for compulsion in the adoption of the metric system. At present there are eighty different denominations represented by 155 different kinds of weights and measures. Under the Bill which the noble Lord has introduced these will be reduced to thirty denominations represented by fifty - three different kinds of weights and measures. Though there is thereby a great gain, there remains some difficulties to cope with. In the first place, it is doubtful whether the preliminary period of two years—although it may be extended by Order in Council—is long enough for the steps which will have to be taken to prepare for the change. The provisions of Clauses 7 and 8, substituting in Acts of Parliament, by-laws, agreements, contracts, etc., the metric equivalents for the Imperial weights and measures do not attempt to face the real difficulty and would lead to some curious results. As an example, a railway maximum rate of so much per ton per mile would become the same amount per 1,016 kilos per 1.6093 kilometers, rather difficult figures to deal with if a trader was desiring to ascertain whether a railway company was overcharging him. In this connection it is perhaps for consideration whether the existing linear measures might not be conveniently retained for some purposes, such as measurements of distance, sale of land, etc. Such retention would, for instance, much simplify the conversion of railway rates for ordinary merchandise. The proposal of the Bill would in any legislation relating to the gallon substitute for gallon 4.5459631 litres, and on such figures the maximum cost of the carriage of milk by passenger train would have to be worked out. The cubic foot on which the price of gas depends would become 0.028317 cubic metres; such examples could be multiplied indefinitely.

Other matters which will require dealing with are not referred to at all in the Bill. Provision is necessary for administration in some matters which cannot be left to the local authority, such as the calling in of the existing weights and measures used in the trade. If not so called in, their use would undoubtedly be continued and the object of the Bill to some extent defeated. Another matter of interest is the nomenclature to be adopted when the metric weights and measures come into general use. At present the people using the system are satisfied, no doubt, with the French nomenclature, but it is for consideration whether some method more easily to be understood by the people at large of distinguishing between the different measures and weights could be devised. That seems to me essentially a matter for a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. They will be able to deal with that question with knowledge, and I am sure they would be able to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion which would very much shorten the language at present in use. On the understanding that the Bill is referred to a Select Committee His Majesty's Government offer no opposition to the Second Reading.


My Lords, I do not propose to enter at length into this interesting hut difficult subject. I feel that the thanks of the House are due to the noble Lord who introduced the Bill for his clear and full statement of the subject, and to the noble and scientific Lord (Lord Kelvin) who has given so much interesting information to your Lordships. I am not going into the whole matter, but I should like to say how strongly I feel the great desirability of this Bill going forward. I rejoice to hear from the noble Lord who represents the Board of Trade in this House, that His Majesty's Government do not intend to oppose the Second Reading. I rejoice at that exceedingly; but I do not, I confess, approve of the suggestion which the noble Lord has made of referring the Bill to a Select Committee. It is very necessary at times to refer matters to Select Committees when they have not been probed and examined to a very great extent, but that is not the case here. I have in my hand a very full and able Report by a Committee which sat in 1895, over whom a very distinguished man of science—Sir Henry Roscoe—presided. They went very fully into the whole matter, and I venture to say that nearly every point on which information can be desired has been fully investigated and reported upon in that Report, I venture to think that it is the duty of an Executive Government to read and digest Reports of that kind when dealing with a Bill presented to the House, and, when they have done that, it is their business to frame any Amendments which they think necessary. Why should they shift the responsibility of dealing with a matter of this kind on to a Committee? I maintain that His Majesty's Government are bound to deal with this themselves, and should not refer it to a Select Committee.

The noble Lord instanced one or two cases where there would be considerable difficulty. I fully admit that, and I am sure the two noble Lords who are responsible for the Bill will admit that the introduction of this great measure could not take place without very great difficulty being occasioned in the country. You will disorganise a great many trades; you will put a great many people to great inconvenience, by changing the whole system of shopping and bargaining in the country; but that has been overcome elsewhere, particularly in Germany. In that country the whole system was changed without any difficulty. I am afraid we often say, and say with some truth, that the Germans are a much better educated people than ourselves; but I will not for a moment believe that the people of this country are so uneducated that they will be behind the Germans in understanding a change which will conduce so much to the benefit of the country. The noble Lord said there would be difficulty with regard to railway rates. I agree that in every single trade there would be a difficulty of some kind. The question is, Is the change so important that it justifies dislocating all those trades and making them readjust their arrangements? From all I know, I should answer most distinctly that the benefits will be so great to our international trade, to our home trade, and to education, that this change is desirable, and will in the end be of immense benefit to the country. The noble Lord referred to the Conference of Colonial Premiers and stated that at that Conference nothing was said about compulsion.


I stated that they did not make a great mark of compulsion; they did not emphasise it.


I venture to say that without compulsion we shall remain exactly in the position in which we are now. I believe that compulsion, in this matter, is absolutely essential, and, wherever the change has been compulsorily adopted, it has been attended with great advantages. There will be other opportunities of discussing this matter, and I shall not delay the House further upon it to-night. I cannot help expressing the hope, however, that His Majesty's Government will not think it necessary to refer the Rill to a Select Committee. There is ample material for decision, and I think the Government may have sufficient confidence in the noble Lord, and in his colleagues at the Board of Trade, that they can frame what Amendments are necessary without the necessity of delaying the Bill by sending it upstairs to a Select Committee.


My Lords, we on these Benches desire to associate ourselves with what the noble Earl has said as to the thanks which are due by this House to the two noble Lords who have introduced this Bill, and by their speeches have made interesting a most important, but, at the same time, dry and intricate, subject. I feel sure they will not be dissatisfied with the reception which their proposals have received. We are all agreed that the existing system—if, indeed, it is worthy of the name of a system—is one to which overwhelming objections can be urged. It is distracting to learners and obstructive to trade, home and foreign, and it is probably advantageous to no one, unless it be to the dishonest trader, who is able to profit by the confusion which prevails.

I will not attempt to follow the two noble Lords into the instances which they gave us of the complication and inconvenience of our various kinds of weights and measures. We have all of us on occasions suffered from the state of things which prevails. But I am tempted to cap the story which was told by the noble and erudite Lord on the Back Benches. He mentioned how he was very nearly disabled by a serious accident because a rifle upon which he was experimenting had been wrongly charged owing to the resemblance between two different dimensions of weight taken from different tables. My anecdote is drawn from a more prosaic source. Not long ago a friend of mine was travelling on the Continent, and being indisposed sent a prescription given him by his English doctor to be made up by a local druggist. In due time a box of pills was delivered to him. My friend said they were of the size of small marbles, and he was so intimidated by their appearance that he decided not to adopt the remedy. Very soon the chemist appeared in a state of intense emotion, and stated that his assistant, who had made up the pills, did not know the difference between a grain and a gramme, and thought that the latter was the proper weight to be used, with the result that each of those torpedoes contained about 30 grains of calomel, which I am told is considerably more than a grown man's dose.

The noble Lord opposite has taken us to task for proposing to send this Bill to a Select Committee. I do not think his objection is well founded. It is true that in 1895 a Select Committee of the House of Commons dealt, not with a Bill, but with the subject generally. Their Report is a very short one, and I hope I shall not be thought disrespectful if I say that it seems to me a somewhat perfunctory treatment of a difficult subject. My noble friend who spoke for the Government has moreover made it clear that the Bill on the Table contains a number of provisions which require very careful and minute consideration, and I submit that a Select Committee is the proper body for that task. I certainly prefer that course to the alternative of the noble Earl opposite, who suggested that the proper duty of the Government was to pass its time reading and digesting Blue-books. That, indeed, would be an unhappy aggravation of our lot. I am sure that if the Bill is sent to a Select Committee no undue delay will occur, and that it will stand a greater chance of success if it is treated in that manner.


I desire to associate myself with all that has fallen from my noble friend Earl Spencer, except his alarming definition of the functions of the Executive Government, which, I think, he gave expression to at a moment of inadvertence. I cannot find in the arguments brought forward by the Government any support for the course they recommend. Of course, there are difficulties. But this is one of the many cases in which you will not evade your difficulties by procrastination. All that needs to be inquired into in this matter is contained in the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons of 1895 The noble Marquess thinks that that was a cursory examination of the subject. Well, the Blue-book ought to be ample enough even for those who discharge the functions of the Executive Government. I admit that the people of this country are, in these matters, extremely conservative and slow to adopt changes. But when we recollect that nearly two centuries ago they faced the difficulty of adopting a totally new calendar, I do think there will be the trouble the noble Marquess apprehends in inducing them to accept this change in weights and measures unless the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. I never saw a greater distinction between the human being and the official being than was displayed by the noble Lord who represents the Government. We all know that there is a difference between the two beings, but I do not think I ever saw it so clearly illustrated as by the noble Lord. "As an individual," said the noble Lord, "I am entirely with the mover and seconder of the Bill; but as an official I am desired by the Government to announce the policy which they intend to adopt in this matter." But this is one of the many cases in life in which it is best to grasp your nettle. You will not get rid of the difficulties in this matter, or avoid the temporary disadvantages of the change, by the appointment of any number of Select Committees; and, for my part:—without desiring to introduce any controversial question—I attach so much importance to this change that I believe, if you carry it out, it will be of infinitely more advantage to the commerce of the country than all the fiscal remedies proposed by official or non-official members of the Government.


My Lords, if the noble Earl will allow me to say so, I think he has failed at a point where failure is the last thing I should have expected of him. He has not quite grasped the point of the Motion which my noble friend proposes to make. He speaks of the reference of this Bill, after it has been read a second time, to a Select Committee as a dilatory proposal. But is it? When the House of Commons appointed a Select Committee they did not appoint it to deal with a Bill. That Select Committee dealt with the policy. We do not propose that the Committee of your Lordships' House should deal with the policy, but with the Bill. In dealing with the Bill the Select Committee of your Lordships' House will have the whole work of the House of Commons' Committee at its disposal, as well as other evidence if it chooses to take it, for I understand that a Select Committee has full discretionary powers in that matter. It will serve the function of putting this Bill through the Committee of your Lordships' House in its most convenient form. That is why the Motion is submitted, and it is on those grounds that I ask your Lordships to accept the Government's proposal.


Are there any points which have been suggested by the representative of the Board of Trade that cannot perfectly well be dealt with in Committee of the Whole House just in the same way as other Bills are dealt with?


It is a matter of opinion; but I think a Select Committee is the simplest and most effective way of dealing with the Bill.


My Lords, if the Bill is to be referred to a Select Committee, and that Committee is not to call witnesses, I see no reason why it should not go to the Committee. But if, on the other hand, the Bill and the subject are both to be sent to the Select Committee and witnesses are to be called, then I do see inconvenience and delay in such a course As I understand it, the Government propose simply to send the Bill to the Committee.


I think it is quite clear, from the language which has been used from the Front Bench opposite, that the Government are entirely in favour of this Bill and desire to see it pass into law. With that view they have proposed that the Bill should go to a Select Committee, not for the purpose of taking evidence with regard to the Bill, but for the purpose of examining its provisions, making alterations in its details, and so enabling it more easily to pass through the Committee stage in this House and in Grand Committee. It is all very well to say that, by that course, the passage of the Bill into law is not endangered. Noble Lords opposite know as well as I do that if a Bill in the hands of a private Member is to pass through the House of Commons it must get to that House in good time, otherwise it is certain to be shut out. I can offer a suggestion to the Government which I hope they will accept, as it will be the best way of proving that they are really in earnest in their desire that the Bill should pass. It is that the Bill should go to a Select Committee on the conditions that have been stated, and that after the Bill has returned to, and passed through the other stages of, your Lordships' House, then the Government should make it a Government Bill in the House of Commons.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to a Select Committee.