Weights and Measures Act
A Weights and Measures Act is an Act of Parliament determining the regulation of weights and measures. The acts may catalogue lawful weights and measures, prescribe the mechanism for inspection and enforcement of the use of such weights and measures and may set out circumstances under which they may be amended.
- 1 United Kingdom
- 1.1 Permitted units of measure
- 1.2 Historic Acts of Witenagemot
- 1.3 Historic Acts of the Royal Council
- 1.4 Historic Acts of Parliament
- 2 Comparable laws in other countries
- 3 References
- 4 External links
There have been many laws concerned with weights and measures in the United Kingdom or parts of it over the last 1000 or so years. Modern legislation may, in addition to specific requirements, set out circumstances under which the incumbent minister may amend the legislation by means of statutory instruments. Prior to the Weights and Measures Act 1985, Weights and Measures Acts were only concerned with trade law where the weight or size of the goods being traded is important. The 1985 Act, however, had a broader scope, encompassing all aspects covered by the European Economic Community (EEC) European Commission (EC) directive 80/181/EEC.
As of 25 April 2012, the current primary legislation in the United Kingdom is the 1985 Act, which was last amended by statutory instrument in 2011. Statutory instruments made under the authority of the Act do not amend the Act per se, but regulate particular areas covered by the Act.
The Act is currently enforced by the 200 Trading Standards Offices managed by local authorities around the country. Definitions of units of measurements and the technical equipment relating to weights and measures are provided by the National Measurement Office, an agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Permitted units of measure
The Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act of 1897 made the provision that metric units could be used, in addition to the traditional imperial units, for trade. In practice the actual choice of units was restricted by price marking orders which listed packaging sizes and pricing structures that might be used in specific circumstances. For example, as of April 2012, wine for consumption on premises may only be sold in 125, 175 and 250 ml glasses while draught beer may only be sold in 1⁄3, 1⁄2, 2⁄3 and one pint glasses. Prior to 1973 (the year that the United Kingdom joined the EEC) such specifications were almost all in imperial units.
As part of its attempt to harmonise units of measure between the member states of its Internal Market, the European Commission (EC) issued directive 80/181/EEC which set out the units of measure that should be used for what it called "economic, public health, public safety and administrative" purposes. To comply with this directive, the Weights and Measures Act of 1986 extended the scope of Trading Standards responsibilities from just matters related to trade to all aspects of the directive. For example, it was the Trading Standards Office that criticised the use of sub-standard weighing machines in NHS hospitals.
To help ease the EC's desired transition from sole use of imperial units to sole use of metric units, the directive permitted the use of what were termed "supplementary indicators" – the continued use of imperial units alongside the metric units catalogued by the directive (dual labelling). The initial intention was to prohibit dual labelling after the end of 1989, with metric units only being allowed after that date. This deadline was later extended: first to the end of 1999, then to the end of 2009. Finally in 2007, after an EU-wide consultation, the European Union (EU) (as it had become) and the EC, confirmed that the UK would be permitted to continue indefinitely to use imperial units such as pints, miles, pounds and ounces as at present. Gloucestershire County Council Trading Standards Department confirmed the EU ruling that the previous deadline for ending dual labelling had been abolished.
As of 24 April 2012, there are still a few cases where imperial units are required to be used and where metric units are optional within the scope of the Weights and Measures Act. These are: the pint for the sale of draught beer and cider and of milk in returnable containers; miles, yards, feet and inches for road signs and distances; and troy ounces for the sale of precious metals. In addition, British law specifies which non-metric units may be used with dual labelling (for example the imperial gallon, but not the US gallon).
Historic Acts of Witenagemot
Numerous acts of the Saxon kings are known to have been lost. Those that have survived include:
- 2 Edgar 8 (959 x 963)
|be mynetum and ᵹemetum.||of money and measures.|
|And ᵹanᵹe án mẏnet ofer ealne þæs cẏniᵹes anƿeald⋅ ⁊ þone nan man ne forsace⋅ ⁊ ᵹanᵹe án ᵹemet ⁊ án ᵹeƿihte⋅ sƿilce man on Lunden-bẏriᵹ ⁊ on Ƿintan-ceastre healde⋅ ⁊ ᵹa seo ƿæᵹe ƿulle to ⋅cxx⋅ p̃. ⁊ nan man hiᵹ undeoror ne sẏlle⋅ ⁊ ᵹif hƿa hi þonne undeoror sẏlle⋅ oþþe eaƿunᵹa oþþe dearnunᵹa⋅ ᵹilde æᵹðer þam cẏnᵹe ⋅xl⋅ scillinᵹá. ᵹe seþe hi sẏlle ᵹe seþe hi bẏcᵹe:⋅||And let one money pass throughout the king's dominion; and that let no man refuse: and let one measure and one weight pass; such as is observed at London and at Winchester; and let the wey of wool go for 120 pence; and let no man sell it cheaper; and if any one sell it cheaper, either publicly or privately, let each pay 40 shillings to the king, both him who sells it, and him who buys it.|
- The statute also survives in a few other Old English and Latin copies, some which omit mention of London and describe "the measure held at Westchester", an indication that a standard ell or yard was nominally in use:
|de moneta, et mensura, et pondere.||on money, and measure, and weight.|
|Et sit una moneta per totum regis imperium, et nemo sonet eam; et mensura, sicut apud Wincestriam habetur. Et eat pondus lane pro dimidia libra, et nemo carius vendat eam.||And let there be one money through all the king's dominion; and let no man refuse it; and [one] measure, as is held at Winchester. And let the weight of wool go for a half-pound, and no one sell it more dearly.|
- John Quincy Adams's 1821 report on the history of English weights and measures notes of this act that "it was never observed".
Historic Acts of the Royal Council
- 3 William I c. 7. (1068)
|De mensuris et ponderibus||On measures and weights|
|Et quod habeant per universum regnum mensuras fidelissimas, & signatas, & pondera fidelissima & signata, sicut boni Praedecessores statuerunt.||"...We ordain and command that the weights and measures, throughout our realm, be as our worthy predecessors have established."|
- Assize of Measures
- "It is established that woollen cloths, wherever they be made, be made of the same width, to wit, of two ells within the lists [selvages], and of the same good quality in the middle and at the sides. Also the ell shall be the same in the whole realm and of the same length and the ell shall be of iron."
Historic Acts of Parliament
Statutes of uncertain date
- Assisa Panis et Cervisiae
- a.k.a. The Assize of Bread and Ale
- a.k.a. 51 Henry III
- Statutum de Pistoribus, et cetera
- a.k.a. Statute concerning Bakers, et cetera
- a.k.a. Tractatus de Ponderibus
- a.k.a. Compositio de Ponderibus
- a.k.a. Assisa de Ponderibus et Mensuris
- a.k.a. Assize of Weights and Measures
- The Tractatus contains the first use of the word avoirdupois in England. However, the word does not refer to a specific weight system, but to a class of goods, i.e., heavy goods sold by weight rather than by capacity, by count, or by some other means. Since the Tractatus was written in Anglo-Norman French, it does not count as the first occurrence of the word in English.
- Statutum de Admensuratione Terrase
- a.k.a. Statute for the Measuring of Land
- a.k.a. An Ordinance for Measuring of Land
- a.k.a. 33 Edward I st. 6. (1305)
- "When an Acre of Land contianeth 10 Perches in Length, then it shall be in Breadth 16 Perches."
- The Statute on the Composition of Yards and Perches (Latin: Compositio Ulnarum et Perticarum, lit. "On the Composition of Arms [=Ells] and Perches") is dated to 1266 x 1303. Its content varies among surviving accounts. One reads:
|Ordinatum est quod tria grana ordei sicca et rotunda faciunt pollicem, et duodecim pollices faciunt pedem, tres pedes faciunt ulnam, quinque ulne et dimidia faciunt perticam, et quadraginta pertice in longitudine, et quatuor in latitudine, faciunt unam acram.||"It is ordained that 3 grains of barley dry and round do make an inch, 12 inches make 1 foot, 3 feet make 1 yard [lit. ell], 5 yards and a half make a perch [i.e., a rod], and 40 perches in length and 4 in breadth make an acre."|
- The Liber Horn account reads:
- "And be it remembered that the iron yard of our Lord the King containeth 3 feet and no more, and a foot ought to contain 12 inches by the right measure of this yard measured, to wit, the 36th part of this yard rightly measured maketh 1 inch neither more nor less and 5 yards and a half make a perch that is 16 feet and a half measured by the aforesaid yard of our Lord the King."
- This document seems to have had the effect of redefining the yard, foot, inch, and barleycorn to 10⁄11 of their previous values, but leaves the rod and acre unchanged. The rod thus became 16½ feet instead of 15.
- 9 Henry III. c. 25. (1225)
- Magna Carta
- "There shall be but one Measure throughout the Realm"
- "One measure of Wine shall be through our Realm, and one measure of Ale, and one measure of Corn, that is to say, the Quarter of London; and one breadth of dyed Cloth, Russets, and Haberjects, that is to say, two Yards within the lists. (2) and it shall be of Weights as it is of Measures."
- "Una Mensura vini sit per totum regnum nostrum & una mensura cervise & una mensura bladi scilicet quarter' London' & una latitudo pannorum tinctorum Russettorum & haubergettorum scillicet due ulne infra Listas. De ponderibus vero sit sicut de mensuris."
- The Magna Carta of 1215 was not ratified by Parliament until 1225, by which time it had become substantially abridged. Chapter 35 of the Magna Carta of 1215 (dealing with weights and measures) became chapter 25 of the Magna Carta of 1225.
- "Bushels and Weights shall be made and sent into every Country."
- 18 Edward III st. 2. Cap.4 (1344)
- "Commissions to assay Weights and Measures shall be repealed, and none such granted."
- 25 Edward III st. 5. c. 9. (1350)
- "The Auncel Weight shall be put out, and Weighing shall be by equal Balance."
- "qe le sak de leine ne poise qe vint & sys peres & chescun pere poise quatorze livres" \ "so that the Sack of Wooll weigh no more but xxvi. Stones, and every Stone to weigh xiv. l."
- 25 Edward III st. 5. c. 10. (1350)
- "Every measure shall be according to the King's Standard, and shall be striked without Heap; saving the Rents of Lords."
"& contiene le quartre oct busselx par lestandard & neint plus." / "And the Quarter shall contain Eight Bushels by the Standard, and no more."
- "There shall be but one Weight, Measure and Yard throughout the Realm."
- 31 Edward III st. 1. c. 2. (1357)
- "No Wool shall be bought by Fraud to abate the Price thereof. Weights shall be sent to all the Shires."
- "All Vessels of Wine, Honey, and Oil brought into this realm shall be gauged."
"Le Roi a viscont de Kent saluz." / "Richard by the Grace of God, &c. to the Sheriff of Nottingham, Greeting."
- 13 Richard II st. 1. c. 9. (1389)
- "There shall be but one Weight and one Measure throughout the Realm, saving in the County of Lancaster. The Weight of Wool, and the Refuse thereof."
- 15 Richard II c. 4. (1391)
- "There shall be but eight Bushels of Corn striked to the Quarter."
- 16 Richard II c. 3. (1392)
- "The Clerk of the Market shall carry with him all his Weights and Measures signed."
- An Act concerning the true Measure of Corn.
- 2 Henry V Stat. 2. c. 4. (1414)
- "There Shall be no gilding of Silver Ware but of the Allay of English Sterling."
- first notice of troy weight in statute
- "Every City and Borough shall have a common Balance and Weight. Who may buy Wool and Yarn."
18 Henry VI c. 16. (1439)
- "There shall be but one Measure of Cloth through the Realm by the Yard and the Inch, and not by the Yard and Handful, according to the London Measure."
- "Item – come il foit meritorie & almoigne a departer la veritee de la desciet si come jatarde en un parlement tenuz a Westm' la fuist ouste un rayme..."
18 Henry VI c. 17. (1439)
- "Vessels of Wine, Oyl, and Honey, shall be gauged"
- "Item – Because all the Tuns, Pipes, Tertians and Hogsheads of Wine, Oyl, and Honey..."
- "Item – pur ceo qe toutz les tonels pipes tertians & hoggeshedes de vin oyle & mele..."
- An Act for Weights and Measures.
- "The Names of the Cities and Towns limited for the keeping of Weights and Measures."
- 12 Henry VII c. 5. (1496)
- An Act for Weights and Measures.
- "That the Measure of a Bushel contain viij. Gallons of Wheat, and that every Gallon contain viij. li. of Wheat of Troy Weight, and every Pound contain xij. Ounces of Troy Weight, and every Ounce contain xx. Sterlings, and every Sterling be of the Weight of xxxij. Corns of Wheat that grew in the Midst of the Ear of Wheat, according to the old Laws of this Land."
- "And whereas heretofore the merchaunte paid for coynage of every pounde Towre of fyne gold weighing xi oz. quarter Troye ii s. vi d. Nowe it is determyned by the king's highness, and his said councelle that the foresaid pounde Towre shall be no more used and occupied but al maner of golde and sylver shall be wayed by the pounde Troye, which maketh xii oz. Troy, which exceedith the pounde Towre in weight iii quarters of the oz."
- 23 Henry VIII c. 4. (1531)
- An Act that no Brewers of Beer or Ale shall make their Barrels, Kilderkins or Firkins within them, and how much the same Barrels, et cetera shall contain.
- 24 Henry VIII c. 3. (1532)
- An Act for flesh to be sold by weight, and the prices limited.
- "Beef, pork, mutton and veal shall be sold by weight called Haver-de-pois."
- 24 Henry VIII c. 4. (1532)
- "An acre shall be counted 160 perches, and every perch 16-foot and a half.
- 5 & 6 Edward VI c. 6. (1552)
- An Act for the true making of Woolen Cloth.
- "XIV. And that all and every Broad Cloth and Clothes called Taunton Clothes, Bridgwaters, and other Clothes which shall be made after the said Feast in Taunton, Bridgwater or in other Places of like Sort, shall contain at the Water in Length betwixt twelve and thirteen Yards, Yard and Inch of the Rule, and in Breadth seven-Quarters of a Yard: (2) And every narrow Cloth made after the said Feast in the said Towns or elsewhere of like Sorts, shall contain in the Water in Length betwixt three and twenty and five and twenty Yards, Yard and Inch as is aforesaid, and in Breadth one Yard of like Measure; (3) and every such Cloth, both Broad and Narrow being well scowred, thicked, milled and fully dried, shall weigh xxxiv. li. the Piece at the least."
- "XV. And that all Clothes named Check-Kersie and Straits, which shall be made after the said Feast shall contain being wet between seventeen and eighteen Yards, with the Inches as is aforesaid, and in Breadth one Yard at the least at the Water; and being well scowred, thicked, milled and fully dried, shall weigh xxiv. li. the Piece at the least."
- 4 & 5 Philip and Mary c. 5. par. IX. (1557–8)
- An act touching the making of woolen clothes.
- "IX. Item, That every ordinary kersie mentioned in the said act shall contain in length in the water betwixt xvi. and xvii. yards, yard and inch; and being well scoured thicked, milled, dressed and fully dried, shall weigh nineteen pounds the piece at the least:..."
- 23 Elizabeth. c. 8. (1581) 
- An Act touching the true melting, making and working of Wax.
- "...fill and sell or cause to be filled or sold or offered to be sold any Barrel, Kilderkin or Firkin with Honey, for or in the Name of a Barrel, Kilderkin or Firkin containing less than two and thirty Wine Gallons the Barrel, sixteen Wine Gallons the Kilderkin, and eight Wine Gallons the Firkin; every Person and Persons so offending shall forfeit and lose for every Half Gallon so lacking five Shillings of English Money."
- 35 Elizabeth. c. 6. (1593)
- An Act against converting of great Houses into several Tenements, and for Restraint of Inmates and Inclosures, in and near about the City of London and Westminster.
- "... A Mile shall contain eight Furlongs, every Furlong forty Poles, and every Pole shall contain sixteen Foot and an half."
- This is the codification and namesake of the statute mile.
- 35 Elizabeth. c. 10. par. III (1593)
- An act for the reformation of sundry abuses in clothes, called Devonshire kerjies or dozens, according to a proclamation of the thirty-fourth year of the reign of our sovereign lady the Queen that now is.
- "(2) and each and every of the same Devonshire kersies or dozens, so being raw, and as it cometh forth off the weaver's loom (without racking, stretching, straining or other device to encrease the length thereof) shall contain in length between fifteen and sixteen yards by the measure of yard and inch by the rule, ..."
- An Act for the better ordering and regulating of the Office of Clerk of the Market, allowed and confirmed by this Statutes; and for the Reformation of false Weights and Measures.
- An Act for ascertaining the Measures of Corn and Salt.
- First mention of Winchester bushel in statute.
- 22 & 23 Charles II c. 12. (1670)
- An additional Act for ascertaining the Measures of Corn and Salt.
- "...every round bushel with a plain and even bottom being eighteen inches and a half wide throughout and eight inches deep shall be determined a legal Winchester bushel according to the Standard of His Majesty's Exchequer."
- First definition of Winchester bushel in statute (≈2150.42 cubic inches).
- An Act for ascertaining the Measures for retailing Ale and Beer.
- An Act to ascertain the Water Measure of Fruit.
- 5 & 6 Anne. c. 27. (1706)
- An Act for continuing several Subsidies, Impositions and Duties, and for making Provisions therein mentioned to raise Money by Way of Loan for the Service of the War, and other Her Majesty's necessary and important Occasions, and for ascertaining the Wine Measure.
- "...any Vessel containing two hundred thirty one cubical Inches and no more shall be deemed and taken to be a lawful Wine Gallon..."
- This statute is the origin of the US gallon, also known as the Queen Anne Gallon, Queen Anne Wine Gallon, or pre-1824 British gallon.
- False Weights and Scales Act 1770 10 George III c. 44
- An Act for more effectually preventing Traders in exciseable Commodities from using false Weights and Scales and for explaining and amending several Acts of Parliament relating to Hackney Coaches and Chairs
- An Act for the more effectual Prevention of the Use of defective Weights, and of false and unequal Balances.
- Weights and Measures Act 1797 37 George III c. 143
- An Act to explain and amend an Act made in the thirty-fifth Year of the Reign of his present Majesty, intituled, An Act for the more effectual Prevention of the use of defective Weights, and of false and unequal Balances.
- Weights and Measures Act 1815 55 George III c. 43
- An Act for the more effectual Prevention of the Use of false and deficient Measures.
- An Act for ascertaining and establishing Uniformity of Weights and Measures.
- This is the origin of Imperial units. This statute repeals nearly all previous weights and measures legislation, listing them in chronological order (by regnal year but without dates) beginning with "ancient statutes of uncertain date."
- Weights and Measures Act 1825 6 George IV c. 12
- An Act to prolong the Time of the Commencement of an Act of the last Session of Parliament, for ascertaining and establishing Uniformity of Weights and Measures and to amend the said Act.
- An Act to amend and render more effectual Two Acts of the Fifth and Sixth Years of the Reign of His late Majesty King George the Fourth, relating to Weights and Measures.
- Weights and Measures Act 1835 5 & 6 William IV c. 63
- An Act to repeal an Act of the Fourth and Fifth Year of His present Majesty relating to Weights and Measures, and to make other Provisions instead thereof.
- Weights and Measures Act 1855 18 & 19 Victoria. c. 72.
- An Act for legalising and preserving the restored Standards of Weights and Measures
- "...the Imperial Standard Pound Avoirdupois and shall be deemed to be the only Standard Measure of Weight from which all other Weights and other Measures having Reference..."
- An Act to amend the Act of the fifth and sixth years of King William the Fourth, chapter sixty-three, relating to weights and measures.
- Metric Weights and Measures Act 1864 27 & 28 Victoria. c. 117
- An Act to render permissive the Use of the Metric System of Weights and Measures.
- Weights and Measures Act 1878 41 & 42 Victoria. c. 49
- An Act to consolidate the Law relating to Weights and Measures.
- This statute abolished the troy pound, effective January 1879.
- Weights and Measures Act 1889 52 & 53 Victoria. c. 21
- An Act for amending the Law relating to Weights and Measures and for other purposes connected therewith.
- Weights and Measures Act 1897 60 & 61 Victoria. c. 46.
- An Act to legalise the Use of Weights and Measures of the Metric System.
- The Weights and Measures Act 1878 (41 & 42 Vict c 49)
- The Weights and Measures Act 1889 (52 & 53 Vict c 21)
- The Weights and Measures (Purchase) Act 1892 (55 & 56 Vict c 18)
- The Weights and Measures Act 1893 (56 & 57 Vict c 19)
- Weights and Measures Act 1904 4 Edward VII c. 28.
- Weights and Measures Act 1926 16 & 17 George V Cap.63
- Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act.
- Weights and Measures Act 1963
- Weights and Measures etc Act 1976
- Weights and Measures Act 1985 This act removed from use for retail sales by weight or measure many traditional and Imperial units as part of the process of metricating retail sales.
Comparable laws in other countries
- The Indian Weights and Measures of Capacity Act 1871.
- An Act to regulate the Weights and Measures of Capacity of British India.
- Measures of Length Act 1889.
- An Act to declare the Imperial Standard Yard for the United Kingdom to be the legal standard measure of length in British India.
- Weights and Measures Act 1936.
In the United States, a regular meeting of the states (the National Conference on Weights and Measures) maintains several handbooks, which are available at the website of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Most of the states have enacted these handbooks into law.
- "Weights and Measures Act 1985". legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- "Full Legislation List". Trading Standards Office. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
- "Tuesday, August 10, 1897." (PDF). The London Gazette: 4481. 10 August 1897.
|chapter-url=missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Lords. 22 July 1897. col. 695–696.
|chapter-url=missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Lords. 25 February 2010. col. 1081–1083.
- Verheugen, Günter (11 September 2007). "Exclusive: Your pint safe in EU hands". Retrieved 10 November 2007.
- "Clearing Up the Metric Muddle". Gloucestershire Trading Standards. 4 April 2010. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- UK Parliament. The Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations (2006) as made, from legislation.gov.uk.
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- "Tractatus de Ponderibus et Mensuris". sizes.com. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
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- Ruffhead (1763), p. 387.
- Ruffhead (1763), p. 401.
- Ruffhead (1763), p. 405.
- Ruffhead (1763), p. 485.
- Ruffhead (1763), p. 499.
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