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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, July 15, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Mr. Parry's Hardy Annual — Fusion Cards on the Table

The Dominion, Wednesday, July 15, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Mr. Parry's Hardy Annual — Fusion Cards on the Table

You know, or at least you really ought to know, the creaky, squeaky, sacrilegious feeling which hovers around one as one tiptoes into church halfway through the sermon, and hastily buries one's nose in a convenient prayer book? That's how I felt yesterday afternoon on entering the Ladies' Gallery nearly five minutes late. All the other ladies stopped clicking their knitting-needles (and their tongues) and regarded me as if wondering just who, what, or why I really was. And I almost felt I saw the Sergeant-at-Arms shake his Mace at me. He was right in the middle of depositing it on the table, and I nearly put him off his game.

By the way, permit me to digress for a moment. Everyone in Parliament does it, and I don't see why there should be any distinction made in disfavour of women. Do you know that if the Mace—a sort of heavy-weight fairy wand affair, with nubbly gold coronets on top—were by any mischance to disappear the entire business of the State would come to a full stop, and all the members would have to adjourn to reading-rooms and sit around thinking out schemes of decoration for the thief, while the affairs of the country went to rack and ruin?

It sounds incredible, but it's perfectly true. That is one of the reasons—and they are legion—why the average visitor to Parliament is politely but definitely watched over and warded off from all the inmost chambers and corridors of the House. It isn't that the Powers That Be regard us as mild lunatics who might, if given the opportunity, run about the place carving our names on the legs of the Speaker's Chair, nor yet that they suspect us of being Bolsheviks with bombs and bunches of dynamite concealed all over our persons. The plain truth of it is that they're never quite sure just which harmless-looking little stranger is an American souvenir hunter waiting his opportunity to make off with the Mace. So the next time you visit Parliament, if an orderly says to you, ever so politely, "This way, madam," don't feel hurt about it. Just persuade him to feel151 your biceps, thereby convincing him that it is absolutely beyond your mean ability to so much as lift the Mace, and he will become confidential and whisper the password to places that the mere public never even dreams about.

When, having settled myself in the gallery, I proceeded to look around me, I perceived Mr. Parry, celebrated as the most docile, orderly, and peaceful member of the Labour benches, fondly clasping a photograph on which were depicted several ribs and a cross section of the internal anatomy of something that might possibly have passed as a human being. At first I thought that I had stumbled on one more of Labour's little interludes with skeletons in cupboards, but someone next to me whispered, in a strictly confidential undertone, "Parry's hardy annual," and on looking at the Order Paper I learned just what had befallen the unfortunate House.152

You might think that a Bill, good or bad, visits the House once, is thought over, talked over, worked over, and finally accepted or rejected. That just shows your charming innocence. Once upon a time, I believed the same myself. Ah, me! A Bill may be forcibly thrown out of the House half-a-dozen times running, but at the next session it bobs up again, at its mover cheerfully addresses the House in some such words as "Well, seriously now, you fellows, what about this Bill?" I gathered that Mr. Parry has been bringing this particular Bill in and out of the House since the oldest Parliamentary inhabitant was a child at his mother's knee. Centenarians with long white whiskers, blue jeans, and lumbago, grow reminiscent over their mugs of beer, and say, in faraway tones, "Oo, aay, Oi mind me o' the days when Parry first brung in 'is Bill." And nobody believes them.

About the same time as the enthusiastic gardener searches for the first primrose, and the thrush for the first worm in sight to feed his newly-arrived family, Mr. Parry's Bill doth appear. It is all about miners' phthisis.153 This is a word that few know how to spell. It can be pronounced in three ways. You can say, with an air of conviction, "Tysis," just as if you believed in phonetic spelling, or you can make a gentle hissing sound like a boa-constrictor, or, on the other hand, you can merely lisp and then sneeze, and pass calmly on. Mr. Parry, who has had long experience of the word, tried all three methods, with great success.

A Bill isn't allowed to pursue its uninterrupted course through the House. If it were, it might possibly have a chance of getting somewhere. Right in the middle of the proceedings, Mr. Coates arose and announced that he wanted to tell the House all about everything.154 The House being more or less agreeable (all except Mr. Parry who clung with anxious tenderness to his poor little Bill), the Prime Minister proceeded. First of all, he told us everything we've been just longing to know about fusion—what letters Mr. Wilford had sent him, and what he himself posted back.155 The Liberal Party's letters began as billets doux, and ended as business communications. To my mind, the reading of all these incriminating documents savoured a little too much of a breach-of-promise case.

Do you know, I, in my innocence, always thought that all you had to do to get fusion was to agree about it. But it seems that both parties can want fusion but they can't agree as to the time to adopt it. Our members did at their christenings—I mean their elections—promise and vow to perform all sorts156 of good deeds, and, if they should go back on these promises, there would be the Devil—meaning us—to pay. That is to say, before fusion can be brought into full effect there must be another appeal to us—the electors.157 Fusion simply can't be done in a hurry without breathing158 such little things as promises and pledges, and though these may be of no account to some people, they are serious things to certain M.P.'s. Mr. Coates, however, confidently expects the two parties to fuse—some day. In the meantime, we'll still be able to sing,

"It's strange that each little girl or boy

Who's born into this world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative."159

—excepting, of course, the select few who happen to be Labour Socialists.

151 Dominion: fell.

152 See Hansard 206: 460-63 and 206: 474-82 for debate on Parry's bill.

153 A lung condition common in miners.

154 Coates interrupted Parry to declare "I desire to make two statements. I am sorry to interrupt the debate, but it is rather important that they should be made now" (Hansard 206: 463).

155 Copies of the correspondence between Coates and Wilford were read out; see Hansard 206: 464-69.

156 Dominion: sort.

157 Coates argued that the newly formed National party would need to contest an election to gain a mandate (Hansard 206: 469).

158 The Dominion text says "breathing" but "breaching" might be correct under the circumstances.

159 Gilbert and Sullivan, "When All Night Long a Chap Remains," from Ioanthe, act II, lines 11-16.

Private Willis: I often think it's comical—Fal, lal, la!
How Nature always does contrive—Fal, lal, la!
That every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, intro. and ed. Ian Bradley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).