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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, July 22, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: From the Ladies' Gallery — War, Sickness and Distress

The Dominion, Wednesday, July 22, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: From the Ladies' Gallery — War, Sickness and Distress

In my perfectly natural anxiety to know whether Mr. Wilford, as the Leader of our brand-new National Party, was sporting a red, white, and blue bandana, I arrived at the House while proceedings were still at that stage when troops of orderlies, under the expert supervision of the Sergeant-at-Arms, flick specks of dust from the shining surface of the Mace. Having learned from the Labour Socialist Party that one should never, under any circumstances, waste one's own or anyone else's time, I wiled away the hours (anyhow, they seemed hours) by formulating a theory.

I've told you (or maybe you've learned by bitter experience) all about that objectionable little bell which buzzingly announces to members that their hour is upon them? Well, look'ee here: don't you think that it would be much more in keeping with the general atmosphere of the House if, at the appointed time, one of those mysterious little carved doors was to fly open, admitting a gentleman in Oriental costume, who would march solemnly round the House, emitting warning noises on a big brass dinner-gong. That, I venture to say, would fetch 'em. Or if the dinner-gong, alone and unaided, wasn't enough to awake members from their well-earned repose, its bearer might be followed about by a lieutenant with a sheep-bell tied round his neck. What Parliament really needs is, among other things, somebody with an inventive mind who would take everything in hand and disorganise it with a view to developing its more picturesque possibilities. I don't say that, if sufficient temptation were placed in my way, I mightn't consider taking on the job myself. First of all I'd make all the orderlies get into the correct attire of Beef-eaters, and then … however, I suppose we'd better wait till the time comes. The Labour Socialist Party might make the idea a substantial plank in their platform at the next general election. I'm sure that they'd enjoy seeing the various dignified officials in and about the House walking the afore-mentioned plank.

Naturally, my first glance, when at last the members entered the House, was directed at the benches where the Lib—no, I beg its pardon, the National Party, sat in state. (Rather sorry state, I'm afraid, just exactly seven of them had rallied round the new flag.) To look at them, one would hardly have suspected the change of spirit that had visited them overnight. One of them, terrible to relate, wore a crimson bow tie, but otherwise they appeared perfectly normal—or, anyhow, as nearly normal as they have been since the beginning of the session. Mr. Wilford went pink all over when Mr. Parry, in the heat of debate, referred to him as "the Leader of the National Party," but fore and aft of that little incident he remained cool, calm, and collected as ever.197

"To think," I whispered to Bold Herminius198, "that there are now no Liberals!"

"And that these," she whispered back, indicating the National benches, "are now, so to speak, ill-Liberals."

"Death-bed scene," I murmured. "No flowers, by request. And what d'you think of our National Party?"

"Rather a small nation, isn't it?" she answered dubiously.

"Those," I replied sententiously, "are just the kind that make all the trouble. Look at the Balkans!"

"I couldn't," she shuddered, "but there's one comfort. These—ah—tinpot little nationalities disband at the rate of about three a fortnight."

"Well, well," I concluded, seeing the orderly roll up his sleeves, and flex his biceps prior to throwing us both out, "let's hope for the worst, won't we?"

Before we go any further I want to stop dead in my tracks and highly commend Mr. Lee. (It's quite a pleasure to be able to do so—for once in a while.) During the earlier part of to-day's session, he intimated that he intended to do his utmost, by fair means or, preferably, foul, to induce the powers that be in the Railway Department to give the all too long-suffering travelling public, who are forced, by sheer stern necessity, to make use of the Main Trunk line sleeping accommodation, the same simple comforts which a wily Department is offering visitors to the Dunedin Exhibition.199 Now, without wishing to hurt the feelings of the man who so skilfully designed those carriages, in which most of us have suffered all the agonies of chills, cramps, and crying babies, I do think that if some bright soul has hit upon an idea which might make the railways almost comfortable, he should be encouraged to hold on to it—tight. If he isn't and doesn't, I move that the entire population, as a timid protest, saves up its ha'pence, and invests in limousines. So there.

Seriously speaking—that, I believe, is the expression—the House is almost uncannily calm these days, and innocent bystanders are unanimous in wishing for a breeze. However, to speak in colloquial terms, it shouldn't be long before Labour gets the wind up about something or other.

The House and the inhabitants thereof have many and various moods. There are days when knights and gallant squires ride forth to the jousting, and lances—not to mention heads—are broken in the fray: days when everyone sits around, and, mentally puffing the pipe of peace, pays tribute to statesmen dead and gone: frivolous days when Mr. Langstone produces petrified men for the inspection of the startled House: and days like the one in hand when talk is all of war and sickness and distress, and when the Government's eternal struggle with poverty seems as unequal a fight as that of our gallant St. George with his dragon. But, after all, so the story-books tell us. St. George won in the end.

The trouble really began when some too optimistic Minister endeavoured to lay upon the table the returns of the Pensions Department.200 His papers, all nicely tied up with blue bows, were destined to travel a very roundabout route before they finally reached harbour. It seemed that everybody in the country honestly needed a pension or, if they had that, a larger pension, and that any really conscientious Government would immediately hasten, purse in hand, to produce such pensions. But there appears to be just one little difficulty in the way—a difficulty which Labour Socialists, with characteristic force and energy, swept contemptuously out of the way. Where is all the money to come from?

Mr. Savage's views on this little matter are worth hearing—and admiring. He was speaking on the question of his proposed Motherhood Endowment Bill, under which he earnestly desires to reward the man who has presented his country with six children whom he can't possibly keep with a much larger wage than is awarded to him.

"Have you formed any estimate of the amount involved?" meekly inquired a Minister. Mr. Savage turned on him like a trodden worm.

"I don't care how much is involved," he exclaimed with a dramatic sweep of his arm, "my plea is for humanity."201 Later on he added, just as an afterthought, "I don't mind telling you that the amount required would probably total two million a year—and I don't mind the expenditure in the least."202

Nice to be Mr. Savage, isn't it?

I think, on the whole, we'd better stop talking about this afternoon. The discussion was, as somebody203 or other puts it, "flat, stale, and unprofitable."204 Sir James Parr's Child Welfare Bill, discussed during the evening, was something in the nature of an antidote.205 Do you remember how, when we were very young and exceedingly naughty, our many delinquencies206 were invariably followed by terrible dreams of large and unrelenting policemen, and judges whose wigs might come off, but whose frowns wouldn't? The bad little boy of to-day, while gently encouraged to behave himself, has no need to dream about policemen. Under the proposed Bill a Children's Court is provided, at which our small people shall be shown the grievous error of their ways without any of the terrifying ceremony of the old-time Juvenile Courts. Institutions are provided wherein those unhappy children who would, a few short years ago, have been despised and rejected of men, women, and all good little girls and boys, are trained, educated, and, in most cases, turned into decent men and women.

"It's wonderful," said Sir James, hopefully, "what you can do with a child if you will only trust him. Excellent results are obtained by a policy of humanity."207 Which really does seem to prove that in spite of everything Socialists may say to the contrary, the world is, in its own good time, growing better and better every day.208

197 See Hansard 206: 664.

198 Cf. Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Horatius,” lines 245-48.

And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titian blood was he:
“I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee.”

The Lays of Ancient Rome and Miscellaneous Essays and Poems, intro. G. M. Trevelyan (London: J. M. Dent, 1910).

Herminius’s name had been invoked in a parliamentary context elsewhere: Banjo Paterson’s “The Dauntless Three” (1906) draws on the Macaulay poem to satirise the political manoeuvrings of Sir Albert John Gould (a former senator and “Horatius” in Paterson’s poem), James Thomas Walker (a senator in the first Commonwealth Parliament who was also a relative of Paterson’s) and Edward Davis Millen, another senator in the first Commonwealth Parliament, who is dubbed “Herminius” in Paterson’s poem about the Liberals’ attempt to defend themselves against the Labor Party. Interestingly, the tag “bold Herminius” which Hyde uses appears in the Paterson poem, not the Macaulay one, although she is clearly familiar with the latter. See also the columns for 8 July 1925 and 17 July 1925.

199 There is no record of Lee’s statement in Hansard, but it is recorded in “House and Lobby,” New Zealand Times, 22 July 1925, p. 7.

200 See Hansard 206: 656 for Anderson's motion to table the returns.

201 Isitt asked Savage, "[c]an you give us a rough estimate of the amount involved?" Savage replied "I am not going to go off on any side track. I have a rough estimate of the amount involved, but I am going to continue to explain the Bill in my own way. I do not care how much is involved. My plea is for humanity, not for bricks or mortar" (Hansard 206: 655).

202 Shortly after his initial refusal to name a figure, Savage remarked "I have a rough idea, and I am of opinion that, as the Bill is drawn to-day, it would cost somewhere in the vicinity of £2,000,000 a year. I do not mind the cost in the least; I do not mind paying my share of the expenditure" (Hansard 206: 656).

203 Dominion: somebdy.

204 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act I, scene ii, lines 133-34.

Hamlet: How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005).

205 See Hansard 206: 671-83.

206 Dominion: delinguencies.

207 Parr noted that by "putting these young boys on their honour-trusting them-it is wonderful what can be done….[E]xcellent results are obtained by the policy of humanity and leniency" (Hansard 206: 675-76).

208 Cf. an affirmation from Emile Coué's Self Mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1922), p. 26.

Every day, in every respect, I am getting better and better.

See also the columns for 8 July 1925, 23 July 1925 and 7 August 1925.