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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Monday, July 27, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Oysters a La Perrelle — Budget Night

The Dominion, Monday, July 27, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Oysters a La Perrelle — Budget Night

On Friday, while journeying, all cold and cross and rheumaticky, up the long and circuitous route that conducts one,244 by devious ways, to Our House, I witnessed a spectacle which would have warmed the cockles—and "muscles"—of the chilliest heart. The spectacle consisted, in the main, of a large and luxurious limousine, with shiny varnish and nickel-plating and number-plates, printed in Greek, all over it. Deep down in its roomy inside, looking very splendid and important, was an M.L.C.245 As I gazed, enthralled, he painlessly extracted himself from the cushions, said "Home, Albert" to his chauffeur, and disappeared within the postern gate.

Now, at first glance this incident may seem to you, as compared with the intensely important matters with which we usually occupy our intelligences, somewhat trivial. But it wasn't. He gave me an idea. What more can you ask?

It's a curious fact that, although I, myself, aided by a corps of trained sleuths, have on frequent occasions painstakingly and thoroughly searched our municipal tramcars, it has never once been my fortune to come upon anything that bore any degree of resemblance to a member of Parliament. After some thought upon the matter, I have come to this conclusion, with which, I think, all right-thinking people will agree. It is, probably owing to the refining and ennobling influence of Mr. Speaker, considered altogether infra dig.246 for an M.P. to frequent such plebeian247 resorts as tramcars. He may walk, if he likes—lots of perfectly gentlemanly, if somewhat eccentric, people make an absolute custom of walking, and besides, he can always pretend that his doctor has ordered him to take a course of reducing exercises—the average M.P. can produce ample evidence in support of this statement. Or, if the very thought of walking makes him perspire, he can own a motor-car. (He mustn't hire one: taxis are low—except in prices.) Now, my idea is this: The choice between motoring and walking must, of necessity, cramp the style of many perfectly worthy members. Think of the Labour Party! Goodness only knows what would happen to them if their constituents caught them gadding about in limousines!

It seems, at first glance, that their only alternative is to drag their weary bones up and down those steep and slippery paths at least twice a day. But why not let the glorious past step in and solve their difficulties? It would be quite in keeping with the finest traditions of the House (I hope you notice how I'm picking up these neat little Parliamentary phrases), to maintain a flock, covey, or drove of hansom cabs for the personal convenience and comfort of members. Looked at in a practical light, the thing is quite feasible. (Mr. Wilford says that to Mr. Coates at least seventeen times a day.) We could save the expense of mowing all those Parliamentary lawns by turning the requisite and necessary horses out to graze on them after working hours. With a little delicate persuasion, we might induce the drivers to wear red uniforms, or green whiskers, or some other mark of distinction which would separate them from mere common or barn-door cabbies. The idea is both picturesque and economical. However, settle it among yourselves.

As you probably know, or, at the very least, strongly suspect, members of Parliament are not entirely independent individuals. At times, constituents, usually such exceedingly quiet and inoffensive people, can resolve themselves into so many—ever so many—Awkward Facts. I don't mean to say that night after night the cowed and shivering M.P. stumbles through his speech under strict supervision from the eagle eye of some representative from his own home town who takes an active and embarrassing interest in politics—and politicians. Come, come! It isn't quite so bad as all that. But every little while the unbiased observer (meaning you and me) is gently reminded that Mr. Holland, say, is the member for Buller, and that Mr. Sullivan, as a true citizen of Christchurch, mustn't rush all over the place advocating new schools for the exclusive use of Aucklanders. The State occasion when the report of the Tourist Department is tenderly laid upon the table is an example of Parliamentary parochialism having free play.248

Mr. de la Perrelle, once a Liberal, but now—how are the mighty falling from their seats!—a Wilford-Nationalist, led off the debate with a touching little picture of the beauties of Stewart Island (not the bathing beauties—the scenic ones, I mean), waiting all alone and unobserved for somebody to come along and admire them. He thinks that the Dunedin Exhibition authorities might, if they really put their will into the thing, do worse than run a balloon—or was it a submarine?—to and fro from Dunedin to Stewart Island during the Exhibition.249 Thus tourists would be enabled to taste the famous Stewart Island oysters in all their pristine succulence.

But while agreeing with Mr. de la Perrelle's constituents that his speech was in every way timely and appropriate, I do think that he should be careful about just one thing. He asserted that Stewart Island was the gem—no, the Pearl of the Pacific.250 If there are as many pearls in Stewart Island oysters as there are in the guide-books of this and adjacent countries then tourists should take that balloon trip. They'd find it worth while.

Talking of Mr. de la Perrelle has brought me, by a more or less roundabout route, to an entirely different subject. I don't think I've told you (and I'm sure you haven't taken the trouble to find out for yourselves), that whenever a member, for reasons of his own, decides that the House may do what it likes, but he is going to adjourn until further notice, it is the custom for him to curtsey to the King—no, I mean bow to the Speaker—before leaving the House. It's rather amusing to watch the different styles of bows adopted by various members. Some duck wildly, so that one can almost see, in one's mind's eye, an imaginary boot being hurled with great force and unerring aim at their heads. And quite right, too! Others, whose names are quite too sacred to mention in these columns, bow stiffly and creakily, as though they found it just a little difficult, not to say impossible, to bend at the middle. No wonder! But Mr. de la Perrelle (possibly you've been wondering where or whether he was going to come in) places his hand affectionately upon his heart, slightly advances one foot, and makes a bow that would do credit to the days of Sir Walter Raleigh. Once upon a time, in the dear old days when we had a Liberal Party all to ourselves, Mr. de la Perrelle was the only Liberal who looked anything like my idea of what a Liberal ought to look like. And now he's merely a Wilford-Nationalist. Sic transit gloria mundi! 251

Do you know, I almost (but not quite) forgot to tell you something most important. Friday night was the occasion of the presentation of the Budget—you know, the large wad of highly intricate financial documents explaining just why we'll all have to pay more—or less—income tax.252 Joking apart (for the time being), this really is a State occasion. Everyone in the House who is the proud possessor of a dress suit gets into it, and the rest wear clean collars and gold sleeve links.

Now for this Budget. There was one item in it which should be of interest to everybody—even us. During some previous session (probably before we were born), an extra halfcrown was allotted to such old age pensioners as could prove, with witnesses, affidavits, and alibis, that their second uncles three times removed hadn't died of alcoholic hearts, and that they themselves weren't partial to peppermint drops. Now, all that a pensioner has to do is to walk up to the nearest official, seize him firmly by the buttonhole and say, "Now, look here, my young man, what about that halfcrown?" And he—even he who seemed previously so cold, callous, and unapproachable—will cheerfully and submissively come across with the halfcrown. It is the Law. After all, by slow degrees we're253 getting somewhere, aren't we?254

244 Dominion: on.

245 i.e. Member of the Legislative Council.

246 Beneath one's dignity (Oxford English Dictionary).

247 Dominion: plebein.

248 See Hansard 206: 795-814.

249 De la Perrelle suggested that "in connection with the forthcoming Exhibition at Dunedin, I think the Hon. the Minister [of Tourist and Health Resorts] should seriously consider the question of allowing the two Government vessels to be placed at the disposal of the public, so that they may see the beauties of Stewart Island" (Hansard 206: 795). The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition took place in Dunedin in November 1925.

250 It suits Hyde's point better to use the phrase "Pearl of the Pacific" but Hansard records de la Perrelle as saying "gem of the Pacific" (Hansard 206: 795).

251 "Thus passeth the glory of the world". See also the column for 1 October 1925 and Robin Hyde, Journalese (Auckland: National Printing Company, 1934), p. 12.

252 See Hansard 206: 815-31.

253 Dominion: were.

254 See the figures on pension payments (Hansard 206: 821).