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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Friday, August 7, 1925. p. 10 — Peeps at Parliament: Napier's Sad Experience — The Gentle Art of Calling Names

The Dominion, Friday, August 7, 1925. p. 10
Peeps at Parliament: Napier's Sad Experience — The Gentle Art of Calling Names

Yesterday afternoon, just before going into the House, I happened, on glancing upward, to become aware of the tail-end of a rainbow, flung, like a gaily-coloured scarf, right across the buildings. I'm a little hazy on the matter—perhaps Mr. Jordan, Parliament's Biblical authority, can set me right—but I believe that once upon a time, when the bad old world was washed comparatively clean by the Deluge, the rainbow, along with the dove and the olive branch, was formally adopted as the official sign of peace upon earth and good-will to all men.300 So, although days of the Deluge are a trifle far away and long ago, I felt that under the exceptional circumstances the present afternoon would be one of peace and tranquillity—even in Parliament. And I was right. During the time of my afternoon's sojourn in Parliament (with only one retirement for refreshment, spiritual and otherwise) not one single Labour-Socialist member spoke. That shows you, doesn't it?

The foregoing statement is merely a refined and roundabout way of telling you I have absolutely nothing to serve up to you but the very smallest of small beer. That reminds me. Talking of beer, the night before last, the Minister of Education issued a revised and corrected form of a previous statement of his concerning the enormous amount spent annually on beer (and kindred spirits) in this fair land of ours. He went so far as to intimate that seeing that the honest New Zealand working man would not, as a reasonable being, waste such a large sum on what is, comparatively speaking, a luxury, while his wife and children went in want of the actual necessaries of life, this must be a prosperous, and, in our own words, "a pretty joyous country."301 One might almost say a merry one—in fact, a good motto for us would seem to be, "Every day, in every way, we are getting wetter and wetter."302

Perhaps the reason why Parliament so rarely gets anywhere is that it has to look in every direction all at once—which is enough to give any member a mental cast in his eye, isn't it? I daresay, for example, that if the House really took off its coat, rolled up its shirt sleeves, took a long, deep breath, and sat down to (or stood up to) business, it might, in a single session, tidy up the internal (some people say the infernal) affairs of Wellington. It might, but it mustn't. There's the rest of the country to be favourably considered. Take Napier.

You and I have, for the greater part of our unnatural lives, gone to bed o' nights with the cosy sort of feeling that in all probability citizens in all the other centres of New Zealand, including Napier, were probably doing just exactly the same. The greater majority of us have never actually visited Napier to find out for ourselves whether this was just so—we've just taken it for granted that Napier, in its own particular way, was worrying along more of less successfully. But it isn't. Napier is being gradually washed away.303

In fact, according to its member, Napier has come to this. There are now absolutely no prosecutions for watered milk in Napier. All that the poor but dishonest milkman really needs to do is to add a pinch of salt to his watered milk and swear that the sea-waves, washing over his cart, must by some unforeseen accident have entered his milk-cans. And when a man comes home at night and informs his wife that he has seen a sea-serpent strolling calmly down the main highway, she never quite knows whether he's telling the truth, or whether it's just—well, you follow me?304

While we are on this cosmopolitan conversation, we might as well make passing mention of a matter brought up by Mr. Sullivan this afternoon. Christchurch is coming on—though one finds it a little hard to ascertain in what direction. Anyhow, Mr. Sullivan arose and gave notice of his intention to ask one more unfortunate—I forget which Minister he mentioned—to allow not only Christchurch but all big cities to have roads not limited to a mere sixty-six feet in width, but fully one hundred feet across.305 Think of it. Almost within the memory of living man, these great, big, overgrown, sprawling cities of ours were mainly traversed by cow-tracks—and even the cows had to walk in single file. Nowadays, squads of limousines, omnibuses, and such few municipal tram-cars as have not been run out of the running form fours, and, with triumphal noises from their horns, whistles and occupants, march proudly down the street. Taking the average man's height at a conservative estimate of six feet, a road a hundred feet in width would suffer approximately 16¾ pedestrians to lie down, the feet of one touching the head of the next, and allow the omnibuses to drive over them. Has Mr. Sullivan worked that out for himself? And if so, don't the figures thrill him? In twenty years or so, "l'il old New Yark" will have absolutely nothing on this country. (Excuse the Americanese.) It's a highly contagious disease. Even our sedate old Parliament is bristling all over with flag-staffs, erected with the sole aim and object of hoisting stars, stripes, streaks, and spots when the American Fleet come to call on us.306

In the evening, I rejoice to say, business was just a little brisker than it had been during the afternoon. Mr. Holland spoke.307 Of course, I don't mean in any way to intimate that he talked business. That would be yet another of the unfounded allegations that are always, for some reason or other, being absolutely denied by the member for Buller. But before we come to Mr. Holland let us pause and consider Mr. Harris, of the Reform benches—another of the stalwart few who dare, at the imminent risk of being slapped on the wrist by the Labour-Socialist Party, to say an occasional word of praise for the Budget.

There was one point in Mr. Harris's speech which rather appealed to me. The member for Buller had plainly and uncompromisingly stated that "the Budget contains nothing at all for the poor man. It is all electioneering and political window-dressing."308 This, as Mr. Harris gently pointed out, is just a leetle strange if true. The greater majority of the electors consists of comparatively poor—or, at most, far from wealthy people. Is it altogether likely that a "rich man's Budget" would be window-dressing in any way liable to excite their admiration? The Government, having been in office for a considerable number of years, really ought, at its time of life, to know better than to display a window filled with pate de fois gras to people whose means and whose appetite run more to plain bread and butter. But most likely Mr. Holland thought of all that afterwards.

Everybody—including Mr. Isitt—knew that no man could attack the Labour-Socialist Party and all its works (not to mention its won't-works) and depart unmolested. But—although the House probably knew just what to expect—I don't think that the uninitiated spectators in the Ladies' Gallery had previously believed that any member could or would refer to the way an opponent wore his hair (at least, Mr. Isitt has some to wear), his "sing-song, drawling voice," and his bill at Bellamy's.309 But, as a lady of somewhat riper experience than mine resignedly remarked to me, "You can call a man a thief in Parliamentary language and get away with it[.]" Well, I suppose you can—but it's not every member who would. I think that is all we have to say about the leader of the Labour-Socialist Party.

"We must not think of themes like these"310—not if we want to preserve our touching faith in the idea that, all things considered, most members in the House do and say quite as well as can reasonably be expected. Prior to all the excitement, in the very beginning of the afternoon, we happened, on strolling into the House at a somewhat early hour, to see one member leaning peacefully back in his chair, at amity with all the world—even the capitalists. And why? Because the gentleman was engaged in fortifying himself for the afternoon's toil with that Speaker-forbidden luxury, a good cigarette. Before he had even half finished his stolen fruit, however, the bell rang, as usual, at exactly the wrong moment, and the unfortunate member threw away his cigarette with an expression which seemed to say (after the words of the dear old song),

"How can I live without you,
How can I let you go,
You that I loved so well, dear…."311

Now, as a more or less, and in some directions reasonable woman, I venture to suggest that a member, parted from his meerschaum,312 his cigarette, or his faithful clay pipe, is but half a member. It might, perhaps, be a trifle unparliamentary, and therefore absolutely impossible, but don't you think it's a pity that members should be forcibly torn from that lifelong comrade which, much as we women may dislike it, is nevertheless so good for their tempers?

300 Cf. Luke 2 v. 14.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

301 The speech to which Hyde refers actually occurred on 28 July. Parr noted "I have said that this country is prosperous. Can there be any doubt about its spending-power? Surely, when one looks around, one finds ample proof. Honourable members have only to contemplate the nightly concourse at picture theatres throughout the Dominion; they have only to contemplate the huge attendances at the race meetings and the totalizator investments, which last year amounted to £7,500,00. All these things point to the spending-power of the country. I hope, Sir, that the House will not misunderstand me. I am not casting any reflection upon any one. I am not preaching a sermon, but am merely looking upon the matter as a dispassionate observer, as a student of the social conditions of the people, and I am calling attention to the fact that New Zealand is not a sad country, but a joyful one, rejoicing in its own prosperity, and that to-day New-Zealanders are getting a great deal of pleasure out of life" (Hansard 206: 863).

302 A pun on 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, 22 July 1925 and 23 July 1925.

303 See McIlvride's speech (Hansard 207: 184-85).

304 Hyde invents these details, which do not appear in McIlvride's speech.

305 See Hansard 207: 200.

306 The House adjourned when the American naval fleet arrived in Wellington. It did not sit again until 13 August.

307 See Hansard 207: 227-37.

308 In fact it was probably Lee who made the remark. Lee commented that "the Government definitely in the Budget acknowledges its intention of granting further remissions to those individuals who are already receiving too much at the expense of the poorer sections of the community" (Hansard 207: 95). There is no record of Holland speaking on the Budget before Harris, and it seems likely from Harris's remarks that he was addressing Lee's speech.

309 Holland referred to a comment of Isitt's that a particular monopoly was "enough to make a man's hair stand on end," joking that "[t]he honourable gentleman's hair has been standing on end ever since" (Hansard 207: 235). He also made fun of Isitt's "sing-song, droning voice" (Hansard 207: 234) and said that if Isitt was "remunerated according to the service he renders he would not be able to meet his bill at Bellamy's bar" (Hansard 207: 233).

310 Lord Byron, "Don Juan," canto 3, line 750.

We will not think of themes like these!

The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann, vol. 5 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

311 Susanna May Lougheed, "Parted."

Dearest our day is over, ended our dream divine
You must go back to your life, I must go back to mine.
How can I live without you, how can I let you go.
I that you love so well dear, you that I worship so.

312 A mineral sometimes used to make tobacco pipes (Oxford English Dictionary).