Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Friday, August 14, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: The Member and His Button-Hole — Concerning A Little Private Bill

The Dominion, Friday, August 14, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: The Member and His Button-Hole — Concerning A Little Private Bill

Do you remember the story of the dear old lady with ninety-nine previous convictions, and one over for luck, who became so accustomed to her frequent little outings in Black Maria that she used to enter that vehicle with a patronising "Home, John!" to the chauffeur? I suppose that on her very first excursion trip the grim grey building at the end of her road seemed to her an uninviting and altogether unfriendly place; but by the time she'd been in and out, off and on, for twenty years or so, it became merely, as she herself put it, "Home, John." A precisely similar experience befalls the individual who, for reasons known only to herself, makes a practice of frequenting the Ladies' Gallery in Parliament. For the past two days, while members have been roaming about in dress suits trying to find their gold studs, and practising telling little speeches of welcome in front of a looking-glass, I've been feeling curiously lost and lonesome.320 I give you my word that I was up at the House absolutely on time yesterday afternoon—just to see if aforesaid House, and the inhabitants thereof, were still in the very same old place.

But the House isn't quite the House it was when last we saw it. The Wilford-Nationalist body has lost its Wilford. For some time past he has been feeling the strain of political life, and is now so unwell that he will not be back in the House again this session.321 I'm sure that everyone must sympathise both with Mr. Wilford and with the "National Party," which has thus, at the most critical moment of its young life, suddenly been orphaned. However, there's no doubt that Mr. Forbes, Mr. Sidey, and Mr. Veitch will do their very best to be good and faithful foster-parents, and bring the youngster up in the way in which, to their minds, it should go—that is, towards the Treasury benches.

Mr. Nash, of the Reform benches, started the business of the afternoon by putting some terse and forceful little inquiries about shunting accidents at his beloved Palmerston North, to the Minister of Railways.322 By the way, you all recollect the perfectly atrocious climatic conditions that had prevailed, were prevailing, and seemed about to prevail yesterday afternoon? You'd think that a day like the one we're at present vainly endeavouring to describe would be sufficient excuse for the most ultra-respectable citizen to say unto himself that any old sou'-wester, oilskins and galoshes323 would do. But not so, said Mr. Nash. He appeared, just as usual, with a totally new and unprecedented variety of flowering shrub carefully displayed in his buttonhole. Other members, in the grip of that springtime feeling (more drastic in its effects than influenza, isn't it?), may possibly appear with a modest violet or a chaste snowdrop affixed to their manly chests; but Mr. Nash does the thing in style. I may say, with a certain amount of truth, that the entire population of the Ladies' Gallery takes what one might almost term an affectionate interest in the hon. member's buttonholes. We have guessing competitions about just which is to be favoured next—a tea-rose or a purple peony. (It will be of no avail whatever for the rest of the House, on the strength of this, to appear to-morrow afternoon in vine-leaf garlands, hibiscus festoons or—or anything of that kind. In the matter of buttonholes, at least, nobody can compete with "Beau Nash".)324

Isn't it amazing how a woman can talk for an indefinite length of time about any given subject under the sun, except business? Well, well, we promise to be severely practical for the rest of the day. We will discuss Bills—not the kind which your monthly mail brings in, and which your irate husband is always bringing up, but the sort that members in general, and Labour-Socialist members in particular, are perpetually trying to bring off. Mr. Sullivan, after asking leave to introduce his Bill into what is, to Bills at least, decidedly impolite society, said a few words in explanation of and apology for aforementioned Bill's existence.325 (N.B. In our dictionary "a few" means two or three, or, by a large stretch of imagination, four. But not in the pocket edition used by Mr. Sullivan.)

Mr. Sullivan's speech began after this fashion: "I would like to say a few words at the baptism of my little Bill."326 Don't you consider that a touching little introduction? Though, between you and me, the Government is just a little difficult to touch—in any sense of the word. But, seriously speaking, can't you see in your mind's eye a vivid little picture of Mr. Sullivan, so choked with emotion that he is almost—but not quite—incapable of making a speech, leaning over the font, with his little Bill, firmly clasped in his arms, squalling at the top of its infant voice? You may ask (although I don't suppose, under the circumstances, that you will), why the infant should squall. Well, for one thing, it's a Labour-Socialist Bill, and Labour-Socialist Bills have a conscientious objection to water—so few of them will hold it.

But here, after our usual unbusinesslike fashion, we've been talking for fully ten minutes, without telling you the name and nature of the little Bill. Mr. Sullivan did solemnly christen the infant "Municipal Corporations Amendment Bill" and it was brought into the world solely for this reason: At the present time, if you are, by any chance, over twenty-one, apparently sane and not a convicted criminal, you can, if you are so disposed, lift your voice in the governing of your country to the extent of voting at either Parliamentary or municipal elections. This is all very well in its way. But as matters stand at the present time, you must clearly and definitely prove, with the assistance of not more than half a dozen specially hired witnesses, that you are an honest and industrious subject of the King's, God bless him, before your name is allowed to appear on any one roll. Then, if you are foolishly extravagant enough to desire to figure, in small and insignificant letters, on yet another civic roll, you must go through the whole performance all over again. And however exciting this may seem when you are just turned twenty-one, it is apt to pall upon you by the time you reach the indolent age of forty. Mr. Sullivan's Municipal Corporations Amendment Bill provides for just one large-sized roll, authorising everybody to vote on everything. That is the long and short of it—and I suppose, if all the Labour Party are going to discuss the matter it will be more long than short.

By the way, have you or have you not seen Parliament House in its Fleet Week decorations? The marble building, with its tall columns and wavering shadows, always reminded me of an Arabian Nights' palace, but in its present glorified condition it—well, it would simply make poor old Aladdin turn pale pea-green, curl up his toes and die for sheer envy. And wouldn't the Forty Thieves (don't tell me that you've forgotten the Forty Thieves), enjoy the little business of filling their pockets with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires all as big as ducks' eggs? It's sacrilege to say that they are mere electric lights. Every time I go up in the lift I half expect the guardian Djinn thereof to rub one of the colossal brass buttons which adorn him from the boots up, thereby inducing the entire building to disappear in a puff of highly sulphurous smoke. I suppose that the opinion of the mere layman (that means you) would be, if anyone cared to consult him on the matter, "No such luck."

320 The House was adjourned so that MPs could socialise with the American Naval Fleet.

321 See the announcement on Wilford's illness in Hansard 207: 317-18

322 See Hansard 207: 315-16.

323 Dominion: goloshes.

324 Richard "Beau" Nash was the stylish and fashionable Master of Ceremonies at the resort town of Bath in the mid-eighteenth century.

325 See Hansard 207: 318-19.

326 Cf. Sullivan: " I think, Sir, I will take this early opportunity of saying a few words by way of baptism of my little Bill in case some unfortunate fate befalls it at the hands of an unsympathetic Government before it reaches second reading" (Hansard 207: 318).