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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, August 26, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: The Babes in the Wood — The Private Members' Little Bills

The Dominion, Wednesday, August 26, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: The Babes in the Wood — The Private Members' Little Bills


My Children: Once upon a time there was a Babe in the Wood. She didn't always live in the Wood. In the dear old days previous to our story she used to dwell in a nice little model village, where every street, every shop and every inhabitant remained just exactly in its proper place. I mean to say, our Babe in the Wood knew just exactly where she herself and everyone and everything else worth mentioning was and would be, world without end, Amen. Then, one fine day, she took it into her head that she would like to know something about the gloomy and roomy interior of the Wood, which lay just on the fringes of her model village. Every now and again some enterprising villager would, in a moment of temporary mental aberration, get the same idea, and, when the very last glimpse of his coat-tails had disappeared into the Wood, people would shake their heads pessimistically and say, "Poor old So-and-so. He's gone into Parliament."

Yes, that was the name of the Wood. Anyhow, the Babe of our Story was prevailed upon by Black Magic to enter the extreme outskirts of the Wood. And therein she heard an assembly of—would it be impolite to call them "Wise Old Owls"?—discussing the extremely grave matter of whether a certain motion (of which, as our serial stories remark, more anon) should or should not be carried. After listening to this debate for about three hours on end, the Babe in the Wood just put one hand to her aching brow and staggered out into the sunshine and the fresh air. This last, by the way, was such a marked change from the hot air in the Wood that she caught a chill and hasn't got over it yet. Just as she had reached the borders of the black and gloomy Wood she met a great big Labour-Socialist bear. I mustn't tell you what his name was, but the Legislative Council doesn't like his voice, nor yet the use he makes of it. He looked at her in a have-I-or-have-I-not-breakfasted-yet sort of a way, and, very politely, growled "Good afternoon."

She desisted from shaking in her shoes for a sufficient length of time to inquire, "Please, kind sir, can you tell me just exactly where I am?" (For, as you've already guessed, the Babe very rapidly and completely got lost in the Wood.) He scratched his head for a moment, and then, with great certainty and absolute conviction, told her just exactly where she was. The Babe thanked him politely, and then went further on her way; and all of a sudden, a Reform Party knight-errant, dressed all in shining and absolutely milk-white armour, stepped out from behind some trees. (I mustn't tell you what his name was, but he is partial to buttonholes.)366 He took off his helmet, and, making a low bow, remarked, "Excuse me, my dear young lady, but are you aware that you're not going at all the right way to get out of the Wood?" Then he, too, proceeded to tell her just exactly where she was, and after he had quite finished telling her, she looked up at the sky, and down at her shoes, and said, in a tone of the most utter despair, "Yes, but how can I get out of the Wood?" She never found out. She is still the Babe in the Woods.367

Let me tell you just exactly how everything came about. Yesterday afternoon, when looking at my Order Paper, which is a document prepared expressly for the misleading of unsophisticated outsiders, I came across these words:

Notices of Motion.

The Hon. Mr. Coates is to move: That on and after Wednesday, the 26th day of August, and for the remainder of the session, the Government's business to take precedence on Wednesdays from 2.30 p.m.

And, having read, marked, and inwardly digested the same, I, along with everyone else in the House, including the members, said unto myself, "Aha," or words to that effect. Then I sat back and waited to hear what our Opposition had to say about the matter. You will perhaps be surprised to learn that our Opposition felt that they really had to say quite a lot.

Mr. Hanan, who is, as one might say, in the Forbes-Nationalist benches, but not really of them, put pleasure before business, and expended his allotted time in abusing the Government. As far as I can remember, he stated:
  • (1) That the Government had absolutely no programme worthy of occupying the time of the House and the—ahem!—intelligences of the Nationalist Party.368
  • (2) That the business put forward by private members should not, on any account, be restricted.

Sir James Parr (meekly): But what have we done so far?369

If you suppose that Mr. Hanan was going to interrupt the flow of a perfectly good, or, anyhow, well-sounding speech, just to answer a question like that advanced by the Minister of Education, you don't know your Mr. Hanan. What he really did, was to stop, just for one little minute, in his stride, and give the Minister of Education a serious, well-reasoned and entirely complacent little lecturette on—guess which?—dignity. According to Mr. Hanan, it is beneath the dignity of any Minister to ask pertinent questions which Forbes-Nationalists—or may we be a trifle premature, and say Hanan-Nationalists—cannot answer.370 It simply isn't done, don't you know.

As for the Labour-Socialists, if they had let such an opportunity slip, there was no saying that before they knew where they were the House would get on to reports, or Estimates, or something that actually looked like business. Mr. Sullivan, running his fingers wildly through his hair, remarked, in tones of indignation (of which he has always a plentiful supply on tap), that he simply didn't know what the Government imagined itself to be doing. When all the371 pother [sic] and hubbub had subsided, and there was sufficient calm in the House to enable one to think, I was at last able to grasp the fact—nervously, but still, I grasped it—that a callous Government had decided the House was not going to be "at home" to Private Members' Little Bills any more this session!

Wednesday seems to be the day on which private members can take their little Bills by the hand and lead them, with paternal pride, into the House, therein the applause of listening Senates to command.372 If Government business is to have precedence, it would seem (mind, I only say it would seem, and in Parliament a safe rule to go upon is that things, and people, are not what they seem) that some very interesting and no doubt important Bills put forward by private members run the risk of being either hurried over or entirely blocked. This, as you will no doubt agree, would be very sad. For instance, there's a Bill which was originally set down for discussion on this very day, and which proposed, everybody being agreeable, to allow women to sit on benches as full-blown J.P.'s, and, after a long course of intensive training, to try inebriates.373 I'm quite sure that with another election only three months away, no member in the House would be unchivalrous enough to vote against this measure. But from various statements made this afternoon, it appears that the Bill in question may, if it is lucky, just squeeze its way into the House, and, once there, will probably be just squeezed out again. You will understand, dear readers, how things like these must go to the hearts of the proud fathers of similar little Bills.

This may all seem to you perfectly plain and simple, and you are probably wondering, in that patient way of yours, just what I found so confusing about the afternoon's proceedings. Well, the hero of our little fairy-tale—I mean the Reform knight-errant with the button-hole—told me that the only part of the Wednesday proceedings which would be cramped as a result of the Prime Minister's motion was the Replies to Questions, which usually occupies practically the whole of every Wednesday afternoon. Private Bills would be given their little airings—–and their still smaller hearings—just as usual. This being so, what in the world was all the fuss about? In the language of our late lamented guests, "I want to know."374

365 It is possible that this column was actually written by someone else in imitation of Hyde’s style. A few days later, in her column for 29 August 1925, she mentions that she has been “unavoidably absent” for a short period. In Journalese Hyde related the following anecdote about her time as a reporter for the Dominion:

I remember one evening of a racking headache, sort of headache that makes you keenly anxious for instant death, headache that makes it utterly impossible to listen to a Parliamentary debate, leave alone writing funnyisms or even truisms about it…. There was a cup of tea that did cheer a bit, yes. What cheered still more was the fact that, on that night alone in the entire history of the excellent Reform journal for which I worked, every word of the next morning’s column was written by a member of the Labour Party. A fair amount of it was a savage onslaught on himself, beginning with mannerisms and ending with mentality. I had to type it out later, but I still think it was one of the best columns that the paper in question has ever displayed. (p. 38)

Derek Challis and Gloria Rawlinson note that she is probably referring to Sullivan, a former journalist; however, later in their biography, they cite evidence that suggests it was John A. Lee. See Challis and Rawlinson, The Book of Iris: A Life of Robin Hyde (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002), p. 62 and p. 665. This column certainly seems to satirise Sullivan’s mannerisms.

366 Possibly Nash; see the column for 14 August 1925.

367 Dominion: Woods."

368 Hanan said that "[s]o far as passing legislation of supreme importance to the country the present session would prove a barren one. In his opinion it was likely to be, from the point of view of the interests of the great mass of the people, the most useless and unbeneficial in the political history of New Zealand" (Hansard 207: 601).

369 Cf. Parr: "What have we done so far?" (Hansard 207: 601).

370 Hanan suggested to Parr that "if he did not interject with such silly remarks he would better uphold the dignity of his office" (Hansard 207: 601).

371 Dominion: al lthe.

372 Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," lines 59-61.

Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.
The applause of listening senates to command,…

The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins and Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Roger Lonsdale (London: Longman, 1969).

373 A Justice of the Peace Amendment Bill had had its first reading on 7 August; see Hansard 207: 266.

374 The “late lamented guests” were the American naval fleet. The implication is that the phrase is an Americanism.