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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Tuesday, September 1, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: High Priest of the Cult of Good Nature — Hats in the House

The Dominion, Tuesday, September 1, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: High Priest of the Cult of Good Nature — Hats in the House

"It is the soft answer that turneth away wrath."395 We are shameless enough to confess that we really don't know whether the quotation is from Holy Writ, from Confucius of Celestial fame, from Mohammed of Araby, from Zoroaster, or (we most particularly don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by leaving him out) from Socrates of Ancient Greece. But one thing is certain, though the rest be fiction, and that is that our present Prime Minister is the most outstanding exemplification of the force of soft answers. Rude, indeed, is the irate Oppositionist who can so much as ruffle the deep waters of the Prime Ministerial soul.

The other day, when the House went into committee to further worry that very dry, and, according to our Opposition, completely meatless bone, the Estimates, a very angry Leader of His Majesty's Opposition arose, and with scowling visage denounced Mr. Coates for an infinite variety of sins of omission and commission, more numerous than the tears which the Heavens so justly rain down upon this sinful city. Mr. Coates, we were told, had deliberately, and with fell intent, misled Mr[.] Forbes concerning what items of Estimates he intended to take. He was driving the House to work as ruthlessly as Tamerlane did those prisoners whose skulls he happened to want for the fortification of his barbarian city[.]396 He was keeping members out of their warm beds until the grey, grey dawn came through the windows of the Ladies' Gallery.397 He—but purely for our own sakes we shall refrain from following the hon. member through the entire course of his litany—or would it be more correct to call it a dirge? Dirges, of course, are all that one can rightly expect from the Forbes Nationalist benches in these hard and uncertain times.

At all events, a mild deluge of protest broke around the smiling Minister from all quarters of the Opposition benches. Oddly enough, Mr. Coates, whose Parliamentary motto appears to be, "Never mind the weather!" didn't seem unduly oppressed. He might, in his smiling unconcern, have been fully equipped with gum boots, oil-skins, and a trusty old sou'-wester. But dear me, if we hadn't been so case-hardened as regards Parliament, and if the Prime Minister were not so well-known to our extremely experienced eyes and ears, we should have peeped over the balustrade, expecting to behold some outlandish creature with cloven hoofs, horns on his head, smoke (not cigar smoke) issuing from his lips, and, of course, a beautifully curly tail. I'm not sure that we didn't permit ourselves the luxury of a hasty glance—but the Prime Minister, probably anticipating some such move on the part of the Ladies' Gallery, had carefully concealed his cloven hoofs (or were they merely plain patent leather shoes?) under a convenient chair. Then rose the Minister of Health, eager, as ever, to come to the rescue of his colleague, and, as we have already politely intimated, he succeeded in somewhat "putting his foot into it"398—though not quite so deep as Mr. Poland saw fit to go.399 Followed a deep-chested roar of protest from the hungry lions—no, I mean from the Opposition. One might almost have thought, to listen to them, that they really and truly meant it. Then the Prime Minister, unperturbed as though he were at a garden party, instead of in a bear garden, took his stand by the Chairman of Committees, smiled as kindly as though he were dealing with his own small children, and, with a few cheery words distributed evenly all round the House, and a kindly invitation for members to behave themselves and really get to business, in five minutes had a sweetly-smiling Opposition with its nose into the Estimates.400 Real work was actually, impossible though it may seem, resumed. Truly, the soft answer turneth away wrath, and our present Prime Minister is the High Priest of the cult of good nature.

When I say that real work was resumed, you must be careful not to take me too literally. What I mean to say was that the House, under the Prime Minister's gently persuasive hand, finally got into its working stride—or shall we be unkind and say amble? It was scarcely to be expected that the House would come through an afternoon on Estimates without somebody moving one of those amendments. Somebody did. I forget who it was, and I forget what his amendment was all about. What's more, I strongly suspect that the hon. member, whoever he happened to be, doesn't remember himself. What I do remember is that during the division a rather amusing little incident occurred which may possibly give you some insight into the psychology of the individual who first sat down, and, with a wet towel wrapped tightly round his head, thought out the forms and ceremonies which you and I reverence under the name of Parliamentary procedure.

You must know that after the doors have been locked for a division—and, I suppose, sentinels posted at each one, to see that no unauthorised person dares to peep through the key-hole—no member is allowed to speak without a hat, cap, toque, or, in an emergency, a grandmother's bonnet firmly fixed upon his head. Don't ask me the whys and wherefores of this regulation. Ask Mr. Speaker. He knows everything, except how uncomfortable the benches in the Ladies' Press Gallery feel during an all-night sitting … But we are digressing. As I was saying, this regulation may be very proper and exceedingly Parliamentary, but to frivolous people like you and me it's just a little amusing. I'm inclined to think that Mr. Holland agrees with me. Oddly enough, it was Mr. Holland, who, on this occasion, was seized upon by the cosmic urge to get up and contradict somebody—even Sir John Luke. Sir John Luke, being wise in his generation,401 had foreseen an emergency and come ready armed with a hat, in consequence of which he was able to make his little speech without any undue interruption from the Chairman of Committees. Mr. Holland, however, hadn't really intended to speak—not for the moment, anyhow. It was just another of those fatal impulses.

Seeing their leader attempting to face the cold and wintry eye of the Chairman of Committees, minus that hat which a wise Parliament designed to shield him from the icy blast, two or three of the Labour members made haste to proffer the shelter and hospitality of their headgear. Driven into a corner, Mr. Holland hastily selected a dashing grey Stetson, which, perched jauntily over his left eyebrow (beyond which it absolutely refused to descend) gave him a rakish air altogether unbecoming to so important a personage as the Leader of the Labour Party. Perhaps Mr. Holland felt this to be the case, for towards the end of his little speech he boldly removed the hat from his head, and, daring whatever light-nings or thunderbolts the Chairman of Committees might think fit to send his way, finished his speech bare-headed. Mr. Young, the chairman in question, did indeed venture a mild remonstrance, but he has, it appears, a sympathetic heart, and an understanding of what is or isn't beneath a Labour member's dignity.402 So the hat, despised and rejected of Mr. Holland, remained forlornly on the benches, until, at the end of the division, it was recovered, dusted, and tenderly borne away by its proprietor.

Oh, by the way, before we forget, let us tender our heartiest congratulations to Mr. Nosworthy, Minister of Agriculture. Mr. Nosworthy is, as you doubtless realise, quite the most distinguished man in Parliament to-day. I know that's rather a daring, not to say dangerous, remark to make, but what other Minister, however much of a trier he403 may be, has so far succeeded in rousing the wrath of the Nationalists to such an extent that they have moved to reduce his Estimates, not, as is usual, by £5, but by a whole £1000?404 Mr. Nosworthy is at present, as best he can, endeavouring to "bear his blushing honours thick upon him."405 I forget how many amendments were moved against him the other night. Probably half a dozen. Anyhow, it is only fair to say that he is the only Minister who has so far persuaded the Nationalists to rouse themselves from the trance—some say the death-stupor—in which they have been sunk, and really, vulgarly speaking, to give the country something for its money. But the Nationalist Party are simply full of pleasant little surprises like that. One never knows just what they are going to say, or just what they aren't going to do, next. I, for one, believed that they had, to all intents and purposes, lain down quietly to die—and now here they are again. Well, well, it would never do for premature birth to be followed by premature burial.

395 Cf. Proverbs 15 v. 1.

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

396 Tamerlane (1336-1405) was an important Tartar military leader who left behind piles of skulls at sites that he had conquered.

397 See the column for 19 August 1925.

398 See Pomare's comment in the column for 29 August 1925.

399 Poland issued a personal apology for comments he had made about Pomare; see Hansard 207: 849.

400 Coates "thought it was about time the House got on with the estimates. Possibly he had to accept a certain amount of responsibility for the opposition that the leader of the Opposition had shown to the methods adopted, but no other course had ever been adopted to his knowledge" (Hansard 207: 818).

401 Cf. Luke 16 v. 8.

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

See also the column for 23 July 1925.

402 These events are not recorded in Hansard, but were noted by another correspondent; see “Looking Down: Notes from the Gallery,” Christchurch Sun, 31 August 1925, p. 8.

403 Dominion: be.

404 Masters moved for this reduction; see Hansard 207: 838.

405 William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, act III, scene ii, lines 354-55.

Cardinal Wolsey: tomorrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him

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