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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, September 9, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: The Ways of the House — How Things are Done

The Dominion, Wednesday, September 9, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: The Ways of the House — How Things are Done

"Mr. Speaker!" The stentorian tones of our be-medalled and incontestably impressive Sergeant-at-Arms come ringing through the House. Chattering tongues (even those appertaining to the occupants of the Ladies' Press Gallery) cease their idle chatter. The above-mentioned Sergeant-at-Arms, whose voice precedes his august bodily presence, marches solemnly in front of Mr. Speaker and the latter, bewigged, begowned, absolutely unsmiling, and oh! so dignified, takes his stand on the dais. Standing as stiffly to attention as the little tin soldier in the fairy-tale, the Sergeant-at-Arms slants the Mace at a positively dangerous angle across his stalwart shoulder. We indulge in an undignified wish that a mosquito would come along and bite him on the nose—just to see how he would behave under the circumstances. Mr. Speaker takes his prayer-card in his hand, looks down his nose, with gaze of serious intent, at the great statesmen to whom is entrusted the destinies of this—ahem—unduly favoured country, and then solemnly prays for the Dominion. And the occupants of the Ladies' Gallery understand. It is meet that Mr. Speaker should pray for our welfare—under the circumstances.

"Are there any petitions?"428 High up aloft in their comfortably upholstered chairs the reporters of the Gentlemen's (not the Ladies') Press Gallery unscrew their fountain pens and open their note-books. The business of the day has commenced. Ere Mr. Speaker has finished his inquiry, up they pop: diehard Forbes-Nationalists, hardshelled Tories, rampant Revolutionary Socialists, and sea-green incorruptibles,429 who are too proud, too independent, to be nominally attached to any party, and who, therefore like a certain gentleman of Greek mythology, remain suspended between earth, Heaven, and—er—other localities.430 We leave our readers to decide which is which. Each solicitous gentleman grasps firmly in his hand a formidable-looking piece of parchment. "Mr. Speaker, Sir, I have a petition from Samuel Snooks, praying redress." Or occasionally, "Mr. Speaker, may I ask that this petition be accepted, notwithstanding a certain informality inasmuch as it is addressed to the Government instead of to Mr. Speaker and the Honourable Gentlemen of the House of Representatives." You notice, dear readers, the really shocking ignorance of political matters displayed by the authors of such informal petitions? They actually take it upon themselves to suppose that their petitions can get anywhere without the connivance or431, at the very least, silent consent of His Majesty's Opposition. (N.B.—Fancy the Opposition silently consenting to anything!)

Slowly, solemnly, with that gravity due unto his eminent position, Mr. Speaker arises. "Is it the pleasure of the House that this petition be received notwithstanding the informality pointed out? I take it" (scrutinising the Labour-Socialist benches with an anxious eye) "that the House is agreed."

Just once in a while a member is not content that his cherished petition (a petition, dear reader, frequently means votes) shall be merely presented at Court. At least once during the present session an honourable member has preferred a request that his petition be read to the long-suffering House. The ambitious one was the member for Christchurch South, Mr. Howard. Mr. Speaker, with an air of almost supernatural patience (one day that patience is going to explode with a loud report) inquired whether the petition was a long one. With his tongue somewhere in the vicinity of his cheek, Mr. Howard replied to the contrary. Thereupon, for what seemed to us aeons of time, but what, according to the clock, was so many minutes (Parliament at £1 per minute equals £20 per twenty minutes) the Clerk droned through a document which proved to emanate from six citizens of the Holy City of the Plains who, taking themselves with a seriousness, were protesting with solemn gravity about Mr. Isitt's Religious Exercises in Schools Bill.432 Isn't that, added to the £520 that was expended on consideration of that much-discussed Bill on a recent night, something over £540 which the measure has so far cost our country? And I don't believe that we've seen—or paid for—the last of it yet.

Some day we will endeavour to tell our readers something about these petitions—about the world-wide, almost universe-wide range of their scope, from protests against Bills to modest little requests inviting the Government to present to the petitioner an insignificant fortune of some £30,000. Then there are the annuals—very, very hardy annuals. Prime Ministers may come and may—in fact sometimes must—go. Parliaments themselves fade into memories that are but as a midsummer night's dream.433 But ever and anon the above-mentioned hardy annuals bob up, only to be ruthlessly mown down by a callous and unfeeling House. There is a tradition that they will still be haunting the precincts of the Chamber when Gabriel sounds the Trump of Doom.434

"I have a message from His Excellency the Governor-General." Mr. Speaker delivers himself of this information with an air of reverential importance very proper to the occasion. Before he has finished speaking, the House, with a look in its eye which seems to say

Oh, dearie me,
What a life of misery,435

has wearily shuffled to a more or less upright position. Messages from His Excellency are received standing. Mr. Speaker, fully aware that the assembly is swayed by an unpatriotic but most fervent desire to regain the comfortable seclusion of its benches, proceeds slowly—very, very slowly—through his half-dozen Messages, the purport of which seems to be that His Excellency, as the representative of the King, has disclosed no unsuperable objection to certain Bills passed by the hyper-critical Legislative Council, and finally transmitted to Government House for ratification.436 Mustn't the authors of the Bills, whoever they may happen to be, draw long, deep, heartfelt sighs of relief on learning that the very last hurdle has been jumped, and that their little Bills have been promoted to the dignified status of Acts? But the trouble with some of these Acts, according to our Opposition, is that they won't act.

"I move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee of Supply." In the twinkling of an eye, Mr. Speaker, gathering his august petticoats around him, has disappeared through the door, and the House, relaxing with some degree, look around in a "Now-we'll-have-a-little-business" kind of fashion. But above all things let us not be premature. Whom have we here? And437 our eyes deceive us not, it is no less a person than Mr. McCombs.438 The House, with a resigned little sigh, lays aside its businesslike aspect for a more propitious season. Once again our Labour-Socialists have decided to put pleasure before business, and give some unfortunate Minister "beans."

For half an hour or so, as is usual when the hon. member for Lyttelton speaks, the occupants of the Ladies' Gallery sit dazed beneath a blinding, not to say deafening rain of figures like the Roman sentinel who stuck grimly to his post through the eruption of Vesuvius and subsequent destruction of Pompeii.439 At the end of that time two things gradually dawn upon our—shall we call them intelligences? Mr. McCombs sometimes makes us doubt it. The first Unquestionable Fact is that Mr. McCombs wants the Government to reform something.440 Well, well, we might have known it. The second is that Mr. McCombs has completely missed his vocation. Somebody should have taken him gently but firmly while he was very young and converted him into a professor of Higher Mathematics, or Cubic Art—something with lots of figures in it. He would have been perfectly happy, and—and, well pupils can always play truant, can't they? Whereas members of Parliament ….

A kind of spasmodic shudder seizes upon the frame of the unfortunate Minister for Railways as he hears an eager, "Mr. Young! Mr. Young!" issuing forth from the gloomy (yes, at the moment extremely gloomy) depths of the Reform benches. He knows just what is coming next. So do the occupants of the Ladies' Press Gallery. It is Mr. Lysnar, member from and most distinctly for Gisborne. Mr. Lysnar doesn't, just at the moment, want reform. As far as he is concerned, the Government can, if they wish, sit tight, smile polite, and positively refuse to reform anything or anyone, even Mr. Nosworthy, provided—there is always that insignificant little provided, isn't there?—that they will immediately set to and furnish Gisborne with a railway of its very own. In impassioned tones, the hon. member beseeches the Government to remember its solemn vows, and, when flinging sops to various Parliamentary Cerberuses,441 not to send Gisborne empty away. We conclude with a little extract from Mr. Lysnar's speech: "The most necessary thing is to give that part which is a blot on the Dominion a railway to itself."442 To the inexperienced, it might seem just a little odd that Mr. Lysnar should deliberately call Gisborne a blot on the Dominion. However, we suppose the hon. member knows best.

428 Hansard does not record any petitions on 8 September.

429 Cf. Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution.

Perhaps we may say, the most terrified man in Paris or France is—who thinks the reader?—seagreen Robespierre. Double paleness, with the shadow of gibbets and halters, overcasts the seagreen features: it is too clear to him that there is to be "a Saint-Bartholomew of Patriots," that in four-and-twenty hours he will not be in life. These horrid anticipations of the soul he is heard uttering at Pétion's; by a notable witness. By Madame Roland, namely; her whom we saw, last year, radiant at the Lyons Federation. These four months, the Rolands have been in Paris; arranging with Assembly Committees the Municipal affairs of Lyons, affairs all sunk in debt;-communing, the while, as was most natural, with the best Patriots to be found here, with our Brissots, Pétions, Buzots, Robespierres: who were wont to come to us, says the fair Hostess, four evenings in the week. They, running about, busier than ever this day, would fain have comforted the seagreen man: spake of Achille du Châtelet's Placard; of a Journal to be called The Republican; of preparing men's minds for a Republic. "A Republic?" said the Seagreen, with one of his dry husky unsportful laughs, "What is that?" O seagreen Incorruptible, thou shalt see!

The Works of Thomas Carlyle in Thirty Volumes, vol. 3 (London: Chapman and Hall, 1898), pp. 2: 167-68.

See also the column for 22 August 1925 and Robin Hyde, Journalese (Auckland: National Printing Company, 1934), p. 50.

430 Hyde is probably referring to Atlas, who is traditionally depicted as bearing the world on his shoulders but in some versions of the story is required to hold the heavens and the earth apart.

431 Dominion: of

432 These events are not recorded in Hansard.

433 See also the columns of 30 June 1925 and 10 July 1925.

434 Cf. I Thessalonians 4 v. 16.

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.

435 I have been unable to trace this allusion.

436 Not recorded in Hansard.

437 Dominion: An.

438 See Hansard 208: 112-13.

439 Cf. Henry Abbey, "The Roman Sentinel," lines 2-6.

A Roman sentinel in Pompeii,
When God's hot anger laid that city waste,
Answered the question, and resolved to die.
His duty was upon his post to bide
Till the relief came, let what might betide.

Henry Abbey, The Poems of Henry Abbey (Kingston, NY: Henry Abbey), 1885.

440 McCombs was asking for reform of the Arbitration Court.

441 In Greek and Latin mythology the proper name of the watch-dog which guarded the entrance of the infernal regions, represented as having three heads. Used allusively, esp. in phrase, to give a sop to Cerberus (so as to stop his mouths for the moment: cf. Æneid VI. 417) (Oxford English Dictionary). See also the column for 31 July 1925.

442 Hyde seems to be referring to a speech Lysnar gave on August 26 in which he said that other centres should wait for railway redevelopment "until such time as other places in the Dominion which have a prior claim and have been promised a railway have been provided for" (Hansard 207: 724). There is no record of him using the word "blot."