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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Saturday, September 12, 1925. p. 8. — Peeps at Parliament: How The Money Goes — Mainly about Messengers

The Dominion, Saturday, September 12, 1925. p. 8.
Peeps at Parliament: How The Money Goes — Mainly about Messengers

Let us for one moment (or thereabouts), dear reader, pause and consider the mundane matter of Sordid Lucre. We are aware that in even venturing to peep over the borderline of the realms of high finance we are doing a thing both unparliamentary and unwomanly, and that Mr. McCombs will catch us if we don't watch out. However, let's, for once in a while, take a chance and inquire how many of the highly intelligent readers who, spectacles on nose, brood over the daily newspaper reports of Parliament in session, have any idea of the extent and ramifications of that dignified institution for which they, dear simple souls, have the privilege of paying. For, however much astute Parliamentarians may endeavour to obscure the fact, still it is a fact, dear reader, that you do pay, whether you be one of the cloven-hoofed fraternity, so well beloved by our revolutionary Socialists, who presume to own lands, stocks, shares, and, even after the tax collector has quite finished with you, an income, or whether you be numbered among the yet more important class of individuals which discharges the soi-disant simple duties of managing a home (or perhaps it would be more modern to say a two-roomed flat), and bringing up a family, or, at the very least, bringing on a husband. (We had a feeling that if we, disregarding all temptations to fall by the way, kept right on with that sentence, we would one day reach the end.)

Well, as we were carefully explaining to you, every time you purchase some more or less necessary commodity, ranging from a tin kettle to a motorcar (sometimes much the same thing, isn't it?), you pay, through the Customs and also through the nose, not only for the board and keep of those who sit in the seats of the mighty with the privilege of writing the mystic letters M.P. after their names, but also for the upkeep of a whole flock (and when we say "flock" we don't mean a score or so but something that even Mr. Lysnar would recognise as a flock) of messengers who veritably wait hand and foot upon our statesmen, budding, full-blown, and, after a few sessions, generally somewhat "run to seed." So much, indeed, is this the case, that we have it on very credible information that practically the entire House is kept on reducing diet, and exercised, under the expert supervision of a member to whom we shall refer at a later stage of the discussion, three times a day.

But we digress. As we were going to tell you, there are three great branches of service attached to Parliament, and each looks coldly and unapproachably down its nose at the others. This in some measure accounts for the statement that Parliament in session costs the nation (meaning you and me) £1 a minute. These three branches of the Parliamentary roof tree are the Messenger Service, the Commissariat Service, and the Library Staff. To return to our messengers, they appear to be as numerous as the sands of the cold seashore,457 only more so, but each one, be it understood, has his special and peculiar (sometimes, as we have indicated, very peculiar) function in Parliamentary life. Some there are who sit, with a silence, a stillness, a dignity, besides which the Sphinx of Gizeh would look young and rather flighty, on high office stools (so tall that it is a physical impossibility for the occupants' feet to come down to earth), in the Holy of Holies itself—the Chamber of the House of Representatives. Please note the capitals. We have it on good authority that these gentlemen, prior to their definite engagement, are subjected to very severe tests of fortitude.

Once safely installed in the House of Representatives, the duty of the messenger is (1) to assume that look of vacant and uncomprehending importance so much sought after in the very best circles; (2) to keep his weather eye open for the beckoning finger of any member who desires to post a letter, or, more frequently, a hundred letters. (They are prolific letter-writers, these members of Parliament; their constituents see to all that. Every time the old cow falls down a well, or the draught horse breaks its hind leg—however, let us continue with our theme. By the way, it is a somewhat amusing sight to watch the various attitudes—coaxing, commanding, despairing—adopted by members who desire, without attracting undue attention from Mr. Speaker, to catch the eye of a messenger. To hear Mr. Atmore, for instance, say "Messenger!" is quite an education—but not the kind imparted in Socialistic Sunday schools.

Others there are who wait breathlessly at the doors of the Chamber, ready to fetch and carry for these spoiled children of our Legislature; again skilfully guard the main doors against the invasion of the travelling public, intercepting all who presume to enter, shepherding the ladies and the gentlemen into properly water-tight (not hot-air-tight) compartments, and commanding the masculine section of the Mere Public to take, not the shoes from off its feet, but the hat from off its head—and lively with it, now!

Another day, dear reader, we shall tell you something about the other two great branches of the service referred to—but just at present we feel that we really ought to make some passing reference to the business (?) of the day. There's just one little item of Parliamentary expenditure, however, which we really must bring to your notice—it was told us in the strictest of confidence, so whatever you do don't let it go any further. The carpet—that splendiferous carpet which we so often wondered at and admired—cost £2000. Say it over three times slowly backwards, and then sit down and imbibe a glass of lemonade. You feel better now? And why, you indignantly demand, didn't our Labour-Socialists, those apostles of stern, Spartan simplicity, see to it that the House upheld the best traditions of the simple life? Because, my dear innocents, that carpet is Red. It is the reddest thing in Parliament, not even excepting Mr. Holland, and our friends on the Labour benches just couldn't bear to part with it. They overlooked the fact that it is frequently walked over by members of the Reform benches.

We did say something about business, didn't we, a while back? Well, the House has been considering the Report and Estimates of the Health Department, and, with some few exceptions, has been on its very best behaviour.458 Would you think it presumption on our part, dear readers, if we made bold to offer you a tip—one which, we believe, is a "sure thing"? When a member of the Opposition says "I wish to congratulate the hon. Minister on the work of his Department," stop, look, and listen. There's a catch in it somewhere. We believe that practically the entire Labour Party congratulated Sir Maui Pomare on the excellent work of his Department—but only by sheer force of numbers, and the fact that the rest of the House wanted to go to sleep, was Mr. McCombs restrained from moving an amendment to the estimates motion.459 During the course of the afternoon, it transpired that Sir Maui Pomare and Mr. McCombs are both representatives for Chatham Islands.460 Well, let's hope Chatham Islands is a nice, big, roomy, expansive sort of a place.

Of course, it was quite inevitable that the estimates should be attended with much talk of toothbrush drill, dietetics, physical culture, etc., etc., and etc. The House, in the person of the hon. member for Avon, waxed quite eloquent over the very serious matters of the diet afforded patients in various institutions.461 Apparently, the hon. member is not so much concerned about what happens inside such institutions as about what happens to the insides of the inhabitants thereof. Sir Maui, with becoming gravity, assented, and went so far as to quote an opinion that "man was a two-legged stomach."462 Now, if we ladies had said that … however, seeing that we have the statement of the Minister of Health as precedent, we suppose we may venture a mild "Hear, hear!"

457 Cf. Joshua 11 v. 4.

And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many.

458 See Hansard 208: 261-75.

459 Few of the Labour members are recorded in Hansard as praising Pomare; Fraser did say that he was "impressed with the work reported to have been done during the past year" (Hansard 208: 261).

460 See McCombs's speech (Hansard 208: 270). The Chatham Islands were included in both McCombs' Lyttelton electorate and Pomare's Western Maori electorate.

461 See Sullivan's speech (Hansard 208: 266).

462 Pomare did not use this phrase but instead referred to "an old saying, 'As a man eateth, so is he'" and the Latin phrase "mens sana in copore sono" (a healthy mind in a healthy body) (Hansard 208: 266).