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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The New Zealand House of Lords

The New Zealand House of Lords.

In the New Zealand Upper House, as might be supposed, the new Ministry did not find a large following. The Prime Minister assured the Governor that in a House of thirty-four members he could rely on the support at all times of but four or five "peers."

In Colonial Upper Chambers it is the practice to vote, not in accordance with strict party proclivities, but in accordance with the duty of a nominated Upper House towards the decisions of the people's representatives. The result was that during the Session of 1892 the Minister who leads in the Upper House was supported in fifty-three divisions by an average of within a fraction of eight independent members, while the Governor reports to the Secretary of State that out of thirty-seven Government measures all were carried save two; that if the Government had been reinforced by the twelve new Councillors which the Governor had been advised but hesitated to appoint, they would have been victorious in every division save one; always supposing, of course, that the Government nominees supported the Government—an hypothesis which I shall presently show to have been somewhat prematurely assumed.

After a contest with the Governor, decided by the Secretary of State in favour of the Ministry, twelve "peers" selected from the party in power were added to the Legislative Council. Of these four were working men, two compositors, a storeman, and a boiler-maker. The story goes that when the telegram announcing His Excellency's appointment of the latter gentleman arrived the new Councillor was at work inside a boiler. At first he disbelieved the voice of the messenger announcing the delivery of so unusual a missive as a telegram, but on becoming convinced of its reality said, "Well, shove it through the hole at the top," and it was under such circumstances that he became aware that in future he would be entitled to the distinction of "Honourable" throughout the British Empire.

The reception of these gentlemen and their attitude after taking their seats is worthy of a moment's notice, as bearing on the influence which Second Chambers appear to exercise on the English mind, page 14 whether the recipient of a call thither be a Whig of the English squirearchy or a Trades Unionist of the New Zealand working men.

It was agreed by the older members of the Council that before the opening of Parliament certain of their body should assemble at the door to greet the newly elevated "peers," to make them welcome and acquaint them with the ins and outs of the building.

One of the oldest Councillors, Sir George Whitmore, elevated to his present position for the gallant manner in which he had led our troops to victory against the Maories, said on the opening day:—

"We are here as members of the revising Chamber of the Parliament of New Zealand, and we none of us represent either classes a localities. Whatever we may do we must do it for the general good of the Colony, and I hope we shall not hear anything about 'Labour Members' of this Council."

Parliament had been but little more than a month in Session before a Bill to take Public Parks out of the care of specially elected Boards and to hand them over to the ordinary Local Authority was introduced by the Government through the mouth of Sir Patrick Buckley, the Colonial Secretary, upon which Mr. Bolt, one of the newly created Labour "peers," rose to say that he would like ins few words to express his disapproval of the whole Bill, and on a division on the motion to go into Committee it was seen that the Council was equally divided, while three out of the four Labour Councillors were to be found in the Opposition lobby. Later, on the second reading of a Government measure involving the most important changes in the electorate, to admit a new class of voters almost equal in number to those already exercising the franchise, Mr. Jenkinson (the boiler maker) said:—

"We were told that our duty was to come here and vote for the proposals of the Government, and that that was the only reason why we are here. Now what preposterous nonsense! We have voted against those measures which we did not think good measures and shall do so again, and we find that some intend to vote against this measure."

Of the twelve persons appointed by the Government to the Legislative Council not less than half voted against this Ministerial proposal. So the Prime Minister of England is not the only Prime Minister who has found his measures opposed, and that very soon after favours conferred, by those to whom he has himself given the power to do so.