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The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1925

Debating Society — Urquent Rustice Sane

page 56

Debating Society

Urquent Rustice Sane

".... the mouths of all were more or less open, and as I looked at them from behind I saw that their heads had been hollowed."

—Butler: Erewhon.

debating society

If the interrupted brevity of the First Term has brought it about that the Debating Society, in common with its fellow-clubs at College, has little more to record at this stage than a beginning, there need not lack a paragraph or so to grace the "Urgent Rustice Sane" and the place of honour among the jottings of the various Clubs; for the Society began the year splendidly.

The Annual General Meeting differed, we imagine, from most of its twenty-five predecessors: the small band that usually attends an annual meeting, and consists merely of the Committee-elect with a handful of supporters and admirers gave place to an enthusiastic gathering, which filled the gymnasium seats and cupboard-tops to overflow capacity and the atmosphere with its election-cries and cat-calls. It is a day of evil omen for any institution, be it Parish Church or Dominion Parliament, when interest in the election of its chosen ones fades and the scrutineer's task becomes a sinecure; such a state betrays corruption on the part of the candidates or indifference on the part of the electors—possibly both; but no such indications were visible at the Annual Meeting of the Debating Society this year. A distinguished barrister contended (in absentia) with a College Professor (also in absentia) for the honoured position of President. Nominations for every office below that of President flowed in from all parts of the hall. In the absence of the scrutineers on each occasion there was time for lengthy debates on matters of minor interest; and so marked were the results of the first-past-the-post system of voting that a small but determined minority found that to be united was indeed to win the day. The meeting, at its outset, generously endorsed "the principle of offering for debate subjects bearing on current social and political controversy." The Society's retirement from the stage of the local newspaper press was hotly canvassed by a few. whose efforts met with partial success. But the most far-reaching reform of the evening was due to the zeal of Messrs. Cooper and Yaldwyn, who moved: "That the office of Patron be reinstated in the Society."This was carried—and we regret that we cannot display our classical learning by adding an unobstrusive "nemine contradicente." The name of His Excellency the Governor-General was then submitted inter alia for the consideration of the meeting—a diligent searching of the 1913 edition of Standing Orders revealed obscure and wondrous provisions previously unheard-of: the Chairman gave an important ruling, which was immediately ratified by the meeting, whereupon the Chairman expressed an inclination to retract his decision: a legal luminary moved to amend the constitution. The amendment was carried, and in vain did the strong ones rage; for His Excellency was elected Patron of the Society "subject to his written consent being obtained within a reasonable time after the election." It may be recorded here that His Excellency was duly approached and asked if it was His Excellency's pleasure to honour the Society by accepting office in that capacity. His Excellency much appreciated the desire of the Society that he should become its Patron; but in order to give him some idea of the character of the Society's discussions, he would very much like to have, before giving his decision, a programme of debates for the ensuing session. The programme was supplied. His Excellency accepted with pleasure the office of Patron of the Society. So this year's Plunket Medal orators may look forward, if all goes well, to reciting their dramatic biographies before "a party from page 57 Government House. (Intending competitors please to note that subjects must be approved of by the Committee).

The opening debate of the session, on 18th April, centred around the motion "That the advent into Municipal affairs of Party Politics and its attendant 'tickets' is to be deplored." Mr. P. Martin-Smith and Mr. B. N. Eade contended for the affirmative that political platforms were meaningless when reduced to the scale of municipal matters, where all that was needed was sound business administration; they declared that one man had elected the Mayor of Wellington (the official Returning Officer has since announced the same result), that his rival's supporters had virtually been disfranchised, and hinted at sinister purposes lying concealed beneath an apparently harmless Municipal Credo. Messrs. A. E. Hurley and I. H. Macarthur endeavoured to show that the drastic remedies of the l abour Party, for instance, were urgently needed in municipal affairs to assist in solving the Housing Problem, and that reforms springing from an ideal code of political morals were as necessary in local politics as they were desirable in matters of National concern. A minority of the audience only, however, shared this view of the situation, and the motion was consequently carried. Mr. H. F. O'Leary placed the best five speakers as follows: Messrs. C. H. Arndt, R. M. Campbell, P. Martin-Smith, E. H. Dowsett and C. G. R. James. The Chairman took opportunity at the close of the meeting to congratulate Mr. Baume and Mr. Campbell upon their well-deserved win in the Tournament Debate at Christchurch.

A fortnight later, between forty and fifty members of the Society again met, when Messrs. S. E. Baume and G. A. Nicholls moved "That Arbitration does not at the present time offer either a desirable or a practical means of solving International disputes." Mr. W. P. Rollings, with him Mr. C. H. Arndt, appeared in opposition. The movers generously admitted the desirability of all disputes being settled by arbitration; but strenuously denied that there was anything practical about the schemes suggested for the purpose. Their opponents, having evidently come with the strongest side of their case fully worked up, calmly ignored the candid admission that arbitration was desirable, and proved the proposition up to the hilt. They failed to convince either the audience as a whole or the members of the Society present that arbitration was workable in practice. The following gentlemen were adjudged by Mr. P. J. O'Regan to be the best speakers of the evening: Messrs. S. E. Baume, W. P. Rollings. A. E. Hurley. R. M. Campbell and C. H. Arndt.

Marriage is said to be a question in which everybody has a vested interest, so to the inclemencies of the weather must be attributed the poor audience that attended a debate on 30th May on what is now universally deemed the natural complement of marriage divorce. Mr. H. R. Bannister and Mr. Rea moved, opposed by Mr. C. G. R. James and Mr. R. R. T. Young, "That the extension of Legal Facilities for Divorce is to be welcomed." The movers affirmed that the vexed question of domicile called for an immediate simplification of the divorce laws, and that the duplicated procedure now necessary to obtain a divorce in three months should be done away with. We believe we are correct in saying that only one gentleman was heard to advocate divorce at the instance of either one of the parties. The opposers of the motion quoted St. Matthew and the authors of the English Prayer Book to support their case, and told their hearers that the majority of married people desired no facilities for a return to freedom, but rather wished the marriage to be made indissoluble. The motion was rejedted twice. The judge, Mr. W. E. Leicester, placed as the best five speakers Messrs. R. M. Campbell, J. B. Yaldwyn, W. P Rollings, R. F. Fortune and A. E. Hurley

The attendances at these three debates have not been good in comparison with those of the past two or three years; but the number of speakers has been maintained excellently It is, we think, a regrettable feature that the Society's meetings have in one respect tended to resemble those of the early post-war period, when "members endeavoured to make themselves audible in a hailstorm of interjections."

The Society extends its best wishes for success to the newly-formed Wellington Law Students' Society. Thanks are due to a Committee of the Christian Union for organising a social tea before each of the debates.

In another place will be found a full account of the long-to-be-remembered Oxford Debates and of our friends the Oxford Debate's, who belied all outward appearances by championing the most Conservative schools of political thought, and we shall make our retiring bow with a page 58 tale recounted by one of the Society's recent judges, leaving our readers, before they pass on to the activities of other Clubs, to test their ingenuity, as readers always will, by seeking to give it a local application and a name: It concerns an old gentleman who, in answer to an observation that "Punch" was not anything like what it used to be, replied "No, it never was."