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The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1926

Empire Debating Tour

page 8

Empire Debating Tour

For the second year in succession, we have had the joy of a call from British Varsity touring debaters. Last year's visit by three Oxonians was followed this Easter by a somewhat more ambitious event, when New Zealand was invaded by a troupe of representative students from the leading English and Scottish universities. Members of the team were christened A. H. E. Molson, T. P. McDonald, Paul Reed and R. N. May, and they hailed respectively from Oxford, Edinburgh, London and Birmingham.

The quick succession of these two visits must not lead the unwary to conclude that these have been firmly established as regular annual functions, much as we may desire such to be the case. It was indeed with some hesitation that Y.U.C. accepted responsibility (principally financial) for the 1926 proposal. Happily, however, the destinies of the Debating Society last year were controlled by some daring and reckless spirits, and the necessary guarantees were forthcoming. As things turned out, Wellington supported the venture with some enthusiasm, and for our part, the tour was altogether successful.

Before passing on to notice the particular debates, we might permit ourselves the luxury of a couple of general reflections. First, and frankly, we opine that the standard of debating was not superior to that commonly reached in local fortnightly debates. Unquestionably, there were points in which the visitors excelled, as in their diction, or in their facility for adapting jokes to the needs of the moment; but, essentially, we adhere to the view that the content and quality of the debates did not conspicuously surpass the V.U.C. standard. Lest this remark be construed as an undeserved insult to our departed guests, we hasten to add that either or both of the debates attained a level some hundreds per cent, above the level of debating in, say, the New Zealand House of Representatives; this surely must restore the self-respect of the Varsity debaters. In any case, the value of an Empire tour of this nature does not hang upon the skill displayed in slaying opposing arguments during the hour or two for which debates are in progress. In all sincerity, we welcome the visitors as representatives of fellow-students at the other end of the world, and we deeply regret that considerations of distance bar them from calling on us more frequently—not to mention the pain with which we confess that we are likewise, for the present at any rate, unable to return their visit.

The First Debate.

The visitors made their debut to a Wellington audience in the main Town Hall on the evening of Thursday, 15th April, when the subject read: "That this House views with concern the present tendencies towards disruption of the Empire." It is perhaps comforting to reflect that the Debating Society was not castigated by those pestiferous Leagues, journalists, politicians, etc., who a year or two ago would have met the mere announce page 9 ment of this subject with frenzied demands for the interference of authority in censoring Victoria College Debating activities; and consequently, there was no need to explain that this particular subject was suggested by the visitors.

Two of the visiting men, Messrs. Molson and McDonald, were joined by Mr. A. E. Hurley (V.U.C.) in defence of the Burr-itish Empire, and the negative was taken by Mr. Reed (London) Mr. J. W. G. Davidson, and P. Martin-Smith. The affirmative speakers were shown, by ballot taken at the close of the proceedings, to have convinced 282 members of the audience that disruption was to be viewed with concern. This number was less by thirteen than the number of votes for the negative.

The Second Debate.

On Saturday night, 19th May, a tolerant crowd inclined a listening ear while the representatives of V.U.C. and the visiting debaters, without getting anywhere in particular, raged round the subject—"That a national system of education should include definite provision for religious instruction." Professor Adamson, president of V.U.C. Debating Society, presided, and introduced the assailants to the lists.

In slow, sad tones, Mr. T. P. McDonald (Edinburgh) preaching for the affirmative, opened by saying that education should be wide and comprehensive, an ideal which could not be attained unless body, mind and spirit received equal and adequate attention. Without religious instruction, no man could know himself fully. By religious instruction, he meant, not dogmatic teaching, but instruction in the principles of whatever faith the child's parents held. This sermon, apparently, strongly affected some of the weaker-minded students, who were sufficiently stirred to break into a hymn of praise (to the Salvation Army) which was, we believe, quite out-of-date twenty years ago.

Mr. Rollings, opening for the negative, remarked with great condescension that Mr. McDonald, by delving into history, had, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, "been giving votes to his ancestors." Mr. Rollings took as his text "That religion under the superintendence of the state was in the wrong place." A local paper, with characteristic lucidity, condenses his sentiments to this gem: "Religion is that which pervades all things—actable truths These journalists

Miss Cooley, in a popular speech, traced the development of the school from the church, and asked the audience to believe that religious instruction was necessary now that church and school had separated. We heartily agree with her that "the child is always asking why." Whether it is possible to give it "something definite and concrete which it can understand," we leave our readers to decide.

Mr. Mav (Birmingham) was greeted by several students with a popular nursery song, "Here we go gathering nuts," etc., which, if it had concluded there, would have been equally applicable to the great apes and the singers. In a speech in which faint evidences of humour were occasionally detected, Mr. May page 10 asserted that religion, as a form of emotion, ought to be excluded from a system of education. Religion and morals often confused, were really only customs.

Mr. Reed (London) who, we believe, painstakingly endeavoured to be humorous, said that education should go beyond mere technical training, that the "jazz" age was most unsatisfactory, and that modern women's capacities, typified by the present fashions in hair, were practically negligible—a worthy sentiment. In passing, we may say that some of Mr. Reed's jokes we had seen before; the others, we have not yet seen.

Mr. Campbell created a dazed hush when he crept forward with protuding jaw and glittering eye and shouted with dramatic suddenness, Who is this Education Department that can improve upon the handiwork of the Almighty himself, and delete passages from the Holy Scriptures?" Mr. Campbell appeared much concerned for the defenceless children in the schools.

We do not know whether Mr. Steele has been taking a postal course in self-defence, but he certainly gave a creditable display on behalf of the affirmative. His favourite punch appeared to be a right hook, which would have become monotonous except for his clever exhibition of footwork. We were fortunate enough to gather that, in his opinion, the English Bible expressed the spirit of religion, art, and philosophy, and that religion (emphasized with a vicious uppercut) had as much right to be taught in the schools as civics.

Mr. Molson (Oxford) in a speech that impressed us as a distinct anti-climax, suggested that any compromise on the question of religious instruction would be ineffective, and that any way, it was impossible to teach religion. As is usual in issues of this type, the mass of men students voted against the motion, which was lost by eleven votes.