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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Friday, July 10, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: About Strawberries and Cream — More Addresses-in-Reply

The Dominion, Friday, July 10, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: About Strawberries and Cream — More Addresses-in-Reply

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears:113 or, if you prefer to retain those useful and—I'm sure—ornamental organs, lend me your attention! (Sounds like the opening of a Labour-Socialist speech, doesn't it? They're always wanting to borrow something.) First of all, I wish to apologise in advance if the following discourse seems a little cold and unenthusiastic. It is punctuated with sneezes. Napoleon, the story books tell us, lost the Battle of Waterloo by reason of an acute and unpremeditated attack of indigestion. So you can't blame a mere female for losing some of the finer points of yesterday's speeches through the activities of a cold in her head.

Well, let's begin at the beginning—though really, that's such an ordinary sort of thing to do. It's much more fun to begin somewhere about the middle, or right at the end, and then slowly work one's way back. That's what our Labour-Socialists do. To start off (I suppose we'll have to sooner or later), I arrived half an hour in advance of Mr. Speaker, and had to sit all alone in the cold, cold gallery, contemplating empty chairs.

Seeing that there was no immediate business requiring my personal attention (!), I thought out a perfectly new and feasible way of character-reading. We can uncover all the deepest, darkest, and dismalest secrets of a man's heart per medium of tea leaves, stars, palmistry, and magic crystals: why not try character-reading by chairs? For instance, there's the Speaker's chair—very tall, upright and dignified, with its stiff back of blue leather stamped with a golden crest. An impressive but standoffish sort of chair: not the kind in which dear old gentlemen with three chins, no laps, and the habit of dozing off after dinner would really feel at home. Then there are the chairs—or benches, as I believe it is more correct to term them—appertaining to the various members. The most remarkable thing about them (the chairs, not the members), is their excessive roominess. They are chairs built for comfort and not for speed, and, of course, there are the chairs in our own little gallery. Well, early Victorian ladies who like to sit primly upright with their toes turned in Might possibly feel comfortable in them. If they—the ladies in question—could stand hoop skirts and whalebone upholstery, I daresay that hard, cold, unyielding benches, a little over a foot wide, would be more or less in their line. But as for the rest of us….

At this point Mr. Holland interrupted my maiden meditations.114 He entered the House with his hat—a severe-looking black hat—on his head, and a walking-stick tucked under his arm. You wouldn't believe the difference it made. He looked like nothing so much as an old English country squire—the kind that loves roast beef, takes his wife to church every Sunday morning, and ends by cutting off his entire family with a shilling. You know! Soon, too soon, the glory departed, and Mr. Holland, along with the other members, returned hatless and stickless to the House.

Mr. Lee (we've talked about him before, haven't we? You remember—the one with the switchback and the earnest air) solemnly arose and announced his intention of inquiring into the matter of free strawberries and cream, not to mention occasional free holidays, granted by designing ministers to children just before election time.115 Terrible, isn't it? I remember, when I was a little girl—ever so long ago—that I was ignorant enough to think that the very occasional extra holiday was granted to my rejoicing school because it had worked so hard all the year, or in recognition of some special event, such as the end of examination time. None of the school children, so far as I can recollect, ever guessed that their treat was just one more underhand political dodge adopted by scheming Reformers. Wouldn't the strawberries and cream (of which, by the way, I never had the luck to partake), have stuck in our innocent throats if we'd known the motives of the beneficent deity who provided it? I wonder!

Mr. Lee was, so to speak, the entree of the day's political dinner. Mr. Langstone, also of the Labour-Socialist benches, formed the piece de resistance; politeness forbids me to add that he was just a little tough. His speech was crammed with withdrawals of offensive statements, and substitution of others that sounded more courteous, even if they weren't.116

It's rather hard to devote one's full attention to Labour when one's whole soul is crying out for lemon drinks, but I'll tell you as much as I can remember. Mr. Langstone has an odd little habit of standing on tiptoe and then suddenly coming down to earth. His speeches are like that, too. He started off by roundly abusing Sir Maui Pomare—nobody knew just what about117—and, by slow degrees, came round to criticism of the "beastly policy" of the Government. This, upon a little expostulation from the Speaker, he changed to "rotten policy."118 While admitting that Labour-Socialists frequently made objectionable remarks to the members of other benches, he asserted that during Labour-Socialist speeches Reform members showed their unspoken contempt of Labour by making "noises like Captain Cookers."119 Doesn't Mr. Langstone realise that what he heard was the gentle snore of some well-meaning but worn-out fellow members?

Possibly you, in your innocence, imagine that Mr. Langstone was going to let the Liberals off scot-free? Not in the least. He referred to them as "wounded worms wriggling out of the Chamber."120 But for all that, one can imagine that he rather wished that the Labour-Socialists had been the early bird that got the worm.

Mr. Langstone's views on taxation are, to say the least of it, deliciously original. So quaint and refreshing! Hear, oh fathers and mothers of the city, a gem which I took verbatim from his discourse. "I would love to see the day when every married man and every father of a family in the city was in the proud position of paying income tax."121 It is quite true that some few citizens may have to plan and contrive over the paying of taxes: equally true that most of us greet the arrival of our income tax forms with worried frowns, and resolves to give up tobacco. But never mind. After all, it's something to feel that we are making Mr. Langstone happy.

I think we'll leave Mr. Langstone here. I haven't, of course, told you half he said. He called the Government wretches, vultures, and, worst of all, Tories.122 There's rather a fruity little quotation from Gilbert which Mr. Langstone might, with considerable benefit to himself, ponder over:

"There's the idiot who praises, in enthusiastic tone,
Every century but this, and every country but his own—
I don't think he'd be missed—no, I'm sure he'd not be missed."


Dearie me! how time—and space—does fly, once one gets talking. I meant to tell you about Mr. Girling's speech, which, coming from a member of the much-abused Government, sounded strangely humane. For instance, he stood up and appealed for better conditions in our schools, our railways, and our child welfare system—which sounded as if the Government isn't so blind and unfeeling after all.124 But I suppose Mr. Langstone can explain all that away.

Now, what I want to know is this. Why, on two consecutive afternoons, have two Labour members, two Reform members, and no Liberals spoken? Do the Liberals save themselves up for the evening session, or is it just that they have nothing to say for themselves? Anyhow, for days they've sat silent, brooding over their order papers, and the mere public are beginning to wonder what mischief they are hatching. Even Mr. Wilford has been entirely silent—as if struck dumb by a merciful dispensation of Providence—ever since his return to the House. Surely Mr. Wilford remembers that only live wires can fuse?

I'd like to tell you about Mr. McKeen's very interesting speech on housing—in which, so he tells us, he has the Prime Minister's sympathy—but I'm afraid we'll have to hold it over till to-morrow.125 After all, that's only following the Parliamentary procedure of dealing with important business. It seems, according to Mr. McKeen, that life's greatest problem is finding a place to live in.

I move that this assembly adjourn for morning tea. The ayes have it by an enormous majority. Messieurs et Mesdames,126 a bientot!

113 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act III, scene ii, line 74.

Antony: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005).

114 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, act II, scene i, lines 161-64.

Oberon: But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quenched in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon,
And the imperial vot'ress passéd on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005). See also the column for 30 June 1925.

115 These comments are not recorded in Hansard, but were noted by members of the Press Gallery; see “Looking Down: Notes from the Gallery,” Christchurch Sun, 13 July 1925, p. 6.

116 See for example Langstone's comments in Hansard 206: 364-65. At one point the Speaker ruled that "[t]he honourable gentleman's language is getting too strong, I think" (Hansard 206: 365).

117 Langstone said that "[t]here is no honourable member in this House who uses unusual phrases more than the Hon. the Minister for Health" (Hansard 206: 364).

118 The exchange occurred as follows.

Mr. Langstone: "…it is their beastly policy which is wrecking ruin—"

Mr. Speaker: "The honourable member is not in order in making that statement."

Mr. Langstone: "I will withdraw that, Sir, and say that it is the rotten policy of the Government which is responsible for the bankruptcies and miseries generally which are so prevalent throughout the length and breadth of this country" (Hansard 206: 364).

119 A type of wild pig. Langstone's exact remark was that "I have heard noises coming from the bench occupied by the Minister of Health, when an honourable member was speaking, which would do justice to a 'Captain-Cooker'" (Hansard 206: 365).

120 Langstone commented "I think that the most pitiable sight I have seen in the Liberal party—to use the phraseology of a member who once sat in this House—crawling like wounded worms on the face of politics, and wriggling themselves out of the Chamber to escape facing an issue" (Hansard 206: 365).

121 This remark is not quite verbatim according to Hansard, which records Langstone as saying "I wish I lived to see the day when every married man, every father of a family, was in the position of being an income-tax payer" (Hansard 206: 366).

122 Langstone referred to the joint-stock companies as "vultures" (Hansard 206: 369) and ended by saying that "the worst visitation that can afflict suffering humanity…is a plague not of scorpions, pestilences, famines, or war, but a plague of unjust governments and Tory rulers…" (Hansard 206: 370).

123 Gilbert and Sullivan, "As Some Day It May Happen," from The Mikado, act I, lines 255-60.

Ko-Ko: Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and ev'ry country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And who 'doesn't think she dances, but would rather like to try';
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist—
I don't think she'd be missed—I'm sure she'd not be missed!

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, intro. and ed. Ian Bradley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

124 See Hansard 206: 370-76.

125 McKeen informed the House that he had taken the Prime Minister on a tour of Wellington houses to make his point and that the Prime Minister "expressed himself very bluntly about the whole conditions [sic] of the place" (Hansard 206: 381).

126 Dominion: Madames.