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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Saturday, October 3, 1925. p. 8. — Peeps at Parliament: The last Glimpse — Exeunt Omnes — in Vale!520

The Dominion, Saturday, October 3, 1925. p. 8.
Peeps at Parliament: The last Glimpse — Exeunt Omnes — in Vale!520

"Mr. Speaker!" On all sides of the House, honourable members pop up with the silent alacrity of mushrooms, as the Sergeant-at-Arms, his cherished Mace tilted at an even more rakish angle than usual, marches solemnly into the House. Perhaps because they know that this may be the very last time that Mr. Speaker will have occasion to pray for them, and for the otherwise favoured country entrusted to their tender care, members stand with folded hands and bowed head whilst the Speaker peruses his prayer-sheet. A solemn hush—lasting for almost ten seconds—steals over the House. Then comes the deluge. Mr. Speaker, girding up his robes of State, flees the chamber, and, all in a moment, absolute pandemonium breaks loose.

We never, not even in our rosiest dreams, ventured to imagine that our revered legislators had so much—what shall we call it?—"kick" in their mental make-up as is now made apparent. But there's reason in all things, as the lunatic said when he listened to the Revolutionary-Socialist stump orator. Don't you, looking backwards, dimly remember how very, very good, how almost preternaturally quiet and well-behaved you used to appear when sitting behind your well-battered old school desk, and hoping, with the touching faith of innocent childhood, that the school inspectors would fail to notice the geometrical designs skilfully executed thereon? Members of Parliament, for the worse part of the year, occupy much the same unenviable position. Figuratively speaking, the House of Representatives is supposed to have no audience. But the cold, hard facts of the case are that an M.P. can't so much as sneeze without a battery of sharp eyes and sharper ears being trained upon his shrinking person. Hansard reporters (it's true, they are kindly souls, and don't mind a little double-shuffling with Parliamentary h's and g's) lie in wait, ready to record every last word he says in the imperishable archives of this our country. To be sure, nobody reads Hansard, but then somebody might. One never knows, does one? Then there are the pressmen (not to mention the presswomen) who, on any provocation whatsoever, will sit down and write leading (or misleading) articles about him. Last but by no means least, there is Mr. Speaker, who, like the poor, only more obtrusive, is always with him.521 An M.P., whether he likes it or not, simply has to behave himself. The wonder to us is that, considering the vigilance of his prison warders, the average M.P. managed, as sometimes happens, to get a naughty word in edgeways. So, all things considered,522 it's really no wonder that members, on the very last day of the session—the breaking-up of the strict old Parliamentary school—should fling their dignities and their indignities to the four winds of heaven, and, just for once in a while, remember that they are really quite human after all.

"I move that Mr. Harris do take the chair!" Can it be that this jaunty individual, with the unparliamentary cigarette in his mouth, and the unparliamentary twinkle in his eye, is really the very same Mr. Harris who never has a hair or a statement out of place? Decidedly, whatever sceptics may say to the contrary, the Age of Miracles is not past.523 And where, may we ask, is the solemn austerity usually appertaining to those who presume to sit in the seats of the mighty?524 Evidently the House has no real fear that this temporary Mr. Speaker will resort to the lengths of "naming the member," for, almost immediately, an honourable member rises in his chair, and—we shudder to think of it—actually "sasses" Mr. Speaker.

"Mr. Speaker, Sir, I rise on a point of order. It was noticed that while you were speaking you had your hands in your pockets." Here the Prime Minister, wise in the ways of his Opposition, politely inquires whether the hon. member proposes that Mr. Speaker should speak with his hands in somebody else's pockets. But before we can acquire any further information on this very important point of Opposition policy the House, in a most irresponsible fashion, turns to and unanimously elects Mr. Coates leader of the Labour Party. With all due (or undue) deference to the honourable member for Buller, we never saw or heard our Labour-Socialists in a sweeter frame of mind. Why can't it always be breaking-up day?

But soft! (as the penny novelettes put it), Who comes there? Father Christmas? In that case, Father Christmas must be twins—no, triplets—no—oh, dear me, this will never do! It is with something of a shock that, after a prolonged struggle, we realise that the mountains have actually come to Mahomet. The Legislative Council, en masse, files in and takes its seat—on the Labour benches. If things go on like this, its own mother—or father—won't know our Labour Party.

There is, at first, some little trouble on the part of the House, which, for some reason unknown, absolutely fails to recognise who or what the two spokesmen of the Council may be. But the member for Avon525 tactfully overcomes the difficulty by explaining that one is Lenin and the other Trotsky. The House, led by the Prime Minister, immediately rises and gives them "the glad hand." With all due pomp and ceremony, two motions are carried, one totally abolishing the Legislative Council, and the other strictly prohibiting Mr. Isitt. Mr. Isitt, who by the way, speaks on election platforms in a costume composed almost entirely of blue ribbon, loudly protests that he doesn't want to be prohibited, and is removed from the Chamber in tears. As a final item, Mr. McCombs is requested to explain the law of moving averages, and to sing the swansong of his beloved index figure. On the suggestion of the honourable Mr. Ngata, the consideration of the law of moving averages is deferred until each honourable member shall have absorbed at least four glasses of—er—ginger-pop. Then, as Mr. Ngata explains, the averages will indeed be moving—in every direction.

Sweet dreams, ladies,
Swee-eet dreams, lad-ies,
Sweet dreams, ladies,
We're going to leave you now! 526

Goodness me! Are we, in somewhat premature fashion, already immersed in a "sweet dream," or do these melodious, these Orphic strains actually proceed from our sober old House of Representatives? A curtain is lifted and the quartet— Mr. Nash, Mr. Linklater, and two brothers in crime, appear, chanting, in sweet soprano and chesty baritone voices, "Merrily we roll along!" We decide that it is just about time that we, as a respectable woman, also rolled—no, dear me, no, strolled along. The House adjourns for (in some cases) light refreshments.

Another feature of those old-time breaking-up ceremonies was, if we mind us aright, the prize-giving. We can actually remember, on one such occasion, having received an illustrated copy of the Book of Job at the hands of our present Minister of Education,527 and we have found it of a very present help in time of trouble—that is, during the session. Our M.P.'s are, of course, far beyond all mercenary thoughts of reward upon earth, and most of them, we have no doubt, devoutly hope to dodge such reward in the hereafter, but never, in the whole course of our experience, have we seen a prettier collection of bouquets than those handed out at the final breaking-up ceremony. Everybody found something nice to say about everybody else. Which, of course, is just exactly as it ought to be.

But there's just one part of the last day of the session which wasn't quite so frivolous. As you probably know, not all of the members now—or, at least, then—adorning the House, will stand for election again. Sir Heaton Rhodes, Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Isitt, Mr. Witty, and Mr. Thomson have decided that every dog has his day, and, after that, his comfortable twilight of peace and quietness.528 You know there's something peculiar about the atmosphere of this staid old House of Representatives. One goes there hoping to be amused, and expecting to be bored—and then, before one knows where one is, one finds oneself actually liking the place. The spell of it—its traditions, its friendliness, its tempests in political teacups—must be very strong in the minds of the veterans who have now "done with the game." Somehow they have, even to the lookers-on, become part of the daily life of the House. We don't like to see them dissolve into memories. "All, all are gone, the old familiar faces…"529 This won't do. We're actually becoming sentimental.

But, after all, the House finished its session in the best and only way—the way that extends from Bonnie Scotland almost to the South Pole—that is, by singing "Auld Lang Syne."530 Just as members came safely to the line which refers to "taking a cup o' kindness yet" a thirsty voice from the Reform benches inquired, "Where's the cup?" In sympathy for their suffering comrade, the entire House adjourned to help him find it.

And so, messieurs, there is nothing left to say but "Au revoir." They have gone. How many of them will return?

520 "Exeunt omnes" is a stage direction indicating "they go" or "all leave the stage." In this context, "vale" refers to a farewell or leave-taking (Oxford English Dictionary).

521 Cf. John 12 v. 8.

For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

522 Dominion: considered..

523 Cf. William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, act II, scene iii, line 1.

Lafeu: They say miracles are past

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

524 What follows is not recorded in Hansard but is the traditional “Mock Parliament,” in which MPs parodied their own debates. See “End of the Session,” Dominion, 2 October 1925, p. 10.

525 i.e. Sullivan.

526 Egbert Anson Van Alstyne (music) and Harry H. Williams (lyrics), "Good-Night Ladies," third verse.

Sweet dreams, ladies!
Sweet dreams, ladies!
Sweet dreams, ladies!
We're going to leave you now.

The Book of a Thousand Songs, ed. Albert E. Wier (New York: Mumil Publishing, 1922).

527 i.e. Parr.

528 Coates acknowledged these retiring members in his closing address; see Hansard 208: 928.

529 Cf. Charles Lamb, "The Old Familiar Faces," lines 1-3.

I have had playmates, I have had companions
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

Poems of Charles Lamb, electronic resource (Hoboken, Nj: BiblioBytes, 199-).

530 Hansard only records the members singing the national anthem (208: 933), but they certainly sand “Auld Lang Syne” as well; see “End of the Session,” Dominion, 2 October 1925, p. 10.