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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Mirror, September 1, 1928. p. 35 — From the Gallery

The Mirror, September 1, 1928. p. 35
From the Gallery

All in all, Parliament has put in a positively meaty month of work. Private members, with that now-or-never look in their eye, have been producing their infant Bills before the elders of the Synagogue.549 Said elders (consisting mainly of the Government's substantial majority) have, I regret to state, been making short work of afore-mentioned Bills. Nevertheless, one or two really progressive measures are at present in committee stage, and, if they ever get out, this session may yet earn its little page in legislative history.

The Mental Defectives' Amendment Bill, brought down by the Minister for Health, is the measure on which New Zealand women should keep at least one admiring eye.550 I think it was Mr. Fraser, a Wellington member, who said that if the Bill were placed on the statute book, New Zealand would once again lead the world in Social Legislation.551 Some of the more-discussed clauses include registration of backward children—not with any idea of classing these as defectives, but in order that they may have the benefits of special treatment and care; a full register of defectives, and prevention of marriage between certain types; recognition of "socially defective" persons—those whose actions show them as a menace to society and to themselves; segregation and voluntary sterilisation of the mentally unfit; and other items of less importance.

The Bill seems stringent; and the sterilisation clause brought forth one or two murmurs concerning going before the Almighty.552 But, as Mr. Young pointed out, the Almighty hardly intended to doom defective children to a life of misery, and if "legislation for the unborn" is not allowed, the defective strain will pollute our racial stream.553 The all too-impressive statistics concerning lunacy and mental deficiency in our country show the need for drastic improvements. Many members see dangers in the Bill: but it is at present in committee and will probably be dressed to suit all tastes when we see it again.

And now let's turn, with a sigh of relief to something lighter; though half Wellington is wearing mourning over the rejection of the Summer Time Bill, and the other half devising schemes for the total extinction of the cow.554 As far as the city is concerned there can be little or no doubt that people would be quite happy and proud to drink goats' milk, or even the condensed sort that grows in tins, if that would ensure the extra hour of sunlight. But it seems that "what grand-dad did" still holds good in the country. Mr. Sidey, who retires this session, has been a gallant champion of the Sunlight Brigade, and the Galleries were crowded on the night of his debate.555 His plea for the Bill's renewal was followed by a touching speech from Mr. Samuels,556 who has been kept awake at night many a time and oft by pondering on the heart-rending letters he has received from mothers completely unable to spank their children soundly and send them to bed at the accustomed hour. "Heart-rending," dear friends, was the exact word.557 Amid sniffs, whether tearful or sneerful I don't profess to know, Mr. Samuels resumed his seat. Others said their say and, to cut a sad story short, the cow jumped over the sun. Everyone in town is now looking forward to the Local Empowering Bill; and I have heard, just unofficially, that orderlies have strict instructions, on the night of that debate, to search all bulgy-looking ladies and gentlemen for bombs and other weapons of offence—just in case the Bill doesn't get through.

I think I mentioned that Mr. H. Holland, of Reform ranks, has taken Mr. Isitt's place as sponsor of the Religious Exercises in Schools Bill—which, this session, was defeated at its second reading by a very narrow margin.558 Mr. Isitt, perhaps the most brilliant speaker of the Lower House, and now an ornament of the Legislative Council armchairs, looked on from a gallery. Mr. Holland made a not very impassioned but deeply sincere speech dealing with the necessity for the Bible in children's lives.559

The other, and far otherwise, Mr. Holland560 thought that children should get the Bible in their homes and live it in their lives: he also spent quite an amount of time telling us how independent of any external religious or irreligious influences the dear old Labour Party is.561 Well, as if we didn't know! Mr. Hudson, Reform member and very popular committee-president, on this matter, seemed to be quite definite about not knowing what he wanted.562 He told us, however, a very charming little tale about an old newspaper man who leaves his pennies in full view of the school-children every day: and never once does a penny disappear!563 This, being conclusive proof that our school-children need no moral improvement, was very heartily applauded by opponents of the Bill, who, moreover, said loud and clear that the Bill-promoters were traducing the children of New Zealand.564

A deal of fun sometimes proceeds from the presentation of reports, when each member has his longed-for chance to arise and tell the Minister of his own wants and the Department's deficiencies. It's quaint to watch Labour men handling the brittle china of reports on State enterprise. Of course, they want to criticise—but how can they, when, if they regard any State enterprise as a failure, cast slurs on their own declared policy of State everything? So they ease their aching hearts a little by saying how much better the State departments would do if handled by a sympathetic administration: and how, in any case, Reform stole the idea of such enterprise from Labour. Well, one can quite understand the Opposition should object to any party's misappropriation of their thunder. For where, indeed, would the Opposition be without it?565

Then we have our little afternoons at the Parish Pump.566 You'd be surprised at the popularity of dental clinics—children cry for them, not at them. So we were informed by all the members whose districts are minus a bountiful flow of dental nurses.567 When the report on Mental Hospitals came on, I made a little list of what different members won't be happy till they get. Mr. Kyle568 wants better dairy herds for Sunnyside,569 Mr. J. A. Lee professional cooks for the asylums employed at trade union hours,570 Mr. Sullivan surprise visits of inspection,571 Mr. Field better conditions at Porirua,572 Mr. Fraser a national scheme providing for completely new asylums within ten or fifteen years573—and at this point I lost breath. So had the Minister. But all the schemes sounded excellent and, no doubt, will eventually be carried out.

549 The reference is probably to Mosaic law in general and the custom of presenting infants at the temple. If Hyde has a particular Biblical passage in mind, it might be the story of Mary and Joseph taking the infant Christ to the synagogue; see Luke 2 v. 22-39.

550 The bill was debated 19-24 July. See Hansard 217: 605-20, 624-41 and 678-705.

551 This paragraph should be read as tongue-in-cheek. Fraser's speech on the bill, delivered on 20 July, took issue with many of the definitions and rules to be applied. Hyde is deliberately veiling Fraser's (and perhaps her own) view of the bill as a rash step in which New Zealand would indeed "lead the world" in its rush to control the behaviour of anyone labelled socially undesirable. The comment of Fraser's that she has in mind might be his suggestion "that legislation of the nature of some of the provisions in this Bill should be passed only after facts, ascertained and proved, have been placed before us, and that it would be exceedingly dangerous, and even criminal, to pass legislation that we could not back up by ascertained and proved facts, particularly when the legislation is concerned not with the ordinary type of subjects that we deal with in this Chamber, but with human flesh and blood" (Hansard 217: 625).

552 No particular religious objections are recorded are Hansard.

553 Young stated that "unless the species is kept up there is always a tendency towards atavism-to drift back" (Hansard 217: 695).

554 The Summer Time Bill was debated on 25 July; see Hansard 217: 738-71.

555 The House resumed sitting at 7:30pm. Sidey's speech can be found in Hansard 217: 738-43.

556 Hyde consistently misspelled Albert Samuel's surname.

557 Samuel remarked “[t]he honourable gentleman absolutely pooh-poohed the suggestion that the children could not get to sleep under the Summer Time Act….I would suggest that he consult some of the ladies in his constituency—the young mothers, who have suffered under the hardships of this Act—and also to read some of the heart-rending letters which have appeared in the papers…” (Hansard 217: 750-51).

558 The debate on the second reading of the Religious Exercises in Schools Bill took place on 1 August. See Hansard 217: 968-1008.

559 See Hansard 217: 968-74. Holland concluded by appealing to the House "to think of the future and the interests of the rising generation and give the children what they are justly entitled to" (Hansard 217: 974).

560 i.e. Harry Holland, the Labour leader.

561 See Hansard 217: 974-78. Holland argued that "[t]here is no reason whatever why the children should be deprived of those treasures of knowledge if the people who claim to have religion at heart-the Church-people-are prepared to teach the Bible in their own homes and live it in their own lives…Now, the Labour party's attitude on this Bill is no different from what it has been in the past. With us it is a matter of fundamental policy. Ever since there has been a Labour movement in New Zealand…its policy has declared in favour of upholding the principle of free, compulsory, and secular education" (Hansard 217: 974-75).

562 See Hansard 217: 978-81. In response to a query about whether he believed in the Bill, Hudson replied "[t]o a certain extent" (Hansard 217: 980).

563 "On my way to this House every morning I pass an old man selling newspapers. He stands on a corner, and upon a concrete ledge near him he has his papers and his money. I have passed on several occasions when he has not been standing there at all; but the money has been left lying on the ledge, and people who require a paper take one and leave their twopence on the ledge. There are dozens of school-children who pass that stand every day, but the money is never touched; and I think that is a splendid testimony to the honesty of our school-children" (Hansard 217: 979).

564 See for example Atmore's speech, in which he argued "that the people throughout New Zealand will resent the attacks that are made on the fair name of the boys and girls of this country" (Hansard 217: 982).

565 It is unclear which debate in particular Hyde is referring to here but it seems likely that she means the debate on the Government Life Insurance Department's annual report, which took place on 31 July 1928. See Hansard 217: 881-89. Parry's speech seems to confirm her point about Labour's tactics in these situations; for example, his remark that "[i]f the Department were only administered as it was intended to be administered—and not simply kept upon the same basis as the private institutions—then its business would increase by leaps and bounds" (Hansard 217: 883).

566 The place of meeting or discussion for member of a parish, and thus an allusion to matters of limited scope or outlook, especially in politics (Oxford English Dictionary).

567 Sir George Hunter introduced the point about dental clinics (Hansard 217: 1077) and other Mps such as Linklater (217: 1081), Martin (217: 1083) and Sir John Luke (217: 1084-85) all supported his call for more dental nurses. Mps from rural constituencies particularly complained about inadequate dental services in this debate.

568 Mirror: Kayle.

569 See Hansard 217: 893-94.

570 See Hansard 217: 890-91.

571 See Hansard 217: 892-93.

572 See Hansard 217: 892-93

573 See Hansard 217: 895-96.