20 DECEMBER 1946, Page 3


THIS week—or at any rate for the first half of it—the House of Commons has achieved a positively Aristotelian unity of theme. In one sense at least this prolonged debate on Transport— this struggle a Poutrance ending in a three-line whip Division— has been satisfactory : it has been the Parliamentary culmination of a debate, long and vigorously sustained on the platform, in the

Press, and in all the varied places, public and private, where two or three are gathered together. If the standard of the outcry was not at all times quite worthy of so impressive an occasion, it was nearly so, though even the spirit of charity induced by the near approach of Christmas can scarcely bring me to award very high praise to the Minister's introductory speech. I have commented before, generally adversely, on the lack of artistry in read speeches. Passing from mere criticism to constructive suggestion, I commend to Ministers the example of Sir Stafford Cripps whose technique in reading speeches, as his recent opening of the India debate reminded the House, is both polished and effective. • * * Last week I rated Mr. George Buchanan as Scotland's premier orator. If, however, Scotsmen representing English constituencies arc taken into account, he is strongly challenged by Mr. W. S. Morrison. Mr. Buchanan's style of speaking is rich rather than varied: it is emotional and fluent, rather than lucid and con- vincing. It is the oratory, if not of Burns, at least of Burns Night. Mr. Morrison is capable of greater variety, as his speech on Tuesday showed. To him was given the chilly task of dealing with the financial implications of the Bill's compensation proposals. He succeeded in combining argument and arithmetic, epigram and emotion, in a judicious and attractive blend. Macaulay described Parliamentary eloquence as " reason penetrated and made red-hot by passion." Passion of this quality is perhaps the main defect of Parliamentary orators today: but Mr. Morrison certainly commands most if not all of the other attributes.

* * * * To many people Question Time is the hub of the Parliamentary universe. This is partly because the hour at which it takes place helps it to secure the maximum of Press publicity. Chiefly perhaps, however, it is because Question Time is " everything by turns and nothing long." On Tuesday further variety was added by the presentation of the Transport Petitions, handed in with com- mendable military precision by Colonels Erroll and Crosthwaite-Eyre in face of determined sniping by Messrs. Shurmer and Gallacher. This was followed by Captain Bellenger, who stood a prolonged siege from all quarters. Then followed one question answered by Mr. Silkin. Owing to the compilation of the order of questions, it is a rare and welcome event for the Minister of Town and Country Planning to be able to answer orally at all. But on Tuesday he actually stood second to Captain Bellenger in the batting order, and even so was only able to answer orally one out of eighteen questions addressed to him. This is due to the overriding rights of superior potentates like the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, which may in themselves be for the convenience of the House: but clearly there is something wrong with a system which virtually precludes the possibility of oral answers from certain Ministers. * * * * It may not be generally known that films are sometimes shown in the Palace of Westminster. I paid my first visit this week to see a new film, " Servant of the People," dealing with the life of a Member of Parliament. The idea at least is good, but it seems to be at least doubtful wisdom to cast a real M.P. in the chief role. Certainly things seemed to come much easier to him than they . _ - • — - - normally Go to tsack bencti Members of Parliament ; and 1 for one could not help rubbing my eyes at the ease with which he persuaded the Minister of Health to change his mind and the Sergeant-at-Arms to give him a seat in the gallery for a constituent at Question Time. The tendency to depict all Conservatives as bemonocled Blimps seemed to me an error in taste and fact alike. Nor is the film free from errors in procedure. The Speaker does not, for example, "move the Second Reading of a Bill," nor "declare it carried by