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The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1926

Debating Society

page 59

Debating Society

"Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid."

—Mark Twain.

Urquent Rustice Sane

If the collective enthusiasm of the students in the activities of the Society has perhaps somewhat lagged behind the record of last year, it is at least gratifying to note that the general public this year have shown more than a passing interest in our affairs. Not only may this he applied to the debates with the Imperial Debating Team, but also to the regular debates held in the gymnasium. Their support is also further to be appreciated by reason of the fact that their interest has not been aroused by published reports of debates, but rather, we hope, by the desire to lend their support to the activities of a Society which makes humble efforts to ventilate intelligent discussion on subjects of social and political importance.

The annual general meeting was held on 18th March, in the Gymnasium. Perhaps we missed the enthusiastic Conservative opposition which made last year's general meeting such a success. Far be it from us to bemoan the flagging interest of the student in our activities, but this year the organised effort to change the present order of things was missing. Perhaps its absence was not regretted; at least, our Chairman had no regrets. However, Mr. Campbell, in his inimitable way, was not slow to fire the spirit of enthusiasm by moving "That Clause 2 of the Society's Rules shall be amended by deleting the following words, 'Theological subjects being excluded, this, however, not to preclude the Committee from selecting subjects which have theological implications.'" Mr. W. P. Rollings seconded this motion, and although the motion was severely criticised by a clerical aspirant, whose fiery eloquence quite bewildered his audience, the meeting, in a lucid moment, carried the motion in its entirety. Again we were treated to Mr. Rollings's eloquence when he moved a motion—a masterpiece of legal phraseology—"That the customary method of awarding marks for the Union Prize be changed, so that no speaker who is ineligible shall be credited with any marks; for this purpose the Judge shall place five speakers, as before, but shall, after the debate, hand to the Secretary a list showing eight speakers in order of merit, or as many more than five as there have been ineligible speakers in the debate, such list to be irrespective of eligibility, but only the first five eligible speakers shall participate in points for the prize." Mr. C. H. Arndt seconded the motion. Despite the combined efforts of Mr. J. W. Davidson and Mr. J. T. V. Steele to amend the motion so that the present system of marking be kept in conjunction with the new system the original motion was carried, without amendment. Again Mr. W. P. Rollings claimed the attention of the meeting when he moved, "That this annual meeting ratifies the action of the Committee in undertaking responsibility for the debates with the Imperial Debating Team, and in guaranteeing the sum of £60 towards expenses." Mr. P. Martin-Smith seconded this motion. The legal difficulties arising from this motion were quickly taken up by the legal luminaries present at the meeting. After conflicting opinions had been expressed, in the first place that the guarantee was quite unenforceable, and secondly that all present at the meeting would be bound jointly and severally to produce £60 if required, the meeting, in quite a confused state of mind, endorsed the motion. Then Mr. C. G. R. James, desirous that the meeting should not break up too early in the evening, moved, seconded by Mr. J. T. V. Steele, "That an account of each regular debate held by the Society be prepared by some member appointed by the Committees, and that a copy of such account, in which shall be in page 60 cluded some criticism of each speaker to the motion debated-be posted (1) in the Main Hall. (2) the Women's Common Room, (3) the Men's Cloakroom, as soon as possible after each debate." Mr. C. E. de Montalk sought to amend the motion to the effect "That a different member undertake to write the account of each debate." Mr. Gledstone seconded this amendment. After the practical impossibility of such a scheme, together with the ludicrous results that would arise from it, had been emphasised by other speakers, the motion and its amendment were substantially defeated.

The election of officers for the ensuing year resulted as follows:—Patron: His Excellency the Governor-General. President: Professor Peren. Chairman: R. M. Campbell. Vice-Chairman: W. P. Rollings. Hon. Secretary: R. E. Pope. Hon. Treasurer: R. F. Fortune. Committee: Miss M. Cooley and Miss J. L. Moncrieff, Messrs J. W. G. Davidson and J. T. V. Steele. Hon. Auditor: Mr. S. C. Watkins.

This concluded the projected reforms, and also the general business of the meeting.

The first debate of the 1926 Session was held on 26th March. The subject chosen for debate was the one to be debated at the Easter Tournament, and as many as time would permit poured forth their ideas on that very distressing subject, "That racial equality within the British Empire is a desirable end." Mr. W. P. Rollings, seconded by Mr. J. T. V. Steele, moved, while Mr. G. H. Nicholls, seconded by Mr. H. R. Bannister, opposed the motion. Messrs. Rollings and Steele, in support of the motion, gave very harassing accounts of the tyrannical British rule in India and Africa, and its ill-effect upon the British Empire as a whole. They contended that education was being withheld from these native races lest it become a dangerous weapon against British rule. Messrs. Nicholls and Bannister opposed the motion, on the ground that most native coloured races were not sufficiently educated to be admitted to racial equality. Their contention was not altogether convincing, so far as the audience was concerned, the motion being carried by a large majority. The judge, Mr. G. G. G. Watson, M.A., LLB., after a lengthy and helpful criticism, placed the first five speakers in the following order: Messrs. A. E. Hurley, J. W. Davidson, J. T. V. Steele, R. M. Campbell and W. P. Rollings equal, R. F. Fortune.

On 10th April the Gymnasium was packed to its doors when the practice of law was very seriously criticised. Mr. R. M. Campbell, supported by Mr. W. A. Sheat, moved, and Mr. R. E. Pope, supported by Mr. W. E. Leicester, opposed, the motion "That the practice of law has a demoralising effect on the practitioner." The movers were in frivolous mood, and held up to ridicule the apparent incongruities of the legal profession. They contended that it was inconsistent with the principles of morality that a barrister should defend a prisoner whom he knows to be guilty. The opposers of the motion took up the cudgels on behalf, of the legal practitioner, and justified those high ideals which have always characterised the legal profession. The audience as a whole appeared to have suffered at the hands of the legal fraternity, and passed the motion by a large majority; but the members of the Society, many of whom felt disinclined to desert their profession, rejected the motion. This was the first debate of the year at which visitors were invited to take part, and at its conclusion Professor Hunter, acting as judge, placed the best speakers in the following order:—Mr. R. M. Campbell, Miss Coooley, Messrs. W. P. Rollings, A. E. Hurley, C. G. R. James. R. E. Pope, C. H. Arndt.

On 24th April, before an audience of some sixty persons. the question as to whether "the censorship of political literature as at present exercised by the New Zealand Government is justifiable," was discussed. Miss Moncrieff. seconded by Mr. C. G. R. James, supporting the present policy of the New Zealand Government, and Mr. R. F. Fortune, seconded by Miss Cooley, opposing it. The movers, in their quiet and pleasing way, maintained that literature which advocated violence and a change of the existing form of Government by unconstitutional means was a menace to society, but Mr. Fortune and his colleague deplored any restraint on what they should or should not read, and instanced the loopholes and general inefficiency of the present Government policy in New Zealand. The meeting as a whole (most of whom were visitors) endorsed the motion, but the more sober-minded members of the Society rejected the motion. Mr. H. F. Johnston placed the page 61 best speakers in the following order:—Mr. Rollings, Miss Cooley, Messrs. C. G. R. James, R. F. Fortune, A. E. Hurley. Miss Moncrieff.

Somewhat of a departure from the usual class of subject debated was made when, on 8th May, the highly speculative question of "Cremation" was discussed. Mr. I. W. Fraser, supported by Mr. W. J. Heyting, moved, while Mr. H. R. Bannister, associated with Mr. C. G. R. James, opposed the motion, "That this house desires to be cremated." The movers of the motion contended that cremation was the perfection of refinement for the disposal of human remains as compared with the hateful practice of cannibalism of early days. Further, burials involve high expense and vast burial grounds; therefore, why not save space and expense and be cremated? The movers of the motion treated the question in a somewhat lighter strain, and Mr. James, in particular, was rather more entertaining than instructive. Mr. R. Kennedy, M.A., LL.M., placed the best speakers in the following order:—Messrs. James, Platts-Mills, Heyting, Miss Forde, Messrs. Rollings, Davidson, and Arndt.

A second visitors' debate was held this year, on 22nd May, 1926, when the all-absorbing question of the British general strike was discussed. Mr. J. O. J. Malfroy, seconded by Mr. Forsyth, M.P., moved, and Mr. Davidson, seconded by Mr. W. Nash, opposed the motion, "That the general strike in Great Britain is to be condemned." The Gymnasium was packed, a number of people standing at the back of the hall, when the movers opened the debate by outlining the sheer uselessness and self-destructive effect of a general strike. The movers of the motion then drew most harrowing pictures of the plight of the striker, with his Wife and numerous progeny living within the confines of a single room, while His Lordship the mine-owner, on the other side of the fence, collected royalties, in one instance to the extent of £115,000. The movers, apparently, aroused the sympathy of that portion of the audience drawn from the general public, as the motion was rejected by a large majority, while the members of the Society endorsed the motion with an equally heavy majority. Mr. H. E. Evans, who acted as Judge, placed the best speakers in the following order:—Messrs. Malfroy, Davidson, Hurley. Heyting, James, and Arndt.

It is indeed encouraging that the Society has been able to continue its activities during the vacation with such large audiences and so lavish a supply of speakers. It indicates progress, and perhaps also our ambition may next year be realised in securing the return of the Joynt Challerge Scroll.