London Report

Editor Donald M. Blinken '47 is spending three months in England and on the Continent. The Crimson will publish his reports from time to time throughout the remainder of the summer.

Parliament is as different from Congress as the local pub is from the corner drugstore. Congress is, at best, a poor show; the real work of American government being done in the committee room. But Parliament with its ceremony, color, and open debate is the true heart of the British Empire.

Age-old pageantry lends dignity and weight to the Parliamentary procedure and is followed faithfully. No one enters the glistening maroon and green House of Commons (formerly the home of the House of Lords) until the be-wigged speaker of the House, escorted by the traditional footman, and the Sergeant at Arms of the House bearing the huge gold mace enter the chamber. The members quickly take their seats in the rectangular room, the Labour members filling one side of seats, and the opposition parties the other directly opposite them. There are no desks or benches as we are accustomed to, but rather long rows of leather seats of the Sanders Theatre species, on which the members sit. And they do not read newspapers or sleep, either.

As each member enters the chamber, he bows once to the speaker of the house (who is the referee) and upon receiving an acknowledging nod, takes his seat. Work begins at once, (the House meets daily at two-thirty in the afternoon and often works past midnight). A printed list of questions is in the hand of each member. On the list are the questions, the member asking the question, and the cabinet member to whom the question is addressed. An average day sees 100 questions asked, and since the answers have been prepared in advance in writing, the cabinet officer in question wastes little time in reading the answer when the question comes up.

No question is too big or too small. A member from the mining district wants to know why miners in a certain town are being charged for their transportation to and from the mine. The Minister of Labour must answer him and he does. Another member wants to know the exact amount of oil and petrol reserves on hand in England, and the Minister of Fuel and Power answers that it would not be in the best interests of the nation to reveal this information. Silver-haired Anthony Eden, handsomer than his pictures make him out to be, rises and wants to know what the Government has done about the Mihailovitch trial in the light of the fact that the British government supported the Chetnik leader for two years. Heavy-set, tough-looking Ernest Bevin lurches to his feet and answers that the British government made certain information known to the Yugoslav government, but could not interfere further in a trial in a sovereign nation. And so the business goes on until the questions are exhausted. Then to the major business of the day, a full dress debate upon the future of the BBC, each speaker having been chosen in advance to represent all views. Some members leave the chamber, but the majority remain, paying careful attention to each speaker, applauding after every speech. Herbert Morrison, the unpopular Lord President of the Council, sums up the government views, and launching off on a tangent, is almost caught up by opposition speakers, but is saved by a ruling from the speaker. As dinnertime approaches, a recess is declared and the members quickly empty the chamber.

The debate is of a high level, with some of the full-blown rhetoric heard on Capitol Hill, but of a generally higher caliber. The one questionable feature is the degree of democracy possible in a nation in which a strong majority party can have its own way again and again regardless of debate and the merits of the other side.