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13
Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

country forbade the banns. That is rhetoric though of a high order—and would, I fear, only provoke a smile.

Change in Parliament.But the change in Parliament is far greater and far more prejudicial to the cultivation of oratory than any change in the individual member. In the first place the House of Commons is much more concerned with legislation and much less with administration than a century ago. In those days there were but few bills, and the main business of the House was to keep an eye on Ministers, to question their policy—particularly their foreign policy—to check their expenditure, and, for the party in opposition, to expose with as much vituperation as possible their alleged misdeeds. All these undertakings afforded natural material for oratory, and still more for invective. Now Parliament is immersed in the harassing details of legislation; it has become a gigantic workshop, in which the hum of the machinery is always ringing, and the dust from the spindles is flying thickly, in the air. A good deal of time is spent on interrogating Ministers; four-fifths of the remainder in the Committee Stage of Bills or the conversational discussion of the Estimates. The residuum that is left for full-dress debate is very small.

Secondly, the House no longer has the first claim on its members; for the greater part of the sitting, its benches are relatively empty and are occupied in the main by those who want to catch the Speaker's eye and who retreat as soon as they have accomplished their object; the multiplicity of business takes them to the libraries, the writing-rooms, the lobbies—anywhere but the chamber itself. A man may have the gift of the winged word, but he cannot be eloquent to empty benches.

Thirdly, the power of the Whips and the tyranny of the party machine have grown so immensely that there is little opening left for independence—the natural seed-ground of oratory—and but rare opportunities of turning votes by eloquence. Speeches therefore tend to become standardised, and conform to a conventional and commonplace type.