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REMEDIAL LEGISLATION., Issue 10442, 11 October 1897
In our, issue of Saturday we briefly discussed the report of the Privileges Committee the particular point as' to whether the' seat of the Hon.'Mr Ward for Awjsiua is vacant. Although the letter of, the statute appears to be distinctly definite, the differences of opinion as to the interpretation among counsel, presumably as well as among men. titularly "learned in the law," sufficiently justified the Committee in declining to commit • themselves to a decision one way or the other and in recommending reference to the highest judicial tribunal in the Colony. The Bill, of which notice was given by the Prime Minister on Friday night, states the facts as set forth by the Committee in the form of " a case," and requires the Court of Appeal to determine thereupon " Whether the Awarua seat is vacant, and, if so, when it became vacant ?" The Committee t rightly considering it to be extremely undesirable' that there should be any ambiguity in the law relating to the disqualification of bankrupts from being elected to the House of Representatives or' holding seats thereiu, made general recoinmendations to tho effect that the hvw of New Zealand with regard to the bankruptcy of candidates or mem-, bers should bo brought into conformity with the law in England, and that the Government, be requested to bring in a Bill to this effect at any earlydate, " but 'Hhat the present case should not be "prejudiced thereby." It is somewhat extraordinary that, whilst the statute law of New Zealand "expressly disqualifies bankrupts from being elected to or holding seats on borough councils, county councils, and other local bodies, there should bo no provision whatever preventing persons otherwise qualified, who have been adjudicated bankrupts, from being nominated, elected, and sworn in as members of the House. The sooner this anomaly is removed the better, and we should conceive that there will be no opposition on party grounds or otherwise to the legislation, the propriety of which is urged upon the Government by the Privilege* Committee. It is to be noted that there are two entirely separate matters which require to be dealt with, and these are essentially different in character—namely, the disqualification of candidates and the ineligibility of members to retain their seats. There can be no reasonable objection, we should presume, to enacting that an uncertificated bankrupt should ipso facto bo incapable of being nominated' as a candidate for a seat in tho House. The matter seems beyond argument, and such legislation would bo in accordance with precedent and practice not only in the United Kingdom, but in all countries where representative government is established. In respect to members who may become bankrupt, or, as is possible in New Zealand, are bankrupts when elected and sworn in, the question of disqualification involves far more important issues, since the privileges of Parliament and the rights of the constituencies are concerned. Wc find in the English law that, whilst a bankrupt is absolutely precluded from being nominated as a candidate, a member who becomes bankrupt, although he cannot sit or vote in the House, has a period of grace before his- seat can be declared vacant. The House of Commons is, and always lias been, exceedingly jealous-of the rights of electors and the privileges of its own members, and statutory interference with either, except in order to meet extreme cases, is strongly resented,
Tho law of England with respect to the bankruptcy of candidates or members, to whioh the.Committee recommend that the law of New Zealand should be brought into conformity, dates no. further back than 1883, and is embodied in the Bank: ruptcy Act of that year, which declares that " Where a debtor is adjudged a bank"rupt he shall bo disqualified for, inter " aha, being elected to or sitting or voting "in the House of Commons or any Com- " mittee thereof." The seat of the bankrupt member does not, it is particularly to be noted, become vacant, but he is prohibited from sitting in the House, voting, or talcing any part in the proceedings. The disqualifications are removed if tho adjudication of bankruptcy is annulled, or if he obtains from the Court his discharge, with a certificate to the effect that his bankruptcy was caused by misfortune, or without misconduct, on his part. The Court may, at its discretion in any case, grant or withhold such certificate; but the refusal is subject to appeal. If, however, the disqualifications of a member of the House of Commons, arising from his bankruptcy, is not removed within six months of the date of the order,' the Court is required, immediately after the expiration of that time, to certify the same to the Speaker, and thereupon'.the seat of such member becomes vacant. The Act contains a general provision that a bankruptcy may at any time be annulled where the Court is of opinion that the debtor ought not to have been adjudged a bankrupt, or where he has paid his debts in full. It will thus be seen that the English law makes effective provision for the protection of a member of the House of Commons against action that might possibly be taken through other than business motives, with tho object of forcing him into the Bankruptcy Court. When adjudicated a bankrupt he has six clear months to set himself right with the Court, if he is able to do so, before his seat can be declared vacant, but in the meantime he cannot exercise his privileges as a member. Under the old : law—the Act of George lll.—whenever a member of the House of Commons was found or declared to he a bankrupt he was for twelve months •declared incapable of sitting or voting, unless the Commission (in bankruptcy) was superseded, or the creditors paid or" satisfied to the full amount of their debts. At the expiration of twelve months the Commissioners in Bankruptcy (superseded now by the Court of Bankruptcy) were required to certify the bankruptcy to the I Speaker, and the election of the member was void. As, however, no penalty was attached in the Act to a bankrupt for sitting and voting, and as no official notice of his bankruptcy was required to be given to the Speaker, he could sit with impunity in the meantime, unless the House took notice of his sitting and ordered him to withdraw. This was done in the case of Mr Townsend, the member for Greenwich, in 1858, and all votes that he had given since his bankruptcy were ordered by the House to bo disallowed. The simplest way, we should think, of carrying out the recommendation of the Privileges Committee would be by a short Bill amending the Bankruptcy Act by inserting in our Act the provisions of. the English statute;
REMEDIAL LEGISLATION., Issue 10442, 11 October 1897
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