Report of Committee on Procedure and Privileges—Motion.

I move:—

That the Report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the question of the effect of Senator McMullen's bankruptcy on his membership of the Seanad be adopted.

I would like to say something in connection with this matter. It seems strange to me that this House should be called upon to pass a motion depriving one of its members of his seat. It is stranger still that that should happen in the case of a Senator who has already discharged his bankruptcy by paying his liabilities to the full. In this connection, I want to say that Senator William McMullen's bankruptcy was no ordinary case of bankruptcy, that there was nothing personal about it. He had refused on principle to pay a certain judgment debt and had been adjudicated a bankrupt on that account. Subsequently the debt was discharged and the bankruptcy annulled.

I feel sure that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have not lightly come to the conclusion that Senator William McMullen's bankruptcy, however short in duration, should cost him his seat in this House. If that is the law, it is a most unfair law and the sooner it is rectified the better. I am not making these remarks against the motion. The Committee have made this report to us on a matter which was referred to them by us for examination and report. We cannot find fault with the decision, which was unanimous; but I for one would be glad to have an explanation as to why the Committee could not take account of the discharge of the bankruptcy.

I may say that I feel this matter very much, as I know the calibre of the man affected and I am sure he is not a man who would in the ordinary way be unprepared to meet his obligations. I feel that the law that deprives him of his seat is an unjust one. I am not questioning the integrity of the men who made the report, but there is something wrong with the law.

The Committee gave very grave consideration to the question of the position of a member of the Seanad adjudicated a bankrupt and regret very much having had to come to the conclusion set out in its report. It was possible, as set out in the Bankruptcy Commission Report, 1930, that a sitting member might have been wrongfully adjudicated a bankrupt and such bankruptcy might, on cause shown, be set aside, or that, as in the present case, I understand, the bankruptcy was incurred in pursuance of a principle and not through any financial difficulty in discharging a judgment debt. Also, there are cases where a man becomes, or is made, bankrupt when he is taken at a disadvantage and is unable temporarily to realise enough of his assets to discharge his liabilities.

Nevertheless, the legal position, as it appeared to the Bankruptcy Commission and as it appeared to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, is that on adjudication of bankruptcy the bankrupt ipso facto ceases to be a member. I agree with Senator Colgan that the law is very harsh. I understand that in England, under the British parliamentary system a member of the House of Commons would be granted six months in which to have his bankruptcy annulled. If the bankruptcy had not been annulled at the end of that period, the member automatically vacated his seat. No such delay is permitted as the law stands here at present.

We shall probably have to take this matter up with the appropriate Department, so that amending legislation may be introduced as soon as possible. The opinion of the House is the only machinery at our disposal for determining the question. The House has asked for guidance on the matter from the Committee and this has been given in the report of the Committee now before the House.

Question put and agreed to.