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SCMA speaks to the media

     Following is the transcript of the remarks (English portion) made by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, to the media at the Central Government Offices this afternoon (June 28):

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: In the course of our discussions in the Legislative Council Bills Committee concerning the 2011 Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill, we have heard many views. In particular, there are two aspects which are important. Firstly, many members and parties or outside organisations had pointed out that in cases of death or serious illness, it would be unfair for the Legislative Council vacancy to be passed to a different political party, a party which was different from the member who originally occupied the seat. Secondly, it had been pointed out that according to our original proposed replacement mechanism, there would be possibly a change of political parties for the replacement. This would mean that the original 30 000 to 50 000 votes which supported the member who had departed would lose its effect. It also meant that the proportion of seats returned under the proportional representation system would be changed as a result. Having considered these views very closely, today the Government has announced a revised proposal.

     Firstly, henceforth if any vacancy is to arise under Section 15 of the Legislative Council Ordinance, or Article 79 of the Basic Law, the replacement candidate will come from the original candidate list of the member who is leaving the Legislative Council. Secondly, this will then preserve the proportion of seats allocated after the general election in line with the proportional representation electoral system. Thirdly, for voters concerned when they go to cast their votes in a general election, they will know full well which list of candidates they are supporting to become members of the legislature and that these candidates from that very same list will be the replacements if serving members were to leave the Council. Fourthly, if the original list of candidates cannot fill a vacancy, then our original proposal of having a precedence list with the largest remaining number of votes of candidates will be used to fill such a vacancy. Finally, if the original candidate list or the precedence list cannot be used to fill these vacancies, we will hold by-elections.

     The overall effect of this revised proposal is as follows: firstly, if Legislative Councillors choose to resign, then there will be no unnecessary by-elections. Secondly, members who resign will be replaced within a relatively short period, either from the original candidate list or the precedence list. Thirdly, we will avoid incurring unnecessary expenditure. Finally, the smooth operation of the Legislative Council and the service to the public will be maintained. We will put forth committee stage amendments to the 2011 Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill to put these revised proposals into effect.         

Reporter: These do not appear to be minor adjustments. These are major changes in response to criticisms. As you have pushed through a bill in the Legislative Council on one basis, and are now significantly altering the basis, shouldn't the legislators get a second chance to discuss this significantly different proposal in the Bills Committee and vote on it again, be they friendly or not friendly to the Government?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I have actually passed this revised set of proposals to the Bills Committee this afternoon, and the Bills Committee Chairman has decided that a meeting should be held on July 4. We shall be very prepared to respond to any further questions to be put by legislators to us. Indeed, this revised set of proposals, which is based on replacement on the basis of the original list of candidates, is an idea which has been put forth during the public hearings and meetings in the Legislative Council in the last few weeks. So we believe that the ground is familiar among legislators and they will be able to consider this matter very closely and fully in the next two weeks or so.

Reporter: Do you think you endanger making no response to voters' wishes and deprived of their right to vote?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: According to Article 68 of the Basic Law, we do need to form the Legislative Council through elections, and the general election to be held starting from September 2012 will be an important election. We will be basing the replacement system on the basis of that general election. We believe that our proposal is consistent with the Basic Law. Furthermore, as we have responded last week on our part as the bureau and on the part of the Department of Justice, the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights do not prescribe that by-elections must be held where a vacancy arises. The proposals which we have put forth now will enable vacancies to be filled on the basis of the overall expression of view by the electorate in a general election. We believe these proposals will be consistent with the Basic Law and will be constitutional.

Reporter: Is this u-turn that you are making and the way you are making it an abuse of the committee stage amendment process? Are you insisting on July 13 to get this bill through?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We are putting this revised set of proposals to the Bills Committee, and they are very welcome to convene a meeting, and we would be very prepared to go to the Legislative Council and explain our proposals further. We believe that it is time for the bill to be enacted in mid-July, so that the candidates who will stand at the District Council elections in November this year and who are going to be nominated starting from September this year will know full well their rights and obligations if they choose to stand in the Legislative Council District Council new functional constituency elections next year.

Reporter: In making these changes, are you accepting the views of the critics that the original package is not fundamentally right?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I would say that any legislative proposals will not be perfect, and that as a Government, it is our responsibility to listen closely to opinions expressed during the legislative process. This we have done so on this occasion and we have made an important change to our package of proposals. We do hope that this change will enable the revised set of proposals, when turned into legislation, to continue to reflect the voters' choice expressed in a general election and preserve the overall division of seats according to the proportional representation system. We believe that this revised set of proposals will be more complete than the original one.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Tuesday, June 28, 2011