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SCA's response to motion debate on constitutional development (English only)

Hong Kong has established firmly in place the key constitutional institutions that measure up to those of democratic systems in other parts of the world, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, said.

"These institutional safeguards are not only Hong Kong's strong fundamentals. They also offer the best guarantees to ensure that our way of life is preserved," Mr Lam said.

During a motion debate on public consultation on post-2007 constitutional development at the Legislative Council yesterday (February 19), Mr Lam said that although the ultimate aim of returning the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council by universal suffrage had not been reached, it would be wrong to conclude that Hong Kong did not have democracy.

Mr Lam said, "We have an accountable and responsive administration, an elected legislature returned by open and fair elections, an independent judiciary, a free and vocal press, as well as a clean and responsible Civil Service."

"The executive and legislative authorities work according to the constitutional design of checks and balances - no major government proposals will get implemented without the approval of the legislature."

"These constitutional institutions represent the key ingredients of what a democratic system should possess. They are the best guarantees for ensuring that our way of life will remain free and democratic," he said.

Mr Lam said that the past 20 years had witnessed the development of Hong Kong's political system in a gradual and progressive manner.

As for the constitutional development beyond 2007, he hoped that Hong Kong would continue to make progress according to the principles enshrined in the Basic Law.

"How this can be achieved will be a question that has to be explored collectively by the community over the next few years," he added.

On the question of when Government planned to launch a public consultation exercise for the post-2007 constitutional development, Mr Lam told the Legislative Councillors that no timetable had been fixed yet.

However, he stressed that he would not leave this exercise, being the most important assignment during his five-year term, until 2007. Neither was 2003 a good time, as the community was currently pre-occupied with resolving economic issues which Hong Kong faced.

"Taking into account the consideration that any local legislation relating to the constitutional review should be dealt with in 2006, it is more likely that public consultation would be conducted some time in 2004 or 2005," he said.

"In 2003, we will concentrate on preparing for the review. We have already commenced our internal research on issues, including the procedural steps of the review and the public consultation exercise, as well as the time required by the entire process," he noted.

Having regard to the divergent views expressed by Members on when the public consultation exercise should be triggered, Mr Lam said that he would study issues involved thoroughly before reaching a final view.

In determining the timing for public consultation, he would take into account factors such as the readiness of the Government in rolling out proposals for public consultation and the overall agenda of the Government as a whole.

Mr Lam also pledged to undertake the review according to three principles.

Firstly, the Government would act in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Basic Law. The Basic Law provides that electoral arrangements shall be designed in the light of the actual situation in HKSAR and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The Basic Law also states that the ultimate aim is universal suffrage.

Secondly, the Government would leave sufficient time for a wide consultation exercise to be conducted.

Thirdly, sufficient time would be set aside for the mechanisms in the Basic Law to be triggered and for any local legislation to be enacted.

End/Thursday, February 20, 2003.