I move that the second reading debate on the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Bill (the Bill) be resumed.
The first reading of the Bill was made at the Legislative Council (LegCo) on February 3 last year. The object of the Bill is to ensure that all our public elections are clean and honest. Upon enactment, the Bill will replace the existing Corrupt and Illegal Practices Ordinance.
First of all, I would like to thank the Chairman and the members of the Bills Committee for the contribution they made to the scrutiny of this Bill. As mentioned by the Hon Arculli just now, the Bills Committee held a total of 24 meetings in the past year. Drawing on practical experience gained from previous elections, Committee members have given a lot of valuable advice in scrutinizing the Bill. Most of the amendments which I will put forward shortly are in response to the members' concern. All of them have been thoroughly discussed and supported by the Bills Committee, reflecting the result of close co-operation between Members and the Administration.
The Elections of the Chief Executive and Village Representatives
Sections 3 and 4 of this Bill stipulate that the Bill will apply to the elections of the Legislative Council, District Councils, Heung Yee Kuk and Rural Committees. During scrutiny of the Bill, we have accepted the Committee's proposal to stipulate that the Bill will also apply to the elections of the Chief Executive and village representatives in order to clearly reflect the determination of the Administration to support cleanness in all public elections. In the wake of this amendment, we also have proposed consequential amendments to other provisions.
I believe Members will be aware that the legislation governing the elections of village representatives has yet to be enacted. There are hundreds of village representative elections and the scale of such elections is smaller than that of the Legislative Council or District Councils elections. Therefore, when we formulate legislation on the elections of village representatives, we will apply as appropriate provisions of this Bill to the elections of village representatives in order to ensure that the practical procedures and arrangements of village representatives elections are based on principles of openness, fairness and honesty. Similarly, the legislation governing the election of the Chief Executive has yet to be enacted. When we proceed on the drafting of the bill on the election of the Chief Executive, we will adopt the same criteria to ensure that the election of the Chief Executive is open, fair and honest.
In order to enhance the transparency of elections, candidates are required to declare all election donations received. In the process of scrutinizing the Bill, some Committee members expressed concerns over whether voluntary services should be treated as election donations and hence counted towards election expenses. Regarding this issue, we have held detailed discussions with the Committee. We accepted the Committee's proposal, agreeing that voluntary services rendered free of charge to a candidate by an individual voluntarily in his personal capacity on his own time for the purpose of promoting the election of the candidate or prejudicing the election of another candidate will not be treated as election donations.
Candidate failing to use his best endeavours at an election
Under Section 7 of the Bill, it is an offence for a person to accept an advantage for standing at or withdrawing from an election as a candidate. Some Committee members were concerned that candidates who accepted advantages might not necessarily withdraw from an election, that such candidates could, instead, choose not to use their best endeavours at the election in exchange for those advantages, and that it would not constitute an offence under the existing provisions. In the light of such concern, we propose the addition of a new provision to provide that a person is taken to have engaged in corrupt conduct if he offers to another person or accepts an advantage as an inducement not to use his best endeavours at an election or as a reward for not having used his best endeavours at such election.
Just now some Members expressed their concern over election advertisements and the Bills Committee also discussed the issue in great detail. We will propose amendments to the definition of election advertisements with a view to dispelling the doubts and worries of Members. Under the proposed amendment, whether an advertisement is an election advertisement will hinge on whether the advertisement is published for the purpose of promoting or prejudicing the election of a certain candidate or certain candidates. In determining the purpose of publishing the advertisement, the court will need to consider the contents, forms of publication and other factors affecting the publication of the advertisement when handling these cases.
Apart from the relatively significant amendments mentioned above, we will also propose amendments to other provisions of the Bill in response to requests and suggestions from the Bills Committee. I shall be elaborating on those amendments shortly when they are tabled.
Constitutional Affairs Bureau