I move that the second reading debate on the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 1999 be resumed.
The Bill aims to amend the Legislative Council Ordinance to provide the legal basis for the second Legislative Council (LegCo) election to be held in 2000 in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Basic Law.
The Administration introduced the Bill into the LegCo in early February. The LegCo Bills Committee formed for this Bill conducted a total of 23 meetings to scrutinize carefully the provisions of the Bill. Here I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Chairman, the Honourable Ronald Arculli, and the 30-odd members of the Bills Committee for the timely resumption of the second reading debate of the Bill before the LegCo goes into recess.
During the process of scrutiny, the Bills Committee gave us many valuable comments. After careful consideration to each and every one of them, we have accepted many suggestions which result in the relevant amendments.
Today, the LegCo will deal with the amendments to the Bill proposed by Members in accordance with the Rules of Procedure. I have to state clearly in the first place that the Administration absolutely respects the autonomy of the LegCo in making the Rules of Procedure. However, as early as last year, the Administration expressed reservations about the way in which the provisions of the LegCo Rules of Procedure carrying Basic Law implications were dealt with when applied to the operations of the LegCo. I think it is necessary to put the stance of the Administration on record.
The electoral arrangements set out in the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 1999 are adopted by the Administration after they have been considered as the most appropriate options for the 2000 LegCo elections, following a detailed review of the arrangements of the 1998 LegCo elections and related policies. Quite a number of these arrangements proved effective in past elections, the regulation on canvassing being a good example.
Some members proposed to designate a "cooling-off" period to prohibit all forms of canvassing on election day. The policy of the Administration towards electioneering has all along been to allow candidates to have a free choice of the forms of canvassing according to their own practical need, provided that these are carried out in accordance with the relevant regulations and guidelines. We consider that full-scale canvassing is an excellent process of civic education. Through these activities, the public can have a better understanding of the significance of election and develop a greater interest in voting. Such activities will not only help to enhance the public's understanding and participation in elections in some way, but will also help to further develop democracy in Hong Kong. Moreover, we are concerned that if all forms of canvassing are prohibited on the election day, the atmosphere of election and the voting desire of voters will be affected. We believe that Members will also like to see greater participation in voting by members of the public. Besides, after a detailed study of the provisions of the amendment, we find that there are many technical and operational problems. I will go into greater details on this when we discuss the amendments later on.
"Single seat, single vote" System
Some Members proposed to re-introduce the "single seat, single vote" system in geographical constituency elections. We consider this proposal inappropriate because when compared with the "single seat, single vote" system, proportional representation can more accurately reflect voter preferences in terms of allocation of seats. Furthermore, after the 1998 LegCo elections, proportional representation has become well-known and widely accepted by Hong Kong people, and the arrangements have also worked well. We do not see the need to amend this electoral system.
Reimbursement of Election Expenses
Some Members have also proposed that the Chief Executive in Council should be empowered to make regulation to establish a system of reimbursement of election expenses. I have to point out that at present the Administration has already provided various subsidies in kind for candidates in the LegCo elections, including free postage of two letters to each elector, a series of publicity programmes and election fora produced by the Radio Television Hong Kong, and introductory leaflets on candidates prepared by the Registration and Electoral Office, etc. Given these substantial subsidies, we do not see the need to spend additional public funds on further subsidizing the election campaigning activities of candidates. On the other hand, should consideration be given to subsidizing election campaigning activities with public funds, we would have to consider whether it is necessary to scrap the various existing subsidies in kind provided to the candidates. As such, we are of the view that it is neither appropriate nor necessary for us to establish a system of reimbursement of election expenses. Consequently, no additional provision is necessary to empower the Chief Executive in Council to make regulation to establish such a system.
We also note that some Members have moved amendments to modify various other arrangements for the election in 2000. These include switching the voting system for the EC election to the proportional representation system, adopting the method of drawing lots to replace the existing method of statutory specification in determining the 12 Functional Constituencies (FCs) in which non-Chinese candidature is permitted, and advancing the date after which by-elections are no longer necessary for the two municipal councils to the date on which the bill is gazetted. Having considered these proposals, we conclude that the arrangements provided for by the bill are more appropriate. We oppose these proposed amendments. I will elaborate on our views when I get to discuss the relevant proposed amendments.
Establishment of New FCs
As regards FC elections, we propose the establishment of a new Catering FC and District Council FC. The catering sector, being a key component of Hong Kong's economy, employs as many as 200,000 people. It is appropriate to establish an FC for this sector. In addition, establishing the District Council FC also serves to strengthen the ties between the District Councils and the LegCo. Some Members moved amendments proposing the establishment of a new FC for the hotel sector to replace the District Council FC, while others moved amendments for the establishment of a new Chinese Medicine FC to replace the Catering FC. The Administration opposes these two amendments proposed by Members. Regarding the proposal for the establishment of a new Hotel FC, we consider that the hotel industry has already been included in the existing Tourism FC and is at present already represented by an FC in the LegCo. We think it inappropriate for the hotel sector to hive off as a new FC. As to the proposal of establishing an FC for the Chinese medicine sector, we reckon that since Chinese medicine constitutes an important part of the medical system of Hong Kong and both Chinese and western medical practitioners contribute towards the safeguarding of public health, it is not appropriate for the Chinese medicine sector to form a separate FC.
Delineation of the Medical FC electorate
Some Members also moved amendments regarding the delineation of individual FC electorates. One such amendment proposed to include registered veterinary surgeons in the existing Medical FC. The Administration opposes this amendment.
The electors of the existing Medical FC fall under two categories, namely registered western medical practitioners and dentists who are concerned with the well-being of human beings. Members suggested the inclusion of veterinary surgeons whose main concern was the well-being of animals. Considering that the service recipients of the two groups are entirely different, we do not think that veterinary surgeons should be incorporated into the existing Medical FC.
Delineation of the Transport FC and Wholesale and Retail FC electorates
There are also some Members who moved amendments for the addition of new constituents in the two FCs for transport and wholesale and retail. Having carefully considered the nature of each and every relevant body, we conclude that these bodies either lack broad representation or are not fully in line with the principles we adopt for delineating electorates. We therefore oppose these proposed amendments.
Delineation of the Information Technology FC electorate
On the delineation of the Information Technology FC, some Members proposed that persons with certain academic qualifications related to the information technology field should be deemed to be eligible for registration as an elector of the Information Technology FC if their employers certify that they have worked in the field for a certain period. The delineation principles suggested by this proposed amendment are very vague. If adopted, the proposed amendment would pose considerable problems when it comes to implementation. The Administration, therefore, opposes this proposed amendment. I will expound our views during the committee stage.
As for the amendments proposed by the Administration, apart from some purely technical ones, most of them were made after taking into account the valuable opinions of the Bills Committee.
Here I would like to respond very briefly to the comments Members made just now on whether they had any authority or influence over the Administration. I don't see the need for Members to belittle themselves or the contributions they have made, nor is there a need for them to give a distorted emphasis on the so-called executive domination. In fact, as I said earlier, we listened to a lot of your views. Most of the amendments presented to us are the results of collective discussions among Members and the 23 sessions of long meetings between us. May I take this opportunity to acknowledge in public once again the contributions you have made and express my gratitude to you. Even though the executive-legislative relationship has been bitter, I find this a solid example illustrating that there is room for further cooperation.
Abolition of Advance Polling
As regards the arrangements for advance polling, it was originally proposed by the Administration in the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 1999 that a pilot scheme for advance polling should be introduced for the first time in the LegCo elections in 2000. When the Bill was considered by Members of this Council, many of them expressed that since there was a time lapse of one to two weeks from the day of advance polling to the day of general polling, they were worried that the fairness and impartiality of the elections would be undermined if the media released the results of the exit poll conducted on the advance polling day before the day of the general polling. Having considered these points, we agree that the advance polling scheme should not be introduced in the LegCo elections in 2000 before this major problem is resolved. As such, we propose to delete from the Bill the provisions on advance polling. We will give thorough consideration to the issue later on and we hope that amendments in this respect could be effectively introduced for the consideration and approval of Members of this Council at the time of the elections in 2004.
Termination of Election Proceedings
As regards the arrangements for the termination of election proceedings, after taking into account the views of the Bills Committee, we propose to delete the provisions on allowing Returning Officers of geographical constituencies to add the names of the surplus nominees to a list of candidates after the close of nomination so as to fill the vacancy created by the death or the disqualification of a candidate originally on the list. Besides, we also propose to make provisions for Returning Officers of FCs to terminate the relevant election proceedings after the close of nomination and before the completion of the poll if it comes to their knowledge that a candidate has died or is disqualified.
Delineation of Electorates of Functional Constituencies
On the other hand, the Administration will also introduce some minor amendments to the delineation of electorates of certain FCs. We propose to incorporate a number of representative bodies from the transport, wholesale and retail as well as textiles and garment industries into their respective FCs. In response to proposals put forward by Members of this Council, we will also introduce some technical amendments to rearrange the list of electorates of the FCs in the Schedule so as to make it clearer and easier to understand.
Mechanism for Updating the Ex-officio Membership of the Election Committee
In response to the proposals put forward by the Bills Committee, we will introduce amendments to establish a mechanism for updating the ex-officio membership of the Election Committee (EC). We propose that all those who are LegCo Members or Hong Kong Deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) as at 30 June 2000 should be registered as ex-officio EC members. Should there be any subsequent changes in their status as LegCo members or Hong Kong Deputies to the NPC, those who are no longer hold such office shall cease to be ex-officio EC members, while newly-elected LegCo members or Hong Kong Deputies to the NPC shall take up their EC membership and be registered as such.
We will also move amendments to make technical amendments to the nomination procedures for the religious subsector. Under the existing Ordinance, if the number of nominees of a designated religious body exceeds the assigned number for the body, that body must indicate the order of priority accorded to the nominees who are given preference. The relevant provisions make no mention of the treatment of cases in which a designated body fails to indicate which of its nominees should be given preference. We, therefore, propose a technical amendment to provide that the Returning Officer should determine by the drawing of lots which of the nominees of the designated body are to become EC members should the above-mentioned circumstances arise.
We firmly believe that the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 1999 as amended by the Administration will put in place the most suitable arrangements for the second LegCo elections in 2000. I hope that Members will give their support by passing the various amendments moved by the Administration. I will present and explain the Administration's views on the amendments proposed by the Administration and Members one by one during the committee stage.
Just now some Members expressed their wish for us to explain an amendment that the Administration had once intended to move to effect changes to the delineation of the electorates of the Social Welfare and Medical FCs. Some Members might have misunderstood the Administration's proposal. I would like to state clearly here that the two intended amendments served only to provide for better arrangements and improvements on certain details in the proposed amendments to the original provisions. A little explanation on our objective might help here. It happened that, after extensive discussions with many Members, a good number of them indicated to us that they would support these two intended amendments, thus reflecting a favourable chance that the amendments would be passed. Such a scenario called for serious consideration of the need for refining certain provisions in these two amendments so as to enable smoother implementation. The objective of our proposal was hence very simple. We had in mind greater smoothness in the implementation of the relevant amendments under such circumstances. I would like to stress here that this request of ours was made fully in accordance with the Rules of Procedure of LegCo. We submitted our request according to LegCo's Rules of Procedure. The President of LegCo has, of course, rendered a decision on the request. We hold the LegCo in absolute respect and do not object to the President's decision. Therefore, when some Members just now criticized our act of moving amendments according to the Rules of Procedure for being disrespectful to LegCo, I found it beyond my comprehension and could definitely not concur.
A number of other points raised by many Members were in fact irrelevant to the Bill under discussion today. However, I think the Hon. Lee Wing-tat gave us food for thought when he remarked that the Administration had power but no voting rights, while Members had voting rights but no power. It occurred to me that he had hit the nail right on its head by giving expression to the predicament which we now find ourselves in. I do not think this is the right moment for us to carry on with our debate on this topic here, but I can tell Members that we in the Administration are also very much concerned with the issue. I hope that there will come a more befitting occasion for us to talk about this question in future.
Last of all, I would like to thank the President for giving me the opportunity to voice our preliminary views on the Bill. Later I would like to state our case for the various amendments we proposed. Thank you.