LC: SCA's speech to move second reading of Electoral Provisions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2002

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in moving the second reading of the Electoral Provisions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2002 at the Legislation Council meeting today (October 9):

Madam President,

I move that the Electoral Provisions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2002 (the Bill) be read the second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to two related proposals. Firstly, we would add a limited number of elected seats to three District Councils (DCs) in view of the significant population increase in their new towns. Secondly, we would revise the existing voter registration cycle accordingly so as to provide the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) with the necessary time to redraw the constituency boundaries in accordance with the latest number of elected seats for the three DCs, and to complete the voter registration exercise. I would now like to highlight the relevant provisions of the Bill in these two major areas.

(I) Composition of the second term District Councils

In June and July this year, we consulted the Legislative Council (LegCo) and the 18 DCs on the proposed composition of the second term DCs. Most Members found the direction of "maintaining the status quo" acceptable. However, some Members and a few DCs expressed concern over the significant increase of population in the new towns of Islands, Sai Kung and Yuen Long. They were of the view that the Government should consider increasing the number of elected seats for the three DCs.

In response to the views expressed by LegCo and DCs, I have worked together with my colleagues to further examine this issue since joining the Constitutional Affairs Bureau in July. For most of the DCs, we consider that the proposal of maintaining the status quo is viable and appropriate. As a matter of fact, the extent of population increase or decrease in 15 out of the 18 districts would not exceed 10%. On the other hand, we note that the population growth in Tung Chung, Tseung Kwan O and Tin Shui Wai, ranging between 40% and 123%, is far more significant than the other districts. The average population per constituency in Sai Kung and Yuen Long would be as high as 22,000 to 23,000 people, if the status quo were to be maintained. This would be well above the territory-wide average of 17, 635 people per constituency. In the case of Islands District, the two constituencies in Tung Chung would have to support some 60,000 people in total, if no extra elected seat were given to the new town. In view of the above, we agree that there should be a limited increase in the number of elected seats for the three DCs. Apart from preserving the integrity of the new town and rural constituencies in these districts, the proposal would also enable the relevant DCs to better respond to, and take care of, the needs of local residents.

Specifically, we recommend that one elected seat should be added to Islands, three to Sai Kung and six to Yuen Long. With the proposed additional seats, the respective average population size per constituency for Sai Kung and Yuen Long will be brought down to a more reasonable level, but will still be higher than the other districts. Furthermore, given the unique circumstances of the Islands District, we propose to provide an extra elected seat for the district to cater for the increase of population in Tung Chung new town.

At present, the number of seats to be elected to the 18 DCs is prescribed in Schedule 3 to the District Councils Ordinance. To implement the above proposal, the Bill will amend the number of elected seats specified in Schedule 3 in respect of Islands, Sai Kung and Yuen Long DCs.

I believe that Members may be aware that the EAC is originally required to submit recommendations on constituency boundaries for the second term DCs to the Chief Executive on or before 27 November 2002. To provide the EAC with the necessary time to redraw the constituency boundaries and conduct public consultation in the light of the changes to the number of elected seats for Islands, Sai Kung and Yuen Long, the Chief Executive has given approval, under the EAC Ordinance, to extend the above deadline by six months to 27 May 2003. This does not mean that the constituency boundaries for the 2003 DC elections would not be finalized until May next year. We expect that the EAC will be able to consult the public on its delineation proposals within a month after the passage of the Bill. Extending the deadline by six months serves to provide the EAC with adequate flexibility to complete the demarcation of constituencies.

(II) Publication dates of electoral registers

To implement the proposal of increasing the number of elected seats for the DCs, the Bill will also propose corresponding amendments to revise the existing publication deadlines of the electoral registers. As I have explained earlier, the boundaries for certain constituencies will need to be adjusted in view of the increase in the number of elected seats. As a result of this, the EAC will postpone its public consultation exercise. We envisage that the EAC can submit its recommendation to the Chief Executive by early next year at the earliest. According to this timetable, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) will not be able to complete the voter registration exercise in time for the publication of the electoral registers in April 2003. This is because the REO will be able to allocate electors to the appropriate constituency on the basis of their addresses only when the EAC has finalized the constituency boundaries. To give the REO an extension of time, we propose deferring the publication dates of the electoral registers.

At present, the provisional and final registers are published in April and May each year respectively. The Bill will amend relevant provisions in the Legislative Council Ordinance for the publication of the GC and FC registers. Changes will also be made to the Chief Executive Election Ordinance in respect of the Election Committee Subsector registers. The Bill proposes that in DC election years, such as 2003, the provisional and final registers should be published in August and September respectively. In other years, including LegCo election years such as 2004, the corresponding deadlines will be deferred to June and July.

The amendment will reduce the time gap between the publication of electoral registers and the polling day to about two months. This is a significant improvement when compared with the existing time gap of six months in DC election years, and four months in LegCo election years. This is also to respond to the suggestion made by Members before the last DC elections that the time gap between the publication of electoral registers and the polling days should be shortened as far as practicable, so as to ensure the electors' data contained therein would be more up-to-date.

Pursuant to section 8 of the District Councils Ordinance, subject to the approval of the Legislative Council, the Chief Executive in Council can, by order published in the Gazette, amend the number of elected seats for the three DCs as specified in Schedule 3. Schedule 3 can be amended by way of subsidiary legislation. However, we need to revise the voter registration cycle at the same time, and this would involve amendments to two other ordinances. Accordingly, we propose to introduce the necessary amendments in the form of a composite bill for consideration by LegCo. Increasing the number of elected seats, redrawing constituency boundaries and deferring the publication dates of electoral registers are in effect a package of inter-related proposals. We therefore consider that it would be more appropriate to take them forward in a composite bill. Further, we would also take this opportunity to make technical amendments to the District Councils Ordinance by replacing some outdated terms and expressions therein.

Lastly, we hope that Members can accord priority to the consideration of this Bill. This will allow the EAC and the Administration to have sufficient time for the necessary preparations, including redrawing the constituency boundaries and drafting the subsidiary legislation.

Thank you, Madam President.

End/Wednesday, October 9, 2002.