Speech by SCA at Party Line

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, at RTHK's programme "The 10th Anniversary of the Party Line" today (November 23):

Party leaders, Legislative Councillors, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this programme commemorating the 10th anniversary of Party Line.

I first came into contact with electoral politics in the 1982 District Board elections. I was then in charge of a polling station in Tuen Mun. Towards the end of the day, a group of elderly people came forth to vote. I had the distinct feeling that when our grandmas and grandpas were civic-minded enough to care about public affairs and exercise their voting rights, this should be a sign that Hong Kong had started on the journey of constitutional development.

I still remember that back in the 80's, and even until the early 90's, the stance of the Government then was that we did not necessarily need political parties in furthering constitutional development in Hong Kong, although political advocacy groups might have a role in the process. Times have changed. This is no longer the position of the Government. We take a positive view of political party developments. Following the introduction of direct elections into the Legislative Council, the proportion of seats in the legislature filled by political parties has been on the rise, increasing from one-sixth in 1991 to two-thirds at present.

The Accountability System was implemented on 1 July. At the same time, the leaders of two political parties have been appointed to the Executive Council, thereby broadening the participation of political parties in public affairs. The implementation of the Accountability System and political party development complement one another. Standing in the forefront of the community, political parties and groupings are in a premium position to gauge public opinion. Through you, and other channels, we can feel the pulse of the community and respond to the needs of the public.

Ideas put forth by political parties are valuable in facilitating the governance of Hong Kong. For example in 2001, the then 'eight-party coalition' jointly put forth a seven-point package. The Government responded positively to these proposals in the Policy Address. Amongst other things, we decided to offer rates rebates and proposed to create over 30,000 jobs.

In the longer term, as our constitutional institutions continue to evolve according to the principle of gradual and orderly progress, political parties will have more room to develop in Hong Kong's political landscape. However, there will still be room for independent candidates and small political groups to take part in elections.

I hold two hopes about the development of political parties in Hong Kong. Firstly, political parties in Hong Kong only encompass membership of several hundred to several thousand. I hope that the parties will be able to attract a wider membership from different walks of life, so that they can have a broader and deeper base in the community. Secondly, Hong Kong is facing many important challenges, including the restructuring of the economy and the fiscal deficit. The Government's hope is that we can work together with political parties and Legislative Councillors to overcome these challenges.

It is our shared mission to further the constitutional development of Hong Kong. Political party development and the Accountability System are still relatively new to Hong Kong, and both will need time to grow and flourish. I hope that both of these institutions will support our constitutional system, send deep roots into our community and bear fruit for the people of Hong Kong.

End/Saturday, November 23, 2002.