|LC: SCA's speech to move second reading of Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2003
Following is the speech by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, on moving the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2003 for second reading at the Legislative Council meeting today (February 26):
I move that the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2003 be read the second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Legislative Council Ordinance and other relevant electoral legislation, to provide a legal basis for the arrangements for the elections of the third term Legislative Council (LegCo) in 2004. At various meetings held between December last year and February this year, the Administration explained its proposals in respect of the arrangement for the 2004 LegCo elections to the LegCo Panel on Constitutional Affairs. The Bill aims to implement most of the proposals. Subsidiary legislation will be made in due course to implement other proposals relating to election expense limits, lowering the threshold for the return of election deposit and printing the names and emblems of political parties or organizations or the candidates' photographs on ballot papers.
I would now like to highlight the major provisions in the Bill.
(I) Electoral arrangements for the geographical constituencies (GCs)
We have briefed the LegCo Panel on Constitutional Affairs on the Administration's proposal, under which there will be five GCs with the number of seats ranging from four to eight. This proposal leaves sufficient room for the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) to decide whether the demarcation of the existing five GCs should remain intact or not. We believe that this option which introduces minimal changes will be welcomed by candidates, political parties, political groups and voters alike.
We propose that the number of seats for the GCs should range from four to eight. This is because, if the current constituency boundaries remain unchanged, the smallest GC (i.e. Kowloon West) would have a population of around one million by 2004, and the largest GC (i.e. New Territories West) would have a population of around two million. Setting the lower and upper limits for the number of seats per GC at four and eight respectively would be proportional to the spread of population.
In accordance with the requirement as laid down in the Basic Law, the Bill stipulates that a total of 30 Members shall be returned from all GCs.
Provisions in relation to the composition of the LegCo provided for in the Bill will apply to the third term LegCo. As we have explained in the LegCo Brief, if the method for the formation of the LegCo is amended in accordance with Annex II to the Basic Law, we will amend the Legislative Council Ordinance accordingly to tie in with the new requirements.
(II) Provision of financial assistance to candidates
Earlier on we have briefed the LegCo Panel on Constitutional Affairs on our proposal to provide financial assistance to candidates running in GC and functional constituency (FC) elections. The Bill introduces new provisions to reduce the free mailing provided to candidates from two rounds to one. At the same time, a scheme will be established to provide financial assistance to candidates to offset part of their election expenses.
Under this scheme, a candidate, irrespective of whether he represents a political party or political group or is an independent candidate, is eligible for financial assistance as long as the eligibility criteria are met. In accordance with the eligibility criteria as set out in the Bill, if a candidate gets elected or at least one candidate on a candidate list gets elected, that candidate or list will be eligible for financial assistance. On the other hand, in the case where a candidate cannot get elected or no candidate on a list gets elected, but that candidate or list has received 5% or more of the valid votes cast, financial assistance will still be provided.
The amount of financial assistance is calculated by multiplying the number of valid votes cast for the list or candidate concerned by the specified rate (which is $10 in Schedule 5 to the Bill).
If a candidate is returned through uncontested elections, we propose that the amount receivable by that candidate should be obtained by multiplying 50% of the number of registered voters of the constituency concerned by the specified rate.
We propose to set upper limits for the amount of financial assistance receivable by the candidates. One of the limits is 50% of the declared election expenses of the candidate concerned.
Also, in response to Members' concern about the situation where a candidate's election donations exceed his election expenses, we have specified in the Bill that, where the declared election expenses of a candidate exceed his declared election donations, the amount of financial assistance receivable by that candidate should not be greater than the difference between these two amounts. If the declared election donations of a candidate exceed his declared election expenses, no financial assistance will be provided.
The Administration's stance is to allow nobody to reap profits from running in elections.
We have also required that candidates' claims for financial assistance be submitted during the period for lodging election returns as stipulated in the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance (ECICO). In order to ensure that public resources are well spent, it is stipulated in the Bill that the election returns accompanying the claims must be verified by an auditor.
To allow sufficient time for candidates to submit audited accounts on their election expenses to substantiate their claims, we propose to amend the ECICO to extend the period for election returns for LegCo elections to be lodged, from 30 days to 60 days.
At the same time, we propose to amend the EAC Ordinance to authorize the EAC to make regulations to implement the financial assistance scheme.
(III) Election Committee
According to the Basic Law, after the expiry of the second term LegCo, the Election Committee will no longer return six Members for the third term LegCo. Thus, the Bill will repeal provisions in the Legislative Council Ordinance concerning the Election Committee and references to that Committee.
(IV) Functional Constituencies
We have indicated earlier that we agree in principle to consider including registered Chinese medicine practitioners in the Medical FC. In the past two months, we have widely consulted relevant parties on the proposal. In view of the divergent views expressed and a lack of consensus within the sector, we have decided not to include registered Chinese medicine practitioners in the Medical FC in the 2004 LegCo elections.
The Bill proposes technical amendments to the electorate of FCs. Such amendments are only to suitably adjust the electorate of certain FCs to ensure that their composition fully reflects the latest situation of the relevant sectors. Generally speaking, these changes can be classified into three categories -
First, correcting the names of some corporate electors, and updating eligibility criteria due to technical amendments in statutory registration/licensing regime.
Secondly, deleting corporate bodies which have ceased operation or are no longer holding a particular type of licence/franchise.
Thirdly, adding new corporate bodies with a status comparable to that of existing corporate electors and new licensees/franchisees or representative bodies in the relevant trade.
The Bill also proposes to amend the Schedule to the Chief Executive Election Ordinance to reflect the changes to the FCs in the composition of the Election Committee subsectors.
The Bill also contains other minor technical amendments to the Legislative Council Ordinance. Those in relation to disqualification criteria take into account changes in the Mental Health Ordinance and the Bankruptcy Ordinance. Besides, we propose to require the Returning Officer to take relevant steps only after proof is given to his satisfaction of the death or disqualification of a candidate. As compared to the existing requirements whereby the Returning Officer could take those steps if the death or disqualification concerned comes to his knowledge, the new requirements are more reasonable.
The Bill also makes consequential amendments to other electoral legislation and certain subsidiary legislation. After the passage of the Bill, the EAC will review and amend its subsidiary legislation for the 2004 LegCo elections, and will take that opportunity to make amendments to these subsidiary legislation which are consequential to this Bill.
Madam President, the Bill proposed by the Administration meets the requirements in the Basic Law. It fully materialises the principle as prescribed by the Basic Law in respect of the method for forming the LegCo which shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the HKSAR and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The provisions in the Bill provide a level playing field for all candidates, as well as an environment that will encourage more public-spirited candidates to participate in the LegCo elections, in order to facilitate the development of local political parties and political groups.
Madam President, 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 delineating the constituency boundaries and drafting the subsidiary legislation.
Thank you, Madam President.
End/Wednesday, February 26, 2003