MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):
President, the Legislative Council is the legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (“HKSAR”). The Legislative Council has the responsibility to enact, amend and repeal laws in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law and legal procedures; to examine and approve budgets introduced by the Government; to approve taxation and public expenditures; to receive and debate the policy addresses of the Chief Executive; to raise questions on the work of the Government; to debate any issue concerning public interests, etc.
The Basic Law expressly provides for the powers and functions of the Legislative Council and those of its President and the rights of individual Members. However, the Basic Law has not expressly laid down how these powers and functions and rights should be exercised. Article 75 of the Basic Law empowers the Legislative Council to make the Rules of Procedure (“RoP”) on its own, and that the rules made cannot contravene the Basic Law. This power of the legislature has been repeatedly confirmed and restated by court in the judgments of a number of court cases.
On 2 July 1998, the first Legislative Council of HKSAR adopted RoP. The RoP was modelled on the Standing Orders, an instrument formulated for the practices and procedures of the legislature before the reunification. RoP was then constantly amended in accordance with the standing practices and procedures of the Legislative Council. However, RoP is not exhaustive and cannot cover all scenarios. What is left uncovered needs Members’ mutual respect and understanding, or what we call a gentlemen’s agreement. However, when people of ill intent take advantage of this, the outcome can be disastrous.
President, before the reunification, the legislature was called Lifajuin Chinese. The Legislative Council was founded in 1843. It consisted of the Governor and three Official Members, and the then Governor was the President of the Legislative Council. The first two Unofficial Members were appointed in 1850. It was not until 30 years later, in 1880, that the first Chinese Unofficial Member was appointed. The number of Legislative Council Members increased with time. In 1985, the number of Members increased to 57. The first Legislative Council after the reunification had 60 Members, and the number increased to 70 Members in the fifth Legislative Council in 2012. According to the decision just passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on 11 March, the number of Members of the next Legislative Council will increase to 90. By that time, the number of Members will be 22.5 times of that in 1843.
President, in order to maintain effective operation, overseas legislatures are also left with no choice but to set a speaking time limit on their debates when their numbers of members continue to increase. With an increase in the number of Members, if all Members are allowed to speak freely in the Chamber without any time limit, the meeting cannot end and the legislature concerned cannot operate efficiently in a way it should. In 1988, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom Parliament (“UK Parliament”) made a permanent revision on its standing orders to expressly limit the speaking time for certain debates. The speaking time for each member in a debate was limited to 10 minutes, including the Second Reading debate on public bills.
Talking about speaking at Second Reading debates, we cannot help but going back to the scene when this Council debated the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016. After seven days of debate which lasted more than 45 hours, this Council still could not put the Bill to vote because a Member of the medical sector and some pan-democratic Members insanely requested headcounts and filibustered at the meeting. In the end, the Bill had to be scrapped and start from scratch again.
Over the past years, Members of the “mutual destruction camp” have been abusing the power given by RoP and resorting to filibustering tactics, such as deliberately causing adjournment of meetings and moving adjournment motions, in order to stage their “fights”. For instance, in May 2012 when this Council considered the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2012, some Members jointly submitted 1 306 amendments to the Bill, which added up to 2 464 page of papers, in an attempt to stall the Council from putting to vote the motion on the arrangement for filling vacancies in the Legislative Council. These Members frequently requested headcounts and proposed thousands of amendments. They caused repeated adjournment of the meeting. The then President of the Legislative Council had no choice but to terminate the debate pursuant to Rule 92 of RoP and order that the amendments be put to vote immediately one by one, in order to end the lengthy debate which lasted for 100 hours 23 minutes.
Another example took place in the previous legislative session. Some Members manipulated with the procedures and tried every means to stop the House Committee from electing its Chairman. The House Committee spent seven months on the election but was still unable to elect its Chairman and Deputy Chairman. The House Committee was paralysed and unable to consider any bills. And if you still remember, President, at the first Legislative Council meeting of this legislative session, at the Resumption of Second Reading debates on the unfinished Government Bills from the previous session, Members of the “mutual destruction camp” requested 12 headcounts, which cost two hours in total. Their lunatic filibuster seriously distorted the original spirit of RoP for handling Council business and disrupted the operation of this Council. It also seriously obstructed the Government from administering its policies, weakened the competitiveness of Hong Kong and immensely undermined the economy and people’s livelihood.
President, I am also a member of the Committee on Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Council. I am grateful to Ir Dr LO Wai-kwok, Mr CHAN Hak-kan, Mr CHEUNG Kwok-kwan and Mr Tommy CHEUNG for their inputs in amending RoP and the House Rules. We discussed the amendments in three meetings and Committee members were supportive of the amendments proposed by the four members. The amendments are now submitted to this Council for passage. The amendments can be roughly categorized into several aspects.
The first aspect is about the penalty for Members with disorderly conduct. This Council has been unable to deal with Members who frequently disrupted Council procedures. This has, in a way, encouraged such conduct to repeatedly happen. We drew reference from the similar penalty adopted by the House of Commons of the UK Parliament. If a Member whose conduct in a single instance or multiple instances in Council, a committee of the whole council, the House Committee or Finance Committee is grossly disorderly, the President may move a motion to suspend the Member from the service of the Legislative Council. The President may even deduct the Member’s remuneration during his period of suspension.
The second aspect is about reducing the speaking time of Members in considering bills and subsidiary legislation. The speaking time of the mover of a Government or Member’s bill and a Member’s motion is reduced from 15 minutes to 10 minutes, and that of a motion on subsidiary legislation is reduced from 15 minutes to 5 minutes with a cap of four hours on the duration of the debate. As I just said, overseas legislatures will also set a limit on the speaking time when their numbers of members continue to rise. Our amendment in this regard is consistent with the international practice and trend. Actually, Members should focus on the quality and not quantity of their speeches. I believe shortening the speaking time will not affect the quality of the council in handling its business.
The third aspect is about introducing a vetting mechanism to prevent procedures such as moving adjournment motions and motions moved under Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance from being unreasonably abused.
The fourth aspect is about plugging the loophole in the election of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of committees each year, so as to prevent the recurrence of the incident involving the House Committee being paralysed.
The two aspects above are both counter measures against past abuses of some of the procedures, so as to prevent them from happening again.
President, with the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law and the collective resignation of the Members from the “mutual destruction camp”, the Legislative Council has basically restored its order. However, we believe that learning from past lessons, plugging the loopholes in the rules, better preparing for different situations and making necessary amendments to RoP as time progresses can prevent this Council from losing its balance again. These measures can also ensure the lawful and orderly operation of the Legislative Council, the steadfast and successful running of Hong Kong under “one country, two systems”. This is the due responsibility of this Legislative Council and also the responsibility of all Members.
So, I support the Committee on Rules of Procedure to submit the amendment proposal to this Council. I so submit. Thank you, President.