LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1021/96-97
(The minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/BC/43/95/S2
Bills Committee on the
Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Bill
Minutes of the 7th Meeting
held on Thursday, 21 November 1996 at 8:30 am
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU, OBE, JP
Dr Hon Samuel WONG, OBE, FEng, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Members Absent :
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP ] away from Hong Kong
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan ] other commitments
Hon TSANG Kin-shing ]
Public Officers Attending :
- Security Branch
- Mrs Sarah KWOK
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Security
- Miss Agnes TSE
- Assistant Secretary for Security
- Fire Services Department
- Mr LAM Chun-man
- Chief Fire Officer (Protection), Fire Protection Bureau
- Mr Peter WONG
- Senior Engineer (Protection), Fire Protection Bureau
- Buildings Department
- Mr CHEUNG Hau-wai
- Assistant Director/Legal and Management
- Mr LAM Siu-tong
- Chief Building Surveyor/Legal (Acting)
Clerk in Attendance :
- Mrs Sharon TONG
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1
Staff in Attendance :
- Mr Stephen LAM
- Assistant Legal Adviser 4
- Miss Salumi CHAN
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2)1
I. Garley Building Fire Tragedy
Opening remarks by the Chairman
On behalf of the Bills Committee, the Chairman regretted for the Garley Building fire tragedy which took place on 20 November 1996 and expressed deep consolation for the victims and their families. The Chairman noted the Governors statement after the fire that he hoped that the Legislative Council would expedite scrutiny and passage of the Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Bill. The Chairman considered this statement misleading as the Bill proposed by the Administration did not cover the type of commercial premises like Garley Building. Members shared his view and requested clarification by the Administration.
Clarification by the Administration
2. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security advised that the objective of the Bill was to require upgrading of fire safety measures to be taken in those commercial premises with a total floor area exceeding 230 m², being used for the prescribed commercial activities listed at Schedule 1 of the Bill. The prescribed commercial activities were mainly those activities which attracted significant customer flow to the premises concerned, namely banking, conduct of off-course betting, conduct of a jewellery or goldsmiths business, use as a supermarket/hypermarket/department store, use as a shopping arcade. Regarding Garley Building, its upper floors being used as commercial offices would not be covered by the Bill while its lower floors being used as a department store would be covered.
3. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security added that under clause 24 of the Bill, the Secretary for Security might amend Schedule 1 by adding other types of commercial activities if the amendment promoted the purposes of the legislation. The Administration would be open-minded in considering whether Schedule 1 should be amended to cover the type of commercial premises like Garley Building.
4. Dr Samuel WONG considered the fire at Garley Building similar to that at International Building in 1992. Both incidents had revealed the following problems of old commercial buildings :
- the lack of an automatic sprinkler system had caused severe difficulties in fire rescue work; and
- improper management of the building resulting in a situation where obstruction of exit staircases was left unattended.
5. Dr Samuel WONG also pointed out the importance of fire prevention during renovation of buildings. This could be achieved by taking a number of measures as detailed in an article written by Dr WONG in 1992 (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 315/96-97).
6. Mrs Miriam LAU considered that the Administration should adopt a macro-approach to review the need of improving fire safety measures in various types of premises, not just certain types of commercial premises. Chief Fire Officer (Protection) of the Fire Services Department (FSD) advised that before the introduction of the legislation, the FSD had conducted a series of inspection on premises. In 1992 and 1993, the FSD had inspected various commercial premises and then issued letters to the owners concerned requesting the installation of an automatic sprinkler system in the premises. In 1995, the FSD conducted a fire prevention campaign which targeted at commercial premises. It distributed a video tape on fire prevention in commercial premises to each of the major commercial institutions in Hong Kong. In 1996, the FSDs fire prevention campaign was targeted at industrial premises. The FSD, together with the Labour Department, inspected over 6,500 industrial premises and then issued advisory letters to the owners concerned.
7. The Chairman concluded that the issue would be followed up by the LegCo Panel on Security.
(Post-meeting note: A joint meeting of the Security Panel and Planning, Lands and Works Panel was held on 16 December 1996 to discuss the Administrations investigation report on Garley Building fire.)
II. Discussion with the Administration on the Bill
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 491/96-97)
(Appendix to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 124/96-97)
The Administrations written reply dated 20 November 1996
8. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security took members through the Administrations written reply dated 20 November 1996 which was tabled at the meeting.
(Post-meeting note: The written reply was circulated to absent members after the meeting under LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 491/96-97.)
Item (a) - Guidelines on issuing fire safety direction
9. In response to the Chairmans enquiry, Chief Fire Officer (Protection) of the FSD advised that if there were no substantial amendments to the Bill, the Administration could make available the guidelines before the enactment of the legislation.
Item (c) and Annex - Implementation plan for the Bill
10. Mrs Selina CHOW and Mr Edward HO considered the draft implementation plan listed at Annex to the Administrations written reply dated 20 November 1996 acceptable. Mrs CHOW suggested the Administration to include the implementation plan in the Bill.
11. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security advised that since the number of premises used for the prescribed commercial activities listed at Schedule 1 of the Bill would be changing all the time, the number of premises involved and the time required for completing enforcement action for each phase of the implementation plan were only estimates based on the information available at the current time and would be subject to future changes. In order to maintain flexibility, the Administration preferred not to include the implementation plan in the Bill. To address the concern of members and the industry, however, the Administration was prepared :
- to publicize the implementation plan;
- to make an undertaking that the enforcement authorities would take enforcement action in accordance with the implementation plan; and
- after completing each phase of implementation, to consult the LegCo Panel on Security before proceeding further.
12. Dr Samuel WONG appreciated the difficulties in including the implementation plan in the Bill. He suggested the Administration to discuss with the industry and then issue the implementation plan as a practice note to the industry. Mrs Selina CHOW considered this inadequate because tenants/occupiers might have no knowledge about the practice note. She considered it essential to include the implementation plan in the Bill so that owners and occupiers of the commercial premises concerned would have a better understanding when they would be required to carry out the improvement works. To allow flexibility, provisions might be added to the Bill stipulating that the enforcement authorities could, under special circumstances, take enforcement action not in accordance with the implementation plan.
13. The Chairman suggested the Administration to include a simplified version of the implementation plan in the Bill, for example, by stating that in the first five years after the enactment of the legislation, enforcement action would not be taken against prescribed commercial premises with occupation permits issued after 1980 except under special circumstances.
14. After discussions, Principal Assistant Secretary for Security agreed to look into members views expressed in paragraphs 12 and 13 above to consider whether it was feasible to include the implementation plan in the Bill.
Item (d) - Division of responsibilities between owner and occupier in complying with the construction requirements under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 of the Bill
15. Members noted the Administrations written reply and appreciated the difficulties involved in the division of responsibilities between owner and occupier in complying with the construction requirements under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 of the Bill. They accepted the Administrations proposal (Annex to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 299/96-97(01)) that it should be the owners responsibility to comply with the relevant construction requirements.
The Administrations written reply dated 11 October 1996
Item (c) - The Administrations comments on the submission dated 27 September 1996 from the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE)
16. Regarding item (c)(ii), members were concerned about the "reasonable period" for complying with a fire safety direction. In response to the Chairmans enquiry, Chief Fire Officer (Protection) of the FSD advised that normally, the FSD would allow a period of three to six months for the owner to install an automatic sprinkler system. This time period would also be specified in the fire safety direction. In case the installation work was not completed within the specified period, the FSD would extend the deadline provided that the installation work was in progress or, take legal action against the owner if the installation work had not been started at all.
17. Mrs Selina CHOW considered that the Administration should make known to the public how it would apply the concept of "reasonableness" in taking enforcement action under the Bill. For example, if the owner/occupier had genuine difficulties in completing the required improvement works within the specified period, he could apply for an extension. The enforcement authorities, if satisfied that the owner/occupier had genuine difficulties, would accept this as a "reasonable excuse" for not complying with the fire safety direction within the specified period and therefore, extend the deadline. Mrs CHOW proposed and the Administration agreed to include the above in the Secretary for Securitys speech during the resumption of the Second Reading debate of the Bill.
Item (d) - The Administrations comments on the submission dated 18 September 1996 from the HKIE
18. In connection with item (d)(iv), members considered it essential for the Administration to ascertain the need for introducing legislation on fire safety measures to be taken during renovation of premises. The Chairman remarked that this subject would be followed up by the Security Panel.
III. Date of Next Meeting
19. The next meeting would be held on Tuesday, 10 December 1996 at 10:45 am in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building.
IV. Close of Meeting
20. The meeting ended at 9:55 am.
18 January 1997
Last Updated on 14 December 1998