OFFICIAL RECORD OF PROCEEDINGS
Wednesday, 9 October 1996
The Council met at half-past Two o'clock
THE HONOURABLE ANDREW WONG WANG-FAT, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ALLEN LEE PENG-FEI, C.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MRS SELINA CHOW LIANG SHUK-YEE, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MARTIN LEE CHU-MING, Q.C., J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE DAVID LI KWOK-PO, O.B.E., LL.D. (CANTAB), J.P.
THE HONOURABLE NGAI SHIU-KIT, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE SZETO WAH
THE HONOURABLE LAU WONG-FAT, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE EDWARD HO SING-TIN, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE RONALD JOSEPH ARCULLI, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MRS MIRIAM LAU KIN-YEE, O.B.E., J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE EDWARD LEONG CHE-HUNG, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ALBERT CHAN WAI-YIP
THE HONOURABLE CHEUNG MAN-KWONG
THE HONOURABLE CHIM PUI-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE FREDERICK FUNG KIN-KEE
THE HONOURABLE MICHAEL HO MUN-KA
DR THE HONOURABLE HUANG CHEN-YA, M.B.E.
THE HONOURABLE EMILY LAU WAI-HING
THE HONOURABLE LEE WING-TAT
THE HONOURABLE ERIC LI KA-CHEUNG, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE FRED LI WAH-MING
THE HONOURABLE HENRY TANG YING-YEN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE JAMES TO KUN-SUN
DR THE HONOURABLE PHILIP WONG YU-HONG
DR THE HONOURABLE YEUNG SUM
THE HONOURABLE HOWARD YOUNG, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ZACHARY WONG WAI-YIN
THE HONOURABLE CHRISTINE LOH KUNG-WAI
THE HONOURABLE JAMES TIEN PEI-CHUN, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE LEE CHEUK-YAN
THE HONOURABLE CHAN KAM-LAM
THE HONOURABLE CHAN WING-CHAN
THE HONOURABLE CHAN YUEN-HAN
THE HONOURABLE ANDREW CHENG KAR-FOO
THE HONOURABLE PAUL CHENG MING-FUN
THE HONOURABLE CHENG YIU-TONG
THE HONOURABLE CHEUNG HON-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE CHOY KAN-PUI, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE DAVID CHU YU-LIN
THE HONOURABLE ALBERT HO CHUN-YAN
THE HONOURABLE IP KWOK-HIM
THE HONOURABLE LAU CHIN-SHEK
THE HONOURABLE AMBROSE LAU HON-CHUEN, J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE LAW CHEUNG-KWOK
THE HONOURABLE LAW CHI-KWONG
THE HONOURABLE LEE KAI-MING
THE HONOURABLE LEUNG YIU-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE BRUCE LIU SING-LEE
THE HONOURABLE LO SUK-CHING
THE HONOURABLE MOK YING-FAN
THE HONOURABLE NGAN KAM-CHUEN
THE HONOURABLE SIN CHUNG-KAI
THE HONOURABLE TSANG KIN-SHING
DR THE HONOURABLE JOHN TSE WING-LING
THE HONOURABLE MRS ELIZABETH WONG CHIEN CHI-LIEN, C.B.E., I.S.O., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE LAWRENCE YUM SIN-LING
DR THE HONOURABLE SAMUEL WONG PING-WAI, M.B.E., F.Eng., J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE ANTHONY CHEUNG BING-LEUNG
THE HONOURABLE MARGARET NG
PUBLIC OFFICERS ATTENDING
THE HONOURABLE MRS ANSON CHAN, C.B.E., J.P.
MR RAFAEL HUI SI-YAN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE JEREMY FELL MATHEWS, C.M.G., J.P.
MR MICHAEL SUEN MING-YEUNG, C.B.E., J.P.
SECRETARY FOR HOME AFFAIRS
MR CHAU TAK-HAY, C.B.E., J.P.
SECRETARY FOR BROADCASTING, CULTURE AND SPORT
MR GORDON SIU KWING-CHUE, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT
MRS KATHERINE FOK LO SHIU-CHING, O.B.E., J.P.
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE
MR JOSEPH WONG WING-PING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER
MR PETER LAI HING-LING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY
MR BOWEN LEUNG PO-WING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS
MR LAM WOON-KWONG, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR THE CIVIL SERVICE
MRS LESSIE WEI CHUI KIT-YEE, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES
CLERKS IN ATTENDANCE
MR RICKY FUNG CHOI-CHEUNG, SECRETARY GENERAL
MR LAW KAM-SANG, DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL
MISS PAULINE NG MAN-WAH, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL
MR RAY CHAN YUM-MOU, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL
The following papers were laid on the table pursuant to Standing Order 14(2):
|Subsidiary Legislation||L.N. No.
|Official Languages (Alteration of Text under Section 4D) Order 1996||404/96
|Antiquities and Monuments (Declaration of Archaeological Site) Notice 1996||405/96
|Antiquities and Monuments (Declaration of Historical Building) (No. 3) Notice 1996||406/96
|Food Business (Regional Council) (Amendment) Bylaw 1996||407/96
|Immigration Service (Amendment) Ordinance 1996 (53 of 1996) (Commencement) Notice 1996||408/96
|Immigration Service (Designated Places) Order||409/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text)(Public Revenue Protection Ordinance) Order||(C) 90/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text) (Pesticides Ordinance) Order||(C) 91/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text) (Sand Ordinance) Order||(C) 92/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text)(Pharmacopoeia Ordinance) Order||(C) 93/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text)(General Loan and Stock Ordinance) Order||(C) 94/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text)(Control of Chemicals Ordinance) Order||(C) 95/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text) (Civil Liability (Contribution)Ordinance) Order
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text)(Professional Accountants Ordinance) Order||(C) 97/96
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text)(Banking Ordinance) Order||(C) 98/96
Sessional Papers 1996-97
|No.1-||Report by the Trustee of the Correctional Services Children鷔 Education Trust for the period 1 September 1994 to 31 August 1995
|No.2-||Sewage Services Trading Fund Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 March 1996
|No.3-||The Government Minute in response to the Report No. 26 of the Public Accounts Committee dated June 1996
|No.4-||Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health Annual Report 1995-96
|No.5-||Report by the Commissioner of Police on Police Welfare Fund for the period 1 April 1994 31 March 1995
|No.6-||Clothing Industry Training Authority Annual Report 1995
|No.7-||Construction Industry Training Authority 1995 Annual Report
|No.8-||Revisions of the 1995-96 Estimates approved by the Urban Council during the Fourth Quarter of the 1995-96 Financial Year
|No.9-||Revisions to the Approved Estimate of Expenditure on Capital Projects approved by the Urban Council as at end of June 1996
|No.10-||The Government Minute in response to The Eighth Annual Report of The Commissioner for Administrative Complaints Hong Kong dated June 1996
The Government Minute in response to the Report No. 26 of the Public Accounts Committee dated June 1996
CHIEF SECRETARY: Mr President, laid on the table today is the Government Minute responding to Report No. 26 of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The Minute sets out the measures the Government has taken, or is planning to take, on the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Report.
Mr Eric LI, the Chairman of the PAC, spoke in this Council on 10 July 1996 when tabling the Report. I would like to respond to the points he made.
Mr LI highlighted the Administration's duty and accountability in relation to this Council's role in authorizing public expenditure. Referring to cases covered in the PAC Report, he urged the Administration to adhere closely to established Finance Committee procedures, and to provide all relevant information to the Finance Committee to facilitate its decision-making.
Let me reassure Members that we attach the utmost importance to the principles of legislative control of public finance and public accountability. However, on occasions, with the best of intentions, technical errors do occur. This is what has happened in one of the three capital works projects at the Kai Tak Airport to which Mr LI made reference. We will do all we possibly can to remind officers of the statutory requirements governing the management of public finances to ensure that similar incidents will not recur.
The Administration fully agrees that we should include all relevant information in Finance Committee funding proposals to allow the Committee to make informed decisions. Indeed, the Secretary for the Treasury has, over the years, issued guidelines to require departments to provide clear, accurate and comprehensive information in their submissions. The Finance Branch will continue to do all it can to ensure compliance with those guidelines.
In respect of the Northcote College of Education improvement project, I accept that the case could have been better co-ordinated. I also accept that when it transpired that the Hong Kong Institute of Education campus project might impact on the former project, the fact should have been brought to the attention of the Finance Committee or the Education Panel of this Council. On the way forward, we will, as recommended by the PAC, carefully evaluate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of retaining the Northcote College of Education library block in the overall development of the Hong Kong University Faculty of Medicine project. We will advise the PAC of the final decision once this is available.
Mr LI also commented on the staffing situation for certain government services, and urged that we should be more vigilant in rationalizing the deployment of resources to meet the needs of the community. I do not intend to labour on what we have done in recent years to bring about a more proactive approach on resource management. I trust Members are familiar with our initiatives under the Public Sector Reform programme. The Government is a very big organization and we must constantly review and re-organize our resources in different areas to meet changing needs. In the Government Minute, we have explained the measures we are putting in place to address the cases of over/under staffing brought to our notice.
Finally, on our system of awarding public works contracts. I acknowledge that there is room for further improvement in the system. This is under review by the Secretary for the Treasury. Specifically, we are working to develop a mechanism to enable us to take into account the past performance record of a contractor in an objective manner in the evaluation of tenders. We will keep the PAC informed of the progress in this.
Mr President, the Government appreciates fully the importance of the PAC's findings and recommendations. I am confident that the measures we have taken, or are planning to take, will go a long way towards implementing the Committee's recommendations.
Thank you, Mr President.
The Government Minute in response to The Eighth Annual Report of The Commissioner for Administrative Complaints Hong Kong dated June 1996
CHIEF SECRETARY: Mr President, when the Commissioner for Administrative Complaint's (COMAC's) Eighth Annual Report was presented to the Council on 10 July, the Administration indicated that a Government Minute would be prepared in three months' time to outline the action that the Government has taken or proposes to take in response to the recommendations made by the COMAC in relation to the cases listed in his annual report. This Government Minute is tabled today.
The Government Minute covers all the complaint cases which the OMAC has investigated, as well as the three investigation cases which he initiated himself in 1995-96. In the majority of the cases, the branches and departments concerned have accepted and followed up all of the COMAC's recommendations. There are, however, a few cases in which the COMAC's recommended measures have not been implemented or have had to be modified because of operational constraints or other practical considerations. The reasons for these are set out in the Minute.
Members will note that the Government Minute also contains the follow up action taken on the COMAC's recommendations by two public bodies, the Hospital Authority and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation. These are the only two public bodies in respect of which the COMAC investigated complaints during the year. Although they are not part of the Administration, they recognize their accountability to the public and have provided us with the information relating to their follow up action on the COMAC's recommendations.
I am happy to read in the latest issue of the COMAC News that, I quote, "this [COMAC's] Office has been much impressed by the positive and supportive attitude and the receptive stance of the management of the organizations concerned towards the work and services of this Office." It is clearly in the public interest that there should be a harmonious working relationship between the COMAC's Office and the organizations under his jurisdiction. We in the Administration will do our best to ensure that this continues to be the case.
If any Member wishes to have further clarification on any point in the Minute, the Administration would of course be happy to provide it.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Honourable Members, before questions are taken, I would like to remind you of your previous agreement that the time for questions should be limited to one hour in general. I therefore suggest that Honourable Members should keep their supplementary questions, and their preambles in particular, as concise as possible so that more Members can raise their supplementary questions. I shall regard lengthy preambles as attempts to address this Council in the guise of supplementary questions, and shall therefore rule the supplementary questions concerned out of order.
ORAL ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
Capacity of Immigration Clearance at New Airport
1. MR HOWARD YOUNG asked: Mr President, will the Government inform this Council of the measures it has taken to rationalize the passenger processing facilities at immigration counters at Kai Tak Airport and to ensure that such facilities at the new airport at Chek Lap Kok are adequate for coping with the anticipated increase in passenger flow?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, the Government is committed to providing an efficient immigration clearance service to facilitate travellers.
To handle the fast growing passenger traffic, we have introduced a number of measures:
- On the recommendation of the Airport Consultancy Study, the Immigration Department has critically reviewed the staffing requirements for the Airport Division. As a result of this, a total of 28 posts were redeployed to reinforce counter clearance through the restructuring of the Apron Control Unit and the scaling down of the overnight staffing level.
- The roster and meal breaks of counter staff have been adjusted to spread over a longer period to maximize the number of counters manned at any one time.
- The Immigration Department have been revising the shift pattern and streamlining procedures for the purpose of maximizing counter manning and enhancing productivity. Moreover, staff are required to work overtime whenever necessary.
The introduction of the Immigration Control Automation System (ICAS) on 28 September 1995 has helped to absorb some of the additional workload by shortening the passenger clearance time. The time savings in immigration clearance are:
- for each Hong Kong identity card holder ─ four seconds;
- for each arriving passenger holding a machine readable travel document ─ 20 seconds; and
- for each departing visitor ─ 10 seconds.
While the Immigration Department pledges to clear 92% of the travellers within 30 minutes, 100% of the departing passengers and 100% of the arriving Hong Kong residents are cleared within this target time. With the measures mentioned above and the implementation of ICAS, 97% of the arriving visitors have been cleared within 30 minutes from March 1996 onwards.
Measures under consideration
Over the longer term, we are developing two new initiatives to reduce the clearance time of travellers. For non-permanent residents, the Immigration Department is considering the possibility of doing away with the practice of stamping on their travel documents on return from a trip outside Hong Kong within their current limit of stay. For visitors, we are exploring the feasibility of issuing a travel pass for bona fide frequent travellers.
Chek Lap Kok Airport
I now turn to the Chek Lap Kok Airport. We have plans to provide sufficient staff to handle the anticipated passenger growth after the Airport's opening. We are studying ways to maximize the capacity of immigration clearance at the Chek Lap Kok Airport. New measures under consideration include:
MR HOWARD YOUNG
- serpentine queueing of passengers;
- even distribution of passengers between the two halls at the same level;
- software systems to facilitate a better match of staff deployment and the fluctuation of passenger arrivals;
- optimizing the use of resources by operating only one hall in each level in the early morning and late evening hours, when the passenger volume is smaller; and
- avoiding congregation of passengers through
- clear and concise directional signage, installation of Light Emitting Diode (LED) displays for specific information or directives for the travelling public,
- co-operation from airlines to present their passengers for clearance, and, where appropriate
- use of the Public Address System.
(in Cantonese): Mr President, it is mentioned in the Secretary's reply that improvements will be made to manpower deployment and procedures. This is commendable. But, he has not mentioned any increase in manpower. I would like to ask the Secretary: if the Director of Immigration requests for an increase in manpower in the next financial year, will the Secretary consider asking for support from the travel industry? Recently it has been reported that the task of issuing British National (Overseas) Passports will be transferred to the British Embassy or the Trade Commissioner. If so, will the manpower thus saved be deployed to the Airport to strengthen the manpower there? I mean manpower strengthening in the absolute sense of figures.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Airport Division at Kai Tak Airport is currently manned by some 640 Immigration Department staff members of various ranks from the top to the bottom. We expect that in the first year following the inauguration of Chek Lap Kok Airport, the number of travellers will increase by about 20%. We have planned to provide resources for the addition of 178 Immigration Department staff members upon the inauguration of Chek Lap Kok Airport in 1998, with a view to handling the extra workload caused by an increase in the number of travellers.
MR RONALD ARCULLI: Mr President, in the fifth paragraph of his answer, the Secretary for Security has told us that two new initiatives are under consideration, with a view to reducing clearance time; the first being in respect of non-permanent residents and not stamping their passports on return, and the second being the possibility of issuing a travel pass for visitors. Could he elaborate on when he thinks it would be possible for non-permanent residents to return to Hong Kong or indeed perhaps even travel out of Hong Kong without their travel documents being stamped; and why is this not a short-term measure as opposed to a longer-term measure?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, I do not want to get into a philosophical argument about what is meant by short or long. The idea that non-permanent residents may be permitted to travel in and out of Hong Kong without their travel documents is one which we will need to consider very carefully.
Let me just explain why under the present arrangements they are required to carry their travel documents in and out. Primarily, of course, this is to facilitate law enforcement agencies in checking where necessary whether such a person has or has not exceeded his permitted limit of stay. And by non-permanent residents, of course, we include all sorts of workers including, for example, foreign domestic helpers. And I am sure Honourable Members do realize that there are occasions when such non-permanent residents do overstay their limit. If we do not stamp their travel documents as they exit and return, we will then need to consider very carefully with our legal advisers whether it may have any effect on our ability to deal with or combat the question of overstaying in Hong Kong. I am of course unfortunately unable to give you an estimate of the amount of time that we may need to consider this suggestion, but there is certainly no wish on my part to take longer than is necessary. Primarily, I repeat, it is a question of whether legally we would be able to do so without causing us any difficulties in law enforcement.
MRS MIRIAM LAU (in Cantonese): Mr President, it is pointed out in the fourth paragraph of the main reply that 100% of departing passengers and 100% of arriving Hong Kong residents are cleared within 30 minutes, while 97% of arriving visitors can also be cleared within the same amount of time. In view of these figures, can it be said that the 30-minute pledge is too conservative or that the Immigration Department is too lenient toward itself? The situation as such, will the Immigration Department consider changing its pledge so that the time taken for immigration clearance may be reduced from 30 minutes to, for example, 20 minutes or even less?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, I must first point out that we should really adopt a positive attitude toward the fact that our colleagues in the Immigration Department have attained a performance standard higher than that set out in the Department's performance pledge. When considering whether the performance pledge should be further upgraded, we have to look at two things. Firstly, with respect to the standard of performance currently attained, it must be noted that in some cases, such as the clearance time for arriving visitors, we have started to attain the standard concerned only very recently. I think we really need more observation to ascertain whether we can sustain this performance standard over a long period of time. In the meantime, we also have to make projections on annual increases in traveller volume for Hong Kong, and on the additional workload thus generated. Secondly, putting aside the question of what is meant by long-term or short-term, we estimate that upon the inauguration of Chek Lap Kok Airport in 1998, the number of passengers in the first year of operation will increase by 20%. That being the case, if we are now in a hurry to upgrade the performance pledge, but may not necessarily attain it in the future, then we may as well be taking a pointless course of action.
MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): Mr President, I have some doubts about the Secretary's claim that 97% of arriving visitors can be cleared within 30 minutes because I have received complaints from many visitors that they have to wait for more than one hour. That said, I find it difficult to query this figure, but ......
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr SIN, please state your supplementary question.
MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): As 97% of arriving visitors can be cleared within 30 minutes, what about the approximate clearance time of the remaining 3%, that is, those who have to wait more than 30 minutes to be cleared?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, we do not have any detailed statistical figures necessary for making such an estimation. But I would like to reiterate that the figures just quoted were compiled by our staff on the basis of head-counts and measurement of time taken. We will not "fabricate" any statistical figures. I hope Members would not have any such misunderstanding.
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Mr President, would the Secretary for Security inform us by how much the 30-minute clearance time can be reduced during the initial period following the inauguration of Chek Lap Kok Airport?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, when I answered Mr Howard YOUNG's supplementary question, I said that we would increase the manpower for immigration clearance at Chek Lap Kok Airport. This will be implemented solely in the light of the existing performance pledge and target, that is, to clear 92% of travellers within 30 minutes.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr James TIEN, are you claiming that your supplementary question has not been fully answered?
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Yes.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Which part?
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): To put it simply, he has not answered whether the clearance time of 30 minutes can be reduced to 20 minutes, or 25 minutes, or even less.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Perhaps I have not made myself clear. Our target should be 30 minutes and it will not be changed for the time being.
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Mr President, I highly appreciate the efficiency of the Immigration Department. At present, delays of over 30 minutes in immigration clearance do in fact occur, but, these are caused by the fact that the passports concerned are under genuine and reasonable doubt. Anyhow, I still want to ask the Secretary: will an opinion poll be conducted among arriving visitors to see whether they are satisfied with the performance of the Immigration Department even when immigration clearance is completed within 30 minutes; and to see, for example, how many minutes of waiting will lead to dissatisfaction and what the relevant percentage is? Such a survey will enable the Immigration Department to gauge the opinions of their "clients" on its efficiency.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, so far we have not conducted this type of so-called client satisfaction surveys. However, on the matter of airport immigration clearance, I think the "clients", be they Hong Kong residents or visitors, will be even more satisfied if we can further speed up the process. Of course, I am not saying that our present standard of performance is already too good to be improved any further. If resources or circumstances permit, we will try even harder to improve our performance. However, I believe our present standard of performance is already quite good. I have no statistical support right now, but I do have the impression that in Asia, our immigration clearance is already of first-class quality in terms of speed, second only to Singapore. Internationally, we have in fact exceeded world standards, such as the 45-minute target set down in the Convention on International Civil Aviation.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I will rearrange the order of the Questions by putting Question 2 after Question 6.
Instructor (Catering) Grade of Correctional Services Department
3.MRS ELIZABETH WONG asked: Mr President, will the Government inform this Council whether the Instructor (Catering) Grade in the Correctional Services Department is a disciplined services grade?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, the Instructor (Catering) Grade in the Correctional Services Department is a disciplined services grade.
MRS ELIZABETH WONG: Mr President, under the circumstances, can the Secretary please assure this Council that this particular grade in question is eligible for remuneration and for departmental quarters in exactly the same way as other members of disciplined services in the Department without being required to sacrifice 20 points in the allocation of departmental quarters or subjected to discriminatory or unfair treatment?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs WONG, were you making a speech or asking a question?
MRS ELIZABETH WONG (in Cantonese): Mr President, since the Secretary's reply was short but not to the point, I wanted to ask a follow-up question. Many colleagues and government employees simply do not know whether this grade is a disciplined services grade or a civilian grade.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, the salaries and conditions of service of the Instructor (Catering) Grade, like many other disciplined services grades of the Hong Kong Government, are of course determined by this Council having regard to the advice of the Standing Committee on Disciplined Services Salaries and Conditions of Service. Obviously, there are different pay scales for different grades and I do not accept the allusion that since one grade is paid a pay scale which is different from another scale therefore they are being discriminated against.
As regards the question of quarters for which there is a certain amount of misunderstanding, let me explain it this way. Instructors (Catering) may apply for quarters associated with their institutions in the same manner as their custodial counterparts. But current arrangement is that 20 points will be deducted from the quartering points of instructors irrespective of their trade when they apply for departmental quarters. The deduction is justified by the fact that instructors have a lesser operational need to occupy departmental quarters. However, instructors in catering are not required to deduct 20 points if they apply for quarters associated with their institutions. The different treatment will be reviewed when the shortfall situation of the quarters improves.
Having said all that about the system, I should just add that in terms of comparison to other disciplined grades of the Correctional Services Department, the Instructors (Catering) are not suffering a particularly much larger shortfall of quarters. In fact, amongst the 54 Instructors (Catering) in the Correctional Services Department, 14 have been allocated quarters, 26 are currently residing on public housing, seven are single and thus ineligible, and there are seven who are eligible for quarters who have not been so allocated. This represents a shortfall of about 15%. Compare that with the quartering situation in respect of Assistant Officers II of the Correctional Services Department, overall there is a shortage of about 574 junior staff married quarters against the total of 2 129 eligible officers. In short, there is an overall shortfall of about 27% higher than the shortfall for the Instructor (Catering) Grade. This shortage however is expected to be reduced when 540 new junior staff quarters at Stanley and Pik Uk are completed between 1998 and 1999.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs WONG, do you have another supplementary question?
MRS ELIZABETH WONG: I am grateful for the Secretary's reply. But could he open up the channel of explanations to remove the misunderstanding problem within the staff?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs WONG, please be reminded that a supplementary question is still a question and should be framed as such.
Hospital Domestic Services Reforms
4.MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Since taking over the management of public hospitals, the Hospital Authority has implemented a series of hospital domestic services reforms, which have given rise to discontent among its domestic services supporting staff. In view of this, is the Government apprised of:
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE
- the total number of Workman I, Workman II and temporary workmen employed in public hospitals; and whether temporary workmen are employed because of the high wastage rate in the Workman I and Workman II ranks;
- the total number of Ward Attendants in public hospitals and how many of them are actually working in the wards;
- the number of public hospital wards not serviced by Ward Attendants and the grade of staff responsible for the cleaning and sundry services in these wards; and whether the reason for these wards not being serviced by ward attendants is due to the high wastage rate of the Ward Attendant grade;
- the number of public hhospital wards serviced by both Ward Attendants and Health Care Assistants, as well as the details of the scope of duties of these two grades; and
- the number of qualified Ward Attendants who have not been promoted to the Health Care Assistant grade and the reasons thereof; and the number of Ward Attendants who are due for retirement in the next six months?
(in Cantonese): Mr President, the number of Workman I and II employed by public hospitals as at September this year were 341 and 5 340 respectively. It is an established practice to engage temporary staff, where necessary, to provide coverage for training leave, ad hoc special projects, fluctuation of service demand and lead time for recruitment exercise. A total of 481 Workman II were employed for this purpose as at September this year.
The number of Ward Attendants employed by public hospitals as at September this year was 2 896, of whom 2 794 were working in wards. A total of 185 wards were not served by Ward Attendants, the cleansing and other domestic duties for which are being carried out by Workman I and II. This is mainly attributable to the phased implementation of supporting service reforms rather than staff wastage.
As at September this year, 256 hospital wards were staffed by a mix of both Ward Attendants and Health Care Assistants. Although the latter group is intended to relieve the workload of frontline nurses by taking up tasks of low complexity under supervision, the job description provide clearly for these two grades to carry out cleansing work, other domestic duties and personal care activities when required.
As at September this year, there were 924 qualified Ward Attendants who have not yet been appointed as Health Care Assistants. While those on the waiting list will be offered appointment as and when vacancies arise from the phased implementation of supporting service reforms, some may retain their current employment status due to personal circumstances. A total of 122 Ward Attendants are due for retirement in the next six months.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Secretary for Health and Welfare has given us a series of figures in her reply just now, but she has not responded to the beginning part of my question concerning the fact that the Hospital Authority has begun to make a series of domestic reforms with which the domestic services supporting staff at four ranks are not satisfied. The Secretary for Health and Welfare has just said that it is because they are stationed at different places, but as to why confusion of work will occur when they are stationed at different places, she just said this is brought about by the phased implementation of supporting service reform. Would the Government inform this Council what is it going to do when confronted with this conflict now that the phased supporting service reform has been implemented for a rather long period of time?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, in the course of every reform, we have to allow some time to let every hospital make adjustments or other arrangements on schedule or on the basis of the needs of each ward. As the Hospital Authority has taken over the administration of the former government hospitals and subvented hospitals, and the circumstances of each hospital differ, the implementation of all the reforms cannot be concurrently done within a short period of time. We must give consideration to the routine operation and the work of the staff of each hospital, most importantly, our pledge on patient service.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss CHAN Yuen-han, do you think that the reply given has not fully answered your original question?
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Yes, that's right.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Can you specify which part are you referring to?
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): She has not dealt with the existing problem of the co-existence of staff at four ranks. Although she has given the figures and mentioned the phased implementation of supporting service reform, she has not responded to the existing staff problem. For instance, there is no clear differentiation between the ranks and the powers of staff have become too great after the delegation of powers, both the staff at higher or lower ranks find that there is contradiction. She has not given me a reply in this respect. Finally, I hope Mr President will allow me to raise a supplementary question.
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, we have to allow each hospital, especially each specialty and each ward, to handle the issue of staff deployment on the basis of their respective operational needs. Therefore, we cannot say that we should have an overall service structure for controlling wide-ranging matters such as the level and scope of service. It is a fact that these ranks have co-existed. When a certain rank or system is being changed into another system, there is bound to be a transition period in between. During this transition period, I agree with Miss CHAN that we must have better communication or make more arrangements and explanations in respect of consultation. This is what the Hospital Authority has to do regularly.
DR LEONG CHE-HUNG: Mr President, as I understand it, a few hospitals of the Hospital Authority are contracting out cleansing and domestic sundry services. Could the Administration inform this Council of the cost-effectiveness of such contracting-out so far? Is it the aim of the Hospital Authority to continue to extend contracting-out to all hospitals; if so, what will be the future of the Workmen I and II?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): This supplementary question has gone beyond the scope of the original question and answer. The next supplementary question, Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung.
MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, when the Secretary for Health and Welfare answered the question raised by Miss CHAN Yuen-han just now, she said that "it is an established practice of the Government to engage temporary staff where necessary in order to meet various needs, including providing coverage for training leave", she has also mentioned that the number of temporary staff is as many as 481. Would the Secretary for Health and Welfare inform this Council why there is an established practice of engaging temporary staff and why full-time staff are not engaged instead, to safeguard the work and welfare of the temporary staff?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Does the Secretary for Health and Welfare know why the Hospital Authority had made such an arrangement?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, in my main answer, I have already tried to explain what happened. The Hospital Authority has to engage temporary staff to provide coverage for staff on leave. Needs in this respect fluctuates quite a bit and it may not be necessary to engage permanent staff for such purposes. However, much of our manpower are long-term employees. I have mentioned just now that the total number of Workmen I and Workmen II exceeds 5 600 but there are only several hundred temporary staff, and the number of such staff changes quite often as we have to cope with the needs of individual hospitals or the needs which arises within a certain period of time. If it is not necessary for us to engage these staff for a long period of time, I believe hospitals would make suitable arrangements. If hospitals find that the increase in workload requires work to be performed by long-term staff, I believe the Hospital Authority will adopt that method to employ its staff.
MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, I would like to follow up on Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung's question. How long is the duration during which temporary staff are engaged by the Hospital Authority? If the duration is very long, will this cause the Hospital Authority to be less proactive in engaging regular staff?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, temporary staff are engaged on the basis of the current needs, and it will not have any effects on the work of ordinary staff.
MR MOK YING-FAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Secretary for Health and Welfare has mentioned in her answer that the duties of Ward Aattendants and Health Care Assistants include cleansing and sundry services. Are Workmen I and Workmen II not able to discharge the sundry services and ward cleansing now? Will such an arrangement give rise to problems in respect of ward care?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, Mr MOK can set his mind at rest, ward care is provided by medical and nursing officers and staff at different ranks, including doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, and all of them are responsible for patients' care. As to other sundry services, Health Care Assistants can help nurses to alleviate their workload, such that medical and nursing officers can concentrate on providing specialized care. Therefore, this will not have any effects on the patients and it can improve the results of services in respect of patients' care.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss CHAN Yuen-han, do you have another supplementary question?
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Yes, Mr President. In the face of the phased implementation of supporting service reforms now, can the Secretary for Health and Welfare make a pledge to this Council that it will inform the management and staff about the situation of each of the rank in different hospitals? Such an action will prevent staff from having even more complaints as a result of the long duration of implementation.
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, this supporting staff service reform made by the Hospital Authority does not have a rigid schedule. We work out the schedule in the light of staff wastage and the results achieved by services provided by other ranks. We do not necessarily have to complete all the reforms within a specified time period. Therefore, I think that even if such information were used, it may not be possible to achieve what has been described by Miss CHAN. However, if there is any other information I can provide, I shall be happy to provide Miss CHAN with them.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, any post should have a specific division of labour. Although I support such reform, reforming is not the same as having no division of labour. Why are staff not advised of the division of labour and why should we create man-made conflict?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, we have set some working rules for each rank, therefore, I do not agree to the view that we have not provided our staff with such information. However, I agree that we can do more and inform staff members of their scope of work and duties. If necessary, we will invite hospitals to make more efforts and do more in this respect.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung, do you have another supplementary question?
MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I have just asked the Secretary for Health and Welfare why the engagement of temporary staff is taken as an established policy and it is unfair to the temporary staff as their work and welfare are not safeguarded. However, the answer given by the Secretary for Health and Welfare just now has not answered this question I raised.
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, each hospital needs to be staffed by a mixture of both permanent and temporary staff, therefore, there are two posts for ordinary workmen to choose from. If they choose to be permanent staff, they can apply for the permanent posts for which vacancies are often found in hospitals. However, when special needs arise, the engagement of temporary staff will become inevitable. I do not think we should restrict the engagement of temporary staff by hospitals in the light of their needs if we want to enable the operation of hospitals and uplift the level of patient service.
MR CHOY KAN-PUI (in Cantonese): Mr President, I would like to follow up on Miss CHAN Yuen-han's question. Can the Government inform this Council, after personnel reform is made by the Hospital Authority, is there any grade that is extremely discontented? Why?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, I would like you to consider whether this question is related to the main question.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): This supplementary question may be related to the part of the main answer related to the phased implementation of supporting service reforms by the Hospital Authority. (Laughter).
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, in the course of reforms, many staff members will certainly have a lot of anxieties, but this does not serve to indicate whether the reform will turn out to be something good or not. However, if these staff members are discontented or feeling anxious, I believe the Hospital Authority will try its best to give them explanations or conduct negotiations with them through established channels.
MR LEE KAI-MING (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Secretary for Health and Welfare has mentioned in her reply that the Hospital Authority is now undertaking the phased implementation of supporting service reforms, and 256 hospitals have set up the posts of both Health Care Assistants and Ward Attendants. Health Care Assistant is a new grade established under the Hospital Authority, and Ward Attendants is an existing grade in the Government. The duties of these two kinds of staff are some what duplicating, and a fairly large number of Ward Attendants have been regarded as Health Care Assistants. Does this indicate that Health Care Assistants will eventually replace all Ward Attendants and the grade of Ward Attendants will disappear automatically?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, this is what the Hospital Authority aims at achieving in the long run. However, I would like to emphasize that we do not have a rigid schedule, and we will implement this reform through staff wastage. We will not make it necessary for some of our staff to leave the service as a result of this reform, and we will take care of those staff who wish to continue to serve in hospitals.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): The last supplementary question. Mr CHAN Wing-chan, do you have a supplementary question, or do you think that you are not satisfied with the answer given just now?
MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): No, Mr President. The Secretary for Health and Welfare has already mentioned the points when she answered the question raised by Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung just now. Thank you, Mr President.
Property Development over Airport Railway Central Station
5.MR IP KWOK-HIM (in Cantonese): Mr President, in August this year, the Town Planning Board (TPB) approved a plan of property development on top of the Central Station of the Airport Railway which includes a high-rise building of 400 metres in height with 83 to 85 storeys. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS
- whether the TPB has consulted the public widely (including consultation with the District Board) before granting approval to the above development plan;
- whether the granting of approval to the above development plan contravenes specific standards governing the height of buildings along the waterfront in Central District; if so, what the reasons are for granting the approval; and
- whether, before approving the plan, the TPB has considered the effect of the above-mentioned building on the overall view of Hong Kong Island and the harbour upon its completion?
(in Cantonese): Mr President, I believe it is useful for me to first explain in very brief terms the background of the development project before answering the specific points raised in the Question.
The Airport Railway Hong Kong Central Station site is zoned as a Comprehensive Development Area on the Outline Zoning Plan. The Master Layout Plan to develop the site was approved by the Town Planning Board in February 1995. The scheme comprised three high-rise office towers, two hotel blocks and five levels of retail podium within the concourse building. It also incorporated 7 000 m2 of public open space at podium level.
The development mentioned in the Question refers to an application by the developer, in this case the Mass Transit Railway Corporation, to amend the originally approved Plan under section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance. The revised scheme includes the combination of two office towers on the northern site into one tower; the addition of about 150 number of car parking spaces; the improvement of the pedestrian circulation network through the retail levels; and the increase in public open space from 7 000 m2 to 13 600 m2. There is at present no statutory requirement under the Town Planning Ordinance for the Town Planning Board to consult the public on individual developments proposed through planning applications submitted under section 16 of the Ordinance. The likely local reaction is gauged through the District Office and reflected to the Town Planning Board either in writing or through the representative of the Director of Home Affairs on the Board.
Under the statutory Outline Zoning Plan for the Central District, there is no height restriction on buildings along the waterfront. However, under the Hong Kong Airport (Control of Obstructions) Ordinance, there are height restrictions ranging from 390 metres to 420 metres above the Principal Datum for this area. The Board's approval in this case stays within the height restrictions.
When considering MTRC's application for amendment to the Master Layout Plan, the Town Planning Board took a balanced view of the merits and demerits of the application. On the one hand, the Board recognised that Victoria Peak is an important feature of the city. The Board was fully aware of the importance to protect the view of Victoria Peak and its ridgeline. The Board noted that the proposed office tower would be seen as taller than Victoria Peak and its ridgeline from some specific locations. It would also block the view of some buildings on the Mid-Levels. On the other hand, the Board noted that the tower would feature as a landmark for the Central District at the heart of the city. The tower would also match the office tower with a height of 374 metres above the Principal Datum to be developed at the Airport Railway Kowloon Station, making a pair of landmark buildings as the gateway for travellers coming into Hong Kong. More importantly, the amended proposal would produce a number of important planning gains. The new built-form would provide a better variety of building heights, compared to the more mundane design of the original plan. There would be more car parking spaces. A major gain would be the addition of 6 600 m2 of open space on the roof of the retail podium, which is very valuable in the highly urbanised Central District. This would be made easily accessible to the public and be linked directly with the proposed podium public open space to be developed on the waterfront. The pedestrian circulation network through the various retail levels of the entire development as well as linkage with the proposed Central Piers development would also be significantly improved. On balance the Board was convinced that the amendment is a better plan than the original one.
MR IP KWOK-HIM (in Cantonese): Mr President, instead of being an ordinary development plan, the plan in question will involve the construction of a high-rise building of 400 metres in height with 83 to 85 storeys. Is there a need to give special treatment to a special development plan with such far-reaching consequences, so that members of the public can voice their opinions? In case the District Board or the residents of the district object to the plan, will the TPB withdraw its approval?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Mr President, let me make one technical point clear. The building in question is not going to be 400 metres in height. Rather, it is just going to be 400 metres above the Principal Datum. This is a technical difference. On the other hand, as I explained just now, at present, there is no requirement under the Town Planning Ordinance for the TPB to consult the public on individual development plans. However, as a matter of fact, since we have already noticed some possible areas where improvements may be required, the Government has published a White Bill on town planning, which recommends, inter alia, that details concerning individual development plans proposed through section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance may, in the future, be released for public consultation. That said, it must be pointed out that under the existing mechanism, no public consultation can be conducted, nor is there any requirement for the TPB to do so.
The Central and Western District Board has recently submitted its views on this particular point to the TPB, and following consideration, the TPB has given a reply to the chairman of a sub-committee under the District Board. But, I cannot speak on behalf of the TPB. Owing to my role as the chairman of TPB meetings, I cannot, with apology, answer the second part of the Honourable Member's question, which is on whether or not the TPB will withdraw its approval in case of public objection. The reason is that since the approval has already been granted, withdrawal or otherwise of it should be a matter for the TPB itself to discuss.
MR ALBERT CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, I wish the Secretary could give a clear reply to this question because while it is stated in paragraph 4 of his main reply that the height restriction concerned has been set in accordance with the Hong Kong Airport (Control of Obstructions) Ordinance, I also understand that in regard to the areas around Central District, the TPB and the Planning Department (PD) of the Government do not set the relevant height restrictions solely in accordance with the Hong Kong Airport (Control of Obstructions) Ordinance. Rather, the Government will impose other height restrictions having regard to the effects on the ridgeline of Victoria Peak. In the past, the Jubilee Street development plan of the Land Development Corporation (LDC) was made to comply with some height restrictions which were imposed, not only because of provisions under the Ordinance, but also because of its effects on the ridgeline of Victoria Peak. Will the Government inform us whether it is in fact true that the TPB and the PD can impose height restrictions on the ground of affecting the ridgeline of Victoria Peak? If yes, the Government seems to have accorded special treatment, or it seems to have applied double standards, with respect to this MTR superstructure property development. Why has the Government come to such a decision?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): I believe that the Honourable Member is probably referring to a principle adopted in the Metroplan. No doubt, there is a principle under the Metroplan that in the case of new developments or re-developments, not only in Central District, a sightline reservation of 20% to 30% has to be made for some specific locations in Kowloon so that the ridgeline of Victoria Peak can be visible to one who is looking towards Hong Kong Island from these locations. But, this principle is only an administrative guideline, not a statutory requirement. Moreover, if we refer to this particular principle, we must, at the same time, consider the other principles in the Metroplan because it is not intended to be a principle which must be invariably applied. For instance, one of the principles required by the Metroplan is that in major business areas such as Central District, we need to have some buildings which can serve as landmarks, that is, buildings which can stand out from the rest architecturally, so that Central District as a business area can possess some features to reflect its unique position. One more example is the principle that the coastline should also be featured by landmark buildings to reflect the special positioning of Central District or the waterfront. In addition, the Metroplan also mentions that there is a need to accord special treatment to the hub of airport transport. Therefore, from the overall perspective, the property development over the airport railway central station has not violated the principles contained in the Metroplan. And, it must be noted that the Metroplan does also mention quite a number of other principles, ranging from views of buildings in architecture to town planning for the entire territory.
MR ALBERT CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the new approval granted recently to the airport railway central station has led many people, including professionals and property developers, to ......
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr CHAN, this is not a time for discussion. Please state your question and point out the part of it which has not been answered.
MR ALBERT CHAN (in Cantonese): The part on double standards has not been answered, as many people have pointed out that the special approval granted to this property development over the airport railway central station is tantamount to a special privilege involving double standards. Will the Government review the administrative guideline mentioned by the Secretary just now with a view to setting out all the relevant criteria for everybody's information? And, will the Government apply the criteria with equity for all?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Next supplementary question.
MR CHEUNG HON-CHUNG (in Cantonese): The Secretary admits in paragraph 5 of his main reply that the approval concerned will lead to sightline obstruction, thus impairing the view and ridgeline of Victoria Peak. Will the Secretary take any remedial measures in the design?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): This supplementary question is beyond the scope of the original question and its answer.
MR BRUCE LIU (in Cantonese): Mr President, since the existing height restrictions concerned are imposed through the Hong Kong Airport (Control of Obstruction) Ordinance, will the height restrictions applicable to the waterfront of Central District be relaxed upon the relocation of Kai Tak Airport to Chek Lap Kok? And, does the Government have any policy on protecting the view of Victoria Peak? If no, will the Government formulate one?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): This supplementary question is beyond the scope of the original question and its answer.
MR CHOY KAN-PUI (in Cantonese): Mr President, under what circumstances will the TPB consult the relevant District Boards on development plans?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Mr President, the existing legislation requires the TPB to consult the public when drawing up a Draft Outline Zoning Plan. However, the term "District Boards" is not specifically incorporated into the relevant legislation because public consultation will necessarily involve consulting District Boards as a matter of procedures, and the government departments concerned will also conduct consultation on Outline Zoning Plans. In fact, with respect to the Outline Zoning Plan for the development of Central Reclamation and the development plan of the department concerned, which also covers the development density there, the District Board has been consulted in as early as 1993.
MR JOHN TSE (in Cantonese): Mr President, I think Victoria Peak of Hong Kong can be compared with Eiffel Tower in Paris and Pisa Tower in Italy in terms of significance. So, I cannot see why a building should be allowed to reach the height of Victoria Peak and block its view. Does the Government have any strategy or plan to impose stricter height restrictions on the buildings in Central District?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Mr President, first of all, it should be pointed out that the building in question will be 400 metres above the Principal Datum, while Victoria Peak is 550 metres above the Principal Datum. So, the building concerned will not be higher than Victoria Peak, for there will still be a difference of 150 metres at least. Secondly, I think it is hardly appropriate for us to compare a natural mountain ridge with buildings in cities. One example of such comparison is the saying that Victoria Peak is being deemed as significant as Eiffel Tower. I think different perspectives are involved. Thirdly, about the protection of the sight of Victoria Peak. When giving my main reply just now, I did mention that the sight of Victoria Peak may be blocked in some places. But, whether this will be the case depends on where you stand. The relevant view impact study of TPB includes a requirement for the applicant to conduct, with the aid of the computer, a simulated all-angle view scan from the construction site concerned. The fact is that your sight of Victoria Peak will be blocked only when you are standing beside Tsimshatsui Pier or beside the buildings next to it. But, if you are standing at Kowloon Public Pier or West Kowloon Reclamation to the left of it, or even on Hong Kong Island, your view of Victoria Peak and its ridgeline will not be blocked. The point is that since the building in question will be located far away from the foothill, the view of the Peak and its ridgeline will not be blocked by it from any point along the coastline or on Hong Kong Island. As for Kowloon, except the locations around Tsimshatsui Pier and Ocean Terminal which happen to face the building concerned, the view of the Peak from West Kowloon will not be blocked. If one is looking from East Kowloon, the biggest and most conspicuous sight will be the existing Central Plaza instead of the building concerned. If one looks down from the Peak, as I said just now, the building concerned will not block one's view of the harbour because the Peak is on a higher altitude, though it also depends on where one is exactly standing. What is more, as for the Mid-levels, frankly speaking, the TPB has accepted opinions without considering whether the view from the entire Mid-levels will or will not be blocked simply because of the building concerned, the reason being that many other buildings of varying heights are already found. Hence, it can be seen that when it decided to approve the application in question, the TPB had already considered the issue from various angles in a thorough and fair manner.
MR ALBERT CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the focus of my concern is still on the question of double standards. When the Secretary answered my question just now, he referred to an administrative guideline governing the approval of development plans. That being the case, will the Government review this administrative guideline to ensure that when the authorities concerned, including the TPB, apply this guideline, they will adopt a fair and sensible approach instead of granting special treatment to some particular consortia and organizations?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Mr President, neither members of the TPB nor I myself will think that we are applying double standards. The point is that since each development plan under application is supposed to be unique and marked by its own strengths and weaknesses, all such applications should be separately handled in the light of their specific circumstances. As a matter of fact, the building in question can fulfil a number of conditions which probably no other development plans under application can fulfil. For the drawing up of general planning standards, the Metroplan raises a special consideration, one which I have just mentioned, on the need for providing opportunities to construct a new landmark building in Central District to enhance its image as a business area in general, and its position as the downtown terminal of the airport railway in particular. The land slot concerned is the only site which can serve this purpose. Without it, it will be difficult to set up the airport railway terminal in Central District. In addition, this land slot, which measures four hectares in area, ......
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Will the Secretary please state concisely whether there is a question of double standards?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): I have already explained why the question of double standards is not involved. But now, let me first point out that the land slot in question measures four hectares in area, and it will be difficult to identify another site which can provide such an opportunity.
British Citizenship for Non-Chinese Ethnic Minorities
6.MISS EMILY LAU asked: Mr President, during his visit to Hong Kong in March this year, the United Kingdom Prime Minister assured the non-Chinese ethnic minorities that if they came under pressure to leave Hong Kong after 1997, they would be allowed to enter the United Kingdom. The ethnic minorities do not regard the Prime Minister's assurance as sufficient and have reiterated their demand for full British citizenship. Will the Administration inform this Council whether the Governor will use his persuasive power to urge the British Parliament to accede to the request of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, the Hong Kong Government's position on ethnic minorities is clear. We fully support the case for granting British citizenship to solely British ethnic minorities. The Governor makes this case personally whenever he meets British Ministers, whether in Hong Kong or in London. And he will continue to do so.
We have made progress on this issue. The Prime Minister's guarantee of admission and settlement in the United Kingdom in the event of this group coming under pressure to leave Hong Kong after 1 July 1997 was an important step forward and one we welcomed. This was due in no small part to the strong representations of Honourable Members, the Hong Kong community and the Hong Kong Government.
MISS EMILY LAU: Mr President, in order to convince Members of Parliament that these few thousand ethnic minorities should be given full citizenship, would the Administration reconsider the decision to conduct a registration exercise to obtain a scientific number of the actual people involved, so as to assure Members of Parliament that we are really talking about a few thousand, a very finite number? Because recently the Administration informed Members of this Council that they have decided not to do it, although the exercise would only cost about $30 million. Last Friday the House Committee of this Council ......
PRESIDENT: Miss LAU, come to your question, please.
MISS EMILY LAU: Will the Administration reconsider this question of conducting a registration of all non-Chinese ethnic minorities so as to use this as a basis for the Governor's continuing lobbying efforts?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, a decision on any possible future registration exercise is ultimately for the British Government. The British Government's position is that the solely British ethnic minorities in Hong Kong have the necessary assurances to give them the confidence to remain in the territory. The Hong Kong Government's position is clear. We continue to support the ethnic minorities' claim for full British citizenship. As regards the so-called registration exercise, as we have explained clearly in the Panel of this Council, we do not believe, nor does the British Government believe, that such a registration scheme will produce a great deal of confidence in this territory.
MISS CHRISTINE LOH: Mr President, has the Governor and/or the Administration informed the United Kingdom Government of the Preparatory Committee's proposal of 10 August that non-Chinese permanent residents should lose their right of abode in Hong Kong if they are settled elsewhere on 1 July 1997 or if they are ever absent from Hong Kong thereafter for more than a prescribed period of time? As such, can the Secretary explain what implication this proposal has on the solely British ethnic minorities in Hong Kong?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: I would, of course, have to reply first of all with a reservation that the whole subject of right of abode is under discussion between the British and Chinese sides. That said however, I do not believe that there is a direct consequence insofar as the proposal which is mentioned by the Honourable Member on the position of ethnic minorities is concerned. Under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, they will have a right of abode in Hong Kong because they do not have a right of abode anywhere else in the world. As regards people who subsequently obtain a right of abode somewhere else in the world or a citizenship somewhere else in the world, well, that position covers not only ethnic minorities who may subsequently obtain some other citizenship, that covers everybody else as well.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss Christine LOH, are you claiming that your supplementary question has not been fully answered? If so, which part?
MISS CHRISTINE LOH: Mr President, if I may, I would just ask for one clarification? Is the Secretary saying that Paragraph 7 of the Preparatory Committee's decision of 10 August has no bearing on the ethnic minorities? It is not specific in the decision that it does not apply to the ethnic minorities.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, I am saying, according to the Basic Law persons who, before the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR, had the right of abode only in Hong Kong will have only the right of abode in the Hong Kong SAR.
DR HUANG CHE-YA (in Cantonese): Mr President, we all know that in Britain there will soon be a general election which may lead to a change of government. Because of this, many civil servants in Britain have already submitted policy papers to the Labour Party in order to set forth their suggestions. Have the Hong Kong Government and the Governor submitted any papers to the Labour Party to directly inform them about the worries of non-Chinese ethnic minorities in Hong Kong as a mean of seeking Labour's support for granting full British citizenship to these ethnic minorities? If yes, will you inform this Council of the details; if no, is this a dereliction of duty?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, the Governor, and senior members of the Administration will take every opportunity, and has taken every opportunity, to raise this subject with Members of Parliament, whether they are members of the Conservative Party or members of the Liberal Democratic Party or members of the Labour Party. But I must remind the Honourable Member that any decision on the question of assurances for ethnic minorities by the British Government is ultimately for the government of the day. I do not know whether we should speculate on what the government of the day's decision will be if ever some other British political party comes into power. I hope that the Honourable Member's recitation of the idea that civil servants of Britain should be looking towards the future, or what might be the future political party in power should not be applied to Hong Kong civil servants, or that we should be looking over our shoulders across 1997 at what other political power or body should or might be in power and if we should be talking to them accordingly.
DR LEONG CHE-HUNG: Along the same line as the supplementary question of the Honourable Miss Emily LAU, can the Hong Kong Government or will the Hong Kong Government identify the ethnic minorities who might be stateless after 1 July 1997, and persuade the British Government to issue each and every individual with a note of guarantee to the effect as stated by the British Prime Minister?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Well, Mr President, a registration exercise or even a personal letter of the sort suggested by Dr LEONG could not provide a more definitive assurance that an individual person would qualify for the guarantee given by the Prime Minister. The guarantee of admission to and settlement in the United Kingdom is subject to an individual coming under pressure to leave Hong Kong after 30 June 1997 and the British Government has to be satisfied that the individual was solely British and hold no other nationality at that point in time when he came under such pressure.
So, if I, for example, carry out an exercise or a verification exercise and verify that a particular individual do not have another foreign nationality at the moment, some time down the road, and I do not believe he would, but even when he has to seek to invoke such an assurance, time would have passed ─ and we all know that nationalities can change with the passage of time ─people may have acquired another nationality. So, the fact that I have registered and verified that he does not have a nationality, or rather a foreign nationality now, does not actually enable him and entitle him to and clarify his coming under the terms of a guarantee at the time when he actually wished to invoke it.
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Mr President, I wish to follow up the question asked by an Honourable Member just now. In fact, the main point is about whether or not the Governor will urge the British Parliament to handle the issue, but the Secretary said in his reply that the Governor would discuss this subject with ministerial officials every time he went to Britain. My understanding is that these ministerial officials are in fact members of the Conservative Party. However, since only such limited progress has been achieved so far, the question should be whether or not the Governor will try to tackle this issue in a comprehensive and multi-channel manner which covers all Members of Parliament, be they members of the ruling party or the opposition party. In addition, the Governor should extend the scope of lobbying by launching a large-scale campaign at the community level, with a view to realizing the Government's objective through extensive lobbying.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Secretary, please briefly repeat your previous reply.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, which part do you want me to repeat?
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Will you please point out the difference between the two? I am afraid in the process of interpretation, people may think that the two are the same.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Perhaps, let me put it this way. We should not forget that British Ministers are also Members of Parliament. Besides, over the past few years, and in Hong Kong or otherwise in Britain, the Governor has had frequent opportunities to meet various kinds of people, including not just Members of the Conservative Party or Ministers, but also other Members of Parliament such as those belonging to the Labour Party. In addition, whenever British MPs visit Hong Kong, be they members of the Conservative Party, Labour Party or other parties, secretary level officials of the Hong Kong Government, including the Chief Secretary, other colleagues and I will have the opportunities of meeting them. As far as I myself am concerned, I would make the best use of these opportunities to raise questions, regardless of their party affilations.
MISS EMILY LAU: Mr President, in his reply to my supplementary question, the Secretary for Security said that the Government refused to conduct a registration exercise because they think that would be bad for confidence. I want the Administration to explain to us why such an exercise would be bad for confidence. After all, we all know that there are several thousand people who will become stateless, so what sort of confidence are we talking about?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, I am not sure I actually said that that would be bad for confidence. However, let us put it this way, the assurance is, among some of the conditions, in the event that the individual is coming under pressure to leave. What is the point of defining such circumstances when there may be pressure to leave? Registering someone at the moment merely registers the fact that at this point in time he or she is a solely British national and has no other foreign nationality. No one can define for the moment what pressure that anyone may be subject to leave. We do not believe that ethnic minorities will be subject to any pressure to leave, nor incidentally that they will be stateless, after 1 July 1997.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss Emily LAU, are you claming that your supplementary question has not been fully answered?
MISS EMILY LAU: Mr President, how can the Secretary stand up here and say that he can be sure that after 1997 these people will not be under pressure to leave? Who are you to be able to speak?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss Emily LAU, I would like to remind you that this is not a time for debate. Please indicate the part which has not been answered.
MISS EMILY LAU: I want to ask a follow-up on the point, the preposterous point made by the Secretary. If you rule it out of order ......
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss LAU, please resume your seat first.
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Will the Governor and the Government once again launch a more comprehensive and multi-channel lobbying exercise on this subject in Britain? This lobbying exercise should not be confined to Members of Parliament, but should be directed at the general public in Britain on a large-scale basis.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): As far as lobbying is concerned, I remain convinced that it will be more useful to lobby the Parliament and the British Government. I am not saying that it will be useless to lobby the British public, only that such an extensive lobbying exercise as suggested will involve a lot of problems.
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): Mr President, will the Secretary please tell us whether his reply to Miss Emily LAU's question is exactly what government officials and the Governor say when they go to Britain and "persuade" the British Government to grant full British citizenship to the non-Chinese ethnic minorities in Hong Kong? If yes, they are simply not lobbying the British Government to render assistance to these ethnic minorities but are just telling the British Government how it can turn down the granting of full British citizenship to these ethnic minorities. Is this a betrayal of the ethnic minorities?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr HUANG Chen-ya, I would like to remind all Members that it is a time for questions. Please raise your questions instead of expressing your opinions in the form of a question.
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): Mr President, I am really asking a question. I want to clarify whether the Secretary's reply to Miss Emily LAU's question, that is, the Government's reply to Miss LAU's question, is exactly what the Hong Kong Government says in Britain. If yes, then we can draw a conclusion that the Government is not lobbying the British Government ......
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr HUANG, the first half is a question, but, the latter half is an expression of opinion.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, as I stated in the main reply, the Hong Kong Government's position on ethnic minorities is clear. We fully support the case for granting British citizenship to ethnic minorities having a British nationality.
MR MARTIN LEE (in Cantonese): Mr President, does the Government want us to mobilize these ethnic minorities to stage some Diaoyu Islands type of civilian protests and take them to the British Isles before there is a chance of success?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, I am not sure whether Mr LEE's suggested action will lead to a more successful outcome.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Which national flag should be taken along?
MISS EMILY LAU (in Cantonese): Mr President, I want to follow up the last question raised by Mr James TO. When Members of Parliament in Britain pointed out that full British citizenship could not be granted to these ethnic minorities, they justified their decision by quoting their voters' disapproval. So I believe that it is necessary to let British voters and Britons know that the number involved is very small. In this connection, I would ask the Government again whether it will consider lobbying the general public in Britain so as to gain their support and then tell Members of Parliament that they should lend their support as well?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, I believe it is not necessary to launch a large-scale lobbying exercise in order to convey a message to them that the number of these ethnic minorities is in fact very small and to tell them why we think that these people should be granted British citizenship. We can achieve the same through other means, such as making our views clear in the local and British media.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): In accordance with section 19(6) of Standing Orders, I announce that Question 2 is now being handled as a question asking for a written reply.
WRITTEN ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
2. MR ALBERT HO asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE
- of the number of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease in various districts in the territory and the incidence of such disease in each district;
- whether it has any plan to set up Alzheimer's disease assessment centres in public hospitals in the various districts;
- whether it has any plan to provide financial assistance to voluntary agencies for the provision of hostels and day care centres which cater especially for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease; and
- how the Government will implement the recommendation of the Report of the Working Group on Care for the Elderly concerning the payment of an allowance to voluntary workers and health care personnel looking after patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease?
(in Chinese): Mr President, from the medical point of view, Alzheimer's Disease can be caused by many factors, and most of the people who suffer from this disease are elderly people. At present, we do not have any records which can indicate the incidence of this disease and the total number of old people suffering from it.
Services for Alzheimer's Disease patients are currently provided by the Psychiatric Departments and Divisions of Medicine belonging to the various district hospitals under the Hospital Authority (HA), and one of the major items of work is the provision of evaluation services. Besides, as part of its plan for the year 1996-1997, the HA intends to set up memory clinics in four public hospitals, namely, Queen Mary Hospital, Castle Peak Hospital, Kwong Wah Hospital and Ruttonjee Hospital, where Alzheimer's Disease patients are to be given diagnosis, evaluation, treatment and other support services.
Although the Government does not run any hostels and day-care centres set up especially for Alzheimer's Disease patients, in-patient care services for people suffering from varying degrees of the disease are already provided in the various kinds of hostels set up to cater for the needs of the elderly requiring residential medical and nursing care. And, these hostels include the care and attention homes and long-stay care homes under the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and the convalescent homes and infimaries operated by the HA. Besides, the day-care centres under the SWD and the geriatric day hospitals under the HA will also provide services to patients who suffer from a mild degree of the disease.
Psychiatric teams for the elderly and community geriatric teams have been set up in recent years to provide outreaching medical services to the Alzheimer's Disease patients at the hostels mentioned just now. These teams also offer education and training programmes to the patients' families and those hostel staff responsible for looking after elderly inmates. And, in case of unexpected changes in the patients' health conditions, these teams will provide contingency back-up to the hostels concerned. This has effectively enhanced the ability of the various hostels in looking after Alzheimer's Disease patients, thus reducing the expenditure on medical srvices.
Another thing is that the Government has commissioned a consultancy firm to conduct a study on the elderly's needs relating to community support and residential medical and nursing care, and Alzheimer's Disease patients will also be covered. It is hoped that this study, which already started earlier this year, will be able to help us in developing the most appropriate types of hostels and day-care centres for Alzheimer's disease patients.
Since October 1995, the SWD has been implementing a voluntary workers' programme as recommended in the Report of the Working Group on Elderly Services. Under this programme, participating voluntary workers are each paid at an hourly rate of $20. The scope of these voluntary workers' services has been extended to cover Alzheimer's Disease patients. It is worth noting that the Report makes no recommendations on the payment of allowances and nursing personnel.
Specialist Out-patient Services
7. MR ALBERT CHAN asked (in Chinese): Is the Government aware:
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE
- of the average number of patients seeking treatment per day and the daily quota of medical consultations in the specialist out-patient services provided by Tuen Mun Hospital in each of the past three years;
- of the average waiting time for getting specialist out-patient services appointments in Tuen Mun Hospital in the past three years, and how it differs from that laid down in the performance pledge of the Hospital; and
- what short-term and long-term measures the Hospital Authority has to improve the specialist out-patient services provided by Tuen Mun Hospital in view of the increasing demand for specialist out-patient services in Tuen Mun?
(in Chinese): Mr President, the average number of patients seeking specialist out-patient consultation per day at Tuen Mun Polyclinic and Tuen Mun Hospital were 890 950 and 1 100 in 1993-94, 1994-95 and 1995-96 respectively. All patient consultations are arranged by appointment in advance and not subject to any daily quota.
The average waiting time for specialist out-patient consultation at Tuen Mun Polyclinic and Tuen Mun Hospital were 15.2, 9.7 and 15.6 weeks in 1993-94, 1994-95 and 1995-96 respectively. The Hospital Authority has pledged in its 1995-96 Annual Plan to achieve an average waiting time of less than three months for first consultation in 90% of its specialist out-patient clinics. This has been achieved.
To cope with the growing demand, patients in Tuen Mun seeking consultation in the specialities of Medicine and Geriatrics are given the choice of referral to South Kwai Chung Specialist Out-patient Clinic where the waiting time is shorter. As always, patients with suspected urgent conditions will be provided with immediate treatment.
In the longer term, Government is working closely together with the Hospital Authority on a project to reprovision Tuen Mun Polyclinic in Tuen Mun Hospital with expanded consultation facilities.
Dropped Rape Case of a Mentally Handicapped Person
8.MR FRED LI asked (in Chinese): In a recent rape case involving a victim who is a mentally handicapped person, it was reported that the Legal Department considered that the victim was incapable of giving testimony in court and dropped charges against the defendant to safeguard the victim's best interests. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
- whether the prosecution had considered using the video-link system to conduct the hearing;
- whether it had assessed the victim's mental and psychological conditions before the trial; if not, why not; and how it was determined that the victim was incapable of giving testimony in court;
- of the criteria adopted for determining what the victim's best interests were;
- whether, in deciding to drop charges against the defendant, consideration had been given to the chances of a successful prosecution; and
- whether, in the light of the problems which have been brought to light in this case, the authority concerned will review the existing legislation with a view to determining whether there is a need to introduce remedial measures; if so, what the specific details of the review are and when the review will be completed; if not, why not?
(in Chinese): Mr President,
Car Parks on Short Term Tenancy
- Yes. The prosecution did consider the possibility of applying to the court for the use of live television link facilities for the giving of evidence, but for the reasons given below, the trial did not proceed.
- Yes. The prosecution had obtained a psychologist's report in respect of the victim, which contained the following observations and comments:
- The victim had great difficulty in making any organized and full narration of the incident.
- She would be very unlikely to be able to follow court procedures.
- She had limited understanding of the meaning of taking an oath.
- She was easily confused by repeated questioning and this might have resulted in inconsistent or incorrect information from her.
- She had minimal resources to cope with the strain of cross-examination.
- There were many limitations on the victim's ability to be a competent witness in court.
- In determining what the victim's best interests were in this case, the following matters were taken into account:
- the contents of the psychologist's report
- the possible availability of a live television link at trial
- the victim's recovery from the incident and the possibility that a trial would cause her emotional instability
- the chances of securing a conviction
- the views of the victim's mother
- Yes. In deciding not to proceed with the charges, the prosecution carefully considered the chances of securing a conviction.
- The Administration has examined the facts and circumstances of the case. We understand the feelings of the parents of other mentally handicapped persons over the outcome of this case. However, we do not consider that a review of the existing legislation would be necessary.
9.MR SIN CHUNG-KAI asked (in Chinese): The Lands Department has recently granted a piece of vacant land for use as a public car park on short term tenancy (STT), despite opposition from the Kwai Ching District Board. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS
- of the number of sites that were granted for use as public car parks on STT, together with the total number of parking spaces provided, in the various districts in the past five years; and the number of sites that are expected to be granted for use as public car parks on such basis, as well as the number of parking spaces provided, in the coming two years;
- whether environmental impact assessments had been conducted before the granting of the sites in (a) above for use as public car parks on STT basis;
- whether the Lands Department is required to consult the district boards before granting such STTs; and
- of the number of such STTs granted by the Lands Department despite opposition from the district boards since 1 April 1995, and the reasons for their opposition; and the justification for the Lands Department granting the STTs in the face of such opposition?
(in Chinese): Mr President,
Legislation on Owner's Corporations in Private Buildings
- From the period 1 April 1992 to 30 September 1996, 203 STT sites were let by tender for public carpark uses. The cumulative estimated number of parking spaces provided by all these sites for various types of vehicles are about 30 000. The Lands Department will process such cases as and when sites become available, in the light of demand and competing needs for short term tenancy uses. Currently, 20 STT applications for carparking are being processed. They will provide some 3 000 parking spaces if approved.
- An environmental impact assessment is not required for short term lettings.
- Before a site is let by STT, the District Lands Office of the Lands Department will consult the relevant government departments including the District Office. The District Officer will seek advice of the District Board if considered necessary.
- Normally, District Boards welcome proposals to grant STTs for public carparks in view of the shortage of parking facilities which is a general problem in many districts, and have indeed been pressing the Administration to do more. Since April 1995, we are aware of two cases where STTs were granted despite the disagreement of the District Board. The reasons for their objection include traffic impact and possible nuisance generated. However on both occasions the professional assessment of the departments concerned was that there was no justification that adverse traffic impact would arise. The Lands Department had also restricted the operating hours of the carparks in order to limit any possible nuisance that might be generated. The decision to let the sites was made in view of the acute demand for vehicle parking in these areas.
10.MR BRUCE LIU asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR HOME AFFAIRS
- of the total number of cases in which two or more Owners' Corporations exist in the same private building concurrently;
- whether the situation mentioned above contravenes any provisions of the law; if so, why such a situation has occurred and whether the Government will consider amending the existing legislation so as to prevent such a situation occurring; if not, what measures does the Government have to resolve disputes arising from such a situation; and
- which Government departments are involved in the process of forming Owners' Corporations in private buildings, and what their respective roles are?
(in Chinese): Mr President, my reply is as follows:
Registration of Electrical Workers
- according to the records of both the Home Affairs Department (HAD) and of the Land Registry, there is no private building in which two or more owners' corporations exist concurrently;
- the Building Management Ordinance provides, inter alia, for the incorporation of owners in buildings. There is no provision in the Ordinance to allow two or more owners' corporations in the same building to exist concurrently. As there is no building in which two or more owners' corporations exist concurrently ((a) above), we consider that there is no need to amend the Ordinance in this respect; and
- HAD and the Land Registry are involved in the process of forming owners' corporations in private buildings. HAD promotes effective building management in private buildings and advises owners on procedural and technical matters relating to the formation of owners' corporations. HAD's staff are present at the owners' meetings to render assistance in the formation of owners' corporations. After formation, liaison is maintained through routine visits and participation in owners' meetings. When owners encounter building management problems, HAD's staff offer advice and mediate in disputes. The Land Registry deals with the registration of an owners' corporation upon application by a management committee appointed under the Building Management Ordinance. The Land Registry also maintains a register of owners' corporations and enters particulars of winding-up petitions or winding-up orders in the register.
11.LEUNG YIU-CHUNG asked (in Chinese): Under the Electricity (Registration) Regulations, applicants for registration as electrical workers of various grades of electrical work must have relevant working experience. At present, applicants have to rely on their employers to certify in writing that they have the relevant working experience. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES
- of the total number of persons registered for Grade A electrical work under regulation 4(2) in Part III of the Electricity (Registration) Regulations in the past five years;
- of the ways by which employees can prove their relevant working experience, apart from requesting their employers to issue certifying documents;
- whether employers can refuse to issue certifying documents to employees regarding their working experience; and
- how the authorities verify the accuracy of the certifying documents regarding working experience?
(in Chinese): Mr President,
Tseung Kwan O Extension
- During the five years ending on 31 August 1996, 44 266 persons whose qualifications satisfied the requirements of regulation 4(2) of the Electricity (Registration) Regulations were registered for Grade A electrical work.
- An applicant for registration as an electrical worker is required under regulation 9(b) of the Electricity (Registration) Regulations to submit to the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services documents that the Director considers are relevant to the applicant's registration or qualifications for registration. An applicant may satisfy the Director as to his relevant working experience by submitting certificates or letters issued by his current or previous employers describing his practical experience in electrical work while in their employ. The applicant may also submit for the Director's consideration other relevant documents which can help to verify his working experience in electrical work. Such documents may include, for example, tender documents for electrical installations that he has undertaken, or certification from owners of the electrical installations concerned or from his supervisors.
- There is no provision under the Electricity Ordinance or its subsidiary legislation to require an employer to issue documents certifying an employee's working experience for the purpose of registration as an electrical worker.
- In the event of doubt over the accuracy of documents submitted in support of an application, the Director may verify the applicant's working experience by approaching his employer or supervisor, installation owners or other parties concerned, or visiting his workplace.
12.DR SAMUEL WONG asked: Mr President, in view of the rapid and large increase in population in Tseung Kwan O, there is an urgent need to extend the Mass Transit Railway line to that area. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT:
- the Mass Transit Railway Corporation has made any plan to start constructing the Tseung Kwan O Extension soon; and
- the above project will be discussed by the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group?
Mr President, we have received a submission from the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) proposing to complete the construction of the Tseung Kwan O Extension (TKE) by December 2001, subject to the availability of land. We are examining the financial, legal, engineering and land implications of the proposal and aim to arrive at a view on the Corporation's proposals by early 1997. The MTRC is at present examining with government departments concerned possible interface problems with other infrastructural facilities along the proposed alignment so as to further refine their proposed scheme.
When we have completed our assessment of the MTRC's proposal, we will consult the Chinese side of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) before any decision is made that would commit the Special Administrative Region Government. In the meantime, we have offered to brief the Chinese side of the JLG about this project.
Conversion of Public Rental Flats into HOS Flats
13.MR MOK YING-FAN asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR HOUSING
- of the number of public rental flats built since the implementation of the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) as well as the number of flats which were originally designed for rental purposes but later converted into HOS flats;
- whether the decision of the Housing Department (HD) to convert certain public rental flats into HOS flats is subject to the endorsement by the Housing Authority (HA) or the relevant committee of the HA; if not, why not; and
- given the pledge made in the Policy Commitment of last year's policy address to reduce the average waiting time for allocation of public rental housing to under five years by 2001, what measures are in place to ensure that the waiting time will not be extended as a result of the conversion of public rental flats into HOS flats?
(in Chinese): Mr President, since the implementation of the HOS in 1978, over 460 000 public rental flats have been built, of which 32 000 have been transferred to home ownership flats.
The Home Ownership Committee of the HA is responsible for examining proposals relating to the transfer of public rental flats to subsidized home ownership flats. The projects and the number of flats involved are reported to the HA on a quarterly basis.
Before a decision is made on a proposal to change the originally planned use of a housing block from rental flats to subsidized home ownership flats, the Home Ownership Committee of the HA takes into account the demand for rental flats from various categories including waiting list applicants, the demand for subsidized home ownership flats, the public housing construction programme, the housing production targets for both types of flats, and the number of vacated rental flats available for reallocation. The Committee will need to be satisfied that a change of flat use will not significantly affect the housing opportunities of those in need, including eligible applicants on the public housing waiting list, and will not affect our target of reducing the waiting time for public rental housing. We are progressing towards meeting these targets. In the past 12 months, rental flats were provided to over 12 000 applicants on the public housing waiting list, and their average waiting time was reduced from seven to six and a half years.
Computerized System for HKSAR passports
14. MR HOWARD YOUNG asked: Will the Government inform this Council of the progress in developing the computerized system for issuing the future Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passports; and whether a decision will be made for the system to start receiving data input, so that applications can be processed before 1 July 1997?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, the computerized system for the issue of HKSAR passport has two component systems, namely, the passport personalization system and the processing and record system. The former is for printing personal data and lamination of the passport. The latter which includes an imaging system is for processing passport applications, record maintenance and data authentication.
For both systems, we have been making good progress in accordance with the implementation plan set out in the paper we submitted to the Finance Committee in January this year. Tenders have been awarded, and the design and development of systems are proceeding full steam ahead. The computer systems will commence operation on 1 July 1997.
The development of the HKSAR passport computer system is subject to a very tight timetable. Hence, there is practically no scope of advancing the implementation date.
Social Security Allowance Scheme
15.MR FRED LI asked (in Chinese): A Government inter-departmental steering group is reviewing the old age and disability allowances under the Social Security Allowance Scheme. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE
- why the review is conducted by a Government internal steering group alone;
- of the purposes of the review, and whether they include reducing the expenditure on the Social Security Allowance Scheme; and
- whether the Government will consult the public on the findings of the review; if so, how the consultation will be conducted; if not, why not?
(in Chinese): Mr President,
University Academics on Advisory Boards and Committees
- The inter-departmental Steering Group chaired by the Director of Social Welfare which conducted the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Review is completing its study of social security arrangements by reviewing Social Security Allowances. Given that Social Security is exclusively a Government function, it is considered that a Steering Group comprising Government officials drawing on direct experience gained from running such systems is best placed to carry out such a review.
- The purpose of the review is not to reduce expenditure on the Social Security Allowance Scheme. It is simply that, like all Schemes established some time ago, it is timely to conduct a review to check that the Scheme remains effective.
- The Review is still in hand and no conclusions have yet been reached. We will consult Members of the Legislative Council and other interested parties on the review's recommendations before any decisions or changes are made.
16.DR LAW CHEUNG KWOK asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council of:
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES
- the names of the advisory boards and committees which are concerned with economic and monetary affairs;
- the respective percentages of expatriates and academics of local universities with Hong Kong permanent resident status, out of the total membership of these advisory boards and committees; and
- the criteria adopted for appointing university academics to serve on such bodies?
(in Chinese): Mr President,
- The names of the advisory boards and committees which are concerned with economic and monetary affairs are as follows:
Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries (ACAF)
Aviation Advisory Board (AAB)
Banking Advisory Committee (BAC)
Deposit-Taking Companies Advisory Committee (DTCAC)
Economic Advisory Committee (EAC)
Endangered Species Advisory Committee (ESAC)
Energy Advisory Committee (EnAC)
Exchange Fund Advisory Committee (EFAC)
Fish Marketing Advisory Board (FMAB)
Insurance Advisory Committee (IAC)
Mandatory Provident Fund Advisory Board (MPFAB)
Marketing Advisory Board (MAB)
Pilotage Advisory Committee (PAC)
Port Development Board (PDB)
Port Operations Committee (POC)
Provisional Local Vessel Advisory Committee (PLVAC)
Radio Spectrum Advisory Committee (RSAC)
Securities and Futures Commission (SFC)
Securities and Futures Commission Advisory Committee (SFCAC)
Standing Committee on Company Law Reform (SCCLR)
Telecommunications Numbering Advisory Committee (NAC)
Telecommunications Standards Advisory Committee (TSAC)
Telecommunications Users and Consumers Advisory Committee (UCAC)
- There are 314 appointments to the 23 advisory boards and committees, and individuals may be appointed to more than one board or committee. Of the 314 appointments, 87 or 28% are filled by expatriates and 21 or 7%, academics of local universities. We do not seek to ascertain the resident status of an individual being considered for appointment to any advisory board or committee. We therefore do not have information on the resident status of the 21 academics of local universities.
- The criteria adopted for appointing university academics to serve on advisory boards and committees include the depth and span of academic and professional knowledge on the relevant subjects, expertise, experience, skills and past record of community services, including services on other government advisory committees.
17.MISS EMILY LAU asked: In view of the recent spate of industrial accidents, will the Administration inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER:
- of the number of persons killed or injured in industrial accidents in the past 24 months, with a breakdown by the categories of such accidents;
- whether there is a policy to debar contractors on the Lists of Approved Contractors for Public Works which have poor industrial safety records from tendering for government projects; if so, how the policy is implemented and the number of contractors which have been so debarred in the past 24 months; if not, whether the Government will actively consider formulating such a policy; and
- of the names of contractors currently engaged in the Airport Core Programme (ACP) and non-ACP projects which have a record of violating industrial safety laws?
- According to the latest available statistics, a total of 142 persons were killed and 89 651 persons injured in industrial accidents during the 24-month period between 1 July 1994 and 30 June 1996.
A breakdown of fatal and non-fatal industrial accidents by major industries for the same period is at Annexes 1 and 2 respectively. It can be seen that the total number of industrial accidents for the first half of 1996 has declined by 10.6% as compared with that for the same period in 1995.
A similar breakdown of fatal and non-fatal industrial accidents by cause is at Annexes 3 and 4 respectively.
- For government construction contracts, there are provisions under existing Works Branch Technical Circulars to take regulatory actions, including suspension from tendering, against contractors which have had poor safety performance or very serious accidents on any of their sites. The Works Branch is monitoring very closely the site safety performance of all government contractors. Accident statistics of all government sites are being compiled on a monthly basis. Conviction records of all contractors are also kept on a monthly basis.
In the past 24 months, there were two contractors suspended from tendering in all categories of government works; one due to a very serious accident and the other due to persistently poor safety performance. Contractors suspended from tendering are excluded from bidding for government construction contracts either for a period of not less than three months or indefinitely until the Administration is satisfied that all necessary safety related requirements, usually following a stringent safety audit, have been met.
The Administration believes that imposing sanctions is just one way of dealing with the problem of safety for government construction contracts. The Administration has also introduced other positive safety initiatives for government contracts such as the Independent Safety Audit Scheme and Pay for Safety Scheme, and is monitoring and evaluating their effectiveness in improving safety.
- A list of current ACP and non-ACP contractors having site safety convictions under the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance within the 24-month period up to 30 June 1996 is at Annex 5. Many of the convictions were minor offences, such as failure to keep records or registers, absence of statutory warning notices or signs, and lack of first aid equipment, and so on which carry a maximum penalty of $10,000 under the Ordinance.
Whenever serious irregularities in implementing the specified safety measures are identified, the works department concerned will interview the contractors, give advice as to how to improve their safety procedures and check that the improvements are made. Inspectors from the Labour Department carry out inspections concerning the statutory requirements and give assistance wherever necessary. The convicted contractors will have to prove within a specified period of time that they have complied with all the necessary rules and procedures. Those who fail to do so would be given a formal suspension from tendering for government projects.
Number of Fatal Industrial Accidents in Major Industries
(July 1994 - June 1996)
Number of Non-Fatal Industrial Accidents in Major Industries
(July 1994 - June 1996)
|Manufacturing Industry||7 354||4 663||4 520||3 423||19 960
|Construction Industry||11 217||7 526||7 679||6 849||33 271
|Catering Industry||9 368||6 280||6 256||5 743||27 647
|Other Industries||2 682||1 796||2 204||2 091||8 773
|All Industries||30 621||20 265||20659||18 106||89 651
Number of Fatal Industrial Accidents analyzed by Cause
(July 1994 - June 1996)
|Cause of Injury||Jul-Dec |
|Expolosion or Fire||0
|Hot or Corrosive |
|Gassing, Poisoning and Other Toxic Substances||0||0||0||2||2
|Fall of Person||18||13||20||19||70||
|Stepping on, Striking against or Struck by Objects ||3||3||2||2||10
|Fall of Ground||0||1||0||1||2
|Handling without Machinery||0||0||0||0||0
Number of Non-fatal Industrial Accidents analyzed by Cause
(July 1994-June 1996)
|Cause of Injury||Jul-Dec |
|Machinery||1 897||935||1419||1 179||5 430
|Expolosion or Fire||275||208||117||116||716
|Hot or Corrosive Substance||2 672||1620||1 825||1 530||7 647
|Gassing, Poisoning and Other Toxic Substances||22||31||6||11||70
|Fall of Person||4 019||2 437||3 101||2 943||12 500
|Stepping on, Striking against or Struck by Objects||8 672||6 815||6 817||5 446||27 750
|Falling Objects||1 567||776||1 015||946||4 304
|Fall of Ground||5||1||0||4||10
|Handling without Machinery||7 849||4 547||3 111||3 167||18 674
|Hand Tool||2 925||2 688||2 423||2 293||10 329
|Total||30 621||20 265||20 659||18 106||89 651
List of ACP and non-ACP contractors
having convictions between July 1994 and June 1996
|Able Engg. Co. Ltd||x
|Algemene Aannemingsmaatschappij D. Blankvoort & Zn. B.V.||x||x
|AMEC International Construction Ltd.||x||x
|Bachy Soletanche Group||x||x
|Balfour Beatty Ltd.
|Barbican Construction Co. Ltd.
|Campenon Bernard SGE
|Chatwin Engineering Ltd.
|Cheung Kee Fung Cheung Const. Co. Ltd.
|Chevalier (Envirotech) Ltd.
|China Civil Engineering Const. Corp.
|China Fujian Corp. for International Techno-Economic Co-operation
|China Harbour Engg. Co.
|China International Water & Electric Corporation
|China Metallurgical Construction (Group) Corporation
|China Road and Bridge Corp.
|China State Construction Engg. Corp.
|Chinney Const. Co. Ltd
|Chun Wo Const. and Engg. Co. Ltd.
|Costain Building & Civil Engineering Ltd.
|Cubiertas Y Mzov, S.A. Compania General de Construcciones
|CWF Piling & Civil Engineering Co. Ltd.
|Dickson Const. Co. Ltd.
|Downer and Co. Ltd.
|Dragages Et Traveax Publics
|Enpack (H.K.) Ltd.
|Entrecanales Y Tavora, S.A.
|Excel Engg. Co. Ltd.
|Express Builders Co. Ltd.
|FELS Construction Techniques Ltd.
|Fook Lee Const. Co. Ltd.
|Franki Contractors Ltd.
|Fu Hing Construction Co. Ltd.
|Gammon Construction Ltd.
|Gar Wing Hung Kee Const. Co,
|Gold Banner Construction & Development Ltd.
|Goldfield N & W Construction Co. Ltd.
|Guangdong Water Conservancy & Hydro-power Engg. Dev. Co. Ltd.
|Hing Lee Construction Co.Ltd.
|Hip Hing Construction Co. Ltd.
|Hoi Sing Construction Co. Ltd.
|Hollandsche Aanneming Maatschappij bv
|Hong Kong Kwong Tai Builders Ltd.
|Hoo Cheong Building Const. Co. Ltd.
|Hop Tai Const. Co. Ltd.
|Hsin Chong Construction Co. Ltd
|Hung Mau Realty & Construction Ltd.
|K & R Wong Construction Co. Ltd.
|Kier Hong Kong Ltd.
|Kim Hung Construction and Engg. Co. Ltd.
|Kone Elevator (HK) Ltd.
|Kumagai Gumi (Hong Kong) Ltd.
|Kumagai Gumi Co. Ltd.
|Kwan Tang Construction Co. Ltd.
|Kwong Yuen Construction Co. Ltd.
|Lam Construction Co. Ltd.
|Lam Woo & Co. Ltd
|Lau Cheong Kee Marine Engg. Ltd.
|Leader Civil Engineering Corp. Ltd.
|Leighton Contractors (Asia) Ltd.
|Luen Cheong Tai Construction Co. Ltd.
|Maeda Kenetsu Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha
|Marshall Karson Const. & Engg. Co. Ltd.
|New City Construction Co. Ltd.
|Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd.
|Paul Y. -ITC General Contractors Ltd.
|Paul Y. Construction Co. Ltd.
|Penta-Ocean Construction Co. Ltd.
|Progress Construction Ltd
|PWT (Hong Kong) Ltd.
|Realty Cheng and Partners Construction Ltd.
|Ryoden Lift and Escalator Co. Ltd.
|Sequence Construction Co.
|Shui On Building Contractors Ltd.
|Shui On Civil Contractors Ltd.
|Shui On Construction Co. Ltd.
|Shun Shing Construction and Engg. Co. Ltd.
|Shun Yuen Construction Co. Ltd.
|Sun Fook Kong (Civil) Ltd.
|Sun Fook Kong Construction Ltd.
|Sun Hang Shing Const. & Decoration Co. Ltd.
|Sun Spark Construction Ltd.
|Tai Dou Building Contractor
|Tai Hing (Engineers & Builders) Ltd.
|Tarzan Contractors Ltd.
|Trafalgar House Construction (Asia) Ltd.
|UDL Contracting Ltd.
|Union Contractors Ltd.
|Unistress Building Construction Ltd.
|Van Oord ACZ B.V.
|Vibro (HK) Ltd.
|Wah Seng General Contractors Ltd.
|Wah Tai & K.S. Wong Const. (HK) Ltd
|Wan Chung Construction Co. Ltd.
|Wan Hin & Co. Ltd.
|Wanson Construction Co. Ltd.
|Water Engineering Ltd.
|Wing Fai Construction Co. Ltd.
|Wo Hing Construction Co. Ltd.
|Woon Lee Construction Co. Ltd.
|Yan Lee Construction Co.
|Yau Lee Construction Co. Ltd.
|Yick Hing Construction Co.
|Yiu Wing Construction Co. Ltd.
United States Regulations on Local Clothing Products
18.MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG asked (in Chinese): The United States Government has recently imposed new measures on imported textiles products, including the unilateral imposition of additional import document requirements on five types (totalling 10 categories) of clothing products manufactured in Hong Kong and the payment of higher entry bonds by United States importers of these products. In this connection, will the Administration inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY
- in comparison with the corresponding figures in the same period last year, what impact the above measures have had on the local garment industry (particularly on the total value of exports, number of workers employed, average working hours and average wages of workers in respect of the 10 categories of clothing products) in the period from June to September this year;
- the latest progress of the consultations between the Administration and the United States Government, and the counter-measures which have been taken and will be taken by the Administration in this regard; and
- the measures adopted by the relevant departments in enforcing the regulations concerning the country of origin of goods?
(in Chinese): Mr President, without any prior notification, on 17 June the United States unilaterally imposed additional customs measures on the import of 10 categories of Hong Kong garments. These measures include additional documentation requirements on the authenticity of production and the origin of shipment, the imposition of single entry bond, and requests relating to United States Customs "production verification" teams conducting factory visits in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Government immediately conveyed our serious concern about these measures to the United States Administration, warned of their likely trade diversion impact on our textiles and clothing industry, and requested the immediate lifting of the measures. We also made clear our commitment to combat illegal transshipment activities. In the meantime, we have worked closely with the United States authorities in an attempt to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the problem. We hope that, in the spirit of positive co-operation and partnership, the two sides will work out a mutually acceptable solution soon.
With regard to the trade performance of the 10 categories subject to the additional measures, it is noted that the value of Hong Kong's exports in these categories to the United States in the first seven months of 1996 (which are our latest available statistics) amounted to HK$1,763 million, or 5.4% less than the figure for the same period in 1995. The volume of concerned Hong Kong exports is tabulated in Annex A, which compares the 1996 position with that for 1995, for the periods January to June (before the imposition of the additional measures), July to September (after the imposition of the additional measures), and January to September. Nine of the 10 affected categories registered a decrease in export volume, ranging between 7% to 59% in July-September 1996 as compared with the same period in 1995.
The Hong Kong Government does not keep statistics on the employment and wage situation of workers in the clothing industry at a category to category level. There is therefore no statistical information on the impact of the additional measures on workers involved in the production of the 10 categories of products. It may be surmised that a decrease in orders and trade is likely to affect the level of employment and wage but it is not possible to draw any specific conclusions.
Since the imposition of the additional measures on Hong Kong, we have held two rounds of formal consultations and a series of informal exchanges with the United States side. Following these consultations, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department invited their United States counterpart to Hong Kong to conduct a joint visit programme in September. The purpose was to allow the United States Customs officers to observe the operation of our control and enforcement systems at work. During the programme, joint teams of Hong Kong and United States Customs officers visited over 130 factories that were involved in the production of the 10 categories of products and had given consent to be visited. In line with Hong Kong's separate customs territory status and integrity of our customs jurisdiction, the joint visits did not involve any enforcement action by United States Customs officers. For example, inspection of books and records and investigation of suspicious cases were conducted only by Hong Kong Customs officers. The United States Customs officers observed the factory premises and production in process, and talked to management personnel and workers. The programme ended on 30 September and both sides are now reviewing the results.
In parallel with the joint efforts at the operational level, senior Hong Kong officials have, on many occasions, conveyed to various senior officials in the United States Administration Hong Kong's concern about the additional measures and their adverse impact on our trade, and requested their immediate removal. We believe that the joint visit programme and the associated dialogue have increased the understanding on both sides. We hope this would be conducive to bringing about a bilateral solution. If this proves unattainable, we will seek an escalation of the matter to the World Trade Organization for dispute settlement.
Hong Kong takes its obligations under the multilateral Agreement on Textiles and Clothing to prevent illegal transshipment of textile products seriously. We have put in place sophisticated licensing and enforcement systems to fulfil such obligations. An outline is given at Annex B. Our systems are kept under constant review and improvements are introduced whenever necessary.
Exports of Textiles and Clothing Products to the United States
in the Categories for which Additional Documents are required
(based on Export Licences issued)
January - September
2 749 805|
2 583 105
|1 313 800|
1 623 386
|4 063 605|
4 206 491
(wool suits, M&B)
(mmf suits, M&B)
|1 007 343|
|1 567 068|
1 379 565
Comprehensive Social Security Assistance
- The Hong Kong Government maintains comprehensive administrative and legal systems for the strict enforcement of the rules of origin. In the area of textiles and clothing (T&C), our systems of import and export licensing control and origin certification ensure that the T&C exports of Hong Kong meet the origin criteria. The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department is responsible for the enforcement work.
- Under the origin certification system, the Trade Department and the five Government Approved Certification Organizations issue Certificates of Origin (COs) based on common standards and practices. The COs are governed in law by the Import and Export Ordinance (Cap. 60) and the Protection of Non-Government Certificates of Origin Ordinance (Cap. 324). Offences relating to the COs are subject to a fine of $500,000 and two years' imprisonment. The Ordinances also authorize the Director-General of Trade to impose administrative actions against the offenders.
- In order to enforce the origin control, the Trade Department requires compulsory registration of factories which seek to apply for COs. The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department conducts on-site inspections before an application is approved. A factory is qualified for registration only if it shows that it has the necessary capability (including factory premises, machines and workers) to produce the products for which they are registered. The factory also has to keep its production records for regular inspection by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.
- In applying for COs, a registered manufacturer must declare that the goods are produced in Hong Kong in compliance with the relevant origin criteria and requirements.
- On-site random inspections of the goods for which COs are being applied are carried out by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department to ensure that the declared information is true and correct. The inspections also cover things such as the raw materials used, the production records and wages of the workers. Applicants found to be committing any frauds or unlawful acts will be subject to prosecution and administrative actions imposed by the Director-General of Trade.
- Since 1 July 1996, the Trade Department has introduced additional control measures on every consignment of locally manufactured cut and sewn garments by requiring factory operators to submit to the Department a Production Notification which sets out the production dates, local manufacturing processes and raw materials and parts used, and so on. The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department will conduct random checks to ensure that they are in compliance with the Hong Kong origin criteria. When a manufacturer subsequently applies for COs for such garments, he has to produce the Production Notifications validated by the Trade Department to support his application.
- As in the case of COs, our import and export licensing system is backed up by comprehensive legislation and vigorous enforcement by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.
- Apart from conducting regular spot checks of the goods covered by the COs and import and export licences, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department also carries out random blitzchecks at factories and customs entry and exit control points. The Department has also set up a special task force to combat origin frauds and introduced a reward scheme to encourage the public to report frauds. The highest reward amounts to $20,000. In 1995, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department successfully prosecuted 730 cases of origin frauds and illegal transshipment involving textile products. The total fine amounted to $28,500,000.
19.DR LAW CHEUNG-KWOK asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE
- of the number of successful new applications for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) each month since January 1995 in which the main reason for applying was unemployment of family members;
- of the number of families in the above cases which subsequently ceased to receive CSSA payment upon the unemployed family members finding employment; and
- of the number of applications for CSSA made on the grounds of unemployment of family members which were rejected during the same period, and the reasons for rejection?
(in Chinese): Mr President,
Duties on Alcoholic Beverages
- According to the records of the Social Welfare Department, between January 1995 and August 1996, 12 900 (a monthly average of 640) new applications for CSSA were filed by applicants who claimed "unemployment" to be the principal reason for their application.
- The Social Welfare Department does not have statistics which would indicate the number of CSSA recipients who ceased to receive CSSA payments on account of unemployed family members finding employment.
- Between January 1995 and August 1996, 3 400 (a monthly average of 170) applications filed by people who claimed to be "unemployed" were rejected for various reasons, but primarily because they had resources or assets exceeding the prescribed limit.
20.MR HENRY TANG asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council of the respective duties collected from various alcoholic beverages, including beers, intoxicating liquors, grape wines and Chinese-type liquors and so on, under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance in each of the financial years from 1993-94 to 1995-96?
SECRETARY FOR THE TREASURY (in Chinese): Mr President, the total revenue collected from various alcoholic beverages from 1993-94 to 1995-96 are as follows:
|Brandy, Whisky and Other Hard Liquors||444,395,479||370,175,049||354,103,275
|Wines made from Grapes||177,224,116||170,143,979||219,961,839
|Chinese Type Spirits||125,665,925||85,815,638||78,628,282
CRIMINAL PROCEDURE ORDINANCE
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL to move the following motion:
"That the Criminal Appeal (Amendment) Rules 1996, made by the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee on 10 July 1996, be approved."
He said: Mr President, I move the resolution standing in my name in the Order Paper. The resolution is to the effect that the Criminal Appeal (Amendment) Rules 1996 made by the Criminal Procedure Rules Committee under section 9 of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance on 10 July 1996 be approved.
The Criminal Appeal (Amendment) Rules 1996 amend Forms VIII and XI in the Schedule to the Criminal Appeal Rules. Form VIII is the form for giving notice of appeal against conviction on a question of law. Form XI relates to applications for leave to appeal against conviction or sentence, and applications for extension of time in which to appeal. These two Forms have been amended by adding a note that the Court of Appeal has power, under section 83W of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, to direct that the time during which the appellant is in custody pending the determination of his appeal shall not be reckoned as part of the term of any sentence to which he is for the time being subject.
Section 83W of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance provides that the Court of Appeal has the power to direct that the time during which an appellant is in custody pending the determination of his appeal shall not be reckoned as part of the term of any sentence to which he is for the time being subject. However, the effect of this provision may not always be appreciated by a potential appellant, who may be ordered to serve, in effect, an additional sentence upon dismissal of his or her appeal by the Court of Appeal.
The amendments to the Forms make clear to a potential appellant the possible consequences of an appeal. These amendments are clearly desirable.
Mr President, I beg to move.
Question on the motion proposed, put and agreed to.
HONG KONG ACADEMY OF MEDICINE ORDINANCE
THE SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE to move the following motion:
"That the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine (Amendment) Regulation 1996, made by the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine on 13 June 1996, be approved."
She said (in Cantonese): Mr President, I move the resolution standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Hong Kong Academy of Medicine Ordinance was enacted on 1 August 1992 to establish the Academy as a statutory body. The Education Committee was set up by virtue of section 11. The Academy is empowered under the Ordinance to provide for the constitution, the period of office of members, resignation of members, filling of casual vacancies and the function of the Education Committee by Regulation.
The membership of the Education Committee is provided for in regulation 11(2). The Education Committee consists of the Vice-President (Education and Examinations) of the Academy who chairs the Committee, the chairman of the education committee of each and every College, and additional persons the Committee from time to time co-opt.
As the Education Committee is responsible for all educationally related matters including postgraduate education and training and continuing medical education, the Academy felt that the involvement of representatives from relevant educational institutes like the Faculty of Medicine of the two universities will help the Committee in its work. On the other hand, as postgraduate training will usually be undertaken in hospitals and medical institutions, to have representatives from the Hospital Authority and the Department of Health will facilitate the planning and assessment of the necessary training.
In fact representatives from the above institutions have already been co-opted into the Education Committee since 1994 for reasons outlined above, but as co-opted members in the Committee, they do not have voting rights. The Academy is of the view that it would be more appropriate to turn these co-opted members into permanent members so that they can have the right to vote.
The Amendment Regulation was proposed and determined by a postal ballot. The resolution seeks this Council's approval of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine (Amendment) Regulation. This will enable the representatives of the relevant institutions to become permanent members of the Education Committee.
Mr President, I beg to move.
Question on the motion proposed, put and agreed to.
First Reading of Bills
ARBITRATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
THE HONG KONG INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
Bill read the first time and ordered to be set down for Second Reading pursuant to Standing Order 41(3).
Second Reading of Bills
ARBITRATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the Arbitration Ordinance."
He said: Mr President, I move that the Arbitration (Amendment) Bill 1996 be read the Second time.
As members of this Council know, arbitration is a form of dispute resolution that is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the commercial field. Under the current law, two systems of arbitration exist in parallel in Hong Kong: one for domestic arbitrations and the other for international arbitrations. The purposes of this Bill are to extend the powers of arbitral tribunals in respect of the conduct of arbitration proceedings and to bring certain provisions of the Arbitration Ordinance relating to domestic arbitrations in line with those relating to international arbitrations, and vice versa.
In 1991, there was a proposal in England to reform the English law of arbitration. In the light of that development, in January 1992, I invited Mr Justice KAPLAN (as he then was) to set up and chair a committee of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre to consider whether amendments to the Arbitration Ordinance were required. The committee consulted the arbitration community on the matter. There was strong support for a simple arbitration law and also for a unitary arbitral system.
The committee nevertheless considered that unification of the two arbitration systems would be a complex issue and would require careful consideration. It recommended that, as an interim measure, limited improvements be made to the Ordinance to minimize the differences between the two systems, remove anomalies, and enhance the efficiency of arbitral tribunals. Mr President, the Administration accepts the need for those improvements. Hong Kong has established itself as a leading centre for arbitration in the region and it is essential that we maintain that position against growing competition from other regional arbitration centres by keeping our law up-to-date and efficient.
Let me give a few examples of the proposed improvements contained in the B ill.
- At present, where the parties to an arbitration agreement cannot agree on an arbitrator, they may have to apply to a High Court judge to appoint an arbitrator. However, an application to the High Court may be expensive and time consuming. The Bill therefore proposes that the power to appoint arbitrators should be conferred on the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre. This would make arbitration in Hong Kong more cost effective.
- Under the existing law, the power of the court or arbitral tribunal to order interim measures, such as an injunction, is unclear. The Bill proposes to clarify this power.
- Current provisions which empower the High Court to extend the time limits for a party to commence domestic arbitration proceedings or to dismiss a claim for unreasonable delay are not applicable to international arbitrations. There is no logical reason for the divergence as between the two systems and amendments are proposed to extend those provisions to international arbitrations.
- The definition of "arbitration agreement" in the Ordinance, and hence the scope of the Ordinance, need to reflect the practices of a fast-changing commercial world. The Bill provides that an arbitration agreement is to include an agreement to arbitrate that is in writing but is not signed by the parties. This will ensure, for example, that an arbitration agreement in a Bill of Lading can be subject to the Ordinance.
- The Bill also empowers the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre to decide certain issues that previously had to be referred to the courts. These issues include costs, fees, expenses and interest on awards.
- In order to ensure fairness and scrutiny by an independent third party, the Bill provides that rules to be promulgated by the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre require the approval of the Chief Justice.
Mr President, as I have said, Hong Kong has established itself as a leading centre for arbitration in the region and it is essential that it maintains that position against growing competition. It is therefore necessary that the Ordinance be amended to remove anomalies and deficiencies, the more important of which have just been explained. The proposed enhancement of the powers of the court and the arbitral tribunal is consistent with international practice, and recognizes arbitration as a consensual process, which has its foundation in the agreement of the parties. The proposed amendments are also in line with developments in other common law jurisdictions and will reinforce Hong Kong's position as the leading centre for arbitration in the region.
Mr President, these amendments were recommended by a committee that was broadly representative of interested groups, and included experts from the legal, engineering and accounting professions. The Bill is supported by the Bar Association, the Law Society, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and various Chambers of Commerce and professional bodies. I therefore commend the Bill to this Council. In view of the board support that the Bill commands, I hope that this Council will approve its early enactment.
Thank you, Mr President.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
THE HONG KONG INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
THE SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the The Hong Kong Institute of Education Ordinance."
He said (in Cantonese): Mr President, I move the Second Reading of the Hong Kong institute of Education (Amendment) Bill 1996.
With the objective of upgrading the quality of teacher education and continuous professional development of teachers in Hong Kong, the Administration merged the four Colleges of Education and the Institute of Language in Education into a unified Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) in 1993. Following the enactment of the Hong Kong Institute of Education Ordinance in 1994, the Institute was formally established in September that year.
It has been the Administration's intention to put the HKIEd under the terms of reference of the University Grants Committee (UGC) at a later stage of its development so that the UGC could monitor and fund the activities of the Institute. The UGC has well established monitoring and financial assessment mechanism for tertiary institutions. It channels government funds to the seven tertiary institutions, and monitors their performance. In joining the UGC family, the HKIEd could therefore benefit from the Committee's expertise and advice. It would also further enhance the Institution's image and status.
The Governor already gave his approval on 1 July 1996 to designate the HKIEd as an institution under the terms of reference of the UGC. As a follow-up action, we now propose to amend the HKIEd Ordinance so as to bring it into line with ordinances governing the seven tertiary institutions.
The main provision of the HKIEd (Amendment) Bill 1996 include:
- amending the definition of "financial year";
- deleting the requirement for the HKIEd to obtain the approval of the Financial Secretary for borrowing or fund raising activities
- empowering the HKIEd to invest its funds;
- enabling the Governor in Council to delegate certain powers to a public officer;
- specifying the term of appointment for a member of the Council of the HKIEd;
- removing the requirement for the Governor to table the HKIEd's statements and reports in this Council;
- removing the requirement for the HKIEd to submit to the Governor for his approval a programme of the HKIEd's proposed activities and estimates of its income and expenditure for the next financial year; and
- removing the requirement for the gazettal of rules made by the Council of the HKIEd, and so on.
Both the UGC and the HKIEd have been consulted and agreed to the changes proposed in the HKIEd (Amendment) Bill 1996.
Mr President, I beg to move.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
Resumption of Second Reading Debate on Bill
IMMIGRATION (AMENDMENT) (NO. 2) BILL 1996
Resumption of debate on Second Reading which was moved on 29 May 1996
MISS EMILY LAU (in Cantonese): Mr President, the House Committee decided in May this year that a Bills Committee should be formed to study the Immigration (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1996 tabled to this Council by the Government earlier on. The Bills Committee started operation on 28 June 1996 and I was elected the Chairman thereof. The Bills Committee has held three meetings with the Administration.
The Bill seeks to amend the definition of a "lawfully employable" person under the Immigration Ordinance as the "holder of an identity card who has not breached any condition of stay". The Bill also seeks to impose a duty on an employer to inspect the valid travel document of a prospective employee where the identity card held by the prospective employee is not a permanent identity card. The Administration points out that the amendments proposed in this Bill are intended to rectify anomalies found in the existing Ordinance relating to foreign domestic helpers and imported workers.
Under the existing legislation, a person holding a Hong Kong identity card is lawfully employable, albeit that the holder may be committing a breach of his condition of stay by taking unapproved employment. To plug this loophole, the Administration therefore proposes to amend the definition of a "lawfully employable person" as "the holder of a Hong Kong identity card who has not breached any condition of stay".
At present, an employer is required by the Ordinance to inspect the potential employee's Hong Kong identity card when employing a person while identity cards do not indicate whether the holders are being restricted to a specified employment. The condition to work only for a specific employer is contained in a chop on their passports, but employers are not required to inspect their passports.
As a result, foreign domestic helpers and imported workers are able to obtain unapproved employment by merely presenting their Hong Kong identity cards for inspection by the employer. Such an employer cannot be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the employee to breach a condition of stay unless it can be proved, by the Crown, that the employer is aware of the restriction on the employee.
The Administration therefore proposes to amend the Ordinance to require employers to inspect the travel documents held by prospective employees who are holders of non-permanent identity cards to ensure that they are lawfully employable before employing them.
To assist employers to identify foreign domestic helpers and imported workers who are not permitted to take up unapproved employment, the Immigration Department has since the end of 1995 issued W-prefix Hong Kong identity cards to foreign domestic helpers entering Hong Kong for the first time, or who apply for a replacement of their original Hong Kong identity cards. These W-prefix Hong Kong identity cards are the same as those issued to imported workers.
In addition, the Immigration Department will be putting a bilingual easily-legible immigration stamp on the travel documents of foreign domestic helpers and imported workers, spelling out that the passport holder is only allowed to work for a specific employer under a specific contract, and that change of employment is not permitted.
The new bilingual stamp, introduced in May 1996, will be imposed on the travel documents of foreign domestic helpers and imported workers who apply for extension of stay or who come back from a trip outside Hong Kong or enter Hong Kong for the first time. The Administration envisages that in a year's time, all foreign domestic helpers and imported workers will have the new bilingual stamp on their travel documents or the W-prefix Hong Kong identity cards or both.
To deal with enquiries from employers on matters in this respect, the Immigration Department has been providing telephone hot-line and faxline services. It was claimed by the officials that a reply could normally be made within one day.
During the deliberation of the Bill, Members have sought clarification from the Administration on whether the relevant requirements apply to a contract of service. The Administration revealed that it had not been able to find any precedent case which stated that a person was liable to an offence under section 17I of the Immigration Ordinance for employing a person not lawfully employable even though the relationship between the parties is one of contract for service.
The Administration said that in accordance with the definitions of "contract of employment" and "employee" in the Ordinance, section 17I did not cover cases of contract for service since persons working under a contract for service were not employees but independent contractors.
On Members' query as to whether it could be stated clearly in the Ordinance the situation that would fall outside the ambit of section 17I, the Administration responded that it was impracticable to spell out all possible circumstances. The court would decide on any contentious issues depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.
Under the Ordinance, it is a defence for the offence if the charged employer can prove that "all practicable steps" are taken to determine whether the employee in respect of whom the offence is alleged to have been committed is lawfully employable.
However, there is no statutory definition of "all practical steps" in the Ordinance. The phrase "all practical steps" has once been interpreted by the court as meaning "steps which are feasible and capable of being carried out within known means or resources".
The Administration said that the legislative intent of the Bill is to encourage employers to be vigilant and, if in doubt, take feasible actions to check whether the employee is lawfully employable. For a statutory defence to be established, the court will have to be satisfied that all possible measures have been taken by the employer, having regard to the circumstance of the case.
The Administration assures the Committee that the Administration will give due consideration to any explanation adduced by the employer and, if necessary, seek legal advice before instituting prosecution.
Members have also expressed concern about the keeping of records of enquiries made by employers through the telephone hot-line service since this may be material where an employer seeks to establish the defence of having taken "all practicable steps". The officials from the Immigration Department points out that details of all enquiries will be recorded in a register which will be kept for five years. Any person making the enquiry will be advised of his file reference number over the phone for future reference. After deliberation by the Committee, the Administration has agreed that written confirmation by the Immigration Department will be issued to enquirers provided that they make a written request to the Department after making the telephone enquiry.
Mr President, the Bills Committee has also urged the Administration to make publicity efforts after the passage of the Bill, so that both employers and the relevant employees would be well aware of the requirements under the Ordinance.
I so submit in support of the Second Reading of the Bill.
MR LEE CHEUK-YAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) lends its unreserved support to this Bill because we think that it plugs one of the legislative loopholes and can effectively combat the problem of illegal workers. I have raised two points during the deliberation of the Bill and I would like to highlight these two points now.
Firstly, after the passage of the Bill, there may be a danger that when some housewives employ part-time domestic helpers, they may not know that there is a legal requirement for them to inspect the passports of domestic helpers, and they may be prosecuted for breaching the law. During the discussion at the Bills Committee, I have urged the Government to step up publicity in this respect. I am now speaking in the hope that all housewives would be well aware of the fact that they must inspect the passports of part-time domestic helpers when employing them. If the passport of the prospective employee contains a chop specifying that change of employer is not permitted, then the housewives must be sure not to employ such person, or else they would have breached the law. The Government must stress this point because we absolutely do not intend to subject housewives in Hong Kong to legal sanctions, especially when they have only breached the law out of ignorance. It is not our original intent to subject them to legal sanctions. Therefore, I hope that the Government can step up publicity in this respect so that housewives can be clear about the situation.
The second point that I have raised in the Bills Committee is that the information provided by the Immigration Department reveals that prosecution had been taken against six employment agencies in the past year for arranging Filipino domestic helpers to come to Hong Kong and work as illegal workers. All these are syndicated operations. I now urge the Government to strongly crack down on these syndicates which arrange false contracts for Filipino domestic helpers to come to Hong Kong and work illegally in Hong Kong. We know that there were six such cases last year, therefore, we hope that the Immigration Department can continue reinforcing prosecution in this respect.
We also hope that after the passage of the Bill, the Immigration Department will not slacken its law enforcement efforts. We may have plugged a loophole this time, but Hong Kong still has many illegal worker problems, for example, holders of Two-way Exit Permits illegally working. We are very worried that the problem may deteriorate if law enforcement efforts are slackened.
On the other hand, I would also like to draw the attention of the Legal Department to cases in which the penalties are too light. Take last year's case as an example. Ten illegal workers were employed by a roasted goose restaurant but a fine of only $5,000 on each of the illegal workers was imposed. Under such circumstances, punishment as light as such imposed by the court is, in a way, encouraging employers to act against the law. In view of this, we hope that the Legal Department would lodge appeals against the cases in which penalties are too light.
Thank you, Mr President.
MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) supports this Bill.
Last year, employment opportunities of local workers were jeopardized by the existence of many illegal workers, in particular, imported workers. When employing these illegal workers, many employers said they do not know the workers are illegal workers or that they cannot take up certain kinds of work. As the Honourable Emily LAU has put it, the Bill makes it clear that W-prefix identity cards will be issued for the sake of identification. When we met the Secretary for Security last year and raised this issue, the Secretary for Security promised that there would be identification marks to prove that the holders can only take up certain kinds of work and cannot work for other employers.
We support this Bill.
Thank you, Mr President.
MR IP KWOK-HIM (in Cantonese): Mr President, apart from housing and law and order, employment is also one of the important topics which the people of Hong Kong are most concerned with. Although information recently published reveals that the number of unemployed people has slightly dropped, it does not mean that the unemployment problem in Hong Kong has been resolved. One of the important factors that has an impact on the employment opportunities of local workers is that many employers in Hong Kong take advantage of the loopholes in the law to employ illegal workers or request foreign domestic helpers to engage in non-domestic duties, thereby reducing the employment opportunities of local workers.
Information reveals that the crackdowns against illegal workers in 1995 resulted in a rise of almost 10% in respect of the number of employers and employees being arrested or prosecuted on the ground of illegal employment, as compared with the figure for 1994. It is therefore evident that the problem of illegal workers must be taken up seriously.
To implement the new legislation, the Government must step up publicity towards employers and employees, so that they can be acquainted with the new legislation. In particular, the Immigration Department should provide the required technical support for employers, so that they can easily identify whether the travel documents held by potential employees are real or forged and they will not by mistake fall into the trap of employing illegal workers and breach the law. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong supports the Bill.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, I am grateful to the Honourable Emily LAU and members of the Bills Committee for the great care they have taken in scrutinizing the Immigration (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1996, to ensure that all possible concerns of the public are fully considered.
The Administration is committed to tackling the problem of illegal employment. But we cannot do it alone. Employers, as well as employees, must play their part. The Bill defines clearly the employers' legal obligations; they will be given adequate advice to assist them to comply with the new requirements under the Bill.
The issue of "W"-prefix identity cards to foreign domestic helpers and imported workers, and the introduction of a bilingual immigration stamp on the travel documents of these contract workers are some of the measures taken to help employers to identify more easily persons who are not free to take up employment without prior permission from the Director of Immigration. Publicity will be stepped up to increase public awareness of who is lawfully employable and who is not. When in doubt, employers can make enquiries through the Immigration Department telephone hotline and faxline. Each enquiry will be properly registered, so that we can verify any claims by employers that such enquiries were made.
The intention of the legislation, in requiring the employer to take "all practicable steps" to ascertain a person's employability, is to deter unscrupulous employers from turning a blind eye to the obvious. The phrase "all practicable steps" means steps which are feasible and capable of being carried out without known means or resources. Each case is considered on its own merits, and is
ultimately to be decided by the courts. The administrative measures we have taken should facilitate easy identification of now lawfully employable persons. Given the community's concern on illegally employment in Hong Kong and the difficulties in prosecuting employers of illegal workers, it is in the public interest that the law requires employers to exercise a high degree of vigilance, and take all practicable steps to determine that job-seekers re lawfully employable before employing them.
The Administration will continue to take vigorous enforcement actions against illegal employment activities, targeting in particular at unscrupulous employers. I can assure Honourable Members that law-enforcement agencies have examined each case carefully, seeking legal advice if necessary, and will continue to do so to ensure that prosecution is properly instituted. If the Bill is passed, the Administration will make appropriate arrangements for publicity work, including APIs on TV.
Mr President, I recommend the Immigration (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1996 to this Council.
Question on the Second Reading of the Bill put and agreed to.
Bill read the Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole Council pursuant to Standing Order 43(1).
Committee Stage of Bill
Council went into Committee.
IMMIGRATION (AMENDMENT) (NO. 2) BILL 1996
Clauses 1,2 and 3 were agreed to.
Council then resumed.
Third Reading of Bill
THE SECRETARY FOR SECURITY report that the IMMIGRATION (AMENDMENT) (NO. 2) BILL 1996 had passed through Committee without amendment. He moved the Third Reading of the Bill.
Question on the Third Reading of the Bill proposed, put and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time and passed.
INTERPRETATION AND GENERAL CLAUSES ORDINANCE
MR RONALD ARCULLI to move the following motion:
"That in relation to the -
MR RONALD ARCULLI:
- Mental Health (Amendment) Regulation 1996 published as Legal Notice No. 298 of 1996 and
- Prison (Amendment) Rules 1996 published as Legal Notice No. 300 of 1996,
and laid on the table of the Legislative Council on 10 July 1996, the period referred to in section 34(3) of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance for amending subsidiary legislation be extended under section 34(4) of that Ordinance until 16 October 1996."
Mr President, I move the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The motion seeks to extend the period for amending the Mental Health (Amendment) Regulation 1996 and the Prison (Amendment) Rules 1996 until the next sitting on 16 October 1996.
A Subcommittee of which I am the Chairman has been formed to study the subsidiary legislation gazetted during the period from 5 July to 13 September 1996. The Subcommittee has identified some issues concerning these two items of subsidiary legislation. In order to allow time for the Subcommittee to consider further information from the Administration on the issues identified, it is necessary to extend the time allowed for the making of amendments to subsidiary legislation until 16 October 1996.
Mr President, I beg to move.
Question on the motion proposed, put and agreed to.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I have accepted the recommendations of the House Committee as to the time limits on speeches on the motions and Members have been informed by circular on 7 October. The movers of the motions will each have 15 minutes for their speeches including their replies, and another five minutes to speak on the proposed amendment. Other Members, including the mover of the amendment, will have seven minutes for their speeches. Under Standing Order 27A, I am obliged to direct any Member speaking in excess of the specified time to discontinue his speech.
REVIEW AND PROSPECTS OF THE MANPOWER RESOURCES TRAINING SYSTEM IN HONG KONG
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN to move the following motion:
"In view of the unemployment of a large number of workers brought about by Hong Kong's economic restructuring and of the difficulty faced by workers, especially those from the manufacturing industry, in finding jobs or switching to another occupation, this Council urges the Government to:
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN
- thoroughly review Hong Kong's long-term overall manpower resources training policy and define principles and orientations, with a view to enhancing the competitiveness of the said workers in the job market;
- set up a statutory Employment Committee, consisting of employees, employers, government officials and professionals, for co-ordinating the work of the relevant government departments in implementing the recommendations of the above review; and
- review the work of the Employees Retraining Board to ensure that its services are focused on the provision of training on skills required for changing occupation, and provide the Board with a sufficient and steady source of funds."
(in Cantonese): Mr President, I move the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Mr President, in recent years, a growing number of people and organizations have described our local manpower resources training policy as unsystematic and has resulted in the sacrifice of many grassroots "wage earners" who have contributed a lot to the economy of Hong Kong. A worker told me his story: "I started to work in the factory as a mould maker since my youth. I thought that I could rely on this professional skill to earn a living until I become old. In these 20-odd years, however, I have witnessed the contributions made by the manufacturing industry to the local economy. During this golden period for the manufacturing workers, I worked round the clock and worked overtime in exchange for more money to make ends meet. The prime time of my life was spent on these exceedingly long hours of work. I missed the chance of continuing to receive education again. In the name of non-interference, the Government let the manufacturing industry stew in its own juice. With such drastic changes under way, I encounter enormous difficulties in securing jobs or switching to other occupations. In view of the bleak prospects, I think I really need training and job opportunities to enable me to rejoin the workforce. However, education nowadays focuses only on tertiary education and ignores the basics. The so-called training provided to the grassroots workers seems only an embellishment ....."
Mr President, this story precisely voices the aspirations of the grassroots workers whose knowledge level is comparatively low. It also reflects that they are not at all competitive in the present labour market. Why does not the Government know these problems exist? Is it true that the Hong Kong Government is really a "lame duck" or is the Government only looking for piecemeal solutions?
Mr President, in the past 20 years, Hong Kong has several drastic economic re-structuring periods. Almost all industrialists have already relocated their production lines away from Hong Kong, greatly reducing the number of manufacturing workers. The percentage of manufacturing workers among the local working population has drastically declined from 44.5% in 1982 to 15.2% in March 1996. In other words, the population of manufacturing workers has dropped from over 900 000 to 350 000 in a decade or so.
Mr President, under the existing structure, workers in employment predicament could only put on sale their physical strength in exchange for meagre income even though they could successfully switch to another occupation because they have little formal education and they have not received any training, so their family income drops drastically. Now that the economy is taking a turn for the better, the wealth of people in the middle to upper stratum continues to increase while the living standard of quite a number of people in the middle to lower stratum is deteriorating. The White Paper on the Policy for the Eradication of Poverty recently issued by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) shows that the disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong has been growing. Mr President, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) and I always emphasize that Hong Kong requires the formulation of a set of long-term overall economic policy to ensure that our economy can enjoy balanced and healthy growth. At the same time, we should also formulate a complementary overall manpower resources training policy. The subject of our debate today is, therefore, the training of manpower resources with a view to enhancing the competitiveness of unemployed or displaced workers in the job market.
Local Manpower Resources Training Policy Predominated by the "Positive non-interventionist Policy"
When reviewing the policy on the Vocational Training Council (VTC), the Education and Manpower Branch pointed out that the underlying principle of the policy is: "On the basis of the positive non-interventionist policy, the Government strives, through responding to the technological demand of various trades, to render support for economic development instead of pre-determining the direction of economic development through long-term manpower planning." Mr President, how can a manpower resources training policy without direction ensure that the trainees can put into practice what they have learned, and that the end objective of enhancing re-employment through training can be attained? In addition, under the so-called positive non-interventionist policy of the Hong Kong Government, the economic restructuring of Hong Kong has not been accompanied by the upgrading of the manufacturing industry. The mode of production in the manufacturing industry still remains low technology and labour-intensive. After weighing profits against costs, investors choose to relocate their production lines elsewhere, turning a blind eye to local industrial development. They are not willing to inject capital into new and high technology projects in Hong Kong, but they concentrate on projects which do not require massive investments which promise short-term returns, such as financial and real estate projects. Mr President, that will eventually bring about a seriously lopsided internal industrial structure in Hong Kong, in particular, a lack of progress in the development of new and high-tech projects. This has caused the economic foundation of Hong Kong to be very fragile, and further aggravates the problem of occupation switching of displaced workers.
In view of the above situations and analysis, the FTU and I hold that the Hong Kong Government must adjust its present principle of subscribing to a market-oriented manpower resources training policy and re-ascertain that the objective of a manpower resources training policy is to guarantee that employees possess recognized working abilities and to assist, by various means, employees in enhancing their working abilities.
The Government should Set Up a Statutory Body - Employment Committee
To attain the above objectives, the Hong Kong Government should set up a statutory body vested with real policy-making power - the proposed Employment Committee. This Committee can promote the organic integration of different training bodies so as to ensure that our manpower resources are able to tie in with the demand arising from Hong Kong's long-term economic development.
Existing bodies engaged in manpower resources training, such as universities, secondary schools, primary schools, the VTC and the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) and so on, have their rights and responsibilities all mixed up. They lack co-ordination, are discordant and are even competing for resources among themselves.
In the face of such a situation, we really have to ponder over this carefully and consider setting up a central body tasked with studying the impact of the trend of future economic development on the supply and demand of local manpower resources. That proposed body should, on the basis of the findings of such studies, draw up an overall manpower resources policy that may co-ordinate and promote the development of our economy. It should also co-ordinate, harmonize and supervise the work undertaken by the relevant departments so that our limited social resources can be fully utilized.
Is the Setting Up of an Employment Committee a redundancy?
Some people may worry that the setting up of such a Committee is a redundancy. For example, some say we already have the ERB and the VTC and so on within the present manpower training hierarchy to take up certain dedicated tasks, and it is not necessary to have another institution. However, I must emphasize that such an Employment Committee is set up with an aim of unifying the existing disorganized training bodies, making them more efficient. Based on this, we do not think there exists the problem of needless duplication at all.
In addition, some people ask whether it is possible to upgrade the Labour Advisory Board (LAB). The FTU and I could not agree to or identify with the proposal of putting the training of manpower resources under the terms of reference of the LAB because it will only complicate the matter. Mr President, as we all know, the LAB is responsible for making recommendations to the Commissioner for Labour in respect of amendments to the provisions for labour benefits. Its job nature is totally different from that of the proposed Employment Committee.
Division of Labour among Training Bodies
Secondly, when re-adopting local manpower resources training policy, the Government must clearly demarcate the duties of various training bodies. That would be the principal function of the proposed Employment Committee.
With respect to the various bodies that provide vocational training, the above Committee should clearly define their roles in manpower training so as to ensure that the training bodies will neither organize overlapping courses nor compete for resources. For example, the VTC should dedicate its resources to offering courses for craftsmen and technicians. The Hong Kong Productivity Council should focus on the provision of quality training for tertiary production. The VTC should also expand its scope of practical technological instruction. The experience of practical work should be added to the contents of basic courses while professional skill training should also be offered for displaced workers. The scope of work of ERB should be targeted at grassroots workers with a view to enhancing their basic skills and working abilities required for switching to other occupations.
The FTU also suggests that the ERB should have its emphasis on the provision of training, instead of focusing on employment as what it is doing now.
Mr President, to solve the employment problem faced by displaced workers is far more important than not providing the relevant training. It is because the expenditure on the former is a kind of social investment while the latter may become a kind of social burden. Investment, to the society, always means returns while problems brought about by the latter will further worsen the entire situation of unemployment. It will also become an abyssmal social problem for our society.
In addition, in respect of the source of funding of the ERB. As the General Labour Importation Scheme, which imports 25 000 workers a year, has been terminated, the ERB has lost a reliable, steady and sufficient source of funding. Therefore, the FTU and I think that the Government is bound to make reasonable arrangements for providing regular and adequate financial injection into the ERB.
Mr President, last but not least, I hold that the Government is duty bound to actively assist the displaced workers or the workers seeking to switch to other occupations in rejoining the manpower market. Also, it is also in the interests of our society for the Administration to take the initiative and actively assist the unemployed or semi-employed, so as to enable them to earn their own living and lead dignified lives, and allow them to continue to become the motive force for creating wealth for our society. This is far better than pushing them into an abyss and letting them passively receive unemployment assistance every month.
I would like to remind members of our community that the existing unemployment rate is still fairly high. The number of unemployed recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) has been increasing year after year. Let me quote an example. Just in the past year, the number of cases of unemployed people receiving CSSA payment has risen from 6 647 in July 1995 to 12 104 this year, a rapid increase as the number has almost doubled.
Taking an overview of the above problems arising from several instances of economic restructuring, it is really imperative for the Government to review our manpower resources training system. My colleagues, the Honourable CHENG Yiu-tong and the Honourable CHAN Wing-chan, will respectively give detailed analysis on the FTU's proposal of setting up an Employment Committee and on the division of labour among various training bodies.
Mr President, with these remarks, I so move. Thank you.
Question on the motion proposed.
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): Mr President, since June last year, the unemployment rate of Hong Kong has been standing high at more than 3%. Although the unemployment rate has come down in recent months, there are hidden worries in respect of employment prospects and we can hardly be optimistic. Insofar as the demand for jobs is concerned, it is expected that there will be a significant growth in the population of Hong Kong and correspondingly, there will be more people looking for jobs. In regard to the supply of jobs, the manufacturing industry of Hong Kong is continuously shrinking while the labour-intensive processes of service industries are being moved northward. All these are unfavourable factors affecting the increase in the number of jobs. Under the circumstances of having more demand than supply, workers at grassroots level will be more easily displaced and their rice bowls may be broken at any time. In addition to the number of jobs, the quality of jobs is also very important. Even though "wage earners" could secure a job, but if their wages remain the same year after year or are unable to catch up with inflation, their living standard eventually will not be improved and will even deteriorate. If Hong Kong's economy cannot become better in respect of value-addedness and technology, there will only be a reduction in the number of well-paid jobs at the primary level. The disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor will become all the more evident and employers may take this as an excuse to suppress the wage increase of workers or to import labour more extensively in order to maintain their profits and competitiveness.
I definitely do not hope that the prospects of our "wage earners" will become so bleak. To avoid this depressing scenario from becoming a reality, the Administration must actively take a two-pronged approach. First of all, the Administration should take measures to assist industries in progressing towards the use of new production flow and new technology, thereby creating more job opportunities and well-paid jobs. Secondly, the Administration should formulate a long-term manpower policy and train our labour force to cope with Hong Kong's economic development. We must understand that our economy restructuring is not a short-term event, but a long-term and continuous process. "Wage earners" must have the ability to adapt to a completely different working environment. As what the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han has referred to earlier on, the era which advocates the reliance on a professional skill to enable a person to earn a living until he is old has long passed. We must master the use of information technology, computer technology and so on, and we must keep on learning as long as we live to meet the ever-changing requirements of working abilities. New industries that crop up today might, in a few years' time, become "sunset industries". "Wage earners" must be prepared to switch to take up several occupations throughout their life. They have to pursue continuous training and re-training. In many debates in the past, I have already voiced time and again my views on policies on industries and I will not repeat my arguments here. I will concentrate on the issue of manpower training below.
In view of our economy as a whole, training is oriented towards letting workers give play to more creativity, enthusiasm and initiatives, so as to enable them to become more efficient in their work and more adaptive to market changes, thereby enhancing productivity and promoting economic development. For the workers at the grassroots level, this opens to them the opportunities to continue to receive training and re-training, such that they may always switch from jobs with "sunset industries" to jobs with new industries, to acquire new skills competently, and to take up jobs requiring a higher level of skills and offering better pay, instead of being continuously displaced and being put in a predicament of ever-decreasing number of jobs and wages in the "sunset industries". However, the Government is providing very little occupational training for workers at grassroots level and it is unwilling to allocate any funds for such training. The Employees Retraining Board (ERB) is a very good example.
The ERB was set up in 1992 funded by an one-off injection of $300 million from the Government and by a levy of $400 on employers in respect of each imported worker. In 1994, the ERB was in a financial crisis, but the Government still stayed aloof until 1996 when it made another injection of $300 million on an one-off basis. But that was merely sufficient for meeting the recurrent expenditure in a year. The ERB therefore finds it exceedingly difficult to operate and it could hardly expand or improve its courses. It is even more disappointing to see that the Government has all along been refusing to grant regular injection of funds to the ERB. How can the ERB formulate long-term plans if it is always uncertain about its future? This parsimonious attitude of the Government makes people doubt its sincerity in providing training for workers at grassroots level. The current fiscal policy of the Government can in no way achieve the objectives of the ERB. According to the Employees Retraining Ordinance, one of the functions of the ERB is to consider the provision of retraining courses intended or designed for the benefit of local employees in adjusting to changes in the employment market by acquiring new or enhanced vocational skills. Given such a tight budget, how can the ERB upgrade the quality of its existing courses?
Therefore, it is evident that the resources for the ERB are inadequate. It seems that it is not necessary for the word "review" to appear in the motion moved by Miss CHAN Yuen-han because this will only give the Administration an excuse to delay further. We request the Government to inject resources into the ERB and to give the ERB recurrent subvention. The amount of such subvention should be sufficient to ensure that employees can fully master vocational skills. In fact, the Vocational Training Council (VTC) is a good example worth making reference to. The functions of the ERB and the VTC are to provide vocational training but they have different target trainees. The ERB trains workers at grassroots level while the VTC targets at training persons with an academic level of Form three or above. The subsidies given by the Government to the VTC include recurrent operational expenditure and capital expenditure. In 1994-95, the Government handed out to the VTC a recurrent subvention to the tune of $1.4 billion and a capital expenditure of $80 million. In comparison, the ERB is getting too little subsidies. Does the Government think that it is a waste of taxpayers' money to provide training for workers at grassroots level?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr HUANG, the time is up. I allow you to add two more sentences.
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): Is the time up? Mr President, please allow me to add one more sentence.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I allow you to add two more sentences.
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): Mr President, I hold that the Government is bound to conduct a review so that the courses offered by the ERB can really come in line with its terms of reference as set out above. It should not focus only on the number of courses without paying heed to quality, as what it is doing now. The courses on offer now are generally short-term courses lasting for not more than three months. In addition, the courses must be able to genuinely enable the trainees to acquire new skills. Thirdly, the problem of the existing courses not being recognized by employers must also be solved.
Thank you, Mr President.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr HUANG has added two sentences but three points.
MR PAUL CHENG: Mr President, the Administration last month released a report on the consultancy study on the Vocational Training Council (VTC). This review, although long overdue, is highly relevant to the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han's motion today.
With an establishment of 3 600 staff and an annual expenditure of about $2 billion, the VTC is the largest provider of vocational education and training in the territory. It is of paramount importance that what the VTC offers should match the changing demands of the local economy. Therefore, I strongly support the consultancy report's recommendations to give the VTC a clearly articulated mission statement, to map out a strategic plan, and to raise both the quality and effectiveness of training.
As we all know, Hong Kong is moving from a manufacturing-based economy into a serviced-based one. Our economic growth feeds on the provision of sufficient suitably skilled labour, without which our development potential will be constrained and our competitiveness in the global marketplace severely compromised.
I support the call for a long term policy on manpower training and resources planning. However, I have to oppose the setting up of yet another statutory body to co-ordinate the work of organizations and relevant government departments. To do that means complicating the existing structure, and will only create more bureaucracy.
In fact, I would ask the Government to consider streamlining the existing loose structure to enhance efficiency by marrying the management of the Employees Retraining Board to the VTC. Both share the primary function of training our workforce to meet local demands, and would surely be more effective if they were brought under one roof.
Whether the applicants want to be trained, or retrained, they are basically asking for the same thing ─ to be equipped for the changing market. Why should we have two establishments serving two groups of people with the same needs? It is far better to have a single, co-ordinated body with greater resources to deal with the issue at hand.
This new VTC, or whatever such a streamlined institution might be called, should assume higher authority and responsibility in the running of its affairs. The Administration should clearly define the body's role and responsibilities within the current policy framework, and help co-ordinate its interface with relevant education institutions or industries. Attention should also be given to staff training on technical expertise, ability to use new teaching and learning approaches and new management skills.
In addition, we need to help correct the perception that vocational training is a "dead end" for the younger generation. We must make young people more aware that vocational training is a vital ingredient in the overall education and training mix ─ that it can offer an alternative path to a rewarding and worthwhile career. Bringing vocational training/retraining under one roof would certainly help in this regard. So would the introduction of quality assurance programs, backed up by competence-based testing to assess standards and skills.
Finally, I welcome the results of the consultancy study and call on the Administration to expeditiously map out a long term policy on manpower training. It is what we need now to give Hong Kong a smooth and successful "second" transition to a sophisticated service-based economy serving China, Asia and the world. Mr President, with the reservations I have expressed above, I support the motion. Thank you.
MR LEE CHEUK-YAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Government introduced the Employees Retraining Scheme in November 1992. Why did the Government introduce the Scheme at such a time? In fact, it did so simply because it had to extend the scope of the importation of labour and this showed that the Government was not sincere at all. Let us look at the situation in 1992 when the number of manufacturing workers dropped from 900 000 to some 500 000. This revealed the fact that the economic restructuring was about to end as close to 400 000 workers had been eliminated and were compelled to switch to the service industry. It was only at that time that the Government launched the Scheme. I regret that it took so long before the Government launched the Scheme and I am regretful not solely for the sake of being regretful. I only hope that the Government will cease to be short-sighted and will not continue to implement the Employees Retraining Scheme, adopting a "cross the river by stepping on stone after stone" approach, without making long-term plans.
When discussing the problem of the employment of workers, all interested parties tend to stress two words ─ "wrong matching". "Wrong matching" is precisely the result of our not having implemented any training programmes before. Without long-term plans, the existing training policy will still entail "wrong matching" five years later. Therefore, I am doubtful as to whether the Employees Retraining Scheme can train workers to cope with the challenges in 2001.
An assessment of manpower in 2001 has been made by the Government and, to begin with, I think this is something that should be done. However, I hope the Government can update the data more rapidly because we do not know how valid will the data be with an ever expanding population. According to the said assessment of the demand for manpower, there will be a surplus of 50 000 workers with less than Form Three education and a shortage of 100 000 workers who have completed Form Four to From Six in the territory in 2001. By 2001, the positions with the highest growth rate will be those for professionals and the management, followed by clerical workers and workers in the service industry. Judging from these data, there will be a "wrong matching" of clerical jobs in 2001, it is because while workers having less than Form Three education can switch to take up jobs in the service industry which require a low level of skills, they cannot switch to take up clerical duties. Obviously, if we have to cope with future challenges, it is of paramount importance for us to identify ways to assist workers to switch to take up clerical jobs. Clerical positions and job opportunities are what we can provide to workers with less than Form Three education in Hong Kong in the future.
In the light of the assessment of the demand for manpower, how are we going to view the existing Employees Retraining Scheme? For ease of discussion, I will classify the retraining courses into three categories. As at 30 September 1996, 3 000 out of the 140 000 retrainees took the Job Search Skills Course; 23 000 took what I call job training courses for beginners; 80 000 took computer and language courses and skills upgrading courses but only 30 000 out of these 80 000 retrainees took the courses on a full-time basis.
The Job Search Skills Course, to be more precise, should be called employment counselling and there is something overlapping between this course and the Job Matching Programme because the skills of the retrainees are not in the least improved. While the job training courses for beginners can assist workers to switch to jobs in the service industry which require a low level of skills, they bring about limited improvement in their skills. Computer and language courses can be said to be the basic elements of clerical training but the resources presently injected into full-time clerical courses are meagre. A fact which has not been reflected by these data is that the retraining courses stress on quantity and not quality, and they are only intended to introduce employees to the market within the shortest time. This is the approach presently adopted by the Employees Retraining Scheme. As the Scheme hardly lays emphasis on upgrading skills, my view is that the upgrading of skills should be the major orientation in the future, and it should be supplemented by job-switching counselling. The targets should include unemployed workers and workers with a low level of skills and should absolutely not be restricted to unemployed workers.
Some people think that we should help unemployed workers to seek employment expeditiously and I do not query this at all. Yet, the question is whether this is a task with top priority under the Employees Retraining Scheme. I think, the foremost objective of the Employees Retraining Scheme should be to identify ways to improve the level of the skills of local workers, thereby enhancing the competitiveness of workers in Hong Kong. Skills upgrading will not only assist workers in finding jobs but also quality jobs, hence increasing their income and enabling them to secure long-term and stable employment. If they are only capable of switching to jobs which require a low level of skills, in the event of another economic restructuring, they will not possess any skills which enable them to make a living.
For these reasons, I think the policy of "ridding of poverty" plays an important part in the training scheme. On many occasions in the past, either during discussions in this Council or discussions among members of the community, a question invariably came up whenever we tried to gauge the merits of the Employees Retraining Scheme. The question is concerned with how many people have found jobs with our help. Mr CHOW Tung-shan will say 70%, but are we satisfied with that? My view is that in gauging the merits of the Employees Retraining Scheme, we should not simply consider the number of people who have found jobs, but whether there are improvements in their skills. It is because workers can only be protected against unemployment in the long run if their skills are upgraded.
Another point I would like to raise is the recognition of qualification. Retrainees under the Employees Retraining Scheme find it most unsatisfactory that the certificates they are awarded are not recognized by employers. What should be done then? I hope the Government will continue looking into ways in which the Examinations Authority can assess the standards of such informal education so that the certificates retrainees have been awarded can be recognized by employers. The Employees Retraining Scheme can only give full play to its role this way.
Lastly, I urge the Government not to indulge in empty talk any more. Whatever the Governor talks about the problem of employment, he will mention the Employees Retraining Scheme but so far, we still do not know how much the Government has appropriated to this area. If the resources are inadequate, I will really doubt how sincere the Government is.
Thank you, Mr President.
MR HENRY TANG (in Cantonese): Mr President, the power centre of the United States Government has already realized in 1983 the importance of "training and retraining", and it stated clearly in a report submitted to the United States Congress that "the lack of retraining strategy is a great obstacle to the economic recovery of the United States". It is evident how important "retraining" is to the economic development of a country. For Hong Kong, an international financial centre which is mainly dependent upon manpower resources, "retraining" is a job with top priority if we were to maintain our economic competitiveness.
On "retraining", I believe that the Administration should adopt a "four-tier system"as follows:
First tier: the targets are the manufacturing workers displaced by economic restructuring and the new immigrants. They have never received nine-year free education and are regarded as the group with inferior skills. Reinforcing their competitiveness in securing employment is one of the main jobs of the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) now.
Second tier: the targets are those who have been educated, who can absorb new knowledge and acquire new skills more easily. They should be trained to take up jobs requiring more advanced skills.
Third tier: the targets are those whose academic level is higher. For the time being, the objective of the Government is to enable 18% of school-age youths to receive tertiary or university education. I hope that this percentage could be further increased to 20%. In addition, training for other professionals is also of paramount importance, such as diploma subjects, professional nurses, computer professionals, educationalists and so on need development that stresses quantity as well as quality. Professionals with a high level of scientific and technological skills are the key to the future development of our economy and their training should be stepped up.
Fourth tier: on-the-job training. The Government should offer further tax allowances to employers and employees so as to provide an incentive for employers to allow employees to spend more time on pursuing further studies or taking up post-graduate programmes. The Government should also consider setting up a scholarship for working people or offering them preferential loan schemes so that they may pursue studies relevant to their jobs and constantly fortify their knowledge and skills.
Since "retraining" is a very large-scale and complicated process which involves various aspects and in view of the fact that Hong Kong is a community which has been developing extremely rapidly, I very much concur with the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han's proposal that a tripartite Employment Committee consisting of employees, employers and government officials should be set up to conduct studies on the future trend of economic development and to work out long-term manpower plans. This Committee will be able to more efficiently co-ordinate, harmonize and supervise the work taken up by various departments. Although the Education and Manpower Branch is now undertaking this important task, if an employment committee comprising employees, employers and professionals, is set up, I believe we will be more capable of seizing social changes, and utilizing resources in a more efficient manner.
When we talk about "retraining", we must touch upon the operation of the ERB and the Vocational Training Council (VTC). From 1992 till now, the Employees Retraining Fund has been in operation for four years. Compared with its structure at the initial stage, its present operation is indeed much more complicated. The target trainees of the retraining programmes have been extended from ordinary unemployed people to the elderly, women, the disabled and the new immigrants as mentioned in the recent policy address. Both structurally and operationally, the ERB has been changing along with changes in social demands. In the policy address briefing held by policy secretaries the day before yesterday, Mr Joseph WONG hinted that some details would be disclosed today and Members did not need to wait until the end of October when the consultancy report on the review of retraining policy will be published. I would therefore leave the discussion on the reform of the ERB until a later date.
In regard to the VTC, as pointed out in the consultancy report, many employers comment that the courses are too traditional, learning facilities inadequate, and apprentice training courses impractical. Some even say that the VTC is wasting the money of taxpayers and so on. This is in a way similar to the questionnaire survey on pre-vocational training I conducted early this year. To a certain extent, these results reflect that the local training and retraining institutions are still not able to catch up with the speedy development of our society. They should be reformed in terms of both quality and quantity as soon as possible.
The entire training hierarchy, comprising primary schools, secondary schools, universities, the VTC and the ERB, is now undertaking the very difficult task of manpower training in Hong Kong. It is dreadful to foresee the consequences if the division of work among the institutions within the hierarchy is unclear, there is a lack of co-ordination and they compete for resources. Therefore, I so submit in support of the motion moved by Miss CHAN Yuen-han.
MR MOK YING-FAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, everyone knows that the economic restructuring in Hong Kong is one of the major causes of a large number of workers being unemployed and their facing difficulties in finding jobs and switching trades. The aim of establishing the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) in early 1993 by the Government was mainly to retrain local workers who were affected by the economic restructuring and to assist people of different backgrounds in switching trades and finding jobs. Nevertheless, as shown in the reports of surveys conducted in foreign countries, the biggest difficulty faced by the retraining programme is that workers who have completed retraining programmes are unable to find jobs in the relevant trades. Hence, it is extremely important to ensure that workers get jobs and that the contents of the retraining programmes suit the demands of the labour market.
To ensure employment for workers, the Government has to set up an economic development board as soon as possible to study the relative advantages Hong Kong has in the world market, formulate a long-term economic development strategy and ensure full employment. I think that the board's work should mainly comprise four aspects: first, analyze, on a continuous basis, the advantages enjoyed by different regions in the international market, determine the latest position of Hong Kong in the market, the direction of her development and its demand for manpower resources; second, analyze the labour market trends of various industries for use in working out the contents of long-term labour training and retraining programmes; third, formulate a long-term industrial policy to determine the direction of the long-term development of Hong Kong's industries and provide guidance; fourth, formulate a policy for assisting small to medium-sized businesses. Furthermore, the Government should, through the maintenance of a job vacancy register, become aware of the needs of and information on the labour market. In so doing, it is possible to shorten the time taken for a vacancy to be filled, enhance contacts with employers, fight for on-the-site training for trainees and ensure employment for trainees who have completed the retraining programmes.
As for the quality of labour, the Government also needs to set up a mechanism, such as an employment committee, a statutory body consisting of government officials, representatives from employees and employers as well as professionals. It should co-ordinate and formulate long-term overall manpower training policies, tie in with Hong Kong's economic development strategy and establish close links with our economic development, as well as adjust the contents of training programme and the number of places in accordance with the demand of the labour market. At the same time, the committee should co-ordinate, harmonize and monitor the work of various bodies and the relevant departments which participate in labour training and vocational training, such as the Vocational Training Council and the ERB, to make sure that the programmes provided are comprehensive enough without duplication, and can address the needs of the unemployed workers from different community groups. For the retraining programmes to achieve the best results, I suggest that the Government can specify a set of personal assessment procedures to make arrangements for workers to enrol in training programmes most suited to their individual knowledge and skill levels.
In fact, the establishment of the economic development board and the employment committee can make economic policies complementary to manpower training programmes so as to avoid workers failing to secure jobs in the relevant trades or even failing to find jobs after undergoing training which results in a waste of resources.
On the other hand, the Government should consider revising the present social and labour policies.
First of all, the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood and I recommend the introduction of "transitional financial aid for the unemployed" which, instead of serving as an expedient measure, aims at providing financial aid to people who are temporarily or involuntarily out of work. It is not only intended to maintain their living standard but, more importantly, to assist them in receiving retraining and thereby securing new jobs and switching trades. In fact, the June 1996 statistics of the Census and Statistics Department show that the rate of unemployment is now 3.1% of the working population, with male workers being worse hit, at an unemployment rate of 3.2% while that of female workers is also as high as 2.4%. In a report published by the ERB in April 1995, it is shown that those who have enrolled in vocational skill courses, language and computer courses, and also the Job Search Skills Courses, are mostly female, they account for about 70% to 90% of the course members. In other words, male workers who are the financial pillars of their families have not benefited from these courses at all even though they are actually most in need of help from the ERB. Male workers will not be able to support their families as soon as they lose their jobs and they have to find a job without delay to support their families. They can hardly spare a few months' time to receive skill retraining all over again. Therefore, the introduction of transitional financial aid to the unemployed is an important factor and a measure for helping the unemployed people to find a job and switch to other trades.
Secondly, the Government should enact legislation to ban age discrimination as soon as possible. At present, most of the unemployed people are middle-aged, while 60.8% of them are aged between 20 and 39. However, employers tend to set very strict requirements in respect of age, for instance, they would require the applicants to be under 30 years old. Under such circumstances, the retrainees of the ERB may not be able to find a job even after completing the retraining programmes.
Hence, in order to achieve full employment and really resolve the problem of unemployment, I think that the Government must conduct a comprehensive review of, and formulate plans for, the long-term overall manpower training policy whilst changing its present social and labour policies.
Therefore, I agree to and support the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han's motion in principle. These are my remarks.
MR CHOY KAN-PUI (in Cantonese): Mr President, over the past 10 years, significant changes have taken place economically, socially, demographically and technologically in Hong Kong; stimulated by the open door policy of China in the past decade, there has been a rapid transformation of Hong Kong's economic structure. Hong Kong's economy has changed from being dominated by labour-intensive manufacturing industry to that by services industry and electronic telecommunication industry. The required skills of employees have changed from unitary ones to flexible and diversified skills. In particular, with the telecommunication technology advancing by leaps and bounds, rapid changes in the international financial market and intensified competitions in the overseas market, the requirements employees have to meet are becoming stricter and stricter. The past policies of the Hong Kong Government have seriously neglected the long-term investment in manpower resources. The percentage of the Government's total recurrent expenditure made on education and manpower training is the lowest among the governments of major Asian countries and regions. The Government has even considered the training of professionals and the upgrading of production skills as the responsibilities of private enterprises themselves. The Government expects various trades to make adjustments on the basis of their own demands for skills. Nevertheless, how can we expect the private sector to have long-term manpower training programmes to tie in with economic development? How can they shoulder the responsibility of providing manpower training to cope with the needs of on-going development and promote the overall competitiveness of Hong Kong on their own? In the face of the continuous lashing by our economic restructuring, it is now high time to review the manpower training system.
This review should be carried out with an eye for the future. It should not be conducted just to deal with the present slowdown in economic growth, we should not just formulate some short-term measures for dealing with the high rate of unemployment and under-employment. We should formulate a set of long-term manpower training strategies in the light of the restructuring of our economy, dovetailing with China's open door policy and economic development, such that the quality of our workforce will be more superior than that in the neighbouring areas and the competitiveness of our industrial and commercial sector can be enhanced.
Of course, the manpower training programme has tremendous and far-reaching responsibilities and relies on the full co-operation of the Government, the employees and employers. Employers should make changes in the short-sighted practices adopted in the past, and they should increase their investments in technological developments and research by enhancing the training of their employees' skills in the face of Hong Kong's industrial development. The Government should also consider and formulate long-term manpower training plans, actively take part in co-ordinating the efforts of various educational and training institutions and subsidize the scientific research and manpower training programmes of private organizations.
Over the past decade or so, as a result of population mobility, people with higher educational level have emigrated to overseas countries while a new generation of immigrants have come from China. Generally, they are only engaged in work with lower output values, casting a change in the quality of our working population. Coupled with economic restructuring, there has been a serious mismatch of the supply and demand of labour. Therefore, the Government must make greater adjustments, investment and commitment in this respect.
On the other hand, in order to have long-term solutions to the unemployment and trade switching problem and to improve the quality of our workforce, the Employees Retraining Scheme has an important role to play. In the past, the Government only considered the Scheme as a short-term measure and has never put in adequate and steady resources. Along with the intensified implementation of China's open door policy, the changes in her economic system and the closer relationship between China and Hong Kong, the restructuring of Hong Kong's economy is bound to continue and the retraining of the working population should be a long-term and everlasting task. Therefore, the Employees Retraining Board has to have a constant source of funding and the Government should also set a long-term goal for its work to assist workers in switching trades. This will be an effective way to deal with the distribution of manpower resources in Hong Kong.
Mr President, in the face of the industrial transformation in Hong Kong and the competition with our neighbouring regions, the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance thinks that we must conduct a comprehensive view of the existing manpower training policy and establish a new and effective training system to cope with the needs of the economic development of Hong Kong.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han's motion.
MR CHEUNG MAN-KWONG (in Cantonese): Mr President, in the past few years, the grass-root workers in Hong Kong have been facing a high unemployment rate, a decrease in real wage, longer working hours, difficulties of middle-aged women in finding jobs, competition from imported labour and so on. The root of the problem is that Hong Kong's economic restructuring is not brought along by skill upgrading, it has turned the industrial sector into an "empty shell" but has not resulted in an upgrading of skills in the service industry. With inadequate training and a low level of skills, the workers simply have to accept work offering lower wages and longer working hours, otherwise, they will become unemployed.
The manpower training policy of Hong Kong has all along neglected the grass-root workers. During the period of the takeoff of the manufacturing industry, workers could only study at evening secondary schools or attend the evening courses offered by the Vocational Training Council (VTC). The curriculum of evening secondary school is actually the regular curriculum of five-year secondary school but taught in the evening. The curriculum and the mode of teaching of evening secondary schools actually do not fit in with the practical needs of workers, and the curriculum of the VTC has all along been criticized as being divorced from the needs of the market and the times. There was once a joke among the workers: a female sewing machine operator at primary school level is only eligible to take a training course on sewing techniques.
Up till this day, the manpower training policy still neglects the grass-root workers. A standard education system should be an interlocking system, from primary schools to secondary schools, to vocational training schools, polytechnics and universities. There are systematic curriculum outlines and stable allocation of resources. However, the Government has not studied, planned or supervised the existing training for workers, and it has only given minimal subsides to such training.
As regards ordinary employees, they have very limited chances to enjoy continued education. Most of them are paying out of their own pockets for courses having no quality assurance run by commercial institutions. Concerning the grass-root workers, if they cannot afford the school fees charged by commercial institutions, they can only study through the channel of public institutions and they can only take the courses offered by the VTC and the Employees Retraining Board (ERB). However, whether they will be accepted to take such courses is still subject to their educational levels, and workers having less than Form Three education will often not be considered.
The ERB was only established in 1992 but its role has been very confused. Whether the ERB is supporting the Labour Department in providing job counselling or is it implementing training for the improvement of human resources is really questionable. I have conducted a survey on the courses recently organized by the ERB and discovered the following points:
First, the duration of the courses are too short. Over 50% of the courses lasts for only 50 hours, and many courses even only last for 20 hours. How can a worker of primary level acquire new skills within 20 hours? Second, no prospects of further studies are evident. There are no advanced courses and no channels to assist workers in promoting to higher level training. Third, no mechanism for quality control. The ERB is only responsible for fund allocation and the training work is assigned to different non-profit making organizations, of which many are not professional training institutions, and there is certainly no guarantee of teaching quality. Fourth, the training courses are not practical and many workers cannot find jobs in the trade on which they have been trained. Fifth, ERB puts too much emphasis on cost control and it cannot help to improve the quality of the workforce at all.
Among the grass-root workers, we also have to pay attention to the training needs of new immigrants. Their academic qualifications are not recognized, and their educational level is relatively lower as they may have come from rural areas. Moreover, they are often not good at the local dialect and English, as a result, therefore, very often, they can only take up low ranking and low paid jobs. It is of equal importance for us to enhance their language proficiency and technical skills, otherwise, they will only become a group of people who will be easily weeded out and abandoned, and they will become a burden to our society during economic recession.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Labour Bureau of the United States, the average hourly wage of the manufacturing workers in Hong Kong ranked the lowest among the Four Little Dragons in Asia. It is simply because the skill level of Hong Kong's industry is generally low. Recently, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce has played the same old tune, claiming that the economic competitiveness of Hong Kong can only be maintained by suppressing wages. In the face of competition from the neighbouring Asian countries, low wages is definitely not an advantage for Hong Kong. The economy of Hong Kong can only have room for development and the employment and wage problems of workers can only be really moderated if we have a high quality workforce having upgraded skills and improved productivity.
Mr President, the Government has already made a review on the VTC and the ERB, but to solve the problem in time, we should be more keen to make progress. We should request the Government to immediately increase its investment in training grass-root workers, reform the VTC and the ERB, increase the training opportunities of grass-root workers and new immigrants and improve the skill level and quality of the workforce as a whole.
With these remarks, I support the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han's motion.
MR HOWARD YOUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, Hong Kong has been plagued by unemployment problem and workers' difficulties in securing and switching employment for quite some time. With concerted efforts made by various sectors, unemployment rate and under-employment rate have come down a little in recent months, but the problems still exist.
The problem remains a mismatch between the vacancies and the workers available. While the unemployment rate is still hovering around 3%, there are large numbers of vacancies in the hotel industry, such as the housekeeping and catering posts, as well as in the aviation engineering and maintenance industry, and posts such as mechanics and technicians are awaiting to be filled.
The Employees Retraining Board (ERB) has indeed equipped many unemployed workers affected by the economic transformation with the skills needed for switching trades. The hotel industry has also employed many participants of the Employees Retraining Scheme but some of these retrainees quit their jobs soon after having been recruited by hotels. While they have the required skills, it seems that they are not psychologically prepared for working on shifts in hotels. Consequently, the hotel industry is forced to continue applying for foreign workers or recruiting new workers. From this we can see that there is a need for reviewing the effect of the Employees Retraining Scheme. When helping the trainees to find jobs, other than considering the needs of the employers, the ERB should also consider the needs of the trainees when training them in order to strike, as far as possible, a balance between the "demands and supply" of both. Hence, the employers can get the manpower they demand and the retrainees can be supplied suitable jobs, and in this way, the efforts and resources of the ERB will not be wasted. I want to point out here that although some participants of the retraining courses on hotel business are diligent and can acquire the skills, they are not housewives aged between 35 and 50 who have great difficulties in finding jobs as we are always mentioning. Rather, they are those who take part in the training mainly out of interest or the wish to switch occupations and seek a change in environment. Some of them are former secretaries or mini-bus drivers who are actually not unemployed and can easily find jobs. This logically leads me to wonder whether or not the ERB should emphasize more on the urgency and practical needs of the trainees in hunting for jobs when selecting them before offering them retraining?
To be able to provide effective services, the ERB has to have adequate and steady resources to enable it to operate effectively. The present levy of $400 on every imported worker in support of the Employees Retraining Scheme is in fact not feasible in the long run. Since the Government replaced the General Labour Importation Scheme with the Supplementary Labour Scheme last year, the number of imported workers have decreased sharply and so is the levy on imported workers collected by the Government. As a result, the funding received by the ERB has been greatly reduced. What will the consequence be if the Government does not allocate funds to the ERB on a regular basis? Therefore, I suggest that the Government should consider allocating sufficient funds to the ERB annually so that it will have enough resources to design and arrange suitable retraining courses for the jobless or those who are about to switch their jobs. On the one hand, these workers can continue working and on the other hand, government subsidies to the ERB will be increased.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the motion.
MR CHENG YIU-TONG (in Cantonese): Mr President, the unemployed who come to the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) for help are getting younger and younger. Many young people who are just over 30 are suffering from unemployment and difficulties in switching jobs. Although retraining opportunities are provided for them, employment problem still remain unsolved, retrainees still fail to secure a job or to change trade even after completing the retraining courses. According to a recently published consultancy report on the Vocational Training Council (VTC), less than 50% of the retrainees can obtain a job related to their retraining courses. In addition, many of the courses are regarded as unrealistic and cannot cope with Hong Kong's economic development. Some of the course instructors I have contacted sigh with regret time and again that the courses are impractical, that is why the retrainees cannot make use of what they have learned. In order to effectively avoid waste of resources and help workers to re-establish confidence in obtaining an employment, we have not only to revise the training courses, but should also review and plan ahead the overall manpower resources system, lay down principles and approaches, and actively help the unemployed and those who seek to switch to another trade to enhance their competitiveness in the manpower resources market.
The Government has all along been stressing that "because of the positive non-intervention policy, the Government seeks to respond to the demand for different skills in different trades so as to support economic development, instead of interfering with the direction of economic development with long-term manpower resources planning." However, the Government went back on its words on the issue of labour importation and actively intervened the labour market. In 1989, by using labour shortage as a pretext, it laid down a labour importation policy which would diminish the chance of local labour in seeking and changing employment. In 1992, under great pressure from the labour sector, the Government launched the Employee Retraining Scheme. Yet, after it has been in place for several years, we can still say that there are many problems, but there are definite results. However, the most regrettable part is that this Scheme lacks a long-term development strategy to complement each other.
Therefore, the FTU members of this Council and myself propose to set up a statutory employment committee which comprises employees, employers, government officials and professionals to study the impact which future economic trends will have on the supply and demand situations of Hong Kong's manpower resources, so as to formulate an overall manpower resources training policy. The committee should also organize, co-ordinate and supervise the work of different departments with a view to fully utilizing the social resources.
The present manpower resources training policy lacks direction. Training courses subsidized by it do not seek to train up people to match with the long-term economic development of our society, consequently, many retrained workers cannot put their newly acquired skills into practice. For example, the Chinese word processing courses are being provided continuously, yet, retrainees simply cannot obtain a suitable job in the market.
Training aside, surplus workers remain unemployed or have to settle for other jobs. For those who are employed, their wages might be cut because of a surplus labour supply. Workers' interests are just not being looked after under the present manpower resources training programme. Therefore, by setting up an employment committee, not only could an overall manpower resources policy be formulated, but wastage in training resources could also be avoided. More importantly, we can promote employment opportunities so that the workers' interests will be reasonably looked after.
Since there are obscurities over the duties of the VTC and those of the Employees Retraining Board (ERB), neither do they have any co-ordination mechanism, the roles of the two bodies are duplicated and they have to scramble for resources. The aim of establishing an employment committee, therefore, is to play the role of a co-ordinator and supervisor, to lay down clearly the roles of the VTC and the ERB so as to enable them to take up their own missions in the field of manpower resources, and to provide courses which would suit our future economic development. The ERB should seek to provide short-term retraining courses in regard to trade switching while the VTC should organize long-term training courses in professional skills.
Some people might query that is not the Labour Department providing employment service, counselling service, job counselling service, and even job-matching services for the public? The employment committee, however, is of a different nature, it is not an executive body, but a statutory body set up to promote full employment.
A long-term overall manpower resources training policy could no longer be discharged by the Education and Manpower Branch alone. I urge the Government to set up a statutory employment committee which comprises representatives from employees, employers, government officials and professionals.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the motion of the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han.
THE PRESIDENT'S DEPUTY, DR LEONG CHE-HUNG, took the Chair.
MR LAW CHI-KWONG (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, members of the Democratic Party will debate on the various aspects of the motion proposed by the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han today. Here, I will only concentrate on discussing the policy on manpower training of new immigrants.
Since the time Hong Kong became a commercial port, new immigrants have always been sources of manpower for Hong Kong. It will be a great asset to the development of Hong Kong if we can make effective use of the potentials of the new immigrants.
In the Policy Commitments of the Governor's policy address, the Government proposes to amend the Employees Retraining Ordinance to enable new immigrants to enrol in the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS). This is highly desirable. In fact, before the end of the last legislative session, I have already tabled a draft bill to the Panel on Manpower of the Legislative Council to amend the Ordinance. If the Government has difficulty in arranging for an alloted time for drafting the bill, I am very willing to help out. I can table a private bill to the Legislative Council to facilitate early amendment of the Ordinance and enable new immigrants to enrol in the ERS as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, the manpower problem of new immigrants cannot be fully solved by the ERS alone.
Among the new immigrants are some intellectuals or professionals. As the general educational qualifications gained in China are not yet recognized by the professional groups in Hong Kong, these professionals and intellectuals are forced to give up their original professions and switch to jobs in the services industry or to manual work in order to earn a living. This reflects not only the difficulties faced by new immigrants in adapting but also a waste of manpower as a result of the failure of the society in Hong Kong to take full advantage of their knowledge and skills. The Government should find ways to co-operate with the various professional organizations and set up an assessment mechanism or provide the new immigrants with supplementary training to help them regain professional qualifications in order that manpower resources will not be wasted.
According to the survey conducted by the Home Affairs Department between February and April this year, about 35% (34.2%) of the new immigrants do not know Cantonese and we can imagine that the standard of their English will be even poorer. The language problem not only affects the new immigrants' adaptation to their daily life, but also gives them much difficulties in looking for jobs. However, language courses in this respect are fairly inadequate. The Government should allocate more resources to the non-governmental organizations to enable them to provide the relevant courses so that the manpower resources of the new immigrants will not be improperly utilized owing to their language problem.
According to the survey conducted by the International Social Service, Hong Kong Branch and the Hong Kong University at the beginning of this year, almost 30% (28.2%) of new immigrants aged 15 or above have only received primary or even less education, while another one third of them have only received junior secondary education. Moreover, the educational levels in China may not be recognized in Hong Kong. As there is already an excess of unskilled workers in Hong Kong, it is even more difficult for these new immigrants to find jobs here. The Government should re-engage itself in the development of adult education and provide secondary courses suitable for adults so that these new immigrants can make up for the shortcomings in their educational qualifications which fail to conform to the local education system. We should also note that extending the scope of adult education can help adults who left school early or who had little chance of schooling to receive education again and to gain educational qualifications, so that their manpower resources can be enhanced and they may give full play to their potentials in the labour market.
In a word, I hope that the Government can amend the Employees Retraining Ordinance as soon as possible, provide more Cantonese and English language courses for the new immigrants and extend the scope of adult education.
These are my remarks.
MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the debate on the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han's motion is about the manpower resources training policy. This topic has all along been a subject of concern to me and to the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU). To review the manpower resources training policy, one point should never be overlooked, which is the distribution of work between the Vocational Training Council (VTC) and the Employees Retraining Board (ERB).
The VTC has recently completed a consultancy report, and one of the recommendations made in the report is that the VTC, with its sufficient resources, can take a share in the retraining programme. In 1995, the VTC received a grant of more than $1 billion, a lot more than what the ERB has received. It would certainly be a good thing if the VTC could shoulder part of the responsibility to provide retraining for the unemployed to complement the efforts made by the ERB, but how is the work going to be divided between the two institutions? This is an issue which we should handle with extreme care so as to avoid duplication of resources, thereby resulting in wastage.
The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) would like to make the following suggestions in regard to the distribution of work between the VTC and the ERB. We suggest that the VTC should concentrate on professional training and the ERB on training which would help to facilitate job switching. The former is long term vocational training while the latter, short term in nature but aimed at helping the trainees to obtain employment and to earn their living.
In addition, we suggest that the courses provided by the ERB should last two to four months only and should be provided for those who are over 30 and on the unemployment, so as to equip them with the skills and ability to shift to jobs like sales persons, junior clerks, office assistants and so on. It is hoped that workers who have been working in the manufacturing industry for a long time as well as unemployed workers could get themselves rid of unemployment as soon as possible and find jobs to earn their own living.
As for the courses run by the VTC, they should last at least four months or longer and provide professional training in skills required for jobs like shop managers and chef. The trainees could learn from such courses professional skills to enhance their working ability so as to climb up the occupational ladder in pursuit of higher living standards.
Let me take an unemployed worker as an example. After this worker has completed the salesperson training course provided by the ERB, he secures a job as a salesman and receives a regular salary. He could then make use of his free time after work and enroll in a course offered by the VTC to receive further training in shop management so as to enhance his working ability. If the two institutions could distribute their work as such, then their respective scope of work would be very clear-cut while duplication of resources could also be avoided.
We also suggest that for those unemployed workers who have registered with the Labour Department, if they do not choose to take the training courses run by the ERB for switching jobs but prefer those provided by the VTC, they should still be eligible for the $4,000 training allowance. Perhaps someone might ask whether it is worthy for the Government to spend so much money on manpower resources training. Well, I would like to do a little arithmatic with fellow colleagues. At present, more than 12 000 single persons are receiving CSSA on the ground of unemployment and they can get some $1,600 a month for their daily expenses. In other words, government expenditure in this respect would be more than 0.23 billion a year. CSSA of slightly more than a thousand dollars is too insufficient for a person if he is still hunting a job or seeking further studies. If such a situation were prolonged, the unemployed will be trapped in poverty and unable to help themselves out. Instead of allowing them to live on CSSA for a long period of time, why does the Government not put investment in training them so as to enhance their ability to work and to train up suitable manpower resources for both employers and society alike? After all, this is a long term measure for the Government. Let us suppose there are at present 120 000 persons who are unemployed and estimate that only 20% or less of them would take part in the training courses provided by the two institutions, the total government expenditure spend on the provision of training courses for these persons would only be $0.2 billion to slightly more than $0.3 billion a year. The difference between such an amount and the $0.23 billion CSSA is by no means significant. Yet the former is a kind of investment, trainees who have completed the course and obtained employment could eventually break away from poverty and alleviate the burden of the society as a whole; but for the latter, the money spent could never help those on CSSA to actually break away from poverty.
Furthermore, I and the FTU thinks that improvement is needed in the existing work done by the ERB. We object that the ERB should shift from "training oriented" to "employment oriented":
Employment services have all along been the responsibility of the three divisions under the Labour Department. Since 1 April 1995, a job-matching scheme has been operating to help those workers who are over 30 and are confronted with unemployment or who are forced to change jobs to seek employment. With its limited resources, the ERB should concentrate on training services instead of taking up responsibilities like job referral and job orientation, for such should be the responsibilities of the VTC. The ERB should co-operate closely with the VTC so that training services and employment services could be more closely knitted to yield good results. With regard to vocational training for the disabled, such should not be provided by the ERB either, it should be the responsibility of the VTC.
Owing to its non-intervention policy, the Government has never formulated any comprehensive plans for manpower resources training. As such, a lot of manufacturing works become unemployed in the face of economic restructuring in Hong Kong. The Government should view vocational training and on-job training as an extension of general education, and it is only in this way that training services could hope to be granted sufficient resources, social recognition and worth.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the motion.
MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, labour organizations have been aware many years ago that workers in the manufacturing industry would soon be faced with the difficulties in job seeking and have suggested that the Government should offer training courses. But at that time, the Government ignored the situation and turned a deaf ear to our requests. It was only in 1992 when the Government's Labour Importation Scheme encountered strong opposition them the Employees Retraining Scheme was introduced abruptly. As such, this scheme is just a political gesture and is deprived of long-term and target-oriented planning. Nevertheless, the scheme does bear some fruits. It has successfully convinced the trainees to accept extremely harsh employment conditions. As to the effectiveness of its skills training programme and its effort to help trainees make full use of the skills acquired, the result is little short of total ineffectiveness.
We are not at all surprised by the Government's actions which are against the general wishes of the society in the above. It is because the Government has all along been adopting an "active non-intervention" economic policy which many colleagues have referred to just now and what we are seeing now is simply the consequences arising from such a policy. Certainly, we are not going to discuss the active non-intervention policy today. The reason why I mention this term is that I hope to review what kinds of development direction have such a policy, which is called "active non-intervention" by the Government but is "passive interference" in essence, brought to us.
To put it in simpler terms, for 40 years, the Government has invariably caused the long term dependence of the industrial and commercial sectors on an extensively cheap but comparatively unskilled labour as a development pattern in promoting economic advancement by exercising control over wage increase, improving very slowly the benefits of our labour force, as well as turning down the requests for confirmation of the status of trade unions and collective negotiation for rights. It is true that some people do believe that an enhancement technical skills for our working force and the advancement towards high-tech industries form the direction for future development which we should follow, but if the market structure does not undergo complete remedial transformation, I am sure most of the employers would still be adopting a "three-nots" policy in this respect: not willing, not possible, not necessary.
The first one is not willing. The existing employment relations is purely a buy-and-sell of the labour relationship. Employers will never regard their employees as long term partners, and evidently, investment in manpower resources would be out of their scope for consideration. On the other hand, the mobility of the labour force in Hong Kong is rather high, employers might loose their well trained employees to their counterparts. Under such kind of justified worry, employers would naturally be unwilling to undertake any work concerning employees training.
In addition, most of the enterprises in Hong Kong are small to mediun in size, they simply do not have the resources for employees training purposes. Long term investment in technological research and manpower resources is definitely not an option for most of the employers.
Thirdly, the Government and the employers are always "supporting each other's story" and making use of various excuses to suppress wage increase. For instance, when economy is booming, they say that wage adjustment should be put under control to avoid allowing the economy to become over-heated; and when economy is slack, they would say that production costs have to be kept at a low level so as to maintain competitiveness. A recent example is the 6% wage increase rate suggested by the employers jointly. Behaviour as such is a good demonstration of the selfish and unmerciful ways through which the workers' share of the fruits resulting from economic development are robbed. Employers have shown forth a total neglect of the workers, and we can very clearly make out from such attitude that employers do not have any concern for the workers at all; coupled with the fact that China has been opening its market to the world recently and exporting a lot of inexpensive labour force to Hong Kong, employers have therefore found it unnecessary to develop towards high-tech and advance skills.
In my opinion, in order to solve the difficulties brought about by the afore mentioned "three not" policy, the Government, employers as well as employees must join hands together. Although the manpower resources training policy has been put into practice for four years by now, I still have the following three points of worries concerning its future development.
First of all, I am worry that the support shown by the industrial and commercial sectors are mere lip service. For instance, after the trainees have completed the retraining programme, will the employers hire them? Or will the employers be willing to give such employers a consequential pay rise? These questions, in fact have very important bearings on the retraining scheme.
Secondly, we have seen in recent years that a number of enterprises are starting to relocate part of their official clercial work to mainland China. While it is true that the demand for office workers has been on the increase in these few years, I still worry that the northward movement of office work might become a new trend. If we concentrate most of our resources on the retraining in clerical skills and if my worry were unfortunately proven to be correct, then the retrained workers would once again have to face unemployment. They would again encounter difficulty in job switching, have to receive retraining again, and become disappointed once again.
My third worry is the manpower development in China. Let us do some simple arithmatics. If 1 out of every 1 000 people in China would have the same level of skills as that of our worker, the total number of such kinds of skilled workers in China would be 1.3 million. If this assumption were close to the fact, then would our workers be replaced by them on day? Would those enterprises which involve mainly China trade still choose to stay in Hong Kong?
I must admit that my viewpoints are pessimistic, but that does not mean that I have given up hope on the manpower resources training scheme. On the contrary, I think we should inject more resources at this stage as well as formulate and implement polices for manpower resources training and economic development which are more positive and progressive. I would like to make the following suggestions concerning the direction for future development:
- Training for job switching: Apart from extending the service target to include new immigrants, the Government also should not stop at the consideration of short-term cost-effectiveness. If the labour market is once again faced with changes, trainees would be the first to be affected. As such, the Government should provide courses in further training so as to enable the workers to acquire more comprehensive skills and become better equipped to meet with changes in the market.
- On-the-job training: Both the Government and the employers should make continuous enhancement of workers' skill level one of their targets for development. Apart from general training, the Government could also help individual enterprises design special training courses, and should encourage employers to invest in manpower resources by way of consessional measures.
- Forward-looking survey on manpower resources demand: In order to avoid training resources from being mismatched with market demand, the Government should make more accurate assessment on the future demand of manpower resources. When conducting such assessment exercises, the wishes of the workers, development of the industrial and commercial sectors, as well as future changes in the economic environment should all be taken into consideration. In addition, the Government should also make effort to identify job vacancies in those industries with potential for further development.
Insofar as comprehensive manpower resources training is concerned, Hong Kong has been lagging behind its neighbours for more than a decade at the least. I hope the Government could live up to its words and implement the above-mentioned policies without delay.
MR MICHAEL HO (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, with very limited natural resources, Hong Kong's economic development has to depend largely on manpower resources while the grassroots sector of our population has long been the source of cheap labour supply for the economy. However, since China adopted an open door economic policy, more and more production processes have moved northward and Hong Kong's economy has then been switching to the financial and servicing industries for development. As such, economic restructuring has changed the supply and demand pattern in our labour market.
As the Government has adopted an non-intervention economic policy, the need to provide training for own manpower resources has long been neglected. The Vocational Training Council (VTC) was established in 1982, it was not until 1992 then the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) was set up. Although the Strategic and Organization Review of the Vocational Training Council was published in September, the review on the ERB was delayed time and again, and there is not any definite date for its completion.
In Hong Kong, manpower resources training is largely provided through formal education. However, as a result of the changes in the supply and demand pattern of the labour market which I referred to earlier on, many workers have to change their job nature and face new challenges. The difficulties in terms of resources and skills which they encounter can never be solved through the existing means of education.
Economic restructuring has also left many developed countries in the western world with the problem of a mismatched labour market, but most of these countries are now devoting ample resources to provide training and retraining for their workers. Vocational training is already regarded as an integral part of manpower resources development. A sufficiently trained workforce could enhance not only productivity but also competitiveness. In addition, social problems caused by economic restructuring such as wastage of well-trained manpower resources, high unemployment rate, as well as sharp increase in welfare needs can also be avoided.
What we need is a manpower resources training policy which caters for the needs of the various sectors of our community and is in line with the development of our economy. As reflected in the recently released report of the VTC, the current reviews on the ERB and VTC revealed that their stresses are on the institutions' internal structure and the services they provide, but they fail to propose a set of principles and direction for Hong Kong's manpower resources training.
Mr Deputy, the Democratic Party supports the principle embodied in this motion debate, and I will concentrate on the proposal to set up an employment committee.
The Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han proposed in her motion that an employment committee comprising representatives from the Government, employers and employees should be set up as a statutory body. The Democratic Party agrees in principle to this proposal which urges the Government to commit itself more to the promotion of employment opportunities for our workers. With regard to the formation of a statutory body, we, however, believe that further studies would still be required. Although we have listened to the speech delivered by Miss CHAN today and received some papers prepared by her earlier on, the Democratic Party still does not quite understand what are the duties and terms of reference of this proposed committee. The wordings of the motion have referred to the co-ordination and coherence of different departments concerned, but we would like to know more about the scope and level of the co-ordination work. Will the committee have the right to allocate the monetary and manpower resources of such departments? In regard to the co-ordination work, would the proposed committee be an executive committee responsible for executive duties? What sort of job will this committee be doing? Will staff be employed to discharge the executive duties in order to co-ordinate the work that are carried out by different department? We would like to have more information before we could have an in-depth discussion on the proposal as soon as possible.
Mr Deputy, these are my remarks.
MR AMBROSE LAU (in Cantonese): Mr President, all along, the Hong Kong Government has been adopting a non-intervention policy towards the economic restructuring in Hong Kong and has for a long time turned a blind eye to the workers who are displaced and who have difficulties in changing jobs as a result of the decline in the manufacturing industry. It was only until 1992 when the Government's labour importation policy met strong opposition that the Employees Retraining Scheme was implemented to reduce the voice of opposition. We can see that the Government has all along been lacking in a positive long-term policy on human resources training, nor does it have any clear principles or direction for forward planning.
Mr President, the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance (HKPA) thinks that the Government lacks a long-term policy for manpower resources training. Such a problem is first reflected in the resources of the Employees Retraining Board (ERB). The Board's resources come mainly from a $400 monthly levy collected from the employers for each imported labour they employ, as well as from the capital injected by the Government. However, as the quota for imported labour is declining and the capital injection made by the Government is not sufficient, the Retraining Fund will only have a balance of $100 million by the end of the year, and it is estimated that the Fund will be exhausted before the middle of next year. The report of the review on the Employees Retraining Scheme which was published by the Government in late September this year has listed out a number of possible capital injection. Nevertheless, it does not have any conclusion concerning the ways to maintain a stable and regular source of income for the Fund still. We can see very clearly that the Government is indeed short of a long-term policy for manpower resources training.
In recent years, the total wage bill in Hong Kong is about $500 billion a year. However, if we take a look at the period between 1994 and the end of 1995, we could see that the Government has allocated $1.3 billion to the Vocational Training Council (VTC) and $60 million to adult education. Together with an injection of $300 million to the Employees Retraining Fund, the total amount of grant was just $1.66 billion, which represented about 0.33% of the total wage bill only. This reflects clearly that the Government has not attached enough importance to the training of manpower resources and has not allocated sufficient resources to this area as a result.
Mr President, the HKPA believes that the absence of long-term planning and vision in manpower resources training policy is attributable to the fact that it does not have adequate resources support. Take the Employees Retraining Scheme as an example, ever since its implementation, it has always been criticised for attaching importance to quantity instead of quality. The present technical skill courses offered by the ERB are rather short-term and not comprehensive enough, thus making it very difficult for the workers who have completed such short training courses to secure a job in another trade. However, as a matter of fact, most of the displaced workers in the manufacturing industry are not very educated and need to receive long-term training in order to master new knowledge and new techniques. In addition, such long-term training should be comprehensive enough to include skills and language training, knowledge of the trade and the new working environment, as well as understanding of the changes in human relationships. The short-term and piecemeal training which they have received cannot really help them to shift to another trade successfully.
Mr President, there are many complicated and inter-related factors contributing to the local unemployment problem, including non-industrialization and economic restructuring in Hong Kong, changes in the quality and quantity of the workforce, rise in labour costs and so on. At present, the Government does not have a set of strategy to assist the transformation of local industries.
Instead, they are allowed to develop into "hollow industries" and "rootless industries". As a result, the unemployment problem has become so serious that it is just like a big fire. It is therefore very difficult for the Retraining Programme which is only a drop in the bucket to combat the fire. In view of such, while allocating adequate resources to set up a long-term manpower resources training policy, the Government should also plan ahead to assist the local industries and establish a positive long-term industrial policy. It is only by working along both pipelines and complementing each other mutually that the unemployment problem and the difficulties in changing jobs which many workers are facing can be solved.
As regards the establishment of a statutory employment committee which comprises representatives from employees, employers, government officials and professionals, the main function of the committee should be to explore new job opportunities. It is because the displaced workers of the manufacturing industry belong to the marginal manpower resources, to ask them to compete in the manpower resources market after short-term training is simply unrealistic. The marginal manpower resources is one of the vulnerable groups in our society, the Government has the responsibility to provide them with long-term and comprehensive training as well as more job opportunities.
Mr President, these are my remarks.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, I should first of all like to thank Members for their views on the important subject of manpower resources training.
Hong Kong's manpower training policy
It has long been Government's manpower policy to provide a well-trained workforce through the provision of technical education and vocational training, so that it is equipped with the requisite skills and expertise to meet the demands of the Hong Kong economy, and to contribute to Hong Kong's overall economic competitiveness. To give effect to this policy, what we have been doing in recent years is to ensure that the direction, focus and contents of our system of technical education and vocational training match with the changing demands of the economy.
Hong Kong's system of education and vocational training
I would like to give an overview of our comprehensive system of technical educational and vocational training, and the measures we have been taking to enable our workforce to cope with the changing needs of the labour market in the light of the economic restructuring process.
First, Prevocational training. We have in place a number of prevocational schools. These schools offer an alternative at the secondary school level to the grammer school curricula and provide students with both general knowledge and a broad-based technical and practical education. The junior prevocational curriculum equips students with basic skills and applications of techniques in at least two major trades, enabling them to go direct into employment or apprenticeship training. For students intending to progress further in schools, the senior secondary and the sixth form curricula prepare them for a vocation-oriented education in technical institutes or tertiary institutes. In the light of the changing needs and aspirations of the Hong Kong community, a working group has been set up in the Education Department to review prevocational and secondary technical education. The findings and recommendations arising from the review will be released for public consultation by the end of this year.
The history of vocational training in Hong Kong dated back almost 40 years ago. The system started off with the establishment of the Hong Kong Technical College in 1957. It was followed by the establishment of the Industrial Training Advisory Committee (ITAC) in 1965 in the light of the shortage of trained workers and the then rapid expansion of Hong Kong's manufacturing industries from the 1950s onwards. In 1973, the ITAC was replaced by the Hong Kong Training Council (HKTC), the remit of which covered not only the manpower needs of industry at craft, technician and technologist levels, but also manpower requirements for the service and commercial sector. The mid-1970's saw the setting up of the Construction Industry Training Authority and the Clothing Industry Training Authority, as well as the introduction of the Apprenticeship Ordinance.
The Vocational Training Council (VTC) was established in 1982 as a statutory body for the purpose of providing industry-wide training schemes for all the major industries in Hong Kong.
Upon its establishment the VTC took over five technical institutes from the Education Department and the industrial training functions from Labour Department as well as the staff responsible for operating these functions.
In 1989, the VTC agreed to take over from the two Polytechnics some 6 750 full-time equivalent sub-degree level places. This year, the two colleges have become fully operational and are providing about 4 800 full-time, 1 400 part-time day and 7 300 part-time evening places.
I have recounted the development of vocational training briefly to highlight the point that Government has long seen the need of ensuring that our workforce is properly trained to meet the needs of industries. Today, the VTC is providing technical education, job-related training as well as skills upgrading courses for over 100 000 persons. Of these trainees, some 64 000 are in employment and are attending either full-time or part-time courses of various duration and at various levels. Vocational education and training is now provided at craftsman, technician and sub-degree level in a range of disciplines in its two Technical Colleges, seven Technical Institutes and 24 Industrial Training Centres. The VTC is also responsible for running other services and programmes which are designed to facilitate the provision of specific types of training Scheme; the Engineering Graduate Training Scheme; and the apprenticeship and traineeship schemes.
In line with the expansion and improvement to the training services provided by the VTC, the annual recurrent expenditure of the VTC has increased by 18 times from $117 million in 1982/83 to $2.1 billion in 1996/97.
In order to ensure that the programmes offered by the VTC are responsive to the changing demands of the local economy, particularly at a time when Hong Kong is undergoing a major economic restructuring, the Government commissioned in March this year a consultancy study on the VTC. The consultants have acknowledged the achievements of the VTC over the past years, but identified a number of key issues to be addressed. They cover VTC's involvement in the strategic planning and monitoring of its own performance, staff development, a quality assurance programme for courses; the unfavourable perception of the VTC by parents and students; and the apparent inbalance between the provision of courses for manufacturing and manual jobs and those for the service industry.
Based on their findings, the consultants have come up with 44 recommendations which seek to promote an organic change in the VTC. Among the key recommendations are:
- The drawing up of a Memorandum of Understanding to define more clearly the roles and responsibilities of the EMB and VTC;
- The establishment by the VTC of a new planning system, the principal elements of which would be a three-year corporate plan, an annual business plan and a yearly benchmarking exercise to test assumptions on labour market developments;
- To strengthen the role of the VTC Council to determine VTC strategy, and to change the way in which the Council works;
- To reform the apprenticeship scheme;
- To create new posts to strengthen the VTC's senior management team and to develop an in-depth expertise in the design of training programmes to meet different client needs.
We broadly endorse the general thrust of the consultancy report. We have invited comments from the Vocational Training Council and other interested parties on the report and expect to receive them before the end of November.
Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS)
Honourable CHAN Yuen-han has pointed to the particular difficulties faced by local workers who have been adversely affected by the on-going economic restructuring process. I entirely agree that we should do all we can to enable this group of displaced workers to rejoin our permanent workforce and to provide them with any retraining that is necessary for this purpose.
It is for this reason that the Government established the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) in 1992 to administer the ERS. The primary function of the ERB, as set out in the Employees Retraining Ordinance, is to "consider the provision, administration and availability of retraining courses and supplementary retraining programmes intended or designed for the benefit of local employees in adjusting to change in the employment market by acquiring new or enhanced vocational skills". The retraining courses organized by the ERB are all designed with this objective in mind.
By the end of August 1996, the ERB has provided retraining courses for over 80 000 retainees. Among the retrainees who had completed the retraining courses, 76% have received Form 3 or below education and 55% have a manufacturing background. To assist retrainees in seeking employment after completion of retraining, many training bodies offer placement services to those who are active job-seekers. Between July 1995 and June 1996, over 13 000 persons who had completed full-time retraining courses managed to find a job following retraining.
The Government is presently reviewing the ERS. In particular, we would like to ensure that the ERB has a distinctive role in providing the most appropriate type of retraining to displaced workers and that it will discharge its functions in the most effective and efficient manner. Our preliminary thinking is that the most effective retraining scheme is one which can provide local workers with new skills which will enable them to work in their new jobs on a permanent basis. I also agree that, we should consider the question of whether the skills acquired by the local workers through retraining will be given due recognition by employers. We have commissioned a consultancy to assist the Government in the review.
We expect to complete the review next month and will consult interested parties on the way forward. One of the issues which we will consider in the review is how to ensure that the ERB receive a steady source of finance which is sufficient to meet its requirements. I look forward to discussing the outcome of the review with Members.
In the meantime, we have decided to expand the ambit of the ERS to cover new immigrants. Under the Employees Retraining Ordinance, only permanent residents, that is, those with at least of seven years' residence in Hong Kong, are eligible to join the ERS. We are aware of the difficulties faced by new immigrants in seeking jobs and the need for some of them to receive proper retraining. We aim to introduce a bill before the end of this year to amend the Employees Retraining Ordinance so that new immigrants with less than 7 years' residence in Hong Kong will also be eligible for the various ERS programmes.
The proposed expansion of services to new immigrants will not be at the expense of providing retraining services to local displaced workers. As at 31 July 1996, the total cash balance of the ERB stands at $397 million, as against the actual expenditure of $240 million 1995/96.
It is no co-incidence that the Government is reviewing the VTC and ERB at the same time. The outcome of the reviews and resultant comments by interested parties, including Members, will enable Government to decide on the long-term vocational training and employees retraining strategy to meet our present and future needs. We want to ensure that the VTC and ERB have distinctive roles and complementary function. Our objective is to ensure that the VTC and ERB provide comprehensive training services for local workers and the training courses and market-responsive and cost-effective.
A proposed statutory body to co-ordinate work regarding provision of training for displaced workers
The Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han suggests that the Government should set up a statutory Employment Committee, consisting of employees, employers, government officials and professionals, for co-ordinating the work of the relevant government departments in implementing the recommendations of the above review. I very much appreciate the good intention of such a suggestion and I certainly support the notion of a multi-partite arrangement.
If I may explain why the suggestion is not necessary. The memberships of both the VTC and the ERB as stipulated under the Vocational Training Council Ordinance and the Employees Retraining Ordinance are already tripartite in nature, in that it is made up of Government officials and employee and employers representatives. In fact the membership of these two bodies also comprises quite a number of professionals. The Education and Manpower Branch is the policy branch for co-ordinating the work of various Government departments and statutory bodies, such as the VTC and the ERB in implementing Government's manpower policy. We also consult and receive good advice from the Legislative Council Manpower Panel on manpower matters. I believe that employers, employees and professionals are already widely represented on the existing consultative mechanism. The proposed establishment of statutory employment committee will not strengthen this mechanism. On the contrary, it may give rise to confusion. The Government therefore cannot support this part of the motion.
The Government is committed to helping workers particularly those displaced from the manufacturing sectors to seek employment or re-employment. I look forward to working closely with Members in the coming months to enhance our present system of vocational training and employees retraining.
Thank you, Mr Deputy.
THE PRESIDENT resumed the Chair.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss CHAN Yuen-han, you are now entitled to your final reply and you have four minutes and four seconds out of your original 15 minutes.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, I wish to thank our colleagues in this Council today. Although we do not share the same view concerning some technical problems, we do have a consensus on the need for retraining as a result of the present economic restructuring in Hong Kong.
In addition, in the light of the response made by the Government a moment ago, I have the feeling that even though the Government has obtained two consultancy reports, apparently it has not changed at all. It is not seeking any improvement and is still taking mere fragmentary actions like before. It also fails to respond to the comments and request made by our colleagues in this Council today.
Why am I making such comments? Just now the Secretary for Education and Manpower has spoken for quite a while, but he has not answered any of the questions raised by he himself. Such questions focus on the need to provide effective services to help the workers seeking to shift to another trade to secure a long-term employment. Such a need is reflected in those work done by the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) and the Vocational Training Council (VTC) in the past. For example, as my colleague has mentioned just now, some of the courses organized by the VTC have basically failed to meet the needs of the society while some employers simply do not want to recruit retrained workers. As for the workers who have been retrained by the Board, it has been claimed that 70% of them were employed. However, this figure represents the rate of employment at a certain instant only. We understand that many workers could only manage to find temporary jobs or short-term jobs, but they were counted in by the Government as being employed. Frankly speaking, such an orientation seems to have substantially deviated from what this Council has been discussing today.
Although the Secretary reiterated time and again that both the ERB and the VTC are composed of three or four parts, we need to understand that these two establishments do have their objective problems. Basically, their terms of reference do not equipped them with the means to deal with issues in macro terms, such as the current situation or the future economic development in Hong Kong. The Government has not done any co-ordination work in this respect to enable them to define long-term needs in human resources. This is exactly the crux of the problem as raised by many colleagues today.
Mr President, I hold an open minded attitude towards the question of whether an Employment Committee should be set up. However, I would like to ask, how would the Government respond to the problems of the VTC and the ERB, as well as to the criticisms made by a number of colleagues in this Council just now? If the Government cannot shed its existing straitjacket, how can it convince us that in future the VTC or the ERB under the leadership of the Secretary for Education and Manpower could become truly effective and capable of providing services? The Government only knows how to swamp us with figures and information about the past situation and hopes that we could be convinced to accept the existing system. It does not say why the past system fails to take effect or why such a system is under criticism by a number of colleagues today. It has neither responded to the problems nor put forward any solutions to such problems.
Mr President, the Government abruptly refused the proposal to set up an Employment Committee. This is to me a very bureaucratic action on the part of the Government. Since the Government has said that it did appreciate my sincerity and understand my rationale, why then did it not consider establishing a working group to look into the issue in the first place and to find solutions to the problems found with the ERB and the VTC? What the Government has made are merely fragmentary and haphazard responses.
Mr President, I regret very much the reply made by the Secretary. I hope our colleagues would, on the basis of our common intentions, request the Government to revise its policy in the light of the manpower resources problems. I also hope that the Secretary would answer in the near future the questions we have raised.
Question on the motion proposed, put and agreed to.
DISPARITY OF WEALTH IN HONG KONG
MR FREDERICK FUNG to move the following motion:
"That, in view of the increasing serious polarization between the rich and the poor in the territory's economic development process, resulting in a lot of people (especially the impoverished elderly, new immigrants and the recipients of public assistance) still having to live from hand to mouth in long-standing dire straits in an affluent society such as Hong Kong, this Council expresses deep regret that Government has been turning a blind eye to these people's plight and, in this 'the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty', urges the Government to take prompt action to help the poor in the territory to 'get rid of poverty', conduct a comprehensive study on the causes and the extent of the financial disparity between the rich and the poor in the territory; and formulate corresponding social and economic policies with a view to alleviating the problem."
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I am speaking on the motion I proposed. The Governor indicated in his policy address last week that our welfare system did not exist to iron out inequalities, nor did it exist to redistribute income. The Hong Kong Government has been carefully controlling welfare expenses because it does not intend to create a phenomenon in which wealth is evenly flowed to everyone. Such assertions are illogical and confusing. The Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADPL) is very much dissatisfied with what the Governor has said and with the reluctance of the Government to shoulder the responsibility of "diminishing down the polarization between the rich and the poor". We must understand that what Hong Kong people want is not "an even distribution of wealth" as referred to by the Governor, but "a share of the fruits of prosperity".
In view of such, it comes as no surprise that 11 out of the 60 major pledges on social welfare mentioned in the Governor's policy address in the past four years have not yet been materialized. Among them, three are related to the job opportunities for the vulnerable social groups. The Governor has boasted of economic achievements such as projected fiscal reserves of HK$150 billion by April 1997 excluding the Land Fund, and a gross domestic product per head of US$23,000 (HK$180,000). When he made such a boast, the ADPL would like to know, did he recall that more than 100 people die either because of the severely cold weather at the beginning of the year or because they committed suicide after losing their jobs? Did he recall that 23 000 families were still living in poverty? Has he ever wondered why so many Hong Kong people live in poverty? Why in 1991 the money earned by the highest income group which accounted for 20% of the population amounted to over 50% of the total income, whereas that earned by the lowest-income 20% represented to 4.3% only. The Gini's coefficient has risen from 0.43 in 1971 to 0.48 in 1991. This shows that the income gap has widened and the disparity between the rich and the poor has become more serious.
Of course, the ADPL is not blind to the Government's efforts in revising the amount of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) in 1993. Just take July 1996 as an example, 47 000 people have to rely on CSSA to rid themselves of extreme poverty. To be financially self-sufficient and live independently is what everyone of us yearn for and work hard towards, it is also a basic condition for a stable society. How could a responsible government afford to ignore?
As a matter of fact, a lot of poor people in Hong Kong are still struggling hard to stay alive. The number far exceeds that of the CSSA recipients as released by the Government. They are not on CSSA either because they have not reached the qualifying poverty line defined by the Government for CSSA despite their low income and meagre assets, or because they have not applied for it even though they are qualified. This group can be known as the "hidden poor". It is estimated that 600 000 are earning less than half of the median household income. Most of them are single elderly persons, single-parent families, new immigrants, the chronically-ill, those on the Waiting List but living in private housing, as well as the disabled. Take for an example, the unemployment rate of the new immigrants is 13.7%, four times higher than the 3% for the average residents. Moreover, their median income is only HK$4,000. Unemployment rate among those with sight problems who have reached employment age is even more serious, a high 25%.
The CSSA requirement mentioned above is inhuman and fails to make adjustment to cater for the different conditions of the CSSA recipients and their families, it can never help recipients out of poverty, at the most it can only provide some assistance to the poor. If the "hidden poor" cannot obtain public housing, their conditions would be even worse. According to the Waiting List Income Limit of the Housing Authority in 1996, those who earn less than the limit would have to spend 48% to 60% of their income on rent in order to maintain a reasonable living environment in private housing. To make ends meet, they have to change their spending pattern by eating less and buying less clothes so as to save up enough money for rent payment. Survey results also show that the hidden poor are even poorer than those on CSSA. In addition, rental expense is also the major burden to public housing tenants with financial difficulties. The housing policy of building less public housing and linking rents with costs is in fact the culprit in causing the low income families to pay high rent and to suffer a downgraded living quality. Adding to this are the policy of linking medical services with costs and inadequate supervision on public utilities, together they have already been inflicting additional pain onto the general public. The housing policy is gradually alienating itself from the housing needs of the lower class. Moreover, the inappropriate town planning in past years and the absence of a community support networks, such as community development services at neighbourhood level, have also resulted in the formation of slums in old urban areas. Take Nam Cheong area in Sham Shui Po District as an example, 40.9% of the residents there are earning less than HK$6,000 a month.
More and more Hong Kong people have fallen into poverty and could not get themselves out of their plight as no job opportunities are available and they lack the requisite knowledge and skills to change jobs. Global competition has triggered off economic restructuring in Hong Kong, this together with the northward and outward relocation of factories and production processes have resulted in a decrease in the number of employees in the manufacturing industry, the figure has fallen from 920 000 in 1985 to 350 000 in March 1996. Many manufacturing workers have to face unemployment. Even if they succeed in changing their jobs, what they could get are mostly the low-level jobs in the serving industry, and as such, they have to suffer a reduction in pay. Despite the retraining and job training opportunities provided by the Government, the low-skill workers are still trapped in the lowest social stratum either because such training fails to match the demands of the labour market or the workers fail to secure a job even after training. Over the past 10 years, there is an upward tendency in the number of low income workers while wage increase in real terms is found to be slowing down. For the low-level workers, some only have a 1.6% wage increase in real terms, but the professionals and the employees at managerial level are enjoying on average a rate of 5.4% every year. Facts are evident that in this progressive and hypersymbolic economic epoch, competitive edge are defined in terms of update information, innovation and comparatively more advanced technology. The amount of government expenditure on human resources training (including education) in the past was unable to keep pace with the needs of a developing economy and has been biased towards degree awarding university education, basic education was being ignored. In addition, the retraining programme for workers has also failed to cater for the needs resulted from the economic restructuring as well as development in technology. As a result, our workers have become victims of economic development and inappropriate human resources training policies, and this is evidenced in their attempt to change jobs or to seek employment.
To provide enough good jobs for the workers in Hong Kong so as to guarantee that "everybody is employed, decently clothed, sufficiently fed, and is able to share the wealth of our society, the Government must formulate policies to monitor the economy as well as comprehensive social plans of higher levels. The Government has all along been adopting a simple taxation system with low-tax rates and a 15% that rate for salary and profits. Using fiscal year 1996-97 as an example, for tax-payers with an annual income of less than HK$520,000, progressive tax rate will be applied, but those earning more than HK$520,000 a year could enjoy the flat rate, thus leading to a disparity of wealth. Worse still, as the Government does not have any anti-inflation policy nor long-term economic development strategy, the problem is aggravating.
To help the poor "get rid of and defeat poverty", the other three Members of ADPL in this Council will speak on the following three aspects:
- proposals to provide money and service for those persons and families in need so as to help them out;
- means to enhance labour competitiveness and to ensure full employment;
- proposals related to financial issues and tax system to help create a new social environment and to narrow down the gap between the rich and the poor.
We hope everyone would take part in the discussion on the above subjects and jointly strive to make Hong Kong a place where everybody lives in affluence.
Mr President, with these remarks, I beg to move.
Question on the motion proposed.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LEE Cheuk-yan has given notice to move an amendment to this motion. His amendment has been printed on the Order Paper and circularized to Members. I propose that the motion and the amendment be debated together in a joint debate.
Council shall debate the motion and the amendment together in a joint debate. I now call on Mr LEE Cheuk-yan to speak and to move his amendment. After I have proposed the question on the amendment, Members may express their views on the motion and the amendment.
MR LEE CHEUK-YAN to move the following amendment to MR FREDERICK FUNG's motion:
"To insert the following after " 'get rid of poverty'," and before "conduct a comprehensive study":
MR LEE CHEUK-YAN
- introducing the Old Age Pension Scheme and increasing the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance payment for the elderly to $2,700;
- improving the vetting method of student financial assistance schemes so that more impoverished families can obtain reasonable subsidy;
- introducing a contributory Unemployment Assistance Scheme;
- taking active and effective measures to tackle the problem of unemployment, such as allocating funds to subvented organizations to assist them in setting up employment mutual aid groups;
- providing career training and counselling for new immigrants, as well as day-time education opportunities for young immigrants aged between 16 and 18;
- increasing the rates of Disability Allowance and Disability Supplement, as well as actively promoting the employment opportunities for the disabled; and
- restricting the rental increase of public housing to a level below that of inflation and offering assistance to households in hardship, as well as expediting public housing production and significantly increasing the number of public housing units produced;"."
(in Cantonese): Mr President, I move that Mr Frederick FUNG's motion be amended as set out under my name on the Order Paper.
Mr President, last week, in his policy address, the Governor tried to outline the success of Hong Kong in these terms: The Gross Domestic Product per head is US$23,200, higher than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Hong Kong is the eighth largest trading community in the world. We have the seventh largest foreign exchange reserves and the eighth largest stock market. Undoubtedly, Hong Kong has now become an affluent society. But in this "first world" of ours, there exists a "third world". Today in Hong Kong, nearly 150 000 people have to live on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA); 100 000 are jobless; 180 000 people, including tenants of temporary housing areas as well as squatter huts and cage homes, do not have proper accommodation. Also, 30% of the households, or 450 000 families, cannot make ends meet very month. While 230 000 chronically-ill persons are struggling in pain, 60 000 singleton elderly who are in poverty have nobody to turn to and most of the 260 000 disabled are passing their days with neither job nor assistance. In addition, the number of people living in overcrowded and shabby cage homes is approaching 4 000.
Behind every economic success there are the numerous cruel facts of hardships in life. Economic success is no shield for failures in livelihood policies. Unfortunately, the plight of the bulnerable social groups in Hong Kong have not been able to attract any reasonable sympathy from all sectors. Instead, people say "welfare burden will lead Hong Kong into bankruptcy". In an attempt to defend the social welfare policy of Hong Kong, the Governor stressed that we must not follow the footsteps of welfarism in Europe. Officials from Hong Kong and China as well as some of our colleagues also regard "welfarism" as a fearful monster. I must give welfarism a fair deal.
If welfarism can help everyone settle down and work happily, what is wrong with it? A welfare society is not the same thing as free lunch, nor does it meant to "spoil" people. Critics often use such misrepresenting phrases to arouse sentiments. Social welfare hinges upon "civil rights". As a member of the society, a citizen contributes to the society through his or her labour. When he or she loses the ability to earn a living as a result of aging, illness, death or unemployment, he or she should have the right to receive government assistance to tide over the problems. A welfare society is absolutely not another name for free lunch. On the contrary, it puts into practice the spirit of " harder work, greater rewards". At present, the elderly cannot obtain any retirement protection after toiling all their lives. They may get injured and become disabled while working. Have they not made any contribution prior to the injury? A welfare society is only providing reasonable return to those unfortunates who are impoverished. On the contrary, those who are enjoying "free lunch" are the financial syndicates which make huge profits through speculation.
Welfarism not only helps to stabilize the society, it is also a means upon which the continual existence of a capitalistic society depends. The first person to advocate social security was BISMARCK, the Prime Minister of Prussia (now Germany). He provided social security to prevent poverty from triggering off riots and strengthening labour movements. The development towards a welfare state thereafter is attributable to the influences from contemporary thoughts as well as the intentions of the ruling class to use welfare to stabilize the society and to enhance economic development.
In Hong Kong, at a time when we are proud of our luxurious and spacious airport, have we felt a bit shameful for the existence of the poor in this affluent society? Our social welfare development is lagging far behind economic development. My proposal is meant to speed up the former so that it could catch up with the latter, and Hong Kong has everything it needs to materialize this proposal.
I am moving an amendment to Mr Frederick FUNG's motion not because I do not agree to the idea contained therein. In fact, his motion has my full support. However, it is my hope that more specific discussion on welfare policy could be targetted at the lower income groups. I urge this Council to discuss the policy to eradicate poverty. This is a policy we should formulate. Now, let me put forward on behalf of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions seven proposals to get rid of poverty:
First, I must reiterate the proposal to establish an old age pension scheme. Last year, the Government pointed out categorically that old age pension was out of the question. This is absolutely a mistake. Let me repeat: This is a mistake. I request that the old age pension scheme be given further consideration. With regard to the issue of CSSA payment to the elderly, the Government holds that as the expenses of the poorest of the elderly who are not on CSSA are lower than those who are, the CSSA payment need not be increased. Thus, the Government is comparing the poor with the poor, which is not a reasonable thing to do. The low-income elderly persons not on CSSA could only receive $400 to $900-odd a month, naturally they do not have the money to spend. It is not at all surprising that they are more thrifty than the elderly on CSSA. According to Government calculations, an elderly person only needs $23 a day for food, that means $7 for each meal. This is an amount at a humiliating level! I urge the Government to raise the amount of CSSA to $2,700.
Second, under the existing student financial assistance scheme, households with an income of around $6,000 would not qualify for full assistance and there is no book subsidy for students in Forms 4 to 7. Let us not forget that the current median household income is $18,000. So, it can be seen that most of the low-income households cannot obtain full assistance. I think the Government must re-set the qualifying income standards.
Third, the Contributory Unemployment Assistance Scheme I put forward is an insurance concept to see workers through in the event of unemployment. The scheme involves an initial funding by the Government and subsequent contributions from the worker (around 0.5%) and the management (around 1%) concerned. After contributing for a year, an employee may obtain non-voluntary unemployment assistance for a maximum of 6 months at about 50% of the median wage to alleviate the temporary hardship caused by unemployment.
Fourth, to solve the problem of unemployment, training and re-training are the pre-requisites. I am not going to repeat this here. In addition, I request the Government start looking into the feasibility of setting up an employment mutual aid group and allocating funds to the subsidized organizations to help the unemployed and the vulnerable social groups to earn their living.
Fifth, new immigrants are prone to poverty. I think the most practical way to help them is to provide more job training and counselling. At present, new immigrants between 16 to 18 years old are not allowed to attend day schools. As a result, they have nothing to do during the day and receive no school education. The Government should come up with ways to solve the problem of daytime schooling for these young people.
Sixth, the present Disability Allowance and Disability Supplement are too low to cater for the special needs of the disabled. I hope the Government can review the matter without delay. With regard to the enhancement of job opportunities for the disabled, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions suggests that the Government should set a 2% job quota for the disabled, or at least grant some tax benefits to companies which employ the disabled.
Seventh, I wish to point out that most of the public housing estate tenants belong to the lower income group. To help them get rid of poverty, the Government should not impose huge increases in rent in the first place. I suggest that rental increases for public housing should not be higher than the rate of inflation and households with difficulty should be given special attention. In addition, if the Government still dally over the construction of public housing estates, the 160 000 residents on the Waiting List will have a very difficult time because they have to pay high rent for private housing.
With these remarks, I move that the motion be amended.
The digital timer showed 0701
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LEE Cheuk-yan, your time is up.
Question on the amendment proposed.
MR IP KWOK-HIM (in Cantonese): Mr President, just like other metropolitan cities, Hong Kong is so prosperous and full of glamour, and our people's living standard is ever improving. However, behind such prosperity there are families living in want everyday. Also, we can learn from newspapers and television broadcasts that tragedies are taking place one after another in poor families.
Mr President, disparity of wealth in Hong Kong has really become a matter of much concern. The Gini coefficient, which is an indicator for disparity of wealth, shows that the coefficient for Hong Kong has risen from 0.44 in 1971 to 0.48 in 1991. In other words, although the economy of Hong Kong has been enjoying continuous growth over the past 20 odd years, there has been no improvement regarding the disparity of wealth. Instead, the polarization of such has become worse and worse everyday.
On the other hand, the number of people who have been netted by poverty net is also a matter of concern. Statistics show that there are nearly 280 000 households in Hong Kong whose monthly income is below the $8,000 median household income. If we assume that there are 3.4 persons per household, then 940 000 people in the territory have fallen into the poverty net. Among these people, over 500 000 are living in extreme poverty, and the total monthly income of each of these households are even less than half of the median household income, that is to say, less than $4,000.
For those families which are living in poverty or even in abject poverty, they have to worry about food and clothing as well as housing everyday. Even worse is that the prejudice and discrimination from other members of the society has created on them material as well as psychological pressure and impact of varying degrees, which in turn has led directly to a host of family problems.
What surprises us is that there are only 140 000 households (approximately 200 000 people) receiving CSSA, which is less than a quarter of the total number of households that are in abject poverty. Why on earth are there only less than a quarter of these households that are living from hand to mouth receiving CSSA?
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) is of the view that these impoverished people are not receiving CSSA because the Government has not actively promoted and propagated the CSSA scheme. It is especially so for the new immigrants, single elderly persons as well as the disabled, the lack of information and knowledge have caused them difficulty when applying for CSSA. Also, as the application procedures and restrictions regarding assets are too harsh, those who are in need are very often discouraged from making any application.
Mr President, the DAB is of the view that apart from carrying on with the review on the effectiveness of protection of the "safety net" provided by the CSSA scheme, the Government should also pay attention to social problems such as the downfalling living standards of the low-income families and the "spreading of poverty", as well as to actively find out the causes leading to poverty and low income. In addition, it should analyze the impact of the structural unemployment resulted from economic restructuring as well as the impact of urban renewal have on those people living in old areas and those people whose income are very low. Apart from that, the Government should also look into the social problem of serious disparity of wealth, which is a result of the long-standing high property prices policy.
The DAB also urges the Government to, with reference to international conventions, set the "social poverty line" at one half of the median household income, so as to underline these latent problems of poverty. In addition, it should also adopt the policies of "eradication of poverty" and "breaking away from poverty" so as to improve the living standards of these people and to achieve, in turn, the "get rid of poverty" objective.
As for the strategy to "get rid of poverty", the DAB puts forth three major targets:
- To get rid of absolute poverty;
- To endeavour to minimize social inequalities;
- To seriously deal with and address the plight of the so-called social vulnerable group, including women, single elderly persons, single-parent families, the chronically ill, new immigrants and people who are temporarily unemployed.
Apart from these, the Government should proceed to formulate "poverty eradication" policies and mechanisms which are employment-oriented and which emphasize on social policies, so as to help those people who are living at a level below the poverty line to become self-sufficient and be able to get themselves released from the poverty net as soon as possible.
The DAB reiterates that the Government should provide more help for the poor, but as for Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan's amendments which propose the introduction of a contributory unemployment assistance scheme and the restriction of the rate of public housing rental increase to a level below that of inflation, the DAB has reservations. This is because the specific implementation plan of the former proposal has yet to be finalized. Moreover, as the proposal will involve structural changes in social policies, full consultation and discussions would be required while a consensus has to be reached before any decision could be made. As for the latter, the determination of the rate of public housing rental increase should take into full consideration the affordability of tenants instead of adopting a "single" approach by pitching the rate at a level below that of inflation.
Mr President, a few days ago, the DAB published its policy to eradicate poverty. This policy comprises more than 20 recommendations, including the CSSA system, housing protection, social welfare protection, employment policy, and so on. The emphasis of these recommendations is on helping the poor to become self-sufficient and to break away from poverty. Later on, other Members of DAB in this Council will speak further on the policy to eradicate poverty: The Honourable CHEUNG Hon-chung will speak on the territory-wide situation of severe poverty as well as on Hong Kong people's willingness to eradicate poverty; the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han will stress on social policies such as welfare and housing, with a view to helping the low-income families and the "vulnerable group"; and the Honourable NGAN Kam-chuen will speak on employment, retraining, human resources and economic policy.
Mr President, these are my remarks.
MR FRED LI (in Cantonese): Mr President, every year when the Budget Speech or the policy address is delivered, we can always hear the Government boast of the enviable economic success which Hong Kong has achieved ─ that the GDP of Hong Kong has once again surpassed that of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and so on. However, the cruel fact is that the wealth of Hong Kong stays with only a small group of people, and the disparity of wealth is becoming more and more serious.
Over the past decade, our working class have never had the chance to share the fruit of economic development. The most convincing evidence is that whilst the per capital GDP of Hong Kong people enjoys a 65% growth in real terms, which is approximately 5.1% a year, the rate of increase of workers' wage is merely 1% to 1.6% in real terms. It is even worse for the skilled workers of the manufacturing and transport industries, their wages even suffer a negative growth in recent years.
Having analyzed the data of CSSA recipients, it becomes very clear that the group of low-wage earners in Hong Kong is getting larger and larger in size.
Let us look at a comparison of the number of CSSA cases between the fiscal years 1994/95 and 1995/96. We can see that among the cases of CSSA application, the successful rate of those made on the ground of unemployment has the sharpest increase. For the year 1994/95, 5 302 CSSA applications were made on the ground of unemployment. But for the year 1995/96, the number had risen sharply to 10 131, representing a 91.1% increase, which means it has almost been doubled! The next largest increase is that of the low-wage earners category, which has increased 83%. Moreover, the number of applications made by single parents has also increased by almost 40%. In terms of the number of cases, the largest increase is found in the elderly persons category. The number has risen from 72 468 to 84 243, which is an increase of 11 775 cases.
As can be seen from the above abrupt rises, although the economy of Hong Kong is growing, the general public are in fact becoming poorer and poorer while more and more poor people are being included in the safety net of the CSSA. During the fiscal years 1994/95 and 1995/96, the total number of CSSA cases has increased more than 24.4%, or 26 740 cases (the number of people involved is of course more than 26 000 odd). Clearly, the problem of poverty is getting severe!
On the other hand, we can also see how serious the problem of poverty is from figures of housing expenditure. From the household expenditure survey for the year 1994/95, it is found that for households of 4 persons or less, housing expenditure takes up at least 30% of the total household expenditure. When compared with the percentage in the year 1989/90, the rate of increase is very tremendous. At present, many people are waiting for public housing, but as it takes quite a number of years before they could be resettled, they have to "suffer high rents" while waiting, and thus become poorer and poorer. However, the Governor pointed out clearly in his policy address this year that the policy to build a large number of public housing units is now "behind the times". Such a remark indicates that the Government intends to build less rental public housing units. This is absolutely unacceptable. It is well-known that to the low-income groups, public housing could help to improve not only their living environment but also their living standards. It is also the best way for the tenants to get rid of their poverty. The Government should build more public housing units, in particular single-person units and two-person units. It should never build less, otherwise more and more families would be caught in poverty for a long time and become the "hereditary poor".
In a nutshell, at the back of our prosperous society are many poverty-stricken people. In addition, tens of thousands of new immigrants come to settle down in Hong Kong every year, and a great deal of statistics have shown that both the income levels and employment rate of the new immigrants are not as good as those people who have lived in Hong Kong for a longer period of time. As such, the Government should never overlook such social problems as disparity of wealth and poverty any more. The Honourable LAW Chi-kwong will later on speak on the issue of poverty and the amendment proposed by the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan.
The Democratic Party has had a lot of discussions on Mr LEE Cheuk-yan's 7 items of amendment, and the biggest problem is that we are not in support of each and every item. We find it very difficult for us to vote. The Democratics will be in support of items 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7. For items 3 and 4, which are about a contributory unemployment assistance scheme and the adoption of effective measures to tackle the problem of unemployment, such as allocating funds to subvented organizations so as to assist them to set up employment mutual aid groups, we have yet to work out a policy and conduct thorough discussions, it is therefore impossible for us to agree to the amendment completely and support all 7 items. A pity as it may be, but there is nothing we could do. Since the Democratic Party is unable to support all the items of the amendment, we could only abstain from voting.
Mr President, these are my remarks.
MR MOK YING-FAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, if the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan were here, I think he would understand that the motion moved by the Honourable Frederick FUNG on disparity of wealth is one which is rich in substance. The Government should formulate policies, by means of direct subsidies or other forms of service, to help the poor people, including members of the vulnerable groups like the elderly, the disabled, the low-income people as well as the temporarily jobless people, who are unable to become independent and support themselves by meeting the expenses they need in their daily lives and the services they need to prevent them from living in abject poverty.
At present, there are 90 000 elderly people living on CSSA, which forms the largest group of recipients that makes up about 66% of the total number of the recipients in the territory. And, according to surveys, the livelihood of non-CSSA recipients is worse off than that of the CSSA recipients. Apart from this, information released by the Census and Statistics Department in April this year revealed that over 90 000 unemployed people in the territory are living on CSSA payment at the moment. As for the disabled people in Hong Kong, the total number is 260 000, and their unemployment rate is as high as 50%. For those who are working in sheltered workshops, 80% are earning less than $500 a month. It is precisely these vulnerable groups who are in need of supportive measures from the Government to help rid them of poverty.
The Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADPL) is of the view that the Government should devise a transitional unemployment financial assistance scheme to provide financial assistance to the temporarily or involuntarily unemployed people. The assistance provided shall not only aim at maintaining the living standard of the unemployed, but, more importantly, shall play an active role in helping them to switch to other jobs. The scheme should include the provision of transitional unemployment financial assistance as well as an extra "job-seeking allowance" and employment counselling. It is recommended that the job-seeking allowance be set at $540 a month, and this amount shall cover travelling and newspaper expenses. Employment counselling is aimed at strengthening the working motive of the unemployed and providing them with counselling in connection with their emotional and family problems arising out of their being unemployed. Moreover, the counselling is aimed at encouraging the unemployed to take part in vocational training and retraining programmes through employment rehabilitation. Even after the unemployed have found their employment, they could still receive the full amount of the assistance during the initial period, with the amount deducted gradually. Such a gradual deduction method will prevent the recipients from being affected by job instability. In other words, they need not re-apply for assistance should they lose their job again after one or two months.
In respect of welfare, the Government should revise the way it determines the CSSA payment. The ADPL proposes that the CSSA payment be determined according to the international standard, that is to say, the basic rate for an individual is to be set at one-third of the median wage, whereas for a family of two or more persons, the basic rate should not be less than half of the median wage. As for the old age allowance, it should be increased to one-third of the CSSA payment. The Government should also lift the assets ceilings and means test to enable all people who are in need to apply for CSSA. Moreover, the Government should increase the manpower resources for social workers, especially those providing outreaching services for the elderly and those responsible for the Neighbourhood Level Community Development Project so that more impoverished people will know about the welfare provided and apply for CSSA to improve their living.
The Government should also build more child care centres so that women can take part in vocational training, can look for jobs and go out to work more easily.
As the Government has failed to provide a territory-wide old age retirement protection, many elderly people are living in poverty and cannot complacently enjoy their twilight years. As such, the ADPL urges the Government to establish a tripartite contributory retirement protection scheme, with the contribution ratio being 3:2:1 (the Government: employers: employees). In addition, there is no need for any means tests to be carried out, for the elderly people should be able to share the fruit of our socio-economic development. This scheme must be jointly promoted by the whole society as well as the Government, and the Government should shoulder the basic and the ultimate responsibility, including the administrative responsibility and the financial contribution.
In respect of medical care, I am of the opinion that low cost medical care services for all the people can better protect the health of the poor and alleviate the medical burden of the general public. The Government should allocate more resources to improve medial care services, especially the services for the elderly and the chronically ill. Moreover, it should scrap itemized charging and the pegging of charges with costs, so that the public will not be deprived of their right to receive medical treatment due to the lack of means.
The Government should work out a plan to provide one district hospital in every district for the provision of medical services and arrangement of free regular health examination services for the public, so that those who fall sick can be treated as early as possible. The Government should also allocate more resources for the promotion of health education and prevention of diseases so as to alleviate the public's demand for medical services. The Government should also enact legislation for patients' rights, establish an activities fund for the chronically ill, to subsidize community rehabilitation centres for them, allocate more resources for the subvention of patients' mutual-help organizations as well as employing additional medical social workers, in order to attain the ratio of one social worker to 45 general beds.
In respect of housing policy, the ADPL is of the view that the poor should be assisted through the following means:
1.To provide more public housing
The housing policy should be oriented in the direction of public housing with the provision of more rental public housing as the target. This will not only meet the housing needs of the lower class, but also have a positive effect on alleviating the disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor.
2.To provide rental assistance for people on the Waiting List
The ADPL proposes that for people who have been on the Waiting List for two years or more, and whose housing units are less than the maximum allocated area stipulated by the Housing Authority (HA) and whose rent payable accounts for 25% or more of their total household income, they shall be eligible to apply for rental assistance until they are allocated with public housing.
3.To relax the Rent Assistance Scheme to help households in genuine hardship
As the criteria for Rent Assistance Scheme implemented by the HA in 1992 are harsh and the application procedures complicated, only very few people can be benefited from the Scheme. Therefore, the ADPL suggests that when the income of any household is lower than 70% of the income limit required by the Waiting List, the household may apply for rent assistance.
I hope that by means of the aforesaid supportive policies in respect of welfare, medical services and housing, the impoverished can maintain their basic standard of living and can be relieved from abject poverty.
With these remarks, I support the motion moved by Mr Frederick FUNG.
MR CHEUNG HON-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I believe nobody will object that Hong Kong is one of the most affluent places not only in the Asia Pacific region, but also in the world. The gross domestic product of Hong Kong has reached HK$1,105 billion, that is, US$23,200 for each Hong Kong people on a per capita basis, a ratio which is higher than those of many developed countries in Europe and the United States. In terms of the total trade volume, Hong Kong ranks eighth in the world. As far as foreign exchange reserves are concerned, Hong Kong ranks seventh in the world. Moreover, Hong Kong has one of the 10 largest securities markets, the busiest container terminal port and the busiest passenger airport in the world. All these represent Hong Kong's affluence and prosperity, a miracle created by the Hong Kong people through their concerted efforts, perseverance and hard work.
Mr President, amongst the modern high-rise buildings and behind this prosperous metropolis, there conceals the reality of poverty. Such a shame is brought to us as a result of the prosperity that we are so proud of. It is undeniable that there exists a disparity of wealth in Hong Kong and our situation is much more serious than those of the developed countries in Europe and the United States. Among the Four Small Dragons of Asia, the average wages per hour of Hong Kong workers are the lowest. Clearly, the disparity of wealth in Hong Kong is much more serious than that in other Asian regions.
Mr President, the Government may not admit that the disparity of wealth is a serious problem. Nor will it necessarily admit the existence of this reality. Let me quote some statistics here to prove the disparity of wealth in Hong Kong. With reference to the international standard, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) is of the view that the "poverty line" can be set at half of the median personal income (that is $4,000) while a reasonable level for the CSSA payment be set at one-third of the median personal income (that is, $2,700).
At present, there are altogether 1.81 million households in the territory. Of these, more than 270 000 households, representing 16% or so of the territory's total number of households or approximately 950 000 people in total, are earning less than $8,000 a month. Furthermore, there are 600 000 people who belong to "households living in abject poverty" (with a monthly income less than half of the median household income, that is $4,000) and 140 000 households, or 200 000 people approximately, who are "CSSA recipients". As for those who belong to "households living in abject poverty but not receiving CSSA", the total number is around 380 000. The aforesaid figures have well illustrated that poverty in Hong Kong has reached a serious level.
Besides, according to the information provided by the World Bank, among the 24 highest-income economies in the world, Hong Kong is the only one in which 20% of the highest-income households earn more than 50% of the total incomes of the total population, whereas the remaining 80% of the households earn the remaining 50% of the incomes. This shows that the disparity of wealth is very marked. What is more, the Gini coefficient shows that Hong Kong has risen from 0.4564 in 1981 to 0.476 in 1991, demonstrating that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider and wider.
Mr President, we hope that we can fairly share the fruit of our economic success. Of course, people of poor earning power will get less benefits and it is these people who need help from the society. Regrettably, a couple of days ago, an organization representing the employers proposed that the wage increase for the coming year should be less than 6%, a figure which is even lower than the inflation rate for the whole year. This proposal will not only make it impossible for workers to share the fruit of our economic success, but will also make it impossible for them to maintain their existing living standard. The negative growth in wages is also one of the factors that lead to the disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor. In fact, enterprises facing difficulty in running their businesses can discuss the wage increase with their staff with a view to tiding over difficulties together.
Mr President, the Government is duty-bound to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong, which means helping the poor. I belief that solely relying on conscientious employers is not enough. The most important thing is for the Government to make commitments. The DAB is of the view that the Government should continue to review the protection provided by the "safety net" under the CSSA scheme. Moreover, it should address the declining living standards of low-income families (that is the "mildly impoverished households") and the social problem of "the spreading of poverty" in order to formulate expeditiously an overall policy for the purpose of "eradicating poverty", which will include strategies for "helping the poor" and "getting rid of poverty". As for how the DAB strives to help the poor, my colleagues from the DAB will later on explain in detail.
Mr President, as far as the sharing of the fruit of our economic success is concerned, various strata of the society should be entitled to different degrees of benefit. As this is the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty, we feel the Government has the need to formulate policies for the eradication of poverty so as to alleviate the existing disparity of wealth. Although this will inevitably involve more social welfare resources, I believe the Hong Kong people can afford that. Given that Hong Kong will return to its motherland and turn a new page in its history, we believe that, in its continued development in future, the distribution of wealth should be more equitable and reasonable, so that all the people of Hong Kong will be able to live in a society in which everyone is affluent.
These are my remarks.
MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I fully support the seven major policies proposed by the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan in respect of the eradication of poverty. However, what I find deeply regrettable is that Mr LEE has deliberately evaded the important issues and has failed to reveal the crux of the problem concerning the disparity of wealth. Nor has he provided the most fundamental and effective proposal for eradicating poverty.
In my view, the major reasons for the worsening of the disparity of wealth in Hong Kong are as follows:
1.As the Government stresses on the interests of the business sector for fear that such interests would be undermined, it has, in formulating policies, failed to attach importance to the reasonable needs of the lower strata of the society;
2.The laissez-faire policy has enabled major capitalists to monopolize economic interests;
3.The welfare concept of the Government remains at an alms-giving stage, that is to say, it is confined to the provision of a safety net only. Preventing people from starving to death is already regarded as welfare;
4.As policies in Hong Kong have failed to become fully democratized, demands for the formulation of relevant policies and legislation often come under the attack of government officials and businessmen. As a result, legislation and policies favourable to the lower strata are unable to gain approval.
To address the above points, it is of course important to put forth specific proposals for eradicating poverty, but the most important direction is to carry out reforms to the whole system. Only in so doing can we radically solve the problem.
Mr LEE has touched upon welfarism and I would like to talk about it as well. Hong Kong people, especially capitalists and consortia, are suffering from a phobia for welfarism. When they hear the word "welfarism", they will be scared to death as if they have met a vampire that is going to suck all their money and valuables. But I believe, if we want our society to develop healthily, not only the capitalists, but also each of us, has to contribute. This is different from "nurturing lazy people", as some people who keep talking about. Let us take a look at the experience overseas ─ there is no obvious negative relationship between the average economic growth rate and welfare expenditure of the European countries and the United States in the 80s. The economic recession in Germany in recent years has again nothing to do with welfare expansion. It is due to the fact that the economic systems of East Germany and West Germany are different and that East Germany has been stricken by poverty for a long time that consequently slow down the economic development of post-unified Germany.
The constant criticism of welfarism by capitalists and consortia is just one of their means to attempt to discredit welfarism. In fact, Hong Kong is now among the most affluent places in the world, but the fruit of success shared by the lower strata is disproportionately small. To address the disparity of wealth, I think we must start from the redistribution of the society's resources. But to reasonably distribute the resources, we need a democratic system. At present, our democratic system is fairly developed. Therefore, the Government should play a more active role in respect of economic and social affairs so that our resources can be distributed more reasonably. There is possibly a link between the existing problem of disparity of wealth and many social policies, including the housing, medical care, transport and education policies. Among these policies, the most important policy is the one on land and housing, which has a direct impact on the livelihood of the general public. I have been lashing property developers for monopolizing the property market. In fact, over the past decade or so, the frantic monopolization of the market by developers has led to a highly abnormal state. Under the policy of high land price and high property price, the general public is living in dire straits. I think we must, first of all, make radical changes to this policy.
Though 1997 has yet to come, I can already see that the Chinese side is recruiting a body of leaders from among Hong Kong people, and the members of the body are mostly leading businessmen and representatives of consortia. It seems that the interests of businessmen or consortia will be the main consideration for the future Special Administrative Region government. We can also foresee that the post-1997 provisional legislature will lead to a retrogression of democracy, which will make it increasingly difficult to formulate welfare policies and policies for eradicating poverty.
For this reason, I hope that my friends, no matter whether they are Members of this Council or not, will make efforts to defend our democratic system to make it fully democratized. Only in so doing can the wishes of the general public be realized and the disparity of wealth be ameliorated. In order to achieve the goal of eradicating poverty, therefore, it is of utmost importance that the issue of democratization of our political system have to be resolved. The policy changes we keep talking about today are, in fact, mere words with no real effect. For this reason, let me reiterate that without a democratic system, we simply cannot solve the problem of eradicating poverty. I hope that all of us will continue with our efforts to strive for the establishment of a democratic system for the present and the future.
Thank you, Mr President.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, in a meeting concerning the eradication of poverty, I heard a poor person said, "being poor is so miserable, the wage is too small to cover a whole day's expenditure; though it is better to have Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) than to receive none at all, those who cannot make ends meet by cutting down spending on clothing have to save on food as well." I believe anyone can see it clearly from the television broadcast how an elderly person with less than $7.6 lives his or her life. What I am talking about is one single person, not a family. This is happening in such a prosperous city of ours, we can see that a large number of people are living under such conditions. I therefore want to point out that the difficulties that the poor encounter in their daily lives are not merely problems concerning their living and their pride, but would also cause our society to feel shameful, too.
As point out by our colleagues, behind our prosperous and affluent society, there are the people of the lower strata who not only fail to have a share of the fruits of our economic development in order to improve their living condition, but are also forced to face the plight of being kept in the low income groups for prolonged periods. Among them are the marginal cases for CSSA, many of them are living in a even worse condition than those on CSSA. I do not say this to give merit to the CSSA, what I am trying to get at is that a lot of people have even more difficulties in life. The problem of poverty in Hong Kong is aggravating by the day, and more and more people are living in abject poverty. In view of the ever deteriorating problem of disparity in wealth and severe poverty, what should the Government do? How is it going to help out the masses of "slightly poor" and "abjectly poor" in order to avoid the intensification of the social contradiction between the rich and the poor?
In my opinion, the Government should, apart from reviewing the "safety net" provided by the CSSA scheme, draw up a series of measures to "help the poor" without delay. To start with, it should set a poverty line and then lay down objectives for the eradication of "absolute" poverty. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) and the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) think that the Government should investigate into the reasons which cause the 380 000 people to be engulfed by the poverty net and why have they not received any assistance at all. The Government should also find out if it is due to insufficient promotion work done by the Social Welfare Department or the requirements on income and assets are too mean. In addition, the Government should also provide concrete assistance for the mass of the "vulnerable groups" so as to help them out. These groups are the single elderly persons, the single-parent families, the chronically ill, the disabled, new immigrants, women as well as the temporarily unemployed.
As for the policy of "helping the poor", I am of the opinion that we could improve the existing CSSA system, set up an unemployment assistance fund, introduce a scheme of comprehensive pension protection and draw up a new immigrant policy. In addition, we could also provide comprehensive assistance for the people in abject poverty as well as provide for the basic needs of low income groups in the areas such as medical services, welfare, housing and community support through social welfare policies. With regard to the CSSA system, I believe that the Government should increase the standard rate of assistance for elderly people who live alone and add in the emergency bell allowance as a standard item. In addition, the Government should waste no time in increasing the "old age allowance" to alleviate the financial problem of the elderly. For long term measures, the Government should peg the CSSA with the median wage and relax further the assets test.
Mr President, with regard to the umployed, I think the Government should set up an unemployment assistance fund to help them tide over their hardships. We also suggest that those who receive unemployment assistance should be provided with vocational training as well.
As for housing policy, the Government should cater for the housing needs of the "low income groups" in particular. I would like to point out that the Government's housing policy should forsee that more and more poor people would have to face housing problems in the future. The Government's policy should therefore be rental-housing oriented and should include reviews on rental assistance as well. Furthermore, in order to help the poverty-stricken households in the old districts, the Administration should also speed up urban reconstruction works and complement such efforts with comprehensive compensation and resettlement policies.
As for medical services, the Administration should relax the limit on exemption of medical charges for the chronically ill and abandon the standard charges for equipment which are designed for life supporting as well as general purposes.
With regard to the policies to help the poverty-stricken, the Government could consider setting a "life-at-risk index" so as to enable the areas which are densely populated with the vulnerable groups and the old urban renewal projects to receive additional resources. In addition, the Government should also extend outreaching services for the elderly to provide help for elderly persons who live alone.
For the new immigrants, the Government should draw up a set of policy to provide them with assistance and to grant additional resources to develop family services which would assist the low income families and single-parent families in particular.
As to the disabled, the Government could consider issuing a "card for the disabled" to cater for the transportation, social and recreational needs of the disabled and the chronically ill.
Last but not least, I would like to make a wish for those lower strata citizens who are living on the verge of poverty. I hope very much that the Governor, the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary, the Secretary for Health and Welfare, the Secretary for Education and Manpower, as well as all other officials at Secretary level would bravely undertake your unfulfilled duty of "helping the poor" for the nearly 600 000 poverty-stricken people, to help them break away from poverty and start their new life with pride.
In addition, Mr President, we are in support of the Honourable Frederick FUNG's original motion which is the subject of this debate today. We also agree to most of the items proposed by the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan in his amendment. However, we (the FTU in particular) find it difficult for us to support one of the items Mr LEE has proposed, which said that a contributory unemployment assistance fund should be set up; for to the workers whose income is on the decline, it would be extremely difficult for them to make monetary contributions. It is for this reason that we have all along been pressing the Government to shoulder all the responsiblity for a unemployment assistance fund. In view of such, we have some reservations towards the amendment proposed by Mr LEE.
Thank you Mr President.
MR LAW CHI-KWONG (in Cantonese ): Mr President, in the course of today's motion debate moved by the Honourable Frederick FUNG, a lot of data and statistics on disparity of wealth has been quoted. Presumably, many Members are also going to speak on the various aspects of this disparity, such as its causes and ways of narrowing it down. The Honourable Fred LI has just delivered the Democratic Party's analysis and views on the disparity between the rich and the poor, and the Honourable SZETO Wah of the Democratic Party, who is now championing a people's nomination of the Chief Executive, has even prepared a political platform over 40 pages thick, in which many social and economic policies aimed at tackling this problem are stated. The Democratic Party will provide each Member with a copy of Mr SZETO's political platform. So, in this Legislative Council sitting today, I do not want to repeat all these policies. I just want to share with Members my personal feelings about the disparity of wealth.
Disparity of wealth will not create too big a social problem ─ provided that even the poorest are well fed and well clad, and can live with dignity.
The point is that, in Hong Kong, many old people died of hypothermia because they were neither well fed nor well clad. Out of a sense of personal dignity, many old people are reluctant to apply for CSSA payments, which, meager as they are, can still give them a subsistence existence. Instead, they rather choose to lead a life marked with hunger by making do with what their old age entitles them to ─ an old age allowance of merely $600. Many families with several members have to live in cramped cubicles each measuring just a few dozen square feet, and there has even been a recent tragedy in which a baby boy just several months had been pressed to death in sleep by his elder brother who was several years old. Foreign visitors from other civilized communities will certainly find it hard to understand why all these phenomena should have occurred in Hong Kong, which, according to the Governor, possesses the world's busiest container port, third busiest international passenger airport, fifth largest foreign exchange centre, seventh largest foreign exchange reserves, eighth largest trade volume and eighth largest stock market value.
Yesterday, when I discussed today's motion on disparity of wealth with a friend, I said that I would mention some cases of miseries. My friend commented, "It's no use, for some people are without conscience." People may mock at my naivety, but a question immediately arose in mind at that time: Why are there people without conscience? From time to time, when we watch television, read newspapers or even look around us, we can notice some tragedies caused by poverty. Should we not feel uneasy about these tragedies? Why is it that when we fight for better welfare benefits and services for the poor and helpless masses, some people hasten to accuse us of trying to provide free lunch? Why do they accuse us of seeking to implement socialism in Hong Kong? Why do they say that we would cause the wrecking of Hong Kong like an over-speeding vehicle? And, why do they accuse us of touting opium of the mind?
That said, I am still convinced that men are not without conscience. It may just be that some people have simply chosen to turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor, or to forget their miseries right after hearing of them, because they are afraid to see such tragedies. Or, it may just be that since some people always cherish distrust for others' motive, they may simply think that the aims of improving the welfare benefits of the poor masses are to impair the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong, and to tout opium of the mind. And, it may just be that some people have forgotten that the purpose of economic development is to improve the people's livelihood.
Disparity of wealth will not create too big a social problem ─ provided that the community can provide each and every of its member with equal opportunities to develop his or her potentials.
Four years has passed since the Green Paper on Rehabilitation was released. But, what has become of the Green Paper's theme of "Equal opportunities and full participation: a better tomorrow for all"? Up till now, the disabled still cannot gain access to means of public transport; they are still not provided with any facilities to enable them to enter or leave building premises like other people. That being the case, how can the aim embodied in the slogan "Equal opportunities and full participation" be achieved? When new immigrants still face adaptation problems in respect of language, academic qualifications and vocational skills, how can they give full expression of their potentials?
Disparity of wealth will not create too big a social problem ─ provided that we now have the determination required to bring together more forces in the community in a united attempt to eradicate the causes of poverty and to assist the needy in getting rid of poverty. Only then can we create a stable and prosperous society for all the people.
Regarding the amendment moved by the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan, the Honourable Fred LI has stated the position of the Democratic Party. But, I still want to add a few points. At a certain sitting during the last session, I once expressed my dissatisfaction over the way in which some amendments to motions were moved. At that time, the Honourable LEUNG Che-hung said somewhat humorously that unless the mover of a motion had incorporated his or her entire speech into the wording of the motion, it would be difficult to avoid amendments. This time around, if the Honourable Frederick FUNG had chosen to incorporate all his specific recommendations into the motion, he would have, I believe, written down some 20 recommendations, instead of merely seven as set out by the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan in his amendment.
In a paper distributed to Members, the Hong Kong Council of Social Services has set out 23 specific recommendations. The Democratic Party can also set out other proposals worthy of consideration. For example, some old people are living in poverty and hardship because they cannot receive any care from their families, and broken marriages have given rise to many poor single-parent families. A comprehensive family policy is, therefore, required to alleviate these problems related to poverty.
Disparity of wealth has reached serious proportions now. For that reason, the formulation of social and economic policies aimed at eradicating poverty has become a matter which cannot afford any further delay. I very much hope that Members will continue to discuss the recommendations made by the Association for the Promotion of Democracy and People's Livelihood, the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan and other Members with an open-minded attitude, so that a more specific policy can be drawn up.
I so submit in support of the original motion.
MR HENRY TANG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I think disparity of wealth is a subject for debate of a very high level. I admire the Honourable Frederick FUNG for his indomitable and persevering sincerity to "plead for the poor". It is this very spirit that drives him to take this motion to this Council once again. However, it is a pity that Mr FUNG's motion is purely idealistic and does not have any substantial content. With his 5 years experience as a Member of this Council, I think Mr FUNG has known very well that the wording of this motion is the kind which the Government likes best. The reason is that all the Government has to do is to discuss with us the ideals, it does not have to do any actual work. The Government could otherwise just give a detailed account of what its has done in recent years in regard to welfare services to prove that the Government did have done a lot of things for the poor and the helpless and could then get through easily once again.
Mr FUNG has put forth a very similar motion in June 1993, and I has earnestly proposed my amendment to it. Not only did I calculate the rate of wage increase, I also pointed out that the Gini coefficient would not serve any purpose in the practical circumstances of Hong Kong. Although the amendment was eventually carried, I will not propose any amendment this year as it would be too time-consuming to discuss an ideological issue once again!
I said that this motion is of a high level because the debate on it is ideological in nature. What exactly is poverty? It is difficult even for academics to conclude, should it be absolute poverty, basic poverty or relative poverty? If we are talking about the first two phenomena such as people dying of cold, of starvation, or they are so poor that they do not have any basic human dignity in our society, then it is shame for a wealthy society like Hong Kong and we must take it up seriously. Yet, the motion should not have been worded like what it is today. If we were to discuss Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), policy for new immigrants and improvement on education, I would certainly be in strong support of them. Take for an example, the motion on employees retraining that has just been moved by the Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han is in fact closely related to the improvement to poverty in Hong Kong, and I was very happy to discuss it and was indeed in support of it.
However, if it is merely a discussion on relative terms concerning the disparity of wealth, then it is a different story. In Hong Kong, a small group of people have made a lot of money in the wake of China's reforms and open door policy. Whether these individual cases which are very small in number would aggravate the polarization between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong cannot be demonstrated by some superficial figures alone. Therefore, even if the Honourable CHIM Pui-chung does not travel in his Rolls Royce limousine today, or the Honourable James TIEN does not buy any luxurious apartment, or I do not buy the expensive French wines anymore, it really would make not much difference to people of the lower strata.
The disparity of wealth in Hong Kong has not brought about any turmoil to the society, for our people's living standard has along been improving. This is very much unlike some countries where the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. Of course, I am not indicating that we do not have to do anything. I merely mean that instead of prattling on ideology, we should study how we can improve the living conditions of the lower class when the Treasury is "over-flooded with money".
As to the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan's amendment, the merit is that it has helped to substantiate the original motion. But to such an "all-embracing" amendment, I find it difficult to lend my full support. It is because whilst I support raising the CSSA, I do not agree to the Old Age Pension Scheme; whilst I support providing career training and counselling for new immigrants, I am not in favour of the introduction of an unemployment assistance scheme. This is just like shopping in a supermarket which requires me to buy up everything that is in there, otherwise it would not sell anything to me. Well, how can I possibly do that? Therefore, under the circumstances in which there is not enough time for any further amendments to be moved, I really find it hard to support Mr LEE Cheuk-yan's amendment.
Mr President, with these remarks, I oppose both the original motion and the amendment.
MR NGAN KAM-CHUEN (in Cantonese): Mr President, a moment ago, Members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) cited some phenomena of the existence of poverty in such a prosperous society as Hong Kong. These phenomena confront us with some serious and pressing questions: How can we prevent poverty from getting more acute? How can we help the poor get rid of poverty?
The DAB considers that the basic elements of the policy to "eradicate poverty" should include establishing effective measures to safeguard the job opportunities and the economic independence as well as autonomy of the public. To achieve "eradication of poverty", the Administration must take a three-pronged approach in respect of the economic, industrial and manpower policies to enhance economic development as well as helping the poor to create wealth and be relieved from the plight of poverty.
Since the 80s, Hong Kong has been seeing a gradual shrinkage in its industries as well as a decline in the manufacturing industry. In 1980, people working in the manufacturing industry accounted for 46.5% of the total number of the workforce. However, the percentage abruptly dropped to 15.8% in June 1995. As a result of the rapid de-industrialization process, those who have worked in the manufacturing industry for a long time ─ especially the middle-aged workers and female workers ─ were thrown out of their jobs in large numbers. Limited by their age, working experience and educational qualifications, these workers can have no alternative but to take up low-level and low-paid jobs offered by the service industry. Some of them even find tremendous difficulties in looking for a job. It can be said that they are forced to become the newly-impoverished.
My honourable colleagues, I was not telling you something very remote from us. We may well find just beside us a lot of people who have been forced to accept low-paid jobs because of the decline of the manufacturing industry. Earlier, I met a caretaker in a car-park. He told me he was once in the moulding trade, which could be regarded as semi-technical. As the factory he worked for had moved to the Mainland, he could only switch to work as a caretaker. I think what he encountered was not too bad after all. But he is now only earning $5,000, which is half what he used to earn. I think this is merely a relatively commonplace yet non-typical story. May I ask how difficult it will be for a family, which lives on such a salary, to be suddenly stripped of one source of the income?
Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that everyone has the right "to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family ...... and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." Faced with the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the growing number of the impoverished, the Hong Kong Government should recognize the need to address the short-term and long-term effects of the economic restructuring on the large-scale manufacturing industry or the workers of the manufacturing industry and the low-income people. The Government should also adopt the necessary measures to improve the job opportunities, wages and the level of the technical skill of people concerned so that they can continue to keep pace with the society's development.
The measures taken should include:
Firstly, to promote economy, support industries and create job opportunities
The Government must formulate far-sighted strategies for industrial redevelopment, review the economic policy of positive non-interventionist, support local industries as well as the manufacturing industry, strengthen product development and research, direct its development towards intensive technology and the production of products with high additional values, and maintain the balance between the industrial, financial and service sectors.
On the other hand, the Government have to formulate policies for helping the unemployed to find jobs by such means as granting a certain tax concession to the employers who hire retrained workers. Also, the Government have to set up a business loan fund to support the unemployed to set up small enterprises so as to create more job opportunities.
Secondly, to improve comprehensive training system for human resources
The Government should establish a statutory employment committee which shall consist of employees, employers, government officials and professionals, to formulate a comprehensive policy on the training of human resources. In addition, it should provide sufficient and stable funding to the Employees Retraining Board and adopt additional methods to help more workers learn new skills to facilitate job switching. The Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han of the DAB has moved a motion in respect of this proposal in the motion debate a short while ago. Despite the Government's objection, the motion has won the support from all of us.
Thirdly, to implement equal opportunities legislation and enhance protection on employment
The Government must implement in concrete terms the Sex Discrimination Ordinance as well as the Disability Discrimination Ordinance and take positive steps to enact legislation on age discrimination to safeguard that every member of the public enjoys equal job opportunities.
In conclusion, the Administration should address the various causes contributing to poverty; analyze the phenomenon of structural unemployment resulting from economic restructuring; embark on the formulation of a policy and mechanism which should be employment policy oriented and with the society as the focus for eradicating poverty; and enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness through policies relating to industrial and human resources in order to help the low-income people get rid of poverty in realistic terms and share the fruit of our economic development.
Mr President, these are my remarks.
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the motion debate today is the first of its kind after the commencement of the current session, and the topic is on the disparity of wealth, in which I am very interested. That is why I have been so attentive, sitting right here listening to Members' views almost from the beginning up to now. Most Members argue that there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong. However, what is meant by being wealthy, or poor? I think we must make some comparisons before we can reach any conclusions. Many Members have pointed out that Americans visiting Hong Kong, on seeing so many poor people, may wonder why this is still possible in Hong Kong, a place which has developed so well economically. Those American friends who wonder that way, I believe, must have never visited 42nd Street and Madison Avenue in New York. In those area, there are regularly people who have neither anything to eat nor anything to wear, who sleep in cardboard boxes at night; and there, cases of death caused by extreme coldness and various diseases are not uncommon. So, who are these Americans to criticize that there are poor people in Hong Kong? Poor as they are, are the poor people in Hong Kong poorer than their American counterparts? I do not quite think that it is so.
Mr President, I admit that I may not know too much about the grassroots. However, it so happened that during the Mid-Autumn Festival this year, the Government approached us for sponsorship of mooncakes following its apparent lack of success in asking for donations, and so the Honourable Henry TANG and I had a chance of visiting some caged dwellings. If Members really think that the residents of caged homes are already the poorest in Hong Kong, they must realize that, when compared with the conditions of poor people elsewhere in the world, the conditions of these caged home dwellers are already not too bad, though, of course, they still lag far behind the middle and the rich classes by Hong Kong standards. Therefore, I would not raise any queries if this motion debate is centered around the theme of the international year for eradication of poverty because I totally support the eradication of poverty. The point now is that instead of aiming at eradication of poverty, some Members seem to be saying that "those grapes beyond reach are sour", as if they want the achievers to be pulled down just because they themselves are the non-achievers, and thinking that the only right thing to do is for the rich to share some of the money they have.
Mr President, over the past few decades, many people in Hong Kong have managed to move from poverty to the state of relative affluence. I have asked myself: Why have these people managed to become well-off? There can only be three reasons. First, they have been very hardworking. If they have not worked hard and thus have not earned any money, it will not have been possible at all for them to become well-off all of a sudden one day. After working hard to earn money, many people will lavish their money on entertainments. That way, they will naturally be penniless when they become old, and by that time, they will claim that they need care from the community to which they belong. On the other hand, there are always those who are willing to make investments and to buy real property, housing units and stocks and shares. But, can they surely make profits by doing so? Not necessarily. Fortunately, however, since the macro trends of Hong Kong over the past few decades have been good on the whole, if one has invested one's hard-earned money in the stock market or property market over the past twenty to thirty years, one should have made some gains even without any particularly accurate investment foresight because one's investments will have appreciated in line with Hong Kong's good fortune. The Honourable Frederick FUNG has been closely following our housing policies for many years already. If he is really concerned about this problem, and has kept on buying housing property over the past 10 to 20 years, the poverty or otherwise of the large number of people referred to may not have bothered him now. Certainly, today, some Members belonging to the democratic camp who used to live in public housing have also bought their own housing units. So, if people have had confidence in investments, they should have fortunately been relieved from the queue of the impoverished.
Mr President, some Members have also mentioned the General Chamber of Commerce and the industrial and commercial sector. What do they think about the relationship between salary increases and inflation? I can tell Members that in the United States, the rate of salary increases over the past 10 years was just half of the inflation rate. Over the past 10 years, their salary increases have never exceeded the levels of inflation. However, just now, a Member, probably the Honourable CHEUNG Hon-chung, asked the employers in Hong Kong why they insisted on saying that salary increases should not be related to inflation. He maintained that it was only reasonable that the rate of salary increases should be higher than the inflation rate. I think the concern of the international year for eradication of poverty is in fact on the poor people in Africa and other parts of Asia. The Honourable Henry TANG just returned from Cambodia yesterday. The poverty of the people there are so veridic that many of them are dying of all kinds of diseases and starvation, and the schooling of their children is simply out of the question. This is real poverty, very much unlike the poverty we have in Hong Kong. The Government of Hong Kong will certainly say that no one in Hong Kong has died of a lack of medical treatment and attention; no one has died of starvation; and no one has died of poverty. So, are the poor people in Hong Kong really that poor?
Today, if we are to seriously tackle this problem properly, I totally agree that the livelihood of the poor people in Hong Kong should be further improved. Last year, the Association for the Promotion of Democracy and People's Livelihood recommended a distribution of $5,000 to each and every Hong Kong resident, and following its failure to make the Government do this, it has shifted its target to the industrial and commercial sector, probably because they consider this particular sector rich and well-off. But, what are their specific recommendations? Their reasons? And, would there be problems? Are they recommending that the rich people in Hong Kong should be asked to surrender all their money and re-distribute it equally among all the Hong Kong people, similar to last year's proposal on equally dividing the Government's money?
Regarding the Honourable Mr LEE Cheuk-yan's amendment, I think there are several points which the Liberal Party has always supported, one example being an increase in CSSA payment for the elderly to $2,700. Perhaps, I should speak on those points in the amendment which we do not support, which include the introduction of an old age pension scheme and a contributory unemployment assistance scheme, and a restriction of rental increase for public housing to a level below that of inflation. Because of these reasons (as were also mentioned by the Honourable Henry TANG), the Liberal Party opposes both the amendment and the original motion.
MR CHOY KAN-PUI (in Cantonese): Mr President, the disparity between the rich and the poor is a common social phenomenon that exists all over the world. Under general circumstances, as economic development benefits the whole society, the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor does not necessarily mean that the problem of poverty is being aggravated.
The problem in Hong Kong is, despite Hong Kong has already become one of the regions with the highest income per capita in the world, the gap between the rich and the poor is getting increasingly wide while the problem of abject poverty is getting more and more serious by the day.
The Hong Kong Progressive Alliance (HKPA) reckons that these problems that confront Hong Kong are attributable to three main reasons: First, structural transformation of our industries has resulted in the unemployment and underemployment of manufacturing workers and pushes them into the plight of poverty. Secondly, new immigrants, who continue to flood into Hong Kong in large numbers, are generally of lower educational level and many of them lack the skills needed in Hong Kong. As a result, they become the reserve army of the unemployed and underemployed. Moreover, quite a substantial number of new immigrants have already lived in poverty for a long time as they find it difficult to adjust to the employment market and the living environment of Hong Kong. Thirdly, also most importantly, Hong Kong is in lack of a comprehensive and reasonable safety net and distribution mechanism.
Mr President, owing to the reformation and opening up of China, the local manufacturing industry has moved to South China on a large scale. The percentage of the manufacturing industry in the gross domestic product of Hong Kong has dropped from 23.7% in 1980 to 11.4% in 1993; and the percentage of the number of manufacturing workers out of the total number of employees has also dropped drastically from 46.5% in 1980 to 15.8% in June 1995. Within such a short span of 15 years, the number of manufacturing workers has reduced from 900 000 to 300 000-odd, representing a drop of nearly 60%. Such an expeditious structural transformation can hardly be found elsewhere in the world. For the purpose of comparison, the processes of "de-industrialization" and "structural transformation" of some advanced countries in the West normally takes 30 to 40 years; moreover, since social protection such as the various kinds of unemployment benefits and pensions have already been in place for a long time in the western countries, the problems pertaining to the workers being displaced by structural transformation and those arising from the poverty thus created will not be too bad.
But turning back to Hong Kong, within just a decade or so, the surge of structural transformation has resulted in the displacement of a great number of workers who are over 40 years of age. The skills they acquired in the past have become useless and they also encounter tremendous difficulties in trying to find a job in the service industry. Even if they are able to find a job again, the job offered may well be merely part-time, hourly paid or some fringe posts of the service industry, and the consequential sudden drop in income would force workers to live in poverty.
Mr President, such a phenomenon of poverty is closely related to the faulty industrial policy and manpower resources training policy, which have been practised by the Government for a long time. All along, the Government has been devoid of a long-term and positive industrial policy, and just allowing local industries to shrink, to hollow out and to strip itself of its root. At the same time, the Government lacks long-term manpower training policy and even shifts the responsibility of training manpower to private enterprises. As a result, Hong Kong does not have sufficient manpower with the suitable calibre to enhance the extent of high technology required in local industries and the competitiveness of local industries. Lacking the surplus value of technology, it is inevitable that our industrial and commercial products will lose their competitiveness and will even meet with a speedy shrinkage.
Mr President, another major factor leading to our poverty problem is the constant supplementation of new immigrants into the poverty line. The fact that the new immigrants live in poverty is because most of them are of lower educational level or they cannot apply what they have learned, or they do not possess special skills. In the 60s and 70s when the manufacturing industry was in full bloom, a large number of new immigrants were absorbed by the manufacturing industry. However, as the manufacturing industry gradually declines, even the local workers are on the brink of unemployment, let alone the new immigrants who have difficulties in adjusting to the language and the way of living in Hong Kong. The solution to this problem is to formulate a comprehensive policy on new immigrants as soon as possible. But it is regrettable that the Government has all along been turning a blind eye to this problem which has become more and more serious as a result.
Mr President, be it industrial restructuring or new immigrants, the fundamental reason for their being the major factors of the poverty problem in Hong Kong lies in the lack of a long-term and proactive industrial and manpower policy. In this respect, the HKPA has on past occasions put forward some proposals like requesting the Government to grant concessions to industrial investments, to speed up the development of Northwest New Territories into a new industrial area, to set up a small-scale fund for starting business, to construct inexpensive and modern industrial buildings for sale or letting and so on. On the other hand, the Government should, by means of an effective manpower training policy, improve the quality of the labour force and increase their surplus value. These proposals are all aimed at effectively retaining some high-value manufacturing industry in Hong Kong, or shifting the labour force to the service industry in order that workers could have their income improved. This can basically solve a fairly large proportion of the poverty issues.
Mr President, the most effective way to radically resolve the widening of disparity between the rich and the poor is to establish an equitable and reasonable re-distribution mechanism in society, so that people of the lower strata can also enjoy the fruits of our economic development according to a reasonable and proper proportion. In light of the progress of our economic development, the Government should also provide a safety net affordable by our social resources so as to solve the problems arising from poverty.
Mr President, I so submit.
MR DAVID CHU: Mr President, I am in a dilemma. I agree with the Honourable Frederick FUNG's sentiment about our society needing to attain more economic equality and do away with poverty. I disagree with him about achieving the twin aims through more direct government intervention.
Today's debate is a retread in American terms. This means a tire which has been used but is then restored for the road again. Our Council has been talking about equality in one form or another and passing laws to bring it about on and off for more than two years. We already have an Equal Opportunities Commission. We have had an impressive welfare reform which has caused our public spending in that area to rise by about a third over the past four years. None of that can assure us that we have gained more equality than before. As for poverty, it is a universal blight, the best cure of which lies in economic growth, not wealth sharing by decree.
Why? Because equality is not delivered by laws and by commissions, but by a people believing at the bottom of their hearts that this is the way forward. I believe in raising the living standards of those down and out, but I know from personal experience that it can best be accomplished through the equality of opportunity, not the equality instituted by law.
Many in our community seek the same equality of opportunities and it is our duty to give it to them. They want to scale mountains on their own effort. They are wary of too much government social engineering which often does not produce the hoped results. I, therefore find the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan's recipe in his amendment for ending wealth disparity a recipe for fiscal disaster. A Hong Kong that spends beyond its means to further Mr LEE's objectives would be harmed for rich and poor alike. An insolvent government cannot breed opportunity but will aggravate poverty.
The American federal, state and municipal governments pour money into the inner cities to try in vain to alleviate poverty. More often than not those ghettos are worst off than before because too much government interference ─ especially in handouts ─ destroys individual incentive and deepens the culture of dependency. Universal pension, called social security elsewhere, is bankrupting governments. Unemployment benefits are equally ruinous unless we impose an unemployment insurance scheme which is another form of income tax.
Remember our economy is already curing this problem on its own. Our jobless rate was 3.6% about a year ago and it is now around 2.8% as our economy picks up. A job is what an unemployed person needs far from a cheque from the Government. Our Government would be doing a lot to ease unemployment by being prudent and by giving impetus, not impediments, to our free economy.
Hong Kong has got the formula of opportunity for everyone and welfare for the truly needy just about right. Our university enrolment was once elitist and exclusive. Now we have a surplus of university places and nobody who is deserving is ever denied. We were very much a sweatshop, blue collar or no collar, no shirt, economy in which people barely scraped by. But nowadays we are a commercial centre and our standards and outlook are more and more middle class. Our per capita income was third world a generation ago. Now we are catching up to the United States. We should not apologize for this, no. We should instead upgrade our education system, not just in terms of quantity, but also quality, to meet the high tech and the cerebral challenge of the new century.
We need to protect our disadvantaged people ─ the handicapped, the not yet integrated immigrants and those discriminated on the basis of their gender, age and race. But by and by, we are a tolerant community. Discrimination is not intrinsic but alien to us. I do not quibble with the laws which advance the cause but I doubt very much that they are our sole answer. The final answer rests with us, our drive, our commitment, our competitiveness. I do not like leveling, but I love elevating our people, particularly young people, to reach the best of their potential.
Just give our children the tools ─ books, computers, stimulating classes, motivated teachers and incentives as well as the right inspiration to succeed. Then you sit back and watch the results. We are becoming a more egalitarian place but still one which rewards success.
I support, Mr President, the spirit of Mr FUNG's motion but not its prescription as I give it a qualified "yes" vote. I am against Mr LEE's interventionist amendment which seems to be a rehash of socialist programmes that have failed in the West.
Thank you, Mr President.
DR LAW CHEUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): Mr President, if any Honourable Member in this Council says that people living in a certain street in the United States are even more miserable than many of those poor people living in Hong Kong, I would very much hope that he will treat a few poor people in Hong Kong to a trip there to have a look. What is more, I hope that he will be brave enough to say to the poor people in Hong Kong face to face, "Look, your situation is actually much better than theirs." What our economic growth has achieved over the past two or three decades is beyond doubt. But at the same time, the issue of the disparity between the rich and the poor is also obviously getting worse.
According to a census conducted in 1991, the median wage of the lowest 20% income group in Hong Kong is only $3,460. If on the average there are 3.4 people per household, the average monthly income of each person is $1,000. If we make a conversion according to the inflation rates over the past few years, the average monthly income of each person is actually $1,400 or so less than that one should have today. Just now, a Member has also mentioned that according to a survey recently conducted by the World Bank, among the 24 countries and regions of the highest economic level, Hong Kong is the most uneven in its distribution of wealth. With the highest 20% income households accounting for more than 50% of the total income, such percentage is the highest among the 24 countries and regions. On the other hand, the lowest 20% income households only account for 4.3% of the total income, and this represents the lowest percentage. If we calculate on the basis of the lowest 10% income households that represent only 1.3% of the total income and the highest 10% income households that amount to 37.3% of the total income, the difference between the two will be 29 times. We can thus see how wide the gap of income is. Moreover, we should pay particular attention to the fact that the income taken into account in the census mainly refers to salaries only, while the income from investment in properties and shares of the wealthy families is not included. If we calculate on the basis of the rate of increase in property prices and the Hang Seng Index in the territory over the past decade, the actual times of difference between the total income of the low-income group and that of the high-income group will definitely be very alarming.
As the difference in income is becoming greater and greater, we believe that the Government should formulate a series of taxation and economic policies to enable the resources of our society to be more reasonably distributed.
Despite the fact that the simple low-tax regime implemented by the Hong Kong Government has a long-term positive effect on our economic take-off, it has, at the same time, given rise to the problem of extreme inequality of income distribution and aggravating of the disparity between the rich and the poor. The Government should, therefore, set up a tax regime review committee as soon as possible to review comprehensively the tax regime and redress the disparity between the rich and the poor. One of the targets of the tax regime review should be to urge that social resources be equitably and reasonably distributed.
Besides, inflation is in fact extremely detrimental to the income of the general public. Because of the negative interest rate, the actual value of bank deposits is in fact constantly shrinking. On the contrary, those people who have assets (well-off families and leading businessmen) have their wealth and income incessantly increased as a result of inflation. As such, I think that the Government should formulate a long-term anti-inflationary policy and set a beneficiary target. Although inflation has come down in the recent few months, the long-standing fluctuation of the inflation rate at the high level of 10% over the past decade has constantly aggravated the disparity between the rich and the poor. We think that for the purpose of combating inflation, the Government should consider increasing land supply, alleviating the pressure of the increase in property prices, lowering rental increases, as well as controlling the increases in the fees and charges of public utilities and various government charges.
Public utilities are closely related to the people's livelihood. The quality of service and level of charges pertaining to pubic utilities have, therefore, a direct bearing on the interests of the public. As public utilities provide the citizens with the basic elements indispensable to their livelihood, we are convinced that the Government's supervisory role is extremely important and has to be strengthened.
Lastly, the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood proposes that the Government should set up an economic development council to be responsible for studying the relative preponderance of Hong Kong in the world market, analyzing the favourable positions of different districts and areas in terms of division of labour from a global perspective, giving an orientation to the local market with a view to formulating and launching a long-term economic development strategy and subsequently establishing development policies for various trades and professions. Simply by increasing welfare is not enough to redress the widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong. The Government should positively and effectively create a more favourable socio-economic environment so that the poor and their next generation can have a better chance to receive training and education and to improve their living through their own efforts.
Finally, I agree with the main point expounded by the Honourable LEUNG Yiu-chung. According to Mr LEUNG, only a democratic political system and a government truly responsible to the people can form the basis for solving the issue of poverty.
Thank you, Mr President. I so submit.
MR BRUCE LIU (in Cantonese): Mr President, I saw a petitioner before I entered the Legislative Council Building this afternoon. That person was carrying a placard with ten Chinese characters which mean said, "Behind the vermilion gates wine and meat turn to waste while out on the road lie the bones of those frozen to death". I was shocked on seeing that he had used those words to describe Hong Kong. Although the situation in Hong Kong is not as bad as that described by those ten Chinese characters, incidents in which people died of extreme cold weather did take place last year. It is very regrettable for Hong Kong, which is a rich people's paradise at the first world level, to have a mass of poverty-stricken people comparable to the third world who have all along been overlooked by the Government.
When I say that the Government has overlooked the problem of disparity in wealth, I am not without evidence. Last week the Governor suggested to his successor ten key elements for administration, yet none of such has ever mentioned about eradication of extreme poverty nor alleviation of the problem of disparity of wealth. This is indeed very disappointing.
I hope the Hong Kong Government would come to its awareness and understand very clearly what the problem is after today's debate and take immediate actions to set up corresponding social and economic policies to rectify the problem of disparity of wealth in Hong Kong. It should prevent the situation in which "frozen dead bones are found on the road" from becoming an epitome of our society.
Mr President, the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADPL) believes that in order to ensure that those who could earn their own living to remain unaffected by external factors deterring them to live self-sufficiently, the Government should undertake to help them establish financially independent lives. This should also be the ultimate objective of the Government's policy to help people to "break away from poverty". More specifically, the Government should tackle the issue on two fronts: to create job opportunities and provide employment protection on one hand, and to better equip the workers for employment on the other.
With regard to the creation of job opportunities, the ADPL suggest the Government set up an employment and enterprise development fund the objective of which is to create more jobs so as to achieve full employment. This fund should grant financial assistance to activities that could create jobs of productivity and enhance economic development. As for small to medium sized enterprises and the vulnerable groups, this fund should also provide loan for them so as to enhance and create new job opportunities.
Furthermore, the Government should also set up training fund for various trades so as to improve technical skills. This fund should be responsible for expenditure on staff training of the various trades. The source of income for such fund could come from the large enterprises within each trade.
As for the second aspect which is to better equip the workers for employment, the ADPL is of the opinion that the Government should review regularly the manpower resources training policy. The Honourable Miss CHAN Yuen-han has already covered this point in her speech and I am not going to repeat it here.
It is also necessary for the Government to increase public expenditure on education according to the needs of economic development and to make efforts to enhance students' language ability, their knowledge in mathematics, physics and chemistry, as well as their ability to master computer technology.
With regard to the second generation of the vulnerable groups, the Government should lend them a helping hand so as to enable them to break away from abject poverty through a comprehensive and target oriented education policy. Such measures include:
setting up a special grant to improve the educational support services provided for the children of the new immigrants, with a view to helping them to fit into the system of education in Hong Kong; providing private tutorial allowance, reference books allowance as well as youth social activities allowance for the children of CSSA recipients, so that they will not be deprived of the right to manpower investment as a result of poverty. In fact, this measure, as a long term social investment, could also help to produce quality workers for Hong Kong and enhance our competitveness.
Finally, I would like to add one more point. Just now, the Honourable James TIEN mentioned that the poorest people in Hong Kong are still not too miserable or can even be regarded as better off when compared with the poorest people in the United States. As a matter of fact, in the highly developed country of America, there are still a lot of places as poor as abandoned cities and some of the backstreets are really heavily stricken by poverty. We do not want Hong Kong to develop into such a poor place. Why is the United States becoming so? The culprit is policy, and largely the economic polices implemented during the terms of office of Ronald REAGAN. Such policies were of the view that once the upper strata have become rich, the wealth will filter down to the lower strata, and in turn the country as a whole would become affluent. However, the unfortunate result is what we are seeing today: "bones of those frozen to death found on the road". I do not what this to happen in Hong Kong. I hope the Government would really take into serious consideration policies which could effectively reduce the disparity of wealth so as to help those being struck by abject poverty to be relieved from this bitter sea.
Mr President, I so submit.
Secretary for Financial Services (in Cantonese): Mr President, over the past 35 years, Hong Kong's economy has been growing unceasingly at a constant pace. In recent years, the rapid economic development in China as well as other neighbouring regions has not only given an impetus to the economic growth of the Asia-Pacific region, but also speeded up the transformation of Hong Kong's economic structure, thereby creating more jobs and trading opportunities for various trades and professions in Hong Kong. Over the past five years, the average annual growth of our gross national product was 5.5% in real terms. Moreover, Hong Kong ranked as the second fastest growing region among the 25 highest-salaried economies classified by the World Bank in terms of per capita real income. Between 1985 and 1995, our accumulated growth of the median household income is 225%, which far exceeds the 120% increase in Consumer Index (A) over the same period, indicating that the income of the general public enjoys a substantial growth in real terms.
Although other relevant statistics indicate that high-salaried persons enjoy a higher accumulated growth rate in respect of the median income than lower- and middle- salaried persons, the income of the people of various strata have in fact been improving with the constant growth of Hong Kong's economy. According to the Honourable Fred LI, the growth in wages over the past year has slowed down. This phenonmenon mainly reflects the supply of the labour market. Nevertheless, the income of the workers in general still enjoy a real growth. The transformation in economic structure will naturally have economic effects of different magnitude on various trades and professions. For the constantly expanding trades and professions, particularly the financial sector, trade sector and various service industries, the demand for manpower will become even stronger. As a result, those qualified personnel who possess the professional knowledge and skill required by these newly-developed industries will enjoy better job opportunities. Moreover, their income will increase by a greater amount and at a faster pace than those working in other fields. This phenonmenon happens to reflect the great flexiblity of the local labour market and the economic adjustment system of the market. One of the proposals put forward by the Honourable NGAN Kam-chuen is that the Government should maintain the balance between the financial sector and the manufacturing industry. I hope Mr NGAN is not wishing that the Government will give instruction to investors or restrict the development of a certain profession. It is because this will only smother the vitality of Hong Kong and have a negative impact on our economic development, which is not to be encouraged. A few Members quoted the Gini Coefficient earlier to support their arguments of "the increasing serious polarization between the rich and the poor in the territory's economic development process". However, the Gini Coefficient is not the only index that reflects the distribution of incomes. We should also consider the range of allowances such as social welfare, education and housing provided by the Goverment, the aim of which is to help narrow the income gap. In recent years, various policies and programmes such as social welfare, housing , education, employees training and so on, to tie in with our constant economic development, has improved the assistance rendered to the disadvantaged in society.
The Government provides accomodation for the needed families through the public housing programme, which has been implemented for a long time. The fundamental principle of this programme is to ensure that no one will be left homeless. In formulating the public housing policy, the Housing Authority uses the affordability of the tenants as its main consideration and two separate ceilings for rents have been set: for those who are granted the minimun space standard and those who are granted the above-standard flats, the median rent-income ratio should not exceed 15% and 18.5% respectively. As a matter of fact, the existing rental level of public housing has been set far below the affordability of the tenants, with the average median rent-income ratio being only 8% approximately.
Furthermore, we have not neglected those public housing tenants who have difficulties. The Housing Authority has the Rent Assistance Scheme in place to assist the tenants who experience short-term difficulties by exempting them from paying half the rent for a maximun period of two years. For those tenants who have long-term financial difficulties, they can apply to the Social Welfare Department for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.
At present, 50% of the total population of Hong Hong lives in public housing. We have not ignored the fact that there are still many who are waiting for public housing. In this respect, the Government will remain committed to speed up and expand the public housing programme. In the Policy Commitments published last year, the Government pledged that 141 000 public rental flats and 175 000 subsidised home ownership flats would be built by 2001. In the meantime , the Government has allocated or reserved enough land and the Secretary for Housing will co-ordinate various departments and organisations that take part in the public housing programme to ensure that the programme will be completed on schedule.
In the area of education, the Government has also injected a substantial amount of resources. Our basic principle is that no one will be deprived of the opportunity of receiving education because of poverty. Since 1978, the Government has been providing nine years of free and compulsory education. Furthermore, the fee remission scheme, Textbook and Stationery Grants Scheme and Student Travel Subsidy Scheme are provided to subsidise the students according to their family conditions. Students receiving the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance can even be granted full exemption. Apart from these, the Government also provides loans or scholarship to the tertiary students who are in need to ensure that children of the low-income families will still have the opportunity to receive senior secondary and tertiary education. According to statistics, the number of the students benefitted from the various subsidies has been increased tremendously over the past three years. And the Government is now consulting students and schools on the recently completed consultancy study on the Local Student Finance Scheme.
As far as the tackling of the unemployment problem is concerned, it will be the immediate task to be carried out by the Government. In order to minimize the impact of the economic transformation on the employment and income of workers, the Government has already strengthened employment services and actively offered vocational training and retraining programmes as well as the Job Matching Programme. The Secretary for Education and Manpower has spoken in detail on what the Government has done in providing vocational training and retraining during the previous motion debate.
We are similarly concerned with providing new immigrants with the opportunities of receiving day-time education. Apart from providing immigrant children with placement counselling, the Education Department also offer assistance to enable them to receive day-time education as soon as possible. At the same time, subsidies are offered through the Government grant programme to non-profit-making voluntary organisations for providing various adult education and vocational training.
On the employment of people with a disability, our policy is to commit ourselves to help them in seeking employment and enhance their job opportunities. The major measures implemented at present are as follows:
1.The Disability Discrimination Ordinance was enacted in July last year to provide a legal basis for ensuring that people with a disability enjoy equal opportunities and preventing discriminatory practices. The Equal Opportunities Commission set up recently will issue codes of practice on employment.
2.The Labour Department will continue to promote open recruitments of people with a disability, provide employment counselling, identify more posts and organize a series of publicity programmes to let employers know more about the working ability of people with a disability.
3.The number of supported employment places provided by subsidised non-governmental organizations has been increased from 360 to 950 and the relevant organizations will provide comprehensive counselling and training.
4.The Government will take the lead to employ more people with a disability and the target will be increased from 4 231 in April 1996 to 4 400 by 1997.
At present, most of our welfare services are provided without any income restrictions so that every member of the public can enjoy the services. On medical care, our policy is to ensure that no one is denied suitable medical treatment because of a lack of means. Apart from this, the Government has been providing the all-round and extensive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme to ensure that the people in need are provided with adequate care. What is more, we are very concerned with whether the livelihood of the elderly are protected after they retire. And retirement protection has thus become the starting point for the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes implemented last year. The main duty of the Mandatory Provident Fund Office is to put the Schemes into practice expeditiously.
There is indeed a group of people who are in need of help in our society and we are duty-bound to help them. As the living standard of the public in general continues to raise in recent years, expenditure on welfare continues to grow accordingly. Over the past four years, expenditure on welfare against the government recurrent expenditure has grown from 7.7% to 10.1%. In this respect, how can one say the Government has all along been turning a blind eye to the plight of the poor?
The Governor said in his policy address that the benefits of our continuing economic growth do not flow evenly to everyone in our community. Nor should we expect them to do so in an enterprise culture such as ours. Moreover, even distribution is not tantamount to equality. Our policy and system do not exist to iron out inequalities or to redistribute income. I am glad that the Honourable Frederick FUNG is convinced that he is not hoping for the implementation of any policies for redistributing income. What he only hopes for is that the general public can share the fruit of our economic growth. As a matter of fact, the Government is now helping the disadvantaged and the disabled to improve their general living standard through services such as subsidised education, public housing, vocational training and retraining, social welfare and so on to enable them to share with other people the fruit of our growing prosperity.
The long-standing policy of the Government is to maintain a highly liberal society as well as a society governed by the rule of law and to provide an environment for fair competition so that everyone can, with their hard work and talents, keep making progress. Moreover, our persistent low tax system has ensured that the social burdens of the general public are kept to the minimum, the hard work of the individuals are awarded with reasonable return and everyone has the chance to improve their living condition. These are the major factors that make Hong Kong full of vitality and energy. And, because of such a policy, Hong Kong has all along been able to achieve good results. Any proposals for changes will only produce a negative effect on Hong Kong's prosperity. For this reason, we consider that the Government should not alter the policy.
Thank you, Mr President.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now ask the Honourable Frederick FUNG to speak on the amendment to his motion. Mr FUNG, you have five minutes to speak, but, your remarks must be confined to the amendment moved by the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, basically, the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan's amendment seeks to add seven recommendations to my motion. But, I do not think that it is appropriate to do so because what we are now discussing are the problems of disparity of wealth and abject poverty in Hong Kong as a whole, and these problems should be dealt with by different measures under an integrated policy.
Here, I would like to quote some more statistical figures for Member's reference. Four Members from the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADPL) have just depicted the problem of disparity of wealth. In addition to their remarks, I would like to give special mention to some statistical figures, and I especially hope that the Honourable Henry TANG can pay heed to these figures. Today, I do not want to argue with Mr TANG about ideological principles as we did two years ago. I simply give Members the relevant figures. Figures are not related to ideology; they are facts unless the Census and Statistics Department of the Government or the Hong Kong Council of Social Service has made mistakes.
I would like to tell Members that in 1991, the number of people earning less than $3,000 a month was 193 000. In 1995, the number of people earning less than $4,000 a month was 240 000 ($3,000 in 1991 is equivalent to $4,000 of current money due to inflation). In other words, the number of low income people has increased. The second figure is related to Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). Let us refer to the figures provided by the Government and the Hong Kong Council for Social Service and look at them in one single analysis. The average monthly expenditure of some single elderly people not receiving CSSA, who comprise 15% of the elderly people with the lowest income, is $1,235. The monthly expenditure of those old people whose income is among the lowest 10% is $1,258. Meanwhile, the monthly expenditure of the elderly receiving CSSA is $1,327. In other words, the income of the non-CSSA recipients is lower than the income of the CSSA recipients by $100. And, the income of the 15% elderly at the lowest income stratum is $1,400 while the official figure for this group is $1,500. Looking at these figures, we would certainly wonder how people can survive with an income of $1,400 to $1,300. I mention this first set of figures because I want to respond to Mr LEE Cheuk-yan's amendment, and point out that we should not look just at a few isolated items.
Secondly, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and some voluntary agencies have conducted some surveys in four areas in Hong Kong. The findings of these surveys show that slums have in fact already emerged in some districts. The problem of slums cannot be solved by mere financial assistance; assistance of a more comprehensive nature is required. I also cite some figures provided by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and some voluntary agencies so that Members can have some knowledge about the average income of the residents in these older districts. Four areas were used as the subjects of survey: Nam Cheong, Kwun Tong, Cheung Sha Wan and Hong Kong as a whole. Unfortunately, among these four areas, two fall within my constituency. The average monthly income per household in Nam Cheong is $9,000; in Kwun Tong it is $10,000; in Cheung Sha Wan it is $14,000 and in Hong Kong as a whole it is $20,000. At the same time, 40% of households in Nam Cheong District are earning a monthly income of less than $6,000; in Kwun Tong, 20% of households are earning an income at this level; in Cheung Sha Wan, the percentage is 13% while the percentage for Hong Kong as a whole is only 9%. In regard to the problem of the aging population, the percentage of old people aged 60 or above in Nan Cheong is 33% while the percentage for Hong Kong as a whole is 13%. As for new immigrants, the percentage in Nam Cheong is 13%; in Kwun Tong, it is 17%; in Cheung Sha Wan, it is 6% and in Hong Kong as a whole, it is 3.6%.
Hence, it can be seen that the voluntary agencies have revealed that the District of Nam Cheong is gradually becoming a slum. If we confine our actions to the proposals made in Mr LEE's amendment, I am afraid we may not be able to cope with the abject poverty of a community since a diversity of complex factors are involved. Because of this reason, we feel that a comprehensive research and an overall strategy is needed and the seven points as proposed in Mr LEE's amendment do not fit in with the original motion unless he can raise 20 or even 30 more points to cover other aspects. Although the ADPL agrees to some of these seven points, we find it difficult to endorse the others. For instance, in our opinion, the introduction of a contributory Unemployment Assistance Scheme mentioned in the third point is no different from asking people to make savings. But our long-standing suggestion is transitional and short-term unemployment assistance provided by the Government. The seventh point proposes to restrict the rental increase of public housing to a level below that of inflation. The ADPL does not agree to this point because we feel that what we need is a machanism through which any rental increase higher than the inflation rate can be referred to the Legislative Council for a ruling. But this does not mean that rental increase should not be higher than the inflation rate. It all depends on individual circumstances and whether there are special reasons. We therefore have reservations about the seven proposals in the amendment.
In consideration of these two factors, the ADPL opposes Mr LEE's amendment.
Thank you, Mr President.
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr President, over the past two years, I have spoken in quite a number of motion debates on disparity of wealth and poverty. But, this is the first time I have heard the accusation that this Government is turning a blind eye to the plight of those in need. In supporting this motion, Members would, in effect, be concluding that most of what we do to relieve the plight of the vulnerable in our society through the Social Welfare Department and through the 174 non-governmental organisations we subvent is regarded as worthless by this Council. I believe that such a conclusion would make the thousands of social workers and other professionals funded by Government who work with great dedication to help those in need feel very disillusioned.
Of course, we do not turn a blind eye to the plight of those in need. I would not dare to claim that we are doing enough or that we could not do more. But our eyes are firmly on the vulnerable and the weak. We are not blind nor are our eyes turned away.
The policy commitments we have just issued contain many services which are provided to ensure the vulnerable elderly and those on public assistance get more help. Indeed, as pointed out by the Governor in last week's address, there are even those who are beginning to express concern that we may be on the slippery road to welfarism as a result of the new higher CSSA payments introduced this year.
We are currently providing CSSA support to about 200 000 financially vulnerable people at a cost of $6.3 billion a year. This means that CSSA expenditure has more than quadrupled in four years.
In fact, 560 000 people over 65 years of age or 92% of the population of Hong Kong in this age group are now receiving some form of financial public assistance.
Mr President, a Government that spends over $10 billion a year from its General Revenue to provide direct financial assistance to over 690 000 persons, or more than one in every ten members of its society; a Government that has increased its recurrent spending on social welfare for those most in need by 65% over and above inflation in the last four years alone cannot be said to have turned a blind eye to the plight of those in need.
But cash assistance is not the only or the most important help a Government can give. Nobody wants to live off charity. What is more important to everyone, as is also reflected in the amendment proposed by the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan today, is a happy home, a stable job, good education for their children and proper medical care when they fall sick. Our progress in addressing these needs is a matter of public record. Social Security and welfare services provide the back-up when these front-line needs fail to be met. Social security is not a tool for ironing out inequalities; it is a safety net. And, we try to give that net enough spring to encourage those who are able to bounce back into the mainstream and support themselves once more.
There are sufficient evidence to prove that dangers are associated with trying to hijack social security systems to achieve goals they are not designed to tackle. Such systems are not suitable as a substitute retirement protection scheme. Financial security in old age should be provided through contributory retirement schemes. Social security payments to those able to work should be adequate to support their needs if work is unavailable ─ and this year we increased CSSA levels for this category of adult recipients by nearly 30%. In short, we cannot use cash payments to eliminate poverty as the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan seems to suggest.
My colleague, the Secretary for Financial Services has addressed the wider issues raised in this Motion and the amendment proposed to it. I have focussed on the issues relating to welfare and social security. This is a narrow focus concentrating on how we can alleviate the effects of low incomes and a lack of financial resources rather than how we can address the cause. The causes of a disparity of wealth in any society are deep-seated and complex. But no modern society is without a degree of disparity and those at the bottom end of the economic ladder will always be regarded by others as the poor. Even the wealthiest nations in the world still have some who will be characterised as "poor". I am sure our "poor" would not necessarily be regarded as "poor" in some other Asian settings.
In a word, it is unrealistic to call for the eradication of poverty when disparity of wealth is clearly a relative concept. There are few greater responsibilities for a Government than to alleviate the plight of those who are the least fortunate, and I believe that we and the non-governmental welfare sector are addressing our responsibilities very seriously in this regard. Thank you, Mr President.
Question on the amendment put and negatived.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr Frederick FUNG, you may now reply, and you have six minutes and 10 seconds out of your original 15 minutes.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I want to express my regret and dissatisfaction at the replies given by the two Policy Secretaries of the Government. One of them said that there would be no policy changes while the other claimed that the Administration had done its job well. The Secretary for Health and Welfare even described me as unrealistic and claimed that the Government had not turned a blind eye to the problem. I have not turned a blind eye to the Government's efforts either. It is she who did not read my motion clearly. My motion reads, " ...... resulting in a lot of people (especially the impoverished elderly, new immigrants and the recipients of public assistance) still having to live from hand to mouth in long-standing dire straits ......" But, the Government has turned a blind eye to these impoverished people. Just now, many Members mentioned that at present, 600 000 people in Hong Kong are earning less than $4,000 a month.
When there are so many recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Allowance (CSSA) and single persons and in particular, when there are so many elderly people who have just $680 to spend on food each month, is it right to say that the Government has turned a blind eye to the situation? If the Government says no, then does the Government find the situation satisfactory? Or, does the Government regard the figure of 600 000 too small and wants to wait until it reaches 1 million? My feeling is that on the question of whether the Government has turned a blind eye to the situation, the Government has, indeed, turned a blind eye to it.
Secondly, I would like to respond to two Members who hold different views from those of my motion. I especially wish to tell the Honourable James TIEN some stories. Having listened to what Mr James TIEN said, I immediately thought of two stories. One of them was already referred to by the Honourable Bruce LIU when he said that he saw the saying "Behind the vermilion gates meat and wine turn to waste while out on the road lie the bones of those frozen to death" written on a banner held by petitioners outside this Chamber today. I think we all understand the message of this story, so I do not wish to dwell on it. The second story comes from the West and goes like this. Many years ago a drought occurred in a country and there was an acute shortage of food. The King ordered his ministers to conduct investigations and what they found was simple: almost half of the king's subjects did not have any rice to eat. However, the King said, "Why do they not eat pork instead?" So, it is not a problem at all even when one does not have any money. What matters is that one has to be willing to make investments, to buy flats and so on. But, I simply do not know how those 600 000 people, who earn only some $4,000 a month, can have the means to buy flats. His argument is that having no money is not important provided that one can buy flats. So, I think this story can aptly illustrate his argument. Besides, the Honourable Henry TANG's remarks reminded me that in my childhood, my family often took me to Wong Tai Sin Temple, where we drew divination lots, worshipped and made thanksgiving offerings to the God of Wong Tai Sin. Every time when we left, I saw many beggars sitting outside the Temple. People usually gave the beggars some money when they left because they felt that the beggars were impoverished and needed some help in the form of money, but in fact, many more people who have not been noticed were even more impoverished than the beggars. Similarly, the survey data on CSSA which I referred to just now show that the number of people receiving CSSA is far smaller that of those who have not applied for CSSA. I think if we acknowledge only those problems which we have noticed, we will not be acting in line with the social science approach of identifying social problems with a view to formulating corresponding social policies. Therefore, I think we must not ignore a problem just because we have not noticed it. Social policies should be formulated on the basis of social research aimed at finding out what has gone wrong and at solving the problems concerned. I hope Mr Henry TANG may as well pay attention to this point. I believe that I am not the only one who has received the paper from the Hong Kong Council of Social Services. Every Members should have received a copy, though probably later. I received it only last night. The data contained in this paper, except those provided by voluntary agencies, are in fact mostly provided by the Census and Statistics Department, which means that they are Government data. So, all of them should be facts unless the Government attempts to deceive us. Even though they are not facts, they should still reflect the situation of the society in general. I do not want to engage in an ideological debate with Mr Henry TANG. I just hope that Members can face reality and be reasonable.
It has been said that we have moved many debates and put forward many proposals aimed at handing out "free lunch". In response to this, I must say that I fully agree with the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan or the Honourable LEUNG Yiu-chung who said just now that this is simply a pretext of those who do not want to deal with the problem of poverty in Hong Kong or this is meant to attack the proposals made by those who intend to solve the problem. If Members have paid attention to the speeches of the four Members belonging to the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADPL), they should have noticed that we did not suggest just handing out money, nor did we suggest that with respect to people who are destitute and unable to obtain medical or other services we would help them get everything fixed up. This is just part of our suggestions. We are just making a special mention that since elderly people (some of whom may be handicapped) will find it more difficult to solve problems on their own, we feel that we may really have to adopt a "cash hand-out" approach, or a particular approach to support this group of people.
In fact, we still have three other alternatives. The second method involves the enhancement of our workers' competitiveness and the stimulation of employment opportunities through various means, something which we have advocated all along. This includes the improvement of employment counselling services, the creation of funds to assist the setting up of small enterprises, the improvement of the retraining scheme and so on. On the question of whether the retraining scheme is able to serve practical purposes and why retrainees still fail to seek employment, these are obviously matters that we ought to look into. As for the third method, it is our hope to create a social environment conducive to the growth of our overall wealth. In this particular respect, we have, for example, proposed the setting up of an Economic Development Council with the responsibility of studying the position of where Hong Kong stands in the word market and international business. With the addition of the China factor in particular, it is necessary to look into ways of attracting outsiders to invest in the territory, including Chinese investors and foreign investors. The fourth method concerns the making of laws and this includes legislating for the protection of workers' basic rights.
So, in my view, the combination of these four methods will be able to portray the objective data and situation found as a result of social research. Besides, it is also hoped that the problem can thus be tackled in a comprehensive manner and that assistance can be provided to those whom we can help and even to those whom we may not be able to help, thereby enabling them to find jobs on their own. Thank you, Mr President.
Question on the original motion put.
Voice votes taken.
Mr Frederick FUNG claimed a division.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Council shall proceed to a division.
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I would like to remind Members that they are now called upon to vote on the question that the motion moved by Mr Frederick FUNG as set out on the Order Paper be approved.
Will Members please register their presence by pressing the top button and then proceed to vote by pressing one of the three buttons below?
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Before I declare the result, Members may wish to check their votes. Are there any queries? The result will now be displayed.
MR Martin LEE, Dr David LI, Mr SZETO Wah, Dr LEONG Che-hung, Mr Albert CHAN, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong, Mr Frederick FUNG, Mr Michael HO, Dr HUANG Chen-ya, Miss Emily LAU, Mr LEE Wing-tat, Mr Eric LI, Mr Fred LI, Mr James TO, Dr YEUNG Sum, Mr WONG Wai-Yin, Miss Christine LOH, Mr LEE Cheuk-Yan, Mr CHAN Kam-lam, Mr CHAN Wing-chan, Mr Andrew Cheng, Mr CHENG Yiu-tong, Mr CHEUNG Hon-chung, Mr CHOY Kan-pui, Mr David CHU, Mr Albert HO, Mr IP Kwok-him, Dr LAW Cheung-kwok, Mr LAW Chi-kwong, Mr LEE Kai-ming, Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung, Mr LIU Sing-lee, Mr LO Suk-ching, Mr MOK Ying-fan, Mr NGAN Kam-cheun, Mr SIN Chung-kai, Mr TSANG Kin-shing, Dr John TSE, Mrs Elizabeth WONG and Mr YUM Sin-ling voted for the motion.
Mr Allen LEE, Mrs Selina CHOW, Mrs Miriam LAU, Mr Henry TANG, Mr Howard YOUNG and Mr James TIEN voted against the motion.
THE PRESIDENT announced that there were 40 votes in favour of the motion and six vote against it. He therefore declared that the motion was carried.
First Reading of Bills
UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
PUBLIC ORDER (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
THE ORTHODOX METROPOLITANATE OF HONG KONG AND SOUTH EAST ASIA BILL
Bills read the First time and ordered to be set down for Second Reading pursuant to Standing Order 41(3).
Second Reading of Bills
UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
DR DAVID LI to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the University of Hong Kong Ordinance."
DR DAVID LI: Mr President, I move the Second Reading of the University of Hong Kong (Amendment) Bill.
Mr President, the Bill before us today is, I believe, uncontroversial. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the University of Hong Kong Ordinance to remove the formal involvement of the Council of the University from the procedure for the award of Honourary Degrees. The present procedure set down for approving the award of Honourary Degrees is for the Honourary Degrees Committee to advise the Council, which in turn makes a recommendation to the Chancellor who in turn confers the degree. In practice, however, and by delegation, as the Chancellor is the Chairman of the Honourary Degrees Committee, and as the Council has for many years appointed its own Chairman to be its representative member on that Committee, the Honourary Degrees Committee, with both of those persons concurring, effectively approves the awards. Further reference to the Council as a body, or to the Chancellor as an individual officer, is considered by the Council as redundant.
The Council believes that this practice is in fact the best approach, since it reduces the number of procedural steps to the absolute minimum, which is considered to be desirable when matters of extreme confidentiality are involved. The Council has recommended, therefore, that an amendment be made to the University of Hong Kong Ordinance, to remove the formal involvement of the Council in the procedures for the award of Honourary Degree, and the reason for this Bill is to make that amendment.
Mr President, I therefore move that debate on this Bill be adjourned.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
PUBLIC ORDER (AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
MR JAMES TO to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the Public Order Ordinance."
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Mr President, I move the Second Reading of the Public Order (Amendment) Bill 1996.
It is the responsibility of a democratic and open government which respects human rights to protect the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Section (2) of Article 16 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (BORO) stipulates that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, either orally, in writing or in print, or through any other media of his choice. Article 17 of the BORO also states that the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. The control on meetings, processions and gatherings in Part III of the the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245) seeks to regulate and balance the right to stage processions and gatherings in the form of legislation.
The Public Order Ordinance (POO) was amended in 1995 with the main objective of abolishing the requirement of applying for a licence before a procession is held, and replacing it with a prior notification to the police. The amendments also sought to further limit the power of the police to prohibit gatherings and processions. However, the amended POO still contravenes the BORO in some respects and still contains unreasonable provisions which infringe upon the people's freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of political activities. These provisions should be repealed as soon as possible so as to ensure that basic human rights are respected.
Under section 6(a) of the POO, the Commissioner of Police is empowered to issue an order to control the extent to which music may be played, or to which music or human speech or any other sound may be amplified, broadcast, relayed, or reproduced by artificial means in public places or places other than public places if such music, human speech or sound is directed towards persons in public places.
However, the Ordinance offers no clear guideline on the definition of "extent" and can easily be abused by the police for the purpose of imposing political censorship on public opinions and of restricting the right to expression of ideas in public. This will deprive the people of the opportunities to air their views in a prompt and timely manner, thus posing a threat to their freedom of expression in public. This contravenes Article 16 of the BORO which seeks to safeguard the freedom of speech.
The Government has pointed out that in the interests of public safety, it is necessary to give legal backing to the police for the purpose of stopping incitement to public unrest. But, in fact elsewhere in the POO, other more specific provisions which can serve such a purpose are already found. For instance, in section 17B, there are provisions prohibiting any noisy or disorderly behaviour or attempts at inciting others so to act; in sections 18 and 26, there are provisions prohibiting any acts causing disorder, or acts which are provocative or proposing violence at public gatherings. Section 6(a) will easily become a tool which can facilitate political censorship and restriction of the people's freedom of expression.
In fact, the introduction of control on broadcast to the POO is very unusual. For instance, the Public Order Act in Britain seeks to safeguard public order and safety by imposing control only on the time, venue, route and number of participants relating to an assembly or procession.
In 1995, the Democratic Party proposed to make consequential amendments when the Public Order (Amendment) Bill 1994 was endorsed. Unfortunately, such amendments failed to obtain majority support. This time, I have made yet another attempt by putting forward this Member's Bill aimed at repealing section 6(a) of the POO to reduce unnecessary interference to those who want to take part in a procession or an assembly. This is to protect the people's freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech in public.
Besides, section 7(2)(b) of the POO also stipulates that a gathering held in private premises with few than 500 participants shall be exempted from the requirement of prior notification to the police. An offender will be liable to a fine of $10,000 and an imprisonment of 12 months.
Obviously, this is an unreasonable provision which is directed more at political activities than public safety because in the POO, social, recreational, cultural, academic, educational, religious, charity and funeral events are all exempted from the requirement of prior notification to the police. The Government claims that this for the protection of public safety. But then, why is it that no prior notification to the police for the sake of public safety is required for social and cultural activities held in private premises with more than 500 participants.
This provision is in fact an indirect check on political activities aimed at the thwarting public participation in these activities. It also imposes unnecessary restriction and hindrance on activities of a private nature, thus contravening Article 14 of the BORO which stipulates that the private life of any persons shall not be subjected to arbitrary intrusion.
Public safety as a justification for this provision also looks flimsy because section 12 of the POO has already stipulated that the owner or occupier of the premises or the person who organizes or assists in the organization of the meetings has to comply with regulations relating to safety of persons or the prevention of fire.
So, in this Member's Bill, I propose to make some relevant amendments to waive the need for prior notification to the police for all gatherings held in private premises regardless of the number of participants. This can allay the people's fear that they may be subjected to surveillance while taking part in political activities, thus serving to safeguard their privacy and freedom of participating in such activities.
A democratic society should be characterized by diversity and freedom of thinking with a high degree of tolerance and accommodation. And, with the implementation of the BORO, the laws of Hong Kong must also be brought in line with it. Furthermore, Hong Kong will soon be reverted to China and become a part of it and it is promised in the Basic Law that two international conventions, the International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, shall remain applicable in Hong Kong after 1997. Thus, we have a more pressing need to amend the current POO so that provisions pertaining to control over meetings, processions and expression of opinions can be brought in line with the BORO and the international conventions. This can perfect the laws in Hong Kong and ensure that the people's rights to freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and privacy will be respected.
Mr President, I beg to move.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
THE ORTHODOX METROPOLITANATE OF HONG KONG AND SOUTH EAST ASIA BILL
MR ERIC LI to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to set up a body corporate under the name of The Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia and to provide for the constitution, powers, duties, work and activities of The Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia."
MR ERIC LI: Mr President, I move the Second Reading of The Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia Bill. This Bill before you is a very simple Bill to set up a body corporate under the name of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia, and to provide for the constitution, powers, duties, work and activities of The Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia.
Mr President, I now move that the Second Reading of the Bill be adjourned.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
ADJOURNMENT AND NEXT SITTING
PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): In accordance with Standing Orders, I now adjourn the Council until 2.30 pm on Wednesday, 16 October 1996.
Adjourned accordingly at Nine o'clock.
Note: The short title of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance listed in the Hansard has been translated into Chinese for information and guidance only; it does not have authoritative effect in Chinese.