LegCo Paper No. CB(2)2409/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by
the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/CA

LegCo Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Minutes of Meeting held on Monday, 21 April 1997 at 10:45 am in Conference Room B of the LegCo Building

Members Present :

    Hon SZETO Wah (Chairman)
    Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon LEE Wing-tat
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum

Members Absent :

    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon James TO Kun-sun
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Public Officers Attending :

    For agenda items V and VI

    Mr Nicholas NG
    Secretary for Constitutional Affairs
    Mr Joseph LAI
    Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

    For agenda item IV

    Mr Stephen LAM
    Director of Handover Ceremony Coordinating Office
    Mr Raymond WONG
    Deputy Director, Handover Ceremony Coordinating Office
    Mrs Ella TAM
    Assistant Director (Information Services), Handover
    Ceremony Coordinating Office

Clerk in Attendance :

    Ms Doris CHAN
    Chief Assistant Secretary (2)3

Staff in Attendance :

    Miss Erin TSANG
    Senior Assistant Secretary (2)7

I. Confirmation of the minutes of meeting

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2)1899/96-97)

The minutes of meeting held on 17 March 1997 were confirmed without amendment.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Due to his absence from Hong Kong on 19 May 1997, the Chairman suggested and members agreed to re-schedule the next meeting for 26 May 1997 at 8:30 am. Members present also agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting:

  1. issues related to the transition of the municipal councils and the district boards;

  2. effect of the outcome of the UK election on British policy on Hong Kong;

  3. progress of work of the Joint Liaison Group; and

  4. issues related to the formation of the first Hong Kong SAR Government and co-operation with the Preparatory Committee.

III. Information papers issued since the last meeting

3. Members noted that two information papers had been issued vide LegCo Paper Nos. CB(2) 1626/96-97 and 1834/96-97 since the last meeting.

IV. Handover Ceremony

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1933/96-97)

4. Mr Stephen LAM briefed members on the Administration’s paper which set out the recent progress relating to the preparation of the Handover Ceremony.

Handover Ceremony programme

5. Mr LAM informed the meeting that the Ceremony, estimated to commence at 23:30 hours on 30 June 1997 and to last for 30 to 45 minutes, would be programmed as follows:

  1. the Ceremony would be presided over by senior representatives of Britain and China, with military honour guards and military bands of the two states present;

  2. there would be formal salute by the military honour guards;

  3. senior representatives of both sides would give speeches;

  4. immediately before midnight, the British national anthem would be played when the Union and the Hong Kong flags were lowered; and

  5. immediately after midnight, the Chinese national anthem would be played as the national flag of the People’s Republic of China and the regional flag of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) were raised.

In reply to Mr LEE Wing-tat , Mr LAM said that the Prince of Wales would represent the Queen at the Ceremony. The Hong Kong Government (HKG) had yet to be notified of the Chinese senior representative who would preside over the Ceremony.

Guest List

6. Dr YEUNG Sum and the Chairman asked and Mr Stephen LAM said that since the Handover Ceremony would be held jointly by the Chinese and British Governments, the guest list was drawn up in concert by both sides. It was agreed that 4000 guests would be invited and all incumbent Legislative Councillors would be on the list. In further reply to Dr YEUNG Sum and Mr LEE Wing-tat, Mr LAM elucidated that representatives from different sectors, including the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the government, would be invited to take part in the event. Other than the aforementioned, anyone who had contributed to the society in politics, business or community services would be invited in their individual capacity. Invitation cards would be issued in a few weeks’ time.

7. Mr LEE Wing-tat then asked and Mr LAM replied that invitations had been extended through diplomatic channels to over 40 countries and over 30 international organisations, including members of the European Union and the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation, and countries of other continents. All the 31 international organisations, in which Hong Kong would continue to participate after the transition, had been invited. In essence, the guest list had covered all of the countries and organisations which had important trade, economic and international links with Hong Kong. In reply to the Chairman, Mr LAM clarified that only the Secretary Generals of the international organisations or equivalent, but not their members, would be invited.

8. With reference to Mr LEE Wing-tat and Dr YEUNG Sum’s enquiries, Mr LAM told the meeting that the British and Chinese sides had discussed and agreed that Taiwanese representatives should be invited to the Ceremony; the British side was awaiting nominations from the Chinese side. All invitations would be issued jointly by both governments. As to whether the Taiwanese guests would be official representatives or invited in some other capacity, he could only confirm after the nominations had been received.

Media arrangements

9. The Chairman asked and Mr LAM told the meeting that the Chinese and British sides welcomed media organisations from all over the world to cover the Handover Ceremony and that HKG would be entrusted with the responsibility for media accreditation. As at last week, around 400 organisations covering about 7000 journalists and other media personnel had applied for accreditation.

10. In reply to the Chairman, Mr LAM said that among the 4000 seats available in the venue, several hundred would be reserved for the media organisations in order that at least one representative from each organisation could have a seat to report on the event.

The Press and Broadcast Centre

11. Mr LAM told the meeting that a Press and Broadcast Centre (PBC) would be set up to facilitate media coverage of the Ceremony and other related activities. Arrangements would be made to broadcast the Ceremony and the core feed signals would be relayed live to about 60 local and international broadcasters which had reserved booths at the PBC, and also to the satellite so that broadcast stations from all over the world could receive the signals. Moreover, arrangements would be made to facilitate media organisations broadcasting other related activities live in their home countries via the PBC.

12. In reply to Dr YEUNG Sum, Mr LAM said that the PBC would be operational from mid-June to 10 July 1997 for use by the media on a 24-hour basis and would provide bookable studios for broadcasters to conduct interviews with political parties and LegCo Members. Official press conferences would also be arranged where appropriate. In this connection, Mr LAM informed members that the Information Services Department would arrange a comprehensive programme for journalists, which would include visits to the new airport, new towns and other important facilities.

(See also paragraphs 14 and 15 below)

V. Progress of work of the Joint Liaison Group (JLG)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1901/96-97)

13. Mr Nicholas NG referred members to the Administration’s paper, which set out the achievements of JLG XXXIX and the outstanding issues. He informed the meeting that another JLG meeting would be held before the transfer of sovereignty with a view to resolving all the outstanding issues. In reply to Mr LEE Wing-tat, Mr NG indicated that the stance of the Chinese and British sides on the outstanding issues was clear.

Handover Ceremony

14. In reply to Ms Emily LAU, Mr Nicholas NG said that Hong Kong Government expected around 6,000 journalists to cover the transition. This was however no more than an estimate, and there was no cap on the number. All journalists would be welcome to use the PBC and they would be accreditated. As for the coverage of the handover ceremony and a few other related events, some pooling arrangements would be necessary because of venue constraints; standard international pooling arrangements would apply.

15. Ms Emily LAU asked and Mr Nicholas NG said that the Hong Kong Police would be responsible for the security arrangements of the handover ceremony and other related events.

Localisation of laws

16. Mr NG said that there were five localization bills outstanding. The Civil Aviation (Second Stage) Bill was a subject of active discussion with the Chinese side. As for the localization bills on the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency and Arbitration, a few technical points remained to be sorted out. Discussion on the localization bills on State Immunity and Geneva Conventions was more difficult as sovereignty was involved. Mr NG assured the meeting that these bills would be introduced into LegCo once agreement at the JLG was reached. The meeting took note of Mr LEE Wing-tat’s concern that belated introduction of those bills into LegCo would leave little time for Members to consider the bills properly.

Transfer of assets

17. Ms Emily LAU and Mr Ambrose LAU asked and Mr NG said that as enshrined in the Joint Declaration, all government assets would be transferred to HKSAR Government before 1 July 1997. The JLG was presently considering whether some form of agreement was needed on the transfer of these assets, and the formalities and procedure governing such transfer.

Transfer of archives

18. In reply to Ms Emily LAU, Mr NG reiterated that the Chinese and British sides had already agreed in 1990 the principles regarding the transfer of archives. All official records, files and information, which were necessary for the smooth operation of the HKSAR Government and which would facilitate China in discharging its responsibilities on foreign affairs for HKSAR, such as records and information regarding the consular corps, would be passed to the HKSAR Government. There would be no physical movement of the files. The JLG was now discussing the detailed and technical arrangements of the transfer.

Advance personnel of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)

19. The Chairman and Ms Emily LAU asked and Mr NG said that the JLG had reached agreement on the first batch of PLA advance personnel to prepare for the transfer of defence responsibilities. The advance personnel would arrive in Hong Kong in the afternoon of 21 April 1997. Upon arrival, they would have to follow the usual customs and immigration procedures at Lok Ma Chau, and they had to possess valid travel documents for entry into Hong Kong. Their military vehicles would also need to have Hong Kong licence plates as required by local law. No special arrangement would be made when the advance personnel entered the territory, except for media coverage of their arrival. They would be unarmed and would be co-located with the British garrisons at the Prince of Wales Barracks in Central and Stonecutter Island. They would abide by Hong Kong laws. Mr NG pointed out that the Chinese side had indicated that the advance personnel would be discreet in discharging their duties and would not arouse unnecessary public anxiety.

20. In reply to Ms Emily LAU, Mr NG said that HKG was aware of the public’s concern about the issue. He stressed that the despatch of the advance personnel was to facilitate a detailed and pragmatic discussion with the British military personnel regarding the smooth transfer of defence responsibilities, and it should not be viewed as stationing a PLA vanguard in the territory before the transfer of sovereignty. If need be, the expert group on Defence and Public Order would consider the case for further batches of advance personnel. The meeting then took note of Ms Emily LAU’s view that the 40 advance personnel should be more than sufficient to prepare for the transfer and that no additional PLA personnel should be sent to Hong Kong before the handover.

21. The Chairman then asked and Mr NG clarified that the advance personnel were different from the Chinese military honour guards who would be present at the Handover Ceremony.

Visa free access

22. Ms Emily LAU asked and Mr NG told the meeting that according to the information provided by the Chinese side, a number of countries had agreed to grant visa free access to HKSAR passport holders. They included the United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, the Philippines, Namibia, the Seychelles, Monaco, Morocco and Bermuda. As for other countries, they were either considering to grant visa free access to HKSAR passport holders, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand, or had agreed to arrangements which would be no less favourable than those given to BDTC/BNO passport holders. He hoped that more countries would give a positive response shortly. Mr NG said that HKG had made clear to other countries time and again that Hong Kong citizens were law-abiding and would not abuse visa free access arrangements. Moreover, there would be stringent control on the issue of HKSAR passports to ensure that they were issued to qualified applicants only. In reply to Ms Emily LAU, Mr NG told the meeting that Thailand’s response on the issue was still awaited.

Bilateral agreements and mutual assistance in legal matters between HKSAR and China

23. Mr NG told the meeting that the JLG was to decide on the modalities of the bilateral agreements to be reached between the HKSAR Government and other countries. The HKSAR Government would continue the negotiations on those bilateral agreements in accordance with the provisions of the Joint Declaration after 30 June 1997.

24. In response to Ms Emily LAU, Mr NG said that after the transfer of sovereignty, since HKSAR would become part of China, there would be formal arrangements, instead of bilateral agreements, regarding mutual legal assistance between HKSAR and China. In view of the legal profession’s and the business sector’s concern about the future arrangements in that area, HKG had brought up the issue at the JLG. However, the Chinese side maintained that the juridical relation between HKSAR and China was a matter within China’s sovereignty, and that therefore it should be discussed between the HKSAR Government and the Central People’s Government. HKG had raised the matter with the Secretary of Justice (Designate), and it was understood that she was discussing the issue with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office was now considering the next step to be taken.

Adaptation of laws

25. Mr Nicholas NG explained that the local ordinances had to be adapted in order to conform with the Basic Law. The Chinese side maintained that the matter should be dealt with between the Central People’s Government and the HKSAR Government. The National People’s Congress had recently announced some general principles on terminological changes. For instance, the reference to "the Governor" would be replaced by the reference to "the Chief Executive". As for legislation involving substantial amendments, such as the legislation relating to the right of abode, it would be considered in detail by the HKSAR Government. He assured members that the adaptation exercise would mainly involve minor changes of texts. The general principles promulgated by the National People’s Congress already provided clear guidance in that respect and hence the avoidance of legal confusion during the transition. Since more than 600 local ordinances had to be adapted, the adaptation exercise would be conducted by phases.

26. With reference to Ms Emily LAU’s enquiry as to the legislative procedure to be adopted for enacting the adapted ordinances, such as "midnight legislation", Mr NG reiterated that the Chinese side was of the view that it was a matter to be decided by the future HKSAR Government, and he was not in a position to answer on its behalf. He stressed that from the constitutional point of view, the existing LegCo was the sole constitutional legislature in the territory before 1 July 1997 and only legislation passed by the LegCo could have legal standing.

VI. Issues related to the formation of the first Hong Kong SAR Government and co-operation with the Preparatory Committee

Secondment of government officials

27. Ms Emily LAU and Mr Ambrose LAU asked and Mr Nicholas NG said that the number of government officials to be seconded to the CE(Des)’s office would be adjusted in accordance with practical needs. HKG might consider further secondment from a pragmatic and reasonable angle if the CE(Des) put up further requests. At present, around 70 government officials had been seconded to the CE(Des)’s office. About half of them would revert back to the civil service once their assignments had been completed, whereas the rest would remain on secondment to the CE(Des)’s office until 30 June 1997.

28. Mr Ambrose LAU then asked and Mr NG stressed that co-operation between HKG and the CE(Des) had to be based on the three established parameters. In considering further secondment to the CE(Des)’s office, it was necessary to ensure that the authority and effective operation of HKG would not be compromised. In reply to Ms Emily LAU, Mr NG said that apart from secondment of government officials, HKG also provided all necessary information regarding the structure, system and existing policies of HKG to the CE(Des)’s office so as to facilitate preparation for the establishment of the HKSAR Government. Briefings for the CE(Des) were given by the relevant policy branches/departments as necessary.

29. In reply to Mr LEE Wing-tat, Mr NG said that HKG’s stance on the provisional legislature remained unchanged. He reiterated that the AGC lawyer seconded to the CE(Des)’s office was to provide advice on legal matters and would not provide any assistance in law drafting. Moreover, HKG had no plan to second any law draftsman to the CE(Des)’s office.

Draft bill on the right of abode

30. Mr Ambrose LAU asked and Mr NG told the meeting that HKG was very concerned about the right of abode issue, and had repeatedly urged the Chinese side to continue discussion on the few outstanding substantive issues so that an early announcement to the public could be made. On the publication of a white or blue bill, official statements had been published last week to explain HKG’s stance on the issue, and the Attorney General had made further clarification in his statement issued on 17 April 1997 as follows:

"It may have been assumed from the Government’s proposal to publish a White Bill that the Government has already prepared a draft bill which could be introduced into the Legislative Council or handed to the Chief Executive(Designate). That is not the case. The Government’s proposal to the Chinese side was that a White Bill would be published by end May/early June. No bill in any form has yet been drafted but a bill will be available for publication by 30 June 1997."

Mr NG undertook to provide after the meeting the Attorney General’s statement and other relevant official statements for members’ reference. In addition, Mr NG told the meeting that the Immigration Department had set up dedicated hotlines to handle public enquiries regarding their right of abode after the transfer of sovereignty.Adm

The Public Holiday (Special Holidays 1997) Bill

31. Ms Emily LAU asked and Mr NG said that although the subject did not fall within the remit of the Constitutional Affairs Branch, to his recollection, the Secretary for Education and Manpower had indicated earlier that it was necessary to consider the legislative aspect. The Government now concluded that there were legal and practical needs for legislation; hence the introduction of the Public Holiday (Special Holidays 1997) Bill..

32. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:35 pm.

LegCo Secretariat
22 May 1997

Last Updated on 13 August 1998