LegCo Paper No. CB(2)2768/96-97
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/HA

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of Meeting
held on Friday, 23 May 1997 at 10:30 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Chairman of the meeting)
    Hon LEE Wing-tat
    Hon James TO Kun-sun
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG CHIEN Chi-lien, CBE, ISO, JP

Members Absent :

    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Chairman)
    Hon LO Suk-ching (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
    Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP

Public Officers Attending:

Item IV

Mr John DEAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
Mr Peter H H WONG
Acting Senior Assistant Solicitor General

Item V
Deputy Director of Home Affairs
Mr Francis LO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Attendance by Invitation :

Item VI
Equal Opportunities Commission
Dr Fanny CHEUNG Mui-ching
Mrs Angela HO
Chief Executive

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Anna LO
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Ms Christine LIU
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 8

I. Election of Chairman

Due to the temporary absence of Mr Albert HO Chun-yan out of Hong Kong and the unavailability of Mr LO Suk-ching for the meeting, Miss Emily LAU was elected Chairman of the meeting.

II. Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2)2240/96-97)

The minutes of the meeting held on 2 April 1997 were confirmed.

III. Date and items for discussion for next meeting

(Paper No. CB(2)2349/96-97 (01))

The Chairman drew members’ attention to the House Committee’s decision to reserve 23-27 June 1997 for the last Council sitting in the current session. In the light of this, the Chairman proposed and members agreed to advance the next regular meeting from 27 June 1997 to Friday, 20 June 1997 at 10:30 am for discussion of the following items -

  1. Reports on Hong Kong under the various international covenants on human rights matters; and
  2. The Administration’s response to the report of the Subcommittee on Review of Advisory and Statutory Bodies.

IV. Implementation of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap 383)

(Paper No.CB(2)1989/96-97 (01))

Referring to para 4 of Paper No. CB(2)1989/96-97 (01), Representative of the Home Affairs Branch supplemented that action was in progress to amend the Prison Rules [subsidiary legislation to the Prison Ordinance (Cap. 234)] and Marriage Ordinance (Cap. 181), which they hoped to complete before the end of the current Legislative session. The Chairman remarked that only the White Bill on Interception of Communications was issued.

A member said there were comments that the implementation of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (BORO) would weaken the authority of the Administration governing Hong Kong. He asked if the Administration had received any complaints from departments about difficulties in the combat of crime or law enforcement. Representative of Home Affairs Branch replied that those issues were within the jurisdiction of the Security Branch. As far as they could recall from the various briefing materials recently prepared by the Secretary for Security, the level of crime appeared to be dropping in the territory and there was no complaint on difficulties in law enforcement. The member then further enquired if there was feedback from departments that the BORO had affected their operation. Representative of Home Affairs Branch said that the departments were entirely positive about the adaptive process, and had only asked for guidance on the compatibility of their procedures with the BORO.

In response to members’ enquiries on the effect of the repeal of some provisions of the BORO by the National People’s Congress (NPC), Ag Senior Assistant Solicitor General (Ag SASG) clarified that BORO only had effect on all pre-existing legislation before its commencement in June 1991. Just like the other Ordinances of Hong Kong, the BORO itself was not entrenched and had no overriding effect in relation to future legislation. The substantive rights protected by the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) were entrenched by Article VII(5) of the Letters Patent now and by Article 39 of the Basic Law after 30 June 1997. Ag SASG also explained that, in accordance with Article 158 of the Basic Law, the power of interpretation of the Basic Law was vested in the Standing Committee of the NPC which should authorise the courts of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to interpret on their own, in adjudicating cases, the provisions of the Basic Law which were within the limits of the autonomy of the Region except for matters related to defence and foreign affairs. Ag SASG added that although the utimate interpretation of the Basic Law was vested in the NPC, the Standing Committee of the NPC would consult its Committee for the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region before delivering an interpretation of the Basic Law. Since the Committee for the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region included Hong Kong representatives, there could thus be a mechanism for Hong Kong people to reflect their opinions to the NPC.

Members also expressed concern about the Urban Council’s (UC) recent refusal to allow the sculpture titled "Pillar of Shame" to be displayed at its venues due to political censorship. They asked if UC had contravened the BORO in the exercise of its power on this occasion. Acting SASG explained that the Attorney General’s Chambers would give advice to departments when cases were referred to them. Since the case in question had not referred to AGC, it was inappropriate for him to give comments at this stage.

V. Proposed establishment of Building Management Resource Centres

Deputy Director of Home Affairs (DDHA) informed members on the progress of the proposed establishment of building management resource centres (BMRCs). He said that a Working Group chaired by the Director of Home Affairs had held four meetings to study the proposal which had the support from various quarters of the community including government departments, professional bodies such as the Law Society of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Society of Accountants and the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors. So far, there were no voices of objection on the setting up of the centres. Views from members were welcome. The Working Group would submit its report to the Secretary for Home Affairs at the end of May 1997.

Members then enquired on the following -

  1. the purpose of setting up the proposed BMRCs;
  2. the resources to be allocated to the BMRCs including the role of the professionals in the centres;
  3. whether the information in the Centres could be borrowed and whether regular reviews on the work of the BMRCs would be made; and
  4. the locations of the BMRCs.

DDHA replied that -

  1. Repair and maintenance of buildings were the responsibilities of owners and their management companies. In view of the increasing number of new buildings and the dilapidated conditions of old buildings built in the 1950s and 1960s, it was considered necessary to set up BMRCs so that building owners would be able to obtain information and seek assistance from the professionals at the Centre on resolving their management problems, without resorting to taking the case to the Lands Tribunal in all cases. As such, the BMRC was a forum for exchange of information for effective management of buildings;
  2. In addition to providing information, there were professionals such as lawyers, accountants and surveyors serving on a voluntary basis at the Centres several evenings per week to answer questions and give advice to members of the public. A time-table would be drawn up as to how many times a week that representatives of the professional bodies would be stationed at the Centres. Liaison Officers and Housing Managers of District Offices, who had frequent contacts with the owners of buildings, would also be present in the Centres to share their experience on how precedent cases were resolved;
  3. Home Affairs Department would definitely monitor the Centres closely and regularly review their work. The question of loan of information in the BMRC was also being considered; and
  4. The BMRCs would be located in densely populated areas with building management problems. They would be conveniently accessible by members of the public. It was planned that a Centre would initially be set up in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories respectively. A preparatory committee had already been formed to consider the implementation details.

V. Progress of Work of the Equal Opportunities Commission

(Paper No. CB(2)2349/96-97 (02), (03) and (04))

Representatives of the Equal Opportunities Commission briefly highlighted the progress of the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) since its operation in September 1996.

A member asked what difficulties the Commission had encountered since its operation. Representatives of EOC said that the greatest difficulty was the difference between the aspiration of the public and the actual legislative power conferred on the Commission. Like the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, the main role of EOC was conciliation. It did not have any direct enforcement power. However, many people in Hong Kong misunderstood that EOC could take enforcement action to settle disputes. To clarify the misconception, representatives of EOC said that the EOC would step up public education programmes to inform the public of the functions and powers of the Commission. In response, the member opined that if the public wished EOC to take prosecution action, the Commission should consider expanding its legislative power. Representatives of EOC replied that public aspiration might sometimes be based on a lack of understanding of the law. As the present legislation of EOC was drawn up basing on the successful experiences of the Equal Opportunities Commissions in UK and Australia which had been in operation for over 20 years and 10 years respectively, more time would be needed to see how the EOC in Hong Kong would work out.

A member raised that many buildings nowadays were constructed in phases and did not have ramps or accesses provided for the persons with a disability at their early phases of construction. He opined that this was unfair to the wheelchair bound persons as they were deprived of their right and freedom of entry. Representatives of EOC said that there was a provision under Section 84 of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap.487) stipulating that a public authority which had the power to approve building works should not, in respect of those works, approve building plans, whether for a new building or for the alterations or additions to an existing building, unless the person seeking approval satisfied the public authority that such access was reasonable for persons with a disability in the circumstances. On the other hand, the EOC had also been following up this issue with the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch which would soon publish a new design manual to replace the existing outdated one.

Referring to the five main areas of work undertaken by EOC as detailed in the progress report of Paper No. CB(2)2349/96-97 (02), a member commented that the work of EOC was similar to that of the Civic Education Committee and many other tertiary institutions, and enquired if EOC was going to reduce or minimize the duplication of work. Representatives of EOC replied that the powers and functions of EOC were stipulated in the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) and Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO). While other organisations might have similar roles and functions, EOC, however, did have an unique responsibilty of eliminating discrimination on the basis of gender, marital status, pregnancy or disability, and promoting equal opportunities between men and women, and between people with and without a disability. EOC’s main functions were as follows -

  1. to investigate complaints of discrimination and endeavour to settle the complaints by conciliation;
  2. to promote equal opportunity through public education and publicity; and
  3. to conduct review of relevant legislation and make recommendation for amendments, where appropriate.

Representatives of EOC added that they had close contacts with other organisations such as the Commissioner of Rehabilitation and the Civic Education Committee and would coordinate with them to avoid duplication of efforts.

In response, the member considered that EOC should strive for its own success and had to take more initiative in investigating complaints of discrimination. Representatives of EOC explained that EOC could not embark on a formal investigation unless there were sufficient information which satisfied the Commission that there was actually an act of discrimination. Under the law, the Commission was required to inform the person so named of its belief and of its proposal to investigate his act and offer him an opportunity of making oral or written representations with regard to it.

As regards an enquiry from a member on the statistics of complaints at Annex B of the progress report, representatives of EOC explained that there were two groups of figures. The first group were the 49 cases which required investigation and conciliation under Section 84 of the SDO or Section 80 of the DDO while the other group totalling 67 cases were complaints and actions outside the two sections which included discriminatory advertisements and matters that were brought to EOC’s attention by a third party. In this connection, representatives of EOC said that apart from discriminatory advertisements in newspapers and those put up by advertising agencies, EOC had also dealt with a case in which a person who was not an aggrieved person drew the Commission’s attention to improve an access for the persons with a disability at a LRT station. In that particular case, representatives of EOC said that an access was provided for these persons after discussion with the the mass transit carrier.

Referring to the comments of the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on the non-transparency of EOC in not opening up its meetings, a member suggested that EOC should consider dividing its meetings into private and public sections such that matters which were not confidential could be made known to the public. Representatives of EOC replied that they were required by law to keep their investigation confidential. It was understood that the Australian Equal Opportunities Commission, up till now, would not release details of the case until it was conciliated. Nevertheless, EOC in Hong Kong did let members of the public know what they had done through press briefings, pamphlets and regular liaison with the concern groups. Starting from the next edition of its quarterly newsletter, the EOC would consider presenting settled cases in the copy.

The meeting ended at 12:35 pm.

LegCo Secretariat
23 June 1997

Last Updated on 19 August 1998