LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1150/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/HA/G5

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday,
24 January 1997 at 11:00 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Chairman)
    Hon LO Suk-ching (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon James TO Kun-sun
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
    Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP
Members Absent:
    Hon LEE Wing-tat
    Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
Attendance by Invitation :
    Item IV

    Indian Resources Group (IRG)

    Mr Ravi Gidumal
    Ms Mansha Daswani
    Committee Member

    Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM)

    Mr Paul Harris
    Mr LAW Yuk-kai

    Refugee Concern Hong Kong (RCHK)

    Ms Pam Baker

    Combined Migrant Workers Support Group (CMWSG)

    Ms Remy Borlongan
    (Chairperson of Asian Domestic Workers Union)
Public Officers Attending :
    Item IV

    Mr John Dean
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
    Mr Stephen WONG Kai-yi
    Deputy Solicitor General

    Item V

    Mr Jeremy Croft
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (1)
    Mr NG Hon-wah
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (2)
    Miss Helen TANG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (3)
    Mr T D Stephenson
    Assistant Director for Home Affairs
    Mr Raymond FAN
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
    Mr TAM Chun-kit
    Assistant Director (Services) of Education Department
    Ms Sally WONG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Security
    Miss Amy WONG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing
    Mrs Elise WONG
    Senior Housing Manager/Applications
    Mr WONG Tam-sang
    Senior Housing Manager /Temporary Housing Clearance
    Mr LAM Chi-keung
    Housing Manager/Temporary Housing Clearance
    Ms Miranda CHIU
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (Welfare)
    Mrs Nancy TSE
    Assistant Director of Social Welfare
    (Family and Child Welfare)
    Social Welfare Department
    Miss Priscilla TO
    Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (Rehabilitation)
    Mr CHAN Wai-ming
    Chief Social Work Officer (Rehabilitation)
    Social Welfare Department

Clerk in Attendance:

    Mrs Percy MA
    Chief Assistant Secretary (House Committee)

Staff in Attendance:

    Mrs Eleanor CHOW
    Senior Assistant Secretary (House Committee)

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1013/96-97)

The minutes were confirmed.

II.Date and items for discussion for next meeting

(Paper No. CB(2) 995/96-97(01))

(a) Regular meeting of the Panel

1. Members agreed that the next regular meeting would be held on 28 February 1996 at 10:45 am to discuss the following -

  1. Transparency and public accountability of advisory bodies/committees and their members' tenure of office;

  2. Building management and maintenance; and
  3. Review of Planning Standards and Guidelines for Community Centres.
The subject of handover ceremony would be deferred to the meeting in March unless the Administration wished to report further progress at the next meeting.Clerk

(b) Special meeting

2. Members noted that the hearing of the United Nations (UN) Committee in respect of the 14th Periodic Report on International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (under agenda item IV below) would take place on 3 and 4 March 1997 in Geneva. It was agreed that a special meeting should be held on 17 February 1997 at 2:30 pm for the Administration to respond to the points made by the deputations and members at this meeting, and for members to discuss details of the draft Report to be submitted by the Panel to the House Committee on 21 February 1997.

III.Information papers issued since last meeting

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 994/96-97)

3. Members noted that the captioned paper had been issued since the last meeting.

IV.Meeting with deputations on the Fourteenth Periodic Report in respect of Hong Kong under the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)

(LegCo Papers Nos. CB(2) 975/96-97 & CB(2) 995/96-97(02))

(a)The Indian Resources Group (IRG)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 995/96-97 (03))

4. Mr Ravi Gidumal commented that the 14th Periodic Report in respect of ICERD (The Report) had not addressed the concern previously raised by the non-Chinese ethnic minorities. He pointed out that the United Kingdom's (UK) policy in denying the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong full British citizenship was racially motivated. In this respect, he drew reference to the situation in Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands to illustrate his point. The Report referred to "special features" such as geographical proximity and loyalty to the UK Government as reasons for providing citizenship for the two territories. While acknowledged that "special features" did exist in the two territories, IRG could not understand why the "special circumstance" under which the ethnic minorities had lost their full political and civil rights i.e. as a result of Hong Kong ceasing to be a British Dependent Territory after the change of sovereignty on 1 July 1997 was less deserving than that of the Gibralitarians and Falkland Islanders. He could only deduced that the UK Government discriminated against the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong for racial reasons. Details of the IRG's views were set out in the submission.

5. Miss Emily LAU supported the case of the IRG and informed them that a Private Member's Bill to grant full citizenship to non-Chinese ethnic minorities would be introduced by Sir Patrick Cormack in the House of Commons, following its passage in the House of Lords on 29 January 1997. She suggested and members agreed that a letter should be sent by the Chairman of the House Committee to urge Sir Cormack to introduce the Bill without delay and that similar letters should be sent to the British Government and the Labour Party to urge them to support the Bill.Chairman

(Post-meeting note : The Chairman made a verbal report at the House Committee on 31 January 1997. It was agreed that the Chairman of the House Committee should write to both the Prime Minister and Sir Cormack to further pursue the case.)

6. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PAS(HA)) responded that the Hong Kong Government would continue pressing the UK Government to grant non-Chinese ethnic minorities full British citizenship. In response to the Chairman, he agreed to provide information on the size of the population and the ethnic composition of Gibraltar and the size of the population of Falkland Islands.Admin

(b) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM)

(HKHRM's submission tabled at the meeting was distributed to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1109/96-97.)

7. Mr Paul Harris said that the comments made by HKHRM during the Thirteenth Periodic Report were still valid, indicating the lack of improvements in the elimination of racial discrimination. He drew members' attention to paragraph 7 of The Report which stated that the reason for the Government not introducing legislation against racial discrimination was because such legislation would have far reaching implications on the community. He considered the premises logically unsound and fundamentally flawed because the legislation would have far-reaching implications only if there existed a major problem of racial discrimination. Under such circumstances, the matter should be tackled with urgency through legislative means. If the problem was not serious, the legislation could serve as a useful safeguard against racial discrimination for a small number of cases where it was needed. He urged the Government to support and pass the Member's Bill against racial discrimination without further delay. He offered to provide assistance that might be required in bringing the legislation into effect. His view was supported by Mrs Elizabeth WONG.

8. PAS(HA) informed members that the Administration would complete the study on racial discrimination shortly, the findings and consultation documents of which would be released after the Chinese New Year. Depending on the outcome of the consultation, the Government would consider the need for legislation in the field of racial discrimination.

9. Referring members to the submission tabled, Mr LAW Yuk-kai of HKHRM highlighted the following issues which required further improvements : ethnic and racial composition of the Hong Kong population, detention of illegal migrants as witnesses, education for new migrants from China and interpretation facilities for ethnic minorities in courts. In addition, he made the following comments -

  1. The Preparatory Committee's recent proposal to repeal and amend civil rights-related laws would undermine the civil liberties in Hong Kong and would create inequalities in race and other areas;
  2. Other than people from Indo-China, people from other countries had no legal right to seek political asylum in Hong Kong; and
  3. There had been allegations that provision of medical treatment for Vietnamese was conditional upon their willingness to join the voluntary repatriation program. This was a form of racial discrimination. He quoted the case of a Vietnamese child with leukaemia being denied of medical treatment as an example.

10. In response to Mr LEE Cheuk-yan, Ms Pam Baker of the Refugee Concern Hong Kong (RCHK) clarified that there was no legislation concerning political asylum seekers in Hong Kong. Such cases were usually referred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the event that UNHCR advised that a person was qualified for refugee status, the Hong Kong Government would offer assistance in resettling the person elsewhere. Mr Paul Harris supplemented that the United Nations Convention on Refugees had not been extended to Hong Kong, hence people from other countries had no legal right to seek political asylum in Hong Kong. Such cases were processed at the discretion of the Immigration Department.

(c) Combined Migrant Workers Support Group (CMWSG)

(CMWSG's submission tabled at the meeting was distributed to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1109/96-97)

11. Ms Remy Borlongan commented that the "two-week rule" imposed on all Foreign Domestic Helpers in 1987 should be repealed or abolished because it was discriminatory and contrary to the spirit of the Convention.

12 Mr Paul Harris of HKHRM remarked that there was no justification to apply the "two-week rule" in every case, although the Privy Council recognised its validity in curbing abusive practices such as "job-hopping". He said that the Government should spell out exceptions to the rule and to provide guidance for the Immigration Department in handling exception cases so that it would not create hardship for genuine cases involving abusive treatment by employers.

13. Members noted that the Administration had made clear in The Report that the rule applied equally, and without discrimination, to domestic helpers from other countries. PAS(HA) undertook to reflect Mr Harris' comments to the relevant policy Branch for consideration.Admin

(d) Refugee Concern Hong Kong (RCHK)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 995/96-97 (04))

14. Referring members to the submission, Ms Pam Baker said that the Pillar Point Vietnamese Refugees Centre housed about 1,000 refugees who were awaiting resettlement in other countries and about 500 migrants who had been released on recognisance but Vietnam had refused to have them repatriated. There were another 3,000 similar cases awaiting adjudication in court. She informed members that the Pillar Point Centre aimed to close at the end of June 1997 when the Comprehensive Plan of Action came to an end. If these people, for one reason or another, had no prospect of resettlement in third countries, they would become stateless. Since Britain was a signatory of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Hong Kong had the duty to resettle them in Hong Kong. The prejudice held by the Hong Kong people against the Vietnamese had impeded their integration into the community. She urged the Government to introduce improvements in education, medical and social facilities and to grant proper identity documents to enable the Vietnamese to become members of the society. She made reference to the speech made by the Director of Home Affairs on "Government policy on new arrivals from China" at the 1996 AGM of the International Social Service, Hong Kong Branch on 28 November 1996 and suggested that similar assistance should be made available to Vietnamese in the Pillar Point Centre.

15. Miss Christine LOH pointed out that signatories of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness had the obligation to prevent an individual becoming stateless. She shared Ms Baker's view that the issue should be promoted internationally so that these people could, either through family links or sponsorship, resettle elsewhere. It might also be necessary to explain to the people in Hong Kong why some of these people ended up resettling in Hong Kong and why the integration programme organized for new migrants from China should also be extended to them. Her view was echoed by Miss Emily LAU and Mrs Elizabeth WONG.

16. In response to members, Deputy Solicitor General undertook to find out whether China is a signatory of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and whether the Convention also applied to Hong Kong. If so, what were the respective legal obligations of Britain, China and Hong Kong under the Convention towards Vietnamese refugees and migrants in the Pillar Point Centre who would become stateless as a result of the change of sovereignty in July 1997.Admin
17. PAS(HA) undertook to refer Ms Baker's suggestion to the Security Branch.Admin

(e) Movement Against Discrimination (MAD)

(MAD's submission tabled at the meeting was distributed to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1109/96-97)

18 The Chairman advised that the representative of MAD was unable to attend the meeting and that its submission had been tabled.

V.Meeting with the Administration

(a) Follow-up on the Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committees on the -
  1. Initial Report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in respect of Hong Kong under Article 44 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
    (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 995/96-97(05))
  2. Supplementary Report by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and North Ireland in respect of Hong Kong under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
    (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 995/96-97(06))
  3. Third Periodic Report in respect of Hong Kong under Articles 2 to 16 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
    (LegCo Papers Nos. CB(2) 995/96-97(07) & CB(2) 1033/96-97(01))

19. Members noted that the UN Committees concerned had requested for a progress report up to end of May and June 1997 for items (i) and (ii) respectively and that the British Government would comply with the request.

British Government's half-yearly reports on Hong Kong to Parliament

20. PAS(HA)1 said that the UK Foreign Secretary had stated on 20 December 1996 that the British Government would take steps to promote the future implementation of Joint Declaration (JD) and would be reporting to Parliament on developments in Hong Kong at six-monthly intervals, focusing on the work of the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) with special reference to the protection of human rights in Hong Kong until 2000. These reports would be available to the UN treaty monitoring bodies.

21. Miss Emily LAU suggested that the British Government consider the following -

  1. The House of Commons and the House of Lords should have a debate on Hong Kong as and when a half-yearly report was presented to Parliament;
  2. The British Government should monitor the human rights situation in Hong Kong by submitting these reports for 50 year, instead of until the year of 2000. The JD had guaranteed that the systems in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years.; and
  3. The British Government should submit these reports as part of the UK Government's reports and request the UN Committees to conduct hearings on these reports.
22. PAS(HA)1 undertook to reflect Miss LAU's views to the British Government.Admin

Future reporting arrangements

23. Miss Emily LAU said that if China would not submit reports on Hong Kong to the UN Committees after 1997, Britain as signatory of the JD should submit formal reports on Hong Kong. PAS(HA)1 said that the British Government would have considerable difficulties with the notion that it should submit reports on Hong Kong to UN after 30 June 1997 when it was no longer the sovereign power for Hong Kong.

24. In response to Mr James TO, PAS(HA)1 said that the Government agreed with UN Committees that China was obliged under JD to apply ICCPR and ICESCR to Hong Kong and to submit reports on Hong Kong after the change of sovereignty. He added that UN Committees had indicated that they would be flexible about the way in which reports could be submitted after the handover. The British Government had urged the Chinese Government to work with them to find a way forward on the reporting after 1 July 1997.

25. PAS(HA)1 said that copies of the concluding observations of ICCPR and ICESCR were given to China through JLG. He was aware of the recent statement made by the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr QIAN Qichen in France that China was seriously considering signing up the UN Covenants. He added that Britain, being a member of the European Union, would work with its European partners to persuade China to accede to the Covenants. In further response to Mr TO, he agreed to find out whether the British Government had taken any action through diplomatic channels following Mr QIAN's statement.Admin
26. The Chairman requested the Administration to keep the Panel informed of the developments on reporting arrangements after 30 June 1997.Admin

Rights of Child

27. In response to members, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Security (PAS(S)) said that when St Stephen's Society ceased to manage the Pillar Point Vietnamese Refugees Centre at the end of December 1996, the new manager appointed by UNHCR immediately took over the camp management. Services at the camp had not been disrupted. The services provided to Vietnamese included medical services, family services and education for the children. The latter was organized by a NGO (International Social Service) with curriculum designed in English and Vietnamese to prepare these children to resettle overseas or return to Vietnam. Vietnamese migrants had not expressed any wish to join local schools.

28. As regards the alleged case of a Vietnamese child with leukaemia being denied of medical treatment earlier mentioned by HKHRM, PAS(S) explained the circumstances surrounding the case as set out in LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1033/96-97. The allegation was simply unfounded.

29. In response to Mr James TO, the Chairman said that subject to HKHRM providing more information/evidence to substantiate the leukaemia case, the matter could be followed up by the Complaints Division.

(Post-meeting note : The above was conveyed to HKHRM verbally after the meeting and in writing on 10 February 1997.)

30. Referring to paragraph 13 of the Administration's response to the concluding observations of CRC, Dr LAW Chi-kwong said that the right of a child to be taken care of by parents and the objective to reduce the number of split families had not be addressed by the one-way permit system. He suggested that discretion for permission to enter Hong Kong should be exercised in respect of mothers whose children were left unattended in Hong Kong because of various reasons.

31. PAS(HA)1 responded that the Government had made effort to ensure that the one-way permit system was operated on the basis of family reunion. In this connection, the Hong Kong Government had urged the Chinese Government to issue One-way Permits on the basis of family units. He undertook to refer Dr LAW's specific concern to the Security Branch.Admin
32. In response to Dr LAW Chi-kwong, Assistant Director of Education gave an account of the facilities provided to disabled children in new schools. He undertook to provide more information on the implementation of improved facilities for disabled children in existing schools under the School Improvement Programme on a regional/district basis.Admin

United Nations Committee's suggestions and recommendations

33. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan shared the view of the UN Committee on ICESCR that the Hong Kong Government had largely ignored the recommendations contained in its concluding observations in 1994. He made special reference to the UN Committee's recommendation that repressive provisions and limitation in relation to trade union federations including the prohibition to establish international affiliation should be lifted. He called for the Government to honour its obligation as a signatory of the Convention.

34. PAS(HA)1 responded that the suggestions and recommendations of the UN Committee were taken very seriously in the context of policy making in Hong Kong. The Government remained firmly committed to realise all the rights enshrined in the Covenant. Article 2(1) of the Covenant recognized the full realization of some of these rights could only be achieved progressively albeit that the pace might be slower than some members and NGOs would wish.

35.. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower explained that the Government had reservation on the Trade Unions (Amendment) Bill 1997 introduced by Mr LEE Cheuk-yan because consultation with the public and the Labour Advisory Board had not been carried out and that the Bill involved controversial issues.

36. Mr James TO commented that should the Administration have reservation about full implementation of any of the provisions of the Covenant, it should have made such a reservation at the time of signature or ratification of the Covenant.

37. As there was insufficient time to conclude deliberations of this item, members agreed that further discussion of the item should be held at a future meeting. The Chairman requested members to forward questions to the Secretariat for onward transmission to the Administration for a co-ordinated response.

(b) Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1006/96-97)

38. In response to Miss Emily LAU, PAS(HA)3 said that the British Government had extended the Convention to Hong Kong in October 1996. The arrangement for preparing a report to the UN Committee would follow example of other conventions, i.e. the Administration would carry out wide consultation with members of the public, including Members of the Legislative Council before finalizing a draft report for submission to the UN Committee in October 1997. JLG had agreed that the draft report would be submitted to the Central People's Government and that the report would be incorporated into and form part of the report to be submitted by the Chinese Government to the UN.

39. The meeting ended at 1:10 pm.
Legislative Council Secretariat
14 February 1997

Last Updated on 19 August 1998