PLC Paper No. CB(2) 4
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration and cleared
with the Chairman)
>Ref. : CB2/PL/SE/1

LegCo Panel on Security

Minutes of Special Meeting
held on Monday, 14 April 1997 at 8:30 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)
    Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP (Deputy Chairman)
    Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
    Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
    Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
    Hon LO Suk-ching
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing
    Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling

Members attending :

    Hon MOK Ying-fan
    Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Members absent :

    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon Margaret NG

Public Officers attending :

Agenda Item I
Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Security
Mr Edward TO
Assistant Secretary for Security
Mr TSANG Kwong-yu
Deputy Director of Fire Services
Mr HSU King-ping
Chief Fire Officer (Protection)
Fire Services Department
Mr CHENG Wei-dart
Deputy Director of Buildings
Mr Christopher WILLIAMS
Assistant Director of Home Affairs
District Officer (Sham Shui Po)
Mr William SIU
Assistant Commissioner for Labour
Mr HO Kwong-wai
Assistant Director/Gas & General Legislation
Electrical and Mechanical Services Department
Mr Joe YIU
Assistant Director of Information Services (Publicity)

Agenda Item II
Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Security
Mr Edward TO
Assistant Secretary for Security
Mr TSANG Kwong-yu
Deputy Director of Fire Services
Mr HSU King-ping
Chief Fire Officer (Protection)
Fire Services Department
Mr CHENG Wei-dart
Deputy Director of Buildings
Mr Martin WHITE
Deputy Director of Urban Services
Mr PO Pui-leong
Assistant Director (Environmental Health)
Urban Services Department
Mr LAI Kwok-tung
Assistant Director (Environmental Health Policy)
Regional Services Department
Mr PANG Moon-kwan
Superintendent (Licensing)
Royal Hong Kong Police Force
Mr Joe YIU
Assistant Director of Information Services (Publicity)

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Alan YU
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 1

I. Follow-up on Garley Building fire

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1808/96-97(01))

Deputy Secretary for Security (DS for S) briefed members on the contents of the paper. He stressed that whilst Government’s actions were essential in tackling the problem of fire safety, the co-ordinated efforts of the public, in particular those associated with building management, were no less important. He drew members’ attention to the following papers/reports which were tabled (circulated to absent members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1847/96-97) :

  1. Consultation paper on fire safety improvements to old commercial buildings;

  2. Publicity on fire safety since Garley Building fire;

  3. Feasibility report - Upgrading of fire safety measures in old commercial buildings by Fire Services Department (FSD);

  4. Report on fire at Garley Building (Vol. 1 and 2) by Buildings Department (BD); and

  5. Report on sample survey of old commercial buildings by Buildings Department.

In response to Mrs Selina CHOW’s question on the need for legislative proposals vis-a-vis the adequacy of enforcement actions, Deputy Director of Fire Services (DDFS) said that apart from inspections and publicity through the media, the department had stepped up efforts on education by including the subject of fire safety in the curriculum of primary schools three years ago. It was developing plans to involve more community groups in safety education by implementing the "Fire Safety Ambassador" scheme. Initial contacts had been made with the Hong Kong Scouts and Guides Associations, both of which had expressed support for the scheme. If successful, the scheme would be extended to other organizations, in particular those associated with building management. DS for S commented that adequate provisions had been included in existing legislation and so far departments concerned had not encountered any difficulties in enforcement. He admitted that in comparison with commercial and residential buildings, industrial buildings were subject to more stringent regulation in terms of both legislation and inspection. However, the objective was for old commercial and residential buildings to be put on a similar footing with new commercial buildings and for more resources to be deployed to step up inspections. To enable members to have a better understanding of the difference in fire safety requirements between industrial and commercial premises, the Chairman requested FSD to provide a quantitative comparison in terms of fire safety standards and manpower resources deployed for enforcement and inspections.


Mr TSANG Kin-shing asked whether FSD had a hotline to enable the public to report on fire hazards, and if so, whether there had been any increase in the number of complaints or reports over the past few months. He also asked whether BD had changed its emphasis from structural safety to fire safety in tackling the problem of illegal extensions. DDFS said that the department operated a 24-hour hotline 2723 8787 on fire safety enquiries and complaints. The number of reports had increased manifold following recent major fires. Reports received were followed up within 24 hours or 14 days depending on the urgency of the case. Fire hazard abatement notices would be issued to owners/occupiers of the buildings inspected if fire safety regulations were violated. Prosecution actions would be taken if warnings were unheeded. On the question of illegal extensions, Deputy Director of Buildings (DD of B) said that the deficiencies might be structural or fire safety and both residents concerned and members of the public were exposed to the dangers caused. He stressed that the department attached similar concerns to any non-compliance of safety requirements.

Mr Fred LI referred to page 3 of Annex A to the paper on "Publicity on fire safety since Garley Building fire" and considered that the length of the videos to be too long for publicity purposes.

(Post-meeting note: At the end of the meeting, ADIS (Publicity) explained to Mr LI that the videos contained a series of short films and APIs which could be used selectively.)

He asked whether FSD conducted any inspections to public housing estates and Urban/Regional Councils’ markets/indoor games halls to see whether safety requirements in respect of fire doors were complied with. DDFS said that owing to inadequate staff resources, the department would normally act on complaint. However, FSD provided training on fire safety requirements for Housing Department (HD) staff who would then be responsible for routine inspections and maintenance. FSD had also made an overall inspection of each housing estate and identified deficiencies to be rectified by HD. The two departments had a joint liaison group to monitor progress on a quarterly basis. The intention was to step up enforcement in respect of public housing estates. He added that whilst fire safety requirements for private and public housing estates were similar, the level of vandalism in the latter case was much higher. At the request of Mr IP Kwok-him, the Chairman asked FSD to provide prosecution statistics relating to violation of fire safety requirement in public housing estates. With regard to Urban/Regional Councils’ facilities, DDFS said that large-scale inspections of these premises had not been conducted as these could only be done subject to staff resources being available. Such resources would have to be redeployed from operational units.


In response to Mr IP Kwok-him’s enquiries, DDFS confirmed that it was feasible to upgrade fire safety standards in old commercial buildings. The retrofitting of automatic sprinkler and fire hydrant/hose reel systems was technically viable subject to overcoming space and structural constraints in providing the water tank and ancillary pumping and piping system. On the question of manpower resources required to step up enforcement, DS for S said that whilst effective enforcement was important, what was equally important was public awareness of fire safety as well as good building management. Consideration was being given on how to elicit greater involvement from community groups in fire safety education. He assured members that proposals for additional staff for FSD were being actively pursued. On the question of the upgrading of fire safety measures in old commercial buildings, DS for S said that the Administration would make initial contacts with the owners/building managements of the 400 odd commercial buildings concerned within the next two months. They would be informed that their premises were on the list of buildings with inadequate fire safety facilities with a view to considering whether any improvements could be made pending legislative action. With regard to the lead time required for completing an upgrading project assuming that all the owners of a building agreed to proceeding with it and that the requirements were technically feasible, DD of B estimated that it would take about nine to 12 months to complete. This would include such major requirements as an automatic sprinkler system, improvement to, or provision of, a firemen’s lift and improvements to means of escape and submission of the necessary plans to the relevant authorities for approval.

Dr LAW Cheung-kwok supported the proposed "Fire Safety Ambassador" scheme. However, from his experience with similar community involvement schemes operated in the districts, the responsible organizations had often encountered difficulties relating to resources and participation. DDFS remarked that details of the scheme were being worked out and the concerns raised by Dr LAW would be properly addressed.

Mr MOK Ying-fan stated that fire safety facilities in public housing estates were grossly inadequate, particularly those in the older types and such facilities were often vandalized. He pointed out that many window grilles in the estates were fixed and this posed a problem for escape or access in the event of a fire. The presence of a large number of aged people living in the older estates would place a heavy strain on firemen when a fire broke out. He also expressed concern on the shortage of staff in FSD for undertaking inspection and enforcement duties. DDFS said that improvement to fire safety measures in old public housing estates was a standing item on the agenda of the joint liaison group on fire safety. Only those estates scheduled for reprovisioning would be excluded from the action plan. He noted Mr HO’s concerns and said that the problem of window grilles in the housing estates would be discussed further with HD staff at the joint liaison group meetings. In this connection, the Chairman suggested that the issue of fire safety measures in public housing estates be followed up by the Housing Panel.


Mr YUM Sin-ling expressed concern about the electricity loading in commercial premises in view of the increasing number of communications and computer firms in such buildings. He asked whether Government had any measures to tackle such a potential fire hazard. DS for S undertook to refer the matter to the inter-departmental working group for consideration and let members have a reply later.


Mr NGAN Kam-chuen referred to the discussion paper (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1808/96-97(01)) and asked whether any publicity action would be taken by Home Affairs Department (HAD) on those buildings without Owners’ Corporations (OCs) and whether any statistics could be provided on activities undertaken with building management committees. He also stressed the need to step up fire safety education in the light of the recent fire in Mei Foo Sun Chuen. Assistant Director of Home Affairs (ADHA) said that the reason for sending advisory letters to OCs of residential, commercial and industrial buildings was that they were convenient points of contact on building management matters and to hotels and guesthouses because HAD was the licensing authority. For those buildings without OCs, contacts would be made through Mutual Aid Committees or building management committees. As for those buildings without any form of associations, contacts would be made through Liaison Officers in respective districts but this was often difficult as no one wished to assume responsibilities in such cases. On the question of fire safety education and publicity, DDFS said that pamphlets on fire safety had been distributed to occupiers of commercial, industrial and residential buildings during the recent large-scale inspections conducted by FSD. He drew members’ attention to a large number of pamphlets on different aspects of fire safety being obtainable from the department. The Chairman suggested that samples of these publications be provided for the information of members. At the request of Mr NGAN Kam-chuen, ADHA undertook to confirm the number of Mutual Aid Committees with which HAD had contacts after the meeting.


Mei Foo Sun Chuen Fire

DDFS briefed members on the recent fire in Mei Foo Sun Chuen. He said that the firemen arrived at the scene within three minutes after the report had been made. Fire broke out on a 6th floor unit where an unusually large number of goods had been stored. The fire door next to the unit concerned was open at the time of the fire. Altogether 95 people had been saved and all the dead people had been found on the stairs. The cause of the fire was under investigation. Particular regard would be given to why the fire became so great within so short a time and why so many people had been dead or injured. The report was expected to be available in two to four weeks’ time.

II. Proposed regulatory measures for karaoke establishments

(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1739/96-97(02))

DS for S briefed members on the paper highlighting the proposed licensing scheme for karaoke establishments. DDFS elaborated on the proposed fire safety requirements as set out in paragraph 9 of the paper.

Members expressed support for the proposed licensing scheme. The Chairman suggested that consideration be given to extending licensing to other similar establishments such as those running piano classes. In response to members’ enquiries, DS for S stated that subject to the confirmation of the Urban Council, USD together with RSD would take up the role of licensing of karaoke establishments. He expected that detailed proposals would be finalized and submitted to the Urban and Regional Councils, if possible, in June 1997 for their consideration.

In reply to Mrs Selina CHOW’s questions, DDFS confirmed that fire hazard abatement action could be taken immediately for any breach of the Fire Service Ordinance. However, for those establishments without any licences, enforcement action could only be taken in respect of public areas. On the question of public consultation, DS for S said that the aim was primarily to collect opinions on details of the scheme from interested parties. Whether a large-scale consultation would be conducted would be decided by June 1997. Nevertheless, Mrs Selina CHOW opined that fire hazard abatement action should be taken rigorously pending licensing and any consultation should be as short as possible in view of the urgent need for licensing such establishments. On Mr NGAN Kam-chuen’s suggestion that the need for licensing should be reviewed for other entertainment establishments frequented by large numbers of people, DS for S said that other establishments such as cinemas and games centres had been considered when the need for licensing karaoke establishments was discussed. He agreed that the suggestion be followed up separately by the Administration.


III. Close of meeting

The meeting ended at 10:35 am.

LegCo Secretariat
5 June 1997

Last Updated on 21 August 1998