Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1419
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref. :CB2/BC/6/97

Bills Committee on
Fire Safety (Commercial Premises)
(Amendment) Bill 1998

Minutes of the held on Tuesday, 2 March 1998 at 2:30 pm in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon Edward S T HO, JP
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Henry WU
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan

Member absent :

Hon WONG Siu-yee]
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP]
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP ]
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP]
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung]
Hon CHAN Choi-hi] other commitments
Hon CHENG Kai-nam]
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho]
Hon LAU Kong-wah]
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok]
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP]

Public Officersattending :

Mrs Sarah KWOK
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security

Mr Edward TO
Assistant Secretary for Security

Assistant Director of Buildings

Senior Building Surveyor
Buildings Department

Mr Charles CHU
Deputy Chief Fire Officer
Fire Services Department

Mr John WONG
Senior Government Counsel
Department of Justice

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Stephen LAM
Assistant Legal Adviser 4

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 5

I.Meeting with the Administration

(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1110(01) - The Administration’s response to the points raised by members at previous meetings together with draft Committee stage amendments proposed by the Administration to

The Bill)

Fire Safety Improvement Fund (FSIF)

1. In response to members’ enquiries about the operation of the FSIF, Principal Assistant Secretary for Security (PAS(S)) explained that loans made out under the Fund were repayable by a maximum of 36 monthly instalments. A loan granted to a successful applicant could be released by stages according to the progress of the upgrading works and to match the schedule of payments made to contractors responsible for the works. In such circumstances, repayments of loan principal by a maximum of 36 monthly instalments would be in respect of the actual drawdown of the loan amount at each individual stage.

2. Members opined that the Administration should make reference to the operation of similar relief funds to ensure that the FSIF could function effectively. Among other things, the Administration should simplify procedures as far as possible to minimize administrative costs. In addition, there must be a reasonable criteria of application and a realistic estimate of the amount of the Fund to ensure that immediate financial relief could be provided to those in need. The Chairman called upon the Administration to consider these points in detail before it finalized its proposals to set up the FSIF for approval by the Finance Committee on 20 March 1998.

Prohibition order

3. PAS(S) advised that by virtue of proposed section 7A, prohibition orders could be served on the whole or a part of a specified commercial building, given that the definition of "specified commercial building" referred to any commercial buildings specified in Schedule 4 and included a part thereof. For example, if the owner of an individual unit of a commercial building failed to comply with a fire safety improvement direction or a fire safety improvement compliance order, the authorities could apply to the District Court for a prohibition order to prohibit the occupation of that unit only. The enforcement authorities would give very careful consideration from the public safety point of view before making an application to the District Court for a prohibition order, and the District Court might make a prohibition order only if it was satisfied that all the requirements set out under proposed section 7A (6) were met.

4. The Chairman and Mr Ronald ARCULLI said that as a matter of fairness, prohibition orders should apply only to owners or occupiers of a specified commercial building who failed to comply with the requirements of a fire safety improvement direction or a fire safety improvement compliance order. A prohibition order should not affect those who abided by the requirements. Yet, the present drafting of the provisions on prohibition orders clearly referred to the whole of a specified commercial building. The Chairman and Mr ARCULLI requested the Administration to consider members’ view that the application for and the making of a prohibition order should be on the basis of individual premises or any unit or part of a specified commercial building, rather than the whole building, and clearly spell out this point in the relevant provisions. Mr ARCUILL opined that only under very special circumstances should prohibition orders be made to prohibit occupation of the whole building. Adm

5. Regarding proposed section 7A(6), Mr Edward S T HO took the view that an additional safeguard should be included so that when making a prohibition order, the District Court had to be satisfied that there could be substantial fire risks if the affected unit or part was occupied. The Administration agreed to prepare an amendment along this line. Adm

6. Mr Ronald ARCULLI pointed out that for many commercial buildings, different parts of the building were sold to different owners. Many of these buildings were originally constructed not to the current fire safety standards. It was not surprising, therefore, that some individual owners might suffer serious losses as a result of having to implement the statutory safety improvement measures. He stressed that as these owners incurred such losses through no fault of their own, the Government must address the issue of compensation to be made to them. The Chairman said that as the matter raised by Mr ARCULLI did not seem to fall within the scope of the Bill under consideration, the Administration should deal with it as a separate issue.

Definition of "commercial building"

7. Referring to the definition of "commercial building", members were concerned that owners and occupiers might have difficulties in ascertaining whether their building was one whose building plans were first submitted for approval on or before 1 March 1987. Mr Edward S T HO pointed out that the building plans of some commercial buildings, after being first submitted to the Building Authority for approval, might have been substantially revised in accordance with the Code of Practice on Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment 1987 before they were finally approved. Mr HO suggested to amend the definition of "commercial building" to refer to those buildings the plans of the building works of which were not to the standard laid down in the 1987 Code of Practice.

8. In response, the Administration explained that as the length of time required for processing building plans submitted for approval varied among cases and the requirements under a Code of Practice depended on the specific design and features of a building, it could not be said with certainty that all building plans approved on the same date met the standards set in the same Code of Practice. If the 1987 Code of Practice was adopted as a way to define what buildings would be covered in the Bill, the owners of the buildings would not be able to know exactly whether their buildings fell within the ambit of the Bill. In addition, there would be practical difficulties because the enforcement authorities would have to conduct physical inspections and compare between the existing fire safety standards of the building and those in the Code of Practice to ascertain if the building was subject to the provisions of the Bill.

9. On the point of revised building plans, the Administration advised that plans with major amendments resubmitted for approval might be subject to the standards of a new Code of Practice. In such circumstances, they would be treated as fresh submissions rather than follow-up submissions. The Administration was of the view that it was more appropriate to retain the present drafting, which referred to the date of first submission of building plans in defining commercial buildings to be covered in the Bill. In response to members’ concern, the Administration said that the public should be able to check with the Buildings Department the date of first submission of the building plans of particular commercial buildings.

10. Mr Ronald ARCULLI enquired whether the Government could publish in the Gazette all the commercial buildings which failed to comply with the standards laid down in the 1987 Code of Practice. The Administration replied that there was not a sufficiently accurate record to serve this purpose as many data were maintained manually in the past and such information had not been regularly updated.

11. With regard to members’ enquiry about commercial buildings mentioned in paragraph (b)(ii) in the definition of "commercial building", the Administration said that they meant pre-war buildings which were not required to submit building plans to the Building Authority. These buildings were separate and distinct from those referred to in (b)(i) of the definition. Members requested the Administration to improve the drafting to spell out the difference clearly in the definition. Adm

Committee stage amendments (CSAs) proposed by the Administration

Clause 6 - Flexibility for appropriate fire safety measures

12. PAS(S) advised that the Administration had proposed CSAs to amend Clause 6 by deleting "paragraph (b) of" in proposed section 5 (1A). The amendment had the effect of extending the flexibility of adopting "other appropriate measures" to those fire service installations and equipment specified in paragraph (a) of Schedule 5. Members agreed to the proposed CSAs.

Proposed Schedule 5

13. The Administration elaborated on some proposed technical amendments which sought to improve the presentation of paragraph (b) of Schedule 5 to remove ambiguities relating to construction requirements. The proposed CSAs were agreed.

Definition of "commercial building"

14. Referring to the new Clause 4 (a)(iv) in the proposed CSAs, the Chairman said that "commercial building" was too widely defined in that the definition included non-domestic buildings which were intended to be used for those commercial proposes set out in that definition. She said that the phrase "intended to be used" created difficulties in understanding how that provision could operate, due to the difficulty to establish an intention. She added that many domestic premises were used for commercial purposes. She queried whether the Bill should cover such domestic-turned-commercial premises as a matter of policy.

15. In response to the Chairman’s comments, the Administration clarified that "commercial building" was defined to mean the whole of a non-domestic building. Domestic buildings of which parts were used for commercial purposes were not within the scope of the Bill. The objective of including non-domestic buildings which were intended to be used for commercial purposes was to cover cases where Buildings Department’s approval had been sought or was being sought to change the purpose of use of the building and before the building was actually used for commercial purposes.

16. Members opined that as it was difficult to interpret the meaning of "intended to be used", the proposed definition of "commercial building" should be reviewed. The Chairman said that it might be more appropriate to delete "or is intended to be used". The Administration was requested to consider an amendment to the definition on this point. Assistant Legal Adviser added that for purpose of consistency, the definition of "domestic", in relation to the definition of "commercial building", should also be amended along the same line. Adm

17. Mr Edward S T HO said that "flats" and "units" in the definition of "commercial building" appeared to carry the same meaning. Senior Government Counsel agreed that the words "flats or" could be deleted without affecting the operation of the definition. Adm

Legislative timetable

18. Members agreed that a report of the Bills Committee should be made to the House Committee on 13 March 1998 for consultation and to recommend the resumption of the Second Reading Debate to take place on 25 March 1998.

19. The Administration undertook to submit a revised version of the proposed CSAs as soon as possible, preferably by 5 March 1998.


II.Close of meeting

20. There being no other business, the meeting closed at 4:15 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
8 April 1998