Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1334
(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, 17 February 1998 at 2:30 pm in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Edward S T HO, JP
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Member absent :

Hon WONG Siu-yee]
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP ]
Hon Henry WU]
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung] other commitments
Hon CHAN Choi-hi]
Hon CHENG Kai-nam]
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho]
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP]

Public Officers attending :

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.Matters arising from previous meeting

Practice Note for Authorized Persons and Registered Structural Engineers

1. The Chairman informed members that the Practice Note published by the Buildings Department in August 1997 had been circulated to members vide PLC Paper No. CB(2)1018(01).

Fire Safety Improvement Fund (FSIF)

2. The Chairman said that information on computation on the amount of FSIF and operation of the Fund would be provided by the Administration for discussion at the next meeting. Adm

Press release

3. The Chairman said that the PLC Secretariat had issued a press statement on 10 February 1998 inviting comments on the Bill from members of the public and concerned groups. The Secretariat had received no submissions on the legislative proposals to date.

II.Meeting with the Administration

(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1018(01) and 1018(02)

The Bill)

Practice Note for Authorized Persons and Registered Structural Engineers

4. Referring to the Practice Note published in August 1998, Mr Edward S T HO said that there appeared to be insufficient guidelines on alternative remedial measures in place of the prescriptive fire safety improvement/upgrading requirements. He said that because of the lack of fire engineering professionals who could offer practical advice on fire engineering design matters, the Administration should provide more specific guidance in this respect for the affected parties to follow.

5. Assistant Director of Buildings (AD/B) replied that the above Practice Note was issued only a few months after the Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance (the Ordinance) came into effect in May 1997. The Buildings Department had been reviewing the guidelines and it had recently completed the drafting of a new Practice Note on Guide to Fire Engineering Approach, which outlined a recommended framework for fire engineering design activities for new buildings or alteration and addition works in existing buildings to meet fire safety objectives and requirements. The Department was currently seeking consultation on this new Practice Note with a view to issuing it in March 1998. Copies of the draft Practice Note were circulated to members at the meeting.

Time-frame for implementation

6. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security (PAS(S)) said that the Administration had considered members’ views to expedite the implementation plan of the proposed legislation to cover all pre-1987 commercial buildings. The Administration was of the opinion that the intended time-frame to deal with the first priority of the some 400 pre-1973 commercial buildings in three years was a reasonable approach, having regard to the outcome of a sample survey conducted in early 1997 on fire safety conditions in old commercial buildings, the standard of fire-safety improvement works required by the legislation and the time needed by building owners to carry out works to comply with the requirements. In addition, the comments received during a three-month public consultation exercise conducted from May to July 1997 also suggested that reasonable time should be allowed for owners and occupiers of specified commercial buildings to undertake appropriate measures to fulfil the requirements of the legislation.

Clause-by-clause examination of the Bill

Clause 4 - Interpretation

7. PAS(S) informed members that the Administration would respond to the comments made by Assistant Legal Adviser in PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1018(02) in relation to the definition of "commercial premises" as soon as practicable. Adm

8. The Chairman pointed out that it was difficult to understand paragraph (a) in the definition of "commercial building", as it contained two exclusions in different parts of the definition in relation to buildings covered by the definition. Senior Government Counsel (SGC) explained that the two exclusions were, firstly, buildings which were partly constructed or intended to be used for domestic or industrial purposes, and secondly, the whole of non-domestic buildings to be used exclusively for the purposes specified under subparagraphs (i) to (ix) in paragraph (a). SGC undertook to improve the drafting of the definition to reflect more clearly the intention of the legislation. Adm

9. PAS(S) added that the purpose of the proposed legislation was to improve fire safety standards of old commercial buildings. Matters relating to safety of factories and industrial undertakings were covered under existing legislation, such as the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance and the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance.

10. Members pointed out that under paragraph (b) in the definition of "commercial building" commercial buildings referred to pre-1987 buildings. However, proposed Schedule 4 defined "specified commercial building" as pre-1973 commercial buildings. This might creat confusions and difficulties in the application of the Bill. PAS(S) replied that the objective of the Bill was to improve fire safety standards of all pre-1987 commercial buildings. The proposed definition of "commercial building", which would be set out in the principal Ordinance, was to give effect to that policy intent. On the implementation side, the Administration planned to enforce the legislation by stages, targeting at those pre-1973 commercial buildings which would be dealt with in the first phase of implementation. To enable this to be done, the Bill applied specifically to "specified commercial buildings" as listed in proposed Schedule 4, i.e. all pre-1973 commercial buildings. After the first phase had been completed, Schedule 4 would be amended to cover the remaining pre-1987 commercial buildings. PAS(S) said that proposed section 24A of the Ordinance empowered the Secretary for Security to amend Schedule 4 by order published in the Gazette and subject to approval by the Legislature through negative vetting procedures. This method of introducing legislative amendment by subsidiary legislation, as it did not involve amendment of the principal ordinance, would be more simple and time-saving than by way of an amendment bill which required the endorsement of the Executive Council and had to go through the more complicated legislative procedures for enactment. SGC added that section 24 of the Ordinance provided a similar power of the Secretary for Security to amend Schedule 1 in relation to prescribed commercial activities.

11. In response to Mr Ronald ARCULLI’s enquiry, PAS(S) said that a substantially revised edition of the Code of Practice on Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment took effect on 1 March 1987. The 1987 Code of Practice prescribed modern fire service installations that were very close to current standards. Commercial buildings with their building plans first submitted to the Building Authority for approval on or before 1 March 1987 were likely to fall short of the fire safety standards laid down in the 1987 Code of Practice and therefore such buildings should be covered by the proposed legislation.

12. Mr Ronald ARCULLI said that the rationale for choosing 1 March 1987 as the dividing line was not stated in the Bill. He pointed out that the building plans of a commercial building could be first submitted to the Building Authority before 1 March 1987 and approved after that date. Persons who became owners of specified commercial buildings after 1 March 1987 might have great difficulties to ascertain whether the building plans were first submitted on or before 1 March 1987. To remove ambiguities and grey areas, Mr ARCULLI suggested that the Bill should spell out in a simple and straight-forward manner that commercial buildings which did not comply with the 1987 Code of Practice would be subject to the provisions of the Bill. On this point, members requested the Administration to review the drafting of proposed section 3(1) regarding the definition of "commercial building" as well as paragraph (a) of proposed Schedule 4 on the definition of "specified commercial building" to clearly reflect the policy intent of aiming at those commercial buildings which failed to comply with the 1987 Code of Practice. Adm

Clauses 8 and 10 - proposed sections 7A and 8A

13. The Administration advised that the purposes of proposed sections 7A and 8A on prohibition order in respect of a specified commercial building were to ensure public safety where, in relation to the building, a fire safety improvement direction or a fire safety improvement compliance order was not complied with. The drafting was similar to section 7 of the Ordinance on use restriction orders made by the District Court in respect of prescribed commercial premises. There were also similar provisions in the Buildings Ordinance. The Administration added that the application of proposed section 7A would be subject to the flexibility provided under proposed section 8A(1)(a)(ii), which empowered the enforcement authority to permit any person to occupy the building in such conditions as the authority saw fit.

14. Members opined that the fact that parts of a commercial building might be sold to different owners would create difficulties in ensuring that all owners complied with the safety requirements. Some individual owners might suffer losses as a result of having to meet the requirements and therefore they might refuse to abide. Under proposed section 7A, a prohibition order could be made prohibiting the occupation of the whole building. This would be unfair to the other owners who conformed to the requirements. Members were also concerned as to how the enforcement authority would ensure the fire safety standard of a building after a prohibition order had been issued. The Administration was requested to consider these points of concern and respond to them at the next meeting. Adm

Clause 6 - proposed section 5(1A)

15. The Administration clarified that the flexibility to adopt "other appropriate measures in place of any requirements" provided in proposed section 5(1A) should only apply in respect of those construction requirements set out in paragraph (b) of proposed Schedule 5. The items listed in paragraphs (a)(i) - (vi) of proposed Schedule 5 were indispensable fire service installations and equipment which could not be replaced by alternative measures. Yet, some flexibility with regard to design and installation could still be considered for items such as automatic sprinkler systems. In fact, the enforcement authorities had been providing assistance to owners of commercial buildings to overcome practical difficulties in fulfilling the basic requirements.

16. Members opined that proposed section 5(1A) in its present drafting clearly did not allow flexibility in respect of requirements specified in paragraph (a) of proposed Schedule 5. For example, paragraph (a)(vi) spelt out rigidly that fire service installations and equipment had to be in accordance with the requirements specified in the 1994 Code of Practice published by the Fire Services Department. Members requested the Administration to reconsider its policy intent and examine whether flexibility could be allowed for the owner of a specified commercial building to adopt such other appropriate measures in place of any of those requirements specified in paragraph (a) of proposed Schedule 5. Adm

17. Mr Edward S T HO queried whether the detailed descriptions of the construction requirements in paragraph (b) of proposed Schedule 5 were necessary, as the last part of that paragraph already specified the three Codes of Practice which were a "catch-all" provision in relation to building structure. AD/B explained that the three Codes of Practice set out comprehensively the safety standards and requirements but it did not necessarily mean that all the requirements laid down in the Codes had to be fulfilled in each and every case.

18. On the point raised by Mr Edward S T Ho, members requested the Administration to improve the drafting of paragraph (b) of proposed Schedule 5 for clarity, e.g. to add "such" before "fire safety measures in relation to building structure"; or to add "stipulated under subparagraphs (i) to (iii) above" after "fire safety measures".


Proposed Schedules 5 and 6

19. The Administration explained that the drafting of proposed Schedules 5 and 6 setting out the respective responsibilities of owners and occupiers was in line with similar provisions in the existing Ordinance.

20. In response to members’ enquiries, the Administration advised that only two fire service installations and equipment were required of occupiers of specified commercial buildings, i.e. emergency lighting and an automatic cut-off device for the mechanical ventilating system. They were only required within each separately occupied area rather than in the public areas of the building. The installations were not costly and there should be little technical difficulties for occupiers to comply with the requirements. The Administration added that the provisions on fire safety improvement direction, fire safety improvement compliance order and prohibition order and the associated penalty applied to both owners and occupiers of specified commercial buildings.

21. For purpose of clarity, members suggested to add "specified" before "commercial building" wherever the words appeared in proposed Schedules 5 and 6. Adm

III.Next meeting

22. The next meeting was scheduled for 2 March 1998 at 2:30 pm. The meeting originally scheduled for 18 February 1998 at 8:30 am was cancelled.

23. The Administration was requested to provide proposed Committee stage amendments for discussion at the next meeting. Adm

IV.Close of meeting

24. The meeting ended at 4:15 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
19 March 1998