Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)722
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/HA

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of Meeting held on Monday,
17 November 1997 at 10:45 am in Conference Room A
of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP (Chairman)
Hon LO Suk-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Members Absent :

Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon LAU Wong-fat, JP

Public Officers Attending :

Item III

Miss Helen TANG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (3)

Ms Cora HO
Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Dr Cindy LAI
Assistant Director of Health

Mrs TANG LAI Yuen-yee
Chief Social Work Officer (Acting)
Social Welfare Department

Item IV

Mr NG Hon-wah
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (2)

Senior Government Counsel

Attendance by Invitation :

Item II

Equal Opportunities Commission


Mrs Angela HO
Chief Executive

Miss Fanny Wing-yin LAI
Senior Equal Opportunities Officer

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Stephen LAM
Assistant Legal Adviser 4

Mr Raymond LAM
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(2)531 and CB(2)584)

The minutes of the meetings held on 14 and 20 October 1997 were confirmed.

II.Progress of work of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
[Paper No. CB(2)549(01)]

2.At the invitation of the Chairman, who declared interest as a member of EOC, the Chairperson of EOC highlighted the salient points in EOC's paper.

Equal opportunities in employment

3.The Chairperson of EOC informed members that EOC had made substantial efforts in the promotion of equal opportunities in employment. In addition to the publication of Codes of Practice on Employment under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) and the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), a number of seminars and talks had been organized to enhance better understanding of equal opportunities. In May 1997, EOC held two seminars which were attended by 660 participants, and weekly talks were organized for the public from August 1997 onwards.

4.The Chairperson of EOC informed members that following EOC's publicity drive and issuance of educational letters to publishers, advertisers and employment agencies, the number of discriminatory job advertisements in newspapers had substantially decreased from 37% to less than 1%. On detection of discriminatory advertisements, EOC would seek explanation from the publisher; and in justified circumstances, warning letters would be issued and legal actions taken against the publisher(s). So far, six writs had been served on newspapers for publishing discriminatory recruitment advertisements. To provide guidance to publishers, the quarterly newsletters of EOC contained articles on discriminatory advertisements and discrimination in the recruitment process, while the Codes of Practice on Employment under SDO and DDO gave guidelines on recruitment.

Complaints received by EOC

5.Referring to Annex A of EOC's paper, a member expressed concern about the low incidence of court action taken, as it appeared that most complaints against behaviour outlawed by anti-discrimination legislation were settled by conciliation. The Chairperson of EOC explained that conciliation was often the preferred option of the parties concerned to avoid lengthy litigation. However, in justified circumstances, even if the complainant decided not to take legal actions, EOC could bring legal proceedings in its own name, as empowered by regulations made under SDO and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO). She further pointed out that acts in breach of SDO, DDO and FSDO would only amount to civil wrong rather than criminal offence.

Equal opportunity situation in Hong Kong

6.As regards a member's question on the equal opportunity situation in Hong Kong as compared with other parts of the world, the Chairperson of EOC stated that the situation in Hong Kong was generally considered above average in the world. She added that as EOC had only been established for about a year, the statistics on enquiries and complaints received by EOC might not adequately reflect the situation. Responding to the member's concern that EOC appeared to have placed much emphasis on the rights of women rather than the rights of others, she explained that much of EOC's work was related to the rights of women only because they were usually victims of discrimination. In this connection, a recent survey revealed that the average salaries of women in most occupation groupings were 20% lower than that of men. She stressed that EOC was also responsible for enforcing DDO and FSDO in addition to SDO.

Education and publicity on equal opportunities

7.In response to a member, the Chairperson of EOC stated that while EOC would work with the Education Department in the long term plan incorporating the concept of equal opportunities in school curriculum, it would initially seek to promote such concept through school activities and teacher training.

8.The Chairperson of EOC informed members that EOC had allocated $1.2 million to community organizations this year for organizing activities to promote the concept of equal opportunities.

On television publicity, the Chairperson and the Chief Executive of EOC said that apart from the production of 30-second Announcements of Public Interest, EOC would work with Radio Hong Kong to launch a television drama programme on equal opportunities in 1998, with a target audience of over one million people.

Age discrimination

9.In response to a member, the Chairperson of EOC stated that it had not received any information from the Administration about conducting a review on age discrimination. Members noted that the issue of age discrimination was under the policy purview of the Education and Manpower Bureau.

III.Protection of rights of women
[Paper No. CB(2)549(02)]

10.At the invitation of the Chairman, Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (3) (PAS(HA) (3)) presented the Administration's paper.

Services to victims of family tragedies

11.Responding to a member, Chief Social Work Officer (Acting) (CSWO(Ag)) said that when cases of family tragedies were reported by the media or referred to the Social Welfare Department (SWD) by the police or hospital social worker, the social workers of SWD would visit the families concerned to provide counselling service and other welfare services as required.

Postpartum depression

12.The Chairman expressed concern about the number of cases where women suffering from postpartum depression had committed suicide. She pointed out that according to a survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, postpartum depression could occur within two years after delivery. The Administration's practice of monitoring the symptom of postpartum depression only for a period of six months after delivery might lead to an under-estimation of the problem.

In response, Assistant Director of Health (ADH) clarified that, apart from post-natal care, parents of all new born babies were invited in writing to bring their babies to the Maternal and Child Health Centres of the Department of Health (DH) for regular medical examination and nursing advice. Post-natal mothers would therefore have regular contacts with experienced health nurses in these Centres. Women suspected to have postpartum depression would be given counselling service and, where necessary, home visits would be made by nurses. More serious cases would be referred to SWD or the psychiatric units of the Hospital Authority for follow-up. She added that a wide range of maternal health services, including ante-natal, intrapartum, post-natal care and family planning services were provided by DH. Preventive counselling services were also provided to all pregnant women seeking ante-natal care from DH.

Child Care Services

13.A member commented that the existing 26 000 places in child care centres were far from meeting the needs of the community, as some 60 000 to 70 000 babies were born each year. He was concerned that this would create particular difficulties for single parent families. CSWO (Ag) said that the Administration was aware of the shortfall and had stepped up efforts to increase the number of places since 1992. However, there had been difficulties in finding suitable sites for new child care centres. Pending availability of additional sites, existing child care centres had been encouraged to increase the number of places under their occasional child care services, offer flexible service hours and give priority to working single parents. The Child Care Centres Advisory Inspectorate monitored the standard of service of these centres and assisted them in solving their problems. At a member's request, CSWO(Ag) undertook to provide statistics on the shortfall of places in child care centres. Adm

Co-ordination of services for women

14.The Chairman commented that there should be better coordination in the provision of services for women to avoid overlapping of resources or service gaps, as such services were now provided by a number of Government departments and voluntary organizations. She suggested setting up a resource centre or one-stop unit to provide comprehensive services for women.

15.In response, PAS(HA)(3) stated that at the top level of the Administration, the Policy Groups chaired by Chief Secretary for Administration and attended by senior representatives of the bureaux concerned provided the necessary co-ordination for the provision of community services including services for women. The feasibility of the Chairman's suggestion of establishing a resource centre for women would need to be assessed.

Commission on women matters

16.In response to a member, PAS(HA) (3) stated that the Administration did not consider it necessary to establish a commission, with representatives from non-government organizations (NGOs), to co-ordinate issues affecting women. She assured members that the Administration would continue to have regular contacts with NGOs to gauge their views on women matters.

Subsidy to non-profit making organizations

17.On the question of whether the Administration would consider making subsidies to non-profit making organizations providing services to women, such as the Harmony House, PAS(HA)(3) stated that there was established policy on Government subvention to NGOs. CSWO(Ag) added that the services of these non-profit making organizations were not directly subvented by the Government because most of their services, such as counselling and telephone enquiry service, were already provided by SWD's family service network. Nevertheless, the Administration was subsidising these organizations through reimbursement of rents and rates.

IV.Proposed court procedures and other matters concerning the Attachment of Income Orders (AIO) for enforcement of maintenance orders
[Paper No. CB(2)549(03)]

18.At the request of the Chairman, Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (2) (PAS(HA)(2)) highlighted the salient points in the Administration's paper. He informed members that, in addition to facilitating the enforcement of maintenance orders, AIO would also serve as a deterrent to default in payment. He stressed that under the proposed Rules, the term " income " was not confined to wages, but also included other income such as rental receipts and dividends from companies. In drafting the Rules, reference had been made to relevant legislation in overseas countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland.

19.In response to a member, PAS(HA)(2) stated that while self-employed persons who had no " income " would not be subject to the Rules, they were still required to fulfil the payment obligations under maintenance orders.

20.On the legislative timetable, PAS(HA)(2) stated that the Administration intended to submit the draft Rules to the Chief Justice for approval in December 1997, and to introduce the Rules into the PLC in January 1998 for negative vetting. His interpretation of negative vetting procedures was that the PLC could accept or repeal, but not amend the Rules. In this connection, Assistant Legal Adviser 4 pointed out that under section 34 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap. 1), PLC was empowered to amend subsidiary legislation by resolution within the scrutiny period. PAS(HA)(2) undertook to seek clarification on this point with the Department of Justice.Adm

21.A member was concerned that the Rules might be lengthy and technically complicated, and there might not be sufficient time to scrutinize the Rules even after extending the normal scrutiny period of 28 days by one week. PAS(HA)(2) responded that while the Rules were still under drafting, the contents of the Rules had been set out in the Annex of the Administration's paper. He would welcome members' views on the paper.

22.A member asked whether the Home Affairs Department would assist maintenance payees to apply for AIO. PAS(HA)(2) responded that existing legislation had already provided a mechanism for judgement creditors to claim arrears of maintenance from the defaulting party. As AIO only involved the work of the court, and since legal aid and duty lawyer service were available to maintenance payees, the Home Affairs Department did not seem to have a role to play in the process. He added that according to the experience of Child Support Agencies in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, the establishment of an intermediary body did not appear effective in the collection and enforcement of payments. Default rates were high despite the setting up of an intermediary body. At the request of members, PAS(HA)(2) agreed to re-circulate the information on the review of overseas experience to Panel members.Adm

23.In reply to a member, PAS(HA)(2) explained that the deduction of an administrative expense of no more than $500 from the maintenance payer, as stated in paragraph 20 of the Annex to the Administration's paper, would only be made on a " one-off " basis, unless there was a substantial change in the maintenance order.

24.A member commented that AIO might not be enforceable on people who frequently changed their jobs. PAS(HA)(2) responded that under the proposed Rules, where an application for an AIO had been made, the maintenance payer had to report his income and the court would order the income source to verify such income.

25.A member remarked that as the investment portfolios of people in Hong Kong were generally more complicated, it would be difficult to verify the income statement of the maintenance payer. He suggested the Administration to review the effectiveness of the Rules after a period of implementation.

26.A member suggested that the Legal Aid Department (LAD) should expedite the processing of applications relating to maintenance orders. PAS(HA)(2) undertook to refer the suggestion to LAD. Adm

V.Items for discussion at the next meeting
[Paper No. CB(2)549(04)]

27.Members considered the list of discussion items for future meetings and agreed that the next meeting would be held on Monday, 15 December 1997 to discuss the following -

  1. review of Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance (to follow up on the discussion on 20 October 1997);

  2. responsibilities and liabilities of OCs in the management of buildings; and

  3. overhanging advertisement signboards outside buildings.

28.Members also agreed on the following -

  1. to defer discussion of the item on " Youth Policy " until 1998; and

  2. to add a new discussion item on " Composition and Functions of Area Committees and District Management Committees'.

29.The meeting ended at 12:40 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
11 December 1997