Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)1437
(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, 23 March 1998 at 10:45 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP (Chairman)
Hon LO Suk-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Members Absent :

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Member Attending :

Hon CHAN Yuen-han

Public Officers Attending :

Item IV (a)

Mr CHENG Luk-san, Augustine
Deputy Director of Home Affairs 2

Miss LUK Yee-wah, Angela
Assistant Director of Home Affairs

Mr Parrish NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Item IV (b)

Mr LUI Hau-tuen
Deputy Director of Home Affairs 1

Mr Parrish NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (4)

Item V

Mr LEE Lap-sun
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr LUI Hau-tuen
Deputy Director of Home Affairs

Mr Francis LO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (5)

Item VI

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

Mr Eric LEE
Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
Attendance by Invitation :

Item III

Equal Opportunities Commission


Mrs Angela HO
Chief Executive

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Colin CHUI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(PLC Paper No. CB(2)1182)

The minutes of meeting held on 19 January 1998 were confirmed.

II.Draft Panel report to Provisional Legislative Council

[Paper No. CB(2)1178(06)]

2. The Chairman said that the draft Panel report had been forwarded to members for agreement before tabling in the Provisional Legislative Council on 7 April 1998. Discussion of new items at this meeting would also be included in the draft report; the updated draft would be circulated to members after the meeting.

3. Regarding the discussion on Youth Policy in paragraph 7 of the draft report, Mr WONG Ying-ho suggested that there should be more emphasis on urging the Government to follow up the motion on youth policy passed by the Council on 3 December 1997. Members agreed to the draft report subject to this amendment.

III.Progress on implementation of the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO)

[Paper No. CB(2)1178(01)]

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (CEOC) briefed members on the paper. She informed members that the Code of Practice on Employment issued under FSDO, as amended by the Administration, had been approved by the Council on 18 March 1998 and gazetted on 20 March 1998.

5. In reply to a member, CEOC said that Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) received about 20 invitations a month for giving talks to various organisations. FSDO had been incorporated as one of the subjects of the regular talks and workshops organised by EOC.

6. Agreeing with members ' s comments that the public had found the title of FSDO difficult to understand, CEOC said that the title was an integral part of the Ordinance and any changes to the title would require legislative amendment. The Chairman remarked that this could be further considered after the setting up of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

In response to the Deputy Chairman, CEOC pointed out that up to mid-March 1998, EOC received 111 enquiries on the provisions of FSDO. The majority of these enquiries were from employers who would like to know more about their responsibilities, and the rights and duties of employees thereunder; while some were from individuals who alleged to be discriminated on the ground of their family status.

7. With regard to the reasons for receiving only one complaint in five months since the implementation of FSDO, CEOC said that those affected by FSDO would need time to familiarise with the legislation which was introduced only recently. EOC would continue to enhance awareness of the legislation through public education and promotional activities. It was envisaged that more complaints and enquiries would be received after a period of implementation. CEOC pointed out that, based on overseas experience, there were relatively fewer cases of discrimination on the ground of a person ' s family responsibility than that on grounds of sex or disability.

8. As regards the handling of complaints under FSDO, CEOC said that the procedures were similar to that under the other two anti-discrimination legislation. On receipt of a complaint, EOC would investigate and arrange conciliation with the parties concerned. Should conciliation prove to be unsuccessful, the aggrieved party might seek EOC ' s assistance to institute civil proceedings in justified circumstances. Members noted that the complaint under FSDO which was received in March 1998 was still under investigation.

9. The Chairman thanked CEOC for briefing members on the progress in the implementation of FSDO.

IV.District Management

(a) Composition and functions of Area Committees and District Management Committees

[Paper No. CB(2)1178(02)]

10. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Director of Home Affairs 2 (DDHA2) briefed members on the Administration ' s paper.

11 Responding to Mr NGAN Kam-chuen ' s concern that Area Committees (ACs) should be set up in the North and Tai Po Districts, DDHA2 explained that these districts were operated without ACs because of their rural character and the fact that most of the AC functions of these districts were being performed by other local organisations or Heung Yee Kuk. However, given the demographic changes as a result of the large-scale public and private housing development in the North and Tai Po Districts, the Administration would review whether ACs needed to be established in these districts.

12. Noting that district issues such as transport problems were often discussed in both PDBs and ACs, and that recreational activities were organised by the Provisional Municipal Councils (PDBs), ACs, Mutual Aid Committees and Owners Corporations, Mr NGAN Kam-chuen expressed concern that there might be a duplication of resources in district activities. DDHA2 responded that PDBs and ACs played somewhat different roles. He said that PDBs were statutory bodies whose functions were to advise the Government on priorities of district works and district concerns and on the allocation of PDB funds. From July 1997, PDB members were appointed by the Chief Executive. On the other hand, ACs were more restricted in their functions as they were originally set up to promote district participation in government campaigns and to advise District Offices on local issues such as the provision of street lighting and bus stops. Members of ACs were appointed by the Director of Home Affairs, with representatives from a cross-section of the local community. In essence, PDBs were more advisory in nature while ACs primarily aimed at encouraging community involvement and establishing contacts in districts. Issues discussed in ACs could be followed up by PDBs or their committees which comprised government representatives. As regards the organisation of district activities, the municipal councils aimed at staging professional performances, while the activities of ACs and other local organisations were more for community building purposes.

13. With regard to the role of PDB chairmen at District Management Committees (DMC) meetings, DDHA2 said that while PDB Chairmen attended DMC meetings as observers, they could speak on issues to provide direct input into the management of districts, thus enhancing communication between PDB and DMC. This would enable DMCs to have a better understanding of district needs and problems. Having declared interest as a PDB chairman, the Chairman supported attendance of PDB chairmen at DMC meetings as they could assist DMCs in discharging their duties. She suggested that consideration could be given to appointing PDB chairmen as ex-officio members of DMCs.

14. The Deputy Chairman asked whether PDB members now played a less important role at AC meetings after the amalgamation of some ACs. DDHA2 said that the jurisdiction of some ACs had been expanded in line with the PDB boundaries. As a result, more PDB members were represented on ACs. However, he did not see a lowering of status of PDB members in ACs, and the extent of participation of PDB members in ACs would depend on individual members. He added that PDB members served to provide a link between the PDBs and the ACs, and report of PDB was a standard item on the agenda of AC meetings. In some districts, PDB members were also elected Chairmen of the ACs.

15. The Chairman concluded the discussion by indicating support to the work of ACs and urging the Government to give more assistance and resources to ACs.

(b) Government subsidies and support to Mutual Aid Committees (MACs)

[Paper No. CB(2)1178(03)]

16. Mr WONG Siu-yee remarked that the Government seemed to have reduced the resources and manpower for the liaison work with MACs in recent years. He was of the view that as MACs still served a useful function in the collection of public opinion, the District Offices should reinforce their ties with the MACs in their districts. Deputy Director of Home Affairs 1 (DDHA1) responded that Government had all along maintained a good relationship with MACs which were an essential element in community building. Staff of the District Offices had frequent contacts with members of ACs and MACs, and would continue to gauge their views on current issues. DDHA1 further clarified that MACs were voluntary organisations formed to provide mutual assistance to residents of the same building, it was therefore inappropriate for Government to intervene in the operation of MACs apart from helping their establishment. As MACs were now capable of running their own business, and given the manpower constraints, District Offices did not participate in all activities organised by MACs. Government assistance was however provided in the form of advice and services to MACs, in addition to a range of financial assistance to the activities of MACs including a quarterly subsidy up to $1,000 to meet operating expenses.

17. Mr LAU Kong-wah relayed to the meeting the concern of some MACs that the current financial assistance from Government was inadequate. In this connection, he asked whether or not the Government consider the current level of subsidy adequate. DDHA1 responded that, as mutual-aid bodies, the operating expenses of MACs should be met by contribution from residents of the buildings. The Government subsidy was only to demonstrate Government ' s support to MACs and to help them meet part of their operating expenses on items such as telephone rental, electricity charges and stationary. Since 1994-95, the level of subsidy had been adjusted annually in line with inflation. DDHA1 said that it was difficult for the Government to set the subsidy at a level which was regarded as adequate by all MACs, since some MACs had not even used up to the current $1,000 limit and others had not applied at all. Principal Assistant Secretary (HA) 4 added that apart from the quarterly subsidy, there were other forms of assistance available to MACs, and the details were given in paragraph 4 of the Administration ' s paper. At the request of Mr LAU Kong-wah, DDHA1 undertook to provide the findings of a recent study on Government subsidies to MACs. Adm

18. With regard to the Government policy on financing joint functions of MACs, DDHA1 said that Government had no policy against the coalition of MACs. He pointed out that MACs were primarily mutual aid bodies providing assistance to residents of particular buildings, and matters of common concern to MACs could be taken up by other district organisations such as ACs or PDBs. In this respect, DDHA1 noted Mr WONG Siu-yee ' s suggestion that District Offices should adopt a flexible approach in processing applications from MACs for funds to organise joint activities. He clarified that applications for financial assistance for joint projects from different MACs could be considered at the same time, and approval would rest with the PDBs concerned subject to availability of funds.

19. On strengthening district liaison work in public housing estates, DDHA1 noted the member ' s views that more assistance should be provided to MACs in public housing estates.

V.Building Management

[Paper Nos. CB(2)1178(04) & (05)]

(a) Measures to improve management and fire prevention in buildings and mandatory formation of Owners ' s Corporations (OCs)

20. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (DSHA) briefed members on the Administration ' s paper [Paper No. CB(2)1178(05)].

Measures to improve management and fire prevention in buildings

21. Mr WONG Ying-ho said that he was satisfied with the Administration ' s response [Paper No. CB(2)1178(05)]. He expressed reservations about the suggestions at items 1 and 2 of Mr CHAN Choi-hi ' s paper [Paper No. CB(2)1178(04)]. He disagreed with Mr CHAN ' s suggestion that a portion of the rates should be used to provide low-interest loan to OCs of old buildings for improving fire safety installations. Mr WONG Ying-ho considered that in view of the large number of old buildings in the territory, the amounts would not be sufficient to provide any useful remedies. Instead, he suggested the Government to assess the extent of the problem and devise a timetable for risk evaluation and implementation of improvement measures. As fire prevention was basically the responsibility of the owners of buildings, Government should increase public awareness of fire safety.

22. DSHA responded that Government had initiated a territory-wide survey of some 60,000 private buildings in addition to inspection of target buildings. A Central Steering Committee on Fire Safety had been set up and had held its first meeting to consider measures to improve building management and fire safety. A number of initiatives were being implemented to promote fire safety. Regarding the proposal of rating buildings according to their fire safety standards, the Chairman shared DSHA ' s view that it would require careful consideration as such ratings would have an impact on property prices.

23. The Deputy Chairman expressed concern that the general public did not have sufficient awareness of fire safety and suggested the Government step up publicity on fire safety and establish fire safety bodies in districts. DDHA1 responded that District Fire Safety Committees (DFSC) had been set up in Eastern, Yau Tsim Mong and Tsuen Wan Districts in February 1998 to enhance community involvement in promoting fire safety and building safety in private buildings. In addition to government representatives from relevant departments, DFSC also comprised unofficial members including PDB members, AC Chairmen, local leaders, and interested individuals from various professions. DFSC would be set up in three more districts in May 1998. It was the target of the Home Affairs Department to establish one DFSC in each of the 18 Districts. Meanwhile, those districts without DFSCs could join those in adjacent districts to promote fire prevention work. As one of the main duties of the DFSC, fire drills were organised in buildings to enhance fire safety awareness.

24. In reply to the Chairman, DDHA1 said that while the Central Steering Committee on Fire Safety and DFSCs were responsible for co-ordinating and promoting fire safety in buildings, other district organisations such as PDBs, ACs, MACs and OCs would also be involved to encourage community involvement.

Mandatory formation of Owners Corporations (OCs)

25. Regarding Mr CHAN Choi-hi ' s another suggestion of involving social workers in encouraging and assisting owners of buildings to form OCs, DDHA1 said that building management matters required professional assistance from lawyers, accountants, engineers and fire safety experts. Formation of OCs was only one measure to help tackle building management problems. DSHA added that mandatory formation of OCs was not necessarily the only way to effect good building management as this depended very much on the owners ' s initiative and willingness to upkeep their properties. In view of the wide public concern as to whether there should be mandatory formation of OCs, the Government would have to further consider the legal and practical aspects of the proposal.

26. Regarding the current number of OCs in private buildings, DSHA advised that there were already 4900 OCs covering 8500 private residential buildings. He pointed out that some large private residential estates such as Tai Koo Shing, Heng Fa Tsuen, Shatin No. 1 City and Mei Foo Sun Tsuen did not have OCs, but estate management companies had been engaged to manage the buildings.

(b) Monitoring and enforcement of the Deed of Mutual Covenant (DMC) in respect of carpark management in private buildings

[Paper Nos. CB(2)1178(05) & (07)]

Mr WONG Ying-ho supported the Government ' s stance that as DMC was a private contract among the owners of a private building, the Government which was not party to such contract could not enforce its terms and conditions on behalf of the owners. He shared the views of those Duty Roster Members who interviewed representatives of the carpark owners of Chi Fu Fa Yuen on 23 December 1997 [Paper No. CB(2)1178(07)]. He agreed that the deputation ' s complaint about the unfair arrangements for the sale of carpark space and the breach of consumer rights should be referred to the Consumer Council for consideration. The Chairman remarked that currently many DMCs were drawn up to protect the interests of the principal owner at the expense of those of minority owners. She asked whether the Government would draw up standard provisions in DMCs to balance the interests of the parties concerned.

27. DSHA responded that the complaint in the case of Chi Fu Fa Yuen carpark was essentially about consumer protection which was outside the purview of Building Management Ordinance. In such circumstances, DSHA considered that it would be more appropriate for the Consumer Council to step up promotional work to enhance community awareness of consumer rights in relation to the enforcement of the terms and conditions in DMCs.

VI.Any other business

Mechanism for the recovery of alimony

28. For members ' s background information, the Chairman said that in the course of scrutinizing the subsidiary legislation, the Subcommittee on the Attachment of Income Order Rules (AIOR) had expressed concern about the difficulties encountered by maintenance payees in the recovery of alimony. As some issues and concerns of the Subcommittee were outside the scope of AIOR, the House Committee had endorsed the Subcommittee ' s recommendation of referring these issues to the Home Affairs Panel for further discussion. For this purpose, the Panel had invited members of the Subcommittee to attend discussion of this item.

29. Miss CHAN Yuen-han, member of the Subcommittee on AIOR, pointed out that AIOR was made pursuant to the Marriage and Children (Miscellaneous Amendments) Ordinance 1997 which was passed by the former Legislative Council without the scrutiny of a Bills Committee. In the course of examining AIOR, the Subcommittee had identified certain issues which should be dealt with in the principal ordinance -

  1. An Attachment of Income Order (AIO) would not be applicable if the defaulting maintenance payer was self-employed or if the income source was not fixed.

  2. The penalty was too light and therefore might not have any deterrent effect on the maintenance payer.

  3. The Administration had not specified the priority of maintenance payments in the distribution of a bankrupt ' s property under the relevant Ordinances.

  4. Given the impact of divorce on the maintenance payer ' s relationship with his/her ex-spouse, it was difficult for the maintenance payee to collect alimony direct from his/her ex-spouse. An intermediary body should be set up for collecting alimony on behalf of the maintenance payees.

Miss CHAN Yuen-han said that while the Administration undertook to review the effectiveness of AIOs around one year after the operation of AIOR, the Subcommittee was concerned that the above issues should be covered in the review. The Subcommittee therefore requested the Panel to follow up these issues and concerns with the Administration.

30. In response, Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PAS(HA)) explained that AIOR set out the court procedures concerning AIOs and the enforcement of such orders. These rules were made by the Chief Justice pursuant to the principal legislation to provide an additional channel for recovering alimony. The rules did not intend to address all the problems and difficulties relating to the recovery of maintenance payments. The Administration ' s response to the issues and concerns expressed by the Subcommittee on AIOR were as follows -

  1. For an AIO to be issued, the maintenance payer must have an attachable income. Self-employed persons such as taxi-drivers or hawkers did not have an attachable income as their income sources were not identifiable. Therefore, their income could not be attached by AIOs. While ‘income ' s was not defined in the principal legislation, the scope of income under AIOR meant not only to wages, it included, but not limited to, rental receipts and dividends from companies. The scope of income under AIOR was much wider than that adopted overseas.

  2. A maintenance payer who failed to comply with AIOR would be subject to a maximum penalty of a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment of one month. The level of penalty was fixed according to the principles of proportionality to the severity of an offence and was in accordance with that prescribed in the primary legislation. The Director of Public Prosecutions and Solicitor General had been consulted in fixing the penalty level. If the penalty was too heavy, it might contravene the provisions in the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights. It was now too early to assess the deterrent effect of these rules as AIOR had yet to be brought into effect. The Administration would include the adequacy of the penalty in its review on AIOR.

  3. According to the legal advice received by the Administration, maintenance payments did not have priority over claims of other creditors in the distribution of a bankrupt ' s property. Members ' s suggestion of giving priority to maintenance payments would be referred to the Official Receiver for consideration.

  4. The Administration had provided the former Legislative Council Panel on Home Affairs with a paper (PLC Paper No. CB(2)676) setting out its findings on the experience of United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand in collecting and enforcing maintenance payments by intermediary bodies. Experience of these countries indicated that despite the work of the intermediary bodies, arrears in maintenance payment remained a problem in these countries.

31. Miss CHAN Yuen-han stressed that the Subcommittee on AIOR was concerned about the scope of ‘income ' s and the adequacy of penalty under the Ordinance and that the Administration should address these issues in the review. She commented that as arrears in wages were given priority over other claims in the distribution of a bankrupt ' s property, arrears in maintenance payment should be accorded the same priority. For the benefit of maintenance payees and their children who had to rely on maintenance payments for their livelihood, maintenance payments should be specified in the Bankruptcy Ordinance to have priority over other debts. The Panel agreed to write to the Official Receiver urging him to introduce necessary legislative amendment to this effect.

(Post-meeting note : The Panel Chairman sent a letter to the Official Receiver on 30 March 1998 on the subject.)

32. With regard to the effectiveness of intermediary bodies in the collection of maintenance payment, Miss CHAN Yuen-han informed members that a deputation had provided the Subcommittee with an article giving an account of the success of the Australian intermediary body in collecting maintenance arrears. As this article gave contrary views to the Administration ' s findings on the Australian experience, she suggested that perhaps the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) Secretariat might study the operation and effectiveness of such intermediaries in overseas countries. The Chairman agreed that this was an issue worthy of further examination and the study findings would provide the basis for further discussion by the legislature and the Administration. The Panel agreed that the Research and Library Services Division of PLC Secretariat should provide a research paper on the subject for consideration by the Panel. H(RL)

Closing remarks

33. As this was the last meeting of the PLC Panel on Home Affairs, the Chairman thanked members for their participation and support to the work of the Panel, and representatives of the Administration for submission of papers and attendance at meetings. She asked to put on record her appreciation of the highly effective and efficient service provided by the PLC Secretariat.

34. The meeting ended at 12:55 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
12 May 1998