Panel on Security -- Minutes

Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1146
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)


Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security
Minutes of Meeting held on Thursday, 22 January 1998 at 2:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present:

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon KAN Fook-yee
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members attending:

Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong

Member absent:

Hon CHENG Kai-nam (Deputy Chairman)*
Hon Allen LEE, JP*
Hon Henry WU*
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung*
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho*
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP*

Public Officers attending:

Item IV

Mr Eddie HUI Ki-on
Commissioner of Police
Hong Kong Police Force

Mr Gordon FUNG Siu-yuen
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime)
Hong Kong Police Force

Item V

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 2

Mr Sarah KWOK
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security B

Chief Fire Officer
Fire Services Department

Assistant Director
Buildings Department

Senior Housing Manager
Home Affairs Department

Item VI

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 2

Mr Raymond FAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security C

Assistant Director of Immigration

Mr FUNG Kwok-on
Senior Superintendent of Police
Hong Kong Police Force

Item VII

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 2

Mr Raymond FAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security C

Mr WONG Tat-po
Assistant Director
Immigration Department

Clerk in attendance:

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance:

Miss Betty MA
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 1

I. Confirmation of minutes of meetings held on 20 November 1997 and 8 January 1998
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 901 and 903)

1. The minutes of the meeting held on 20 November 1997 were confirmed. The minutes of the Special meeting held on 8 January 1998 were confirmed subject to replace the word 'worth' in paragraph 7 of the minutes with 'worthwhile'.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion (PLC Paper No. CB(2) 892(01))

Items for discussion at the next Panel meeting

2.Membersagreed to discuss the following items at the next Panel meeting to be held on 19 February 1998:

  1. Policy on Frontier Closed Area and Closed Area permit

  2. Progress report on implementation of Working Group's proposal on Law Reform Commission Report on Arrest

  3. Issues of fabrication of evidence by police officers

  4. Application for settlement in Hong Kong by Mainland children who have the right of abode under the Basic Law

  5. Entry visa for Taiwan visitors and visitors from overseas

In view of the tight schedule,membersagreed that the next regular Panel meeting on 19 February 1998 would be extended by half an hour (i.e. from 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm).

Items for discussion at future Panel meetings

3.The Chairmansaid that members who had participated the visit to the Government Flying Service (GFS) held on 20 January 1998, in general considered that they had been adequately briefed on the work of GFS, its limitations and its proposal for procuring helicopters to replace the existing helicopter fleet of GFS. In response to Dr LAW Cheung-kwok,Mr KAN Fook-yeesaid that he was satisfied with the Administration's explanations on the need to replace the existing helicopter fleet and would lend his support for the proposal. At the suggestion of the Chairman,membersagreed not to discuss this item at the Panel meeting.

III. Report of the Subcommittee on Overcrowdedness in Penal Institutions
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 833)

4.The Chairmaninvited members to endorse the Report of the Subcommittee.

5. In response to Mr CHAN Choi-hi's enquiry,the Chairmanadvised that the Subcommittee had discussed the viability of increasing penal capacity through vertical expansion of the premises of existing correctional institutions or building high-rise prison structures. The Subcommittee had accepted the Administration's explanation that high-rise prison structure was not desirable in terms of efficient management and security control The Subcommittee therefore did not include this as a recommendation. Mr LIU Sing-lee suggested and members agreed that the Subcommittee's deliberations on this issue be incorporated into the Report.

6.Membersendorsed the recommendations as set out in paragraph 16 of the Report. The following steps recommended by the Subcommittee were also adopted:

  1. that a written representation be made to the Town Planning Board and a letter be sent to Tsuen Wan Provisional District Board to solicit support on the proposed project at Yam O; and

  2. that a motion be moved by the Chairman of the Subcommittee to urge the Administration to resolve the problem of prison overcrowding as expeditiously as possible.

(Post meeting note: A revised Report of the Subcommittee on Overcrowdedness in Penal Institution, incorporating the Subcommittee's discussion on building multi-storey prison structure, had been issued vide PLC Paper No. CB(2) 929 dated 27 January 1998. The two letters mentioned in paragraph 6(a) were sent on 13 February 1998 )

IV. Crime situation in 1997
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 892(02))

7. At the invitation of the Chairman,the Commissioner of Police (CP)gave an account of the crime situation in 1997 as compared with that in 1996. He pointed out that notwithstanding 1997 was a busy year for the Police with the Handover Ceremony and the 1997 World Bank - IMF Annual Meetings held in Hong Kong, the overall crime rate and the number of crimes had dropped to the lowest level for the past 24 and 18 years respectively.

Drug seizure

8.CPsaid that priority was accorded to dealing with drug trafficking and drug abuse. The amount of heroin and cannabis seized in 1997 had been reduced by 45% and 86% respectively when compared to the figures in 1996.

9.Mr MA Fung-kwokenquired about the reasons for the decrease in the amount of drug seized.CPresponded that the main reason for the decrease was due to the fact that drug traffickers no longer used Hong Kong as a storage and distribution centre.


10.CPsaid that in 1997, slightly more than 5 900 young people were arrested, a decrease of 7.9% when compared to those arrested in 1996. In particular, there were a decrease of 7% and 55% in cases of violent crimes and serious drug-related offences respectively. However, the Administration took a serious view of the problem and would strengthen education to young people in this regard.

Illegal immigrants

11.CPsaid that despite there was an influx of illegal immigrant children into Hong Kong in the first quarter of 1997, there was a decrease in 23% in illegal immigrants arrested when compared with that in 1996. CPadvised that the satisfactory result was achieved through the co-operation with the relevant authorities in Guangdong.

12. In response to Mr KAN Fook-yee's question,Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime) (ACP(Crime))advised that there were a total number of 1 505 and 1 043 illegal immigrants arrested for committing crimes in 1996 and 1997 respectively, who mainly involved in theft, robbery, burglary and forged travel documents. Upon the Chairman's request,ACP(Crime)undertook to provide statistics on the illegal immigrants arrested as compared to the total number of people arrested.

13.CPadvised that the Police would continue to assume their responsibility for the border. By merging the Field Patrol Detachment Unit with the Border District, the resources could be flexibly deployed. An additional several patrol crafts had been acquired for tackling illegal immigration activities at sea.

Crimes arising from the economic downturn

14.Mr CHAN Choi-hiwas concerned that there might be a deterioration in the crime situation in 1998 as a result of the recent financial crisis. CPresponded that the Police would deploy additional manpower to the Commercial Crime Bureau as well as the front-line to cope with the possible upsurge in commercial crimes, theft and burglary arising from the economic downturn.


15.Mr MA Fung-kwokwas concerned about unreported cases of kidnapping. CPresponded that the Police would look into every suspected case, however, it would be difficult for the Police to take any further action for lacking of co-operation and information from the victims concerned. He urged the public to report and resort to the Police for assistance and stressed that the detection rate in respect of kidnapping was impressive. At the Chairman's request,CPundertook to provide information on the penalties imposed by courts on convicted cases of kidnapping to facilitate members' understanding on whether the legislation in question had sufficient deterrent effect.

Co-operation with the Mainland and overseas

16.CPsaid that the Police would continue to maintain a good working relationship with the Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies in dealing with crimes such as drug trafficking, illegal immigrants and organized serious crimes.

V. Fire safety improvement fund
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 892(03))

17. Referring to the information provided in PLC Paper No. CB(2) 892(03),Mr CHAN Choi-hienquired about the manpower for inspection of fire safety standards of old buildings and the plans in place to enhance building management in these buildings. Deputy Secretary for Security 2 (DS(S)2)said that the Fire Services Department and Buildings Department would have an additional of 114 and 23 posts respectively to implement the legislative proposal in improving fire safety of old commercial buildings, step up inspection and enforcement action and promote public awareness of fire safety. Chief Fire Officersupplemented that the Fire Services Department had carried out over 13 000 inspections in connection with fire safety standards in commercial premises in 1997 whilst the corresponding figure in 1996 was about 5 000. A total of some 113 000 inspections of premises of all types were carried out in 1997, representing over 18% increase over 1996.DS(S)2explained that the Administration had given priority for introducing legislation to improve fire safety standards of old commercial premises because of the number of visitors patronized and their potential fire hazard. It would review whether the mechanism would have to be further extended to cover other types of buildings. Senior Housing Managerstated that the Building Management Coordination Teams (BMCT) and the Building Management Committees which comprised representatives from several government departments had been formed in nine Districts. The BMCTs identified buildings with building management problems, such as security, fire safety standards and building structures, and included them, after obtaining the owners concerned's agreement, as the target for comprehensive building management improvement. More than 1 100 buildings had been identified as target buildings since 1985. So far over 480 of them have rectified their building management problems and been removed from the list. 671 are still on the list for continuous improvement action. The BMCTs would update each year the list upon completion of improvement work or identification of new target buildings.

18. In response to a further question from Mr CHAN Choi-hi,DS(S)2explained that the proposed Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) (Amendment) Bill 1998 would require improvements to fire service installations as well as building structure including means of escape, means of access for firefighting and rescue and fire resisting construction. This would help improve the fire safety of pre-1987 old commercial buildings. The existing Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance would upgrade the fire safety standard of prescribed commercial premises in commercial-cum-residential buildings.

19.The Chairman and Mr Bruce LIUenquired about the criteria adopted for determining the amount of the Fire Safety Improvement Fund (FSIF) and approving applications. DS(S)2advised that the purpose of the Fund was to help building owners and owners' corporations of prescribed commercial premises and specified commercial buildings to upgrade or improve fire safety standards of their premises and buildings. The Administration had collected information regarding the estimated costs for carrying out improvement works in order to meet the proposed upgrading requirements. Based on the information obtained, together with the estimated number of buildings which might be affected, the Administration considered that a revolving loan fund amounted to $200 million was sufficient for its operation in the first three years. As the setting up of the FSIF was to improve fire safety standards of old commercial buildings as required by the proposed legislation,DS(S)2 said that an interest rate at prime rate would therefore be charged and there would be no upper limit for each application.

20. In response to the Chairman's enquiry,DS(S)2said that the owners of those prescribed commercial premises as defined in the Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance were also eligible for applying the loan. The Administration envisaged that about 10% of owners of these premises and about 20% of owners of the pre-1973 commercial buildings as affected by the amendment legislation would apply for the loan. The Administration would review the FSIF in the light of operational experience.

21.Mr MA Fung-kwokwas concerned about the legal liability of the applicants. In response,DS(S)2advised that the initial thinking was to require the premises or buildings in question to be a security for the loan. The Fire Services Department had set up a working group to work out the operational details of the FSIF.

22.Mrs Elsie TUexpressed concern about the cost to be borne by tenants. DS(S)2said that under the existing legislation, tenants were only required to undertake minor upgrading of fire service installations of prescribed commercial premises and specified commercial buildings.

23. To facilitate a more detailed study on the Administration's proposal,the Chairmanrequested the Administration to provide more information on the assumptions adopted for determining the amount of the loan, the approving criteria and the operational details of the FSIF when submitting the proposal to the Finance Committee in March 1998 for funding support.

VI. Problem of illegal workers
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 892(04))

24. At the invitation of the Chairman,DS(S)2briefed members on the Administration's information paper. He pointed out that illegal workers included illegal immigrants who sneaked into Hong Kong to work and people coming in on valid documents but who breached their conditions of stay as they worked in Hong Kong.Membersnoted that the number of operations conducted by the Immigration Department in 1997 had increased whilst the numbers of arrest and prosecution of illegal workers had a general decline.

25.Mr CHAN Wing-channoted from para. 8 of the information paper that there was a discrepancy between the number of arrests and prosecutions of illegal workers. In response,DS(S)2advised that the existing policy was that illegal immigrants would be repatriated upon arrest; prosecutions would be instituted only if they were found working illegally and an imprisonment term might be handed down on conviction. The Administrationalso pointed out the difficulties encountered in obtaining sufficient evidence to substantiate a contract of employment existed between employers and employees in order that prosecutions against those illegal workers and their employers could be instituted successfully.

26. In response to a further question from Mr CHAN Wing-chan,DS(S)2advised that the average penalties imposed on both illegal workers and their employers had been severer after the legislative amendment made in 1996. He quoted that, for instance, the average fine for taking up illegal employment was increased from $500 - $1,000 in 1995 to $1,500 - $2,000 in 1997 and that for the employers of illegal workers was increased from $1,500 -$2,000 in 1995 to $4,000 - $5,000 in 1997. Moreover, 76% of the illegal workers and 50% of the employers on conviction were sentenced to imprisonment or suspended custodial in 1997; the corresponding figures were 15% and 5% respectively in 1995. DS(S)2said that the decline in the arrest and prosecution figures were achieved by means of the imposition of heavier penalties, the anti-illegal immigration measures and operations, the tight control maintained on the entry of doubtful visitors to prevent potential illegal workers from entering Hong Kong as well as the promotion of community education in this regard. He reiterated that the Administration would continue to step up raids on illegal employment blackspots such as construction sites.

27.Mrs Elsie TUexpressed concern over the disparity of penalties imposed between illegal workers and their employers.Assistant Director of Immigration (AD/ID)said that both persons taking up unapproved employment or employing persons not lawfully employable would be liable to a fine or imprisonment. The penalties imposed were matters for the courts.The Administrationundertook to provide information on the penalties imposed by the courts on persons convicted for employing illegal workers.

28. In reply to Mr LEE Kai-ming's enquiry about the arrest and prosecution figures in respect of the employers of illegal workers,DS(S)2said that 1 705 and 580 such employers were arrested and prosecuted respectively in 1996 whereas the corresponding figures in 1997 were 1 303 and 371 respectively. With regard to the phenomenon for persons in charge of construction sites to report illegal workers to the Police before pay day,AD/IDremarked that there was no evidence to suggest that there was a common practice for site controllers to report illegal workers to the Police or Immigration Department before pay day.

29. In response to Mr MA Fung-kwok's enquiry,AD/IDsaid that over 80% of those persons refused for entry at control points on the ground of doubtful intention in 1997 were in connection with illegal employment. At Mr MA Fung-kwok's request,the Administrationagreed to provide a breakdown of the above figure by nationality, sex and reasons for refusal to entry, if available.

30.Mrs Elsie TUwas concerned about the measures in place to tackle the problem of imported workers, in particular domestic helpers, being forced by their employers to perform unauthorized work and enquired whether such employees were allowed to change their jobs in the circumstance.DS(S)2replied that the Administration was able to prosecute those employers who had deployed imported workers to perform unauthorized work after the enactment of the Employment (Amendment) Ordinance 1997. AD/IDfurther said that under the existing administrative arrangement, domestic helpers were allowed to change their jobs if it was established that they had no other alternatives but to perform such work. However, the Administration considered it undesirable to add such provision to the relevant regulations because it would impede the efficiency and flexibility in handling disputes over employment contracts.

31.Dr LAW Cheung-kwokcommented that members of the public were given an impression that the Administration conducted enforcement actions against illegal workers after the media had reported the situations.DS(S)2stressed that the Administration had taken the initiative to conduct enforcement actions against illegal workers, for instance, 12 enforcement operations were conducted in Sai Kung in 1997 resulting in the arrest of 73 illegal workers and five employers. In 1997, a total of 1 897 operations were conducted in the territory, representing an increase of 17% over 1996. Responding to Dr LAW Cheung-kwok's proposal for introducing monetary reward for reporting illegal employment, AD/IDsaid that it would be difficult to implement the proposal and its cost-effectiveness needed to be examined. He pointed out the existing periodic anti-illegal workers enforcement operations conducted by the relevant departments had proved to be effective.

VII. Appeal channel under the Hong Kong Special Administration Region Passport Ordinance
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 892(05))

32.DS(S)2briefed members on the Administration's information paper. He said that the Administration aimed to introduce the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR) Passport Regulation into the Provisional Legislative Council in February 1998 and hoped that it could be enacted within this session.

33.DS(S)2pointed out the Administration had taken some time for drafting the Regulation in order to avoid the overlap of jurisdictions between the Registration of Persons Tribunal and the proposed Appeal Board. In addition, the setting up of a mechanism that failed applicants could appeal against decision in respect of nationality, residence was a novel area for the Administration.

34. Responding to Mr Bruce LIU,DS(S)2said that a person aggrieved by the decision of the Director of Immigration made under the HKSAR Passport Ordinance might seek judicial review of the decision, with or without an appeal mechanism. Having regard to the costs and time involved, the proposed Appeal Board aimed to provide a simpler appeal mechanism. He said that only 30 out of over 400 000 processed applications were rejected since the enactment of the HKSAR Passport Ordinance in July 1997. The 30 applicants were rejected because they could not fulfil the nationality or the residence requirements. None of them had appealed. Given that all rejected applicants were eligible to make appeals to the Appeal Board, and the proposed Regulation provided for the Board to handle appeals against decisions made prior to its establishment, the Administration considered a provisional appeal board unnecessary.

VIII. Close of meeting

35. The meeting ended at 4:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
26 February 1998

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