Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)2477/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/BC/16/98

Legislative Council Bills Committee on
Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 1999

Minutes of the 4th meeting
held on Friday, 12 March 1999 at 8:30 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building Members Present:

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP (Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon NG Leung-sing
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members Absent :

Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Bernard CHAN
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Robin IP
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Mr James O'NEIL
Principal Government Counsel (Elections)

Miss Shirley YUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (4)

Mr Bassanio SO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (5)

Ms Phyllis KO
Acting Deputy Principal Government Counsel (Elections)

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Percy MA
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 3

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Jimmy MA, JP
Legal Adviser

Mr Stephen LAM
Assistant Legal Adviser 4

Ms Eleanor CHOW
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 7

I. Matters arising from previous meetings
(LC Papers Nos. CB(2) 1424/98-99(01), 1459/98-99(01))

The Chairman suggested and members agreed to go through the items in LC Paper No. 1459/98-99(01) regarding Administration's response to points raised by the Bills Committee on 4 March 1999.

Item (a) - Cross Harbour Tunnel Co., Ltd. (CHTCL)

2. Noting that the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 1999 (the Bill) had proposed to delete CHTCL as a constituent for the Transport Functional Constituency (FC) because its franchise for operating the cross harbour tunnel in Hung Hum would expire at the end of August 1999, Mrs Miriam LAU asked whether the CHTCL had been consulted or given the opportunity to explain its position. She pointed out that apart from operating the cross harbour tunnel, the CHTCL was also engaged in other transport-related business. This being the case, the Administration should consider not to delete its name from the list of electorates.

3. Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (DS for CA) said that he had already explained at the last meeting that corporate bodies would be added or deleted from the existing lists under two conditions. Firstly, the bodies had either ceased operation or dissolved. Secondly, the bodies concerned were still in existence, but it had come to the knowledge of the Government that they could no longer satisfy the criteria for inclusion in the electorates for the relevant FCs. The CHTCL fell in the second category as its franchise as operator of the Hung Hom Cross Harbour Tunnel would soon expire. The Transport Bureau and the Transport Department had been consulted on the case and had advised that as the franchise held by the CHTCL would soon expire, it should be removed from the list. If the CHTCL wished to be retained as a constituent for the Transport FC on the ground that it was engaged in other transport-related business, the Administration would consider its application.

4. Mrs Miriam LAU expressed concern on the way the Administration had handled the matter. She asked whether the Administration would consult the bodies concerned or give advance notice before deleting them from the list.

5. DS for CA replied that that there was only a handful of bodies being deleted from the list. Since the CHTCL had been included in the electorates on the basis of its franchise, it was a matter of policy that it should be removed from the list when it could no longer satisfy the criteria for inclusion in the electorates. This policy would apply to all FCs and not just the Transport FC.

6. Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (4) (PAS for CA(4)) supplemented that for a company to be included as a constituent for the Transport FC, the main consideration was whether it was involved in the provision of transport services. She cited the example of the Hong Kong & Yaumati Ferry Company Limited. Although the company had lost its franchise, the Administration agreed to retain its eligibility as an elector for the Transport FC after taking into consideration that it was still running ferry services under a licence. If the CHTCL eventually won the contract for managing the tunnel, consideration could be given to adding its name to the list.

7. Mrs Miriam LAU said that the CHTCL would send in a submission to this Bills Committee expressing its discontent. The Chairman suggested that the CHTCL should write to the Administration in parallel.

8. Mr LEE Wing-tat asked whether there was a re-registration exercise for corporate electors of FC. For companies that operated a variety of businesses, he asked whether they had to take the initiative to advise the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) of any changes in their business, and to prove that they still had substantial connection with the relevant FC in order to retain their eligibility as electors for the FC.

9. PAS for CA(4) replied that the name of an FC registered elector would be contained in the existing FC final register. If it had come to the knowledge of the Administration that a company should no longer be included as an elector in the relevant FC, or had ceased operation, the Administration would consider removing it from the electorate. There was no re-registration exercise but the REO would update the register annually. For instance, the REO would write to the umbrella organisations for a list of their corporate members every year. In the event that a company was no longer a corporate member of a body, the REO would seek confirmation from that company before deleting its name from the register. In response to a question from Mr Howard YOUNG on GC, the Chairman clarified that the responsibility of notifying the REO of change of address rested with electors.

10. Mr LEE Kai-ming asked about the procedure for registration of a company as an elector for a particular FC, and how its name could be added to the Schedules to the Legislative Council Ordinance (LCO). DS for CA responded that the company should submit its request to the Government for consideration. The Government would consider the request and seek further information from the company if necessary. If it was concluded that the company should be included as an elector for the relevant FC, arrangement would be made to add its name to the relevant Schedule. Additions could be made by introducing an amendment bill or amending the Schedules by way of subsidiary legislation made under section 83 of the LCO.

11. Mr LAU Kong-wah asked whether the registration procedure for electors of the GCs and FCs were the same, as he noted that it was possible to add electors of FCs by amending the law while no amendments could be made after the final register of GCs was published.

12. PAS for CA(4) replied that the eligibility criteria for a registered elector of GC and FC were set out in law. Persons who were eligible to be GC or FC electors were required to apply for registration before a specified deadline. For the 2000 LegCo election, there would be a large scale voter registration exercise to be held in early 2000. A person must satisfy the eligibility criteria and be registered in the GC or FC before the deadline in order to be able to vote in the LegCo election. A company which was not included in the list of the electorates of a relevant FC when the Bill was passed would not be qualified to be registered as an elector for the FC in the 2000 LegCo election. In response to a further question from Mr LAU, PAS for CA(4) explained that if a person was no longer qualified as an elector at an election, he would be disqualified from voting even though his name was in the final register. In the case of CHTCL, it would not be eligible to be registered as an elector in the Transport FC if its name was removed from the list of electorate. DS for CA supplemented that the relevant provisions were set out in section 53 of the LCO. A registered elector was disqualified from voting at an election if he had ceased to be so eligible.

Items (b) - Listing of FC electorates in the Bill

13. Members noted that the Administration was considering various proposals to improve the order of listing the constituents of the FCs.

Item (c) - Mailing of election advertisements

14. Referring to the loss of a bundle of postage-free election advertisements of a candidate in the 1994 municipal council elections, Miss Cyd HO enquired about the measures implemented to avoid recurrence of similar incidents. She pointed out that some candidates used two rounds of the free mailing service for fear of loss of posting. DS for CA responded that he would look into the case and provide a written reply. Adm

15. Mr NG Leung-sing pointed out that the time gap between the two rounds of the free mailing service in the 1998 LegCo election was too close, resulting in the majority of candidates sending only one letter to electors. He suggested that the Administration should review the arrangement for the 2000 LegCo election. The Chairman pointed out that for an FC which had only one nominee, it was not necessary for the candidate to post the second letter as he would be elected automatically.

16. PAS for CA(4) said that the arrangements for the 1998 LegCo election were not ideal because of the tight schedule. More time would be allowed for the electoral arrangements for the 2000 LegCo election, subject to the passage of the Bill in July 1999. She added that the deadlines for free postage service were meant to ensure that the postings could reach the electors before the polling day, and that candidates had the full liberty to submit the postings after the deadlines.

17. Mr LEE Wing-tat advocated that election advertisements should be sent by electronic means in the long term, so as to save papers and postage. He said that there had been criticisms from conservation groups that election advertisements were environmental unfriendly. He suggested that the Government should request electors to provide their e-mail addresses during voter registration. As long as the Government undertook to protect the privacy of personal data of electors, he believed that they would be more than willing to provide the information. The Chairman echoed the view that to safeguard the personal information of electors, the Government should keep a central register of electors' e-mail addresses to which candidates would not have access. The REO would send out advertisements to electors by electronic means on behalf of the candidates. Mr LEE added that to ensure confidentiality, a provision could be included in law stating that the e-mail addresses of electors should be destroyed after the election.

18. Mr CHAN Kam-lam pointed out that e-mail addresses of electors might be changed frequently. He suggested that the Government should create a website containing candidates' election advertisements for public access. At the same time, candidates could also create their own websites. Mr CHAN Wing-chan held the view that electronic mailing was the right direction for the future, but he had reservation about replacing the existing arrangement in the 2000 LegCo election, given that not too many electors had e-mail addresses at present.

19. Mr LEE Wing-tat said that his proposal and Mr CHAN Kam-lam's suggestion were not mutually exclusive. He said that electronic mailing must be pursued in the long term because -

  1. it could save postage and reduce unnecessary waste. He pointed out that over 600 000 promotional pamphlets were sent during the last election;

  2. communication by e-mail was very popular among youngsters. In the 2004 LegCo election, these youngsters would become eligible voters;

  3. the quantity of mailing advertisements would increase in future because election by universal suffrage was promised by the Basic Law.

20. The Chairman supported the view of Mr LEE and added because of the proportional representation system, a GC candidate had to reach out to more electors, hence leading to consumption of more papers for election materials etc.

21. In response to members, DS for CA said that at present there were about 2.8 million voters and the Government only had information on their names, identity card numbers and addresses. The existing voter register did not have e-mail addresses of voters. PAS for CA(4) supplemented that the REO had a website which provided basic information on all candidates of the 1998 LegCo election. The Government could discuss with the REO the possibility of providing more information in its website. She further advised that the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau was in the process of implementing an electronic service delivery scheme and the first phase would be rolled out in the later half of 2000. The aim was to provide an alternative and better means of service delivery to the public. The REO was one of the departments in the first phase of the scheme. In the area of election, the target was to facilitate applications for registration as electors and change of address by electronic means.

Item (d) - "No canvassing day"

22. Referring to the practice of Singapore which prohibited candidates from carrying out canvassing activities on polling day at parliamentary elections, Mr CHENG Kai-nam wondered how the Singapore Government could differentiate between a private visit and a canvassing visit and whether it had any enforcement difficulties in restricting candidates from visiting an elector at his home or place of work for any purpose in connection with an election. PAS for CA(5) said that any person who were seen to visit more than two houses or offices of electors in the same polling district on the election day would be presumed to have committed an offence in Singapore.

23. Mr LEE Wing-tat said that in previous elections, canvassing activities on election day were necessary in order to create a favourable atmosphere to stimulate voter turnout. Having regard to the positive response from voters in the 1998 LegCo election despite inclement weather, and the opinion of the voters that such activities on polling day was not useful in helping them to decide how to cast their votes, he urged the Administration to prohibit canvassing activities on election day. The Chairman, Messrs Howard YOUNG and CHENG Kai-nam, and Miss Cyd HO supported his view. Mr Howard YOUNG added that election campaigns organised by the Government should continue on election day.

24. Mr CHAN Kam-lam opined that while candidates affiliated with political parties might not consider canvassing activities on election day useful, independent candidates might consider this an opportunity to reach out to their electors. He held the view that convassing activities on polling day should be phased out gradually.

25. DS for CA responded that since experience of past elections showed that canvassing activities were generally carried out in an orderly and controlled manner, the Administration did not see the need to depart from the existing practice. He pointed out that members' suggestion involved policy changes which required careful consideration. In addition, there was no consensus within the community on the matter. The Chairman said that the majority of the political parties supported banning all convassing activities on polling day. PAS for CA(4) supplemented that some candidates might find canvassing activities on election day useful and some not. Hence it was a question of whether it was necessary to legislate against all canvassing activities just because some people did not find the arrangements useful. As past elections had been carried out smoothly, without giving rise to disorder and chaos, the Administration did not see sufficient justification to legislate against canvassing activities entirely.

26. Miss Margaret NG pointed out that unlike independent candidates of GC, FC candidates would not go to polling station to canvass. Although she did not have the experience to run an election in the capacity of a GC candidate, she could not imagine prohibiting canvassing activities on polling day would pose a problem to independent candidates of GC. While she agreed with the Administration that an activity should not be prohibited simply because it was not useful to certain people, she did not agree to the approach to legislate only when major problems arose.

27. Mr LEE Wing-tat believed that the major concern of the Administration was enforcement which in his view could be overcome. He pointed out that there was no way to cover up canvassing activities carried out in public areas and at private premises. In addition, a mature candidate would not run the risk of breaking the law if canvassing activities were prohibited. Miss Cyd HO added that electors would also monitor the conduct of a candidate.

28. Members also expressed concern over the criteria for declaration of a "no canvassing zone". DS for CA responded that the matter could be reviewed with a view to improving its operation. Any suggestions from members would be reflected to the EAC for consideration. In response to Miss Cyd HO, PAS for CA(4) said that some 1 000 complaints were received on polling day in the 1998 LegCo election, the majority of which was not related to canvassing. She undertook to provide information on the number of illegal canvassing activities in "no canvassing zone" by supporters of candidates and broadcasting vehicles in the 1998 LegCo election.

29. The Chairman advised that the proposal of "No canvassing day" was a matter for the Electroal Affairs Commission (EAC) to decide. Mr LEE Wing-tat said that since this was an important issue, it was his view that the proposal, if pursued, should be included in the LCO. The Chairman said that as far as he was aware, the LCO did not cover electioneering activities. In response to the Chairman, LA said that having regard to the structure of the LCO, his initial response was that the issue was more properly a matter for the EAC. At the request of the Chairman, LA undertook to study the matter in more detail.

30. Mr LEE Wing-tat suggested that the Administration should have further discussions with members of different political parties and groups so that any consensus reached could be reflected in the subsidary legislation to be made. DS for CA replied that if members so wished, the matter could be followed up in another forum. Adm

Item (e) - Election expenses

31. Members noted that the paper gave a brief account on how Canada, Australia and France subsidised part of the election expenses incurred by candidates who had secured votes up to a prescribed threshold (the scheme).

32. In response to Dr TANG Siu-tong, DS for CA said that as far as he knew, there was no system of reimbursement of election expenses to candidates in legislative elections in USA. He would clarify the issue at a future meeting. Adm

33. Mr LEE Wing-tat said that he supported the scheme because it would relieve the financial burden of candidates. As electioneering activities incurred huge expenses, it had deterred some potential candidates from running in an election. He believed that the public would accept the use of public money to finance candidates, on the condition that a candidate would only be eligible for the subsidy when he had secured the requisite support. Further consideration could be given to details of the scheme such as the percentage of reimbursement and the ratio of the threshold. Mr CHENG Kai-nam supported his view. Miss Cyd HO echoed that in the absence of a reimbursement system, many defeated candidates would not be able to run in future elections because they could not afford to do so financially.

34. DS for CA said that the Government had already provided considerable subsidies in kind to candidates running in the LegCo election. These included two rounds of free mailing service for candidates to send election pamphlets to the electors; Radio Television Hong Kong to produce a series of publicity programmes for candidates to introduce their election platforms on TV and radio, and to organise forums for candidates to debate on various topical issues; and the REO to produce leaflets introducing the candidates, etc. In view of the various subsidies in kind, the Administration did not consider that there was a need to further subsidise candidates in their campaigning activities with additional public funds.

35. Mr CHAN Kam-lam said that the matter should be given careful consideration. If a scheme was to be implemented as proposed, loopholes must be plugged to prevent abuse. He requested the Administration to provide more information on the amount of election expenses reimbursed in legislative elections in Canada, Australia and France and whether corrupt conduct was prevalent in these countries. The Administration undertook to provide a written reply. Adm

36. Mr NG Leung-sing alerted members to give the scheme careful consideration because it entailed complicated and controversial operational details. To name a few: how much should be reimbursed to political parties and independent candidates; how much should be reimbursed to those candidates who had received sponsorship; how should a candidate handle the reimbursed money if he had received sponsorship exceeding the amount spent; etc. He stressed that implementation details must be thoroughly considered or it would lead to abuse and disputes.

37. Mr SIN Chung-kai said that the points raised by Mr NG were technical and could be overcome. He pointed out that an ordinary candidate could hardly afford to run in an election if there was no subsidy apart from sponsorship, given that the election expenses limit for a single-seat GC was $500,000. He requested and the Administration undertook to calculate the amount of election expenses which could be reimbursed to candidates in the 1998 election, on the assumption that the system of reimbursement in France was adopted.

38. Miss Cyd HO said that she believed in the concept of free economy and considered that individual candidates would use election money more effectively than the Government. PAS for CA(4) responded that it was difficult to draw a comparison between the two. A significant part of the Government expenditure on activities like hiring polling staff could not possibly be taken up by the candidate. She said that in the 1998 LegCo election, total election expenses were budgeted at $500 million and over $300 million were actually spent. The Chairman remarked that the majority of candidates in the 1998 LegCo election spent less than the election expenses limit. At the request of Miss Cyd HO, the Administration undertook to provide a breakdown on the budget and expenditure of the publicity programme to promote the 1998 LegCo election and to advise the amount of money spent per elector. Adm

39. Mrs Selina CHOW was not satisfied with result of the 1998 voter registration campaign for FCs. She pointed out that the voter registration rate was less than 50% in the Wholesale and Retail FC. She noted that the campaign for voter registration for GCs had been very successful and asked what improvements would be made to the registration exercise for FCs in the 2000 LegCo election.

40. DS for CA said that different strategies were used for voter registration drive for GCs and FCs. Mass media was employed to promote voter registration for GCs which involved over 2 million electors. For FCs, promotional campaigns were targeted directly at the electorates of the FC concerned. He did not agree that the campaign for FC voter registration was not successful. He quoted that the registration rates for Education FC, Legal FC, Accounting FC, Engineering FC and Social Welfare FC were 77%, 67%, 81%, 81% and 63% respectively.

41. Mrs Selina CHOW responded that unlike FC electors who were associated with professional bodies, it was more difficult to urge eligible electors of an FC which was predominantly made up of individual members to get registered. The Administration should pay special regard to those FCs with low registration rates, and should launch more proactive voter registration campaigns for FCs. She also said that the FC registration forms were not user friendly and should be reviewed.

42. The Administration said that in the 1998 LegCo election, while the new FCs had a relatively lower registration rate, the average rate of FC voter registration was at a satisfactory level of 60%. With a longer period planned for the voter registration for the second LegCo election, it was hoped that the voter registration rate would improve. The Administration had received feedback about the FC registration forms being cumbersome and would relay the matter for the consideration of the EAC. Adm

Item (f) - Proposals for 1998 LegCo election

43. DS for CA said that the recommendations contained in the EAC's report on the 1998 LegCo election had been reflected in the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Bill. As regards other recommendations on practical arrangements contained in the report, the Administration would review it with the EAC and other relevant departments when the EAC was to make the electoral regulations and guidelines for the 2000 LegCo election.

44. Ms Emily LAU was dissatisfied with the counting arrangements in the 1998 LegCo election and urged for improvements to be made in the 2000 LegCo election. She referred to an extract of the Report of the 1998 Legislative Council Elections by the EAC circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 1424/98-99(01) and criticised the time taken for the count was too long i.e. from 11:30 pm on 24 May 1998 (when the first ballot box was opened) to 5 pm on 25 May 1998 (when the last election result was declared). She proposed that the count be done at individual polling stations rather than the central polling station and that the closing hour of polling should be advanced to an earlier time instead of at 10:30 pm.

45. DS for CA responded that the EAC was satisfied with the counting arrangements for the 1998 LegCo election, and that it would continue to make improvements for the next election. He said that the decision of setting polling time from 7:30 am to 10:30 pm had taken into account the habits of the Hong Kong people. Previous voting statistics indicated that the largest voter turnout was usually recorded in the evening hours.

    (Post-meeting note - The Administration's response to concerns raised by the Bills Committee at this meeting was circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2)1658/98-99(02) on 12 April 1999.)

II. Date of next meeting

46. The Chairman said that the next meeting would be held at 8:30 am on 15 March 1999.

47. The meeting ended at 10:37 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
5 July 1999