Wednesday, 16 December 1998
The Council met at half-past Two o'clock















































































The following papers were laid on the table pursuant to Rule 21(2) of the Rules of Procedure:

Subsidiary Legislation

L.N. No.

Import and Export (Removal of Articles) (Amendment) Regulation 1998


Air Pollution Control (Petrol Filling Stations) (Vapour Recovery) Regulation


Import and Export Ordinance (Amendment of Schedule 3) Notice 1998


Sessional Papers

No. 69

Queen Elizabeth Foundation for the Mentally
Handicapped Report and Accounts 1997-98

No. 70

Emergency Relief Fund Annual Report by the Trustee
for the year ending on 31 March 1998

No. 71

The Sir Murray MacLehose Trust Fund Trustee's Report
for the period 1 April 1997 to 31 March 1998

No. 72

Grantham Scholarships Fund Annual Report
for the year 1 September 1997 to 31 August 1998

No. 73

The Accounts of the Lotteries Fund 1997-98

No. 74

Thirty-seventh Annual Report
by the Social Work Training Fund Trustee
for the year ending on 31 March 1998

No. 75

Hong Kong Housing Authority Annual Report 1997/98

No. 76

Hong Kong Housing Authority Financial Statements
for the year ended 31 March 1998

No. 77

Revised list of works of the Provisional Regional Council
for the 1998/99 financial year
(during the second quarter ended 30 September 1998)

No. 78

Revised list of works of the Provisional Urban Council
for the 1998/99 financial year
(during the second quarter ended 30 September 1998)

No. 79

Report of the Chinese Temples Committee on the
administration of the Chinese Temples Fund
for the year ended 31 March 1998

No. 80

Report of the Chinese Temples Committee on the
administration of the General Chinese Charities Fund
for the year ended 31 March 1998


Report of the Bills Committee on Introduction of the Euro Bill


PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Questions. I would like to remind Members that question time normally does not exceed one and a half hours, with each question being allocated about 15 minutes on average. When asking supplementaries, Members should be as concise as possible. They should not ask more than one question, and should not make statements. To do so would contravene Rule 26 of the Rules of Procedure.

First question.

"Biodiesel" Pilot Scheme

1. MR LAW CHI-KWONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, it is learnt that, in order to explore the feasibility of transforming waste into energy, an environment protection organization plans to launch a six-month "biodiesel" pilot scheme early next year for converting waste cooking oils and animal fats discharged by food outlets into fuel for vehicles. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of:

(a) the measures in place to assist the organization in carrying out the pilot scheme; and

(b) the scope and progress of the feasibility study on the development of waste-to-energy incinerators in Hong Kong?


(a) We have been informed by one environmental protection organization its plan to conduct a research project involving the trial use of "biodiesel" converted from waste cooking oils as a fuel for vehicles. The organization has not sought assistance in any specific way from the Government in carrying out the research project. We are pleased to see this initiative and will be interested in the results of the research project.

(b) The scope of the feasibility study on building waste-to-energy incinerators includes:

(i) conducting environmental impact assessments, as well as planning, transport and financial assessments for potential sites and, in the light of these assessments, recommending preferred sites; and

(ii) carrying out outline design engineering cost estimates, and recommending the most suitable contractual arrangements.

The feasibility study started in September 1997 and is on schedule to be completed in March 1999.

MR LAW CHI-KWONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, it has been referred to in part (b) of the Government's main reply that the feasibility study is scheduled to be completed in March 1999. Could the Secretary inform this Council whether the Government would give an account of the study result upon the completion of the report?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, we will consult relevant environmental protection organizations and the Advisory Council on the Environment upon the completion of the study report. We would certainly given an account of the study at the Legislative Council Panel on Environmental Affairs in due course.

DR YEUNG SUM (in Cantonese): Apart from allocating more resources and enhancing publicity and education to help reduce waste, will the Government consider conducting a comprehensive review and study of the Waste Paper Recycling Scheme?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, with your permission and the consent of Dr the Honourable YEUNG Sum, I should like to give an account of the Waste Paper Recycling Scheme and the efforts we have made in this respect when I reply the second question later.

MR GARY CHENG (in Cantonese): Madam President, the concept of converting waste, in particular waste cooking oils, into fuel is indeed a novel idea and we have learnt about it in the newspaper. could the Government inform this Council whether it has any information concerning similar research projects conducted by other countries or regions; if not, how we can decide whether or not to support a research project about which we have no information or background material?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, according to our understanding, there is little information on the concept of converting waste cooking oil into fuel for vehicles. As regards other countries, there have been foreign research projects in which chemical materials were extracted from edible materials like corn, soya beans or similar vegetables, cookings oil or vegetable oils to make fuel. As to "biodiesels" not converted from waste cooking oils, no countries have so far attempted to produce them on a large scale for commercial purposes and application.

MR LEE WING-TAT (in Cantonese): Madam President, it is learnt that some European countries and the United States have in fact been conducting research projects involving the use of "biodiesel" converted from waste cooking oils as vehicle fuel for more than 20 years; besides, in certain parts of the United States vehicles have formally started using "biodiesel" converted from waste cooking oils as fuel. Yet the Secretrary just now claimed that he had not heard of such development. Does it imply that the Government is still unaware of development took place more than 20 years ago due to its lack of perception, or that the Government has been surprised to learn the news from the press but is unable to judge whether the concept is feasible due to its lack of information?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, according to our information, overseas countries have been using biodiesel on a very limited scale only. As a matter of fact, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has already been informed of the pilot scheme for converting waste cooking oils into fuel for vehicles last month, and we have since then been exchanging views with the relevant organization conducting the scheme.

MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): Madam President, with regard to "biodiesel" converted from waste cooking oils, research projects have already been conducted in other countries as pointed out by an Honourable colleague just now. In Hong Kong, we have several thousand restaurants operating territority-wide. Of course not every restaurant would have waste cooking oils, but for those restaurants which offer dishes like chicken's claw, fried duck and so on, they would certainly have such waste cooking oils commonly known as "perennial oil". In view of the considerable number of restaurants operating in Hong Kong and the fact that waste cooking oils could be found in most restaurants, could the Secretary inform this Council whether the Government would concern itself with the issue of waste cooking oils; and whether it would consider collecting waste cooking oils from restaurants in the future, with a view to reducing the production of such kind of waste oils?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, this is exactly one of the objectives of the research project. In addition to converting waste cooking oils into fuel for vehicles, the project also aims at cutting down on the production of waste cooking oils. At present, waste cooking oils are mainly transferred to landfill sites. If the pilot scheme turns out to be successful, then technical and practical problems such as the way in which waste cooking oils would be collected from restaurants and so on could be solved. That way, the question raised by the Honourable CHAN Wing-chan will certainly be catered to. For this reason, the Government is keeping a close watch on the results of the pilot scheme.

DR TANG SIU-TONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, in regard to the feasibility study on the development of waste-to-energy incinerators which is scheduled to be completed in March 1999, could the Secretary inform this Council whether there is any preliminary progress report on the study since its commencement a year ago, and of the organization responsible for conducting the study?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, the feasibility study is conducted by a consultancy commissioned by the EPD and it has come to the stage of site identification. As I said just now, a detailed report on the study is due for completion in March next year.

MR ANDREW WONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, indeed I raised the concept of developing waste-to-energy incinerators and related by-products many years ago. However, at a relevant committee meeting then, Dr REED considered my idea unfeasible and insisted on the need to develop landfills. Now that the Government is conducting a feasibility study on the development of waste-to-energy incinerators, does it imply that the landfills could not be developed any further; and that the Government really lacks foresight?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, there are at present three landfills in Hong Kong. As stated in a conclusion drawn many years ago, it would be very difficult to develop new landfills. For this reason, we have since been considering alternative ways of waste disposal; besides, we are also aware of the fact that a new generation of incinerators have been developed. As we all know, incinerators were built in Hong Kong more than a dozen years, but due to the grave pollution problem caused by them, we decided to replace them with landfill sites. Indeed, the incinerator technology then, in particular that of air pollution control, was not very satisfactory. However, as time passes and a new generation of incinerators are developed, we have considered it inadvisable to develop more landfills in Hong Kong. There are two reasons: first, we lack suitable sites that could be developed as landfills; second, we believe the new generation of incinerators will not give rise to any environmental problem and have therefore adjusted our waste disposal policy accordingly.

MR ANDREW WONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, my question is on whether the Government lacks good foresight, since closed and non-polluting incinerators have in fact been developed for more than a dozen years.

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, I believe members of the public will judge for themselves whether the Government lacks good foresight or not.

MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): Madam President, it seems that the Government has started conducting a research project many years ago to covert landfill gas into energy. Could the Secretary inform this Council of the results obtained; whether the technology of converting landfill gas into energy has any commercial value; and of the use of such technology?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, we have indeed conducted the research project referred to by the Honourable SIN Chung-kai. At present, the landfill gas produced by each of the three landfills in the course of disposing of the waste is used to operate the machines and lightings installed at the respective sites.

MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): Could the Secretary inform this Council whether it has any commercial value? Apart from operating the facilities at the landfills could the electricity generated by the landfill gas also be used for commercial purposes outside the sites?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, I am afraid do not have the information in hand. But I do believe the electricity generated by the landfill gas is only enough to support the uses within the three sites. Nevertheless, I could check the relevant information to see if there has been any surplus electricity that could be transmitted to other places for use.

MR ANDREW WONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, could the Secretary for inform this Council whether the Government will consider in the scope of this feasibility study the possibility of using the biogas produced by the incinerators for incineration purposes, thereby cutting down on the level of power consumption? I put forward this proposal to the then Director of Environmental Protection, Dr REED, many years ago.

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, I am not quite sure whether the Honourable Andrew WONG was talking about using the landfill gas to generate electricity and to incinerate the waste at the landfills. Should that be the case, then the same landfill site would have to serve both the landfill purpose and the incineration purpose. I am not sure if this is what Mr WONG referred to just now; if so, I am afraid the Government does not have such a plan for the time being.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Could Mr Andrew WONG clarify the supplementary question for the Secretary?

MR ANDREW WONG (in Cantonese): Please let me explain. Would the feasibility study to which the main reply referred investigate how the gases produced by the incinerators could be used to enhance its incineration function, thereby cutting down on the level of power consumption? I raised this point to Dr REED and introduced some relevant facilities to him many years ago.

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, my understanding is that once sent to any of the incinerators, the solid wastes collected from the urban area will be incinerated completely. As regards the technical question of whether gases produced in the incineration process could be transferred back to the incinerator to help enhance its incineration efficiency, I am afraid I could not provide Mr WONG with an answer at the moment.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Council will now move on to the second ......

MR ANDREW WONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, could the Secretary inform this Council whether this issue would be included in the feasibility study ......

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr Andrew WONG, there is no need to speak in a rush. If you stand up I will ask you to speak. What is your point? Please raise your supplementary but do not make any statement. MR ANDREW WONG (in Cantonese): I was asking the Secretary whether the issue would be included in the scope of the feasibility study. I did not ask him if he understand it or not.

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, I am afraid I do not have the relevant information in hand. I will provide Mr Andrew WONG with a written reply as to whether the issue will be included in the feasibility study. (Annex I)

Recycling of Waste Paper

2. MR MA FUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): Madam President, it is reported that a waste paper recycling plant in Yuen Long has closed down recently. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of:

(a) the contingency measures the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has taken to handle the additional waste paper as a result of the closure of the plant;

(b) the government departments which purchased recycled paper and the total amount of recycled paper purchased by them in the past three years, and whether such purchases included local recycled paper; if not, why not; and

(c) the policies and specific measures it has adopted to encourage and support the development of the local paper recycling industry, for example, in encouraging government departments to give priority to buying local recycled paper?


(a) Following the closure of the plant, the amount of waste paper being disposed of at the landfills has been within the normal range of fluctuation. Whilst the amount of waste paper being handled for export at the designated cargo handling areas have been increasing somewhat, it is within their handling capacity. Paper separated out from other waste has continued to be collected from the housing estates and schools where waste separation schemes have been introduced. While we would prefer to see this potentially valuable commodity put to the best use, if required, the landfills are available for temporary storage or final disposal of surplus paper that cannot be exported or recycled locally.

(b) The Government Supplies Department is the Government's central procurement agent, for a range of items which are commonly used by government departments. In the past three years, its purchases of recycled paper products included paper towels and toilet paper. Our annual consumption is around 1.5 million packs or rolls of paper towels, and seven million rolls of toilet paper. The Printing Department also purchases approximately 900 tonnes of recycled paper every year for printing, envelope making and packing. Moreover, individual departments make direct purchases of small value to meet their departmental requirements. We do not have these statistics readily available.

So far we have purchased very few locally recycled paper products. This is because our international obligations do not allow us to discriminate in favour of locally produced goods, and the local recycling mills in any case do not produce the types of products that we require in substantial quantities.

(c) The Government's policy for the waste paper recycling industry is to provide a business environment that is conducive to investment and business expansion. In the Waste Reduction Framework Plan we introduced last month, many of the instruments will be used, particularly producer responsibility schemes and landfill charging will provide strong incentives and economic backing for business that can offer opportunity to recover, reuse or recycle material rather than let it become waste. The provision of land on restricted tender for use by recycling businesses will also give direct support to this industry.

As a party to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), the Government is obliged to provide treatment to suppliers of goods and services of other GPA Parties no less favourable than that given to domestic suppliers. The Government is therefore not in a position to encourage or require government departments to give priority to purchasing local recycled paper. Government departments are being encouraged, however, to adopt environmentally responsible purchasing policies, which may serve to stimulate demand for durable, reusable or recyclable products and thereby increase business opportunities for the local recycling industry.

Other measures we are taking that will give support to recycling, including paper recycling:

- amending the Building Regulations in 1999 to provide adequate space in new buildings for material recovery activities;

- integrating material recovery facilities into our waste management systems to provide a stable supply of clean recyclable materials; and

- promoting "Demonstration Schemes" under the Waste Reduction Framework Plan to encourage the adoption of new technologies. Interested companies will be able to apply for funding assistance.

MR MA FUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): Madam President, in part (b) of the main reply, the Government stresses its international obligations that inhibit discrimination in favour of locally produced goods, and it follows by saying that being a party to the GPA, Hong Kong is obliged to consider other suppliers. But does the Government know that other governments have established many preferential measures to encourage their own recycling industry and export of recycled products? If the Government holds on to this attitude or insists on such a policy, is it actually being preferential to foreign suppliers and unfair to the local ones?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, the industrial or environmental policies of foreign governments, and the subsidies, assistance or support that they give to this industry all come under their administration which we are not in a position to intervene. However, if they violate any international or the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, signatories of these agreements, including Hong Kong, may consider expressing our views and grievances with the relevant international organizations, but that comes under our trading policy.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr MA Fung-kwok, which part of your question has not been answered?

MR MA FUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): I just wish to follow up another policy because the Secretary has just said that this is purely a matter of our trading policy, but I feel that they are two separate issues ......

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): In that case, you have to wait for your turn again. As for now, you may only follow up the part that the Secretary has not answered.

MR MA FUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): Thank you, Madam President.

MRS MIRIAM LAU (in Cantonese): Madam President, the present recovery rate of ordinary waste paper is very low. Some green groups have pointed out that although some people separate paper from other waste, when the Urban Services Department (USD) collects the rubbish, they pay no attention to this and dump the sorted paper together with the other wastes in the landfills. Is the Government aware of this? If such a situation does exist, what policy or measure will the Government adopt to ensure that the recovered waste paper can be put to full use?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, first of all, I would like to give Members some statistics. According to a survey conducted in 1997, a total of 710 000 tonnes of waste paper was recovered in the territory, 38% of which was recycled by the local recycling industry and 62% exported. In fact, in terms of the quantity of the paper recovered in Hong Kong, it is not exactly small.

As regards how the USD and Regional Services Department (RSD) collect the waste paper already sorted out, insofar as I understand it, we, together with the EPD, have launched a waste separation scheme in scores of housing estates and some schools. The housing estates and schools will separate waste paper from other kinds of waste and put them in different containers. The USD and RSD will treat the waste differently according to the different kinds of waste and containers. Owing to the present problems with the waste paper, this scheme has not been implemented territory-wide although there is an intent to do so. In other words, the USD and RSD do treat and collect the separated wastes in these housing estates and schools discriminately.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs LAU, which part of your question has not been answered?

MRS MIRIAM LAU (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Secretary has only said that a waste separation scheme has been launched in housing estates and schools where waste paper is separated and recovered by the USD. But my supplementary question actually covered a wider scope, that is, the people have already taken the initiative to separate the wastes — putting waste paper in a different pile from other kinds of waste — but when the USD workers come to collect the rubbish, they mix up the already separated piles of waste again, giving no regard to the efforts of the people. Does the Government know about this?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, Members may have noticed that the USD has placed such waste collection containers in such public areas as the Star Ferry Concourse. As regards how the USD collects or handles the waste, I do not have the information on hand at the moment. But there are such kinds of containers. (Annex II) MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, in part (a) of his main reply, the Secretary has said that the last resort would be to dispose of the waste paper in the landfills. From the perspective of environmental protection, this practice is highly regrettable because it will only worsen the problem. I would like to ask the Secretary what the present costs of storing waste paper in the landfills are. In the case that the paper recycling mills ask for the Government's assistance to allow them a better chance of survival, in terms of the cost per unit, which will be higher, the assistance they ask for or the disposal in the landfills? In considering the two approaches, why does the Government not choose the approach that incurs lower costs?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, I hope I have caught Mr LEUNG's question fully. The cost for handling solid waste at the landfills is $110 per tonne, that is, for each tonne of waste sent to the landfills to be handled by the contractors there, the Government has to pay $110. As far as I understand it, at the meeting held between the recycling industry and the EPD last week, the industry asked the Government to subsidize them direct by paying $200 in cash for handling each tonne of waste paper. Their argument was that the price of each tonne of recovered paper has dropped from $500 in the past to the present $200 or $300, and hence they asked for a direct subsidy from the Government by paying them $200 in cash for each tonne of waste paper handled. Of course, they had other demands the details of which I do not consider it appropriate to elaborate here.

Have I fully answered Mr LEUNG's question?

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LEUNG, has the Secretary answered your question fully?

(Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung nodded to indicate agreement)

MR TAM YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, has the Government considered taking any practical measures to help put the waste paper recycling plant in Yuen Long back in business in order to solve the problems of waste paper disposal and unemployment? If not, why not?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, some people from the industry have suggested that the Government take over the plant, but that can hardly be done. Some have also suggested the Government inject capital into the plant to put it back in business which I consider infeasible either. As regards how the Government can help the industry, we already met with the people from the industry last week and exchanged opinions with them on how the Government could help them. The EPD also proposed to hold another meeting with them the day after tomorrow in response to the demands they made last week. Indeed, the Government has done a great deal to solve the problem. For example, after the closure of the recycling plant, in response to the complaints about the disposal of waste paper stored there, the EPD took the initiative to contact mainland and local waste paper exporters. Up till last week, we contacted about 30 exporters, including many mainland waste paper recycling plants, and they have all showed interest in receiving the waste paper from Hong Kong. Moreover, we have also planned on identifying more sites by the middle of next year and provide them on restricted tender for use by the recycling industry. This is our practical ways of helping the industry.

I would like to add one more point here. We do not just store the waste paper in the landfills immediately and forget about it. Indeed, we have so far only stored temporarily 38 tonnes of waste paper in the landfills and if we can find other ways to handle it, we will export it so that it needs not be stored in the landfills. It is only our last resort to store the waste paper in the landfills.

MR NG LEUNG-SING (in Cantonese): Madam President, according to part (c) of the main reply, because the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is a party to the GPA, it is "not in a position to encourage or require government departments to give priority to purchasing local recycled paper", that is, "recycled paper", however, "government departments are encouraged to adopt environmentally responsible purchasing policies, which may serve to stimulate demand for durable, reusable or recyclable products". It seems that there may be conflicts between our present environmental policy and trading policy, would the Government tell us whether there is a need to further study the priority of the two policies before considering the issue of using recycled paper?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, let me clarify a point here. As a party to the GPA, Hong Kong is obliged to observe the "national treatment". In other words, we have to treat everyone impartially. We cannot purchase local recycled paper only without considering foreign products. Therefore, the problem lies not with the recycled paper but with the point that we cannot discriminate against foreign suppliers. Of course, when there is need to purchase recycled paper, as I have just said, what we can do is to observe an environmentally responsible purchasing policy which is not a violation of the GPA.

MR LEE CHEUK-YAN (in Cantonese): Madam President, according to part (b) of the main reply, the Government has never purchased large quantities of locally produced recycled paper products. I wonder out of the 7 million rolls of toilet paper, how many rolls are made from locally recycled paper? The Government later said it hoped that after environmentally responsible policies are launched, it will increase business opportunities for the local recycling industry. In fact, how will an adoption of the policies increase business opportunities for the industry? According to the Government's long standing purchasing policy, it has been purchasing more foreign products than local ones. In that case, how can it improve the business environment for the local industry?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, this is similar to the chicken and egg issue. So far, the Government has not consumed many recycled products. For instance, the recycled paper products that the Government uses are limited to toilet paper and the like but the local recycling industry does not produce toilet paper or paper towels. As far as we know, what they are producing now is corrugated packaging paper which the Government only consumes in a very small quantity. Members may of course say that as the Government has not purchased large quantities of this kind of recycled products, local producers could only turn to producing corrugated paper instead of toilet rolls in the absence of a major consumer for the latter product. However, when the Government has large demand on recycled paper products, we hope to see that they will invest more in this respect and produce products that the Hong Kong Government needs.

MR ERIC LI (in Cantonese): I wish to follow up the issue of cost-effectiveness raised by Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung. In his reply, the Secretary said that the cost for handling waste paper is $110 per tonne. But in fact, the real cost is more than that. In applying for the funding to construct a landfill, the Secretary indicated that the cost was very high as it involved dealing with landfill gas and sediments and so on which required substantial infrastructural works. Hence, we do have a rough idea about the costs of the landfills in terms of their areas. I would like to ask the Secretary: Taking into account the area cost of the landfills, coupled with the publicity costs, which is nonetheless useless, as well as the resources used but which can actually be avoided, would it not be more cost-effective to establish an environmental protection fund to inject capital into, rather than subsidize, the green industries?

SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Madam President, I do not have the data concerning the overall handling costs of waste paper, which include the construction cost of landfills, on hand. But I do agree with Mr LI that the actual handling cost is higher more than $110 per tonne. We also hope that more waste paper can be exported or recycled instead of laying to waste in the landfills. As regards the second part of the question, we will consider the suggestion. (Annex III)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Honourable Members, as we have already spent 22 minutes on this question but many Members would still wish to raise questions on this topic, I suggest that Members follow it up through other channels.

MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have an additional request. The Secretary only answered part of my supplementary question. My question was on the overall cost-effectiveness. Could the Secretary provide me with some specific data?

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung, after the Secretary had answered your question, I asked if you were satisfied but you did not indicate that part of your question had not been answered. So I cannot set a precedent for you here. But I trust that you will certainly obtain the relevant information from other sources. Safety of Overhead Three-phase Wires

3. LAU WONG-FAT (in Cantonese): Madam President, it is reported that on 30 March and 25 October this year, due to a surge in electricity voltage to 380 volts caused by the failures of overhead three-phase wires, the electrical appliances of many households in Yuen Long and Sha Tin were damaged. China Light and Power Company Limited (CLP), in accordance with the exemption clause in its Supply Rules, refused to compensate the affected consumers for their losses. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows when CLP started using such overhead three-phase wires; and of the number of households in the New Territories involved;

(b) whether it has conducted any safety tests on such three-phase wires in respect of their effects on electrical appliances and possibility of fire hazards in case of failure; and whether CLP will be required to switch to the use of other more reliable overhead lines in the light of these incidents; and

(c) whether it has assessed if CLP can, under the exemption clause in its Supply Rules, disclaim legal responsibility for compensating consumers and property owners for loss of lives and property caused by the voltage surge of the overhead three-phase wires or the resultant fires?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President,

(a) According to CLP, they have used overhead three-phase electricity lines since the 1920s and that some 110 000 account-holders, all in villages and rural areas, are currently being supplied through such lines. This number represents about 6% of the company's customers. The other 94% of the company's customers are supplied with electricity distributed through underground cables.

(b) The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) is responsible for monitoring the safety and reliability of electricity supply by the power company and their technical performance. CLP is responsible for designing, constructing, and testing their electricity supply facilities in accordance with international standards, and to ensure such facilities do not pose any hazard to residents. As regards the maintenance and testing of the overhead three-phase electricity lines, this is the responsibility of the power company. The EMSD conducts Annual Auditing Review on the technical performance of the power company. Besides, the power company is required to report to the EMSD upon the occurrence of any electrical accident or power interruption, and remedial actions taken to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

The two power failures to which Mr LAU referred were not related to the safety or reliability of the overhead lines. The incident on 30 March 1998 was caused by a crane lorry breaking one of the conductors in an overhead line and affected four customers. The incident on 25 October 1998 was caused by a tree falling on an overhead line during the passage of a tropical cyclone and 45 customers were affected. The overhead lines used by CLP comply with international standards and are commonly used in other parts of the world. The EMSD sees no need to require CLP to change them. In order to deter third parties from damaging the overhead lines, we intend to introduce new legislation early next year to reduce the occurrence of such incidents.

(c) As regards the liability of CLP in such incidents, the company's Supply Rules provide that the company shall not be liable for any loss or damage or inconvenience occasioned directly or indirectly by any voltage fluctuation, interruption or failure of the supply, except to the extent that such damage or loss cannot be excluded by law. They also provide that the company is not liable for any direct loss or damage to a customer except to the extent that it is caused by the negligence of the company. They do not, however, restrict or exclude the liability of the company to anyone for death or personal injury resulting from the negligence of the company.

Any person who believes that he is legally entitled to recover compensation from CLP for loss or damage sustained by him as a result of an interruption of electricity supply may seek to recover such compensation from the company. If the matter cannot be resolved, he may pursue his claim against the company through the court, which may adjudicate the claim according to the facts, circumstances and merits of the case.

MR LAU WONG-FAT (in Cantonese): Madam President, the incidents revealed that the design of three-phase electricity lines was potentially dangerous, and that any damage to the neutral wire of the electricity lines would result not in power interruption, but in a sharp rise in electricity voltage of nearly 100%, thereby destroying the electrical appliances of the company's customers. Will the Government inform this Council why it has failed to notice this problem so far and allowed CLP to continue to use such potentially dangerous electricity lines?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, as I said before, the three-phase electricity lines used by CLP comply with international standards of safety and are used by advanced countries in other parts of the world as well. In fact, the relevant accident figure is very low too. According to the information provided by the EMSD, only four similar accidents of voltage surge as mentioned in the question raised by Mr LAU just now took place last year. Except for the two incidents mentioned in the question, the remaining two had not done any damage to electrical appliances. Insofar as this issue is concerned, I think Members should rather focus on the reliability of CLP's supply. What we ask for is 99.98%, but its actual record shows that its reliability even reached 99.99%. Compared to the records of other places, this record already reflects a very high reliability.

MR ANDREW CHENG (in Cantonese): Madam President, what has taken place in Yuen Long and Sha Tin is not just power interruption. Let me cite Sha Tin as an example. As a result of a sharp surge in voltage caused by power interruption, some residents found that their electrical appliances, some of which even costed tens of thousands dollars, had all stopped functioning. In part (b) of the main reply, the Government mentioned that it would introduce new legislation. In this connection, will the Government, in introducing new legislation, consider how to protect the affected customers in financial terms? If not, why not?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have indicated in my reply to the question raised by Mr LAU that the problem is in fact not so serious, and I have cited some figures for illustration. In fact, one of the two accidents was caused by a tree falling because of the bad weather during a tropical cyclone. The number of such accidents is very low indeed. Mr CHENG might have misunderstood the piece of legislation I mentioned. What I meant is those three-phase electricity lines are actually in compliance with safety standards. But as these electricity lines are overhead wires, they are susceptible to accidents. For instance, it is difficult to avoid accidents during tropical cyclones. Very often, in the course of construction works, contractors might hit these wires and thus cause damage or they might hit the underground cables in the course of digging works. As such, we intend to introduce new legislation to prevent, as far as possible, any third party from damaging overhead or underground cables. This new piece of legislation will mainly aim at requiring contractors to fully comply with the procedure in carrying out their projects to avoid damaging these overhead wires because of negligence.

MR ANDREW CHENG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have not misunderstood the issue pertaining to legislation as raised by the Secretary ......

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): But, Mr CHENG, which part of your supplementary question has not been answered?

MR ANDREW CHENG (in Cantonese): What I meant is as this piece of legislation will be put in place and as some customers have incurred financial losses as a result of damage done to cables due to human negligence, has the Administration considered enacting legislation in this area to protect customers against losses?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, it will depend mainly on the merits of each case to see whether or not there is human negligence. If damage is caused by a tropical cyclone rather than negligence on the part of the power company, it will be very difficult for us to stipulate how compensation should be made. Therefore, it all depends on individual cases. I have also mentioned in the main reply that if the power company is found to have failed to comply with the laws out of negligence, such as failing to ensure that the wires are in compliance with international standards, and if anyone holds that he is entitled to make a claim, he can pursue his claim through the court. But eventually, the court will make a ruling depending on the circumstances of each case.

MR HO SAI-CHU (in Cantonese): Madam President, we learn from paragraph (a) of the main reply that only 6% of the company's customers rely on this form of power supply. Will the Secretary inform this Council whether there is a tendency for this form of power supply to phase out? If so, the problem will naturally diminish. In addition, will the Government encourage CLP to phase out this form of power supply as it was already in use 80 years ago. Should the power company replace it with another form of power supply in light of the progresses made in technology?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, as Mr HO Sai-chu said, the current situation is that power companies do not have any overhead electricity wires in the urban areas. As far as the Hongkong Electric Company Limited is concerned, for instance, this kind of overhead wires can rarely be found unless there is such a need from the locality point of view. It is the wish of power companies that they can use underground cables in the urban areas as far as possible.

MR FRED LI (in Cantonese): Madam President, it will be extremely difficult to prove that the losses incurred by the general customers are caused by negligence on the part of the power company. Will the Government agree to amending the company's Supply Rules so as to step up the protection for the consumers' interests?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, regarding liability and compensation, the Supply Rules are only one of the issues we need to consider as we need to consider other pieces of legislation as well. This is because the Supply Rules cannot replace the existing legislation. Even if it is mentioned in the Supply Rules that the power company may not be liable, we still have legislation providing for control on exemption clauses. As I said earlier, if the public thinks that certain provisions are not reasonable, they can pursue their claims and let the court consider whether the relevant exemption clause is reasonable or not. In addition, the Government has already taken note of the development of the Supply Rules. As a matter of fact, and perhaps Mr LI is also aware, the Supply Rules have been subject to amendment in the light of the actual circumstances. Moreover, the Government has planned to draft a new power supply regulation to further enhance the safety and reliability of power supply. We have prepared a consultative paper on the power supply regulation which should have been published if not for some minor amendments. We hope to launch the consultation exercise in connection with the issue within the next few weeks.

MR LAU KONG-WAH (in Cantonese): Madam President, over the past six months, accidents have happened to both underground and overhead cables of CLP but not a single compensation has been offered. The Secretary mentioned that the affected people could claim for compensation but is there any past evidence showing that members of the public have indeed pursued their claims successfully? Can the Secretary provide us with the relevant information?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I do not have the information required by Mr LAU at hand. I will give him a written reply after obtaining the information. (Annex IV)

DR TANG SIU-TONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, according to the Government, what is the definition of "negligence"? Does the use of out-dated designs fall into the definition of "negligence"? At the same time, will the Government consider establishing a fair and reasonable compensation mechanism for customers suffering losses as a result of power supply problems?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have mentioned just now a number of points concerning the compensation mechanism, and so I will not repeat them here. As regards the definition of "negligence", the power company is required to, under the Electricity Ordinance, report to the EMSD upon the occurrence of any accident or power interruption to find out the causes and examine what needs to be done to prevent recurrence of such accidents. Of course, under certain circumstances, the EMSD will initiate investigations to study the causes of the accidents or examine whether there is any negligence or something that needs to be done has been ignored, such as to examine whether the problematic cables I mentioned earlier are in compliance with the prescribed standards and so on. Therefore it is very hard for me to point out what is meant by negligence in each case. Nevertheless, the power company is required to make a report for each incident to explain the causes of the incident. On the other hand, the EMSD will conduct investigation to see if there is any negligence before taking action.

MRS SOPHIE LEUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, at the end of part (b) of the main reply, the Secretary mentioned that the Government would introduce new legislation. But then the Secretary said that these overhead wires would be phased out. In this connection, will the Government prefer reducing the number of these overhead wires to introducing legislation? Even if legislation is in place, we cannot prevent these wires from falling down as a result of the attack of a tropical cyclone, thereby causing accidents. Can the Secretary inform this Council when these wires are expected to be completely replaced? Can the intended legislation reduce the damage done by tropical cyclones?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I am afraid I must apologize to Members for I have not explained clearly as I am too poor in speech.

In fact, the new legislation I mentioned is targeted not only at overhead wires. As I have told Members earlier, the new law will also target at underground cables, in addition to overhead wires. In other words, in carrying out construction works, contractors might damage overhead wires and might also damage underground cables in the course of digging. This is why we deem it necessary to introduce new legislation, but it will not target at overhead wires alone. I should like to explain once again that this kind of three-phase electricity lines is in fact very common and it is in compliance with international standards. I believe Mr HO and many other Members will understand that there is nothing unusual with this kind of wires. In fact, these electricity lines can be found everywhere in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and China, and they have not constituted a major problem. Let me reiterate that the introduction of legislation is mainly aimed at preventing a third party from damaging overhead wires or underground cables in carrying out construction works.

Implementation of the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation

4. MR DAVID CHU (in Cantonese): Madam President, regarding the implementation of provisions in the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has undertaken a survey on the number of shops which are engaged mainly in selling electrical products through parallel import; of the total number of staff employed by such shops;

(b) whether it has assessed if the fees charged and time required by private Recognized Certification Bodies for testing and issuing Certificates of Safety Compliance are reasonable; whether it will consider issuing guidelines in respect of such fees and time; if it does not intend to issue such guidelines, the reason for that; and

(c) whether it has assessed if there is a need to extend the one-month grace period in respect of the provisions for the above Certificates in the Regulation?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President,

(a) There is no requirement for shops selling electrical products to declare whether they are supplying parallel imports. Therefore we have no firm statistics on the number of shops which sell mainly electrical products which are parallel imports or the total number of staff employed by such shops.

According to the trade, however, there are some 1 000 shops supplying audio-visual products in Hong Kong and only a small proportion of these are engaged mainly in supplying parallel imports. From the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department's (EMSD) experience in inspecting these shops, we estimate that some 200 shops are mainly involved in supplying parallel imported audio and video products, and they employ some 2 000 persons.

(b) The cost of, and the time required to provide, testing and certification for an electrical product will depend on the technical complexity of the product. According to some recognized certification bodies which include local testing laboratories accredited by the Hong Kong Laboratory Accreditation Scheme arranged by the Industry Department, the cost of testing will generally be in the range of $5,000 to $20,000, and it will normally take several weeks to complete the test. We see no need to issue guidelines on such matters, as the provision of testing services is subject to competition between these certification bodies on cost and time.

(c) As regards the timetable for bringing into force the provisions of the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation relating to certificates of safety compliance, the trade has been consulted extensively since 1994, including during Members' examination of the accompanying Bill in 1996. The Regulation was gazetted on 2 May 1997, with the provisions relating to the registration of Recognized Certification Bodies and Recognized Manufacturers brought into operation on 24 October 1997 and the main provisions (except sections 7 and 8 on certificates of safety compliance) brought into operation on 29 May 1998 after expiry of a 12-month grace period.

Our intention to bring into operation the requirement for certificates of safety compliance in the next few weeks has been clearly conveyed to the trade. We have had a number of meetings with the Hong Kong Electrical Appliance I/E Association and will shortly brief the Economic Services Panel of this Council on the outcome of our discussion.

Madam President, we do not intend to extend the grace period. We need to commence as early as possible the certification requirement of electrical appliances under the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation in order to improve the safety standard of electrical appliances, and to protect public safety.

MR DAVID CHU (in Cantonese): Madam President, as far as I know, the number of shops and employees engaged in this particular trade is far greater than the government estimate. If the new requirement is really going to produce a great impact on the business turnover and employees of these shops, will the Government consider the idea of amending or relaxing the requirement?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I think it is indeed not easy to ascertain the actual number of employees engaged in this particular trade. As I am also responsible for tourism affairs, I naturally hope that all those tourists who like to buy parallel imports can continue to do so in the future. That is why it is definitely not our intention to strangle the parallel import trade. We have allowed a one-month grace period, because the EMSD and the trade are still conducting discussions, and we hope that flexibility can be applied to identify some mutually acceptable solutions. From our perspective, public safety is our most important concern. And, while we do very much hope that the retail merchants concerned can survive, we still think that public safety should be our most important consideration. The best way out is of course for the EMSD to handle this matter with flexibility. In fact, we have been discussing quite a number of flexible proposals with the trade, and I know that both sides will continue their discussions this week. I do very much hope that we can identify a mutually acceptable solution before the end of the grace period. This will be most satisfactory.

MR FUNG CHI-KIN (in Cantonese): Madam President, it is mentioned in paragraph (b) of the Secretary's main reply that testing fees will range from $5,000 to $20,000. But he has not told us whether such levels of fees are in fact reasonable. So, the long-standing problem of parallel imports cannot possibly be solved. Besides, has any statistical research be done in regard to accidents?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I do not quite understand what is meant by the word "accidents" which the Honourable Member mentioned in the last part of his question. Will the Honourable Member please repeat what he meant?

MR FUNG CHI-KIN (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Regulation in question concerns the safety issue. That is why I have asked a question on the accidents caused by parallel imports, and I also want to know whether there are any statistical records on that.

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, the EMSD has informed us that they do not keep any statistical records on the safety problems caused by parallel import. The reason is that from the perspective of the Government, all electrical appliances used by members of the public should be our concern, be they parallel imports or factory-built products. That is why we have never tried to handle accidents caused by parallel imports and factory-built products under separate procedures.

As for whether or not the fees charged by certification bodies are reasonable, we do not think that we should make any comments or decisions at all. Rather, we think that the market should be left to decide, and the most important determining factor should be competition. In this connection, as I pointed out a moment ago, we have already started the registration of approved certification bodies. So far, 49 approved certification bodies from 24 different countries like Japan, Australia, Britain, China and the United States as well as four approved manufacturers have been registered. And we are also processing a number of other applications. At present, at least nine approved certification bodies in Hong Kong are already allowed to issue Certificates of Safety Compliance. This is precisely what I mean by market forces ─ I mean, more certification bodies will certainly be registered in Hong Kong, and electrical appliance merchants will thus have more and more choices. We must have faith in market forces because they will make many choices available.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr FUNG Chi-kin, which part of your question has not been answered?

MR FUNG CHI-KIN (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Secretary has failed to say whether or not the fees concerned are reasonable. He has only talked about the issue of competition.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr FUNG Chi-kin, please sit down first. The Secretary has already answered your question, only that you may not be satisfied with it. But no debate can be allowed during Question Time. I think the Secretary has already answered your supplementary question.

MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Madam President, despite the fact that during the scrutiny of the relevant bill, both the Government and the former Legislative Council did carry out very extensive consultation, many merchants, whether they sell factory-built products or parallel imports, still have very great fears and doubts in respect of the new requirement. May I ask the Government whether the discussions held so far are in fact able to yield any outcome which can satisfy these merchants? And, can these discussions allay the anxieties of most involved parties, thus making them feel that their businesses can survive after all? I think continued survival is the crux of the whole problem. With respect to some related problems, such as how the merchants concerned look at their stocks, the costs of testing and technical specifications, can most of them be solved to the satisfaction of both sides? And, can these merchants thus continue to survive?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I must thank Mrs Selina CHOW for raising this question. I am sure Mrs Selina CHOW knows best about the situation because she has been participating in the whole thing throughout, and she has made a lot of efforts. She will therefore know that the EMSD has been discussing the matter with the trade over the past few weeks. Let us not forget that the bill was first mooted as early as 1994, and it was tabled before the former Legislative Council in 1996 for consideration. Since that very time, we have been conducting extensive consultation. That is why one simply cannot say that we have tried to rush the whole thing through all of a sudden. Honourable Members should know that throughout the process, the EMSD has actually applied a lot of flexibility, and its aim, as I pointed out in answering the question of the Honourable David CHU, has been to identify some arrangements whereby public safety and the continued survival of the parallel import trade can both be ensured. I think what is most important is that we must try to strike a proper balance. As far as I know, the discussions going on in the past week or two have already yielded some progress, and it looks likely that many problems can be overcome eventually. We cannot of course entirely satisfy all the parties involved. But I think we should be able to work out some mutually acceptable solutions.

MISS CHOY SO-YUK (in Cantonese): Madam President, when the Secretary answered the question just now, he repeatedly stressed that testing fees and testing time should be determined by the market through competition. But the trade does have a lot of opinions about these issues. Since the Secretary said that he had studied the situation in other countries, may I ask the Government whether it will consider the possibility of referring to the testing fees and testing time required in foreign countries, with a view to proactively preparing some guidelines for testing centres, so that the trade can become better informed?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, on the questions of fees, I think the Honourable Member should know very clearly that there is no such thing as free lunch on earth, and this is especially true today, as Honourable Members should know. As I pointed out, testing fees should be determined by market forces. We think the most important thing is for us to have as many certification bodies as possible. As I pointed out, there are nearly 50 certification bodies now, and more applications are coming. So, I really think that many choices are already available to electrical appliance merchants. These certification bodies come from as many as 24 different countries. So, they should be able to satisfy the demands of electrical appliance merchants. And, we will of course continue to receive and vet new applications.

MR FRED LI (in Cantonese): Madam President, will the Secretary please tell us in great detail, in very very great detail, what difficulties will be encountered by members of the Hong Kong Electrical Appliance I/E Association, that is, those retail merchants who are the main importers of parallel imports, following the implementation of the Electrical Products (Safety) Regulation? And how will the Government help them in addressing these difficulties?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I do not quite know in what great detail the Honourable Member would want me to explain the difficulties faced by the merchants concerned. If I were to dwell further on this, I could actually go on talking for well over a hour. I do not think that there is such a need anyway, and I am sure that Mr Fred LI knows this problem very well. The greatest problem now is of course public safety. By this, I mean that all the electrical appliances which these merchants sell must meet the specified standards, and this must be proved by the production of Certificates of Safety Compliance. The problem now faced by parallel import merchants is whether or not they can produce these Certificates. In this connection, as I pointed out in replying to other Honourable Members' questions, the Government will handle this matter with a considerable degree of flexibility. In its discussions with the trade, the Government will seek to understand their problems. For example, the Government may look at how these merchants can obtain safety certification from manufacturers or suppliers; it may also explore other possibilities, such as the use of safety labels or other forms of certification. From the perspective of the EMSD, it has to ensure that before they can obtain any safety labels or other forms of certification, their goods must first be tested and proved to be able to meet our requirements. And, let me also add that our requirement is in fact well within the ability of parallel product merchants. As I pointed out, the discussions between the EMSD and the trade in the past few weeks seem to have achieved some progress already. I naturally hope that a mutually acceptable solution can be identified. I will report to the Economic Services Panel of this Council on the outcome of these discussions towards the end of this month.

MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): May I ask the Secretary whether there will be any more petitions outside the Legislative Council Building the next time when the Economic Services Panel meets.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr SIN Chung-kai, I am sorry, but I think this supplementary question ......

MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): Madam President, you do not have to explain any further, because I already know what you mean. You have been saying this to practically every Honourable Member.

So, let me then simply rephrase my supplementary question.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): No, because you have already stated your supplementary question. Please sit down. (Laughter) your supplementary question is based on an assumption, and you should not have asked it at all. But since you are the last Member to ask a supplementary question on this topic, I can give you one more chance.

MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): Madam President, may I ask the Secretary whether he believes that a satisfactory solution to this problem can be identified before the end of this month?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I do not think that my own personal guess is a matter of any significance at all. I of course hope that there can be a satisfactory solution. As I pointed out clearly, public safety is our prime concern, but we also want to give parallel import merchants a chance to survive. Whether or not these merchants are going to stage any petitions will have no bearing on our decision-making. Even if they stage 10 petitions, it will not make any difference. The most important thing is that we should all come together and try positively to identify some mutually acceptable solutions. I think this is only fair to all concerned parties.

Hong Kong's Export and Re-export Trade

5. MR HUI CHEUNG-CHING (in Cantonese): Madam President, the value of Hong Kong's re-exports has registered negative growth in the months since January, except for a 3.7% growth in March; and the value of overall exports has dropped by 17.5% in October compared with the same time last year. On the other hand, it is reported that the throughput of the three largest container ports in the Mainland increased by 66% in the first half of the year. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has assessed if the above phenomena indicate that the competitiveness of the container freight trade in Hong Kong is on the decline; if so, of the remedial measures to be taken; and

(b) given that starting from January next year, the relevant mainland authorities will levy a value-added tax at a rate between 6% to 8% on the export products of industrial enterprises operated by Hong Kong manufacturers in the Mainland, whether it has assessed the impact of this measure on Hong Kong's export and re-export trade?

SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese): Madam President,

(a) Although Hong Kong's export recorded a drop of 17.5% in October and 6.6% from January to October 1998 compared with the corresponding periods last year, the overall throughput of our container port still registered a growth rate of 1.5%. In the face of competition from neighbouring ports, we have adopted a series of measures to enhance the competitiveness of our container terminals and container freight industry. These include studies to explore the possibility of improving the layout of the existing container terminals and providing terminal operations with additional backup area to increase operational efficiency; dredging of the Rambler Channel to enable container terminals to handle the next generation of large container ships; construction of Container Terminal 9 to increase the handling capacity of our container terminals and to promote market competition; strengthening liaison with the Shenzhen authorities to improve the container traffic congestion problem at the boundary; and promotion of river freight to extend the catchment area of our container port and to reduce the cost of moving containers between the Pearl River Delta and Hong Kong. The Government will continue to work with all parties concerned in the container freight industry to identify measures to reduce container handling cost in Hong Kong and enhance the competitiveness of our port.

(b) The imposition of value-added tax on foreign-funded enterprises by the mainland authorities in January next year undoubtedly will have some impact on the business profits of Hong Kong manufacturers in the Mainland. To a certain extent, Hong Kong's processing trade will also suffer. However, in the absence of operational statistics about Hong Kong enterprises in the Mainland (such as expenditures on raw material, staff cost and net profits), it is impossible for us to evaluate the actual impact of this measure on them and on the processing trade of Hong Kong. Besides, we have heard that the Central Government might postpone the application of this measure to foreign-funded enterprises registered before 31 December 1993. We are liaising with the relevant authorities to understand more about the latest development of this matter.

In summary, we believe that the following factors will help alleviate the negative impact of this measure:

(1) As we understand, Hong Kong manufacturers in the Mainland have learned for a number of years that the Central Government will impose value-added tax on their business operations by the year 1999. Many should have prepared themselves for this over the past few years by cutting costs and raising production efficiency.

(2) The prices in the Mainland and in Hong Kong are dropping steadily and their interest rates as well as those of external economies are on a continuous downward trend. These trends will help relieve some of the pressure felt by Hong Kong manufactures both here and in the Mainland in terms of high operational costs.

(3) In January this year, the mainland authorities resumed the exemption of tariffs on imported equipment (in particular, imported machinery and raw material for key industries) for self use by enterprises which were the targets of foreign investment promotion. Meanwhile, these enterprises also continue to enjoy the exemption of value-added tax on imports. These tax concessions will reduce the operational costs of the enterprises concerned.

We will monitor developments of this matter. We will, through the Trade Department and Trade Development Council, also provide information about mainland regulations on value-added tax and related subjects to Hong Kong manufacturers with business operations in the Mainland for reference.

MR HUI CHEUNG-CHING (in Cantonese): The Secretary has not answered part of my question. What I asked was that with the drop in the value of overall exports, there was an increase in re-exports, but compared with the increase a few years ago, that was a sharp fall. Besides, there has been a very marked growth in the throughput of the three largest container ports in the Mainland which registered a growth of 66%. Will the Government inform this Council if the above phenomena indicate that the competitiveness of the container freight trade in Hong Kong is presently on the decline, leading to the situation in which a lot of the goods originally intended to be re-exported through Hong Kong are directly exported from the ports in the Mainland?

SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese): Madam President, I should like to defer to the Secretary for Economic Services.

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, actually we are all very concerned about the competitiveness of our ports and our container freight industry. I think we can all recall in the meeting of the Panel on Economic Services last Friday, we spent a lot of time discussing this issue and we were all very concerned with how we should raise the competitiveness of our ports. Basically, one of the ways is to provide more backup areas. The four container terminals have submitted proposals on improving the distribution of the container terminals in Kwai Chung and to see if more backup areas are available, how the storage capacity and operational efficiency can be raised with more backup areas for the benefit of cost reduction.

Besides, we need to take action to cope with the changes of the times. For example, the Rambler Channel should be dredged to a depth of at least 15.5 m. As we are all aware, the construction of Container Terminal 9 will soon commence together with the dredging works at the Rambler Channel. The construction of Container Terminal 9 is in itself a means to increase our competitiveness, for we will be capable of handling 2.6 million more standard containers and hence making us more competitive. In terms of costs, Container Terminal 9 will be cheaper than Container Terminal 8 and hopefully, freight handling costs will be reduced in future.

Of course, another very important point is that the container trucks will have to pay high costs and charges in making cross-boundary trips. Though charges on our side are being lowered all the time, Mr HUI is certainly aware that the fees charged for incoming trucks from the Mainland are very expensive. It used to be more than $4,000 and now it is $3,000. But even $3,000 is still expensive. We hope to study this issue together with the Shenzhen and Guangdong authorities. There are some areas which we feel should be improved. Boundary-crossing regulations, for example, can be simplified. These would include, for example, measures like permitting trucks to make two round-way trips daily, unloaded trucks may stay in the Mainland waiting for reloading in order to prevent a wasteful situation of empty trucks returning from the Mainland.

A lot of things are, therefore, in progress. Apart from that, the promotion of river trade is also very important. Compared with Shenzhen and Yantian, our handling charges are about 30% more expensive, but please do not forget, the transportation costs of trucks going from places in the Mainland to Yantian should be added. If freight is forwarded to container terminals in Hong Kong by way of water or river transport, money will be saved. Even if freight handling charges are included, it would not be more expensive than the costs of transport by trucks plus freight handling at the terminals. River trade freight transport can reduce transport costs. We will also encourage the development of more ports in the Pearl River Delta. We hope more resources can be allocated to this area and we will certainly work towards this direction.

MR KENNETH TING (in Cantonese): Madam President, in the last part of part (a) of the main reply, it is stated that the Government would seek to identify measures to reduce the costs for container freight handling in Hong Kong. Would the Government inform us whether it is because of the fact that since measures have not been identified, the IADA was increased by 20% this June, and as from January next year, handling costs for 35 ft and 38 ft containers will be increased by 26.4%? Is this huge increase due to the fact that measures have not been identified?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): I believe Mr TING knows the answer already. For last Friday we invited members from the liner conferences, operators of terminals, members of forwarders' associations and the like and held detailed discussions. At that time I made it clear that we did not want them to raise the charges again. We also talked on Friday about the best option to take, like for example, going back to the practice in 1990, increase the transparency, conduct more consultation and so on. We spent more than an hour on that last Friday and so I do not want to repeat the discussions here. However, I can tell Mr TING that we would continue discussing the matter with the trade associations and try to find a scheme which is acceptable to every party.

DR RAYMOND HO (in Cantonese): Part (a) of the main reply referred to the container traffic congestion problem at the boundary. As it is a fact that most of the in-coming freight or the two-way freight forwarding would be transported by way of container trucks in many years to come, and as this problem of congestion has existed for so many years, will the Secretary inform this Council whether there are any short-term, medium-term or long-term measures in place, such as administrative measures, customs clearance procedures or construction works to solve these problems?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, actually I have been trying to talk about how to ameliorate the problem of container traffic congestion at the boundary. The most obvious measure is the simplification of administrative measures as mentioned by Dr HO just now. This means that a long waiting time would not have to be spent and the trucks may cross the boundary very quickly. On the other hand, as we know, after the trucks have unloaded their containers, the empty containers are not allowed to remain in the Mainland and the trucks have to carry the containers back to Hong Kong at once. This will waste one trip. About this point, I think we can study on this and come up with a solution acceptable to the parties concerned. For example, we can leave some empty containers in the Mainland and send them back to Hong Kong after they have been reloaded. We are studying all these and we will make use of the available channels such as the Hong Kong-Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference and other such like conferences, as well as direct discussions with the Shenzhen authorities. I hope the problem will not last too long and we hope to report back to Honourable Members very soon concerning our work and the improvements we have made. I think that is a short-term thing and we can do it.

MR FUNG CHI-KIN (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Government says in part (b) of the main reply that it would monitor developments in the levy of a value-added tax by the Mainland and will also try to understand the mainland regulations on value-added tax. Will the Government discuss with the Central Government to revoke the value-added tax or to re-direct the manufacturing industries back to Hong Kong so as to solve the local unemployment problem?

SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese):Madam President, actually we have been keeping a close watch on this issue for a long time and we have contacted the representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Economic Relations and Trade in Hong Kong. Although we cannot say for sure, but as far as I know, the Central Government will make an announcement on that shortly. Of course, I cannot make the announcement on behalf of the Central Government before it does. As for discussions with the Central Government on the topic of making a different decision for Hong Kong, I think we should remember that we are practising "one country, two systems". Article 116 of the Basic Law affirms that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) shall be a separate customs territory. The movement of goods between the SAR and the Mainland shall remain subject to the regulatory measures in export trade which are different in both places. In the bilateral trade relationship with our trade partners, unless other trade partners impose any measures targeted at goods or businessmen from Hong Kong, it is very difficult to ask our trade partners to give special preferences to Hong Kong, especially when it comes to a nation-wide measure.

Besides, talking about "one country, two systems", I think as Chinese living in Hong Kong, we cannot just think of the interests of Hong Kong and not those of our country. As Hong Kong can practise its own system under "one country, two systems", we are different from other provinces and municipalities directly under the Central Government in that we need not pay taxes to the Central Government, but we cannot always expect the Central Government to give us preferential treatment.

MRS MIRIAM LAU (in Cantonese): Madam President, I wish to follow up Dr Raymond HO's supplementary question. Will the Government consider, in the light of the traffic congestion problem at the boundary, making performance pledges to the industry on the waiting time at the boundary check-points and seeking similar pledges from the Shenzhen authorities?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, I trust if we can reach a consensus with Shenzhen or Guangdong Province soon, we would certainly inform the industry. We hope to have a general target. But as we know, crossing the boundary and clearing the customs involve two parties. It is not a Hong Kong matter alone. I hope to arrive at a general target and for this we will inform the industry.

MR AMBROSE LAU (in Cantonese): Madam President, part (b) of the main reply says that due to the absence of operational statistics about Hong Kong enterprises in the Mainland, it is impossible to evaluate the actual impact of this measure on the processing trade of Hong Kong. I would like to know if the Government is prepared to assess this situation through other channels, such as consulting the relevant chambers of commerce or conducting a questionaire survey, in order that the Government can draw up policies more effectively and assist Hong Kong businessmen in the Mainland?

SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese): Madam President, we have not collected any data in this respect because we would need some very delicate information and even accounts of every enterprise. These cannot be collected by means of filling up a questionnaire. Costs would be very high if we are to collect information of this kind in detail. However, according to estimates by the business sector, 75% of the three major types of enterprises in Guangdong, that is, local, foreign and joint-venture companies, will be affected.

DR LUI MING-WAH (in Cantonese): Madam President, I think the two points raised by Mr HUI Cheung-ching in his question are very important, for they concern two of the most serious difficulties faced by Hong Kong businessmen who have set up factories in China. However, the two Policy Secretaries have only made a conceptual reply, giving us the impression that they do not really care about the difficulties faced by Hong Kong manufacturers in the Mainland. First, on taxes. Tax on imported materials is levied at 8% of the prices of the export prices. If tax is levied according to this scheme, I believe 70% of the manufacturers will have to close their business or return to Hong Kong. Why is the Hong Kong Government so insensitive to the plight of these manufacturers and why does it not try to find out what kinds of problem they are facing? Of course, we are obliged to pay taxes to the country, but such kind of heavy taxes would really kill the Hong Kong manufacturers. Why does the Hong Kong Government not make a survey on this and propose some solutions?

Second, ......

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr LUI, every supplementary question can only include one question, if you put it so unequivocally that it is the second question, I am afraid I cannot permit you to raise it.

DR LUI MING-WAH (in Cantonese): But that is only part (b) mentioned by Mr HUI Cheung-ching in his question, I have not yet raised a question on part (a) of his question.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr LUI, only one question is allowed in each supplementary question.

DR LUI MING-WAH (in Cantonese): Why am I allowed to raise only one question when Mr HUI Cheung-ching has asked two questions?

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Dr LUI, please be seated first. Let me explain the matter to you in detail. What Mr HUI Cheung-ching has asked is a main question, therefore he can ask parts (a), (b), (c) and so on; unless what you have raised are some inter-connecting questions, I am afraid I cannot allow you to raise a number of questions in a supplementary question. However, when you were asking your question just now, you made it clear that you were raising a second question.

Which Policy Secretary would like to make a reply?

SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese): Madam President, we are of course very concerned about this problem. As for the situation of Hong Kong businessmen in the Mainland, indeed we have been keeping a close watch of this since the reunification. We have also explored with the mainland authorities on the setting up of some channels to facilitate mutual understanding in this respect and to make the views of Hong Kong or that of Hong Kong businessmen known.

Apart from that, we have formed a working group with the Government of the Guangdong Province under the Hong Kong-Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference since March this year. The Group will study how to improve the business environment in the Guangdong Province to the benefit of Hong Kong businessmen. We also hope that this working group can draw up some specific measures very soon and provide proper assistance to Hong Kong businessmen who are investing or doing business in Guangdong.

Concerning this question, as I have said earlier, through contacts with the departments of the Central Government, the message we got is that there would soon be an announcement by the Central Government. I think if we can wait until the announcement is made, and if after that Dr LUI still thinks the matter should be followed up, then I would be pleased to discuss the matter with him outside the meeting.


Employment Situation of Young People

6. MR DAVID CHU (in Chinese): In regard to the employment situation of young people, will the Government inform this Council of:

(a) the number of young people in Hong Kong aged 15 to 24 who are unemployed at present, broken down by age, sex and qualifications; as well as the average unemployment period of such young people;

(b) the median entry pay of tertiary institution graduates in each of the past three years; the disciplines studied by those tertiary institution graduates having a poorer chance of securing employment; and

(c) the progress of the programmes organized by the Administration in conjunction with voluntary agencies, which allow young people to participate in voluntary work so as to get prepared for taking up employment?


(a) According to the results of the General Household Survey (GHS), there were 58 300 unemployed persons aged 15 to 24 in the third quarter of 1998. The breakdown of these persons by age, sex and educational attainment is at Tables 1 to 3 attached.

It should be noted that although the vast majority of the unemployed who are aged 15 to 24 have attained secondary or matriculation education level as shown in Table 3, this does not mean that this category of people have a higher propensity of being unemployed than others within this group of unemployed.

The median duration of unemployment of the unemployed aged 15 to 24 in the third quarter of 1998 was 65 days.

(b) According to information provided by the University Grants Committee (UGC), the median starting annual salaries of first-degree graduates in 1994-95, 1995-96 and 1996-97 academic years were $144,000, $146,000 and $155,000 respectively. As regards the employment situation, 3.4% of the 1996-97 first-degree graduates were seeking full-time employment as at 31 December 1997. The situation varied slightly between disciplines with social sciences and humanities programmes recording a marginally higher rate. UGC-funded institutions are in the process of collecting relevant statistics on the 1997-98 graduates.

(c) As part of its efforts to promote voluntary community service as a worthwhile course of youth development, the Commission on Youth launched in early October 1998 the Youth Community Service Funding Scheme for young persons aged 15 to 24, especially school leavers. The primary objective of the Funding Scheme is to enable these young people to be gainfully engaged in meaningful community service projects, so that they can acquire useful experience before entering the labour market.

A total of $10 million has been earmarked for this Funding Scheme. Non-government organizations (NGOs) can apply for funding support from the Commission on specific community service projects which will involve the above category of young people as voluntary workers. A total of 120 applications involving some 4 000 young people was received by the close of application on 14 November 1998. The total amount of funding applied is around $9.5 million. The Commission is now examining these applications. It plans to notify the applicant organizations of the results by the end of December 1998.

Youth volunteers are also one of the major target groups of the Volunteer Movement jointly launched by the Social Welfare Department and NGOs in 1998. As at November 1998, over 50% of the 170 000 volunteers registered under this programme are aged below 25. A grant of $2 million has also been allocated from the Lotteries Fund to an NGO for implementing a three-year pilot project on Youth Volunteers Network which started in August 1998.

Table 1Unemployed persons aged 15 - 24 by age, 3rd Quarter 1998

Age groupNo.
15 - 1920 900
20 - 2437 500

58 300

Table 2Unemployed persons aged 15 - 24 by sex, 3rd Quarter 1998

Male33 500
Female24 800

58 300

Table 3Unemployed persons aged 15 - 24 by educational attainment, 3rd Quarter 1998

Educational attainmentNo.
Primary1 100
Secondary/Matriculation42 300
--non-degree6 500
--degree8 400
Total58 300

Use of Public Funds on Duty Visits Overseas

7. MR KENNETH TING: Regarding the use of public funds on duty visits outside Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the expenditure on air tickets, and its percentage of the overall expenditure on duty visits undertaken by civil servants in the last 12 months;

(b) of the expenditure on duty visits in respect of each bureau and department in the last 12 months;

(c) of the 10 bureaux or departments incurring the highest amount of expenditure on duty visits in the last 12 months;

(d) whether it knows the expenditure on duty visits of statutory public bodies such as the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the Hong Kong Tourist Association and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority; if so, the details of them; and

(e) whether it knows if the statutory public bodies in (d) above have similar guidelines as those of the civil service on the selection of airlines and routes?

SECRETARY FOR THE TREASURY: Madam President, under the Government's Ledger Accounting Financial Information System (LAFIS), expenses related to overseas duty visits are accounted for as one single item of expenditure. The financial data available do not provide a breakdown of the expenses into expenditure on air tickets, subsistence allowance, airport tax and so on. In the absence of a separate figure for air ticket expenditure in the LAFIS, we cannot provide an answer to part (a) of the question unless we conduct an extensive manual examination of the records in all the bureaux and departments that have incurred duty visit expenses over the past 12 months. Such an exercise would be time consuming and laborious, and we do not propose to conduct it.

With regard to (b) and (c) of the question, the expenditure captured in the LAFIS as overseas duty visits in respect of each bureau or department for the 12 months from November 1997 to October 1998 is appended below in descending order of the amounts incurred. Those bureaux and departments on which the LAFIS indicates no such expenditure have not been included in the list.

Expenditure on Overseas Duty Visits

November 1997 to October 1998









GS: Overseas Offices



Agriculture and Fisheries Department



GS: Trade and Industry Bureau



GS: Education and Manpower Bureau



Hong Kong Police Force



GS: Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau



Marine Department



Highways Department



Civil Aviation Department



Territory Development Department



Radio Television Hong Kong



Office of the Ombudsman



Trade Department



Water Supplies Department



Department of Justice



Government Supplies Department



Environmental Protection Department



Government Laboratory



Chief Executive's Office



Inland Revenue Department



GS: Offices of Chief Secretary and Financial Secretary



Lands Department



Industry Department



Buildings Department



GS: Economic Services Bureau



GS: Finance Bureau



Department of Health



Government Property Agency



Customs and Excise Department



GS: Constitutional Affairs Bureau



Fire Services Department



Transport Department



Education Department



Management Services Agency



Social Welfare Department






Labour Department



Legal Aid Department



Information Services Department



GS: Home Affairs Bureau



Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority



Planning Department



GS: Financial Services Bureau



Civil Service Training and Development Institute



Architectural Services Department



Printing Department



Civil Engineering Department



Rating and Valuation Department



Drainage Services Department



Home Affairs Department



GS: Health and Welfare Bureau



Audit Commission



Immigration Department



Independent Police Complaints Council



GS: Security Bureau



GS: Civil Service Bureau



Hong Kong Observatory



Public Service Commission



Independent Commission Against Corruption






GS: Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau and Works Bureau



GS: Transport Bureau



Correctional Services Department



GS: Housing Bureau



Census and Statistics Department



Government Land Transport Agency



Information Technology Services Department



Registration and Electoral Office



Intellectual Property Department



Official Receiver's Office



Government Flying Service



Official Languages Agency



Electrical and Mechanical Services Department




On parts (d) and (e) of the question, statutory public bodies manage their own finances. We do not have information on their expenditure on overseas duty visits. We also do not have information on whether they have their own guidelines on the selection of airlines and routes for duty visits.

Implementation of One-tube-two-way-operation

8. MR BERNARD CHAN (in Chinese): It is learnt that serious traffic accidents sometimes occur when one-tube-two-way-operation is implemented at night. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the details regarding the present practice of closing various tunnel tubes at night, including the respective average numbers of days closed per month, the numbers of hours per day and the reasons for closure;

(b) of the numbers of traffic accidents which occurred within the various tunnel zones when one-tube-two-way-operation was in force in the past five years and, among these, the respective numbers of accidents which occurred due to speeding, improper overtaking and without using the dipped headlight;

(c) whether there has been publicity on the safe driving code during one-tube-two-way-operation; if so, how effective the publicity is; if not, why not; and

(d) whether it has assessed the possibility of shortening the number of days per month and the hours per day for closing various tunnels, so as to reduce the chances of traffic accidents?

SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT (in Chinese): Madam President,

(a) Road tunnels must be regularly cleaned, inspected and maintained. The road surface, wall panels, electrical and mechanical equipment and services must be inspected, maintained and replaced as necessary. For these purposes, one tube of a tunnel is closed regularly at night, normally at about midnight when traffic is light, and reopens before 6.00 am the following day. Frequencies of tube closure range from 16 times to 28 times per month, depending on the conditions of the tunnel and utilization rates. As far as possible, one-tube-two-way operation is not implemented during weekends and on the eve of major festivals.

(b) In the first 11 months of 1998 and the five years preceding (1993-1997), there were a total of 171 accidents during the one-tube-two-way operation. Of these accidents, 25 related to drivers driving too fast for the traffic conditions, one involved overtaking negligently, and three related to the improper use of headlight or the mainbeam headlights.

(c) The tunnel operators have taken various measures to publicize and enforce safe driving during the one-tube-two-way operation, including:

(i) placing traffic signs, traffic cones and flashing beacons at appropriate locations within tunnel areas to channel motorists to the right lane;

(ii) clear indication of lowering of speed limit to 50 kph;

(iii) notice to indicate radar speed check in action; and

(iv) broadcasting of road safety and traffic lane discipline messages within tunnels.

These publicity efforts are backed up by regular patrols by tunnel staff and enforcement of the tunnel regulation. Since January 1998, driving offence points penalty was introduced for speeding and crossing double white lines in tunnel areas at any time. This should help to deter such driving behaviour in tunnels.

(d) The tunnel companies will not impose one-tube-two-way operation for any period longer than necessary to enable completion of regular maintenance, inspection and cleaning works. The tunnel operators, Hong Kong Police and Transport Department will continue to monitor hours of operation for one-tube-two-way operation to ensure that they are kept to the minimum necessary.

Employment of Foreign Domestic Helpers

9. MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the annual statistics in respect of the following since 1995;

(i) the respective numbers of male and female foreign domestic helpers who were issued with employment visas;

(ii) the number of families which applied for the importation of foreign domestic helpers; and

(iii) the number of employers who were prosecuted for and convicted of deploying foreign domestic helpers to take up non-domestic duties;

(b) whether there is currently a limit on the number of foreign domestic helpers an individual family may employ; if so, of the limit and the greatest number of domestic foreign helpers being employed by a single family at present; and

(c) of the mechanism in place for preventing employers from deploying foreign domestic helpers to take up non-domestic duties?

SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Chinese): Madam President,

(a) (i) The annual statistics on the number of employment visas issued to foreign domestic helpers between 1995 and October 1998 with a breakdown by sex are at Annex A;

(ii) We do not have statistics on the number of households employing foreign domestic helpers;

(iii) The statistics on employers convicted of employing foreign domestic helpers for illegal employment between 1995 and November 1998 are at Annex B.

(b) There is no restriction on the number of foreign domestic helpers that an individual household or employer can employ. It is however our policy that employers have to satisfy us that they have a genuine need to employ more than one foreign domestic helper. The application will be approved only if:

(i) the employer or members of the household can justify the need to employ more than one foreign domestic helper, for example, living in big houses/flats; and

(ii) they are financially capable to do so.

We do not have information on the greatest number of foreign domestic helpers being employed by a single employer.

(c) The Administration has taken measures on all fronts to combat abuses relating to foreign domestic helpers. These include:

(i) with effect from 13 December 1995, identity cards prefixed with "W" have been issued to foreign domestic helpers applying for a new or replacement identity card. This enables law enforcement agencies to identify foreign domestic helpers' immigration status readily;

(ii) to facilitate the prosecution of employers of contract workers, the Immigration Ordinance has been amended, with effect from 25 October 1996, to require employers to inspect the identity cards and travel documents of job-seekers to ensure that they are lawfully employable;

(iii) proactive operations have been conducted against foreign domestic helpers taking up or employers offering part-time work and other unauthorized work;

(iv) proactive measures have been taken against doubtful employment agencies;

(v) guidelines have been provided for officers to look out for suspicious employers;

(vi) publicity has been stepped up to educate the public that employing illegal workers is a criminal offence;

(vii) members of the public have been encouraged to report illegal employment through the Immigration Department Hotline or Fax line; and

(viii) the level of penalties imposed on illegal workers and employers is closely monitored. Cases where the sentence is manifestly inadequate will be identified for seeking a review by the court.

Annex A

Statistics on the number of visas issued to foreign domestic helpers


Number of visas issued


1995 (January - June)

18 296 (no sex breakdown available)

1995 (July - December)


15 814





32 440





44 734



1998 (January - October)


34 307



Annex B

Statistics on prosecution of employers of foreign domestic helpers


Number of employers convicted







1998 (January - November)


Refurbishment of Vacant Public Housing Estate Units

10. DR TANG SIU-TONG (in Chinese): Regarding the refurbishment of the Housing Department's vacant public housing estate units for letting, will the Government inform this Council of:

(a) the number of vacant units that the Housing Department can refurbish each year, having regard to the Department's present financial position;

(b) the number of vacant units for which refurbishment works have been carried out by the Housing Department in the past three years; the relevant costs of works, the types of public housing units involved and the districts in which these vacant units are located; and

(c) the time generally required to let out such units again, starting from the time when they were vacated by the original tenants to after the completion of refurbishment works; and the procedures involved?

SECRETARY FOR HOUSING (in Chinese): Madam President, the Housing Authority (HA) has planned to refurbish 19 000 vacant rental flats in 1998-99, for which the expenditure is estimated to be $269 million. All vacant flats, except those which are due to be redeveloped, are refurbished for re-letting as soon as they are recovered. So far, there has not been any financial constraint on the number of vacant flats to be refurbished each year.

The numbers of vacant flats which have been refurbished by the HA in the past three years and the expenditure involved are:

No. of vacant flats



($ million)


11 676



19 384



17 917



48 977


The types of vacant flats which have been refurbished in the past three years are:









Low Cost



Estate Flats

Estate Flats

Estate Flats

Estate Flats


1 534


1 151

8 324


2 816


1 644

14 201


2 508


1 613

13 079


6 858

2 107

4 408

35 604





The refurbished flats are located in various districts, as follows:



Urban Area

Urban Area



5 488

2 569

3 619


8 917

4 652

5 815


8 242

4 479

5 196


22 647

11 700

14 630




It normally takes three months to complete the refurbishment of a vacant flat and subsequent re-allocation. The procedures are as follows:

(a) estate staff to inspect the vacant flat;

(b) estate staff to determine the refurbishment works required and to issue a work order to the contractor;

(c) the contractor to proceed with the works, and estate staff to monitor the quality and progress;

(d) upon completion of works, estate staff to inspect and certify;

(e) the contractor to carry out rectification if quality of works is not satisfactory;

(f) in parallel with the progress of works, the Lettings Unit to make advance allocation of the flat to the prospective tenant.

Applications for Security Personnel Permits

11. MR TAM YIU-CHUNG (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council, since the Security and Guarding Services Ordinance (Cap. 460) came in operation:

(a) of the total number of applications for the Security Personnel Permit received by the authorities concerned, and among them, the number of applications approved;

(b) of the number of applications rejected on the grounds of the applicants' record of conviction, and whether there are statistics on the time gaps between the dates of their conviction and the dates at which they made their applications; if so, of a breakdown of such time gaps in groups of five-year intervals; and

(c) whether the authorities concerned will take into account the time gap between the date of conviction and the date on which the application is made, when examining applications from those who have a record of conviction?

SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Chinese): Madam President,

(a) As at 30 November 1998, the Hong Kong Police Force received a total of 123 805 applications for Security Personnel Permit, 119 418 of which were approved.

(b) There were 768 applications rejected on the grounds of previous conviction for offences related to drug, burglary, violent crimes and sexual crimes. The police do not keep any statistics on the time gap between the dates of conviction and application in groups of five-year intervals or in other forms.

(c) The criteria for the issuance of a Security Personnel Permit, which were laid down by the Security and Guarding Services Industry Authority in 1995 in accordance with the Security and Guarding Services Ordinance, require that the applicant must be of good character. In considering an application for a Security Personnel Permit, the Commissioner of Police has to take into account the applicant's criminal record, if any, and the nature of the offence. No person who is convicted of a criminal offence will normally be granted a permit if he/she is:

(a) within two years of release from a term of imprisonment; or

(b) on probation or bound over.

As such, the Commissioner of Police will consider the time gap between the dates of conviction and application. However, not all the applicants with conviction records are rejected. The Commissioner will take into account all the relevant factors before he exercises his discretion to issue a Security Personnel Permit to a suitable applicant.

Digital 21

12. MR SIN CHUNG-KAI: Regarding the information technology ("IT") strategy known as "Digital 21" which was announced recently, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the benchmarks to be used for evaluating the progress and success of Digital 21; and

(b) whether such benchmarks will be based on statistics such as the percentage of households owning personal computers, level and percentage of IT literacy of the population, IT related trade figures and their contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); if so, whether the Census and Statistics Department will design a programme to collect these statistics?


(a) In the "Digital 21" IT strategy, we have set out clear milestones and targets for each of the initiatives. They will form the basis for evaluating the progress in implementing the strategy. We have also identified a number of benchmarks for evaluating the success of the strategy. They include the contribution of IT services to Hong Kong's GDP, the growth of skilled IT professionals available to Hong Kong, the IT professional skills profile of the working population of Hong Kong, the computer literacy of the school population, the percentage of households or businesses covered by broadband telecommunications networks, the use of the Internet and IT penetration in the community.

(b) Statistics in respect of the benchmarks mentioned in (a) above will be obtained through various channels, for example:

(i) for statistics on the contribution of IT services to Hong Kong's GDP, they will be obtained from the annual surveys conducted by the Census and Statistics Department;

(ii) for manpower-related statistics, the Vocational Training Council now conducts a biannual manpower survey of the IT sector which covers IT professionals available to Hong Kong and the distribution of these professionals in different sectors;

(iii) for statistics relating to the computer literacy of the school population, the Education and Manpower Bureau has set clear attainment targets in respect of computing skills for students at key learning stages from Primary 3 to Secondary 7 in the recently announced Five-year Strategy on Information Technology for Learning in a New Era; and

(iv) for statistics on broadband coverage, the use of the Internet and IT penetration in the community will be obtained from the Telecommunications Authority and separate surveys to be commissioned by the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau and the Information Technology Services Department.

Public Education on Racial Discrimination

13. MISS CHRISTINE LOH: In respect of public education on racial discrimination, will the Government inform this Council of:

(a) the public education programmes to be launched during the year 1999-2000; and the funds allocated or to be allocated to these programmes; and

(b) the funding available for application by non-government organizations for implementing such public education programmes; and the details of the application procedure?

SECRETARY FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Madam President, taking the questions seriatim:

(a) The promotion of equal opportunities, as part and parcel of our civic education programmes, has been an on-going commitment of the Administration. During the past 12 months, our message against racial discrimination has been disseminated through a variety of measures including television broadcast, publications, leaflets, posters and the participation of students and youngsters in exhibitions, drawing competitions and so on. Recently, we have embarked on a series of consultations with community leaders, district board representatives, non-governmental organizations and people of different ethnic backgrounds in order to evaluate our efforts so far and to consider the way forward. Based on the result of this exercise, which is scheduled for completion in January 1999, we shall formulate a suitable programme of activities for implementation in 1999-2000. In doing so, we shall also review the element of funding to be earmarked from our annual provision for civic education programmes.

(b) Early this year, we operated several funding schemes to assist non-governmental organizations in implementing a range of civic education projects, including the promotion of racial harmony and equality. We shall continue with these schemes in 1999-2000 and, as explained in (a) above, we shall look into the funding arrangements when we finalize our 1999-2000 programme of activities early next year. Once the funding schemes are ready for implementation, we shall publicize them through the printed and electronic media and provide interested parties with details of the application procedure.

Change of Tariff Structure by CLP

14. MR LAU KONG-WAH (in Chinese): It is learnt that the China Light and Power Company Limited (CLP) changed its tariff structure two years ago, from a flat unit rate to an inverted block structure whereby higher consumption is charged at progressively higher unit rates, with a view to encouraging users to reduce electricity consumption. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows if the volume of electricity supplied by CLP has reduced since the implementation of the inverted block structure; if the volume has not reduced, whether the Administration will propose to CLP that it should abolish the inverted block structure; and

(b) whether it has assessed the effectiveness in achieving a reduction in electricity consumption by the public solely by adopting an inverted block structure?

SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES (in Chinese): Madam President, on 1 March 1996 CLP changed its domestic tariff from a flat unit rate to an inverted block structure whereby higher consumption would be charged at a progressively higher unit rate. According to CLP, the aim of the inverted block structure is to encourage efficient use of energy. The lower blocks, because of the relatively lower rates therein, will provide some benefits for customers with low consumption.

(a) According to data provided by CLP, the growth rate of average consumption after temperature adjustment per domestic customer has lowered to about 1.9% per annum for the two years of 1996 and 1997 from that of about 5.4% per annum for the four years between 1992 and 1995 prior to the implementation of the inverted tariff structure. The statistics seem to suggest that the inverted block structure has the effect of reducing the rate of growth in consumption. However, it is too early to draw a firm conclusion as there might be other factors concurrently affecting consumption behaviour. We need further experience to assess its precise effect.

On 23 November 1998, the Economic Services Panel of this Council discussed the inverted block structure of the domestic tariff of CLP following the change of their three-block structure to a four-block one on 1 March this year. At the meeting, CLP agreed to conduct a review of their four-block tariff structure before next March. We shall inform the Economic Services Panel of the outcome of the review.

(b) We consider that the inverted block tariff structure is consistent with the concept of demand side management (DSM) for promoting efficient use of energy. It is only one of the measures that help to promote energy efficiency. In addition, we have entered into separate agreements with the two power companies to implement full-scale DSM programmes with a view to promoting energy efficiency and conservation. We have recently agreed with the two power companies on the targets of energy and capacity savings to be achieved by the first three-year DSM plan for 1999 to 2001. The two power companies will soon announce the targets and details of their DSM programmes.

Safety of Passengers on the Platforms of MTR Stations

15. DR DAVID LI: It is reported that a passenger on the platform of a Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station was allegedly shoved onto the railway track by a psychiatric patient and was seriously injured by an oncoming train. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:

(a) it knows the total number of incidents in which passengers were shoved onto the railway track since the MTR came into operation;

(b) the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) will issue safety instructions to passengers on how to avoid injuries should they fall onto the railway track; and

(c) the MTRC has studied the feasibility of installing screen doors along the platforms of MTR stations to guard against passengers falling onto railway track; if so, the results of such study; and if screen doors are to be installed, the target completion date of the installation work?


(a) Since the opening of the MTR in 1979, there have been six incidents of passengers being pushed into the path of an incoming train.

(b) The MTRC published a pamphlet entitled "Safety on the MTR" in 1992 for distribution to its customers and has been updating it from time to time. The latest revision took place last month. The document includes specific information on what passengers should do if they fall accidentally onto the track, copies of which are available at all MTR stations. The MTRC will put up notices in its stations to publicize the availability of the pamphlet.

(c) The MTRC has plans to install retrofitting platform screen doors to all platforms of underground stations. Following the initial technical feasibility tests at Choi Hung Station in 1997, the MTRC is carrying out studies into the technical aspects of such installation programme. The studies are expected to be completed in the latter part of 1999. The MTRC will take a decision on how to go forward on the installation programme in the light of the conclusions of the study.

Appointment of the Director and Directorate Posts of WSD

16. MISS EMILY LAU (in Chinese): Regarding the selection of successors to the Director of Water Supplies and other directorate posts in the Water Supplies Department, will the executive authorities inform this Council:

(a) in selecting the successor to the Director of the Department, whether they will consider requiring that the appointee should have experience in water supply operations and possess substantial knowledge of water quality and safety; if not, the reason for that; and

(b) whether appropriate training programmes have been drawn up to ensure that there are suitable candidates within the Department for succession to directorate posts; if so, the details of such programmes?

SECRETARY FOR WORKS (in Chinese): Madam President, the Administration attaches great importance to directorate succession in the Civil Service and the training of suitable candidates. Heads of Departments draw up directorate succession plans annually, which form the basis of discussion with relevant Bureau Secretaries and the Secretary for the Civil Service to examine succession arrangements in detail. In arranging succession planning, training programmes for candidates are always taken into account. The Secretary for the Civil Service also conducts six-monthly reviews to monitor the progress of the succession and training arrangements.

(a) Various factors are taken into consideration in selecting the successor to the Director of Water Supplies, including whether the candidate possesses substantial professional experience in engineering and construction management and development. Their personal qualities, competence, leadership, capability in developing innovative ideas and in handling contingencies are also taken into account. These factors already include experience in water supply operations and knowledge of water quality and safety;

(b) Department heads will provide suitable training programmes for candidates in the light of the operational needs of their departments and the training needs of individual candidates. Such programmes include arrangements for candidates with identified potential to undergo attachment training in the Policy Bureaux for six months or more, or to attend senior management or professional development courses organized by the Civil Service Training and Development Institute or overseas tertiary institutions. The purpose is to equip the candidates with sufficient managerial and professional knowledge to tackle the posts to which they will succeed.

Air Quality in Yuen Long District

17. DR TANG SIU-TONG (in Chinese): According to the annual reports of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), the concentration levels of some air pollutants in Yuen Long district in both 1996 and 1997 exceeded the standards in the air quality objectives set by the Department. In this regard, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the reasons for the concentration levels of air pollutants in the district exceeding the relevant standards;

(b) whether it has assessed the impact of air pollution on the health of residents in the district; and

(c) of the immediate and long-term measures adopted to improve the air quality in the district?


(a) In July 1995, the EPD set up a general monitoring station at the Yuen Long District Office Building to monitor the air quality in the district. In 1996 and 1997, the annual average levels of total suspended particulates and respirable suspended particulates in Yuen Long did not meet the Air Quality Objectives set by the EPD. The total suspended particulate pollution originates mostly from construction activities in the area. The finer respirable suspended particulates have come mainly from combustion sources, particularly the engine exhausts of diesel vehicles. Furthermore, sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen from industrial sources oxidize in the atmosphere to form very fine respirable suspended particulates.

Suspended particulates level is higher during the winter dry season when north and north-easterly winds prevail. In summer, however, relatively clean air brought in by the south and south-westerly winds help to disperse the particulates in the atmosphere. Higher rainfall also wets the ground surfaces and reduces dust emissions.

Because of its geographical location, Yuen Long is affected more than other places in Hong Kong by the general air pollution in the Pearl River Delta Region, particularly in respect of respirable suspended particulates pollution.

(b) We have not conducted any assessment on the impact of air pollution on the health of residents in individual districts. According to well recognized overseas studies, the coarse fraction of the total suspended particulates will lead to dirt and dust nuisance, and have no long-term adverse effect on human health. On the other hand, if a person is regularly exposed to the finer respirable suspended particulates, there may be adverse chronic or acute effects on his or her respiratory system and in particular the lung function.

(c) The Administration is implementing a number of measures to improve the air quality throughout Hong Kong. Measures include banning open burning of construction wastes, tyres, cable or wire insulation; control of construction dusts; and introduction of low sulphur industrial fuel.

To tackle motor vehicle emissions, the present permitted fuel sulphur content is 0.05% in Hong Kong. It is amongst the most stringent requirements in Asia. Furthermore, the diesel vehicle emission standards are comparable with those of the European Union. The Administration is also proposing the introduction of clean LPG taxis in Hong Kong. In addition, we are stepping up the education of vehicle owners and mechanics to exercise their responsibilities to maintain vehicles properly. This education programme is being backed up by stronger enforcement action against smoky vehicles and by the introduction of better smoke testing equipment that will expose failure to properly maintain vehicles.

Regarding the air quality in the Pearl River Delta Region being affected by emissions locally and from nearby cities, the EPD will shortly carry out a joint study with the Guangdong authorities to assist in the formulation of future control strategies to tackle air pollution in the Region.

Target of 70% Home Ownership Rate for Hong Kong

18. MISS CHRISTINE LOH: In his 1997 policy address, the Chief Executive set the target of achieving 70% home ownership for Hong Kong people by 2007. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of the basis and justifications used in setting the target?

SECRETARY FOR HOUSING: Madam President, home ownership has for many years been the aspiration of many people in Hong Kong, with the home ownership rate rising from 33% in 1983 to 52% in 1998. A Survey of Housing Aspirations in 1997 also confirms their desire. For its part, the Government encourages home ownership as it fosters social stability and provides families with long-term financial security and a sense of independence and control over their own homes.

The 70% target to be attained by 2007 also takes into consideration planned production of housing stock for sale in both the public and private sectors over the next 10 years. The Long Term Housing Strategy White Paper, published in February 1998, has set out the policy initiatives which, taken together, will enable the target to be met. The most important of these initiatives include sale of public rental flats to existing tenants, offering prospective public rental housing tenants the option to buy new rental flats, and increasing the number of home ownership loans for eligible families in the lower and middle income groups to buy flats in the private sector.

Amending the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance

19. MISS EMILY LAU (in Chinese): In reply to my question about bringing the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (the Exchange) under the ambit of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (Cap. 201) (the Ordinance) at a meeting of the former Legislative Council on 1 May 1996, the executive authorities stated that the Exchange was seeking clarification from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on whether the statutory definition of "public servants" in the Ordinance would include staff and all the various categories of membership of the Exchange, if the Exchange were listed as a public body under the Ordinance; and legal advice was being sought at the same time as to whether a broker member of the Exchange who was not an agent of the Exchange in the ordinary course of business would be regarded as a public servant under the Ordinance. It is learnt that the Exchange has not yet been brought under the ambit of the Ordinance. In this connection, will the executive authorities inform this Council:

(a) whether they are aware of the understanding reached between the ICAC and the Exchange on this issue;

(b) whether they know if the ICAC has encountered difficulties in pursuing this matter, and if difficulties have been encountered, the details of them and the time such difficulties are expected to be resolved; and

(c) when they plan to introduce a bill into this Council to amend the Ordinance?


(a) The ICAC received on 30 November 1998 confirmation from the Exchange of its agreement to become a "public body" under the Ordinance.

(b) In pursuing this exercise, discussion with the Exchange has centred on the definition of "public servant" which currently includes all members of a "public body" under the Ordinance, and on the effect of the proposal on the business and professional activities of the Exchange's council and committee members in their personal capacity. The aim of the current exercise is to ensure greater accountability of those persons who are vested with responsibility for the control and management of the Exchange by making them "public servants". As the Exchange has ordinary broker members who are not involved in the day-to-day management of the Exchange, after considering legal advice and consulting the ICAC, we have decided that a new category of "public servants" under the Ordinance should be created. In cases such as the Exchange's, only staff members and persons who are vested with responsibility for the control and management of the organization concerned would become "public servants" under the Ordinance. The provisions of the Ordinance regarding "public servants" would apply to them when they discharge their duties as "public servants".

(c) The Administration plans to introduce legislative amendments to the Ordinance to give effect to the proposal within this Legislative Session.


First Reading of Bill

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Bill: First Reading.


CLERK (in Cantonese): District Councils Bill.

(All Members of the Democratic Party left the Chamber during the First Reading of the Bill)

Bill read the First time and ordered to be set down for Second Reading pursuant to Rule 53(3) of the Rules of Procedure.

Second Reading of Bills

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Bills: Second Reading.


SECRETARY FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS (in Cantonese): Madam President, I move the Second Reading of the District Councils Bill.

The future development of the District Boards constitutes an important aspect in the Review of District Organizations. Over the past year, we conducted extensive consultation with different sectors of our community and having considered their views, the Administration has decided that the following measures should be adopted to reorganize the first District Councils of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

(a) The structure of existing District Boards should be retained, meaning that the boundaries of the 18 District Boards would generally remain unchanged.

(b) The functions of future District Councils should be enhanced, particularly in the areas of advising the Government on food and environmental hygiene services as well as promoting recreational and cultural activities at the district level, and in support of this development, the Councils would be given additional support.

(c) The District Boards should be renamed, in English, "District Councils".

(d) The first election to the District Councils should be held in late 1999 with the number of elected members to be determined on the basis of one elected seat per 17 000 population.

The objective of the District Councils Bill submitted today is to provide for the establishment, composition and functions of a District Council and to set out the relevant electoral procedure. Its provisions closely follow those in the former District Boards Ordinance and Electoral Provisions Ordinance. In effect, it can be said that this Bill is a merger of these two and we have chosen to draft a single piece of legislation because this would provide a more comprehensive and a clearer picture and would facilitate Honourable Members to examine the relevant provisions in one Bill. This approach follows the example of the Legislative Council Ordinance.

The Bill consists of 11 Parts as follows:

Part I Commencement and definitions;

Part II - IV Declaration of Districts, establishment and membership composition of District Councils;

Part V Election of members;

Part VI Functions and procedure of a District Council;

Part VII - X Duties of electoral officers, power to make regulations and miscellaneous provisions; and

Part XI Repeal of the Provisional District Boards Ordinance and consequential amendments.

With regard to the establishment of District Councils, the main provisions are as follows:

(a) The SAR will be divided into 18 Districts with most of the district boundaries remaining unchanged. For each of these Districts, a District Council will be established on 1 January 2000 to replace the corresponding Provisional District Boards set up upon return of the sovereignty.

(b) A District Council is to be composed of three categories of members, namely, elected members, ex officio members and appointed members. For the first term of District Council members, there will be a total of 519 members, comprising 390 elected members, 102 appointed members and 27 ex officio members.

(c) That term of office of both elected and appointed members will last four years, beginning from 1 January 2000.

(d) The main function of the District Council is to advise the Government on matters affecting the well-being of the people in the District, including matters relating to food and environmental hygiene services.

(e) Each District Council will have a Vice Chairman to assist the Chairman in the discharge of his duties.

(f) The quorum requirement of District Council meeting will be not less than half of the members. At present the requirement is fixed at a number equivalent to one third of the total membership.

The number of elected member will be computed on the basis of one elected seat to every 17 000 population which is the same as in 1994. Due to an increase in our population, the number of elected members will increase from 346 in the past to 390. With regard to appointed members, they will represent about one fifth of the total number of District Council members. For the number of elected and appointed members in individual Districts, please refer to Schedule 3 in the Bill.

With regard to appointed members, I appreciate that individual members may have different views and consideration. During our consultation on the Review of District Organizations, we have gathered from the community different opinion about appointed membership. Many indicated their preference to retain appointed members in order to attract some individuals who are enthusiastic and interested in district affairs and are capable and experienced but have no intention to serve the community through the channel of election to join the District Councils. Such will help not only to reflect the interest of different sectors within a District but also to enhance the quality of District Councils in deliberating business. And this will certainly be beneficial to the operation of District Councils and the people in the District particularly when many issues affecting the well-being of the people (such as advising on food and environmental hygiene service) will fall within the purview of District Councils in future. In the past, appointed members represent about one third of the total number of District Boards members. Since we propose now to retain appointed members at the proportion of about one fifth of the total number of members in a District Council, it should be reasonable and acceptable.

With regard to the retention of 27 Rural Committee Chairmen as ex officio members on the District Councils in the New Territories, we are of the view that since this is a long standing and effective arrangement, it should continue so that the interests and views of the indigenous residents can be fully reflected.

We have recommended in the Bill that the advisory role of District Councils in food and environmental hygiene services should be enhanced. Moreover, through administrative arrangements, we would appoint more District Board members to a greater number of advisory committees concerned with the well-being of people. We would also invite the future Chairmen of District Councils to become formal members of the District Management Committees. We earnestly hope that District Councils will assume more responsibilities in district affairs such as building management, fire prevention, environmental improvement, transport matters, community building and promotion of recreational and cultural activities. To match with this increase in responsibility, the Administration is considering the provision of additional support for District Council members and relevant District Offices so that they can carry out their functions effectively. In this connection, the Chief Secretary for Administration has asked Bureau and Department heads to step up communication with individual District Boards and to report their work and explain their policies to District Boards and to answer enquiries and to consult District Boards in a positive, frank and open manner.

With regard to the electoral arrangements, the provisions are drafted, having regard to the existing Legislative Council Ordinance and the former Electoral Provisions Ordinance. Our aim is to ensure that election will be held under a fair, open and honest environment. Main provisions in the Bill are as follows:

(a) The eligibility criteria of District Council elector are the same as that of the Legislative Council. To be eligible, a person must be a permanent Hong Kong resident, has reached the age of 18 and should ordinarily reside in Hong Kong. This means that all persons who have registered as electors in the geographical constituencies of the Legislative Council will automatically become electors of the District Councils.

(b) Since the Bill has to be examined and demarcation of constituency boundaries can only proceed after enactment of the Bill, it is not feasible to indicate in the next Final Register compiled under the Legislative Council Ordinance the District Council constituency in which an elector is eligible to vote. In view of this, the Registration and Electoral Office will publish, two months prior to the ordinary election, a separate Register to provide the above indication (that is, the District Council constituency in which an elector is eligible to vote).

(c) Candidates for a District Council election or a Legislative Council election are identical. This means that a candidate must be a registered elector, has reached the age of 21 and has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong over the past three years.

(d) One member is to be returned in an election from each constituency and each voter is entitled to vote once at an election. A person is not eligible to be nominated as a candidate in more than one constituency and the "single majority" voting system will be adopted for the election of District Council members.

(e) Like the Legislative Council election, an election petition may be lodged with the court on the grounds of doubts in election result; and

(f) The Electoral Affairs Commission will, in accordance with the number of elected seats in the District and the population criterion of about 17 000 specified in the Bill demarcate the constituency boundaries and prior to submission of their report to the Chief Executive, the Commission should consult the public on their preliminary recommendations.

Finally, I would like to invite all Honourable Members of this Council to expedite the processing of the Bill. It is because after enactment of the primary Ordinance, there is still a lot of preparatory work to be completed before the District Council ordinary election can be organized to elect District Council members by the end of 1999 as scheduled to replace the Provisional District Board members whose term of office would lapse by the end of December 1999. Preparatory work include the demarcation of constituency boundaries and enactment of subsidiary legislation which includes regulations governing election expenses, security deposit, election procedure and so on, and such must be completed before the Legislative Council goes into recess in July next year. In addition, lead time has to be allowed for other items of work such as publication of the Register, nomination of candidates and election activities. Failure to complete the above will result in substantial delay to the SAR's first ordinary District Council election. The Administration will fully co-operate with Honourable Members in the processing of this Bill and we are aiming to have the Bill enacted not later than mid-February 1999 (that is, before the Chinese New Year) so that there will be legal backing for the District Council election. Thank you.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the District Councils Bill be read the Second time.

In accordance with Rule 54(4) of the Rules of Procedure, the debate is now adjourned and the Bill referred to the House Committee.

Resumption of Second Reading Debate on Bill

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Council now resumes the Second Reading debate on the Industrial Training (Clothing Industry) (Amendment) Bill 1998.


Resumption of debate on Second Reading which was moved on 18 November 1998

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Does any Member wish to speak?

(No Member indicated a wish to speak)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now put the question to you and that is: That the Industrial Training (Clothing Industry) (Amendment) Bill 1998 be read the Second time. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority of the Members present. I declare the motion passed.

CLERK (in Cantonese): Industrial Training (Clothing Industry) (Amendment) Bill 1998.

Council went into Committee.

Committee Stage

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Bill: Committee stage. Council is now in Committee.


CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the following clauses stand part of the Industrial Training (Clothing Industry) (Amendment) Bill 1998.

CLERK (in Cantonese): Clauses 1 and 2.

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority of the Members present. I declare the motion passed.

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Committee now resumes as Council.

Council then resumed.

Third Reading of Bill

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Bill: Third Reading.


SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese): Madam President, the

Industrial Training (Clothing Industry) (Amendment) Bill 1998

has passed Committee without any amendment. I move that the Bill be read the Third time and do pass.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the Industrial Training (Clothing Industry) (Amendment) Bill 1998 be read the Third time and do pass.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now put the question to you as stated. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority of the Members present. I declare the motion passed.

CLERK (in Cantonese): Industrial Training (Clothing Industry) (Amendment) Bill 1998.

Resumption of Second Reading Debate on Bill

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): We will resume the second Reading debate on the Introduction of the Euro Bill.

Under Rule 21(4) of the Rules of Procedure, I have permitted Mr Howard YOUNG, Chairman of the Bills Committee on Introduction of the Euro Bill, to address the Council on the Committee's Report.


Resumption of debate on Second Reading which was moved on 4 November 1998

MR HOWARD YOUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, in my capacity as Chairman of the Bills Committee on Introduction of the Euro Bill I rise to give Honourable Members a brief report on the deliberations of the Bills Committee.

The "Euro" will be introduced on 1 January 1999 to replace the national currencies of the 11 participating member states of the European Union (EU) that adopt such currency as their single currency.

In Hong Kong, as in other common law jurisdictions, the law of currency (or in Latin the lex monetae principle) applies, which means that if a contractual obligation governed by the local law is expressed in a foreign currency, the definition of that obligation shall be determined by the law of the relevant foreign country. Hence, it may not be necessary for Hong Kong to legislate in this respect. However, in view of the need to remove any concern that parties to contracts might argue that the advent of the Euro is a fundamental change of circumstances bringing a given legal obligation to an end, as well as the legislation introduced by the European Council to provide certainty for continuity of legal obligations denominated in European Currency Unit (ECU) and the participating national currencies in EU countries notwithstanding the fact that the lex monetae principle is applied in a number of EU jurisdictions, it should be appropriate of Hong Kong as an international financial centre to remove any doubt in this respect. For this reason, the Introduction of the Euro Bill was drafted, in the light of the legislation on the subject in the State of New York and EU, to deal with the ECU/Euro conversion and to remove any doubts about the continuity of legal obligations arising from the introduction of the Euro.

While supporting unanimously the principles of the Bill, members of the Bills Committee have sought clarification from the Administration on the reasons for and the effect of the major differences between the Bill and the corresponding legislation of the State of New York and EU.

The Bill provides for the conversion of ECU obligations at the rate of one to one, but unlike the State of New York and EU legislation, it does not provide for the conversion rates between participating national currencies and the Euro. According to the Administration, since ECU is not a currency, it is necessary to legislate for conversion of the ECU into Euro. The conversion of legacy currency obligations into Euro obligations, however, should follow automatically from the lex monetae principle and specific legislative provision in this respect is therefore unnecessary.

On the other hand, the Bill does not specifically provide that replacement of interest rate or other basis for determining the value of payment under a contract due to the introduction of the Euro will not be a reason for frustration of contract. The provision of the Bill in this respect differs from the State of New York legislation but is in line with EU's. The Administration considers it sufficient to have in the Bill a provision that there shall be continuity of legal obligations despite the "introduction of the Euro" and "its consequential changes".

In discussing the adoption of "歐羅" as the Chinese translation of "Euro", members of the Bills Committee have opined that it would be more appropriate to adopt a term which is commonly used in other Chinese speaking communities such as the Mainland and Singapore. According to the Administration's research, although there are references to "Euro" as "歐元" in the Mainland and Singapore, there is no official or unified Chinese translation for "Euro" in either place. The present translation is based on the principle that whenever the word "dollar" exists in a currency name, the character "元" will be used, else the currency name will just be translated phonetically as in the case of "Euro" now. After the Administration's explanation, members of the Bills Committee have no further query in this respect.

On behalf of the Bills Committee, Madam President, I support the Bill. Thank You.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Does any other Member wish to speak?

(No Member indicated a wish to speak)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Secretary for Financial Services, do you wish to reply?

SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES (in Cantonese): The Introduction of the Euro Bill provides for the replacement of the ECU by the "Euro" and seeks to remove any doubts about the overall continuity of legal obligations upon the adoption of the Euro. I am very grateful for Members' support for this Bill and for their valuable inputs on the drafting of the Bill and the Chinese translation of "Euro" at the Bills Committee meetings. Subject to the passing of the Bill by this Council, it will be gazetted on 24 December of this year prescribing that the Bill will come into effect on 28 December 1998.

Thank you, Madam President.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now put the question to you and that is: That the Introduction of the Euro Bill be read the Second time. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority of the Members present. I declare the motion passed.

CLERK (in Cantonese): Introduction of the Euro Bill.

Council went into Committee.

Committee Stage

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Bill: Committee stage. Council is now in Committee.


CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the following clauses stand part of the Introduction of the Euro Bill.

CLERK (in Cantonese): Clauses 1 to 5.

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority of the Members present. I declare the motion passed.

CHAIRMAN (in Cantonese): Council now resumes.

Council then resumed. Third Reading of Bill

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Bill: Third Reading.


SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES (in Cantonese): Madam President, the

Introduction of the Euro Bill

has passed through Committee without amendment. I move that this Bill be read the Third time and do pass.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That

the Introduction of the Euro Bill be read the Third time and do pass.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now put the question to you as stated. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority of the Members present. I declare the motion passed.

CLERK (in Cantonese): Introduction of the Euro Bill.


PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Members' Motions. Proposed resolution under the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance. Dr LEONG Che-hung.


Dr LEONG CHE-HUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I move the motion which has been printed on the Agenda.

The object of the Legal Practitioners (Fees) (Amendment) Rule 1998 laid on the table of the Legislative Council on 2 December 1998 is to increase the fees payable in respect of practising certificates of barristers.

The Legal Service Division has written to the Judiciary Administrator to seek clarification on whether any rule on such fees should be made by the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal under section 72 or by the Bar Council under section 30(1) and (4) of the Legal Practitioners Ordinance. To allow sufficient time for the House Committee to study the report prepared by the Legal Services Division, it is necessary to extend the scrutiny period of the Amendment Rule to 6 January 1999.

Madam President, I beg to move.

Dr LEONG Che-hung moved the following motion:

"That in relation to the Legal Practitioners (Fees) (Amendment) Rule 1998, published as Legal Notice No. 359 of 1998 and laid on the table of the Legislative Council on 2 December 1998, the period referred to in section 34(2) of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap. 1) for amending subsidiary legislation be extended under section 34(4) of that Ordinance to the meeting of 6 January 1999."

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the motion moved by Dr LEONG Che-hung, as set out on the Agenda, be passed. Does any Member wish to speak?

(No Member indicated a wish to speak)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now put the question to you and that is: That the motion moved by Dr LEONG Che-hung, as set out on the Agenda, be passed. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority respectively of each of the two groups of Members, that is, those returned by functional constituencies and those returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and by the Election Committee, who are present. I declare the motion passed.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Two motions with no legal effect. I have accepted the recommendations of the House Committee as to the time limits on speeches for the motion debates. The movers of the motions will each have up to 15 minutes for their speeches including their replies, and another five minutes to speak on the amendments. The movers of amendments will each have up to 10 minutes to speak. Other Members will each have up to seven minutes for their speeches.

First motion: Combating pirated compact discs.


MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Madam President, as we all know, Hong Kong is in the midst of an unprecedented economic recession. Yet over the past year a so-called "retail industry" has managed to outshine others and prosper, and that is the pirated compact disc (CD) industry. To say that the pirated CD industry has "outshone" others is by no means an over statement. In the first 10 months of the year, the Customs and Excise Department (the Customs) has seized a total of 35 million pirated CDs, which is 10 times the total seizure made last year with a total value of $1.4 billion. One year ago, pirated CDs could be found only in several black spot shopping malls or certain on-street stalls; however, in just a year, pirated CDs have invaded rows and rows of shops and proliferated across the territory while unruly elements have flooded many shops to set up sale points. Hong Kong has in effect been turned into copyright pirates' paradise and creative producers' Hades. Seeing that criminals pirating other people's intellectual properties have caused many lawful merchants and creative producers to suffer heavy losses, and that their activities have also gravely blemished the image of Hong Kong, I, as representative of the wholesale and retail sector in this Council, therefore move the motion today to urge the Government, the relevant industries, as well as the public at large to join together and make concerted efforts to combate pirated CDs.

One major reason why the problem has deteriorated to the present situation is that the public in general is unware of their responsibility to protect intellectual property rights, and this is attributable to their thin knowledge of the concept of intellectual property rights. In fact, the matter is a very simple and straight issue. Pirated copies of videos, music, or computer programmes are products bred from the illegal copying or piracy of intellectual property; as such, they are just like stolen goods. The articles of intellectual properties being pirated all share one common charateristics, that is, the cost of creating and producing the original copy is high but the cost of production of the pirated copies is low. Films, music, computer programmes and books alike will take the original producer a lot of painstaking efforts, time and money before they could be produced; however, by making use of the rapidly developing technologies, pirates could make large amount of illegal copies within a short period of time and with a very limited budget, thereby causing both the financial conditions and the pride of the original producer to suffer. Another point that most people are unaware or have overlooked is that intellectual properties are the intangible assets of the community, thus not only the sectors involved but the community as a whole would suffer losses if these intellectual properties are allowed to be usurped.

As a film-making centre, Hong Kong has in fact seen its better days; indeed, it has even been referred to as the Hollywood of the Orient. But because of copyright piracy, the local film industry has been experiencing an unprecedented setback. In 1993, a total of 234 local films were released and viewed by 26 million people; however, in 1997, although the economy as whole was prospering, the business performance of cinemas was very poor. Despite the numerous concession offers and price reduction exercises, the total number of movie goers has amounted to 15 million only. This year, local investors will release a total of less than 90 new films, representing a 70% drop compared to the number of releases in 1993; besides, the average amount of investment made in a local film today equals to only 25% of that five years ago. From these figures we could imagine how heavy the blow the sector has been dealt.

The Hong Kong pop songs have for many years been warmly received locally and by overseas Chinese, and the good results are plainly seen by all. For instance, in the World's Top 10 Popular Chinese Singers Selection last year, the first six winners were Hong Kong singers. Nevertheless, since the emergence of pirated CDs in 1993, the sale of local music records has been gradually on the drop; in this connection, the third quarter of the year has experienced a 48% drop in sales compared to the corresponding figure last year. According to the estimation of the phonographic industry, pirated CDs have taken away 60% of their business, amounting to at least $700 million in losses.

Over the past two years, the Government has indeed attached more importance to the protection of intellectual property rights than before; besides, more manpower has also been deployed to combat copyright piracy. All these efforts do merit our appreciation and support.

According to the information from the Customs, within the first 10 months of the year the Department has seized a total of some 35 million pirated CDs of various kinds representing, as I referred to earlier, a total market value of $1.4 billion; or $7 billion if the same amount of corresponding copyrighted products were sold. This is indeed a big business. Regrettably, the co-ordination of the various law enforcement authorities has yet to be strengthened in the face of the piracy syndicates. At present, law enforcement actions are mainly taken by the Customs, but so far the Department has focused its attention on combating the production and distrbution of pirated CDs due to insufficient resources, and little has been devoted to raiding the retail outlets. On the other hand, unruly elements have been conducting business openly in the vicinity of a police station. Skeptical colleagues may check it out for themselves at the Allied Plaza which faces the Mong Kok Police Station right across the street. Such lawless activities are indeed unacceptable and will serve to undermine people's confidence in the capability of the police in fighting crime. How could patrolling police officers turn a blind eye to those apparently unlawful activities? I suggest the Government empowering the Police Force to raid the shops selling pirated CDs. Indeed, the Police Force should also share the responsibility in this respect. That way, the rampant situation should be rectified. Apart from that, the Government should also incorporate the Copyright Ordinance into the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance, with a view to enhancing the investigation power of the Police Force as well as the power of the court to penalize the copyright pirates. Pirated CDs could generate profits amounting to thousands of million dollars, and that is why they are supplied in enormous amount and available everywhere. Judging from the mode of operation, there must be a large multinational syndicate taking charge of the business. I have in hand a video compact disc (VCD) provided by the American Film-makers' Association. This VCD was sold in Hong Kong six days after the movie had been launched for screening in the United States, but one day earlier than the distributors' scheduled day of first screening in Hong Kong! The distributors had been preparing hard to have the movie shown in Hong Kong as soon as possible so as to prevent the pirates from reaping profits, and for this reason they had arranged for the movie to be screened in Hong Kong seven days after it had been shown in the United States. Yet regrettably, the pirates were able to have the pirated copies ready in just six days. If this situation were allowed to continue, not only will the local film industry dwindle, the number of foreign movies showing in Hong Kong will also be reduced due to the lack of profit. In the face of limited supply, proper choices for consumers will certainly be further reduced.

Another issue that has aroused less concern is the problem of pirated computer softwares. I feel that the actions taken by the Customs to combat pirated computer softwares are more lenient, compared to those against pirated VCDs and music CDs. According to the information provided by the software industry, 67% of the business software sold and used in Hong Kong are pirated copies, the percentage will be even greater if computer games and entertainment software are counted as well. This is a rather high figure for a developed region. Since a large number of local employees are engaged in the software engineering industry, it is estimated that the problem of copyright piracy has caused Hong Kong to lose more than 5 000 jobs involving a total tax revenue of $400 million.

The more controversial part of the motion today should be the proposal to impose fixed fines on consumers for deterrent effect purposes. I find it worthy of consideration because of two reasons. First, if there is not such a great demand for pirated copies, copyright piracy would never have been that rampant due to the limited size of the market; second, both the Government and the community should send out a clear message against the unlawful activities, imposing fines should be more effective than telling the consumers not to buy the pirated copies even though they are cheaper, fines should be more effective than saying those things a hundred or even a thousand times. If the Government could tell people that it is wrong and an offence in law to buy pirated CDs, I think the result would be much better. However, I should like to point out here that I am only suggesting the Government considering the imposition of fixed fines, I have no intention to have those consumers put in jail or face criminal charges. As such, I wish the Government could consider such fixed fines in the direction of fines for traffic offences or littering, with a view to applying them to pirated CDs.

There has been suggestion that it may not necessarily be feasible to penalize the consumers since they might not be aware that the CDs they bought were pirated copies. In this connection, I have consulted many people to see if they have any problem distinguishing between copyrighted copies and pirated copies, and the result was that they could all tell the pirated copies from the copyrighted copies easily. In fact, if we take a closer look and search our conscience, we could tell the difference easily. Nevertheless, I think we should be more careful: The relevant industries should bear the responsibilities of enhancing the security work concerned, with a view to enabling the consumers to distinguish the pirated copies from the copyrighted ones easily. For example, they should give wide publicity to the "mark" which identifies the copyrighted copies; besides, quality enhancement could also be of help in this respect. On the other hand, consumers could also raise arguments in their own defence: The fact that pirated copies have counterfeit "mark" on them, or that they are priced, packaged and sold like the copyrighted ones could perhaps be accepted as reasons for defence purposes. As regards the levels of fine, they should be set with a view to achieving deterrent effects on the one hand, and refraining from being overly harsh on the other. Judging from common sense, the Government should consider setting the amount of fines in the light of those for illegal parking which range from $200 to $500 and then consult the public in this connection. I must stress that "consultation" and "consideration" in this respect is very important, for the Government should consult the public extensively before making any decisions.

In addition, the rampant problem of copyright piracy is attributable to the fact that some people are pirating films in cinemas. At present, cinema owners do not have the power to stop people from pirating the films; besides, the matter will not be handled by the police because it would be treated as a civil case by the court. I think this would serve to encourage the proliferation of pirated CDs. I do not know if Honourable Members have watched such pirated VCDs or not - but I am sure many people have - people who have watched pirated VCDs with "viewers' heads in the foreground and mobile phone rings as background" would understand that pirating films in cinemas is an important part in the production of the pirated VCDs. I have heard that if a film was shown in cinemas on Thursday, then piracted copies with viewers's heads and mobile phone rings would be available for sale on Saturday. If the Government could legislate to combat illegal copying workshops, why should it not do something against the illegal recording of films in cinemas for use as the master pirated copy? I hope that the Government will plug the loophole in this respect by legislative and law enforcement means.

With regard to education, many people consider the purchase of pirated CDs a kind of commercial activity and that there is nothing wrong for them to do so for money saving purposes. I should like to point out here that this incorrect trend of not paying due respect to intellectual property rights should be rectified. When the people of Hong Kong are trampling on the self-esteem of the creative producers without regret, when our creative industries are in despair and decide not to invest in or even retreating from Hong Kong, when the rest of the world considers Hong Kong a society not respecting intellectual property rights, how could we develop high value-added and hi-tech industries? I hope that the Government could allocate more resources to launch large scale publicity campaigns to educate the public in a forceful, effective and innovative manner that the infringement of intellectual property rights is immoral. Such educational efforts should be introduced to children while they are still tender, so as to help them develop a proper set of value standards. The "Clean Hong Kong" campaign introduced 20 years ago was so successful that the outlook of Hong Kong has been greatly improved since then. I hope that the Government could launch similar campaigns to enable our next generations to have the self-motivation to protect intellectual property rights; otherwise, they will not have the chance to enjoy quality Hong Kong films and music like we do.

Mrs Selina CHOW moved the following motion:

"That, in view of the recent proliferation of pirated compact discs in various districts, this Council urges the Government to immediately review the existing policies and strengthen the co-ordination of various law enforcement authorities, so as to combat more effectively the manufacture, importation and sale of pirated video, music and software compact discs; furthermore, the Government should strengthen its publicity and education programmes with a view to making the public aware that the infringement of intellectual property rights is immoral; this Council also urges the Government to actively consider amending the relevant legislation in order to empower the law enforcement authorities to prosecute those engaged in the pirated recording of movies in cinemas and consider the imposition of fines on purchasers of pirated compact discs, thereby achieving deterrent effects."

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the motion moved by Mrs Selina CHOW, as set out on the Agenda, be passed.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Miss Christine LOH and Mr CHAN Kam-lam will move amendments to this motion. Their amendments have been printed on the Agenda. In accordance with the Rules of Procedure, the motion and the two amendments will now be debated together in a joint debate.

In accordance with the Rules of Procedure, I will call upon Miss Christine LOH to speak first, to be followed by Mr CHAN Kam-lam; but no amendments are to be moved at this stage.

MISS CHRISTINE LOH: Madam President, I hope that when I move the amendment later, the Honourable Mrs Selina CHOW and other Members will not say that my amendment takes the focus away from pirated compact discs and, therefore, should not be supported. Like her, I deplore the wide spread piracy of copyright works. Government action should certainly be strengthened.

However, we must not forget that Hong Kong consumers and the relevant business operators should have full, direct and open access to genuine products. A key problem is that optical discs, videos and movies being sold by pirates are sometimes not available in Hong Kong in their genuine form for the public to buy.

Once copyright works have been released around the world, it is important that Hong Kong does not fall behind the rest of the world. My amendment seeks to focus the Government on ensuring that the best practices are adopted, in line with those in many other countries, and on ensuring that in addition to protecting the interests of copyright owners, that they are balanced against the interests of consumers, that is, the public at large.

First way to promote availability

Let me be more specific about what might be the ways for the Government to promote maximum availability of genuine products. Firstly, the Trade and Industry Bureau could review the systems and practices involved in the import, distribution and sale of copyright works to ensure that consumers are being served.

Madam President, I got a letter yesterday jointly from the Business Software Alliance, the Motion Picture Association, the International Federation of Phonographic Industry ─ Hong Kong Group, and the Motion Picture Industry Association. Allow me to read a few sentences to you.

They said that they feared that my amendment ─ and I quote: "will lead the public and other legislators into thinking that copyright piracy is caused, or at least partially induced, by a lack of supply of legitimate products." They went on to say that: "This is not the case". What is important to note is that they then said: "In fact, one element of copyright is the right to choose whether to make the work available at all".

Now, Madam President, let us just think this through. My first comment is that of course, just because something is not available, it is no excuse for piracy. Let me put it back right up front.

My second comment is that we are talking about worldwide products of softwares, music and movies, and the authors of the letter are saying that they, as copyright holders, can choose not to release some of them here at all, or release them at a time of their choosing. This statement is undoubtedly true and its importance may be better illustrated with some real examples.

There is a movie from the United States called BASEketball, the video for which becomes available this month in the United States. I understand that the copyright holder is only planning to make this video available in Hong Kong in December 1999. That is right, one year from now. Let us say this is a movie that people want to see. Are the authors of the letter seriously saying that the late release of the genuine product has nothing to do with pirates wanting to cash in?

Madam President, let me remind Members that it was the matter of availability as much as piracy that brought the issue to a head twice in the Trade and Industry Panel of this Council not many weeks ago. It was because of open and public pressure that the Government said that it would get the copyright holders and those in the retail business to sort out their differences on availability.

My amendment reinforces the Government's role. The copyright holders also said in their letter that they had already "demonstrated their intention to co-operate with the Government in all possible ways to make sure that the local market of copyright products are not being unfairly manipulated to the detriment of consumer interests". Well, what then could be their objection to my amendment? I simply want commitments spoken and given in this Chamber to be remembered and acted upon. It is precisely this that made me seek the amendment today. I am not diverting from the piracy issue.

So far, Madam President, I have not mentioned the term "parallel imports" which is what the copyright holders are really concerned about. Just to add some spice to the debate, because I now see that the Secretary for Trade and Industry is sitting in the Chamber. He wrote a letter to the South China Morning Post and it was published on 28 November this year. He said, and I quote: "...... the Administration had originally accepted the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission to decriminalize the parallel importation of copyright articles. Unfortunately, the then Legislative Council did not accept the decriminalization provision."

Madam President, I accept that the law is the law. We now criminalize a business which imports legitimate copyright products. I just want to quote the Secretary's recent letter because I sense a tinge of regret in his voice. It is not the purpose of this debate and I will not labour on this point as it is not what I am calling for, but this Council might want to continue a watching brief on how the Copyright Ordinance is affecting the wider public interests, as well as to consider the interests of the copyright holders.

Second way to promote availability

The second way for the Government to promote availability is for the Director of Intellectual Property, who is also with us in this Chamber today, to constantly monitor developments in markets worldwide where trade barriers are being removed to permit the free flow of copyright works to see if there is anything that Hong Kong can learn from them. I call upon the Director's office to ensure that the Administration, this Council and the public are kept fully advised about overseas developments so that we can be at the forefront of access to copyright works.

Allow me to take just a few examples of the sort of changes that other countries have made recently. In the United States, the largest developed market in the world, parallel importing is allowed between the United States and Canada. The European Union allows parallel imports within the member states. Singapore, Australia and New Zealand allow free import.

Very well, you may say that there are special circumstances and that Hong Kong is different. Nevertheless, what I am asking the Director to do is simply to keep abreast of international developments in this area. I simply do not want Hong Kong consumers to lose out.

Third way to promote availability

My last proposition is that Hong Kong lacks many of the vital consumer protection measures present in other advanced countries. I would like to see a competition law and better consumer protection laws in general.

Public education

I would also like to make a comment about the need for public education. To an extent, pirates are exploiting the lack of availability of genuine products. The problem is that it will not be easy for the Government to educate the public, particularly when the genuine stuff is not on the market. Let us chew on that, Madam President. And, let this Council commit itself and the Government keep a watching brief on the development in Hong Kong.

CHAN's amendment

This is a good place for me to make a final comment on the Honourable CHAN Kam-lam's amendment. He does not want this Council to consider the possible imposition of fines on purchases of pirated compact discs. If he accepts that public education will be slow, and if he accepts that the importance of intellectual property rights needs to be reinforced, why should the ultimate buyers not be asked to take some responsibilities? Perhaps, he is overly protective of the voting public. The Hong Kong public should not be allowed to get too comfortable with pirated products.

MR CHAN KAM-LAM (in Cantonese): Madam President, the piracy of audio-visual and computer softwares has long existed in Hong Kong, and the pirated products have ranged from black plastic records, magnetic computer discs in the old days to the present-day CDs and DVDs. It has come to the point that whenever there is a market for the genuine ones with proper copyrights, there are pirated ones. But the Customs has not cracked down hard enough on these activities and their performance in this respect still leaves much to be desired. With the increasing popularity of CDs, pirated video, music and software CDs can be found everywhere. Even foreign tourists know which shopping arcades in Hong Kong are specialized in selling pirated CDs. It seems that the reputation of Hong Kong as the "shoppers' paradise" has now been replaced by the "pirates' paradise".

All along, people have been giving themselves a specious excuse for buying pirated products, such as, the genuine products are too expensive and the price of a genuine CD equals to six or seven pirated ones; besides, since the quality of the pirated ones are acceptable, why then should one buy the genuine ones? The operators of shops selling pirated products can even boldly and assuredly argue that they are only satisfying the demand and needs of the market and consumers. Therefore, with everyone having such high-sounding reasons, it is extremely difficult to eliminate the trading of pirated CDs. Also, owing to the extreme inadequacy of publicity and education by the Government, the general public has little, if any, awareness about protecting intellectual property rights.

On the other hand, with the advances in technology, recently there has been a new computer compressed file format known as MP3 by means of which over 200 songs can be compressed into one single CD. I have even seen some hawkers in the street who only operate with a portable computer. When customers come along, they can immediately pirate video or music discs for them. I think this is exactly the indication that the Government has not worked hard enough to combat piracy activities. There are plenty of pirated VCDs for sale, some of which are even put out for sale as soon as the movie is shown in cinemas. We can see VCDs of movies recorded in cinemas, which are called "movies showing the heads of the viewers". That this has emerged is because of the loopholes in our existing legislation. Therefore, the Government needs to further study how best to plug these loopholes.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong has, in the past week, conducted a telephone survey on the combat against pirated CDs. In that survey, over 60% of the interviewees admitted to having bought, used or possessed pirated VCDs and music CDs, and over 80% agreed that the Government should amend the legislation to prosecute those recording movies illegally in the cinema.

Madam President, that is exactly because the piracy operators need not any capital for their business that the prices of their products are lower than the genuine ones. But the consumers should not just have an eye for the price. Otherwise, to allow pirated products to continue to dominate our markets will only discourage and scare off original producers, to the ultimate disbenefit of consumers. In fact, we understand that many engaging in original creation are operating under great difficulties while many local record companies are beginning to lower the prices of their products and trying every means, such as using specially designed packaging to add to the value of the products, to make consumers feel that genuine products are value for the money. We consider this a good sign, and this is the only way to completely stamp out the piracy market.

We agree that piracy is, to a certain extent, a moral problem. To make people realize that buying pirated products is immoral and an infringement of intellectual property rights, the most important point is to enhance education. Many pirated CDs are of very high quality and exquisitely made. Take the pirated Japanese drama VCDs that the Customs vigorously calmed down on earlier as an example: they are so exquisitely made and beautifully packaged that they are by no means inferior to the genuine ones. Moreover, as all these pirated products had the names and addresses of the distributors printed on them, had the property right holders in Japan not made a clarification earlier, ordinary people could not have realized that those VCDs were all pirated. Therefore, as regards the two CDs presented by the Honourable Mrs Selina CHOW just now, to a person who has never bought a genuine CD or knows little about the genuine products, with the limited knowledge that he has, there is no way that he can tell which CD is genuine and which is counterfeit.

Madam President, as most people have little knowledge about intellectual property rights, and in view of the fact that pirated CDs are such a close resemblance to the genuine ones that people are unable to distinguish between them, we do not agree to penalize the consumers for buying pirated CDs. We think that it is the law enforcement agencies' duty to combat piracy and that only by the authorities' vigorous action against the production and sale of pirated CDs will pirated products be stamped out. Otherwise, when genuine and pirated CDs are placed on the same shelf and consumers are not able to tell the difference between them, they will easily be misled into breaking the law. In particular, I do not think that it is fair to legislate to penalize consumers, especially those who are not frequent buyers of CDs, before they have sufficient ability to tell the genuine from the counterfeit.

Mrs Selina CHOW has also mentioned that shops selling pirated CDs are found everywhere, even opposite to police stations. This is also an illustration that the authorities have not put sufficient efforts in combatting piracy and there is much room for improvement.

The Administration has recently launched a licensing system for manufacturers. As the relevant legislation has been enacted only recently, we do not believe that manufacturers would be willing to take any reckless move and risk losing the huge investment they have made. Therefore, it is too early to assume that the manufacturers will definitely take the risk and engage in pirating activities in such a short time.

Moreover, should the government departments step up their co-operation with their counterparts in Macau and the Mainland to combat piracy and tackle it from the source? These are actions we ought to take.

The price may not be the only key to distinguishing between the genuine products and the counterfeits. We know that there is a great difference between the prices of pirated CDs and the genuine. But when it comes one day that the prices of both are very much the same, I believe that it will be a serious problem that puts consumers in a very unfavourable position.

In addition, it is a rather dangerous move to start studying about penalizing consumers at this stage. This is because in so doing we are in fact shifting the target of social regulation from the offenders to the victims and start to penalize not only the offenders but also the victims. This is a very dangerous move.

In the face of the present grave situation that crimes keep popping up, we can only blame our inadequate crime prevention measures and insufficient deterrent effects of our punishment. But we can never say that the victims of the crimes should also be put on trial.

Just as Mrs Selina CHOW has said, drivers charged of illegal parking are fined a few hundred dollars. Will punishing the people for buying pirated CDs thus stamp out all piracy activities in future? Have we eliminated all illegal parking yet? Hence, this is an extremely serious problem.

Furthermore, there are countless kinds of counterfeit goods ranging from CDs, VCDs, MDs, computer discs, cosmetics, books, wines, medicine, apparel, handbags to decorations; should we then impose the same penalties on all the commercial activities involving them? This merits our consideration.

The Honourable Miss Christine LOH's amendment does not appear to have any problem but there is a very wrong mentality underlining it, that is, whenever there is a problem, seek help from the Government and whatever is in insufficient supply on the market, ask the Government to increase the supply. I really wonder how much Miss Christine LOH knows about economics.

Thank you, Madam President.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Time is up, Mr CHAN Kam-lam.

MR MA FUNG-KWOK (in Cantonese): Madam President, the Government of the Special Administrative Region has for many times since its establishment referred to the importance of protecting intellectual property rights. The Chief Executive has also stressed in his policy address that the Government would remain committed to upholding a world-class intellectual property rights regime in seeking to develop Hong Kong into an innovation centre. Nevertheless, judging solely from the existing situation in which the people of Hong Kong could purchase pirated CDs anytime anywhere, ours is a far cry from a world-class intellectual property rights regime.

I support the motion moved by Mrs Selina CHOW. The problem of pirated CDs in Hong Kong is indeed rampant, and the Government must therefore take expeditious and effective actions to combat the problem. The raging problem of copyright piracy has gravely impacted on not only the development of creative industries but also their survival. Both the Government and the law makers, being responsible, must therefore consider introducing more stringent measures to safeguard the room for creative expression in Hong Kong.

With regard to the film industry which is the hardest hit by the problem of copyright piracy, the invasion of pirated products has caused the entire sector to plumet into a decline, with the number of as well as the box office revenue generated by local productions having dropped sharply. In the face of the rampant problem of copyright piracy, many production companies have stopped making new movies or planned to stop producing new movies for the next one to two years. If the problem of copyright piracy is still not reined into proper control, the prospects of the film industry are certainly doomed.

At present, the actions of combating copyright piracy are mainly the responsibilities of the Customs and Excise Department (the Customs). In this connection, Customs staff have made a great deal of efforts. As a matter of fact, the total number of pirated CDs seized by the Customs in the first 11 months of the year has amounted to almost 10 times of the volume seized in 1997. Nevertheless, the markets are still flooded with pirated CDs, with the total number being far greater than 10 times of that seized by the Customs! Instead of blaming the Customs for not making its best effort to combat pirated CDs, I believe we should comprehensively review the present policy for combating the problem, with a view to introducing amendments to the relevant legislation and redeploying resources, including that of other law enforcement authorities, to plug any possible loopholes in the laws and thereby enable law enforcement officers to combat copyright piracy activities effectively.

According to government officials from the Trade and Industry Bureau, Hong Kong has in place one of the most encompassing legal frameworks for the protection of intellectual property, covering the manufacture, distribution and retail of pirated CDs. Moreover, a number of laws have also been enacted by the Government over the past two years to offer better protection. In this connection, the new Copyright Ordinance enacted in June last year, the Import and Export Ordinance amended shortly after, as well as the Prevention of Copyright Piracy Ordinance enacted in March this year have undoubtedly conferred on the Customs many additional powers. In addition, since the implementation of the Prevention of Copyright Piracy Ordinance, the CD production industry has gradually fallen into order, while the number of illegal workshops has also dropped. Nevertheless, does that mean our laws are perfect enough? Has the problem of copyright piracy been put under control? I believe Honourable Members all know the answers very well.

In regard to the pirated video compact discs (VCDs) available in the markets, many of them are the so-called "theatre version" or "revised theatre version" pirated copies. They are reproduced from copies pirated directly in cinemas. What does it tell us? In regard to the speech made by Mrs Selina CHOW just now, there is only one point which I think requires amendment. It was mentioned in her speech that pirated VCDs would be available for sale in the market two days after the movie had been launched for screening. I should like to point out here that pirated VCDs will be available for sale in the market in just five hours.

The problem of pirating movies in cinemas has gravely affected the profits of lawful businessmen, but could they seek any protection under the relevant laws? With much regret, the laws have yet to be made to penalize the pirated recording of movies in cinemas. Without the necessary authority to detain those engaged in pirated recording of movies for investigation and identity clarification purposes, no civil proceedings could be instituted in this connection.

Since the Secretary for Trade and Industry has stated that pirated recording of movies in cinemas would not be liable to criminal charges, the situation will certainly deteriorate. I hope that public officers could understand the urgency of the matter and expeditiously reach a consensus with the industry, with a view to formulating specific and feasible measures promptly.

Madam President, although the film industry has been identified by the Government as one of the industries heading in the high value-added direction, the sector still has difficulty to survive in the face of the rampant pirating activities. From this we could imagine what might possibly happen to the future of other intellectual property-related products including music CDs, publications, computer softwares as well as the information technologies which the Government is going to develop.

Those unscrupulous merchants engaging in copyright piracy seem to have unlimited strategies, their incentive to pirate is strong while the syndicates they have formed are getting more and more well organized. There is indeed a need for us to enact new laws to further combat the illegal activities. Since the Prevention of copyright piracy Ordinance came into effect towards the end of August this year, certain unlawful production lines have been moving away from Hong Kong gradually. Nevertheless, pirated CDs in the market have not decreased in number, nor has the production of new pirated copies been delayed at any rate. This is because those unscrupulous merchants could smuggle the pirated CDs from other places into Hong Kong through the extensive networks of their crime syndicates. From this we could see that pirating activities are in fact controlled by well organized crime syndicates. In the circumstances, should we consider enlarging the ambit of the Organized and serious Crimes Ordinance to cover copyright piracy, with a view to giving the law enforcement departments special investigative powers or even enabling such departments to confiscate proceeds from copyright piracy?

As regards the issue of imposing fines or penalty on people who purchase pirated CDs, the industry and I will give it our full support. It is because this could on the one hand combat pirating activities effectively, and send out a clear message to the public that copyright piracy will gravely jeopardize public interest on the other. That way, members of the public could understand clearly that purchasing pirated CDs constitutes an offence in law. The point is we must send out a clear and forceful message to the public, and the severity of the punishment is an issue of lesser weight.

The community has been condemning copyright piracy for causing harm to Hong Kong, yet at the same time the people have all along been tolerating the proliferation of pirated products. What they do is indeed in defiance of what they know. While stories on the front page of newspapers report on how successful the Customs' efforts to combat copyright piracy are, the information pages inside will advise the people of the places where pirated goods are available. What is more, there might even be stories referring to celebrities purchasing pirated goods in Shenzhen as an effort to spend wisely and to live a less extravagant life. It is highly regrettable that what I have referred to are not individual cases, since I could hear in the Ante-chamber Members and government officials discussing freely stories of Japanese drama series that are 100% pirated products. This has proven to us that the concept of intellectual property rights has yet to find a footing among the public at large.

Both the industry and I do understand the concern and reservations that some people would have in regard to the proposal. As regards the opinion that it is not easy to prove whether consumers are buying the relevant CDs in full knowledge of the products' legality, there are in fact many ways to differentiate the pirated copies from the copyrighted products if consumers really wish to do so. Finally, I just wish to point out that the amendment proposed by the Honourable Miss Christine LOH will in effect interfere with the normal operation of businesses.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Time is up, Mr MA Fung-kwok.

MR CHEUNG MAN-KWONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I have bought a set of Japanese drama VCDs but I had got the assurance from the Honourable MA Fung-kwok that it was the only set of Japanese drama VCDs available with genuine copyrights.

The film and phonographic industries once had great economic value in Hong Kong and came first in the whole Southeast Asia. But in recent years, these two once blooming industries have been rapidly declining. The economic downturn is one contributory factor but it is to everyone's knowledge that the real deadly blow comes in the rampant piracy activities.

Piracy has given these unscrupulous businessmen huge profits. Their illegal activities have dealt a heavy blow to the film and phonographic industries, which not only have serious implications on the producers, issuers, distributors and retailers but also the cinemas and video rental business that have a very close relationship with the industries. This year, the Chief Executive has proposed to set up a $100 million Film Development Fund to enhance the use of high technology in the film industry. However, because of the rampant piracy activities, it seems that the resources, efforts of the industry and the profit returns from the high value added to the products will be put in a safe with a hole in the bottom, which will ultimately benefit the lawbreakers. Therefore, the $100 million fund will not be of any help at all. It is likely that the movies produced with the fund will soon be pirated. Madam President, never belittle these pirated CDs that only cost $8 or $10 each. Their power has proved to be strong enough to bring down both the film and phonographic industries, jeopardize the local economy and tarnish the international reputation of Hong Kong.

Madam President, it is not at all an over-exaggeration to call Hong Kong the paradise of copyright piracy. Although the Administration claims that it has already adopted an omni-directional strategy against piracy and has attained certain results, a survey conducted by the United States reveals that despite the overall drop in the volume of pirated computer softwares in Asia last year, there was a rise in Hong Kong. The piracy rate was so high that out of every 10 computer software CDs, six or seven were pirated. In the first seven months this year, Hong Kong has already seized over 35 million pirated CDs, and together with the 50-odd production lines of pirated works cracked down, they amounted to a value of $1.2 billion. What is more worrying is that although the Administration has seized huge numbers of pirated products, the sale of such products has never ceased. Actually, these activities have only been broken up into smaller scales and simply by changing the spots, ways of the sales and the types of pirated products sold, the production and sales networks can come back in operation after an amazingly short absence. What we have found recently is that while the Customs are coming down hard on the pirated Japanese drama VCDs, the pirated local films, foreign films, animation and audio and video CDs enter the relay and occupy the various black spots of the sale of pirated products. It is just impossible to stamp out all piracy activities. The public on the one hand denounces the piracy activities, but on the other hand continues to buy pirated products. Piracy business is just like the wild grass that cannot be burnt out even by the prairie fire; whenever the combat is relaxed a little, it is revived.

From this we can see that in the face of the large and highly flexible piracy syndicates, the monitoring and combatting efforts of the Customs are extremely insufficient. It can even be described as a game that the pirates always outsmart the law enforcement authorities. In particular, the pirates are very sensitive to the technological development and market trends. Now pirated movie VCDs and music CDs can already be put out on sale as soon as the genuine works are released. They even have the ability to produce pirated digital video discs (DVDs) that have higher capacity and better quality than that of VCDs, and at the same time more profitable, and put them on the market. As regards the channels of distribution, one can now place a purchase order on the Internet which has almost become an underground market now. It can be imagined that the Customs will encounter even more difficulties in its combat against pirated CDs and piracy activities in future. It is impossible to stop the development of technologies but the Government must remain alert that at the same time when it steps up the regulation of imports and combat against the production lines, it should study how to crack down on the various illegal piracy activities on the Internet and at the same time ensure the freedom of information. Madam President, it is a long-drawn-out and tough war to fight against piracy. The Administration must be resolute and formulate multi-pronged measures against the piracy syndicates, as any flaw or leak in the overall action plan will lead to failure in the combat against piracy.

Madam President, the multi-pronged measure mentioned above not only involves the combat against piracy but also the call to the attention of Hong Kong people about copyrights, for as long as there is demand in the market, piracy will never stop. Therefore, education is a crucial factor. Most ironically, however, the impacts of piracy are also felt in schools. The Government is vigorously promoting education on information technology but the software suitable for local use, especially that for the "bi-literate and tri-lingual" education, is in extremely short supply. The main reason is the rampant piracy activities, because local software producers are unwilling to take the risk of investing in the production of educational software suitable for local use. As a result, schools can only use the foreign softwares a situation which has in turn affected the quality of education. The damage done by piracy is certainly far-reaching. But in respect of Mrs Selina CHOW's proposal to impose fines on purchasers of pirated products, we stress that at the present stage, we still have reservations as the imposition of fines involves a change in legal responsibility, about which a decision should not be made hastily. To avoid misleading the public into thinking that this is the most important and only plan to fight piracy, we think that we should take this as the last resort after the Government has exhausted all its efforts and means. I have to refute the Honourable CHAN Kam-lam's suggestion that CD purchasers are victims. They are not victims whatsoever but greedy people. They know it full well that it is not right to buy pirated CDs but cannot refrain from doing it. Such an attitude should absolutely not be encouraged. Our most urgent work now is to fight piracy by means of education, sending out the message that the whole community, including the police and the Customs, must join hands and spare no effort in the combat against piracy. As regards Miss Christine LOH's amendment, the Democratic Party opines that what she wishes to address is the issue of the availability of genuine products which has no direct relation with today's subject on piracy, and so we will abstain from voting on it.


DR TANG SIU-TONG (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, CD pirating in Hong Kong has become absolutely lawless in recent years. Movies just started screening today will be pirated right away, then in the immediate afternoon, the pirated copies will be available for sale everywhere; software programmes newly introduced by computer firms meet a similar fate, as pirated copies will be available at $20 each in just one day. What is more, the pirated CDs are sold openly in stores in utter defiance of the law, and these stores are multiplying rapidly and flooding the markets across the territory. Their numbers are even greater than convenience stores.

Many people have considered the proliferation of pirated CDs attributable to the ineffective actions taken by the Customs. But let us look at the following figures. In the first nine months of the year alone, the Customs has seized more than 30 million pirated CDs, representing a seven-fold increase over the total seizure 1997 at a total value of more than $1.4 billion. So we can see that there is no question of negligence of duty on the part of the Customs which does not have the resources to take more actions. Pirated CDs are proliferating so rapidly that they have become far too numerous for the Customs to tackle. With limited manpower, how could the Customs take action against each and every piracy group? Moreover, merchants engaged in the sale of pirated CDs seem to have unlimited strategies. Once one or two "black spots" have been cracked down on, they will immediately move to other places to conduct business; or they will play hocus pocus by displaying the pirated CDs among the genuine ones, thus making it very difficult for the officers to identify the priated products; others may even "cry up wine and sell vinegar", displaying genuine copyright CDs openly but selling the pirated copies in secret, thereby making it even more difficult for the Customs to take enforcement actions.

"Where there is demand, there is supply". This is not only one basic concept in economics but also the most important reason why pirated CDs could still increase despite government actions. The people of Hong Kong at large have all along been taking intellectual property rights lightly. According to the result of a survey conducted in May by a local newspaper, more than 80% of the interviewees would not feel any sense of guilt when buying pirated CDs, nor would they consider it immoral to purchase pirated products. The present situation is best summed up by the following remarks made by showbiz celebrity Mr Michael HUI: "If people were seen spitting on the ground, they might try to clean the spit secretly with the sole of their shoes; if people went to buy pornographic magazines, they would do it secretly and wrap the magazines with newspapers to avoid being seen by others; but those people who purchase pirated CDs will not feel ashamed, they patronize stores selling pirated CDs like going to carnivals ......"

Yet copyright piracy is far less serious a problem in European countries, the United States or Japan compared to the situation in Hong Kong, not that these countries have laws more comprehensive than ours or law enforcement authorities more efficient than ours. The most important point is that their people generally attach more importance to intellectual property rights. In seeking to completely eradicate the problem of copyright piracy, it is therefore essential for Hong Kong to tackle the problem at root by means of education. Long-term publicity schemes must be launched to enable the people of Hong Kong to understand that intellectual property is a kind of personal property, that the copyrighted work is not only the fruit of its creator's painstaking efforts but also his source of income, hence pirating other people's intellectual property is just like depriving others of their right to live. Besides, such kind of immoral and unscrupulous activity will lead to very serious consequences, for the local film-making industry might be forced to face its doomsday, the computer engineering sector might have to suffer hard times, and more importantly, the international reputation of Hong Kong will be gravely damaged. Indeed, the first alarm was already sounded, as the United States Special 301 Report has included Hong Kong in its Watch List in May this year.

Apart from giving more publicity to the concept of intellectual property, the Government also needs to strengthen its co-operation with the Central Government as well as the international community including Southeast Asian countries, so as to combat the smuggling of pirated CDs with joint efforts. In addition, the Government should also consider establishing a centralized international copyright information management system to consolidate the copyright registration details and relevant information of different countries and places, with a view to enabling copyright owners and law enforcement authorities worldwide to establish the ownership of the copyright in question more easily, thereby facilitating the institution of prosecution against copyright piracy.

The future development of Hong Kong is oriented towards high technology. To establish a technology and knowledge-based economy, the protection for intellectual property rights is of utmost importance. In this connection, civic education must be strengthened to enable the public to understand the importance of intellectual property rights. Otherwise, not only the innovative products and the hardwork of their designers will be at risk due to the lack of protection for intellectual property rights, the position of Hong Kong as a commercial and financial centre will also be at stake. In that case, I am afraid the general public will become the ultimate victims eventually. As regards the proposal to impose fines on purchasers of pirated CDs for infringing copyright, I am afraid I could not agree with it, for the general public could hardly tell the difference between copyrighted products and their pirated copies, in particular the packaging for pirated CDs has recently been improved so substantially that they could always be mistaken for the copyrighted products. besides, it is also illogical to use price levels as the only reference point for judgement. Members of the public will become law breakers very easily, since they tend to base their choice of goods mostly on price levels.

With these remarks, Mr Deputy, I support the amendment proposed by the Honourable CHAN Kam-lam.

MR HOWARD YOUNG (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, with regard to the relationship between today's motion debate and the tourist industry, I feel that we can take a look at the past and existing practices of our neighbouring countries as these merit our consideration.

Some of our neighbouring countries and places, such as Taiwan and Thailand, have relied heavily on pirated books, fakes, and counterfeits of famous brand names as their main attractions. Other than products involving the intellectual property rights, they also attract foreign tourists to shop there by selling brand name apparels and leather goods in order to earn foreign currencies. The tourists know it full well that those commodities are counterfeits but they still buy them, mainly because counterfeits are cheaper than genuine ones.

Even though such goods do appeal to tourists, their sale is after all illegal and we cannot use them to attract tourists or promote tourism. Hence, Hong Kong has never done so even though some newspapers give enormous publicity to places where such counterfeits are available. Compared to Hong Kong, those countries and places which have taken this as their attraction in the past have never been recognized internationally as a "shoppers' paradise" like Hong Kong.

In recent years, various Southeast Asian countries have been vigorously promoting their tourist industry in the hope that it will bring home a considerable income in foreign currencies. Now, they are not making the sale of counterfeits and pirated goods as their attraction any more. When various European and American countries are vigorously combatting piracy and counterfeit products, Hong Kong has even better reasons not to develop in this obsolete direction.

Let me turn back to Hong Kong. The piracy activities in Hong Kong, especially the sale of pirated CDs, are indeed getting more and more rampant. The sale of pirated CDs has spread from individual shopping arcades to almost every corner over the territory. Some people even rent shops by the side of streets and sell them openly.

When such illegal activities are conducted everywhere, what kind of an impression will tourists get when they come to Hong Kong and find pirated products being sold all over the territory? What will they tell their friends and relatives after they have returned to their countries? Of course some would say that it may even attract more people to come. But these activities have indeed ruined the international reputation of Hong Kong as a whole. We cannot just have an eye for certain trades and certain of the interests gained but neglect the interests of the whole community, including our future position in international trade.

Other than stepping up the combat against the sale of pirated CDs, the Government must also educate the public. In fact, the Government is already doing and will continue to do so with the aim of enhancing the public's respect for intellectual property rights and helping them realize that the production of pirated CDs is an infringement of intellectual property rights. Although the purchase of pirated CDs is not considered a crime yet, it is actually encouraging such immoral and even illegal conduct. But is education effective? Mrs Selina CHOW has suggested that perhaps we should study whether or not to tackle the problem by deterring the consumers. I do not quite agree with Mr CHAN Kam-lam that if the genuine products with proper copyrights are sold at the same price of the pirated ones, then people will not buy the latter any more. This is just impossible. In the course of scrutinizing a relevant bill, I was given to understand that the marginal cost of a pirated CD is only the cost of the plastic disc which is less than 50 cents. How can the cost of a genuine CD be lowered to 50 cents? One already reaps a huge profit just by selling each pirated CD at $5 to $10. Therefore, how can we ask the price of genuine CDs be put on a par with that of pirated ones? This will only be possible if the price of the latter is raised to the same level as that of the former. It then depends on how forceful our deterrent measure is.

As regards the tourism in Hong Kong, I think that it will have to depend on the co-operation of those in the trade. They should make the best use of their strength, that is, in respect of shopping, and lay emphasis on the "authenticity, variety and reasonable price of their commodities" to attract tourists, making sure that large varieties of genuine commodities from the original producer are available and such goods are available at the best quality at the prices that they are marked with. This is the right direction that we should take.

Mr Deputy, with these remarks, I support the original motion of Mrs Selina CHOW.

MR SIN CHUNG-KAI (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, I rise to speak on behalf of the information technology sector, not the Democratic Party. While I support Mrs Selina CHOW's original motion, I object to the amendments by Mr CHAN Kam-lam and Miss Christine LOH. It is indisputable that the protection of intellectual property constitutes one important element for sustaining a knowledge-based economy, particularly in this information age. As to the consideration of amending the relevant legislation, Mrs CHOW has only proposed that study be conducted on the imposition of fines on purchasers of pirated CDs. I believe it will do no harm at all to make such consideration. But the issue mentioned by Miss Christine LOH regarding the supply of genuine products is in violation of the intellectual property concept.

Negative impact of pirating on Hong Kong's economy

According to the information of 1996, the software industry has, both directly and indirectly, created 4 000-odd job vacancies for Hong Kong, yielding for the Government more than $36 million in revenue. But actually, the job opportunities and tax revenue that can be brought about by the software industry are far greater than these figures. It is only because the Hong Kong Government has not done its best in combating pirating and related activities that makes it impossible for the software industry to enjoy the deserved fruits.

With its excellent development potential, the software industry should be able to bring Hong Kong a sizeable income. It is estimated that, in the coming five years, the industry will enjoy an average rate of growth of more than 20% annually. By the year 2001, the industry can, provided it can develop in a normal manner, create some 7 000 relevant job vacancies and bring the Government as much as $100 million in revenue.

Nevertheless, according to the findings of a study conducted by the Business Software Alliance, Hong Kong registered a pirating ratio of more than 60% in 1997, which is 3% more than that in 1996, equivalent to a loss of more than $950 million for the whole industry. Such a sum of money is really surprising. In fact, it is equally surprising to find that the losses incurred as a result of pirating activities in such a small place as Hong Kong was more or less the same as the losses incurred by an entire nation ─ Australia. This also shows the seriousness of pirating activities in Hong Kong.

If the Hong Kong Government is still acting indecisively in combating pirating activities, it will not only obstruct the development of the software industry, but also make it difficult for legitimate software retailers to survive even though the Government is determined to develop high value-added and innovative technology at the same time.

Opposing Miss Christine LOH's amendment

Any piece of creative work, be it a piece of writing, a song, a script or even a private letter, will automatically enjoy copyright protection as long as it is written on a piece of paper or any other media. By virtue of copyright protection, a creator or copyright holder is free to choose whether or not to release his work to the public or put his work on the market for commercial purposes. I have reservation on Miss Christine LOH's amendment because I think Miss LOH's wordings are not appropriate for she has put copyright on a par with the availability of genuine copyright works in the market. Moreover, such wordings will mislead the public into thinking that the existence of pirating activities is caused by the lack of sufficient genuine products in the market. Furthermore, such misleading wordings are not fair to copyright holders.

Whether or not a piece of work should be made available on the market and the amount of its supply should hinge on the demands of the market as well as the plan of the creator or copyright holder. In asking the Government to "consider ways to promote maximum availability", Miss LOH has indeed twisted the notion of copyright and its spirit, as well as violating the concept of free economy.

If the copyright holder has no intention to put his work onto the market, then the problem of maximum availability simply does not exist. If such a piece of work is put up for sale in the market, its supply and pricing will be governed by demand in a free market. It will then be difficult for the Government to intervene. The Government can only take up the responsibility of preventing "pirated products" from being put up for sale in the market. On the contrary, products which are objects of pirating are often well received by the public. What people engaging in pirating activities precisely want is to pirate popular works belonging to other people. On the contrary, we can hardly find pirated copies of unpopular works in the market.

Opposing Mr CHAN Kam-lam's amendment

I cannot agree with Mr CHAN Kam-lam's amendment either because Mrs CHOW is only suggesting the Government to consider the matter. Although purchasers of pirated CDs should bear a certain degree of responsibility, I wish to stress two points in this connection. Firstly, before we can consider this proposal, we need to ensure that those people who are penalized as a result of purchasing CDs know very well that they will be penalized for doing so and they still keep on doing so. In other words, we cannot penalize innocent people who are unaware that they have bought pirated CDs. Secondly, we must examine in detail matters related to the prosecution of purchasers of pirated CDs and the production of proof as these are extremely complicated matters.

Supporting Mrs Selina CHOW's original motion

I want to stress that, at the present stage, we can only agree to Mrs Selina CHOW's proposal of considering the matter. For the time being, I still find it impossible to support any specific measures. It is, nevertheless, still acceptable for the Government to consider the matter.

In order to radically combat pirating activities, there are two things the Government must do. Firstly, the Government is now relying quite heavily on the Customs in enforcement while the police are just standing by with folded arms. Just now, Mrs Selina CHOW has also mentioned this point. In our opinion, the police should step up combating pirating activities as they have the benefit of a huge network. In particular, the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) should consider taking action against persons engaged in the manufacture, distribution and sale of pirated products. In other words, in addition to the Customs, other government departments should also take part in the enforcement work.

Finally, concerning the amendment of copyright legislation, both Europe and the United States have taken corresponding measures by introducing legislation in this aspect as a result of the development of the Internet. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed by the United States on 12 October and took effect upon its signing by President CLINTON on 28 October.

The European Union has also debated legislation in this area in the European parliament. The relevant legislation is expected to be tabled for voting in February next year.

It is our view that the Government should speed up studying the trend in this area to see if there is a need to protect intellectual property in our digital technology environment.

I support Mrs Selina CHOW's original motion.

MISS CHOY SO-YUK (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, it is not an exaggeration to say that the problem of pirated CDs is an economic, social and cultural disaster. When we go into a shopping arcade where pirated CDs are sold, we may all find it crowded with people and every corner is so robust and full of life. Regrettably, all this vitality has been wasted in a consumer market that turns a blind eye to the rights of others, a market that everyone is going after inexpensive entertainment and cheap commodities. In the course of such pursuit, people not only trample on other's intellectual property rights, but do it shamelessly and unknowingly. Such an unreasonable and immoral behaviour has become all so very reasonable and natural. I think that the damage done by copyright piracy to the morality of our younger generation is even greater than to our economy.

To rectify this unhealthy trend of sale and purchase of pirated CDs, everyone agrees that it is essential to maintain continuous education and publicity, and to make the media demonstrate morality and social responsibilities. On the other hand, is it a feasible deterrent measure to impose fines on purchasers? Over this I have reservations. At present, without sufficient resources, the Customs is already tired out in its attempts to combat piracy activities under the Copyright Ordinance by cracking down on the production and sales of pirated products. The effect of their work therefore leaves much to be desired. If we again impose another duty on them, will it become an extra burden on top of their already saturated capacity? In fact, it is already a tremendous task just to conscientiously enforce the law on penalizing the consumers, leaving aside the implications on consumption and the increased psychological pressure on consumers. How much manpower and resources are required to effectively and fairly enforce the law? How can we determine whether a consumer knowingly breaks the law? How can we help consumers distinguish between genuine and pirated CDs? To impose fines on the people before these problems can be solved will only lead to contentions which would tire out the law enforcement authorities even more than cracking down on the production and sales of pirated CDs.

To narrow down the price difference between genuine and pirated CDs is a way of combating piracy and it complies with the economic order, although the result may not be readily discernible. First of all, given that the market is flooded with pirated CDs, it is not easy to determine the real market value of genuine CDs and it can also be easily distorted. Under such a circumstance, to lower the prices of the genuine CDs can of course enhance their competitiveness, but it will also reduce the desire of the creators and producers to create new works and increase the operation risks of businessmen, thus lowering their interest in developing and investing in new productions. More importantly, since the cost of each pirated CD is very low, ranging between $1 and $2, even if they are sold at 10 pieces for $100, given their popularity, the sellers will still reap very considerable returns. Sellers of genuine CDs can never have this absolute operation advantages of the pirates even if the prices of their products are lowered.

To effectively prevent the revival of the sale of pirated CDs, we must root them out from their production. The Government must increase the resources given to the Customs for combatting piracy and turn around the present situation in which the Customs is doing the work alone while the police do not seem to have attached sufficient importance to this problem. The police and the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) should share the duty and pool their efforts in this regard to strengthen the effort against piracy. Only then will the law enforcement authorities be able to freely employ all available force, have more power and resources to engage in frequent and proactive mopping up actions instead of taking only sporadic actions to close down production works or shops after tip-offs. To achieve greater deterrent effect, they should even consider deploying officers in the shopping arcades concerned on a long term basis. The Customs, police and ICAC need to work side by side to strengthen their combatting and intelligence work.

We should also take note of the situation that those in the film industry who knowingly break the law and engage in piracy themselves. For example, many would agree that the quality of pirated VCDs of many local films can match up to that of the genuine ones. These do not seem to be recorded in cinemas but duplicated from the original master. Even for those recorded illegally in the cinemas, their quality is also much better than that of the pirated foreign films. Why is it so? Does this imply that the black sheep in the film and performing sector are hurting the sector's interests for their own gains? Is there corruption involved between the pirates and the relevant people in the cinemas or production companies? Against this, those in the sector should disregard their attitude of caring about their own business only and set up a mutual monitoring and supporting mechanism and learn from the practice of European and American countries in order to strictly safeguard their production interests and prevent the reputation of the sector being tarnished by bad elements in the sector. In addition, since the prosecution of pirates very often involves tedious legal procedures and large sums of money, individual producers or small and medium companies may find it difficult to afford to file lawsuits. The Government should consider providing free legal assistance to these people in order to encourage them to report any violation of their property rights.

Mr Deputy, I so submit.

MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, I am really a bit disappointed after listening to Members' speeches so far. This is because I realize that many industries represented by Members sitting here are well aware of where the crux of the problem lies but they seem to be unable to discuss it in an in-depth manner. Let me try to, from both the legal and enforcement aspects, discuss how we are going to resolve the existing phenomenon or even discuss if there is any solution to the problem.

Firstly, I agree to the proposal of criminalizing the act of pirating. Nevertheless, we are only adding one more item to our laws. Actually, this is not going to be very effective. Why? This is because something like this is going to happen: those who engage in the pirated recording of movies in cinemas will ask some children to bring the necessary equipment into the cinemas to record the movies. And what is ridiculous is that crime detectors will have to sit all day long in the cinemas, waiting to arrest people engaged in pirated recording. But when such suspects are found and arrested, they could say: "I really love this movie and so I recorded it as a gift for my girlfriend". If we charge him for committing such an act, he will, at best, be fined one or two thousand dollars by the court for there is no other evidence proving he is going to use the recording for sale or other purposes. It will be even more difficult for the court to mete out punishment if the person is a minor.

Apart from this, Miss CHOY So-yuk has rightly pointed out that pirated recording is very often done straight from genuine copy. It will be even more difficult to institute prosecution in this case. On the other hand, we can see from the pirated CDs that many of them were recorded in mainland cinemas, not in local cinemas. Therefore, we can actually do nothing even though such legislation is in place. Nevertheless, I agree to enacting legislation because there is a loophole here. Such being the case, we should do something to stop it. This is point number one.

Secondly, pirating acts should be included as a criminal act under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance, that is, one of the crimes specified in the Schedule. What benefits will it bring then? Specifically, we can, first of all, trace the leads by invoking section 3 so as to force the sellers to provide information, and through which we might have a chance to trace the organizations or investors. Why is it extremely important to reach the level of investors? This is because this type of activity is now collaborated by several categories of people. First, those companies engaged in genuine production in the daytime but engaged in pirating activities in the night because of the convenience they enjoy. If the new law provides for the forfeiture of their machinery, they will come to realize that they might loss more than $10 million as the machinery is very expensive. This might produce some deterring effects. As such, we can examine the effectiveness of the new legislation after it has taken effect over a period of time. The second category of people includes, as far as I know, criminals with triad background as well as organized crime elements. I believe this type of people entails the use of our best resources ─ that is the OCTB mentioned by Mr SIN Chung-kai and the Criminal Intelligence Bureau ─ to conduct investigation as well as crack down on the triads at their sources of finance. This is very important as these precisely tie in with one of our extremely important enforcement actions of undermining the financial bases of the triad societies, for much money possessed by triad societies comes from these bases. The third category includes, as far as I know, bosses of small and medium listed companies. They take part in the activities by investing tens of million dollars. Actually, these activities are not simply restricted to triad societies. Lawful businessmen take part in such activities too. They will continue to do so as they did before for the profits are very substantial. To handle this type of people, we must employ the tactic for "catching big fish with a long line". Only in so doing can we reach the people at this level. If bosses of listed companies are sentenced to imprisonment for conducting these activities, it will scare off other people to join in such activities in future and so a very important deterring effect will thus be achieved. It is also very important to confiscate their proceeds. But in order to weed out the problem once and for all, we must make preparations over a long period of time with suitable co-ordination.

On the other hand, if we look at other countries, we will find that if they discover that certain activities are affecting the survival of certain major sectors of their economy, they will combat the activities seriously and determinedly. The United States, for instance, will take such action if someone is found to have recorded a film produced by the Hollywood. Actually, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will make use of advanced technologies and mobilize substantial manpower over long distances to give chase and obtain information from its stations all over the world. As far as I know, it has even provided the Hong Kong Government with a lot of information. But will we make preparations from the same angle and with the same degree of seriousness and determination, such as spending the same amount of money for intelligence expenses and assigning the same number of undercover agents? This is a test we have to face.

As regards the proposal of penalizing purchasers, I agree that this is an effective measure. But this should only be the last resort and I think Members should actually think over the legal issues involved carefully. From the legal point of view, we can enforce prosecution most effectively if we can ask a person to prove that he knew what he bought was a pirated CD at the time of purchase. In short, we can institute prosecution successfully as long as we can arrest the purchaser while he is purchasing pirated CDs and those discs are really pirated. But we should not forget that in doing so, firstly, can we pass the Bill of Rights test? Secondly, will it be too harsh? Are we sure that we will definitely succeed in asking the purchaser to produce the relevant proof in such a way? In particular, we can see that with the advances in technology, a genuine disc only asks for a little more than $300 when it is first launched. But a pirated MD, produced exactly the same as a genuine disc, can even sell for a special price of over $200. Under such circumstances, it will be difficult to ask consumers to produce the relevant proof. Of course, we know that pirated CDs are sold as cheap as $10 each throughout the streets, and they are all crudely printed from askew plates. In such cases, we can surely make our prosecution successful. But the problem is, and we are also aware, pirated CDs tend to become more and more sophisticated. In particular, when people know that control legislation is or is going to be in place, those fraudaters will definitely produce pirated discs in a more sophisticated manner. In so doing, purchasers will feel a reduced sense of moral guilt and the protection thus accorded them in immunity against prosecution will become more and more effective. Only under such circumstances will consumers be willing to continue to buy the discs. It is simply a joke if the laws require the police to prove that purchasers know what they buy are pirated discs because it is simply impossible to prove this.

Finally, in the speech given by Miss Christine LOH, there is in fact a point which I think Members should not ignore completely: She was not saying that it was right for people to engage in pirated recording. What she said is if holders of genuine copyright works provide a gap that unruly elements can take advantage of, should then the relevant lawful businessmen consider their marketing strategies? It might take one whole year for a popular movie to see its genuine CDs on the market. Let me cite Titanic as an example ─ I would like to watch this movie very much but regrettably I missed it when it was shown in the cinemas. But even if I want to buy or rent a genuine copy of it, I have to wait for nearly six to nine months. As a matter of fact, there is a gap for people to take advantage of. This is one point we should reflect on ourselves carefully.

MR NG LEUNG-SING (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, our laws on copyright protection have been subject to constant improvement in Hong Kong over recent years. For instance, the new Copyright Ordinance was passed by the Provisional Legislative Council in June 1997, raising the maximum penalty for such criminal acts as infringing copyright to eight years' imprisonment and a fine of $500,000. The relevant legislation has also given Customs staff greater power to conduct investigation into suspected acts of copyright infringement. For example, they can enter and search places where pirating activities are suspected to have taken place, as well as intercepting and detaining relevant vehicles and vessels. They can even use appropriate force to complete these tasks where it is necessary to do so. Furthermore, the Customs can disclose information related to suspected infringement acts to copyright holders so as to facilitate their taking corresponding measures or even pursuing the matter through civil channels. Basically, such powers are already sufficient for targeting at the copyright infringement acts we commonly see. On the other hand, there are provisions targeting at local pirated CDs manufacturers under the Prevention of Copyright Piracy Ordinance which can effectively crack down on persons engaging in such illegal activities as the sale, distribution and production of pirated CDs. But what the Administration needs to do now is to strengthen within the existing legal framework the various powers of law enforcement officers in carrying out law enforcement work as far as possible and encourage the public to report to the relevant authorities. It even needs to, whenever necessary, increase appropriate resources for the relevant law enforcement officers and cope with changes flexibly in the light of the changing pirating activities so as to enhance the effectiveness in combating pirating activities.

Nevertheless, as far as targeting at the pirated recording of movies in cinemas by lawless elements for the purpose of sale is concerned, loopholes can still be found in the existing legal framework for copyright protection as no ordinances are available for imposing criminal sanctions against those lawless elements. Cinema operators can only, at best, institute civil proceedings for the reason that the agreement between cinema operators and audience has been violated. But the relevant legal proceedings are going to cost the operators a considerate amount of time and money. Moreover, the effectiveness is only very limited. It is therefore impossible to deter lawless elements from committing pirating acts. Although the relevant amendment legislation is quite complicated, I still hope that the authorities concerned can table it on the agenda as soon as possible so as to enable law enforcement authorities to have the relevant legal basis to combat such acts and speed up the prosecution of lawless elements. Only in doing so can we really safeguard the interests of copyright holders.

At present, some people in the community harbour the doubt as to whether or not purchasers of pirated CDs should be punished. In my opinion, this is a complicated issue that warrants close examination. Intellectual property is a kind of private property and is subject to constitutional protection under the Basic Law. The Government should not only strengthen publicity and education so as to inculcate in the public a moral sense of protecting copyright, but also examine whether or not there is a need to, through enacting legislation, impose punishment on people who play a minor role or assist in infringing copyright. As regards purchasers of pirated CDs, we need to consider a very important point and that is, how to prove that the purchasers have the intention of commiting a crime so as to prevent innocent people from being punished. For these reasons, I believe the problem raised by the original motion warrants the Administration, the industry and the relevant organizations to join hands to study the matter in concrete terms to see how we can, through legislation as well as appropriate laws, put the proposals into operation and protect the industry without punishing the innocent indiscriminately. In doing so, I firmly believe we can produce considerable effects in combating pirating activities and provide intellectual property with better protection.

With these remarks, Mr Deputy, I support the original motion.

MRS MIRIAM LAU (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, the problem of pirated CDs has become more and more serious recently, with sale points spreading from individual shopping arcades to shops all over the territory. It is now really extremely convenient for the public to purchase pirated CDs for they can be found everywhere in the streets. The current situation is just like the publicity slogan of a certain convenience store: "There must be one nearby".

Such a miserable situation can be attributed to a number of reasons. Firstly, we should understand that supply determines demand. The main reason is that the public has a poor sense of protecting intellectual property. A number of people have bought the discs for "three kinds of greediness": greediness for new products, greediness for cheap commodity and greediness for convenience. Pirated CDs can provide the newest movies at the lowest prices. Now people no longer need to go to cinemas to watch a movie as they can buy a pirated CD for just $10 or so. They can then stay at home with their family members and watch movies while drinking Coca-Cola or having their meals. But the public should be aware that this will deal a serious blow to the movie industry, phonographic industry, cinema operators, video rental shops and other related industries. When the local movie industry is no longer willing to make investment, when local cinemas close down one after another, and when Hong Kong has no more locally-produced films, those who suffer are not only the general public, but also the entire Hong Kong.

Furthermore, because of the economic downturn we experience this year, a number of shops have closed down owing to operational difficulties. Piracy operators or retailers who have been making staggering profits make use of such opportunities and move into shops in various districts and operate on short-term tenancies. This has made it possible for sellers of pirated CDs to move any time they like, making it even harder for law enforcement action to be carried out.

As far as I understand it, the Customs is authorized by the Copyright Ordinance to crack down on pirated goods. But owing to its manpower shortage, the Customs can only concentrate on combating the sale, import and distribution of CDs. If we are to combat pirated goods at the sale level, we must increase the number of law enforcement officers. I believe if the police can join forces in combating pirated goods, the current situation where such goods are available everywhere will definitely wane significantly. As the piracy operators are so rampant and pirated CDs so readily available in the market, it is easy for us to imagine there must be a huge syndicate and organization behind the scenes taking charge of planning and control. This is why I share Mr James TO's point that the Government should consider incorporating the Copyright Ordinance into the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance so as to give the police greater powers to combat elements infringing intellectual property. Schedule 1 to the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance has listed a series of statutory crimes and a number of these crimes are less serious in nature than pirating. I cannot see the difference between pirating and theft and why the latter can be included into the Schedule when the former cannot?

Finally, we must understand that if the public continues to purchase pirated CDs, the pirating problem will never be solved for good. If the public does not realize it is not right to purchase pirated CDs at all, why do they not buy them? In particular, just as Mr CHAN Kam-lam said earlier, now that these pirated CDs are of such a good quality and their prices only represent a fraction of what a genuine CD costs, and I can even say it is just a small fraction, then why does the public not buy them? Those who do not buy pirated CDs would be a fool indeed. I therefore urge the Government to strengthen publicity and education to make the public aware that intellectual property is a social asset and that everyone has a responsibility to protect it. More importantly, the Government should make the public realize that it is not right to purchase pirated CDs. Enacting legislation to prohibit such acts is, after all, one of the means we can consider. The Government should indeed examine this option carefully.

With these remarks, Mr Deputy, I support Mrs Selina CHOW's motion.

MR YEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy,


In recent years, the problem of pirated CDs has certainly run more rampant. It started with pirated songs and movies and spreads to pirated Japanese drama series and computer softwares today. All these show the growing seriousness of the problem.

I believe that the chief incentive to buy pirated CDs is price, then it is the people's poor sense of protecting intellectual property. As a result, it has given rise to two situations: first, although the quality of pirated discs is not guaranteed and the on-the-spot pirated recordings of movies or concerts are of particularly low quality, consumers are still willing to take the risk of paying a low price to buy products of dubious quality. Second, the production of some pirated CDs is more elaborated nowadays and certain pirated songs are even complete with disc cases and lyrics, hence consumers are willing to pay a lower price in exchange for a production of a lower quality. To "boost" the confidence of consumers, some vendors may even guarantee that faulty products are exchangeable. This shows how serious the problem of piracy really is.

Putting the public in an unfavourable position

I admit that it is essential to combat piracy. However, I cannot agree to the idea of "imposing fines on purchasers of pirated CDs" which is like a critically ill person taking any drugs he can get hold of. I disagree because the pirated CDs are so elaborately produced, packaged and printed today that they are almost like genuine products and it is very difficult for the public to tell the difference. If laws are enacted to criminalize such purchases before the public are discerning enough to differentiate, they will put the public in an unfavourable position. While many pirated disc purchasers are wise old birds, will those who do not frequently buy video, music and software CDs fall into this "trap"? This is in fact my greatest concern.

Moreover, the common practice now is that users or consumers will not be punished. For example, although unlicensed hawkers are illegal, people who buy goods from them will not be prosecuted. If this practice is well-established, what grounds do we have to punish members of the public who purchase pirated CDs? It is extremely unfair to consumers if the responsibility of distinguishing between pirated and genuine CDs is thrown on them.

If people are asked why they purchase pirated CDs, I believe many will answer because such discs are cheap. From this we can see that the people at large just tell a pirated disc from its price. I do not concur with what the Honourable CHEUNG Man-kwong said just now when he criticized the Honourable CHAN Kam-lam by saying that people buy cheap things because they are greedy. If this is greed, can we deduce that a person buying expensive goods is not greedy? If careful calculation and strict budgeting are taken as greed, I do not know what to say on that. Besides, the differentiation between pirated and genuine products also involves certain subjective judgements, such as the printing on the package is not very elaborate, most of the vendors are itinerant, the shops are poorly furnished and crude, and so on. As for the use of permanent codes, it mainly helps Customs officers identify the factories which produce the CDs so as to prevent such factories from involving in any activities of copyright infringement. It is of no help to the public at large. Moreover, the pirates may even make fake codes, so how can consumers tell the difference?

If the price of a CD is used as the criterion of judging whether it is pirated or genuine, how can a man in the street distinguish if a vendor raises the price of pirated discs and solicit customers by putting up a sign saying "clearance sale: $80 each"? If that man buys a pirated disc from the vendor but is misled into believing what he buys is genuine, then he is in fact the victim. It is utterly illogical to say that higher pricing is an indication of genuine products and low pricing is an indication of counterfeits. Lately, even a certain prestigious brand handbag company has to ask the original manufacturer to send an expert to Hong Kong for the identification of genuine products. From this we can see that it is very difficult for ordinary people to tell the difference between pirated and genuine goods. Therefore, I cannot support the idea of "imposing fines on purchasers of pirated CDs" before objective methods of differentiation are found to teach consumers.

Combating piracy begins with education

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) believes that combating piracy should begin with education. There are two sides to it: first, school education; second, public education.

With regard to school education, the DAB is aware that the Intellectual Property Department has just done some work. It has produced a teaching kit aiming at expounding the importance of respecting intellectual property and the kit was distributed in October to all the secondary and primary schools in Hong Kong. In the questionnaire included in the teaching kit, I have noticed a question: "The video shop run by Siu-cheung sells a lot of pirated video compact discs", students are asked to tell whether this behaviour is an infringement of intellectual property. Of course the answer is "yes", but the teaching kit has not taught students how to distinguish between pirated and genuine products in real life!

In face of the people who think there is nothing wrong with purchasing pirated products, the Government should strengthen its publicity efforts. Intellectual property right is an intangible right to an asset. In the eyes of the pirates, a CD is only a piece of vinyl worth a few dollars, but for the producers of genuine products, the birth of a CD may involve all the time, capital, concepts and thoughts invested in the process from creation to manufacture. Therefore, copyright infringement is actually tantamount to theft. If people buy pirated products because of the low price, they are unwittingly encouraging such acts of theft. I find the Honourable Miss Christine LOH's amendment very difficult to understand. Her request on the Government to ensure the availability of genuine copyright works is equivalent to asking the Government to infringe on the lawful rights of businessmen and interfere with the operation of free markets. I therefore cannot extend my support to her amendment. At the present stage, I think that the idea of imposing fines on purchasers of pirated CDs should not be considered because it is a measure which is disturbing to the community.

With these remarks, Mr Deputy, I support Mr CHAN Kam-lam's amendment.

MISS MARGARET NG: Mr Deputy, let me speak very briefly. As a lawyer, I strongly support the protection of intellectual property. Piracy of anything protected by intellectual property is repugnant to a civilized society. Therefore, I would support the Honourable Mrs Selina CHOW in urging the Government to take actions against piracy. However, I have grave reservations about criminalizing the purchase by individual consumers of pirated goods.

First, on principle. Criminalization requires clear justification of the seriousness of the mischief as well as the culpability of the person charged so that he deserves to be punished in this drastic way. While it is far easier to catch and penalize the consumers than the manufacturers and sellers who are making hugh profits, a perception of unfairness is bound to arise in the community. Mrs Selina CHOW said that she had in mind not a crime punishable by imprisonment but merely a fine, a fixed penalty. However, the same criminal procedure has to be gone through.

Let us look at what will be involved. No matter how minor the punishment will be, no penalty can be imposed without proving guilt to the usual standard, that is, beyond reasonable doubt. So such a charge or summons will involve the prosecution proving the case: (a) that the goods are pirated; and (b) that the purchaser knows he was buying pirated goods. Price may give some indications that the goods are pirated or that he knows that they are pirated, but this is a far cry from proving either piracy or knowledge. The trial and suing would be cumbersome. The prosecution, court time and defence resources necessitated are disproportionate to the offence, so that the law will be either unenforced or unenforceable. If the fines are small, the defendants will simply plead guilty and pay up just to get rid of the nuisance. Injustice will therefore result.

Mr Deputy, I do not say that criminalization against consumers should never be contemplated, but I do say what can be reasonably expected to be achieved is disproportionate to the seriousness of the sanction, the propensity for injustice and the resources to be engaged. It also points to the wrong direction. Let us try effectively to penalize those who are making commercial profits out of piracy. If we have no success there, trying instead to turn to individuals as a softer target is hardly at all an effective answer.

Thank you.

MR JAMES TIEN: Mr Deputy, as an international leading business centre, Hong Kong has all the good reasons to protect intellectual property rights and to safeguard creative industries with all its strength. Failing to do so, Hong Kong would not be able to earn the confidence of foreign investors and would not be successful in upgrading our industries into high technology and high value-added. I have no doubt that our Government is determined to tackle the problem of copyright infringements on all fronts.

As far as the issue of pirated compact discs is concerned, I understand that the Government has a multi-pronged approach to combat copyright infringement activities including legislation, law enforcement, public education and close liaison with the copyright industry and cross-border enforcement authorities. In the first 10 months of 1998, the Customs and Excise Department has seized a total of 35 million copies of suspected pirated compact discs worth $1.4 billion. We must recognize the efforts made by the Government.

But on the other hand, we must also admit that the sale of pirated compact discs is still rampant at various districts or indeed, is growing worse. People now can easily purchase pirated discs at rows and rows of street level shops near and far at only $20 each. Compared with last year, the number of pirated compact discs seized this year has increased by 10 times. Worse still, there are signs showing that piracy activities have stepped up into an international crime. For example, the Hollywood film "Enemy of the State" started to show in the United States on 20 November. The film distributor had successfully arranged it to be shown in Hong Kong one week later. However, pirated compact discs of the above-said film were available in the territory one day right before the official showing date. The only explanation is that the film was first illegally copied in the United States before it was smuggled into Hong Kong for mass production.

Mr Deputy, I would like to take this opportunity to remind our community that the worsening situation of pirated compact discs would bring disastrous results to Hong Kong's economy and employment. Thousands of people working in the related fields such as film production or advertising industry would be affected. Local film and record industry would be forced to collapse. Hong Kong's international image as a lawful society would also be ruined. And foreign investments feeling unprotected would pull out from the territory.

I think it is time for the Government to fully review the effectiveness of the current measures against copyright infringement. The Honourable Mrs Selina CHOW proposes today a new dimension to tackle the problem worth for us to study, that is, to impose fines on purchasers of pirated compact discs. We have to understand that it is the demand that determines the supply. The most effective way to eliminate copyright piracy activities is to stop the buyers through education or deterrent measures. Imposition of fines on purchases can be an effective measure provided the fines are set at a reasonable level and do not carry criminal record. Of course, at the same time, the Government has to intensify the work of public education to enhance public awareness of the importance of respecting intellectual property rights. Apart from general poster campaign and electronic media commercials, the Government should also think of other means to strengthen the effectiveness of the campaign, such as launching a series of promotion activities at district level with the involvement of popular singers or film stars.

Mr Deputy, Hong Kong's long-standing prestige is built on its free economy and the rule of law. We cannot tolerate any kind of copyright piracy activities that would defeat all our past efforts on building up Hong Kong as a leading business centre in the world. The whole community should co-operate with the Government to stop copyright piracy activities. I sincerely urge every citizen of Hong Kong not to purchase any suspected pirated goods starting from today.

With these remarks, Mr Deputy, I support the motion moved by Mrs Selina CHOW.

DEPUTY PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs Selina CHOW, you may now speak on the two amendments, and you have five minutes.

MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, first of all, I would like to say a few words on the amendment proposed by Miss Christine LOH today. What Miss LOH said today gave me a feeling that I was in the middle of another debate as most of what she said was related to supply. In fact, I did raise the supply issue in the Panel on Economic Services before. This is something that warrants attention. As Chairman of the Bills Committee on the Copyright Bill then, I was greatly concerned with the copyright issue. The discussion we held at that time had brought forward numerous issues pertaining to parallel imports. I believe many Members who sat on the Council at that time would remember that the issues involved were quite controversial and they were connected with supply too. As regards the question on the motion today, many of my friends, including people in the industry who are sitting here, have expressed their views to me. But still I am of the opinion that today's debate is not related to supply or parallel imports. We should instead focus our discussion on how to combat piracy.

Of course, just as Mr James TO said earlier, only a small part of what Miss Christine LOH said was relevant to the motion. Even on the day when the Panel on Economic Services held its meeting, Members debated the motion fiercely: Is it fundamentally due to the fact that parallel imports are not allowed to be imported that makes it possible for pirated products to find considerable room to share the market which is quite large? But the disputes on this matter have not yet ended, and Members still need to hold further discussion. Moreover, the supply issue is not going to be solved by solely relying on a single amendment like this. What Members heard today is actually not related to this issue. What we are concerned with is just a single topic, and we will concentrate mainly on how to combat pirated CDs. Although the Liberal Party has been responsible for and following up the supply issue, we do not think today's debate is the appropriate venue for discussion on this issue. Therefore, we will abstain from voting on the amendment.

As regards Mr CHAN Kam-lam's amendment, I feel a bit strange as he said he agreed to the wordings of my motion. However, he added that what I proposed was immoral, wrong and inappropriate. But actually I have no idea as to whether or not Mr CHAN often strolls around the streets. It seems to me that Mr LAU Kong-wah is more familiar with the actual situation for it appears he strolls around the streets more often. Mr CHAN said he found it impossible to identify a pirated CD. I find it really ridiculous indeed. Those who have the experience of strolling around the streets know it is impossible for one not to know how to identify a pirated CD. Everyone can tell what a pirated product looks like; how can one say that it is impossible to distinguish between pirated and genuine products? There is simply no excuse at all. But actually, as Mr James TO said earlier, I also understand that certain Members might doubt whether this should be the last resort? Have we exhausted all possible solutions? Members would know the answer by just looking at the market. The number of pirated CDs which have been subject to prosecution has reached 35 million but how many hundreds of millions discs are still available on the market? How many times as many as the prosecuted cases? Although the Government has kept on making prosecution actions and combating efforts, there still exists such a huge market. I am afraid the situation will really run out of control if we do not use our trump card. I am definitely not asking the Government to punish consumers tomorrow. I am only suggesting the Government to "consider" the matter. But some people even hold that it is not right to do so because the victims will be punished as a result of this.

As for the victims mentioned by Mr CHAN Kam-lam, if he thinks purchasers of pirated products are victims, I do not know how many people will share his view. Nevertheless, I hope he can look carefully whether those people are really victims. Another issue he mentioned was the price. Undeniably, if the relevant legislation is in place, what people engaging in pirating activities can only do is to raise the standard of their products and imitate genuine products as close as possible. For instance, they may improve their printing techniques and imitate the bar code, number and so on. But the costs will also be raised accordingly. There is one more important point and that is related to messages. Now when people go to shopping arcades ─ everyone knows where they are ─ they might have the intention to purchase pirated products. But if the relevant legislation is put in place, many people who are now knowingly making the purchase will no longer have the desire to make such purchases. If they have no such desire, it will deal a blow to the market, which will in turn dampen the desire of those who supply and manufacture pirated products. As such, I urge Members not to support Mr CHAN Kam-lam's amendment. Otherwise, the original motion will lose much of its thrust. (Laughter)

Thank you.

SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, I have some remarks which I intended to make until the very end of my speech. But having heard this debate, I find that those remarks may not be relevant at the very end, therefore, I would make those remarks now lest they would become weaker at the very end.

The remarks are on Miss Christine LOH's amendment. I would like to give a simple reply to the supply of genuine copyright works she mentioned. At the 3 November meeting of the Legislative Council Panel on Trade and Industry, Members asked the Government to co-ordinate the retailers and the industry to allow them to exchange their views further and discuss how they can provide the public with genuine copyright works. That was actually the second time the problem was discussed in the Panel. During the two tangled up discussions, the parties had had heated arguments and failed to reach a consensus. Our colleagues held a meeting with the retailers concerned and the industry at the end of November. The retailers concerned and the industry agreed after the meeting to continue to have business exchanges and try their best to meet the reasonable requirements of retailers and consumers. In this regard, the Director of Intellectual Property has told me that the industry has actually expressed that they would no longer ask the Government to take any further action.

The remarks made by Miss Christine LOH are indeed gratifying as she has read my letter published in the South China Morning Post for I often thought that letters written by officials would not be read at all. The original intention of the Government was to support the suggestion of the Law Reform Commission and decriminalize the parallel importation of copyright works. But the then Legislative Council did not accept this suggestion, therefore, the existing legislation as amended was enacted. If Members of the Legislative Council today cast enough votes in support of the decriminalization of parallel imports, we will gladly amend this legislation. However, I do not think a majority of Members will support it when they vote.

Mr Deputy, I am very pleased to learn that many Members are concerned about this topic. From a macroscopic perspective, Honourable Members and the Government share the same objective that we must firmly combat pirating activities. In fact, the actions taken by the Government have demonstrated its determination. In the past 18 months, we have been combating pirating activities from a multi-pronged approach.

We will surely continue to make every effort to deal with the endless stream of infringement acts by lawless elements. With coupling actions at different levels, we hope to achieve this aim with our existing policies.

As far as legislation is concerned, the Copyright Ordinance that came into effect in mid-1997 provides additional channels for law enforcement by the Administration. It also imposes heavier penalty on copyright infringement offences to increase the deterrent effect. For instance, the maximum penalty for selling pirated products is $50,000 for each pirated work.

As to the prevention of pirating activities at source, we have amended the legislation at the end of 1997 to specify that licences are required for the import and export of machines for the production of compact discs (CDs). The Prevention of Copyright Piracy Ordinance has come into effect fully since the end of August this year. Under the Ordinance, a system for the compulsory registration of CD manufacturers is established and it is specified that all locally produced CDs must bear identification codes. The Ordinance even authorizes the Customs to inspect licensed CD manufacturing plants without warrant. The information we have shows that after the Ordinance has come into effect, many production lines suspected of illegal CD production have been moved away from Hong Kong.

At present, the local legal framework for the protection of intellectual property is one of the most encompassing in the world and it fully complies with and even surpasses the provisions of the major international conventions on intellectual property. Most of those in the industry or our trade partners agree to this. As to the legislation related to computer software referred to by Mr James TO earlier on, that is, the protection of intellectual property on the Internet, there is existing legislation in this respect. Actually, we have formulated such legislation earlier than the United States and Hong Kong is the first place in the world to formulate such legislation.

Certainly, for legislation to be fully effective, coupling enforcement actions are essential. To enhance enforcement, the manpower of the Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau of the Customs and Excise Department has doubled within five years up to this financial year. From the beginning of this year, the Customs has seized more than 36 million suspected pirated CDs and more than 60 production lines suspected of being involved in the production of pirated CDs, at a total value of over $1.5 billion. If the court rules in future that these CDs are pirated, and it is proved that these production lines have been used for the production of pirated compact discs, we will seek the confiscation of such machines and this will strike a heavy blow to pirating activities.

During the same period, the court has imposed heavier penalty on copyright infringement offences. Within the first 10 months this year, a total of 363 persons were accordingly sentenced to immediate imprisonment, an all time high in the records. In a recent case, the production line used by the defendant for the production of pirated CDs worth millions of dollars was confiscated. We are glad to see the courts imposing heavier penalty on pirating and infringement acts to increase the deterrent effect.

With the sweeping actions by the Customs, shops brazenly selling pirated CDs are no longer found in former notorious shopping arcades. The rampant situation more than 10 months before has greatly disappeared. Truly, a small number of vendors and crude short-term shops are still selling pirated works but we will surely continue to make every effort to weed out these illegal acts. Some Honourable Members have referred to actions taken by the police. I can tell Members that the police are actually empowered to take actions against sale of pirated CDs and they have already taken such actions. The Customs and the police have jointly launch raids from time to time. In addition to tackling the black spots, they take combating actions in places of less attention in the past. Recently, the Customs and the police as well as law enforcement bodies from regions outside Hong Kong have successfully stopped batches of CDs from being smuggled into Hong Kong by sea and by land. This proves once again the determination of law enforcement bodies in keeping close contacts among themselves and making joint efforts against pirating activities.

Members have just said that education and publicity are very important in making the public, especially the younger generation, understand more about and respect intellectual property, and I agree totally with them. From the beginning of the school term in September 1997 to November this year, the Intellectual Property Department has visited more than 140 schools and briefed some 43 000 students on the importance of intellectual property protection. At the beginning of this school year, we introduced a new set of teaching materials related to intellectual property for free distribution to all schools in Hong Kong. Besides, we are producing posters and announcements of public interest for television and radio broadcast to make the public know more about the importance of intellectual property protection. It is estimated that these can be launched a few weeks later. Moreover, we have planned to organize large-scale publicity programmes from the next financial year onwards for a few years to inculcate in the public the importance of intellectual property protection.

Mr Deputy, we can see from the above that the Government has adopted multi-faceted strategies to combat pirating activities and protect intellectual property and its direction is fairly close to that suggested by Members. Certainly, we must seek improvements on the existing basis to adapt to new changes and needs.

For this reason, the Government has consulted the Legislative Council Panel on Trade and Industry and the copyright trades in September this year to see if it is necessary to introduce other methods of combating pirating activities. There are three preliminary suggestions, apart from the legal liability of users on which Members have ardently expressed their views today, covering confiscation of the proceeds from piracy acts and closing shops that are repeatedly involved in pirating activities. At that time, the Panel and the industry did not reach a consensus on any suggestion to be put into practice immediately. I would like to take the opportunity of today's motion debate to convey to Members once again the Government's views on these suggestions.

We have completed a preliminary review recently and the result shows that additional legal provisions are needed to allow enforcement bodies to apply for court orders to close shops repeatedly involved in pirating activities. There should be no technical problem with this. However, a point to note is that, to protect the reasonable and lawful title of a property owner, the processing of a closing order under the Criminal Offence Ordinance normally takes 15 to 27 months. On account of the high mobility of pirated works merchants, for a closing order to effectively combat such illegal activities, the legal protection of property title should be adjusted and reduced to a certain extent. If Members and the public do not have opposition to this suggestion, the Government will take follow-up actions. In other words, if we wish to introduce this legislation and give play to its effect, we have to give less protection to property title, otherwise, the legislation will not be sufficiently effective.

Similar to a closing order, it is technically feasible to amend the legislation to confiscate the proceeds from piracy offence. This suggestion is mainly aimed at increasing the punishment for pirating activities, therefore, we should start with a review of the adequacy of the existing penalty. In fact, the new penalty introduced over the past 10 months or so can be described as very severe. For example, the maximum penalty for selling 100 pirated CDs is imprisonment and a $5 million fine while that for selling 1 000 pirated CDs is a $50 million fine, so on and so forth. As we have observed, the penalty recently decided by the court for piracy offence has substantially increased, and production machines worth millions of dollars have been confiscated for the first time. The punishment under the Copyright Ordinance is generally effective. With the introduction of new provisions, coupling enforcement actions must be taken. It is important for us to consider whether we should use the existing resources to intensify our work to give play to the effects of the existing punishment or to deploy manpower to trace the proceeds from piracy offence. At this stage, it seems that we should attach importance to the consolidation of the existing legislation. But I wish to stress here that we can introduce relevant provisions on confiscation to increase the deterrent effect if necessary.

Penalizing people who buy or use pirated products is a highly controversial issue. On the one hand, many people know very well the nature of pirated products when they buy or use them but they have chosen to disregard it. Once they can be prosecuted for buying or using pirated products, the deterrent effect may substantially change the public's attitude towards buying and using pirated products. On the other hand, we have examined whether reference can be made to similar legislation of other countries but we find that there are extremely few provisions or precedents for reference. On the basis of the common law practised in Hong Kong, we must clearly define the circumstances under which a consumer is liable when he buys or uses pirated works.

In accordance with international conventions, copyrights need not be registered and their ownership often involves complicated business arrangements. Therefore, copyright disputes and piracy cases can hardly be proved like illegal parking cases, or verified in a short time as in the case of narcotics or dangerous drugs. The packaging and selling price of a copyright work is not a reliable indicator that it is genuine. Certainly, in most cases, it is a fairly reliable indicator but it is not absolutely reliable. Ordinary consumers cannot easily distinguish between "yes" or "no" as in the case of illegal parking.

For the reasons stated above, if legislation has to be formulated to make people buying or using pirated works legally liable, we must consider whether assumptions should be made to make prosecution easier, and even classifying related acts as offences with strict liability. In other words, people who have bought or used pirated products without their knowledge may have violated the law. Furthermore, we have to consider whether we should reduce or abolish the exemption protection for the defendant. If Members and the public find this acceptable, the Government does not oppose in principle following these up. However, some Members have opposed this suggestion as it may have far-reaching effects on the fairness of legal principles and practical implementation or even privacy. The Government also agrees that this suggestion cannot be implemented rashly, and that we should give the matter further thought and carefully consider the possible effects before making a decision.

Mr Deputy, Members have expressed concern with the pirated recording of movies in cinemas and they think that laws should be made to prohibit such acts. Under the existing legislation, unauthorized recording of movies shown can only be tackled in civil proceedings. Members' concerns expressed during our discussions as to whether people using pirated works should be held legally liable are also applicable here.

The Government understands the difficulties faced by cinema operators in this regard and my colleagues have met with Mr MA Fung-kwok and cinema operators to get more information about the situation. As criminal prosecution procedures involve complicated onus of proof and defence requirements, detailed consideration has to be made before prosecuting people in dimly lit and crowded cinemas. We will remain open and we hope to negotiate with cinema operators and look for effective ways to tackle this problem. We will surely continue to follow up this matter.

Some Members have also suggested incorporating pirating acts under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance. While I believe that the original intention of Members was to increase punishment, I wish to point out that the punishment under the Copyright Ordinance is actually very stringent as I have just said. Moreover, the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance provision that witnesses cannot remain silent is highly controversial, therefore, this legislation may not be the most suitable tool to be used against piracy. I have just mentioned three legislative amendments that may be introduced; they actually include some strict penalties under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance such as the confiscation of proceeds from piracy offence.

Mr Deputy, the Government is determined to protect intellectual property and we will certainly continue to make efforts and take stringent enforcement actions to protect the creations, investment and lawful return of intellectual property owners. The existing legal provisions for copyright protection have only been implemented for periods ranging from a few months to slightly more than a year, and we should allow these provisions some more time to fully give play to their effect.

The Government will definitely not be complacent and we are basically willing to consider any suggestions that can combat pirating activities more effectively to protect the intellectual efforts of producers. We also hope that Members and the public can earnestly practise what they advocate and boycott pirating activities. If the Government can co-ordinate with the public's efforts, we will surely get twice the result with half the effort.

Nevertheless, Mr Deputy, in the final analysis, the most important point is that if the community has such needs, people will continue to commit such offences and engage in pirating activities. As a Member has just said, "the law is strong, but the out-laws are 10 times stronger", we all know that the oldest trade in the world still exists today in every place where people live despite the fact that numerous governments and countries have been combating and prohibiting it for thousands of years. This simply indicates that "demand" is the key. How are we going to deal with such "demand"? We have said that more publicity and educational programmes can be organized, and these should have certain effects but if we have not forgotten, I am the first man in Hong Kong who asked the Government to penalize buyers of pirated CDs and hold them criminally liable. I said so at a press conference in May this year. There were television reports in that evening and newspaper reports on the following day on my suggestion. I drew flak from many people and was not supported by public opinion. I bring this up again as I believe that adequate publicity was given at that time and the issue was discussed on all current affair programmes on the radio and television as well as widely reported in all newspapers the day after the incident. No member of the public can say that he does not know that buying pirated CDs is not different from buying stolen goods. Few people can say that they do not know buying pirated CDs is in violation of the law and in itself a serious offence.

What surprised me at the time was that the editorials of some newspapers (fortunately only a few) contain views similar to those just expressed by Mr CHAN Kam-lam, that is, if genuine copyright products were so expensive that consumers could not afford to buy them, or were not willing to pay such high prices, it was then perfectly normal for consumers to buy pirated goods. Mr CHAN has also said that this is a high-sounding excuse. However, I do not find this high-sounding at all. On the contrary, it reflects that our moral standard has fallen to such a lowly stage. To say that consumers have bought pirated works without their knowledge or are even victims is even more unacceptable to me. I do not want to discuss here whether consumers are greedy or budgeting as this is open to question. But I can say for sure that our moral standard has really fallen, and most people give seemingly righteous, forceful and high-sounding reasons for buying stolen things without paying the producers any copyright fees. This is simply not correct at all. Unfortunately, public opinion was against my view then, and most people thought that way, and the Government slowed down in following up the matter. But if Members find it necessary, we are more than willing to discuss this matter again in the Panel concerned. If Members can reach a consensus, we will gladly publish a paper for public consultation to collect the views of the public on whether or not they support that buyers should be held legally liable. I will gladly follow up this matter with Honourable Members in the Panel on Trade and Industry.

THE PRESIDENT resumed the Chair.

MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Madam President, I would like the Secretary to make a clarification. What is called the "oldest trade"? (Laughter)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Secretary, would you like to make a clarification?

SECRETARY FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (in Cantonese): That is prostitution. (Laughter)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now invite Miss Christine LOH to move her amendment to the motion.

MISS CHRISTINE LOH: Madam President, I move that the Honourable Mrs Selina CHOW's motion be amended, as set out on the Agenda.

Miss Christine LOH moved the following amendment:

"To add "in view of the corresponding need to ensure availability of genuine copyright works, the Government should further consider ways to promote maximum availability to consumers," after "the infringement of intellectual property rights is immoral,"."

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the amendment moved by Miss Christine LOH be made to Mrs Selina CHOW's motion.

I now put the question to you as stated. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I think the question is not agreed by a majority respectively of each of the two groups of Members, that is, those returned by functional constituencies and those returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and by the Election Committee, who are present. I declare the amendment negatived.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Now that we have dealt with Miss Christine LOH's amendment, Mr CHAN Kam-lam, you may move your amendment.

MR CHAN KAM-LAM (in Cantonese): Madam President, I move that Mrs Selina CHOW's motion be amended, as set out on the Agenda.

Mr CHAN Kam-lam moved the following amendment:

"To delete "and consider the imposition of fines on purchasers of pirated compact discs"."

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now propose the question to you and that is: That the amendment moved by Mr CHAN Kam-lam be made to Mrs Selina CHOW's motion.

I now put the question to you as stated. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(Members raised their hands)

Mr CHAN Kam-lam rose to claim a division.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr CHAN Kam-lam has claimed a division. The division bell will ring for three minutes.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Members, the question now put is: That the amendment moved by Mr CHAN Kam-lam be made to Mrs Selina CHOW's motion. Will Members please proceed to vote?

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Before I declare that voting shall stop, are there any queries? Voting shall now stop and the result will be displayed.

Functional Constituencies:

Mr Michael HO, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong, Mr HUI Cheung-ching, Mr CHAN Kwok-keung, Mr CHAN Wing-chan, Mr WONG Yung-kan, Mr LAW Chi-kwong and Dr TANG Siu-tong voted for the amendment.

Mr Kenneth TING, Mr James TIEN, Mr Edward HO, Dr Raymond HO, Mr Eric LI, Mr LEE Kai-ming, Mrs Selina CHOW, Mr Bernard CHAN, Dr LEONG Che-hung, Mrs Sophie LEUNG, Mr SIN Chung-kai, Dr Philip WONG, Mr Howard YOUNG, Mr LAU Wong-fat and Mrs Miriam LAU voted against the amendment.

Geographical Constituencies and Election Committee:

Mr Albert HO, Mr LEE Wing-tat, Mr Martin LEE, Mr Fred LI, Mr James TO, Miss CHAN Yuen-han, Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung, Mr Gary CHENG, Mr Jasper TSANG, Dr YEUNG Sum, Mr LAU Chin-shek, Mr LAU Kong-wah, Mr Andrew CHENG, Mr SZETO Wah, Mr TAM Yiu-chung, Mr David CHU, Mr CHAN Kam-lam, Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung and Miss CHOY So-yuk voted for the amendment.

Miss Cyd HO, Mr LEE Cheuk-yan, Miss Christine LOH, Miss Emily LAU, Mr HO Sai-chu, Mr NG Leung-sing, Prof NG Ching-fai and Mr MA Fung-kwok voted against the amendment.

THE PRESIDENT, Mrs Rita FAN, did not cast any vote.

THE PRESIDENT announced that among the Members returned by functional constituencies, 23 were present, eight were in favour of the amendment and 15 against it; while among the Members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and by the Election Committee, 28 were present, 19 were in favour of the amendment and eight against it. Since the question was not agreed by a majority of each of the two groups of Members present, she therefore declared that the amendment was negatived.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mrs Selina CHOW, you may now reply and you have up to one minute 48 seconds.

MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Madam President, I urge all Members to support the original motion. After hearing those speeches just made, I believe that the motion can hopefully be carried. I would also like to respond to the Secretary because he has my sympathy. He had voiced his opinions. Now I hope that he can go on with the study after the motion is carried.

He has mentioned several points which I feel necessary to respond to. The first is about police participation. In collecting information for this debate, we had enquired with the police. The police confirmed that they did have the power under the law, but they did not tackle it in terms of administrative policies unless it is a joint operation participated by several other departments. Unfortunately, those joint operations, which usually involved dozens of people working together, were sparingly carried out. The effectiveness is, therefore, questionable. It does not mean that they are unable to seize any pirated compact discs (CDs), it is the number of operations which is so little that reduces the deterrent effect.

Secondly, the Secretary raised a moment ago the question of whether Hong Kong should become the first place in the world to study consumer liability. Hong Kong basically has already become the first place in the world to criminalize "parallel imports". So, we do not mind becoming the first place in the world to study the issue of consumer liability. I think a study is necessary if it can combat piracy effectively.

Regarding the issue of property title, the former Legislative Council was against the notion that landlords should bear liability and that the authorities concerned could seal the shop in question to serve as a deterrent to this illegal activity. So, I hope that the Secretary would take heed of this point. I believe it is not viable. Moreover, the situation in Hong Kong is extraordinary. People in the business told me that there is no one place in the world like Hong Kong where so many people watch CDs. That is why the CD market in Hong Kong can be so large. I really hope that each and every method can be looked into as soon as possible to combat copyright piracy activities.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now put the question to you and that is: That the motion moved by Mrs Selina CHOW, as set out on the Agenda, be passed. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(Members raised their hands)

Mr CHAN Kam-lam rose to claim a division.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr CHAN Kam-lam has claimed a division. The division bell will ring for three minutes.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Will Members please proceed to vote?

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Before I declare that voting shall stop, are there any queries? Voting shall now stop and the result will be displayed.

Functional Constituencies:

Mr Kenneth TING, Mr James TIEN, Mr Edward HO, Mr Michael HO, Dr Raymond HO, Mr Eric LI, Mr LEE Kai-ming, Mrs Selina CHOW, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong, Mr Bernard CHAN, Dr LEONG Che-hung, Mrs Sophie LEUNG, Mr SIN Chung-kai, Dr Philip WONG, Mr Howard YOUNG, Mr LAU Wong-fat, Mrs Miriam LAU and Mr LAW Chi-kwong voted for the motion.

Mr HUI Cheung-ching, Mr CHAN Kwok-keung, Mr CHAN Wing-chan, Mr WONG Yung-kan and Dr TANG Siu-tong voted against the motion.

Geographical Constituencies and Election Committee:

Miss Cyd HO, Mr Albert HO, Mr LEE Wing-tat, Mr LEE Cheuk-yan, Mr Martin LEE, Mr Fred LI, Mr James TO, Miss Christine LOH, Dr YEUNG Sum, Mr LAU Chin-shek, Miss Emily LAU, Mr Andrew CHENG, Mr SZETO Wah, Mr HO Sai-chu, Mr NG Leung-sing, Prof NG Ching-fai and Mr MA Fung-kwok voted for the motion.

Miss CHAN Yuen-han, Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung, Mr Gary CHENG, Mr LAU Kong-wah, Mr TAM Yiu-chung, Mr David CHU, Mr CHAN Kam-lam, Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung and Miss CHOY So-yuk voted against the motion.

THE PRESIDENT, Mrs Rita FAN, did not cast any vote.

THE PRESIDENT announced that among the Members returned by functional constituencies, 23 were present, 18 were in favour of the motion and five against it; while among the Members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and by the Election Committee, 27 were present, 17 were in favour of the motion and nine against it. Since the question was agreed by a majority of each of the two groups of Members present, she therefore declared that the motion was carried.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Second motion: Reducing the weight of schoolbags.


MR CHEUNG MAN-KWONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, the topic of my motion today, overweight schoolbags, has aroused very interesting responses from some Honourable Members. Those Honourable Members who have not any children may think that this is indeed a very minor, insignificant topic, but those who have all feel that the topic is indeed a very significant one. I have been a Member representing the functional sector of education for seven years already, and I frequently have contacts with parents from different walks of life. So, I have come to notice that the problem of overweight schoolbags is a common concern of all parents, a very important matter to them all. Over the past few years, this Council has never ceased criticizing that the schoolbags of our children are much too heavy. Political parties frequently try to measure the weight of children's schoolbags in the streets, and this is now almost a routine subject of many news stories before the commencement of every school year. Various concerned organizations also treat heavy schoolbags as a social issue. All this shows that overweight schoolbags have indeed aroused the grave concern of people. They have become very much a source of resentment which must be tackled at root.

Before the debate begins, Madam President, let me first tell a few true stories.

The first story, a story about a little child, a Primary 1 student. On the day when a new school year commenced, he put on his school uniform, happily prepared to go to school. But then, when his mother put his schoolbag onto his back, he tumbled, because the schoolbag was too heavy and he was even unable to stand up again.

The second story, a story also about a little child, a Primary 1 student. He went to school with a new schoolbag one day. In the school, his teachers handed out some new textbooks and exercise books to him; when school finished that day, when he was leaving the school premises, he found his schoolbag very heavy, much too heavy to be put on his back. And, no one was around to give him any help. So, in the end, he had to drag his schoolbag all along the way. By the time he finally reached home and saw her mother again, his schoolbag, once new, was already badly torn.

The third story, a story about a Secondary 1 student weighing some 60 lbs, but burdened by a schoolbag weighing almost 30 lbs. When he staggered down the stairs, with the schoolbag on his back and a 4-foot musical instrument in his hands, he lost balance and fell. The fall dislocated his shoulder joints, and he had to be hospitalized.

The fourth story, a story about all children. Everyday, every child has to go to school with a heavy schoolbag on his back. This schoolbag, once put on his back, will become an inseparable part of his childhood, but one can have but one childhood; this very schoolbag symbolizes the endless pressure of schoolwork and numerous expectations and demands from adults. Why must our education system always exert endless heavy pressure on the frail shoulders of our children, in very much the same way as their schoolbags? Why burden them beyond their ability, making them not the least bit happy, not the least bit relaxed?

The Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) which I represent has recently completed a questionnaire survey on schoolbags. The survey targets are the children of teachers. We may well think that teachers should know best how to pack their children's schoolbags, and that their children's schoolbags should be the lightest in Hong Kong. But the findings indicate that the schoolbags of their primary school children weigh 11 lbs on average, and for their secondary school children, the average schoolbag weight is about 14 lbs. For more than 90% of the primary school children and 80% of the secondary school students covered in this survey, the weight of their schoolbags exceeds the recommended standard of the Education Department, that is, 10% of the student's own weight. The survey also indicates that even teachers themselves find the schoolbags of their children much too heavy, because 83% of the teachers covered in the survey say so. Madam President, if even the schoolbags of teachers' children are too heavy, the schoolbags of other school children must be even heavier. This is surely a warning, a warning which indicates that our education system has already deviated from the normal track and must be reformed immediately. If not, year after year, our school children will have to hunch their way to school, with their heavy schoolbags bending their backs like large boulders.

Overweight schoolbags will certainly affect the health of school children. In his research, Professor HONG Youlian of the Chinese University's Department of Sports Science and Physical Education finds out that the weight of a student's schoolbag should not exceed 10% of his own weight, and he recommends this as the safety standard. Professor HONG's research indicates that overweight schoolbags will cause school children to suffer from bent spinal chords, accelerated heart beats, persistently high blood pressure and increased energy consumption. In the case of adolescents who are growing up, overweight schoolbags will easily cause muscle and spinal chord degeneration, leading to hunchbacks.

Madam President, overweight schoolbags are a morbid phenomenon, either from the educational point of view or from the medical perspective. However, over the years, our community has done nothing more than simply complaining, and we have never really taken any decisive actions to remove this morbid phenomenon. So, during the motion debate today, I must say "no" to the problem of overweight schoolbags in a loud and clear voice. No, this problem must not be allowed to go on. Otherwise, we will fail to discharge our responsibility towards our next generation.

In order to solve the problem of overweight schoolbags, we must first stop complaining against one another and shirking our responsibility. We must all start with ourselves, with each of us making some extra efforts to work jointly for the well-being of our school children. I am a Member representing the sector of education, but I must sadly admit that even I have failed to do well in this respect, because I have all along failed to arouse maximum community concern about this very problem. It is too late now to address this problem. The questionnaire survey conducted by the PTU has identified very clearly five important reasons for overweight schoolbags: (1) textbooks are too heavy and too thick; (2) schoolwork is much too heavy; (3) teachers do not give clear instructions, and students thus have to bring along unnecessary textbooks for fear of punishment; (4) school lockers cannot serve the desired purpose, because students are not allowed to use them to keep their heavy books and other belongings, and some schools are not even equipped with any lockers at all; and (5) students themselves fail to pack their schoolbags properly, and, as a result, their schoolbags contain too many unnecessary things, including even toys. These five reasons explain why the schoolbags of children are getting heavier and heavier.

However, I must point out a more profound cause underlying the problem of overweight schoolbags: our school curricula are just too extensive and difficult, much beyond the ability of our students. Can Honourable Members imagine how many subjects a primary school student has to take? He has to take Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics, General Studies, Music, Art and Craft, Physical Education, Putonghua, Information Technology, Religious Studies and Ethics. Why must a primary school student take so many subjects? Many of these subjects require rote learning. Let me just talk about Chinese Language as an example. Can Honourable Members guess how many characters a student has to learn during his primary schooling? Well, he has to learn 2 542 Chinese characters and 6 776 expressions. A linguist once remarked that the number of characters which he used for normal, daily communication did not exceed 1 000. Why should primary school students be required to acquire a vocabulary which is larger than the working vocabulary of a linguist? Can Honourable Members guess how much work a primary school student has to do for one chapter of his Chinese Language studies? Well, he has to deal with penmanship, text copying, sentence making, supplementary exercises, worksheets and dictation plus corrections. While it takes only two days for a teacher to finish teaching one chapter, his students will have to do seven types of work related to the chapter. And, we must not forget that students still have to take many other subjects like English Language, Mathematics and General Studies, which all impose various types of work on students. So, it is indeed small wonder that the days and nights of our children are all spent on rote learning. This is simply unimaginable, simply too much.

Madam President, the curricula are a big mountain, but examinations are yet another bigger mountain. Every week, the students of an average school will have to face numerous dictation and tests. And, before a dictation, there is a pre-dictation, and a test is also preceded by a pre-test. There are four examinations in every academic year and three major public examinations in a student's life time: the Aptitude Test, the Certificate of Education Examination and the university entrance examination. I once heard a joke which goes like this: If one telephones one's friends at 8 pm, one will either be told that they are not at home, or that they are helping their children prepare for their dictation. Why should we allow examinations to dominate the everyday life of all families, all students? Why should we allow that very big mountain called examinations to exert such heavy pressures on our children, who should otherwise be youthful and full of energy? Examinations are accompanied by numerous supplementary exercises, aptitude test exercises and examination drills which have not only taken up a good part of our young students' life, but also made their schoolbags increasingly heavy and their minds increasingly dry and numb.

Madam President, with numerous tests and numerous examinations, teachers certainly suffer and so do parents, but the ones who suffer most are our children. This spoon-feeding system of education has made everybody unhappy. Because of it, many of us were denied a happy childhood. Are we going to make our children equally unhappy? A university lecturer once told me that his four-year-old son often got up in the middle of the night in a terrified state, crying that he did not know how to do his homework. Can we imagine the pressure which our children are facing? Can we imagine the sorrow of parents? Can we imagine the difficulties faced by our teachers? We really do not want to be butchers any more. To solve the problems with our education system, we must begin by reducing the weight of our students' schoolbags, because their schoolbags symbolize the various problems with our education. So, we should naturally start all education reforms by reducing their weight.

As an education worker, I know very well that curriculum and examination reforms are the ultimate way to reduce the weight of schoolbags. But we should not wait passively for such reforms, and we must initiate to tackle the problem of overweight schoolbags in earnest. So, on the basis of the questionnaire survey I have mentioned just now, I now put forward a "Schoolbags Charter" which aims to achieve the following five objectives:

(1) The Government should impose strict standards on the weight of all textbooks. It should provide schools with reusable textbooks and carry out curriculum and examination reforms, so as to reduce the pressure on our students.

(2) Publishers must use lighter and thinner paper for the textbooks they publish. They should also publish textbooks and exercise books either in separate volumes or with loose-leaf binding.

(3) Schools should allow students to use their lockers to keep some less frequently required books such as dictionaries, Bibles and exercise books and other objects. They should also draw up reasonable timetables which can help reduce the weight of students' schoolbags.

(4) Teachers should give their students clear instructions on which textbooks and exercise books are needed in class. They should also choose textbooks with light binding for their students and avoid punishing those students who forget to bring their books only once in a while.

(5) Parents should choose light schoolbags for their children, and students should of course pack their schoolbags properly and stop bringing unnecessary items back to school.

Madam President, the problem of overweight schoolbags have been annoying us for a very long time. Mr K H TONG, Deputy Director of Education, once told me a little story about his own experience. Twenty-seven years ago, when he was still an ordinary teacher, he designed a poster which featured a weeping schoolbag. Now, 27 years later, Mr TONG is no more an ordinary teacher and has been promoted to the rank of Deputy Director of Education. But the weight of our school children's schoolbags has become increasingly heavy, and the plight of our school children indeed beggars description. We have managed to construct a world-class airport in a matter of just seven years. But why have we failed to solve the problem of overweight schoolbags after 27 years? How much longer do we have to wait before the schoolbag stops weeping? Today, I hope that all Honourable Members of the Legislative Council can join hands and voice this common demand of ours to the whole community: We must reduce the weight of schoolbags and deal with the underlying causes relating to curriculum and examination pressure.

In Beijing, there is a certain school called the Twilight Primary School. There are 800 students in this school. All its students need not carry schoolbags to school, because they leave practically all their textbooks and exercise books in the school lockers before they go home. Everyday before school ends, the students will have completed all their homework and revision. That is why they are entirely free after school. This school has operated for a few months already, and I have been told that there has been no decline in the academic results of its students. Hence, this shows that going to school with no schoolbags is also possible even in a Chinese society. Since Beijing has succeeded with this attempt, why is it impossible for Hong Kong to do the same? What is standing in our way is only our determination, or indeed the lack of it. We can keep our children under the continued pressure of overweight schoolbags, or we can give them a truly happy childhood with hopes and beautiful sunshine. It is all up to us to make the right decision, and this is also a matter of our responsibility towards our children as adults. I hope that this motion debate can arouse the concern of the community and the education sector over our children. I also hope that they can address the problem with all sincerity of purpose, because children are our future. Let us all make more efforts, just for the sake of our children. Let us start with their schoolbags, start with education.

With these remarks, Madam President, I beg to move. And, on behalf of our children, let me thank all those Honourable Members who are about to speak in this motion debate.

Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong moved the following motion:

"That, in view of the long standing problem of Hong Kong school children carrying overweight schoolbags, which has seriously affected their health and learning, this Council urges the Government to formulate appropriate education policies and measures with emphasis on promoting curriculum reform, reducing both the volume and weight of textbooks and exercise books, and improving the facilities and provision of space in schools, and so on; at the same time, schools and parents should also make concerted efforts to reduce the weight of schoolbags and the pressure of homework on school children, in order to protect their physical and mental health."

MR YEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, as we are all aware, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) has been deeply concerned about the weight of schoolbags and the physical and mental health of school children. Since 1994, the DAB has been conducting a survey on the weight of schoolbags at the beginning of each school year by "taking on-the-spot measurement" in order to assess the seriousness of the overweight schoolbag problem. We have, on past occasions, raised oral questions in this Council to remind the community of paying attention to the physical and mental health of school children. We have also proposed to the Education Department (ED) and publishers a number of improvement measures such as installing more lockers, drinking fountains, splitting textbooks into volumes, reminding parents to help their children pack their schoolbags and so on. Over the last few years, the ED has responded actively by accepting these proposals and implementing them step by step.

Madam President, according to the standard advised by the ED, the weight of a schoolbag should not exceed 10% of a school child's weight. Though it was found from the random surveys we conducted over the past five years that the problem of overweight schoolbags had seen some improvement, the situation was still very serious. According to the findings of a survey conducted by the DAB in 1994, more than 80% of school children carry overweight schoolbags. In 1997, the percentage only slight dropped to 73.4%. This year, the DAB has successfully interviewed 4 445 school children. The findings showed that 77.4% of school children still carry overweight schoolbags. On average, their schoolbags have exceeded the standard by 35%. It is particularly shocking that we found from the survey that some Primary 1 students were even carrying schoolbags weighing as much as 8 kg to the school. There were also Primary 6 students carrying schoolbags which weighed as much as 9 kg. Of course, it is unfair to blame the whole bunch of problems on the Government. But as the overweight problem has become so common and serious, the Government should also take up the responsibility to examine where the crux of the problem lies. Is it due to inadequate attention, inappropriate measures or ineffective implementation?

Madam President, heavy homework and schoolbags have made school children in Hong Kong look really miserable. It was pointed out by a research that students in Hong Kong spent much more time on homework and revision than their counterparts in the United States and Japan. Of course, studying is important but it is not all that is needed for the development of youngsters. They should have more time to explore the outside world, to build up inter-personal relationships. A number of researches have even revealed that the physical education lessons of schools in Hong Kong are low in standard. And compared with students of our neighbouring countries or regions, the physical well-being of Hong Kong students is relatively poor. Coupled with the serious overweight problem, the physical and mental health of school children is really worrying. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must face the reality squarely and make up its mind to really solve the overweight problem.

The DAB considers that in order to solve the overweight problem effectively, the Government should, apart from adopting the abovementioned proposals, tackle the problem in the following areas:

First, to design new schools and improve school space. Due to the limited space of school classrooms, many measures for improving the problem of overweight schoolbags, such as installing lockers and so on, have not been implemented effectively. Therefore, it has become really important for a school to create the essential conditions by co-ordinating the "hardware" of the school.

Second, specific instructions from teachers. Teachers should clearly instruct their students which textbooks and stationery are frequently used in the school so as to prevent them from bringing unnecessary books and stationery back to the school. The findings of a survey showed that parents opine that the most feasible and effective means to reduce the weight of schoolbags is for teachers of each subject to give detailed instructions as to which books and things are needed for each lesson.

Third, co-ordination from parents. Parents should choose schoolbags that fit the physique of their children as well as light stationery. Moreover, they should urge their children to pack their schoolbags every day and not to bring unnecessary stuff such as comic books and video game players to the school.

Fourth, speed up the pace of whole-day schooling for primary schools. The DAB found from a survey that the overweight problem experienced by whole-day schooling primary students is less serious than that by bisessional school students. Only 50% of whole-day school children carry overweight schoolbags; but for bisessional school students, 80% of them have overweight schoolbags. The average weight of the schoolbag of a whole-day student is 3.13 kg, while that of a bisessional student is 4.03 kg. Obviously, the schoolbags of whole-day primary school students are lighter than those of their bisessional counterparts. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that whole-day primary school students have more time to do their homework and that they can make use of lockers effectively. Furthermore, the problem of overweight schoolbags faced by secondary students is less serious than that experienced by primary students. This can also prove that whole-day schooling can indeed effectively reduce students' homework pressure and the weight of their schoolbags, as well as promoting the development of their physical and mental health.

Fifth, partial provision of textbooks by schools. In the long run, schools can consider purchasing textbooks of certain subjects in large quantities and store them in schools so that students can use them during lessons. These textbooks should be restricted to those which can be used for several years consecutively, such as music books, supplementary reading textbooks of language subjects and so on, with a view to reducing the weight of schoolbags.

In addition, the curriculum should be reformed by standardizing its contents in accordance with education targets. On the other hand, parents should change their concepts and culture accordingly and refrain from thinking that it is better for teachers to assign more homework to their children.

With these remarks, I support Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's motion.

Thank you, Madam President.

PROF NG CHING-FAI (in Cantonese): Madam President, the focus of today's debate is on the excess pressure of schoolwork and the overweight schoolbags. I feel that in comparison with the overweight schoolbags, the excess pressure of schoolwork is an even graver problem. Besides, the latter is only the symptom whereas the former is the crux of the problem.

The excess pressure of schoolwork has long been a "disaster" of education. Actually, the problem is not unique to Hong Kong. It has also been troubling, in various degrees, other countries and places having the same Confucian cultural background such as Japan, Korea, the Mainland and Taiwan. The difference is that these countries or places have managed to recognize the severity of the problem, started to reform their education system to rectify this erroneous behaviour and have also gained some success and useful experience. The Honourable CHEUNG Man-kwong has cited a very good example just now.

Hong Kong has not attached sufficient importance to this fundamental malady of education, nor has it sufficient determination to conduct reforms. Neither does it learn from the education sector of our neighbours who suffer from the same problem. This certainly makes our education sector question why in this information era and community that relies so heavily on information networks, our education mode seems to stand still. This is indeed very frustrating.

Madam President, in the final analysis, the schoolwork pressure is the product of the so-called "examination-oriented education". Therefore, we should treat the discussion on the pressure of schoolwork as a review of the old mode and old target of education, that is, the so-called "examination-oriented education" system of Hong Kong. Under the domination of the "examination-oriented education", the goal of basic education in Hong Kong has been "geared to examination", which our two colleagues have already explained very clearly. Many educators have pointed out the adverse social effects caused by such an education system. As far as the school is concerned, the students have been dehumanized. What the school cares about is their performance in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and the percentage of their entry into the universities, for these two results determine the status of the school. In this circumstance, the teachers' aspirations, and the students' character, independent problem-solving ability, creativity, spontaneous learning ability and all-round development have all become luxuries. To make the students perform well in examinations, the most convenient way is to make them memorize everything by rote, and at the same time force them to do the same kinds of exercises over and over again and occupy their leisure time with plenty of homework. That is what we call the "spoon-feeding education". To the parents, their prime concern is to have their children enter an elite secondary, primary school or even kindergarten, for whether they succeed in doing so is the major event that determines their future. Therefore, in order to gear their children for the examination, parents also willingly participate in this spoon-feeding education. Parents know it full well that repeating the same schoolwork over and over again only makes their children become tired of it. They are fully aware that Primary 1 or 2 pupils have to stay up until 11 or 12 o'clock at night to do their homework not only does them no good but is also harmful to their development and mental and physical health. But they still require their children to continue with this so-called schoolwork which stifles their desire to learn.

The two Honourable colleagues speaking before me have also said that education should induce rather than stifle the children's passion for knowledge. It is especially important for primary education to cultivate children's interest in learning. A child's examination results during his primary school years may not reflect his future development. The most important thing is to allow the children to experience the pleasure of learning from their early childhood to induce their yearning for the pleasure in the life ahead of them and to experience from their parents, teachers and schoolmates the friendship with one another so that they will look forward to building a good relationship with each other. If the school education only makes a child tired of learning, learn to treat one another coldly or even cheat one another, and lose the yearning for a healthy and reasonable life since such an early stage in life, then no matter how high the marks he scores in the examinations, to him, education fails completely because it has made him lose the drive to strive for sustainable progress. These theories are not anything hard to understand and they can even be considered cliches. But the problem also lies here. Our basic education seems to have been trapped in such a paradox. Students, parents, teachers and government officials all resent very much the present examination-oriented system, spoon-feeding education and overly heavy schoolwork, but they all seem to be helpless in the face of such an unreasonable system. More ironically, everyone is at the same time fuelling up the situation. Some parents on the one hand object the spoon-feeding education, but on the other send their children to schools which are best at cramming students to receive what they call "inhuman education".

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to call upon the Government to, at this run-up to the 21st century, review the "examination-oriented education" and introduce modern education reforms in a down-to-earth manner together with the teachers and school principals. It should start with the curriculum reform to streamline and condense the tedious teaching materials of the secondary and primary schools, and at the same time improve the review mechanism of the compilation of teaching materials in Hong Kong. Secondly, it has to reform the present examination system so as to make examination no longer the one and only goal for learning. The approach and contents of the examinations should lay emphasis on the students' reasoning and analytical power, and their ability to solve problems independently rather than whether they can learn the books by rote, with the exception of poems and short and simple literature essays. Thirdly, the Education Department (ED) should issue guidelines to schools to enhance the protection to youngsters, such as providing that schools shall not give too much schoolwork to students to deprive them of the room to rest and recuperate. Fourthly, the authority concerned should step up the publicity on education to counteract the atmosphere of learning mechanically, study for examination and scramble for elite schools. I believe that only then can we change the present malady of our education. Moreover, as Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong has said, can we follow the school in Beijing? Say, we can pick one day in a week to allow the students to get away from their homework so that they have at least one day to look forward to in a week on which they can be happier. Confucius says, "What a great pleasure it is to learn and practise from time to time what is learned!" Learning should be a very pleasant experience and there is no reason to turn it into an unbearable burden.

Lastly, I would like to talk about the problem of overweight schoolbags in the position of a parent. Several years ago when I was a member of a parent association, we in the parent association unanimously agreed to call on the school to reflect this problem to the ED. Unfortunately, I did not know Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong well at that time, otherwise I would have asked him to reflect this for us instead of waiting till now to discuss it here. I find the present situation very abnormal. We see that sometimes it is the parents and sometimes the domestic helpers who carry the schoolbags for the children. This is nonetheless not the solution to the problem whatsoever.

Madam President, I am very glad to hear from two Members that teachers in secondary schools are also faced with the same problem and they are taking action about it. I give them all my support.

With these remarks, I support Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's motion.

MISS CHOY SO-YUK (in Cantonese): Madam President, some people say that Hong Kong students' academic level keeps declining; some say that their language ability has plummeted; and some say that the moral standard of Hong Kong students continues to fall. All this still requires confirmation. But I do believe that students' arms are getting stronger and the damage to their spines is also worsening. It is because the weight of their already overweight schoolbags is increasing by the day and the authorities have never given appropriate attention to the problem, let alone made any solid improvement to it.

As a matter of fact, the overweight problem of students' schoolbags has long existed. But today, we can still see students everywhere carrying schoolbags weighing well over 10% of their body weight, trudging all the way to their schools. We cannot but ask why this problem has remained unsolved for all this time.

Madam President, the problem of students' overweight schoolbags concerns not only students and teachers but also parents, the school, the Education Department (ED) and even the Legislative Council. Regrettably, most teachers have yet to make appropriate arrangements in the curricula; parents have yet to attach sufficient importance to it; schools still refuse to install more lockers; the ED has yet to issue a set of official guidelines; and this is the first time that the Legislative Council discusses this topic. It is all too puzzling.

There is of course no point in apportioning blame. I think what we must do now is to take concrete steps to reduce the weight of schoolbags so as to prevent further damage from being done to the children's physical growth and their spinal health. We should approach the problem from various angles. In the short run:

1. With the curriculum arrangements of the primary and secondary schools, in theory, students' schoolbags should not be overweight because they are only required to bring to school the books they need for the day, and the number should not be over four or five. The main cause of the problem is the large number of exercise books needed out of class and the unnecessary textbooks and items. I think that teachers should give suitable instructions to students to prevent them from bringing more books than required for fear of punishment. Teachers should also effect better co-ordination among themselves to avoid handing out too many exercise books on one single day;

2. Schools should strengthen their communication with parents to encourage them to teach their children to pack their schoolbags every day to avoid bringing any unnecessary books or items to school;

3. The ED should assist schools to install more lockers and consider adding a lock to students' desks so that they can be used to keep things;

4. The ED should issue guidelines to publishers, setting a weight specification for all textbooks. When the weight of certain books exceeds the limit, they should divide them into different volumes or print them in the form of loose-leaves;

5. The Government should provide more funding to schools to help them install more drinking facilities so that students need not bring water bottles to school, and the school should also monitor the students more closely to stop them from bringing toys or comic books to school; and

6. Members of this Council should continue to follow up this issue, monitor the progress of the improvement measures more closely and urge the Government when necessary to provide more resources to schools for this purpose.

In the long run, the Government should enhance the development of information technology education, assist the academia in the research for an extensive curriculum network so that a large proportion of the teaching materials and information can be loaded onto the network, thereby facilitating the students' online access to the contents of the books either in school or at home. Part of the information can be handed out in the form of notes. And students can also hand in their exercises through the software on the network or by means of e-mail. At the same time, publishers should also tie in their efforts by putting their major resources into the development of computer software. If in the near future, students just need to bring a computer disc to school, would it not be a wonderful thing?

Madam President, we are constantly worried that one generation cannot match up to their former generation. Perhaps our next generation is really worse-off than us, but they are after all educated by us. Whose responsibility should that be in regard of their "being worse off"? Our mistakes made in education is one of the reasons that we cannot lightly shirk this responsibility.

With these remarks, Madam President, I support Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's motion.

DR LEONG CHE-HUNG: Madam President, if we consider our young people of today as pillars of the future, and if we consider the health of these young people as the necessary prerogative for them to develop as future leaders, regrettably, Madam President, this generation, this Government and we as monitors of government policies are not doing our duty. In short, we have not been providing a healthy environment for our young people to develop and grow.

Health hazards everywhere

To wit, our air pollution has reached a critical level. Respiratory diseases and asthmatic attacks in the pollution black spots of Hong Kong are producing irreversible harm to our young generation. On a long-term basis, both their physical and mental development will no doubt be hampered.

On food sanitation and hygiene, incidents though episodic, have been frequent enough to raise alarm. Only a few days ago, some 500 youngsters are "poisoned" by food produced in a food factory that has been repeatedly classified as Grade C and yet, still being allowed to function. Our youngsters are getting progressively overweight, obviously from "uncontrolled" diet. Our incidents of heart diseases and blood vessel diseases are ever increasing. All these are preventable if some health objectives are promulgated. Regrettably, the Government has repeatedly refused to come out with a public health policy for our future good.

Today, as the motion moved by the Honourable CHEUNG Man-kwong implies, the health of our youngsters are somehow damaged even by going to school ─ their schoolbags are simply too heavy.

Scientific studies on carrying heavy loads

Madam President, many have spoken and many will speak subsequently, I have no doubt, on the different aspects of the danger of heavy schoolbags and the relevant suggestions for improvement. I would, however, like to share with Honourable Members in more detail a recent scientific work carried out by Prof HONG You-lian and his colleagues for the Department of Sports Science and Physical Education of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as already mentioned by Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong. This study would show the genuine effects on scientific basis the problems that carrying heavy load will impose on our students and the relevant long-term harm. To Prof HONG and his colleagues, I express my sincere thanks.

In a nutshell, the study has demonstrated that there is more physical strain in terms of heart rate, blood pressure and metabolic cost in carrying 20% than 10% body weight load.

Let me elaborate. The study has found that carrying weight of 15% to 20% body weight and walking for 20 minutes will significantly increase blood pressure (in particular, diastolic blood pressure) and it takes much longer to return to normal after stopping the exercise. Such will invariably place unnecessary stress on the heart and cardiovascular system. Needless to say, such stress, if sustained, will produce harm in latter life.

The same study show that subjects tested will have to work harder to carry the schoolbags of 20% body weight. That means more metabolic cost from more muscles will be involved in working both large and small muscle groups.

It will also influence postural and musculo-skeletal development to the detriment in the future. The increase in carrying load will force the students to lean forward in order to bring the centre of gravity back over the base of support. This forward flexion would cause thigh muscles, back muscles and shoulder muscles to work harder to support the movement. As the intensity becomes higher, students would have to recruit additional motor units and muscle groups and alter their gait to carry the load.

International experts have also reported altered locomotion biomechanics, which resulted in higher actual power output to carry a given load. Moreover, the inclined body position and the altered locomotion biomechanics on a daily basis would increase the stresses on the back and leg muscles of the subjects. As for students who are at the age of 12, these stresses might be harmful and might influence their normal musculo-skeletal developmental growth in the future.

Types of bags also need consideration

Of interest too, Madam President, is that the different schoolbags that students use will produce different effects. Using a two-dimensional video study, it becomes obvious that a one-strap bag promotes lateral spinal bending and shoulder elevation. Using an athletic bag promotes greater angular motion of the head and trunk, while a backpack promotes significant forward lean of head and trunk. Obviously, the heavier the bag, the more prominent the deflection and more obvious will be the later deformity. On a long-term basis, these disturbances could produce permanent effect on the musculo-skeletal growth.

Other and similar studies by physical educationists and medical professionals, local and overseas, have shown similar findings, and all have supported that the carrying load of students should not be more than 10% of the youngsters' body weight.

More other classroom health dangers

Madam President, heavy schoolbags are not the only harm for our students in their study environment. Improper sitting postures (even in this particular Chamber), classroom lighting, and positions of computers and school furniture are also essential issues that are regrettably getting very little attention in most of our classrooms.

All of these must be addressed and corrected for our future. With these remarks, I support the motion.

MR LEUNG YIU-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Madam President, like many of my Honourable colleagues sitting here in this Chamber, I have children studying in primary school. They have to carry a schoolbag more than one tenth of their body weight, so heavy that it would affect their health. As parents, how can we help but feeling sorry to see this? We would certainly like to see the weight of the school children's bags reduce as soon as possible. But when I see my son carry such a heavy schoolbag, my greatest worry is not whether this heavy schoolbag would affect his physical development. Rather I worry that his mental development will be affected as well. I think heavy schoolbags are not an isolated problem. As many Honourable colleagues have just mentioned, the problem of heavy schoolbags is related to the education system of Hong Kong as a whole. The excessive weight of schoolbags is only part of the problem, or it can be said to be merely the surface of it.

Schoolbags are heavy because there are too many textbooks and exercise books inside. A moment ago, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong cited a survey conducted by the Professional Teachers' Union. The findings of the survey show that many solutions have been put forward by the teachers. But frankly speaking, I am quite disappointed with some of these fellow teachers of mine, for they just think that the solution to the problem of excessive weight of schoolbags lies in reducing the weight of textbooks. But I do not think this is really the crux of the problem. To separate textbooks into different volumes, to use loose-leaf binders, or to print them in paper of lighter weight can only provide temporary relief to the problem without attacking the root of it.

The problem that we should really look into is whether there is a need to use so many textbooks and exercise books when children go to school. I believe Honourable colleagues must have travelled to foreign countries and many of them have studied overseas. Are the schoolbags of students there as heavy as those of ours here? Only very rarely is that the case. It is not because the books they use are thinner and lighter, but it is because of the way of their learning at school. They can go to school without even carrying their schoolbags. So that is not the question of the weight of textbooks but a question of the approach to learning.

Why do Hong Kong students need to use so many textbooks and exercise books? Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong has offered many explanations just now. The main reason is that the education system here is one which puts stress on memorization. We want our students to memorize the contents of the textbooks to every letter, but we do not motivate and train them in the ability to make independent analysis, to think, to organize and to create. Over the years, we have been practising a "spoon-feeding" kind of education system and that is why the problem of heavy schoolbags remains unresolved.

Many Honourable colleagues have the experience of making trips abroad. In some tourist spots we can often see teachers leading groups of school children who are making some notes on the spot with pen and paper. This kind of active approach is an excellent way of learning. But unfortunately, such an approach is extremely rare if not non-existent in Hong Kong. Not only does this kind of learning approach facilitate the pupils' understanding of subject matters and getting to know the problems in the real-life environment, it is also an activity approach to teaching in which students can understand and make a good grasp of the subject matter in a lively manner. Then what is the situation in Hong Kong? I must admit that it is very difficult for me to do this even though I am a teacher myself. Why? I think this is something we all know. We are heavily fettered by the examination syllabus. If we cannot finish teaching the textbook from cover to cover, the students will not be able to prepare well for the examination. I once suggested to my students that I would not teach anything this one lesson and just chat with them. They were very happy and they liked the idea. And they enjoyed discussing social problems with me. But when I talked with them, I could not but feel sorry and I felt a strong pressure inside me because I was worried about whether or not I could finish teaching the textbook. What should I do if I could not finish it? I would have to give them extra lessons. These are the questions which often put us teachers in a dilemma. Therefore, I feel that if we cannot root out this spoon-feeding approach to teaching and change this mode of examination which promotes this undigested form of learning, the problem of excessive weight of schoolbags will never be solved.

The Chief Executive, Mr TUNG Chee-hwa, in this year's policy address puts great emphasis on the use of innovative technologies as a way to rescue the local financial markets, the economy and the industries. Quite a lot of people agree to this, but there are also people who doubt if we have the right kind of experts to provide us with the human resources we need if we are to head in this direction. We are not sure if we have enough people with innovative ideas, for we truely sense that we are really in lack of creative talents. Why? It is because our education system fails to train our school children to think independently and be creative.

Last week the Panel on Education discussed the issue of whether or not the results of internal assessment could be factored in public examinations. At that time I raised an idea, and that was if we were to agree in principle that the results of internal assessment be factored in the results awarded to students in public examinations, such results of internal assessment should not be those of internal examinations. For if we are to count the results of internal examinations, this would only add to the pressure of the students. We propose to make use of studies of special topics to promote thinking and creativity among our students. Unfortunately, the Education Department did not give us a positive feedback. If we are to solve the problem of excessive weight of schoolbags, we need a change in the direction of our education system, and that is to introduce project studies as a way to change the existing spoon-feeding way of learning.

Madam President, to achieve a complete overhaul of our education system is more than a challenge to our students, it is also a severe test on schools and teachers alike. If we are to reduce the weight of the schoolbags of students, and if we are to prepare ourselves for the dawning of a new era, then this is the kind of reform that we cannot afford to do without. There ought to be a common goal and direction for us all, and that is to make a complete overhaul of the existing education system. Although it may sound a long-term goal as Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong has said just now, and the objective is to reduce the weight of the schoolbags of the students, I think that is precisely what we need to do in the long term, and that is to reform our education system.

PRESIDENT(in Cantonese): Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung, your time is up.

MR BERNARD CHAN: Madam President, most of my arguments have already been mentioned by the Honourable CHEUNG Man-kwong, but I would like to add on his concern upon school children's shoulders. The daily scenes are quite frightening. Small kids, who fail to pull the giant schoolbags onto their backs, are always dragged down to the ground like overturned tortoises. School bus seats are normally occupied by schoolbags, leaving their masters sitting in the air. Many children walk like aircraft crew with their hand baggage on wheels. Handling the schoolbags has become a daily nuisance for parents and kids.

I think something has gone wrong. School children's schedules have been filled with so many classes and subjects that they can hardly spare books from the schoolbags. Re-schedule of timetables means more double lessons and fewer subjects a day. The increase in activity classes will give students more chances to work in school, rather than at home. It is good for the mental and physical development of children.

The volume and weight of schoolbooks should be immensely slashed. The use of loose sheets should be promoted for the benefits of the kids and the environment. Experts should also look into the designs of schoolbags, so that they can completely fit the body shape and endurance of local children.

I appeal to school teachers for clearer instructions and more flexibility in handling schoolbooks. The creation of schoolbooks is to facilitate learning, rather than to increase the physical and mental burden of children. I hope that this debate will kick off a movement for reducing the weight of schoolbags, just for the sake of a happier and healthier generation.

Madam President, I support Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's motion. Thank you.

MISS CHRISTINE LOH: Madam President, Hong Kong school children suffer from heavy schoolwork and examination pressures. The weight of their schoolbags symbolizes Hong Kong's educational problems. The education system only feeds information, and it does not appear to empower a child to learn.

I am neither a frontline educator nor very knowledgeable about the education system. But I have heard enough from teachers, principals, students and parents to believe that our banding and grading systems are failing our children.

Over the years, Hong Kong policymakers decided upon various solutions to the educational problems. These included cross-curricular themes, core curriculum, performance assessment, the Target-Oriented Curriculum (TOC), School Management Initiative, School-Based Curriculum, and I may have left out a few more.

Perhaps we need to first ask a more basic question. With the expansion of free universal school education, what are our educational goals, objectives and priorities today?

Without knowing what we are aiming at, how can we formulate appropriate policies and measures? If we continue to avoid a thorough diagnosis of our current system, which might be painful, we might be deceiving ourselves and the public that our system still works and needs only adjustments, as supposed to a major and total overhaul. If we do not do that, Madam President, I am just concerned that we will never solve the schoolbags problem as it is presented to us by many Members today.

Curriculum reform

I support the call for curriculum reform. However, let us not forget that any educational policies will affect and be affected by other components of the system. Without considering factors such as class size, teacher/pupil ratio, whole-day schooling, teacher workload, teacher quality and development, parents and community involvement and so forth, curriculum reform alone will be insufficient.

Take the TOC for example. This has been described as a major education reform. The TOC as a curriculum reform, emphasizes individual-based learning and performance-based assessment and is supposed to ease examination pressures. However, its hasty implementation schedule, complex assessment methods, inadequate resources, and insufficient training and support for teachers, comprised the reform.

Indeed, the greatest obstacle seems to be the misconception of many teachers that the TOC is just another curriculum they must adopt. Many teachers do not recognize that a role change is expected of them.

Do not get me wrong. I am not blaming the teachers. Traditionally, teachers implement the set curriculum, and play no role in developing the curriculum. The curriculum is essentially centrally planned and controlled, without a development process which involves the collaborative efforts among educators, frontline teachers, administrators and students. Curriculum reform efforts, like the TOC, require a change of attitude and perception of learning which will not happen by teachers attending just a few days of training organized by the Education Department (ED).

I have another question. Does our education system regard teachers truly as professionals? If the answer is yes, how much freedom and autonomy does the system give them? And, how much does the system devote to the professional development of teachers? Teachers' development is essential. Teachers hold the key to successful reform and an enjoyable educational experience for students.

With the new Five-year Education Strategy on Information Technology (IT), a new round of curriculum review is underway. I hope that it does not mean more books for our young children. I would like to make a few suggestions:

1. Firstly, the ED must integrate curriculum review with a child's learning experience. Learning occurs in many ways. Diverse, not monolithic, systems are needed. In learning IT, children do not need any school books.

2. Secondly, teachers should be empowered and encouraged to develop and implement the reform. They should not be there just to distribute what the ED has decided on the new IT curriculum.

3. Thirdly, The ED must seek input from the education community, particularly frontline teachers, in designing and developing the curriculum. Students, too, can be given a chance to actively participate and contribute to the development of their school experience.

School environment

Let me also talk briefly about the school environment. This year's Policy Objective from the Education and Manpower Bureau states that: "to ensure that the potential of our young people can develop to the full, we must provide them with an environment conductive to an all-round education. We seek to ensure that all students have access to quality learning facilities and equipment."

That sounds great, but it is disappointing that the indicators used to measure progress include only:

(1) the number of schools which have substantially improved their facilities in comparison with current standards, and

(2) the proportion of government and aided primary school pupils studying in whole-day schools.

So, what constitutes a "quality learning environment"? Besides relieving packed classrooms, abolishing floating classes and upgrading facilities for IT installment, where are the indicators for a comfortable environment for all-round development? Perhaps the new Director for Education, together with the Secretary for Education and Manpower, can come up with better indicators for the next Policy Objective.


Madam President, let me conclude by emphasizing that Hong Kong needs its own education philosophy before making and proceeding with any education policy. We need to effect true reform at all levels of the system ─ society, school, classroom, and individual. Perhaps the foremost thing that the Government can do is to diagnose the current system and identify the existing problems before attempting to solve them in ad hoc fashion. We also need an informed public debate about the many issues that the Honourable CHEUNG Man-kwong has raised today.

It is still worth reminding ourselves that we only spend 3.5% of Gross Domestic Product expenditure on education. This is low, by the standards of many developing countries.

The pressure of school and of the very very heavy schoolbags on our kids is unlikely to go away until real reform happens.

MR ANDREW CHENG (in Cantonese): Madam President, last week we just commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and for the motion before us today, I wish to use the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as a basis to discuss the effects of excessively heavy schoolbags on the rights of our next generation.

Madam President, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the right of a child to enjoy: (1) the highest attainable standard of health; (2) a standard of living adequate for the child's physical and mental development; and (3) education. On the last point, the Government should make primary education compulsory and available free to all; encourage the development of different forms of secondary education; make higher education accessible to all; and ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's rights and dignity. The education of the child should be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. The child also has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities, and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

First of all, I wish to talk about the protection of a child's health. The average weight of a primary student is 50 to 60 lb. If these students are to carry a schoolbag more than 10 lb in weight and the schoolbags are to crush on these future pillars of society or produce abrasion in their spine, or that they have to be coolies for heavy schoolbags every day when they make their trips to and from school, consuming a lot of their energy for no justifiable reason, their mental and physical health will certainly be seriously harmed. For the love and care to the children and for the protection of their health, the community is obligated to help relieve them of the burden of heavy schoolbags.

Madam President, from the moment a child leaves his home, goes to school, until he comes home, the schoolbag is with him all the time. Textbooks, homework and exercises are with our kids all the time, from morning till night. From the beginning of the school term to the end of it, they are always by their side. How can we possibly ensure that the child can enjoy a standard of living adequate for his or her mental and physical development?

Madam President, I recall when I was studying in the primary school, the total number of textbooks and exercise books for subjects like Chinese, English, Mathematics, Religious Studies, Music and General Studies was only nine or 10. But when I pack the schoolbag for my eldest daughter who is studying in Primary 3, to my surprise I find that she has 11 English books, eight Chinese books, four Mathematics books, two books for Religious Studies, and one each for Music and General Studies. Madam President, these are only books for one school term and they do not include those for the whole school year. Among the 11 English books, there are worksheets, exercise books, general exercises and special exercises and so on. I do not understand why one exercise book is not enough and why so many are needed. The teachers also want all the books to be wrapped in a plastic cover. And as these plastic covers also have a weight, we can imagine how much these 27 books will weigh together with their plastic covers.

Madam President, the child has a right to education. The aim of education is to fully develop the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities. If we just take a look at the things packed into a schoolbag, from the things the school requires to the work a student has done, can these textbooks and exercises really serve the purpose of education? If the whole process of learning is one which begins by cramming things into a schoolbag and ends by cramming these things in turn into the child's mind, then this learning process can only impair the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities. This is anti-education. And this is something which we cannot sit back and do nothing about. If a child occasionally forgets to bring textbooks and exercise books, or to hand in homework, as in the case of my daughter, he or she will be punished, made to stand or deprived of his or her recess time, or even made to stay after school. This manner in which a school administers discipline should be regarded as encroaching and infringing on the child's rights and dignity.

Faced with a heavy schoolbag, endless homework and the pressure of examinations, a child will find school and family life boring and monotonous and become unhappy, resistant and tired. The child will also lose the right to enjoy leisure, play, cultural life and the arts.

Madam President, from the standpoint of protecting the child and safeguarding his or her rights, we must actively seek all kinds of feasible ways to work towards this goal. Relieving the child of the burden of heavy schoolbags is the first step to take. The authorities are charged with the duty to implement curriculum reforms, increase the space of classrooms, improve school facilities, and reduce the pressure on teachers, parents and students in teaching and learning, as well as the pressure from school. These will enable our next generation to enjoy a relaxed and happy experience of learning.

A schoolbag crammed with numerous textbooks is only a deceptive illusion of the treasures of knowledge and will affect the child's enjoyment of books. As the saying goes, there is a beauty in every book we read. If we do not do anything about this, it will in the end put the children off from their books.

Madam President, I so submit to support the motion.

MR ERIC LI (in Cantonese): Madam President, the remarks of Honourable Members today make me feel that I am in a slightly better position, because my daughter has already grown up and gone abroad to study. She is now 14 years old and does not carry a schoolbag. Every day, she can go leisurely to school with just a few books. But I can still remember clearly that shortly after joining the former Legislative Council in 1991, I already moved a similar motion in 1992. I was in great trepidation when I raised the motion because all members of the Panel on Education were professionals in the field, and what they said sounded very complicated to a layman like me. At that time, my daughter was about seven or eight, and she was attending primary school. So, I often heard other parents talk about the problem of overweight schoolbags. Since they urged me to do something, I decided to give it a try by making known my feelings and opinions as a "user". I first raised a written question on 21 September 1992, and then put forward the subject for discussion in the Panel on Education after receiving a reply from the Administration. Fellow Members were quite supportive of me, and we managed to urge the Administration to introduce some superficial ameliorating measures like the installation of lockers in schools. However, I would also like to mention something rather inglorious. When I moved the motion debate on overweight schoolbags, some newspaper commentators criticized that Legislative Council Members were of a very low calibre, because even such a minor issue was brought up in the legislature for discussion; in addition to criticizing the ignorance and low calibre of Legislative Council Members, some commentators even said that my motion was the "most senseless" motion in 1992. Therefore, the enthusiastic discussions which Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's motion has attracted today really make me feel that I have been vindicated, and I am very grateful to him.

Ever since my daughter went to study abroad, I have not received any more complaints on overweight schoolbags. The only complaint of this nature was from colleagues of the Public Accounts Committee who say that the 2 000-page Public Accounts Committee report was much too heavy. Since Legislative Council Members were no longer tender and delicate souls, it was very unlikely that anybody would sympathize with our plight. However, after we had raised this issue, even the Director of Audit, who was so very astute, was willing to help us by dividing up the Audit Report into thinner volumes for our convenience, and this problem was resolved in just a matter of two years. In contrast, the Education Department has failed to solve the problem of heavy textbooks and exercise books after so many years.

Although I am now unable to hear any more comments from the parents of my daughter's schoolmates because they have already grown up, I can still recall what I said in the motion of thanks debate last year. At that time, when I referred to the education reforms proposed in the policy address, I said that I had received a lot of comments from school principals. Many school principals told me that they simply did not know how to work out a scale of priority for the many reform measures. Today, I hear the voices of teachers, the voices of Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong representing the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union and teachers. He tells us in no vague terms that our education system is just too much for many of us. Teachers, children, parents and school principals have all spoken up. So, should we take this as a sign that our entire education system is plagued with some profound problems? I fully agree with Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong, but I would look at these problems from a slightly different angle.

It seems that ours is a top-down education system, in which all educational workers think that the existing system is problematic and something has to be done. And, they all think that the way to deal with the situation is to introduce more new reforms. Consequently, everyone is calling for reforms, very much like what happened during the Meiji Restoration period. And, every reform effort is invariably accompanied by the establishment of a new committee. Look at the whole education sector now, we have more than 30 committees. The harder a committee works, the more "burdened" our education system will become. All is just like a game of "jenga" which exerts incessant pressure on school principals, teachers and children. In the end, the pressure of the education system is fully reflected in the mental and physical health of the children as well as the weight of their schoolbags.

I think that the problem of overweight schoolbags has given us a very simple message: Should the orientation of our education system be geared from top down or the other way round? Should our education policy be executive-led like the Government? Or, should it be people and students orientated? If we fail to answer these questions clearly, we will certainly continue to hear people asking whether the Education Department has introduced any reforms. And, if the Department has indeed introduced reforms, we will certainly have a new set of guidelines; whenever Education Department does anything, it will issue a new set of guidelines. Every reform and every discussion is invariably followed by the issuance of new guidelines. I have asked the Education Department whether it has ever considered the pressure exerted by new guidelines on the whole system. How is the overall distribution of pressure? The usual reply of the Department is that this is not their concern for after guidelines are issued, it will be the duty of school principals to make a decision on how to solve the problems. But is this really fair?

While I think that education reforms are absolutely necessary, I also think that the only thing we must do is to reduce and redistribute the workload created by the great many guidelines, and to draw up reasonable arrangements which can cope with the heavy demands imposed on the whole education system. If not, I will fully agree with what many Members have said: The Government has been "treating headaches and foot sores as isolated illnesses", and now it is doing the same with the "backaches" of school children. Given such an approach, problems of education policies will gradually be revealed by the problem of overweight schoolbags, and when it comes to that, then even the installation of a few thousand more lockers will not lock all the problems away.

Thank you, Madam President.

MR MICHAEL HO (in Cantonese): Madam President, there is no other place in the world like Hong Kong, I am afraid, that a heavy schoolbag is constantly put on the shoulders of school children who look like Ninja turtles, affecting their physical development and health. There is however, no information presently available on an international level for comparison and to enable us to arrive at some scientific conclusions on the problem of excessive weight of schoolbags. Today, I shall cite the same study made by the Chinese University of Hong Kong for there are indeed not many studies on this topic.

The problem of excessively heavy schoolbags is attracting more and more concern from the public. Just imagine there are almost 1 million school children walking in the streets of Hong Kong every day with their heavy schoolbags. It may look nothing special for Hong Kong people, but in the eyes of the foreigners, it is indeed an incredible spectacle. They may think that the students are so keen on keeping their bodies fit that they carry weights all the time.

The problem of excessively heavy schoolbags and its effects on the health and the body have at last aroused the attention of scholars. Prof HONG Youlian of the Department of Sports Science and Physical Education of the Chinese University of Hong Kong recently published a study on the effects of carrying weights on the bodies of school children. Research findings show that when a primary school pupil carry a schoolbag with a weight of 6 kg, or roughly 20% of his body weight, and walk for 15 minutes, there is an instant change in the muscles of his back and shoulder. Pressure exerted on the muscles increases markedly, the body obviously leans forward, the time to support each leg is reduced, the pace gets quicker while the extent of each pace is reduced. In the first five minutes after walking, there is a significant increase in energy consumption. Five minutes after walking has stopped, the blood pressure is still high, affecting the cardio-vascular system. In such circumstances, the student is forced to lean forward and this forward flexion will alter the correct posture of the human body which is in itself a work of biomechanics. On a long-term basis, this will exert great pressures on the back and the legs. For children under the age of 12, this may even be harmful to their development. As carrying a weight of less than 10% of body weight has not produced increased metabolic cost, therefore Prof HONG Youlian concludes that the weight of schoolbags should only be 10% of the body weight. However, most of the schoolbags in Hong Kong are more than 10% of the body weight of the school children. This clearly exceeds the upper limit suggested by Prof HONG and is definitely unhealthy.

On a long-term basis, as the skeletal development of the student is still incomplete, the carrying of heavy schoolbags will hinder his physical development, cause a degeneration in the functions of the back muscles, and lower the flexibility of the muscles. The last point may even lead to accidents when the students are unable to avoid being hit by cars when crossing the roads. Besides, if the student is not strong, the long standing pressure experienced by the muscles will cause muscular deformity and the forward bending of the spine will cause a hunchback. This is why some students in Hong Kong are unable to straighten their backs or they may have a lateral bending in the spine. Therefore, the reduction of the weight of schoolbags is of extreme importance in the prevention of abnormal growth in the development of the child. I think the Department of Health should make more efforts in this area. But the more important thing is, when problems are revealed by studies, it may already be too late. So the Education Department must act immediately to address the problem of schoolbag weight.

Of course, the choice of schoolbags is also important. Dr LEONG Che-hung has mentioned one-strap bags, backpack and the wheeled baggage types of schoolbags. I think the Honourable colleagues who are in the airport inquiry will particularly notice the difference. The choice of a good schoolbag is only a reluctant choice and a choice made when there is no other alternative. It can only provide temporary relief instead of a permanent cure.

From the perspectives of health and child development, it is indisputable that the excessive weight of schoolbags is something we must oppose. What remains are the education policies. If heavy schoolbags and the spoon-feeding education system are culprits, then if we want to provide remedies and cures to the problem of heavy schoolbags and a spoon-feeding education, then we must boldly apply the surgeon's knife on our ailing education policies.

Apart from operating on the education policies, the Department of Health should enhance its student health services. Madam President, this is a question of primary health. What is primary health? That is to ensure school children grow in a healthy environment, rather than to conduct studies, provide physical check-ups to students and to refer them to physicians for treatment when health problems arise. Only can this be called primary health.

I earnestly hope that the Department of Health can make proposals to the central government in a more flexible manner. It should not sit here and wait adamantly for figures and data, or to wait until certain tracking studies have yielded results before action is taken. I hope the Secretary for Education and Manpower will stop waiting for the scientific evidence from the Department of Health. For if we track down a child for more than a decade and obtain research data, there will be quite a number of young people having suffered permanent damage, then it will be too late. In this regard, I would like to thank Prof HONG Yulian and Prof CHENG Chunyiu and the colleagues from the Hong Kong Physiotherapists' Union and the Hong Kong Physiotherapy Association for giving me a lot of valuable information on this issue.

Madam President, I support the motion moved by Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong. I also hope that when my daughter grows up, there will be no more Ninja turtles in Hong Kong, and the big stones on the backs of the turtles will be gone for good.

MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Madam President, I would like to thank Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong for giving us an opportunity once again to discuss in this Chamber an issue which looks quite negligible but in fact is one which I feel that many people would agree is of enormous importance. For when our children were young, many of us would have the feeling that it was some kind of a system that made our children bear some burdens which they should not have to bear. These are really burdens. Each of us, however, do has a cause to blame. I remember we discussed this issue a long time ago. Just now Miss CHOY So-yuk asked why it was only the first time that we discussed this issue here. Actually it is not the first time; we had discussed this issue in the former Legislative Council, and as Mr Eric LI has said, we talked about that a long time ago. But why are we still talking about it now? I think we need to ask the Secretary to give us an answer.

All along the Government seems to be making studies, surveys and even consultations. But the problem still remains, even to this day. Why is that so? I was thinking, this is a very simple problem to many people, but why do we still see small children carrying schoolbags in the street? They look so miserable. Of course I do not have professional knowledge about this and I do not know any of the terms mentioned just now by Mr Michael HO and Dr LEONG Che-hung. The terms they used are so alien to us that they have scared people off. But then they do not have to use these terms to scare the wits out of us, for we can see with our own eyes. As parents we can feel with our own hearts and it breaks our hearts to see that. Although my own children have grown up, when I see the children of other people suffer, it also causes a twinge in my heart. The kids are so small, yet they have to carry such big schoolbags. I cannot help but ask how can such things happen in an advanced society like Hong Kong. We are talking of information technology and even having consultations on that. But what has really happened? I used to think that only councillors are backward, when a select committee holds a meeting, they have to bring in loads of files. But there is no reason why schools are so backward as well. Why do children have to suffer? We cannot help but ask why after all these years of talking about research and guidelines ...... and even lockers, nothing has changed. Talking about lockers, I can recall an incident.

In 1994-95, I had a quarrel with the present Financial Secretary who was, I am not very sure, only the Secretary of the Treasury at that time. That was because of the issue of lockers that we had a quarrel in the Finance Committee. Why? Because he said that it would take three years to provide lockers. He said that it would not be possible to provide these lockers all at one time. It had to be done in phases, because there were quite a few hurdles in the government supplies procedures that they had to clear one by one. Then I asked why did he say it would take three years when lockers could be made in just three months. He said the Government would have to invite tenders. In the end, the Secretary pulled a long face.

Actually, as ordinary people we cannot figure out how the Government should take such great pains as to spend three long years just to make 36 000 lockers. This kind of efficiency is really problematic. And today, I hear that the lockers have almost been completed, but there are still more than half of the schools in Hong Kong without any lockers. Perhaps the Secretary would like to tell us why over half of the schools are still not provided with any lockers. But even if there are lockers, the problem may still not be solved. The crux of the problem now is whether the Government would feel there is any need to look at the matter again. There are lots of things which it does not have to do by itself. It only has to confirm a number of procedures or take some measures and that will achieve its original goal. For example, even if the Government sends all the completed lockers to the schools, they are useless if they are not used to keep books but all sorts of things, even rubbish, toys or other things, all sorts of purposes other than their originally intended purpose. It cannot solve the ultimate problem at all. And the problem is the schoolbags of the children are much too heavy. How can the problem be solved?

The Government has said that it would issue some guidelines on the weight of textbooks and would take the matter up with the publishers to see whether the objectives can be attained. Talking about standard guidelines, I can see no sign of them even today. The schools are not yet told as to how heavy a packed schoolbag should weigh. Why are there no guidelines? Will the problem be solved simply by the issuance of guidelines? Is there any guarantee that the schools will comply with the guidelines once they are issued? Will the goals be achieved definitely? At the end of the day, the Government should explain to us whether or not after all these things that it has done that it would certainly reach the goals. What the Government needs to do urgently is to show us how the goals are going to be reached. The Government has not done one very important thing, and that is, addressing the problem of management in the entire issue.

The problem of management is as many other Honourable colleagues have mentioned: Do students really need to bring that many books to school every day? We all know very clearly that this kind of management relies on a partnership relationship to make it a success. Does a partnership really exist between the school and the parents? Do the schools and parents have the right kind of partnership so that when the parents help their young children pack their schoolbags at home, they would only need to put in things which are most needed and they do not have to put in things which are not wanted? Because as far as I know, many of the things packed into a schoolbag are only put in just in case, things that are only likely to be used. This should not happen at all. Students should only need to put in things which they really need to use at school. That sounds simple enough, but it is easier said than done. For what we need to address is whether or not there is the right kind of communication between parents and schools which really serves the needs of the students so that they would know what are the things they need to bring to school.

For schools, there should be some sort of common understanding as to the use of which textbooks for which subjects, and there should be some sort of co-ordination or practical policies which can address to the need to reduce the weight of the schoolbags of students. To achieve management in the weight of textbooks and to deal with the question of where should textbooks be put and how they should be handled, we need indeed some kind of more scientific and systematic way of doing things at a macro level. There is an urgent need for the Government to reach this goal as soon as possible. Apart from that, I have once said that given the advances in information technology, is there any need to use thick and heavy textbooks all the time? Can computer be brought in for some subjects? Now that more and more schools have installed computers, can we think of ways in this regard and reduce the weight of schoolbags? Having said that, I fully support the motion moved by Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong.

MR LEE CHEUK-YAN (in Cantonese): Madam President, in today's motion debate, I really hope the Government can feel pity for our children. The weight of their schoolbags is actually only a symbol: a symbol of burden.

A shocking finding of a survey conducted recently shows that 40% of primary students have to wear glasses. If 40% of students need to wear glasses and their schoolbags are so heavy, there must be some problems with our education system.

A remark by Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said today has caused me to worry. According to him, an official of the Education Department designed a poster 27 years ago when he was still an ordinary teacher. But today, 27 years later, he still finds that schoolbags are getting increasingly heavy. While I was listening, I thought of my little girl who is now eight years old. But what should be on my mind was how to reduce the weight of my grandson's instead of my daughter's schoolbag. Perhaps when it comes to my grandson's generation, we might still be discussing how to reduce the weight of schoolbags. If so, the progress of our society is really too slow.

I earnestly hope that the Secretary can propose some practical solutions today to the problem. In particular, the crux of the problem actually lies in how to reduce the pressure on children, and what I mean is, the pressure exerted by homework. Sometimes when I had casual talks with parents, I could hear them say that life was no longer fun to them. This is because they could not do anything on Sundays except to revise homework with their children in preparation for the English or Chinese dictations that will definitely be done every week. If not, there will definitely be tests on Mathematics, English or Chinese. Sometimes, several tests might even be held in one single week. This is how they spend their Sundays. In that case, where can children and parents find the pleasures of life? Now Hong Kong has become such a boring society. I think the crux of the problem itself lies in how to reduce the burden. For example, with less homework and fewer tests, schoolbags will become lighter, children wearing glasses will reduce in number and, the index showing parents' and children's happiness will climb higher. But the problem remains: When will the Hong Kong community have the determination to do that?

Just as Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said, the determination should come from the Government, schools, teachers as well as parents. I think there is a problem with parents in Hong Kong too. This is because it is the parents who ask for more homework. It is really satirical that they will not let their children attend schools offering less homework. There actually does exist social pressure. If we cannot make concerted efforts to address this problem, we might still be debating the same old problem decades later.

I am extremely worried that our society will become increasingly stagnant because of the "spoon-fed" education. Subsequently, our society will lose its originality and eventually our competitive edge will be undermined.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Does any other Member wish to speak?

MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Madam President, I would only make a short speech. Finally, I completely agree to what I have just heard Mr LEE Cheuk-yan say. He said that he was worried about his eight-year-old daughter and his future grandchildren. I would remark briefly. I recall that when I was young, studying was a pleasure. At that time, I studied in a whole-day school. I went to school at 9 am and finished school at 3 pm. I could stay after school for revision or playing before going home at around 5 pm, and my teachers also stayed after school. There was no overweight schoolbag problem at that time. My children are much older than Mr LEE Cheuk-yan's daughter. When they were young, more than 10 years ago, they already encountered the overweight school bag problem. However, I am more concerned about my future grandchildren than Mr LEE Cheuk-yan as my children are now over 20 and I am going to have grandchildren much earlier than Mr LEE Cheuk-yan. I certainly do not hope that my grandchildren will have to encounter the same old problem in future.

Madam President, I fully support Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's motion.

SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Madam President, I am grateful to Honourable Members for their valuable views on the topic "reducing the weight of schoolbags". I agree that it is an important and critical subject. I seem like a primary school student carrying a schoolbag, and the more I listen to Members' remarks, the heavier my schoolbag is. Therefore, I can assure Members that the Government is similarly deeply concerned about the problem of overweight schoolbags and it has been taking measures to reduce the weight of schoolbags. However, there are many factors affecting the weight of schoolbags and merely relying on the Government's efforts is not enough. Schools, textbook publishers, teachers, parents and students must co-operate to solve or reduce this problem.

Factors affecting the weight of schoolbags can roughly be classified as curriculum demands, space and facilities of schools, weight of textbooks, combination of subjects, school timetables, exercise books and the students' habits of packing up schoolbags. In view of these factors, the Government, textbook publishers, schools, teachers, parents and students are responsible for taking appropriate coupling measures:

— The Government is responsible for working out the suitable curricula and persuading schools to avoid using excessive exercise books; providing schools with suitable and adequate facilities to prevent students from bringing too many articles to school; reducing the weight of textbooks as far as possible; reminding the concerned parties to attend to the problem of overweight schoolbags and co-ordinating their work.

— Publishers should separate textbooks into volumes, print textbooks and exercise books separately and use lighter paper to reduce the weight of textbooks.

— Schools are responsible for ensuring the proper use of school space and the facilities provided by the Education Department (ED). They should give attention to the weight of textbooks in selecting textbooks and working out timetables to obviate the students' need to bring a lot of textbooks on the same day. Schools should also review and adjust the quantity of homework for students and avoid using excessive supplementary or additional exercises. This is actually very important as excessive homework not only substantially increases schoolbag weight but also the learning pressure on students.

— As front-line educational workers, teachers should give students clear intructions concerning the use of school facilities and the textbooks and articles needed for each lesson; teach students to pack up schoolbags and avoid punishing students who forget to bring textbooks or exercise books once in a while. In fact, I have just found out that the last point is already stated in the guidelines issued by the ED. Guidelines indeed do not factor in the issue and I think we have already issued too many guidelines.

— As to parents, they should be concerned about the school life and healthy growth of their children, cultivate their habits of packing up schoolbags every day, persuading them not to bring unnecessary books and articles to school and choose for them light and durable schoolbags, pencil cases and stationery. According to a recent survey conducted by the ED, miscellaneous articles take up almost 50% of the weight of schoolbags. And many a good-looking pencil case is mostly very heavy.

— Students should exercise self-discipline and cultivate a good habit of packing up schoolbags every day and avoid bringing useless miscellaneous articles to school.

In recent years, the ED has held regular meetings with publishers, issued guidelines to schools, distributed publicily materials to parents and students to remind the relevant parties to be concerned about the weight of schoolbags, and made specific proposals regarding the measures they should take. Moreover, respectively from 1990 and 1994 onwards, the ED has installed drinking fountains and lockers in all new schools and it welcomes application by schools for the installation of these facilities so that students can keep some books and articles in school and they do not have to bring water bottles.

In the coming years, on the basis of the existing measures, the ED will actively introduce measures for reducing the weight of textbooks, making good use of school facilities and intensifying publicity to further solve the problem of overweight schoolbags. The relevant initiatives include:

Further reducing the weight of textbooks

(1) The ED requires textbook publishers to provide information on the weight of textbooks on the Recommended Book List of the ED and asks schools to make reference to such information when they select textbooks and formulate timetables for the coming school year. Moreover, although primary school textbooks have now been published in volumes, the publication of secondary school textbooks in volumes is not satisfactory. The ED will ask publishers to gradually publish junior secondary school textbooks in volumes. It is estimated that from 1999 onwards, newly published junior secondary school textbooks will be supplied in volumes. I actually understand thoroughly that the schoolbags of some junior secondary school students are really very heavy.

Improving school facilities and increasing the rate of utilization

(2) We will investigate into the use of lockers by schools and students to understand why some schools and students fail to make proper use of lockers. The result of the investigation is expected before March 1999 and the ED will then take targeted measures on the basis of the investigation result. For instance, it will ask the school authorities to give students especially primary school students more guidance as to how they can make proper use of lockers or improvements to the location of lockers.

(3) In consideration of the fact that students will be able to keep their stationery and books in classrooms after school after more and more primary schools have become whole-day schools, the ED will revise the specification of students' desks on the Standard Equipment List to allow students to put their books inside their desks. It is projected that beginning with 1999, newly-built schools and existing schools that need to replace students' desks will have the new style equipment.

Intensifying publicity and enhancing the knowledge of students, teachers and parents on schoolbag weight

(4) The ED is seeking the advice of the Department of Health and it will make reference to the experience of neighbouring countries in the hope that guidelines will be issued to schools by mid-1999, setting out the ideal ratio of students' weight to schoolbag weight and listing out the average weight of students of different age for reference by schools in book selection and timetable formulation. The ED will also provide parents with the relevant information.

(5) The ED will positively co-operate with the Committee on Home-School Co-operation to make parents more concerned with schoolbag weight, so that they can co-ordinate with the measures taken by schools, urge their children to pack up their schoolbags and choose for their children light and durable schoolbags, pencil cases and stationery. In January 1999, the ED will brief the Committee on its work in solving the overweight schoolbag problem and listen to the views of members.

(6) The ED will consider utilizing the mass media including television to convey to parents and students more extensively and profoundly the message that schoolbag weight should be reduced.

I agree that overweight schoolbags reflect the critical condition of our education system. For example, we attach too much importance to the delivery of knowledge through books, so much so that we have kept expanding the scope of our curricula and increasing the thickness of textbooks; and we attach too much importance to the uniformity of tests such that the results secondary school students obtained at open examinations become the most important requirement for admission into universities. We care too much about the fact that our children must learn all the contents of and questions in textbooks, so much so that we are more than willing to give them a lot of homework.

To completely solve the overweight schoolbag problem, we really have to reform our education system, including the aim of education, the scope of curricula, the comprehensive development of students, secondary school placement, a mechanism for evaluating student performance, the contents and form of open examinations and the criteria for university admission. These topics will be studied and consultation will be made in the next two years by the Education Commission when it conducts a schooling review.

However, the Government will soon make the first step. Firstly, we will start with a review of the aim of education. The Education Commission will publish a consultation paper early next year, asking the education sector, the community including parents to conscientiously discuss the aim of each stage of education. For example, whether we agree that the most important aim of primary school education is to allow students to attend school happily and whether we agree that to achieve this aim, much reduced curricula are needed so that students do not need to read so many textbooks or do so much homework.

I expect Honourable Members of the Legislative Council to actively take part in the consultation to be made by the Education Commission early next year. The Government is duty-bound to improve our education and curricula, but every educational worker and parent have to share the responsibilities. Having heard the comments by many Members, I am confident that they will co-operate with the Government in promoting a reform of the entire education system. I personally ask primary school students to read less books and do less homework but absorb more knowledge and take part in more extra-curricula activities so that they can grow up happily and healthily and be interested in life-long learning. This is my ideal. But at present, I do not think many people from the education sector including parents agree to this. Therefore, when we review the aim of education in future, I earnestly hope that Members of the Legislative Council will express even more strongly their views, especially when the children and grandchildren of some Members are growing up.

Nevertheless, I may not agree that primary school students or more people have become short-sighted because of our education system. There are many factors affecting eyesight including our living environment. In fact, I find in a scan of this Chamber that more than 40% of Legislative Council Members are wearing spectacles. Does this indicate that a short-sighted person has the advantage of possibly becoming a Legislative Council Member in future? I am not quite sure about this.

In addition, I have to say that the information technology education we will vigorously introduce in schools in the next five years will certainly involve a curriculum reform. We hope that teaching with the aid of information technology will reduce our reliance on textbooks. We will also use more diversified methods to appraise and train them students instead of merely requiring them to use exercise books.

As regards the overweight schoolbag problem, I totally agree that the Government, schools, publishers, teachers, parents and students should strengthen co-operation and bear their respective responsibilities in order to reduce the weight of schoolbags. I am very willing to further follow up and discuss this problem with Honourable Members and other concerned parties and examine the feasibility of all suggestions.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong, you have 27 seconds for your reply. (Laughter)

MR CHEUNG MAN-KWONG (in Cantonese): Madam President, I would like to tell a story. A scholar from the Mainland came to Hong Kong to study our education system for a few months. Before he left, he met many people who asked him what he had seen in Hong Kong. He said that the education system he had seen was one under which people kept blaming one and other but no one did anything.

In respect of school bags, I have heard many Members' explicit comments. I would conscientiously follow up all suggestions and ensure that the schoolbags of students will become lighter and lighter year after year. I hope that a schoolbag weight index can be established to really lighten children's schoolbags and also lighten the pressure exerted by school curriculum and examinations in the end.

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now put the question to you and that is: That the motion moved by Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong be passed. Will those in favour please raise their hands?

(Members raised their hands)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): Those against please raise their hands.

(No hands raised)

PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I think the question is agreed by a majority respectively of each of the two groups of Members, that is, those returned by functional constituencies and those returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and by the Election Committee, who are present. I declare the motion passed.


PRESIDENT (in Cantonese): I now adjourn the meeting until 2.30 pm on Wednesday, 6 January 1999.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to Nine o'clock.

Annex I


Written answer by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands to Mr Andrew WONG's supplementary question to Question 1

The gas produced by landfills is a mixture of gases, similar to "natural gas". It cannot be mixed with Naptha-derived town gas distributed by the gas mains system in Hong Kong. This imposes constraints on the commercial viability of the landfill gas.

The volume of landfill gas generated varies, increasing over time as the landfill builds up and gradually decreasing as the waste in the landfill is decomposed.

At present, about 4 MW of electricity are being generated from the landfill gas to meet the needs of landfill operations. Commercial utilization of the landfill gas is expected to be feasible in a few years' time when a higher volume of gas will be generated. The Environmental Protection Department has been discussing a number of possible options with the landfill operators and other interested parties.

Annex II


Written answer by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands to Mrs Miriam LAU's supplementary question to Question 2

One Member had observed that some Urban Services Department/Regional Services Department staff placed pre-sorted recyclable waste in the same refuse collection vehicles and thus defeated the purpose of sorting wastes. We acknowledge that this has happened and could continue to happen until we have had the opportunity to put various measures fully in place.

The situation varies throughout Hong Kong, but generally is as follows:

(a) the Housing Authority's waste contractors are required to source-separate recyclable material, and make arrangements for this to be separately collected;

(b) where waste paper collection campaigns are organized, for example, in schools, arrangements are made for private collectors to take the recyclable materials;

(c) many private housing estates arrange for recyclable material to be separated and collected by private companies;

(d) the Provisional Regional Council has awarded waste collection contracts in Tai Po and Sha Tin districts in May and November 1998, respectively. Dedicated vehicles are provided to collect recyclable material at designated collection points and deliver it to recyclers; and

(e) the Provisional Urban Council has not yet made any formal arrangements.

We will continue to encourage extension and expansion of waste separation and separate collection for recyclable materials, both within the Government and in the private sector.

Annex III


Written answer by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands to Mr Eric LI's supplementary question to Question 2

In regard to the suggestion of establishing a recycling fund so as to be cost-effective, we have not ruled out the possibility of using part of the revenue from landfill charges for this, and other environmental measures. However, we still need to give more careful consideration to this constructive idea.

The average cost incurred by the Administration for disposing of all municipal solid waste, including waste paper, at the landfills was $830 per tonne in 1997, as shown in the following breakdown:

Collection and transportation


Capital and operation costs of
Refuse Transfer Stations (RTS)


Capital and operation costs of
strategic landfills


Opportunity cost of land for the
three existing strategic landfills


EPD Management cost at RTSs and
strategic landfills




Annex IV


Translation of written answer by the Financial Secretary to Mr LAU Kong-wah's supplementary question to Question 3

The China Light and Power Company Limited (the company) indicated that in accordance with its claims record at hand (from 1992), the company has so far awarded compensations for 31 claims. All these cases are connected with accidents caused by fluctuations in electricity voltage, involving one or more claimants in each case. The amount of compensation offered to individual claimant for replacements or repairs of electrical appliances ranges from $1,500 to a maximum of $20,000.