Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 1862/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ HS+ EA+CA

Legislative Council Panel on Health Services,
Panel on Environmental Affairs
and Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Joint meeting on
Friday, 12 March 1999 at 10:45 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Members of Panel on Health Services

Hon Michael HO Mun-ka (Chairman)(Joint Panel meeting Chairman)
# Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu,JP
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
# Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members of Panel on Environmental Affairs

Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon WONG Yung-kan

Members of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP (Chairman)
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP

Members Absent :

Members of Panel on Health Services

* Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
# Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
# Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members of Panel on Environmental Affairs

* Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)(Joint Panel meeting Deputy Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP

* Also a member of Panel on Constitutional Affairs
# Also a member of Panel on Environmental Affairs

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Michael SUEN, JP
Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Mrs Maureen CHAN
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Mr NG Sek-hon
Deputy Secretary (Home Affairs)

Clerk in Attendance :

Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)4

Staff in Attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Ms Mariana LEUNG
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)7

I. Confirmation of minutes of meetings held on 15 January 1999 and 8 February 1999
(LC Paper Nos.CB(2)1457/98-99 and 1470/98-99)

The minutes of meetings held on 15 January and 8 February 1999 were confirmed.

II. Meeting with the Administration on the future structure for delivery of food safety and environmental hygiene services
(LC Paper Nos.CB(2)1267/98-99(02) and 1443/98-99(01))

2. The Chairman referred to the Administration's response to questions from Mr LEE Wing-tat and Mrs Sophie LEUNG (LC Paper No. CB(2)1267/98-99(02))and the the paper in tabular form setting out the Administration's decisions on the recommendations in the Consultant's Report (LC Paper No. CB(2)1443/98-99(01)) and invited questions from members.

Licensing system

3. Mr LEE Wing-tat said that it had been the expectation of members as well as the concerned businesses that a "one-stop" service would be provided in respect of licensing. He referred to the Administration's response contained in paragraph A1 of its paper and asked whether the consultant commissioned by the Business and Services Promotion Unit and Urban Services Department (USD) was advised of that principle.

4. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum sought clarification as to whether the Administration was moving towards the direction of a central licensing authority to handle all types of licences. He considered that restaurant and liquor licences should be dealt with by the same board in order to achieve the aim of streaming the system. As regards the consultancy study commissioned by the Business and Services Promotion Unit and the USD (the Consultancy Study), he pointed out the USD was only consulted on the study while the central government was responsible for commissioning the study. As the study would only be completed by June 1999, he queried how it would fit in with the timing of the Provision of Municipal Services Bill (the Bill).

5. Mr Martin LEE said that the Administration should propose a new system that could complete the process of licensing within a reasonable period of time e.g. two months. He considered that all necessary advice and assistance should be given early to the applicants to facilitate their compliance of requirements.

6. Mr CHAN Wing-chan opined that the review on district organisations should ultimately aim at improvement of municipal services provided. He remarked that the situation where some restaurants could have started business without a valid licence for a whole year was a clear indication that the current licensing system was at fault. He requested the Administration to provide a work-flow chart setting out the difference between the existing system and the proposed new system, so that members could judge whether there was any improvement. Adm

7. Ms Emily LAU shared the views of Mr Martin LEE and Mr CHAN Wing-chan in paragraphs 5 and 6 above. She requested the Administration to provide a paper on the following -

  1. the length of time required for issue of a licence to restaurants and bars; and

  2. the number of restaurants commencing business without a licence in the past decade and what action was taken to enforce the law.

She considered that such information would help the public and potential investors to understand the situation. She believed that the consultant currently studying the matter should already have such information in hand.

8. Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (SCA) responded that the current exercise was an overall review of the structure for provision of municipal services. The idea was that the Bill to be introduced in April would deal with the structural aspect and give effect to the transfer of the relevant powers and functions of the Provisional Municipal Council (PMCs) to the new structure. Details concerning provision of municipal services would then be decided, hopefully before the end of 1999.

9. As regards licensing, SCA stressed that a system was currently operating and the review was aimed at improving the current system. For decades, the Muncipal Councils had been making a lot of effort to improve the situation but there were indeed practical difficulties. He pointed out for example that a slight change in the architectural design could affect many decisions on issuance of a licence. Currently, licensing work was still the responsibility of the PMCs. The Administration was studying the proposal for a central licensing authority and the practical difficulties involved. It was aware of the expectation of the restaurant business that there should be a one-stop service within a customer-friendly system, and it would be working towards the direction of providing such service. Details would however need to be worked out after the completion of the Consultancy Study. SCA also clarified that the Consultancy Study was part of a programme aiming at providing a better business environment, and the licensing system was one of the areas being reviewed.

10. With respect to Mr CHAN Wing-chan's request for a work-flow chart showing the current licensing system and the proposed one, SCA said that he could only request the two Municipal services departments to provide the chart on the current system, as new arrangements had yet to be decided. As regards Ms Emily LAU's request in paragraph 7 above, SCA agreed to obtain the information from the PMCs and/or the consultant as appropriate. On Mr Martin LEE's opinion that the Administration should aim at arriving at a new system which could complete the process of application for a licence within two months' time, SCA said that while he also agreed with the direction, he could not make a decision on the matter which was to be dealt with by the new policy bureau and new department. Proposed arrangements after the abolition of the PMCs Adm

11. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum said that the way the Administration had been dealing with the transfer of the PMCs' powers and functions before arriving at the necessary details for the arrangements afterwards was unsatisfactory. In scrutinising the Bill, Members would not only be concerned about what functions were transferred to which departments, but would also need to consider other factors such as the establishment of the new structure, the effectiveness of the proposed arrangements, and improvements to be made to such services to be provided by the new structure etc. He suggested that this joint meeting or the relevant Panel(s) should consider the arrangements proposed as the aftermath of the abolition of the PMCs first, and then reflect their views to the Administration before the Bill was introduced.

12. The Chairman and Mr CHAN Wing-chan shared Mr CHEUNG's view. The Chairman sought clarification as to which bureau would be responsible for the Bill and whether the Bill would only identify the duties and functions to be transferred to the new structure. Mr Martin LEE opined that the proposal to transfer the functions of the PMCs prior to identifying any official responsible for the new structure further proved that the ultimate aim of the Administration's review of district organisations was to abolish the PMCs. He said that as the current system for provision of municipal services was not greatly at fault, the Administration should work out the details of an acceptable structure first, and then put forward such a proposal for consideration. He further opined that in considering the abolition of the PMCs, Members would need to consider what new proposal was being put forward.

13. In response, SCA said that the Bill would provide the legal basis for transfer of the relevant powers and functions of the PMCs to the new structure. As the existing Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance had specified the municipal services provided by the PMCs, such functions had to be transferred with legal effect if the PMCs would no longer exist. He agreed that Members would need to consider the proposed arrangements for provision of municipal services, but pointed out that the Bill would not deal with such details. He advised that the Constitutional Affairs Bureau would be responsible for the submission of the Bill and other related arrangements until the head of the task force responsible for setting up the new structure had been identified. He reiterated that the aim of the review of district organisations was to streamline the whole structure that provided municipal services, which included other policy bureaux and departments, and was not only aiming at streamlining the municipal services departments. The whole review would improve coordination from the policy perspective. He said that information on further streamlining under the proposed new structure would be provided to members in April, as agreed at the last meeting.

Concern of the PMCs

14. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum pointed out that members' concern over the licensing system was only an example to show that the Administration had failed to provide full details on the new structure for delivery of municipal services. Apart from food safety and environmental hygiene, municipal services also included arts and culture, sports and recreation. He did not agree that the details should only be worked out when the new structure was in place. On the contrary, he felt that the details should be worked out first so that the officials responsible could then implement the policy and details as set out. Mr CHEUNG said that there had not been any genuine discussions between the PMCs and the Administration, let alone any consultation with the PMCs on the licensing system. He advised that the PMCs had indeed written to the Chief Executive, the Convenor of the Executive Council and the Administration, requesting for discussions on the subject matter, but was met with negative answers only. He agreed to provide relevant correspondence for members' information afterwards.

(Post-meeting note - The relevant correspondence was circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2)1482/98-99 on 15 March 1999.)

15. SCA responded that the PMCs' request for discussion with the Administration was on the "one council one department" proposal, which the Administrations had explained on many occasions that it was not considered to be the best option. He pointed that the Administration had been communicating with the municipal services departments regarding the arrangements for provision of municipal services, as they were still responsible for such functions. As regards the hend of the task force responsible for setting up the new structure, SCA stressed that the official to be identified would, however, need to be responsible for the coordination of relevant policies. As to the time required to formulate the details, SCA said that internal discussions were being conducted and the Administration would obtain feedback from the PMCs at a later stage.

The new structure

16. Miss CHAN Yuen-han remarked that the abolition of the PMCs could be viewed from two perspectives: one being for improvement in provision of municipal services, while the other was the change in the political system. She opined that although the Administration did not agree with the "one council one department" proposal, it should consult the PMCs in respect of their experience in provision of municipal services in order to bring about improvements. She was of the view that the Administration should provide a timetable showing how it would proceed with arriving at the details of the new structure. The Chairman concurred and opined that on top of showing in the new structure which department was responsible for what functions, the Administration should also indicate how services were to be improved.Adm

17. SCA agreed with the point raised by Miss CHAN and advised members that the Administration would discuss with the PMCs on other proposals concerning provision of municipal services. On the timetable of progress, SCA said that it was the Administration's aim to arrive at the relevant details by end 1999. The detailed proposal would be put forward for LegCo's consideration with a view to applying for approval of the required establishment and expenditure. He also said that there was the need to explain to the Panels concerned the expected problems involved in the transfer of municipal services to various departments, and also discuss with members the possible areas for improvement. Adm

18. Dr LEONG Che-hung said that while he agreed that the functions of management of food safety and environmental hygiene should be centralized, he had reservation about the Administration's proposed new structure. He pointed out that the medical profession had proposed an alternative solution to the Administration. He said that since the Consultant's proposal might not be the best option, the Administration should take into account views expressed by members in deciding the new structure, and questioned why the views submitted by he himself and the medical profession were not considered.

19. SCA responded that the Director of Health had already clearly explained the matter when the same question was raised by Dr LEONG at a previous joint meeting. He pointed out that the matter could not be deferred indefinitely and the paper showing the latest position of the Administration's responses to the Consultant's main recommendations indicated that the Administration was now more confident that the proposal would achieve what it set out to do. Although the decision taken by the Administration differed from Dr LEONG's proposal, he said that the Administration had means to deal with the concerns raised by Dr LEONG. In response to Mr LEE Wing-tat's request that the Administration should compare its proposal with that of Dr LEONG, SCA clarified that Dr LEONG had only provided his views on certain issues, and had not submitted any detailed proposal or paper.

(Post meeting note : Dr LEONG's proposal was provided to the Administration and circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2)1718/98-99 on 16 April 1999)

District organisations

20. Mr Andrew WONG opined that while the centralization of the functions of food safety and environmental hygiene was finalized, the way such functions were to be centralized could still be discussed. He expressed his stance that he supported decentralization of power and was against the centralization of such. As the decision on abolition of the PMCs had already been made, he felt that any further discussions would be meaningless. He cautioned that although any design of work flow chart in the centralized provision of municipal services might be flawless, it could be totally different while being implemented. The reason being the general principles governing provision of municipal services might not be comprehensive and flexible enough to cover district differences. He said that he would uphold his views concerning the development of district organisations and keep the Administration reminded of such views where appropriate.

21. In response, SCA referred to the outcome of the review of district organisations which confirmed that the PMCs would be dissolved. He pointed out, however that arrangements regarding the District Councils were not rigidly written in the Basic Law and there could be much room for political development such as any further evolution of district organisations.

22. Mr CHAN Wing-chan referred to Part V of the Administration's responses to the Consultancy Study on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services which, in regard to the enhanced role of the District Boards (DBs), specified that DBs "will play a greater role in advising on food safety and environmental hygiene services". He asked whether the District Councils Bill which was passed just the day before provided for that role. SCA answered in the affirmative.

The environmental protection aspect

23. Ms Emily LAU said that there was very little discussion about the duties of the environmental protection aspect of the new structure. She opined that environmental protection was a very important function and was of a much wider concept than just environmental hygiene. She questioned the rationale behind putting environmental protection under the new policy bureau and requested the Administration to provide information on the rationale for the change and how the changes would be made. It should also describe how the new policy bureau would perform its duties and functions concerning environmental protection as well as the effect on the Planning, Lands and Work Bureau and other relevant departments, and how future cooperation among departments would be ensured.

24. SCA explained that the new policy bureau would be responsible for, inter alia, the formulation of policies concerning environmental protection. He said that in putting such function under the new policy bureau, the Administration had shown the importance it attached to the effort in the further development of environmental protection. This aspect was not much discussed as concerns had always been focused on the future arrangements of provision of municipal services after the abolition of MCs. SCA agreed to provide the information requested in paragraph 23 above.Adm


25. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman asked members whether it was the joint meeting's consensus that the Administration should put forward a satisfactory and sufficiently detailed new structure with a performance pledge that the process of application for a restaurant licence would be completed within two months before they would consider the proposal to abolish the PMCs. Mr Martin LEE supported the proposal and reiterated that for issue of licences, all necessary advice should be given to the applicants at the beginning for compliance to enable the process to be completed within two months. Mr CHAN Wing-chan added that the Administration should provide a comparison of the current licensing system and the proposed new one, so that members could consider whether the proposed new system could indeed achieve improvement.

26. Members generally supported the idea that the Administration should provide the details of the proposed new structure for members' consideration. Ms CHAN Yuen-han said that the Administration should also provide a timetable showing when such details would be available. Ms Cyd HO Sau-lan, Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum and Mr LEE Wing-tat were of the view that members could only discuss the proposal when the details were provided and such details should be provided within a reasonable period in order to allow sufficient time for members to consider, discuss and consult where necessary.

27. The Chairman advised that as there were insufficient members present at that point in time to form a quorum, the joint meeting could not vote on the consensus.

III. Meeting with Administration on the future arrangements for sports, arts and culture
(LC Paper No. CB(2)1417/98-99(01))

28. The Chairman informed members that the Home Affairs Panel had discussed the subject at its meeting on 8 March 1999 and would follow up the matter at a special meeting on 29 March 1999. Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs further advised that consultation with the public on the future arrangements for sports, arts and culture was being finalized, and a consultation report would be issued in due course. Members agreed that the subject should be followed up by the Home Affairs Panel.

IV. Date of next meeting

29. The Chairman informed members that the research report on food safety management in overseas countries conducted by the Research and Library Services Division would soon be ready. He also pointed out that a Bills Committee would be formed when the Bill was introduced into the LegCo in April. He invited views from members as to how the subject matter should be followed up.

30. Mr LEE Wing-tat reiterated his view that the Administration should provide more details of the proposed new structure for management of food safety and environmental hygiene prior to the submission of the Bill to the LegCo.

31. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum suggested that if the joint meeting could agree on a consensus at the next meeting, such consensus should be referred to the House Committee for further discussion on whether Members should consider the Bill before the Administration could provide the necessary details of the future arrangements after the abolition of the PMCs.

32. Mr Martin LEE expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Administration's arrangement of deciding on the abolition of the PMCs first before a satisfactory alternative could be put forward.

33. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs advised that the first draft of the Bill was ready and a further briefing on the Bill could be made at the next joint Panel meeting without the Bill. She pointed out that details of the new structure would not be included in the Bill but the Administration could also provide the details available at the same meeting.

34. Having considered the views in paragraphs 29 to 33 above, the Chairman proposed and members agreed the date of the next meeting should be decided after the Bill was gazetted.Clerk

35. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:50 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
23 April 1999