Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1497/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/HA

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Monday, 14 December 1998 at 4:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building Members Present :

Hon CHOY So-yuk (Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members Absent :

Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Member Attending :

Hon CHAN Yuen-han

Public Officers Attending :

Item IV

Mr Peter LO
Acting Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr Eric LEE
Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Item V

Mr Peter LO
Acting Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr Arthur NG
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (Culture and Sport)

Acting Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing

Item VI

Mr Peter LO
Acting Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr Arthur NG
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (Culture and Sport)

Mr William SHIU
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (Culture)

Attendance by Invitation :

Representative of the Antiquities Advisory Board


Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Ms Eva LIU}
Head, Research & Library Services}
}For item
Ms YUE Sin-yui} IV only
Research Officer 2


Miss Flora TAI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I. Confirmation of minutes and matters arising
[LC Paper Nos. CB(2)612/98-99, CB(2)745/98-99 and CB(2)852/98-99]

The minutes of the meetings held on 12 October [LC Paper No. CB(2)745/98-99] and 9 November 1998 [LC Paper No. CB(2)852/98-99] were confirmed.

2. Members noted that the Administration had provided a written response [LC Paper No. CB(2)612/98-99] as requested by the Chairman at the meeting held on 12 October 1998 on the provision of public funds for recreation and sport.

3. With regard to the discussion on the Initial Report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Chairman informed members that the Panel had held two meetings on 9 November and 7 December 1998 to receive representation from 13 organisations and one individual on the CEDAW report. The Panel had also received three other written submissions including those from the Democratic Party and the Citizens Party. Members noted that at the last meeting on 7 December 1998, Miss Christine LOH had asked whether the Panel would prepare its own report on CEDAW for submission to the United Nations (UN). Nevertheless, Ms Emily LAU had pointed out that due to time constraint, members might not be able to reach a consensus on the CEDAW report. Ms LAU had suggested that political parties could consider submitting their own reports to the Administration or the UN Committee. The Chairman said that members had not raised any objection to Ms LAU's suggestion.

II. Information paper issued since the last meeting
[LC Paper No. CB(2)847/98-99]

4. Members noted the information paper provided by the Administration on the proposed Rural Public Works (RPW) Programme to replace the Rural Planning and Improvement Strategy Minor Works Programme. The Chairman reminded members that the proposal (as part of the Capital Works Reserve Fund - Block Allocation 1999-2000) would be discussed at the Public Works Subcommittee meeting on 16 December 1998.

III. Items for discussion at the next meeting
[Appendix to LC Paper No. CB(2)829/98-99]

5. The Chairman informed members that as advised by the Administration, the Reports of the HKSAR on the implementation of three other human rights treaties would not be ready for discussion in January 1999. Members agreed to postpone the next Panel meeting originally scheduled for 11 January 1999 until the reports were received.

IV. Intermediary bodies for the collection and enforcement of maintenance payments
[Paper Nos. CB(2)829/98-99(01) and (02)]

6. The Chairman informed members that the Panel on Home Affairs had discussed the problems relating to the collection and enforcement of maintenance payments on previous occasions and had received representation from deputations. The Administration had subsequently introduced legal remedies to enforce maintenance orders and introduced the Attachment of Income Order Rules (AIOR) which came into effect in April 1998. To address problems which could not be solved by AIOR, the Panel had at a meeting in March 1998 requested the Research and Library Services Division of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Secretariat to carry out a research on the operation and effectiveness of overseas intermediary bodies responsible for the collection and enforcement of maintenance payment. The research report was to facilitate the Panel's consideration as to whether an independent body should be established in Hong Kong for collecting maintenance payments. The Chairman informed members that Mr LAW Chi-kwong had also tabled his research report in 1997 [LC Paper No. CB(2)894/98-99].

Report by the Head, Research and Library Services
[Paper No. CB(2)829/98-99(01)]

7. At the invitation of the Chairman, Head, Research and Library Services (H(RL)) briefed members on the research report : "Child Support Agencies in Overseas Countries" (RP04/98-99).

8. H(RL) informed members that the research report covered four countries: Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) which had established child support agencies. The reasons of their setting up such intermediary bodies were similar as indicated below -

  1. there was low collection rate of maintenance payments before the establishment of child support agencies;

  2. the court-based system could not provide adequate and equitable maintenance for the children in divorce cases;

  3. there were no objective standards for determination of maintenance payments by the court;

  4. the number of single-parent families receiving social security benefits was on the increase;

  5. the community considered that parents rather than the community should take on the responsibility for maintaining their children; and

  6. there should be ways to avoid bitterness and distress between custodial and non-custodial parents in the collection of maintenance payment.

9. H(RL) pointed out that it was difficult to assess the performance of these child support agencies based on the collection rates for child maintenance in these four countries which had adopted different methods in calculating the collection rates. Moreover, there was no available official information on how the collection rates were calculated before the establishment of the child support agencies in some of these countries. Nonetheless, H(RL) drew members' attention to Table 18 (Cost-effectiveness of the Child Support Agencies) in the research report which indicated that every US$1 spent on the operating cost of these child support agencies would lead to collection of more than US$1. Table 20 (Social Security Payments Recovered from Child Support) in the report also indicated a reduction in social security payments through recovery of maintenance payments. In the case of UK, about US$3 billion of social security payments had been recovered in four years following the establishment of the child support agency.

10. H(RL) concluded that the effectiveness of child support agencies would depend on four factors -

  1. a cultural shift in the community towards the recognition of the parents' responsibility;

  2. fair and efficient formulaic assessment of the amounts of maintenance;

  3. powers for the agencies to enforce maintenance payments and to track down non-custodial parents; and

  4. availability of information and complementary legislation to enforce maintenance payments (for example, the penalty for non-payment of maintenance in the UK and the US included fines and imprisonment).


11. Miss Christine LOH thanked the Library and Research Services Division for the comprehensive report which provided good reference materials for members. She asked whether the Administration had objectively considered the successful examples in overseas countries as reflected in the report. It appeared to her that the Administration's response [Paper No. CB(2)829/98-99(02)] only focused on the less successful cases such as UK where 77% of the child support debts were classified as uncollectable. In this connection, the Chairman asked H(RL) to elaborate on the situation in the UK. H(RL) responded that the UK experience was not representative because its child support agency had adopted a very complex formula and taken a long time for assessment of child support. The experience of the four overseas child support agencies had generally indicated that the operating costs could be recovered by the payments collected. The Chairman remarked that Hong Kong needed not adopt a complex formula as UK for the assessment of maintenance payments.

12. Acting Secretary for Home Affairs (Acting S for HA) said that the Administration acknowledged members' concerns and the merits of establishing a child support agency in overseas countries. If Hong Kong had not put in place a mechanism to provide assistance to maintenance payees, the Administration would certainly have to take a serious look at other established practices adopted in overseas countries. He pointed out that legal remedies were already available in Hong Kong, as set out in the Administration's paper, to assist maintenance payees who did not receive maintenance payments. Under these remedies, maintenance payees could apply to the court for a judgement summons to enforce the maintenance orders. Special slots were also made available by the Family Courts to reduce the waiting time to two months for hearings of these applications. Moreover, the AIOR had been introduced since April 1998 to overcome difficulties encountered by maintenance payees over defaulted payments by maintenance payers. The Administration had planned to review the effectiveness of the AIOR in about one year.

13. Miss Christine LOH disagreed with the Administration's argument and pointed out that legal remedies were also available in those overseas countries where a child support agency was established. In this connection, the Chairman asked H(RL) whether her report also indicated a more effective mechanism in these overseas countries for the collection of maintenance payments. H(RL) replied that Table 21 in the report provided a comparison of the maintenance assessment and collection systems between Hong Kong and overseas countries. These overseas countries also had similar legal remedies as AIOR in Hong Kong. The advantage of having a child support agency was that 'one-stop' services could be provided to the maintenance payees. She added that certain enforcement measures adopted by these child support agencies were not available in Hong Kong.

14. Miss CHAN Yuen-han remarked that maintenance payees still encountered a lot of difficulties in recovering default maintenance payments even though legal remedies were available. She said that when AIOR was introduced into the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) in 1997, Members were not satisfied that AIOR could solve the problems of the maintenance payees. However, Members agreed to support AIOR at that time because it could provide some assistance to maintenance payees. As the Administration was reluctant to consider setting up an intermediary body for the collection and enforcement of maintenance payments, the Panel on Home Affairs of the PLC had requested the Research and Library Services Division of LegCo Secretariat to carry out an independent study on the operation and effectiveness of similar intermediary bodies in overseas countries. Miss CHAN was strongly of the view that AIOR was not the solution to the problems and that the Administration should take an objective view of the successful operation of child support agencies in those overseas countries as reflected in H(RL)'s report. Acting S for HA said that the Administration had undertaken to review the effectiveness of AIOR in one year before giving consideration to other additional measures. The Chairman remarked that Members were seeking an early review on the necessity of setting up an intermediary body rather than a review of AIOR. In response, Acting S for HA clarified that should the review on AIOR reveal that AIOR could not alleviate or remove the difficulties of maintenance payees, the Administration would consider the need for more effective measures. He pointed out that AIOR was introduced after many relevant studies. He requested members to allow some time for AIOR to operate before taking a view on its effectiveness in addressing the problem of maintenance payees.

15. Referring to paragraphs 13 - 14 in the Administration's paper, Mr LAW Chi-kwong remarked that the Administration appeared to have formed an opinion that AIOR would be effective in alleviating the difficulties faced by divorcees even before the review. Mr LAW considered that a review of AIOR and a review on the need for setting up an intermediary body to collect maintenance payments were not mutually exclusive. In any case, an intermediary body would still require legislative backing such as AIOR to enable it to carry out the functions of collecting and enforcing maintenance payments. He suggested that the Administration should give an evaluation on the extent AIOR had solved each of the problems faced by maintenance payees, so that members could have a better understanding of the effectiveness of AIOR.Adm

16. Mr Andrew CHENG also expressed dissatisfaction that the Administration's paper did not give an objective assessment of the findings in the research report of the LegCo Secretariat. He requested H(RL) to provide further information on whether the four overseas countries had reviewed the operation of their child support agencies, and whether shortcomings or improvements had been identified in such reviews. He said that the information would facilitate further discussion by the Panel on the cost-effectiveness of setting up similar bodies in Hong Kong. H(RL) agreed to conduct further research to provide the required information.H(RL)

17. Miss HO Sau-lan expressed concern about the difficulties faced by single-parent families especially if the Administration decided to reduce CSSA payments as recommended by a recent consultancy study. She asked whether the Administration had considered the savings in CSSA payments to single-parent families if an intermediary body was set up to recover maintenance payments on behalf of these families. Acting S for HA responded that under the present system, single-parent families were already required to apply for court proceedings to enforce the maintenance orders or AIOR before applications for CSSA could be processed and approved. These recipients had to undertake to return the CSSA payments to Social Welfare Department on receipt of their maintenance payments.

18. Responding to concerns expressed by members, acting S for HA undertook to conduct an objective review on the effectiveness of AIOR in addressing the problems faced by maintenance payees. He reminded members that the establishment of an intermediary body for the collection of maintenance payments would have substantial financial implications, while the AIOR system provided an efficient and less costly means to enforce maintenance payments. He requested members to wait for the AIOR review which would start in a few months' time.Adm

19. In concluding the discussion, the Chairman advised that the Administration should include the following in its review on the effectiveness of AIOR -Adm

  1. the difficulties encountered by maintenance payees in collecting maintenance payments; and

  2. an assessment on the extent AIOR had effectively solved the difficulties listed in (a).

20. The Chairman also suggested that, to enable a meaningful analysis of the cost-effectiveness of setting up an intermediary body for the collection of maintenance payments, the Administration should provide the following information in the course of reviewing AIOR -Adm

  1. the costs of helping maintenance payees to collect maintenance payments such as costs of legal aid and court proceedings for applications of AIOs;

  2. a comparison of the amounts of maintenance payments recoverable before and after the institution of court proceedings/AIOs; and

  3. the costs of CSSA payments to single-parent families which could otherwise live on maintenance payments.

21. The Chairman pointed out that members had not questioned the merits of an AIOR system but only sought to put in place a more effective system, by way of setting up an intermediary body, to provide more comprehensive services to maintenance payees. Acting S for HA undertook to take account of the concerns of the Chairman and members in the review.Adm

V. Proposed Family Entertainment Centres and Licensing of Amusement Games Centres
[Paper No. CB(2)850/98-99(01)]

22. At the invitation of the Chairman, Acting Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing (Acting Commissioner) briefed members on the Administration's paper on "Proposed Family Entertainment Centres (FECs) and Licensing of Amusement Game Centres (AGCs)". He said that the proposal to develop a licensing framework for FECs was made in 1997 in anticipation of a likely demand of FECs in Hong Kong. The Administration was currently exploring a unified and user-friendly licensing system for all types of entertainment centres, in view of the concerns expressed by the trade and the Panel on Broadcasting, Culture and Sport of the PLC. Acting Commissioner added that the licences for Entertainment Machine Centres (EMCs) were issued by the Provisional Muncipal Councils (PMCs), and the relevant government departments would have to work out the detailed arrangements for the proposed unified licensing framework when the implementation plan of the Review of District Organisations was known.

23. The Chairman asked whether there would be different licensing conditions for different types of games/machines under the proposed unified regulatory system, and whether this would cause confusion to the trade and the public. Acting Commissioner responded that different licensing conditions would be specified for different types of facilities in the centres, and this should not cause confusion to the trade and the public. He added that the current licence conditions for AGCs, such as the '100-metres rule' and the requirement for them to operate only in commercial builidngs would continue to apply, in order to minimise nuisance to residents in nearby buildings.

24. Mr LAW Chi kwong said that he was in support of the proposed unified approach in licensing games and entertainment centres, in view of the emergence of a new type of FECs which offered a wide range of video/mechanical games and virtual reality electronic games for different age groups. He asked about the consultation plan and whether PMCs had been consulted on the proposal. Acting Commissioner advised that there was no concrete timetable at the moment because the relevant government departments would have to formulate the detailed arrangements before consultation. In this connection, Mr LAW considered that the Administration should report to the Panel on Home Affairs when concrete proposals were available. Acting Commissioner noted the request.Adm

25. Noting that different licence conditions would still apply to different types of facilities, Mr TSANG Yok-sing asked whether the 'unified' regulatory system would only exist in name. He was concerned that if the licensing conditions for different facilities were unclear, the unified licensing system could be subject to abuse resulting in a relaxation of licensing requirements in practice. Acting Commissioner responded that the Administration would list out clearly the different licensing conditions and issue guidelines for applications of different types of licences. He explained that there would be three broad categories of games in these centres and the licence would specify the types of games allowed in the centres. There would be follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the licensing conditions.

26. Miss HO Sau-lan asked whether FECs were already in existence and what kind of licence had been issued to these centres. Acting Commissioner responded that centres similar to the FECs were currently operated as EMCs licensed by the PMCs.

27. Mr LAW Chi-kwong share Miss HO Sau-lan's concern about the safety standard of the facilities in FECs. Mr LAW Chi-kwong was of the view that the new licensing system should be based on considerations of the safety standards and operational flexibility to the trade rather than classification by type of machines. He considered that the safety standards for different facilities in the centres should be clearly specified as the licence conditions for FECs. Acting Commssioner agreed with Mr LAW that public safety and flexibility to the trade should be the primary considerations for the proposed unified licensing system. He assured members that the Administration would consult the trade, the District Boards, the relevant departments and the public in devising the new licensing conditions.

28. In concluding the discussion, the Chairman advised the Administration to take account of members' comments in formulating the unified regulating system for FECs. She also asked the Administration to be vigilant of the contents of the video and machines games in these centres as these would have an impact on the development of children.Adm


VI. Review of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance
[Paper No. CB(2)850/98-99(02)]

29. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (Culture and Sport) (DS for HA) briefed members on the Administration's paper on "Heritage Preservation : Review of Legislation and Policy". DS for HA highlighted the efforts made in heritage preservation and public education by the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) and the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) in recent years. Members noted that in addition to other major projects, an archaeological site on Ma Wan dated back over 4,000 years had been excavated and the work was selected in Mainland China as one of the ten most important archaeological discoveries in China in 1997. DS for HA said that there was insufficient local expertise for heritage assessment and restoration work, and more efforts would have to be made to ensure availability of expertise to complement the work of heritage preservation. Regarding the current legislative and policy review on heritage preservation, DS for HA said that the Administration would continue to work closely with AAB and its three specialist committees.

30. Representative of AAB informed members that AAB had very good working relationship with AMO and they together had made a lot of efforts in heritage preservation especially in the year 1997. The current tasks were to review the policy and legislation relating to antiquities and monuments and heritage preservation. He said that AMO was a small section , and he hoped that more resources could be allocated to heritage preservation work. As the recent territory-wide surveys conducted by AMO had identified a number of archaeological sites and historical buildings, more coordination between government departments and priorities in allocation of resources would be required in the protection and preservation of these items.

Coordination between government departments in heritage preservation

31. Referring to paragraph 11 in the Administration's paper about the administrative arrangement for advance notice to be given to AMO of project and planning proposals affecting an item on the list of archaeological sites and historical buildings maintained by AMO, Miss HO Sau-lan asked which department or party would make the final decision in respect of these projects, and whether AMO could appeal in case of disagreement. She quoted a recent case in which a construction project of the Home Ownership Scheme situated in Quarry Bay Country Park had been deferred in response to the environmentalists' appeal to preserve a historical building on the site.

32. DS for HA responded that the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO) only came into operation in 1998. The EIAO required developers to provide AMO with environmental impact assessment reports on heritage preservation in respect of major projects and planning proposals. AMO would then make its recommendations to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) for a decision. AMO would seek expert advice from AAB where necessary.

33. The Chairman asked whether a mechanism was in place to resolve any disagreement between AMO and EPD or other departments on the assessment reports. Miss HO Sau-lan said she was concerned about disagreement in cases where government projects were involved. Representative of AAB responded that he was not aware of any disagreement in the past. However, he pointed out that the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Cap. 53) only covered those declared monuments, and he hoped that the current legislative review could address the problem concerning other sites particularly those in the hands of private owners. DS for HA supplemented that EPD had all along respected AMO's recommendations, and there had not been any problem between the two departments. He said that EIAO commenced operation in 1998 to provide an additional safety valve for heritage preservation, and since EIAO was still in its initial stage of implementation, its effectiveness could only be assessed after a period of time. Nevertheless, he agreed with the Chairman that in cases where declared archaeological sites and historical buildings were affected by development projects, the heritage or historical building in question should be preserved in the first instance, pending a decision on the future of the site or the building. He then referred to a recent case in which Lands Department's consent had been obtained to withhold the demolition of the former Yaumatei Theatre, before further discussion was held on its protection and preservation.

Sustainable policy for heritage preservation

34. Mr LAW Chi-kwong commented that while there were legislation and procedures for heritage protection and preservation, it seemed that the Administration did not have an overall policy or broad objectives for heritage preservation. He pointed out that heritage preservation required a sustainable policy instead of piecemeal efforts made by different departments. Mr MA Fung-kwok also expressed concern about the lack of an overall policy for preservation of cultural heritage other than archaeological sites and historical buildings. DS for HA responded that both AAB and AMO shared the concern that there should be a sustainable policy and objectives for heritage preservation. Much efforts had already been made by AAB and AMO in this respect. Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (Culture) (PAS for HA) supplemented that the following measures had been adopted by the Administration in developing a sustainable policy on cultural preservation which also had an impact on promoting tourism -

  1. As highlighted in the Chief Executive's 1998 Policy Address, a stronger sense of belonging to Hong Kong and its culture and heritage would be promoted through public education and publicity programmes. The subject of Hong Kong history had been incorporated in the secondary school curriculum in September 1998, and representatives of the Education Department were invited to participate in the work of AAB.

  2. Heritage preservation had been made a mandatory requirement in major development projects under EIAO.

  3. Heritage preservation was being considered for inclusion as one of the major indicators for the Sustainable Development System in the 21st Century.

Timetable for the legislative review

35. The Chairman asked about the definitions of "antiquities" and "monuments" and the timetable for the legislative review. PAS for HA responded that "antiquity", "monument" and "relic" were defined in the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, and the definitions would be revised if considered necessary during the legislative review. PAS for HA said that the policy review would be expected to be completed by the end of 1999, and the review of legislative amendments would follow. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, PAS for HA explained that the Administration had just completed a broad review of the provisions of this Ordinance, in consultation with the specialist committees of AAB. A number of areas had been identified for improvements, which would require endorsement by the General Meeting of AAB. Some of these improvement proposals would also require policy evaluation by the relevant bureaux. In this respect, the Chairman urged the Administration to expedite the review and forward concrete proposals to the Panel for discussion as soon as possible.Adm

Provision of museum services

36. Mr LAW Chi-kwong observed that the museums in Hong Kong were rather scattered and asked whether Government had any plans to provide a more coordinated museum service to facilitate public viewing. Mr MA Fung-kwok and Miss HO Sau-lan also shared Mr LAW's concern. DS for HA responded that under the present structure, the municipal councils were each responsible for those museums within their own jurisdictions, and coordination of resources and services in this respect had not been very effective. There were also problems in identifying suitable venues to display valuable items of archaeological and historical interest. The Administration hoped that a comprehensive cultural policy and a new structure could be put in place following the review of district organisations. Miss HO Sau-lan remarked that she remained to be convinced of the merits of the proposed abolition of municipal councils in the absence of a cultural policy.

37. With regard to the recent major discovery of a Ming Dyanasty kiln in Tai Po, Miss HO Sau-lan asked about the Administration's plan to preserve and develop the site for public viewing. DS for HA responded that the site had already been declared as a protection area and the Administration was now actively considering a plan to preserve and develop the kiln for public viewing. Funds would have to be sought for the conservation and restoration work. He added that heritage preservation work would have to be taken step by step particularly when the surrounding area was very large. In this connection, Miss HO suggested that space should be made available on the site for contemporary pottery workers to make and display their works. The Chairman added that exhibition of valuable pottery works from Mainland China could also be arranged on the site. DS for HA noted the suggestions.Adm

Overall cultural policy

38. Mr LEE Wing-tat commented that members were very concerned about the formulation of an overall cultural policy, and they were dissatisfied with the present fragmented approach adopted by Government in dealing with individual aspects of arts and culture. He urged the Administration to set out a comprehensive cultural policy including heritage preservation. In concluding the discussion, the Chairman advised that the Administration should draw up the cultural policy as soon as possible, and this should not wait till the completion of the legislative review.Adm

39. The Chairman thanked representatives of the Administration and AAB for attending the meeting.

VII. Any other business

40. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:25 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
16 March 1999