OFFICIAL RECORD OF PROCEEDINGSMEMBERS PRESENT
Wednesday, 6 December 1995
The Council met at half-past Two o'clock
THE HONOURABLE ANDREW WONG WANG-FAT, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ALLEN LEE PENG-FEI, C.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MRS SELINA CHOW LIANG SHUK-YEE, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MARTIN LEE CHU-MING, Q.C., J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE DAVID LI KWOK-PO, O.B.E., LL.D. (CANTAB), J.P.
THE HONOURABLE SZETO WAH
THE HONOURABLE EDWARD HO SING-TIN, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE RONALD JOSEPH ARCULLI, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE MRS MIRIAM LAU KIN-YEE, O.B.E., J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE EDWARD LEONG CHE-HUNG, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ALBERT CHAN WAI-YIP
THE HONOURABLE CHEUNG MAN-KWONG
THE HONOURABLE CHIM PUI-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE FREDERICK FUNG KIN-KEE
THE HONOURABLE MICHAEL HO MUN-KA
DR THE HONOURABLE HUANG CHEN-YA, M.B.E.
THE HONOURABLE EMILY LAU WAI-HING
THE HONOURABLE LEE WING-TAT
THE HONOURABLE ERIC LI KA-CHEUNG, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE FRED LI WAH-MING
THE HONOURABLE HENRY TANG YING-YEN, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE JAMES TO KUN-SUN
DR THE HONOURABLE SAMUEL WONG PING-WAI, M.B.E., F.Eng., J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE PHILIP WONG YU-HONG
DR THE HONOURABLE YEUNG SUM
THE HONOURABLE HOWARD YOUNG, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE ZACHARY WONG WAI-YIN
THE HONOURABLE CHRISTINE LOH KUNG-WAI
THE HONOURABLE JAMES TIEN PEI-CHUN, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE LEE CHEUK-YAN
THE HONOURABLE CHAN KAM-LAM
THE HONOURABLE CHAN WING-CHAN
THE HONOURABLE CHAN YUEN-HAN
THE HONOURABLE ANDREW CHENG KAR-FOO
THE HONOURABLE PAUL CHENG MING-FUN
THE HONOURABLE CHENG YIU-TONG
THE HONOURABLE ANTHONY CHEUNG BING-LEUNG
THE HONOURABLE CHEUNG HON-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE CHOY KAN-PUI, J.P.
THE HONOURABLE DAVID CHU YU-LIN
THE HONOURABLE ALBERT HO CHUN-YAN
THE HONOURABLE IP KWOK-HIM
THE HONOURABLE LAU CHIN-SHEK
THE HONOURABLE AMBROSE LAU HON-CHUEN, J.P.
DR THE HONOURABLE LAW CHEUNG-KWOK
THE HONOURABLE LAW CHI-KWONG
THE HONOURABLE LEE KAI-MING
THE HONOURABLE LEUNG YIU-CHUNG
THE HONOURABLE BRUCE LIU SING-LEE
THE HONOURABLE MOK YING-FAN
THE HONOURABLE MARGARET NG
THE HONOURABLE NGAN KAM-CHUEN
THE HONOURABLE SIN CHUNG-KAI
THE HONOURABLE TSANG KIN-SHING
DR THE HONOURABLE JOHN TSE WING-LING
THE HONOURABLE MRS ELIZABETH WONG CHIEN CHI-LIEN, C.B.E., I.S.O., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE LAWRENCE YUM SIN-LING
MEMBERS ABSENT :
THE HONOURABLE NGAI SHIU-KIT, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE LAU WONG-FAT, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE LO SUK-CHING
PUBLIC OFFICERS ATTENDING :
THE HONOURABLE MRS ANSON CHAN, C.B.E., J.P.-
THE HONOURABLE DONALD TSANG YAM-KUEN, O.B.E., J.P.
THE HONOURABLE JEREMY FELL MAWS, C.M.G., J.P.
MR CHAU TAK-HAY, C.B.E., J.P.
SECRETARY FOR RECREATION AND CULTURE
MR HAIDER HATIM TYEBJEE BARMA, I.S.O., J.P.
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT
MR GORDON SIU KWING-CHUE, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES
MRS KATHERINE FOK LO SHIU-CHING, O.B.E., J.P.
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE
MR RAFAEL HUI SI-YAN, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES
MR JOSEPH WONG WING-PING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER
MR PETER LAI HING-LING, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY
MR CANICE MAK CHUN-FONG, J.P.
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS
CLERKS IN ATTENDANCE
MR LAW KAM-SANG, DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL
MISS PAULINE NG MAN-WAH, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL
MR RAY CHAN YUM-MOU, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL
The following papers were laid on the table pursuant to Standing Order 14(2):
|Subsidiary Legislation||L.N. No.
|Civil Aviation (Aircraft Noise) Ordinance (Amendment of Schedule) Notice 1995
|Airport Authority Ordinance (71 of 1995) (Commencement) Notice 1995
|Import (Radiation) (Prohibition) (Amendment) Regulation 1995
|Import and Export (General) (Amendment) Regulation 1995
|Import and Export (Fees) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulation 1995
|Import and Export (Registration) (Amendment) Regulation 1995
|Ferry Services (Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry Company, Limited) (Determination of Fares) (Amendment) Order 1995
|Leveraged Foreign Exchange Trading (Calls) (Amendment) Rules 1995
|Tax Reserve Certificates (Fourth Series) (Amendment) Rules 1995
|Tax Reserve Certificates (Rate of Interest) Notice 1995
|Prisoners' Education Trust Fund Ordinance (19 of 1995) (Commencement) Notice 1995
|Official Languages (Amendment) Ordinance 1995 (51 of 1995) (Commencement) (No. 2) Notice 1995
|Tax Reserve Certificates (Amendment) Ordinance 1995 (99 of 1995) (Commencement) Notice 1995
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text) (The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited Ordinance) Order (C)
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text) (Tramway Ordinance) Order (C)
|Official Languages (Authentic Chinese Text) (Peak Tramway Ordinance) Order (C)
Sessional Papers 1995-96
ORAL ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
|No.28-||Regional Council Hong Kong Accounts for the year ended 31 March 1995 with Report and Certificate of the Director of Audit
|No.29-||Regional Council Annual Report 1994-95
|No.30-||Revised List of Works annexed to the Regional Council's Revised Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 1995-96
|No.31-||Revisions of the 1994-95 Estimates approved by the Urban Council during the First Quarter of the 1995-96 Financial Year
|No.32-||Revisions of the 1995-96 Estimates approved by the Urban Council during the Second Quarter of the 1995-96 Financial Year
|No.33-||The Sir Murray MacLehose Trust Fund Trustee's Report for the period 1 April 1994 to 31 March 1995
|No.34-||Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fund Report of the Board of Trustees for the period 1 April 1994 to 31 March 1995
|No.35-||Report by the Trustee of the Police Children's Education Trust, Police Education and Welfare Trust for the period 1 April 1994 - 31 March 1995
|No. 36||Vocational Training Council Annual Report 1994-95
Review of Pre-vocational School Curriculum
1. MR HENRY TANG asked (in Cantonese): Mr President, in his 1995 policy address, the Governor indicated that the Government was conducting a comprehensive review of the practical and technical curriculum offered in prevocational schools. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER
- how much manpower will be required for the review and which departments will participate in it;
- what are the terms of reference of the review and what is the timetable for conducting the review; and
- how it will improve the curriculum in prevocational schools to meet the needs of the territory's economic restructuring?
(in Cantonese): Mr President,
MR HENRY TANG
- The Education Department will shortly commence a comprehensive review on the curriculum offered in prevocational schools. The review will involve staff of three divisions in the Department, namely the Curriculum Development Institute, the Advisory Inspectorate and the Schools Division. The review will take full account of public comments expressed on the subject. In addition, the Department will seek the views of all organizations concerned including the prevocational schools themselves, the Hong Kong Examinations Authority and the Vocational Training Council. The findings of the review will be submitted to the Board of Education and the Curriculum Development Council for advice before the Department puts forward firm recommendations for implementation.
- The review will critically examine the suitability and adequacy of the prevocational curriculum in meeting the needs of Hong Kong's economic restructuring and the role as well as the structure of prevocational schools in the education system vis-a-vis grammar and technical schools. The review is expected to be completed by mid-1996.
- The review will, among other things, result in recommendations to ensure that the curriculum offered in the prevocational schools will continue to meet the demands for knowledge and vocational skills amid the territory's economic restructuring.
(in Cantonese): Mr President, will the Government inform this Council what is the percentage of students from prevocational schools admitted to the universities in the past three years? And what is the percentage of students graduated from prevocational schools who are able to apply what they have learned by taking up positions related to their studies? In the light of the above figures, has the Government considered whether the future development of prevocational schools should be in the direction of grammar schools or should continue to be on the basis of vocational training?
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr President, I do not have any information now about the exact number of students from prevocational schools admitted to the universities in the last three years. At the moment, I also do not have any data on the number of students who were admitted to the various technical institutes or technical colleges, or have joined the Apprenticeship or Traineeship Schemes of the Vocational Training Council (VTC). I will prepare the related information in due course and give it to the Honourable Henry TANG. (Annex I).
Also, Mr TANG asked about the future relationship between prevocational schools and grammar schools, and whether the prevocational schools would undergo any major changes to cope with the economic restructuring in Hong Kong. All these questions constitute a very important issue in our review of the curriculum.
Mr President, although we do not have any detailed information about the students, I would like to take this opportunity to inform Members that when students leave the prevocational schools at Form Three, many of them will join the Apprenticeship Scheme of the VTC. For students who leave at Form Five, many can be admitted to the technical institutes of the VTC. For those who leave at Form Seven, some of them can be admitted to the universities and some will enter the technical colleges of the VTC. Therefore in this regard, the prevocational schools really have a role to play. However, to see how great is this role and whether it can be strengthened in regard to curriculum and structure is one of the major objectives of our review.
DR ANTHONY CHEUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, my question is similar to the one asked by Mr Henry TANG. During the review of the curriculum offered in prevocational schools, will the Government try to give a clear definition to the status of the education offered in prevocational schools? It is because at present, a lot of youngsters feel that prevocational education is second-rate or is craft education, but this is totally out-dated.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr President, I can confirm that during the review, we will carefully consider how great is the current role of prevocational schools, their relationship with the VTC, and their function in regard to the students' adaptability to the needs of economic restructuring immediately after they have learned the skills and left at Form Three, Form Five or Form Seven. We will study the above questions in detail in the review.
MR HENRY TANG (in Cantonese): Mr President, thank you for allowing me to ask my second supplementary question. According to the information available, during the academic years 1992-93 and 1993-94, respectively 51% and 66% of the Form Five students from prevocational schools promoted to Form Six have failed in the subjects of Chinese Language or English Language in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE). Has the Government considered reducing the 40% proportion of practical subjects in the junior secondary curriculum offered by prevocational schools or postponing the division of students into different streams in order to strengthen their basic education training?
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr President, first of all, as the name suggests, the emphasis of the curriculum in prevocational schools is of course on the technical or practical aspects. Thus the 40% proportion mentioned by Mr TANG just now is in fact a reflection of the basic difference between prevocational schools and grammar schools. The figures just quoted by Mr TANG show that the passing rate of students from prevocational schools in the arts subjects of the HKCEE is on the low side. That is a fact and is also one of the issues that we have to look at. It is because we have an impression that most students who are weaker in arts subjects will choose to study in prevocational schools. We will consider whether the arts subjects offered in prevocational schools should be strengthened. However, if the education on arts subjects is to be strengthened, we will have to consider whether or not the major role of prevocational schools will be affected. Their main role is to provide the students with stronger knowledge on practical and technical subjects than arts subjects and to pave the way for them to join the study programmes of the VTC. These questions are rather complicated and I am not able to provide any definite answers to Members at the present stage. But I undertake to consider them in detail during the review.
PRESIDENT: Since Miss CHAN Yuen-han is not present in the Chamber, Question No. 2 will be postponed until Question No. 6 has been answered.
It appears that we have to postpone Question No. 3 also.
CI Holders Refused Visa by United Arab Emirates
4.MRS SELINA CHOW asked (in Cantonese): In regard to the refusal by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently to grant visas to holders of the Hong Kong Certificate of Identity, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY
- whether prior notification of the refusal has been given to the Hong Kong Government; if so, whether the Government has lodged a protest with the UAE; and
- whether the Government has, subsequent to this incident, taken any action to resolve the issue either directly or through the British Government?
(in Cantonese): Mr President,
MRS SELINA CHOW
- We have been receiving different messages from various sources about UAE's non-acceptance of the Hong Kong Certificates of Identity (C of Is) for visa purposes. For example, a UAE official in January informed our Immigration Department through the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi that C of Is would be accepted for visa purposes and asked for samples of C of I for submission to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, in July, the UAE authorities informed us, through the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi, that C of Is would not be accepted for visa purposes, because these documents cannot prove the holder's nationality. Since we received confirmation of the country's formal position in July, the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi, at our request, made representations to the UAE authorities, urging them to change their position.
- Following reports of the latest incident of non-acceptance of C of Is, we have again made representations to the UAE Ambassador in London through the Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Office, and again to the UAE authorities through the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi. The British Minister of State responsible for Hong Kong Affairs, Mr Hanley, raised the matter with the UAE Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when he visited that country on 27 November. The UAE Minister of State has undertaken to look into the issue as a matter of priority. We will be monitoring further developments closely.
(in Cantonese): Mr President, at present, it will take nine months for permanent residents who are holders of C of I to obtain a British National (Overseas) Passport (BN(O) Passport) through naturalization. Now that this UAE incident has occurred and, undeniably, as holders of C of I are feeling that difficulties have gradually arisen, has the Government considered shortening the time for processing applications for BN(O) Passports to facilitate overseas travel of permanent residents who are holders of C of I?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, if the applicants have any specially urgent needs, they can inform the staff of the Immigration Department when they apply for naturalization and I believe the staff will process their applications as soon as possible. However, processing of naturalization applications really takes time and therefore I believe the fastest and the best way is to try to solve this problem with the UAE through diplomatic means and to persuade the UAE to accept the C of Is for visa purposes once again.
PRESIDENT: I have three names on my list and I propose to draw a line there.
MR CHIM PUI-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I think the question of travel documents is like inter-personal relationship which is one of mutual benefits. As the UAE has given Hong Kong such a treatment, has the Hong Kong Government considered imposing the same conditions on the UAE in response? If not, why not?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, I do not agree that whether a visa is required or not is absolutely a question of mutual benefits, as Mr CHIM Pui-chung suggested. Hong Kong's immigration policy on visas has always been very open. Although only about 80 countries have granted visa-free entry to holders of our BN(O) Passport, we have allowed visitors from more than 170 countries to come to Hong Kong visa-free. Retaliation may be a psychological relief, but it is not going to help us solve the problem at all. We do not wish to retaliate, but we hope the UAE will change its mind and accept our C of Is for visa purposes once again.
MR CHIM PUI-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I was not talking about retaliation, I only said mutual benefits.
PRESIDENT: That is not a question, Mr CHIM.
MR HOWARD YOUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, this is not the first time that the UAE has discriminated against holders of our C of I. I remember that in March 1994, I informed the Immigration Department that the UAE had different treatments for the "thick C of I" and the "ordinary C of I". Has the matter been clarified? Has the UAE directed its action this time against holders of the C of I issued in Hong Kong alone or holders of C of Is issued elsewhere as well?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Honourable Howard YOUNG indeed discussed this matter with us in 1994 and we were also informed by other sources of an individual case in which the UAE had refused to grant a visa to a holder of our so-called "jumbo-sized" C of I, that is, one with 92 pages. At the time, we negotiated with the UAE authorities through the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi. After months of correspondence and discussions, as I said in the main reply, we were informed in January 1995 by a UAE official that the C of Is would be accepted for visa purposes. But, as I have also said in the main reply, the UAE authorities suddenly changed their mind in July. Up to date, we are still not sure about the specific reasons why the UAE has refused to accept the C of Is for visa purposes because it has given us different reasons at different times. As far as I am aware, the UAE has now decided to reject not only the "jumbo-sized" C of Is with 92 pages for visa purposes, they have decided to reject the ordinary C of Is with 44 pages as well.
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Mr President, it would certainly be desirable if the matter can be sorted out in a short time through the British Foreign Office. However, if there is still no progress within a reasonable period of time, will the Administration consider enlisting the assistance of the Chinese Government to explain the matter to the UAE so as to make things easier for holders of C of I and to ensure that they will receive equal treatment after 1997 because most of the holders of C of I are Chinese nationals and they will remain Chinese nationals in the future?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, under the circumstances, I do not wish to speculate whether the UAE authorities will sort this matter out in a short time. I believe further action, depending on the decision and the reasons given, can only be taken after the UAE has given its reply. The UAE authorities may reply that it will accept the C of Is once again and that will solve the problem.
During our negotiation with the UAE authorities, we have clearly explained that holders of C of I have the permanent right of abode in Hong Kong and they can return to Hong Kong at any time. Besides, after 1997, most of them can obtain the Hong Kong Special Administration Region Passport and the permanent right of abode then.
5.MRS MIRIAM LAU asked (in Cantonese): Mr President, in view of the recent spate of robberies in taxis, will the Government inform this Council whether:
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY
- the police have put in place a package of special measures to safeguard the personal safety of taxi drivers; and
- the Transport Department will consider permitting taxi drivers to install safety devices such as anti-robbery plastic partitions in their taxis?
(in Cantonese): Mr President,
MRS MIRIAM LAU
- The number of reported cases of taxi robbery has indeed increased recently. During the first nine months of the year, there were 228 such cases, an increase of 45% over the same period last year. So far, 68 (or 30%) of these cases have been detected, resulting in 66 persons arrested.
We are very concerned about the upsurge of such crime, and the police are taking measures to tackle the problem. Police officers on patrol duties are briefed specifically on the latest intelligence on taxi robbery so that particular attention is given to this crime. In addition, covert observations are also conducted at identified blackspots. Special task forces have also been set up in districts where the taxi robbery problem is more serious, for example, a task force headed by a senior inspector two station sergeants, seven sergeants and 47 police constables was recently established in Tai Po to deal with the problem. In the last four months, they have arrested three persons who are involved in seven recent taxi robberies. In addition, during the first nine months of the year, the police have mounted over 15 000 road block operations, especially during late evenings and early mornings when most taxi robberies take place.
The Police Crime Prevention Bureau has maintained close liaison with 42 taxi owners' and drivers' associations. The Bureau provides them with detailed information on the latest trends of the crime, and a list of the latest blackspots every month. Taxi drivers are also reminded to keep in touch with their taxi control centres and colleagues regularly, and alert them in covert codes if they find the passengers suspicious, so that the control centres or their colleagues can then report immediately to the police for assistance.
- As to the second part of the question, I understand that neither the Transport Department nor the police has any objection in principle to the installation of such safety devices in taxis. In fact, the Crime Prevention Bureau and the Transport Department have had detailed discussions with taxi associations on the feasibility of installing various anti-robbery devices in taxis. These include plastic partition at the driver's seat, vehicle tracking devices, and a covert device by which the drivers can cause the rooftop signs to flash to call for police assistance when necessary. The Bureau has also introduced the sources of supply for such anti-robbery devices to the taxi associations. The police have just conducted a questionnaire survey in September 1995 to seek the opinions of taxi drivers and their associations on these security measures. The survey has now been completed and its findings will be available by the end of December 1995. Results of the survey will be given to and discussed with the taxi associations in due course.
We will study the results of the survey carefully and continue to monitor the problem of taxi robbery closely to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to safeguard the personal safety of taxi drivers.
(in Cantonese): Mr President, in part (b) of the answer, the Secretary mentioned the installation of a covert device in taxis by which the drivers can cause the rooftop signs to flash by pressing it. But as far as we know, the situation in foreign countries is that when the rooftop sign flashes in case the driver is being robbed, the communication system in the taxi will automatically be connected to the direct communication channel of the police or the two-way channel of taxis nearby. In view of that, could the Secretary inform this Council whether the Government would consider opening more communication channels so that the robbed taxi driver can directly alert the police or other drivers nearby who will then be able to rush to the scene in no time and offer help?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, we already opened 15 channels in July this year for use by various parties concerned including taxi drivers. They can communicate with each other by means of these 15 channels. Of course, not all communication equipment in taxis can make use of these 15 channels. But I hope by the end of this month when a conclusion can be drawn from the questionnaire survey, the Crime Prevention Bureau can continue its discussions with the taxi associations and other people concerned in the trade about how to improve these anti-robbery measures.
British Citizenship for BDTCs and BNOs
6.MISS EMILY LAU asked: In a recent speech to the Hong Kong Management Association, a Preliminary Working Committee member mentioned that the Chinese Government might set up a Special Administrative Region provisional secretariat and a provisional legislature in the territory next year. This has given rise to public concern over a smooth transfer of power upon the change of sovereignty. Will the Government inform this Council whether it will step up efforts to persuade the British Parliament to consider giving full British Citizenship to all citizens in the Colony who are holders of the British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC) passport or British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, the Hong Kong Government's position is that British Citizenship should be granted to all Hong Kong BDTCs. We have stated our position clearly on a number of occasions in this Council, including at the debate on a motion moved by the Honourable Emily LAU in October last year.
We will continue to put our position to the British Government, as effectively as we can and whenever the opportunity arises. As Honourable Members are aware, the British Government's position is that the grant of British Citizenship to 50 000 heads of household and their dependents was the right response. It does not accept the case for granting British citizenship to all Hong Kong BDTCs.
We believe that the best way to allay public concern about a smooth transition is to ensure that Hong Kong continues to be the place where Hong Kong people wish to remain. To this end, we will seek to preserve its way of life, its prosperity and stability, and the rule of law; and ensure that the safeguards for these provided for in the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law are honoured in full.
MISS EMILY LAU (in Cantonese): Mr President, in the main reply, the Government mentions that the best way to allay public concern about a smooth transition is to ensure that Hong Kong continues to be the place where Hong Kong people wish to remain. However, the Government must have learned that recently the numbers of immigration applications received by some consulates have increased sharply. For example, the number of applications received by Canada in the first nine months of this year, as compared to the same period last year, has increased 70%. I want to ask whether the Government has furnished the British Government with this information, telling them that there may now be another exodus of emigrants in Hong Kong as many are worried about the future and hope to find a life boat or an amulet, and whether the British Government will do its best to help Hong Kong people.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): I believe we still need more time to observe whether there is yet another exodus of emigrants. Although the numbers of immigration applications as received by some countries are on the rise, we should not forget that these numbers, as compared with those four or five years ago, are considerably smaller. Of course, I am not trying to play down the seriousness of this problem. As regards whether the British Government is aware of this situation, I believe the British Government also understands the present situation in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, I want to repeat that in respect of whether all British Dependent Territories Citizens in Hong Kong should be granted British citizenship, the Hong Kong Government has always maintained that they should.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, if I have not understood it wrongly, the Honourable Miss Emily LAU's question is that a PWC member has mentioned that there may be a second centre of power in Hong Kong and that is what the Hong Kong people are most concerned about. I want to ask the Hong Kong Government whether ......
PRESIDENT: Mr FUNG, you are digressing from the main thrust of the question. Please concentrate on the BDTCs.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): The main thrust of this question is the concern that there will be an exodus of emigrants and, therefore, we demand the British Government to grant the Hong Kong people the right to emigrate. Has the Government any means to prevent the emergence of another centre of power so that the trend of increase in immigration applications will not appear?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, is that a question relating to British Dependent Territory Citizenship or British Citizenship, or is it a question on the issue of a second centre of power? I am not sure what the question is.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, in the main question, it is mentioned that what worries the Hong Kong people is that a PWC member has said the Chinese Government might set up a Special Administrative Region provisional secretariat and a provisional legislature in Hong Kong next year. And according to some surveys, the people are worried that there will be a second centre of power ......
PRESIDENT: Mr FUNG, you are repeating Miss Emily LAU's question.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): I want to make an explanation because the Secretary asked me whether my question was on emigration or other issue ......
PRESIDENT: Would you please state your question, Mr FUNG.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): This is because of the possible establishment of a second centre of power that there is an increase in immigration applications. Therefore, I want to ask whether the Hong Kong Government will ensure that there will not be a second centre of power before 1997?
PRESIDENT: I am sorry, this deviates from the main thrust of the question.
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Mr President, I want the Secretary to clarify one point in his main reply, that is, "The Hong Kong Government's position is that British citizenship should be granted to all Hong Kong British Dependent Territories Citizens." I want to ask: Bearing in mind that some holders of the British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC) passport are at the same time holding the British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports, does the Hong Kong Government still consider that they should be granted British citizenship?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantoense): Mr President, in this respect, the Government's position is that there is no difference between the holder of the BDTC passport and the holder of the BNO passport.
DR SAMUEL WONG: Mr President, is the Administration aware that British passports issued in Hong Kong up to the late 60s or even early 70s, to persons born in Hong Kong, did enjoy full citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies? If yes, could this Council be informed how this type of citizenship was taken away from them?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY: Mr President, there were several changes in between 1948 and the current situation. As far as I can recall, the British Dependent Territory Citizens, whom at the time was called Citizens of United Kingdom and Colonies, were first subject to immigration control in 1963 under the Commonwealth Immigration Act. It was further reconfirmed in the 1971 British Nationality Act.
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Mr President, I believe that most people in Hong Kong wish to stay here. Even among those who emigrated to other countries, many have returned in the last one or two years. A few years ago, the British Government granted 50 000 heads of household, that is over 200 000 people, the right of abode. Now, it can already be proved that most of those who were granted the right of abode have not left. The Government can base on this ground to negotiate with the British Government, telling them the fact that the British Government's granting the right of abode to so many people has not made them leave. Why do not they grant all British Dependent Territories Citizens in Hong Kong the right of abode? Will the Government tell this Council how many households among the 50 000 have left for Britain?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, according to our usual practice, we do not monitor the travel of those Hong Kong people who have got the British citizenship under the Right of Abode Scheme and so we do not have the exact number of households who have settled in Britain. Nevertheless, as far as we know, it seems that it is not common for those people who have got the right of abode in this way to settle in Britain.
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): Mr President, it is indeed very unfortunate that the people of Hong Kong want to emigrate to other countries because of their worries about the 1997 issue. Britian is not to blame. We can only blame the Chinese Government for its ultra-leftist policies in Hong Kong. It is high-sounding for the Government to say in its reply just now that its position is to have all Hong Kong people granted full British citizenship. I want to ask the Government, other than having said this in this Council, how many times it has raised this demand with the British Government officially in the past year. What is its plan for raising this demand with the British Government next year?
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, this is not a mathematical problem that we have to state the number of times we raise our demand and that the more times we do, the more effective it will be. Everyone knows that the Governor has announced in September that he would continue to raise the Hong Kong Government's position on this issue with the British Government. As for the future, as I have said in the main reply, we will continue to raise this question with the British Government in due course.
PRESIDENT: Not answered, Dr HUANG?
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): I hope that the Government will provide written information officially to prove that on official occasions, it has submitted papers to the British Government to raise this demand. Otherwise, this might just be a mention on the radio, with no further action taken. I feel that if the Hong Kong Government only says it on the radio, it is not officially raising the demand with the British Government.
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Governor does not just mention it on the radio because in his recent visit to Britain, the Governor has officially reiterated the Hong Kong Government's position directly in the presence of the relevant British secretaries.
Structural Safety of Buildings
2.MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN asked (in Cantonese): Mr President, a number of accidents involving the collapse of external walls or canopies of buildings (including existing buildings and buildings under construction or demolition) have occurred recently, causing injury and death to several workers and passers-by. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS
- whether the Government has any systems to monitor the structural safety of buildings and industrial safety at construction sites; if so, what are the details of such systems and why the situation mentioned above still exists despite the existence of such systems;
- whether the Government will review the existing systems to find out if any loopholes exist;
- whether there are any cases where civil servants who have been negligent in enforcing the systems have been reprimanded or disciplined; and
- whether the Buildings Department will consider making the information of building contractors and building owners available for public knowledge, so that after the occurrence of accidents involving the collapse of external walls or canopies of buildings the public can pursue the question of liability with the contractors and the building owners concerned?
(in Cantonese): Mr President,
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN
- The structural safety of private buildings and industrial safety at construction sites are governed by the Buildings Ordinance and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance and their subsidiary regulations. The Buildings Ordinance and its regulations place certain statutory responsibilities on building owners, authorized persons, registered structural engineers and registered contractors. The Buildings Ordinance also requires buildings and sites with works in progress to comply with standards of health and safety, in regard to workers at site and members of the public. The Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance and its regulations protect employees' safety and health in industrial undertakings including construction and demolition sites. They lay down minimum safety and health standards at workplace. They also require proprietors and contractors to provide safety training, protective equipment and supervision for their employees.
Staff of Buildings Department and Labour Department carry out egular inspections of buildings and construction/demolition sites. During these inspections, the Buildings Department staff search for any possibility of danger which will be removed once identified. The Labour Department staff inspect sites to ensure that the law is complied with by contractors and workers. Prosecution will be taken if a work situation is likely to cause risk of injury or where there is a blatant disregard of the law.
Enforcement of the laws is also accompanied by publicity and education efforts to promote the message of building safety and construction site safety. There is also close liaison between the Buildings and Labour Departments and with the Occupational Safety and Health Council.
While there is always room for further improvement, the existing control over building and construction site safety is generally effective. Despite this, accidents may occur for a number of reasons such as human neglect and error.
- The answer is of course positive. The Government will review regularly the control system to plug any loophole and to make the system more effective. The Building (Amendment) (No.3) Bill, which is now before the Bills Committee, is the result as well as an example of such a review.
- I am not aware of any civil servant who has been reprimanded or disciplined in the past two years for being negligent in enforcing building and industrial safety legislation.
- The Building Department will disclose the identity of owners and contractors of buildings involved in collapses and the responsible authorized person or registered structural engineer upon request.
(in Cantonese): Mr President, having heard the Secretary's reply, I have some questions to follow up. Although it was mentioned in the main reply that the Administration would effect further improvements regarding these problems, I still feel that the reality is a far cry from what is depicted in the reply. Take for example the collapse incident at Nos. 1-3 at Tai Yau Street. In the wake of that incident, it was found that the scaffolding of the sites in the vicinity had arched outwards, constituting safety problems. Another incident is the demolition works for Blocks Nos. 1-3 in Tsz Wan Shan, Wong Tai Sin. I also feel that the relevant regulations governing the demolition of buildings cannot safeguard safety. Are these problems due to human factors or other factors? It is very likely that accidents similar to that at Tai Yau Street may repeat at these sites.
And, in relation to part (d) of the question ......
PRESIDENT: Miss CHAN, you are allowed only one supplementary.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): I just want to raise questions following the order of (a), (b), (c), (d) as appeared in the reply of the Secretary. I am not satisfied with his reply and I want to follow-up.
PRESIDENT: You did ask four supplementaries and if all Members ask four supplementaries, then we will have to sit here until four o'clock before we finish the questions. Could you just pick one that you regard to be the most important.
MISS CHAN YUEN-HAN (in Cantonese): Point (a) then.
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Mr President, if I have fully grasped the main point of the question, it is about the structural safety of buildings or the safety at construction sites. It is the responsibility of the Government to enforce the laws and to supervise the sites. Work in this area must be done. However, apart from monitoring the enforcement of law, we also need the responsible persons, such as the owners, the contractors and the authorized persons to fully co-operate with us. Only with their full co-operation can we achieve the desired results. Of course, we will try our very best to inspect the sites and to step up our enforcement action, but I believe if we have to guarantee that no more accident will ever occur again, we depend very much on the co-operation of all parties concerned.
MR CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, what is the responsibility of, and the role played by, the Buildings Department during the construction and demolition processes? If it is found that the construction sites do not satisfy the safety guidelines, will the site be suspended from all works?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Under the existing Buildings Ordinance, if staff of the Buildings Department, during their inspection of sites, find that the safety installations at a construction site are not up to the required standard, the staff will usually advise the responsible person at the site (that is, the contractor), to step up safety measures to make the site as safe as possible. However, if the contractor reacts with inaction upon advice, the Buildings Department may initiate prosecution and, when necessary, the Buildings Department may also consider suspending the site from carrying out construction works.
PRESIDENT: Not answered, Mr CHAN? Are you saying that the Secretary has not answered your question?
MISS CHAN WING-CHAN (in Cantonese): Yes, Mr President. Despite so many accidents, the Secretary said that the contractors would be advised and that even after giving advice, only prosecution would be initiated. The Secretary has not talked about how to eliminate the potential danger.
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS (in Cantonese): Mr President, I believe I have answered that question. If the staff of the Buildings Department discover that the safety measures are inadequate and hold that improvements have to be effected, they would, in the very first place, advise the person responsible (that is, the contractor) to effect improvement. Prosecution will be instituted if the contractor fails to improved the situation.
PRESIDENT: Mr CHAN was asking whether or not there will be an injunction or a cease work order or such similar schemes. Secretary for Education and Manpower?
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr President, with your permission, I would like to add a few points. The Government actually does pay due regard to industrial safety at construction sites. Therefore, the Government has recently accepted the recommendations as contained in the Consultation Paper on The Review of Industrial Safety in Hong Kong. We intend to table to these Council amendments to the existing legislation in this Legislative session in order to empower the Commissioner for Labour to issue suspension notices when he is drawn to that attention that the working environment of a construction site is not satisfactory and the safety of the workers may be jeopardized. In this inspect, it is thus evident that we do take a square look at this problem and would seek to improve the situation by means of enacting laws.
MR TSANG KIN-SHING (in Cantonese): Right now, the safety fencing at construction sites are of different lengths. At present, there are more than 1 200 sites in the territory and among them, more than 200 are demolition sites. How much manpower does the Government actually employ to inspect sites? Is it true that each and every construction site will be inspected before construction works commence? If not, how long does it take to make the first inspection after the commencement of works?
PRESIDENT: I am afraid the question strays away from the original question.
MR EDWARD HO: Mr President, according to the Secretary's reply, he seems to say that if there is a problem then everybody else connected with the construction industry is responsible, except the Buildings Department or the government officials. Since the Buildings Department, in the name of the Building Authority, is responsible for approving designs, as well as inspection of building sites, can he please clarify whether in that case the Buildings Department should have some responsibilities; if not, why not?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS: Mr President, I think I said safety at work is the responsibility of all those concerned, including the Government. The Government has the role of enforcing the law and making regular inspections to ensure that the law is complied with. There is also the responsibility of the authorized persons and the registered contractors who are also responsible for the safety at site.
PRESIDENT: Not answered, Mr HO?
MR EDWARD HO: No, Mr President, if I may have your permission to just clarify one point, because when I said responsibility I actually meant liability also. Perhaps the Secretary would answer whether the Department will have any liability if anything goes wrong.
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS: Mr President, if an accident happens, for example, the tragic accident we witnessed in 1994 in Nathan Road which killed several persons, an investigation will surely be carried out after that. And that investigation will look into the responsibilities of those responsible for the accident and if necessary, action will be taken.
MR EDWARD HO: Mr President, I am sorry, but I do not think the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands has answered my question. My question is relating to the liability of the government department rather than anybody else. My question is, whether in such an incident, the government department or its agents or officers would have any liability?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS: Mr President, I believe this will vary from case to case; it depends on the results of the investigation which will be conducted after the accident to ascertain the cause of the accident.
MR RONALD ARCULLI: Mr President, perhaps the Secretary would be good enough to tell this Council whether there has been any case in which government officials have been involved in the approval process of plans or supervision of works or inspections, and which resulted in the prosecution of any government official for a criminal offence?
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS: Mr President, I am not aware of any such case, but I will surely look into it and give Mr ARCULLI an answer. (Annex II)
Improvement of Tuen Mun Ferry Services
3.MR EDWARD HO asked (in Cantonese): Considerable inconvenience is often caused to residents of Tuen Mun when the Tuen Mun Highway is wholly or partially closed owing to traffic accidents. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT:
- it has any plan to expand the Tuen Mun Ferry Pier so as to improve the ferry service in the district; if so, when the plan will be implemented; if not, why not; and
- it has held any discussion with the Hong Kong and Yaumati Ferry Company Limited about contingency measures to carry the large number of commuters to and from work during the closure of the highway; if so, what are the details?
Mr President, the Honourable Edward HO is right. When there is a major accident on Tuen Mun Road, traffic flow could well be impeded resulting in congestion. When accidents occur, the police try their best to get the traffic moving again as soon as possible. Unless really long periods of delay are expected, the provision of special ferry services would not help because it would take at least an hour to mobilize extra ferries. Traffic on Tuen Mun Road should have returned to normal by then.
The busiest time at the Tuen Mun Ferry Pier is during the morning rush, between 7.00蟵m to 9.00蟵m when there are a total of 27 sailings to Central and Wan Chai. There are more than adequate berthing facilities and queuing space to cope with demand. Indeed, there is spare capacity. There is no need, and we therefore have no plans, to expand the Tuen Mun Ferry Pier.
The Transport Department has a 24-hour hotline with all major transport operators and, in fact, contingency plans to provide emergency transport services have been drawn up. Transport operators have been very co-operative. For example, during the partial closure of Tuen Mun Road in late August and early September, because of the danger of landslips, extra ferry services between Tuen Mun and Central were provided. On that occasion, a pontoon was tied to a viewing platform to the west of the Tuen Mun Ferry Pier to provide temporary facilities. This arrangement worked well and can be adopted again should circumstances so warrant. A special ferry service between Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan was also provided.
With the temporary closure of one of the six lanes with effect from last Saturday, to facilitate slope stabilization and climbing lane works at Sham Shing Hui and So Kwu Wat, the Hong Kong and Yaumati Ferry Company Limited (HYF) is providing three坟pecial ferry trips from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun during the evening peak on weekdays. In addition, the HYF has standby arrangements to lay on extra sailings from Central to Tuen Mun to cope with the evening rush should there be such a demand.
PRESIDENT: In addition to Mr HO, I have three more names on my list. I will draw a line there.
MR EDWARD HO (in Cantonese): Mr President, it seems that the Secretary for Transport has mentioned in the second paragraph of his main reply that there is adequate space at the Pier. However, we know that the transport services on land in Tuen Mun are very inadequate and the Secretary has not said whether the ferry services can be improved or not, or whether there appears to be adequate space at the Pier just because the number of sailings in inadequate.
Does the Government have any plan to urge the Ferry Company to improve its services and to increase the number of sailings and does the Government have such authority to do so? If not, does it have any plan to award another franchise so as to enable another interested company to operate the ferry services?
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT: Mr President, when it comes to ferry services, I think the most important consideration is whether or not in fact the commuters wish to take the ferry services. At present, the number of sailings every morning can more than cope with the demand. If we look at the special arrangements that were made, as an example, during the closure of Tuen Mun Road, special services were in fact provided: on the first day when the road was closed, some 34 000 passengers took the ferries to Hong Kong; the capacity provided was over 54 000. On the second day when one of the Kowloon-bound lanes was re-opened and buses were running, the demand for ferry services dropped dramatically to about 10%; there were only about 2 000 passengers. If we look at last weekend and take Monday, 4 December, as an example, again the services provided more than adequately catered for demand.
The HYF is ready to provide extra ferry sailings from Central to cope with the evening rush. But in fact over the last two or three days, this has proved to be unnecessary. So in fact the HYF can meet the demand. There is no question of awarding another franchise at this point in time.
Mr President, can I also say that if we were to expand the ferry pier, this would of course require a lead time of, say, two years. By then, Route 3 (Country Park Section) would be ready and I believe that when the new highway Route 3 is open, congestion on Tuen Mun Road will ease and correspondingly the demand for ferry services would fall.
MR WONG WAI-YIN (in Cantonese): Mr President, in the last paragraph of his reply, the Secretary for Transport mentioned that ferry services were provided from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun during the closure of the lanes. Although the Secretary has said just now that adequate services have been provided to cope with demand, it seems that the passengers do not like to take such ferry trips. I would like to point out that at present, these three sailings are scheduled at 6.00; 6.45 and 7.30 at 45-minute intervals. As the journey takes an hour, basically it will take at least 1 hour 45 minutes to travel from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun and sometimes it will even take longer. Can the Secretary from Transport tell us whether a ferry trip which takes about two hours to travel from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun can be said to be an attractive one? The Secretary for Transport has earlier on said that the demand for this service is not great, that is simply because it is unattractive as the interval between the sailings is far too long. Will the Secretary for Transport review the situation with a view to providing commuters with a real alternative to return to Tuen Mun?
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT: Mr President, the facts cited by the Honourable Member are quite correct. In fact, the three sailings from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun in the evening are by the larger ferries and the capacity provided of course, again, well exceeds demand. Admittedly, these are the slower crafts because the faster catamarans and the hovercraft, during rush hours, have to be deployed on existing services. But again, if we look at the figures over the last two days: on Saturday, only 83 passengers took this service, on Monday, only 210 passengers took the service. But perhaps more to the point, this temporary service was provided as an experiment at the behest of Honourable Members and district board Members; we are experimenting. I am very glad to say that over the last two days, although one of the Tuen Mun-bound lane has been closed, in fact there has been no serious congestion; traffic flow has been normal. This suggests that the demand for a ferry service between Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun in the evening is not that great. But certainly, the Honourable Member has made a valid point: if faster ferries are available, this may, of course, encourage more commuters.
MR ALBERT CHAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the Secretary for Transport just now said that the ferries used in the sailings from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun are relatively old. In fact, many crafts used in the sailings from Central to Tuen Mun are also relatively old. Since trips from Central or Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun in these crafts take even longer than those to Macau or Zhuhai in the faster crafts, that is why few commuters take these trips. I understand that the HYF has its limitations, but under problematic circumstances such as the partial closure of the Tuen Mun Road at present, will the Government consider making arrangements with other ferry companies so that faster crafts can be deployed on the Central-Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan-Tuen Mun runs to alleviate the traffic congestion, especially during rush hours?
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT: Mr President, in fact during rush hours, there are several types of ferries deployed on the Tuen Mun-Central run; there are catamarans which take 30 minutes, there are hoverferries which take 42 minutes, and the ordinary slower larger ferries which take about an hour. So in fact, there is a mixture and even with the existing fleet, as I said in my main reply, the capacity provided exceeds the demand. And as I have said earlier, during rush hours, other ferries have to be deployed on existing routes and, at present, I see no need to approach other ferry companies for faster crafts.
PRESIDENT: Last supplementary, Miss Emily LAU.
MISS EMILY LAU (in Cantonese): Mr President, mistakes made by the Government in its transport plans have made the residents of Tuen Mun suffer and therefore Members have made a few suggestions earlier on. Will the Government consider allocating additional resources to help the residents of Tuen Mun and make it easier for them to travel? Trips which take two hours, as mentioned earlier on, are totally unacceptable. How can crafts which are so slow be acceptable? Has the Government considered helping them in any way, such as by giving them subsidies so that they do not have to bear the burden of expensive transport fares and by shortening the journey time?
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT: Mr President, I have said many times before that the Administration's policy is not to subsidize public transport fares and that remains our firm policy. Insofar as trying to improve journey times from Tuen Mun to Central and vice versa, several measures have been taken. We have introduced bus-only lanes; I accept that this has helped to a limited degree. There are, of course, as the Honourable Members of this Council know, plans to provide climbing lanes; construction is now in place. By July next year, four of the five climbing lanes at Siu Lam, So Kwu Wat, Ting Kau and at Shum Tseng should be provided. The remaining section at Tai Lam Chung will take a bit longer. Having said that, as I mentioned earlier, there are other long-term plans to alleviate the traffic congestion, that is, Route 3 and the Western Corridor Railway. But apart from that, there are no immediate plans to lay on additional transport services or to provide other forms of financial assistance.
PRESIDENT: I must apologize to Mr Albert HO who has indicated his intention to ask a supplementary using the indicator, so we will take one more supplementary.
MR ALBERT HO (in Cantonese): Earlier on, the Secretary for Transport has pointed out in his reply that when accidents occur, extra ferries may not be mobilized in time as a contingency measure because by the time they are ready, the road would have been cleared. I have a question on this point because accidents may sometimes hold up traffic for two or three hours. The Secretary for Transport mentioned in the third paragraph of his main reply that there is a 24-hour hotline. I believe the reason why there is such a hotline is to handle emergency. What is the purpose of this hotline? In case of serious traffic accidents, what are the contingency plans to help ease the flood of residents going to Tuen Mun?
SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT: Mr President, the 24-hour hotline enables Transport Department staff to contact the major transport operators. They, in turn, have contingency plans through which they can mobilize their staff and if necessary, if more buses are required, then ensure that these buses are deployed to the scene as soon as possible.
When it comes to traffic accidents, Tuen Mun Road of course is not the only highway where there are traffic accidents, and if we look at statistics territory-wide, accidents along Tuen Mun Road only account for about less than 2% of accidents throughout the territory. At the scene of the accident, we must rely on the police to come and try to sort things out as quickly as possible, and this they do. And if we look at past statistics, although the Honourable Member is right that on occasions delay may be more than an hour, normally the congestion and the tailback is released within the hour.
WRITTEN ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
Progressivity of Salaries Tax System
7. MR ERIC LI asked (in Chinese): Regarding the territory's salaries tax which is shouldered by a small number of salary earners and which is based on a system with a high degree of progressivity, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR THE TREASURY:
- whether it has carried out any comparisons of the progressivity of the territory's salaries tax system with that of other countries with a similar economic situation such as Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom; if so, what the conclusions are; and
- if the answer to (a) is in the negative, whether it will obtain the necessary information from the countries in (a) above to work out the proportion of salaries tax to the total revenue paid by every 100 000 working population in the countries concerned, so as to compare these figures with the corresponding figures in the territory; if so, when it will submit the findings to the Panel on Financial Affairs of this Council for discussion; if not, why not?
Economic Advisory Committee
- Whilst we do keep abreast of developments in other tax jurisdictions, we have not to date carried out any detailed evaluation of the relative progressivity of the salaries tax system of other countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and so on vis a vis that of Hong Kong.
- We are seeking the required information from the relevant tax administrations and would aim to submit the findings to the Legislative Council Panel on Financial Affairs when they are available. We would, however, wish to point out that, given the different socio-economic situations, we should take care in interpreting such comparative data.
8.MR SIN CHUNG-KAI asked (in Chinese): At the resumption of the debate on the Motion of Thanks this year, the Financial Secretary expressed doubts about the setting up of an Economic Development Committee suggested by some Members of this Council as the existing Economic Advisory Committee and the Governor's Business Council were already providing the Government with valuable views and suggestions on economic and related issues. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES:
- whether the Economic Advisory Committee has discussed the trend of the territory's future economic development as well as such issues as how to stimulate the economy and how to solve the unemployment problem; if so, what the conclusions are; if not, why not; and
- whether consideration will be given to changing the present modus operandi of the Economic Advisory Committee, which is not answerable to the public and which does not seek public opinions, so as to enhance its accountability and transparency?
Hospital Authority Staff Establishment and Strength
- The Economic Advisory Committee is set up with the remit of advising the Financial Secretary on matters relating to the economy. Pursuant to this remit, the Committee has deliberated on a large variety of economic issues. The trends and prospects of the Hong Kong economy are matters of continuous interest and are reviewed in depth on a regular basis. The unemployment problem is amongst the main current issues that the Committee has had thorough and comprehensive discussions and will continue to be closely monitored. As for measures to stimulate the economy, the general consensus was that ad hoc interventions by the Government would not be effective or could even be counter-productive, and the economy should be left to adjust to cyclical fluctuations through the market mechanism. On measures to tackle the unemployment problem, the Committee supports the Government's approach of enhancing employment counselling, job matching and placement, and retraining and upgrading of skills.
- The present modus operandi of the Economic Advisory Committee fits its basic remit very well and there is no reason for change. The Committee consists of experts, professionals and experienced practitioners in a wide range of economic affairs and provides advice to the Administration, which then formulates policy decisions. Public accountability therefore should rest with the Administration and not its advisory bodies.
9.MR CHAN WING-CHAN asked (in Chinese): Will the Government provide this Council with a breakdown by rank of the annual actual strength in respect of:
- medical doctors (except those performing administrative duties only);
- allied health professionals; and
- administrative personnel remunerated at a salary point equivalent to point 34 or above on the Master Pay Scale
in the Hospital Authority since its establishment in 1991?
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE: Mr President, the information requested is as follows:
|Senior Medical Officer||489||531||548||611
|Medical Officer||1||554||1 578||1 703
|Sub-total||2 551||2 635||2 825||3 036
|Nursing Officer and above||2 497||2 493||2 569||2 705
|Registered Nurse||7 010||7 383||7 696||8 107
|Student Nurse||2 670||2 570||2 436||2 294
|Enrolled Nurse||2 934||3 023||3 153||3 294||
|Sub-total||16 279||16 504||16 935||17 474
|Medical Laboratory Technician||743||738||769||996
|Mould Laboratory Technician||37||30||36||31
|Occupational Therapy Assistant||173||175||194||209
|Scientific Officer (Medical)||32||32||35||51
|Sub-total||3 012||3 072||3 359||3 843
|Administrative Personnel *||179||225||286||346
*.This is the total number of administrative staff who have a maximum pay point above point 34 of the Government's Master Pay Scale.
Unauthorized Building Structures
10.MR CHAN KAM-LAM asked (in Chinese): In regard to the recent series of accidents involving the collapse of the external walls and canopies of buildings, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS:
- of the number of buildings under demolition and the number of illegal and dangerous canopies at present;
- whether the Buildings Department will deploy staff to inspect buildings under demolition and speed up the removal of unauthorized structures with potential danger, so as to safeguard the public's safety;
- what are the details of the Government's plan to introduce legislation to require building owners to submit periodic building inspection reports to the Buildings Department; and
- whether there are sufficient qualified professionals in the territory at present to cope with the demand for their services arising from this requirement; if not, what measures the Government will put in place to resolve the problem of shortage of such professionals?
Mr President, the answers to the four parts of this question are as follows:
Clearance of Rainstorm Aftermath
- There are about 150 demolition sites in Hong Kong at present.
Since no territory-wide survey on unauthorized canopies has been conducted, the Administration does not have data on the number of illegal or dangerous canopies.
- To protect public safety, staff of the Buildings Department regularly carry out planned surveys to locate dangerous unauthorized building works (UBW), including dangerous unauthorized canopies. All such structures are cleared once identified. In addition, we will launch an extensive publicity campaign in early 1996 to encourage the public to report suspected dangerous UBW cases to the Buildings Department.
Public safety is the prime concern of the Administration. A dedicated Site Monitoring Team constituting 34 staff was established in the Buildings Department in October 1995. The principal function of the Team is to regularly inspect construction and demolition sites to ensure that proper safety measures are provided. Since establishment, the Team has inspected some 350 sites, and the safety standards of the inspected sites have consequentially improved.
- Owners should have the duty to ensure that their properties are in proper maintenance condition. The Administration therefore proposes to introduce a mandatory scheme under which owners will be required to have their buildings inspected by professionals periodically. Details of this proposal are still being examined.
- There are at present 1 049 Authorized Persons and 363 Registered Structural Engineers in Hong Kong. Demand for their services will be taken into account before the Administration goes ahead with any mandatory building inspection scheme.
11.MR FRED LI asked (in Chinese): During the rainy season this year, there were many landslips caused by rainstorms and typhoons. In particular, there were a number of landslips and tree-falling incidents in the squatter areas at Lei Yue Mun and Cha Kwo Ling in Kwun Tong. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR WORKS:
- what procedures does the Government have to clear the mud sent down by landslips; and
- which Government departments are responsible for inspecting and dealing with trees dangling under the influence of rainstorms which may cause danger to residents in squatter areas?
- As a matter of principle, government departments or their agents which are responsible for the slopes have the responsibility to clear away the landslide debris arising from those slopes. However, for landslips which occur in squatter areas, the Highways Department (HyD) will be responsible for carrying out emergency repair as recommended by the Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) to remove any immediate danger to the public and clear away associated landslide debris in the course of the emergency repair works. For situations not involving emergency or where the emergency no longer exists, there is, at present, no department explicitly responsible for clearing debris from landslides occurring in unallocated government land. However, such cases will be dealt with individually and, wherever necessary, appropriate arrangement will be made in each case considering its particular circumstances.
- Trees in squatter areas are not maintained or managed by any government department and consequently there is no routine inspection of such trees.
For trees damaged or affected by a rainstorm which may cause danger to residents in squatter areas, the police or Fire Services Department staff attending the scene will do what they can to remove the danger. The Agricultural and Fisheries Department (A&FD), the Urban Services Department (USD) and the Regional Services Department (RSD) will also respond to emergency requests to remove dangling branches of trees which may endanger residents in squatter areas.
Gross National Product
12.DR LAW CHEUNG-KWOK asked (in Chinese): Regarding the collection of statistical data in recent years to compile the territory Gross National Product (GNP) figures, will the Government inform the Council of the following:
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES:
- when will the GNP figures be released; and
- what are the major differences between the GNP and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the context of the present structure of the territory's economy.
- Based on the latest results of the first round of the annual Survey of External Factor Income Flows, preliminary estimates of Gross National Product (GNP), in respect of reference year 1993, are now available. They were released on 13 November 1995 while the final GNP estimates will be released in March 1996.
The timetable for releasing GNP estimates is as follows:
Notes:(*)To be released at the same time as the final estimates of GDP.
|Reference year||Preliminary Estimates||Final Estimates*
|1993||Nov 1995||Mar 1996
|1994||Aug/Sep 1996||Mar 1997
|1995||May/June 1997||Mar 1998
|1996+||Mar 1999||Mar 1999
(+) As from 1996, the preliminary GNP estimates will be released within 15 months from the reference year.
- GNP is a measure of the total income of residents of a country or territory in a specified period, irrespective of whether the income is earned from investment and employment within the domestic boundary of that country or territory, or outside.
On the other hand, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an aggregate measure of the total value of net output produced within the domestic boundary of a country or territory in a specified period. Since production is rewarded by income, GDP also measures the total income arising from such current production, irrespective of whether the factors (that is, labour and capital) for producing the goods or providing the services are owned by residents or non-residents.
Hence, GNP is compiled by adjusting GDP by: (i) adding total income earned by Hong Kong residents from outside Hong Kong, and (ii) subtracting total income earned by non-Hong Kong residents from within Hong Kong.
GNP emphasizes the composition of aggregate income of Hong Kong residents, while GDP emphasizes the composition of aggregate production. They are both useful data, complementary to each other, in supporting economic analyses.
Based on the preliminary estimates of GNP, the total inflow of external factor income in 1993 was HK$318.4 billion, while the total outflow was HK$308.5 billion. This resulted in a net income inflow of HK$9.9 billion. Combining the net income inflow with the latest revised GDP estimate for 1993 of HK$899.9 billion, the preliminary estimate of GNP for 1993 is therefore HK$909.8 billion. Given the highly externally-oriented structure of the Hong Kong economy, such substantial external income flows are not unexpected. However, with only a small net income flow, the value of GNP in 1993 was only 1.1% above that of GDP.
Promotion of Home Ownership
13.DR DAVID LI asked: A significant but temporary rise in government expenditure on affordable public housing would fulfill the public's aspirations to have their own homes, stimulate the economy, and mitigate the unemployment problem. In this connection, will the Administration inform this Council whether consideration will be given to building more Home Ownership Scheme flats in the short run, whilst at the same time ensuring that government spending is kept within 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the long run?
SECRETARY FOR HOUSING: Mr President, need and affordability are the guiding principles in the provision of, and charging for, public housing. We agree that subsidized home ownership schemes play an important role in promoting home ownership, which in turn fosters a sense of belonging and contributes to social stability in Hong Kong.
Since the introduction of these schemes in 1978, we have been building an increasing proportion of such flats in relation to public rental flats, and the split is now about 50% of each.
We have already announced the target of building 175 000 flats between April 1995 and April 2001 through various subsidized home ownership schemes. We are on course to achieve this target. As a lead time of around five years is required from initial planning to physical completion of flats, it would be difficult to add significantly to this target in the short term.
We are, however, examining ways to increase the production of home ownership flats in the longer term. In fact, we shall consider the future level of provision of all types of housing up to 2006 in the context of our current review of the Long Term Housing Strategy, which will be completed in the middle of 1996.
The Housing Authority's budget is separate from the Government's budget. The construction costs of home ownership flats form part of public expenditure rather than government expenditure, because these flats are funded by the Housing Authority and not directly by the Government. Our Medium Range Forecast up to 1988-99 projects that public expenditure as a percentage of GDP will remain well below 20%.
Schools near Dangerous Goods Stores
14.DR ANTHONY CHEUNG asked (in Chinese): Following the recent incident of gas leaking from a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tank-truck in Tuen Mun, the public has expressed great concern about the safety of students studying in schools located near hazardous installations. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER:
- how many schools are currently located near dangerous goods stores;
- whether a comprehensive risk assessment of schools located near hazardous installations will be conducted; if so, how it will be conducted and when its findings will be made known; and
- whether such schools will be given special guidelines on how to formulate measures to deal with evacuation and other emergencies?
Median Wage of Local Workers
- There are at present 46 schools which are located near petrol filling stations, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage tanks and other dangerous goods stores.
- All the existing petrol filling stations, dangerous goods stores and LPG installations in Hong Kong are constructed and operated to very stringent safety standards to ensure maximum safety to the public. We consider the current provisions adequate to safeguard the 46 schools in paragraph (a) above, and a comprehensive risk assessment of the relevant facilities located near these schools is not necessary. This notwithstanding, both the Fire Services and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Departments are conducting a thorough check on these installations. In addition, arising from the isolated incident of gas leakage of an LPG road tanker in Tuen Mun on 3 November 1995, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department is undertaking a review to see whether further safety improvements are necessary.
- Under Education Regulation 38, school heads are required to draw up a practical scheme for evacuation of the school premises in case of fire and to ensure that fire drills, including the use of all exits from the school premises, are conducted from time to time. In case of emergency other than fire, school principals are responsible for the prompt and orderly evacuation of their pupils as necessary, using similar procedure. Aircular on "Measures to be taken in case of leakage of gas" was issued in 1982 to all school heads for compliance. This circular sets out, among other things, circumstances where the emergency services, for example, police and Fire Services are to be called.
15.MR LEE WING-TAT asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council of:
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES:
- the median wage of local workers in 1975, 1985 and 1995 respectively; and
- the average price of a 500 sq. feet flat in a large private residential development in the urban area in each of the years mentioned above?
- The median wage of local workers is as follows :
|1985 (average of March and September figures)||2,657
|1995 (March figure)||8,691
|Notes: ||(i)Including workers up to the supervisory level.|
(ii)The Government started to compile statistics on median wage rate in September 1982. Information on the median wage rate in 1975 is therefore not available.
|Source: ||Census and Statistics Department
- The estimated average price of a flat of 500 sq ft in gross floor area in the urban area is as follows:
|1975 (average for the year)||95,000
|1985 (average for the year)||300,000
|1995 (average up to the third quarter)||1,700,000
|Note:||Covering flats of all ages, and not necessarily confined to large residential developments the price information on which is not readily separable.
|Source:||Rating and Valuation Department
Risk Assessment of Transportation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas
16.DR SAMUEL WONG asked: In regard to the recent incident of gas leaking from a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tank-truck at Siu Hong Court in Tuen Mun, will the Government inform this Council whether the Government will carry out a quantifiable risk assessment study on the transport of LPG on roads; if so, when the study will be completed?
SECRETARY FOR ECONOMIC SERVICES: Mr President, earlier this year, the Government commissioned an independent consultancy to carry out a quantifiable risk assessment study on the transport of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) throughout Hong Kong by road and sea. The objective of the study is to assess the risks to individuals, and to society as a whole, of hazardous incidents which might arise from the transport of LPG and what practical measures should be taken to minimize these risks. The study takes nine months and a study report will be submitted to the Government in early 1996. The Economic Services Panel of the Legislative Council will be briefed on the results of the study.
Civil Service Fringe Benefits
17.DR LEONG CHE-HUNG asked: Will the Administration inform this Council of:
SECRETARY FOR THE CIVIL SERVICE:
- the total cost of fringe benefits enjoyed by all civil servants (including the cost of such benefits as pension, vacation, housing, and so on) in 1995-96; and the proportion of such cost to the total basic salary cost of all civil servants in the same year; and
- a breakdown of the average annual cost of fringe benefits and its proportion to the average annual basic salary cost for 1995-96 in respect of a civil servant in the following categories:
- directorate pay scale;
- upper pay band (master pay scale point 34 and above);
- middle pay band (point 10 to 33); and
- lower pay band (below point 10)?
- The main components of civil service fringe benefits are pensions, housing, leave, education allowances and medical and dental benefits. The costs of these benefits are assessed and reflected in the Government's Staff Cost Ready Reckoner. This reckoner is updated annually to take account of the most current salary revisions and fringe benefits. Some of the fringe benefits such as pensions are not payable until many years in the future in which case the cost is the estimated future liability of pensions now being earned. Some other benefits such as quarters are provided in kind and the cost reflects an appropriate valuation of the quarters provided. According to the 1995 Staff Cost Ready Reckoner, the total annual value of fringe benefits of the entire civil service for 1995-96 is about $24,450 million or 56.7% of the total annual basic salaries.
- A breakdown of the average annual cost of fringe benefits and its proportion to the average annual basic salary for 1995-96 according to the pay bands as requested is as follows:
- Directorate and Equivalent
|(annual average salary = $1,210,130)
|$||% of salary
|Pensions & gratuities||371,330||30.68
|Others (note 1)||50, 940||4.21
- Upper pay band (MPS Pt 34 to Pt 49 and Equivalent)
|(annual average salary = $610,400)
|$||% of salary
|Pension & gratuities||183,490||30.06
|Others (note 1)||7,740||1.27
- Middle pay band (MPS Pt 10 to Pt 33 and Equivalent)
|(annual average salary = $242,060)
|$||% of salary
|Pension & gratuities||75,000||30.99
|Others (note 1)||3,350||1.38
- Lower pay band (below MPS Pt 10 and Equivalent)
|(annual average salary = $130,910)
|$||% of salary
|Pension & gratuities||32,290||24.67
|Others (note 1)||3,610||2.76
|Note 1: ||Medical and dental benefits and passages.|
Privatization of Listed Companies
18.DR HUANG CHEN-YA
asked (in Chinese): Will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES:
- of the number of listed companies which have been privatised or voluntarily delisted in the past three years;
- how many of the cases referred to in (a) above have given rise to complaints from minority shareholders; and
- how many of such complaints have been lodged directly with the ecurities and Futures Commission (SFC); and whether the SFC has carried out investigations in order to find out if the interests of minority shareholders' have been damaged in such cases?
- In the three-year period ending 30 November 1995, 13 companies publicly listed on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong have voluntarily delisted. Of these, five involved take-over action by major shareholders, or what the market has termed "privatized". In addition, there is one case of proposed take-over ultimately not proceeded with. Details are in the Appendix.
- and (c)
The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) has received a total of six complaints. The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong has not received any complaint, and we have no information of complaints directly lodged with the companies concerned.
Of the six complaints, one was against Lafe International Holdings Ltd. (Lafe). The complaint alleged that the take-over offer price was too low.
The remaining five complaints were in respect of Fountain Set (Holding) Limited (Fountain) which was subsequently aborted. Here, the minority shareholders not only complained about the low take-over offer price, but also alleged that certain shareholders were not independent.
In both the Lafe and Fountain cases, the SFC conducted full investigations. To the extent that the SFC does not pass judgement on the commercial merits of the take-over offer prices, SFC's investigations were restricted to establishing whether all shareholders had been treated equally. In both cases, the SFC concluded that they were.
The SFC regulates all transactions involved in a take-over by ensuring that the parties concerned comply with the relevant provisions of the Hong Kong Code on Takeovers and Mergers. Under the Code, the board of the company being taken over is required to appoint an independent financial adviser to consider the merits of the proposal and give appropriate recommendations to the minority shareholders. It also requires a take-over proposal to be approved by a majority of shareholders in number representing 90% in value of those shares that are voted either in person or by proxy at a duly convened general meeting by shareholders other than the person seeking to privatize the company and persons acting in concert with him. The SFC routinely examines the relevant voting results, and where appropriate, would seek to confirm the independence of the shareholders who voted in the exercise.
A listed company can seek voluntary delisting through the relevant Listing Rules of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Under these Rules, a delisting proposal requires approval by a majority of shareholders in number representing 75% in value of those shares that are voted either in person or by proxy at a duly convened meeting of shareholders at which the directors, chief executive and any controlling shareholder or their respective associates do not vote. Furthermore, a reasonable cash offer must be made to all the independent shareholders. Other than this, the SFC regulates all the transactions involved in the delisting in the same way as a take-over.
Voluntary delistings in the three-year period ending 30 November 1995
|Companies privatized (5):||Month/year
|Evergo International Holdings Company Limited||12/93
|Novel Enterprises Limited||01/95
|B+B Asia Limited||05/95
|Paliburg International Holdings Limited||08/95
|Lafe International Holdings Limited||11/95
Companies with alternative listings (8):
|The News Corporation Limited||10/92
|Jardine Matheson Holdings Limited||
|Jardine Strategic Holdings Limited||12/94
|Mandarin Oriental International Limited||
|Hong Kong Land Holdings Limited||
|Dairy Farm International Holdings Limited||
|London & Pacific Insurance Company Berhad||
Privatization aborted (1):
|Fountain Set (Holdings) Limited||10/95
Control of Pollution near Mai Po Nature Reserve
19.DR JOHN TSE asked (in Chinese): Regarding the pollution problem in Deep Bay and the Shenzhen River which are in the vicinity of the Mai Po Nature Reserve, will the Government inform this Council:
SECERTARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS:
- of the total resources allocated in the past three years to improve the water quality of Deep Bay;
- what plans or measures does the Government have to improve the water quality of Deep Bay and its wet land, so as to protect Mai Po against pollution; and what resources have been used for such purposes;
- whether the Government has co-operated with the relevant authorities in Shenzhen to prevent the Mai Po Nature Reserve from being polluted; if so, what is the progress and whether any specific plan has been drawn up; and
- what criteria are used in determining the area of the buffer zone in Mai Po, and what measures the Government will take to ensure that the minimum area of the buffer zone is maintained?
- The resources that have been allocated to improve the water quality of Deep Bay in the past three years are as follows:
- $175 million on new sewerage and sewage treatment and disposal facilities;
- $656 million in ex gratia allowances to livestock farmers who choose to cease farming rather than comply with new pollution control requirements;
- $7.2 million in capital grants to livestock farmers for the installation of pollution control equipment;
- $46.2 million on personal emoluments and $3.9 million on departmental expenses to pay for the enforcement of controls over pollution caused by effluent discharges, chemical wastes and livestock wastes.
- We will continue to enforce the relevant pollution control legislation vigorously. Specific steps include the following:
The resources devoted to the planning stages of the above programmes cannot be quantified because it involves input from a large number of government staff at various levels in different departments.
- The continued application of the livestock waste control scheme in the Deep Bay catchment. We estimate that we will spend a further $230 million on ex gratia payments and capital grants over the next few years.
- Spending a further $1,300 million to provide new or improve existing sewerage and sewage treatment facilities in the catchment.
- Continue work on the development of a regional control strategy for Deep Bay. Consultants were commissioned in July 1995, at a cost of approximately $12 million, to carry out this work. The study will be completed in mid-1997.
- The Hong Kong - Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group was established in 1990 to provide a forum to discuss environmental protection issues of mutual concern. Both Hong Kong and Guangdong authorities recognized at a very early stage that proper environmental management of Deep Bay should be accorded a high priority. This being so a joint water quality monitoring exercise began in October 1993, whereby both sides carried out co-ordinated monitoring of water quality in the waters of the Deep Bay catchment falling in their respective jurisdictions. The programme has just been concluded and a report will be submitted to the Liaison Group in January next year. The Liaison Group has also agreed that it is important to determine the assimilative capacity of Deep Bay and then to derive a control strategy to ensure that that capacity is not exceeded. It has been agreed that Hong Kong will take the lead on this issue. The study referred to in (b)(iii) above is therefore initiated.
- The purpose of the buffer zone is to help protect and conserve the Mai Po Nature Reserve and the sites of special scientific interest. In determining the coverage of the buffer zone, we have taken into account the following factors:
- In accordance with the precautionary principle, the buffer zone covers an area as large as practicable to ensure that the Mai Po Nature Reserve and Inner Deep Bay are protected and conserved as a natural habitat to enhance and sustain the wildlife in the area.
- No important ecological habitats should be left as isolated islands and should be linked with one another.
- In the immediate vicinity of Deep Bay:
(1) only land uses devoted to conservation management of the wetland areas and environmental education are permitted;
(2) semi-natural habitats such as fish ponds and gei-wais are preserved; and
(3) natural features and scenic qualities are conserved.
- In the wider area adjacent to (iii), an effective buffer should be created between the Mai Po Nature Reserve and Inner Deep Bay on the one hand and the built-up areas on the other by:
(1) preserving fish ponds in the wider area;
(2) controlling building development;
(3) protecting the overall amenity and water quality of the area; and
(4) preserving the rural setting.
The buffer zone is protected by law under the Town Planning Ordinance. The relevant Outline Zoning Plans have designated areas in the buffer zone as, respectively, "Conservation Area", "Site of Special Scientific Interest" and "Recreation" as appropriate. In Buffer Zone 1, that is, the area referred to in (iii) above, no development other than that devoted to conservation management and environmental education is allowed. In Buffer Zone 2, that is, the area referred to in (iv) above, no development which may pose a threat to the environment and ecology of the area is allowed. The Town Planning Board has issued guidelines to provide guidance to the public on the protection of the buffer zone.
20.MR WONG WAI-YIN
asked (in Chinese): Currently a rainstorm red warning or black warning is issued according to the recorded average rainfall of the whole territory, but very often serious flooding has already occurred in the Northwest New Territories and the Northern District during a torrential downpour before the relevant warning is issued. In view of this, will the Government inform this Council:
SECRETARY FOR SECURITY:
- whether the Government will consider issuing such warnings on a district basis instead of on a territory-wide basis, in view of the fact that the low-lying regions in the New Territories are particularly prone to serious flooding; if not, why not; and
- if the answer to (a) is in the negative, what other measures does the Government have which will give an early warning of a flood to villagers constantly threatened by flooding?
Mr President, the rainstorm and flood warnings are now well established as territory-wide warnings. They are based on predicted and actual rainfalls throughout the territory as a whole. In addition, we have introduced siren warning systems in five particular flood-prone areas. These systems, in Tan Kwai Tsuen, San Tin, Kwu Tong, Tak Yuet Lau and Tai Tau Leng, automatically activate when local conditions produce a significant risk of local flooding.
We will continue to investigate options to develop further flood warning systems which take into account local needs and which would enhance the current rainfall and flood warning systems.
First Reading of Bills
CRIMES (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
PNEUMOCONIOSIS (COMPENSATION) (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
NOISE CONTROL (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
ROAD TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) (NO. 2) BILL 1995
Bills read the First time and ordered to be set down for Second Reading pursuant to Standing Order 41(3).
Second Reading of Bills
CRIMES (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the Crimes Ordinance."
He said: Mr President, I move that the Crimes (Amendment) Bill 1995 be read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to codify the preliminary offences of conspiracy, attempt and incitement.
These offences, which are generally referred to as the preliminary offences, form an important part of the criminal law. They provide sanctions against those who are engaged in activities preparatory to objectives which are prohibited by law. In Hong Kong, the law governing these preliminary offences is based almost entirely on judicial precedents. That law is in certain respects unclear and lacking in precision.
In March 1994, the Law Reform Commission published a report recommending the codification of the preliminary offences, based largely on relevant legislation in the United Kingdom. Such a codification would result in the following benefits:
- it would enhance accessibility in that it would no longer be necessary to consult a large number of cases to find out what the law was;
- it would be more comprehensible to lawyers and non-lawyers alike; and
- it would be more certain in its operation.
In addition to setting out the law in legislative form, the Commission recommended its amendment and improvement in two key areas. First, the defence of impossibility (which at present can lead to anomalous results) should be abolished in respect of all three preliminary offences. And secondly, the common law offences of conspiracy to corrupt public morals and outrage public decency should be abolished.
The Commission's proposals followed extensive consultation within the legal profession, the Judiciary, the tertiary institutions and law enforcement agencies.
Mr President, there was clear support for the recommended codification of the offences of conspiracy, attempt and incitement and for the abolition of the common law offences of conspiracy to corrupt public morals and to outrage public decency. The Bill now before the Council seeks to implement the recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's report.
Let me say briefly what these preliminary offences mean and the proposed codification of the relevant laws. I deal first with the offence of conspiracy. The offence of conspiracy at common law consists of an agreement between two or more persons to effect some unlawful purpose. The Bill provisions for the codification of the offence of conspiracy are set out in new sections 159A - 159E under clause 2 and are based on the provisions in Part I of the English Criminal Law Act 1977. The more significant provisions provide for:
- a statutory definition of the elements constituting the offence of "conspiracy" is set out in new section 159A(1). Essentially, it is an agreement between two or more persons to do an act amounting to or involving an offence. The Law Reform Commission considered that such a definition gives a greater degree of clarity to the law and recommended its adoption;
- Secondly, the abolition of the two common law offences of conspiracy to corrupt public morals and conspiracy to outrage public decency. This is dealt with in new section 159E(1). The Law Reform Commission recommended the abolition of these offences on the grounds that they were "of extreme and uncertain width", were "largely subjective and could evolve into means of suppressing unpopular or religious beliefs". In addition, it was pointed out that the offences served little purpose as they had not been employed in recent years, if at all. There were in any case existing statutory provisions which adequately dealt with obscene public performances, displays and publications.
I turn to the offence of attempt. A person attempts a crime if he takes more than preparatory steps towards the commission of that crime. The Bill's provisions for codification of the offence of attempt are based on the English Criminal Attempts Act 1981 (as amended) and the draft criminal code contained in a report entitled "A Criminal Code for England and Wales" published by the English Law Commission. They provide for:
- a definition of "attempt" as an act which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of an offence. This is contained in new section 159H(1). The definition gives flexibility. It is designed to be wide enough to cover two varieties of cases:
* First, where a person has taken all steps which he believes to be necessary towards the commission of a crime, as when a person fires a gun at another and misses; and
* Secondly, where a person has taken some further step to complete his crime, assuming he has the necessary mental element to commit it. An example would be where the defendant has raised a gun to take aim but has not squeezed the trigger.
- that, where it is an offence to do something recklessly, it will also be an offence for a person to be reckless in attempting to do that thing. For example, since it is already an offence for a man to have intercourse with a non-consenting woman if he realizes that she may not be consenting, it will also be an offence for a man to attempt to have intercourse in such circumstances; and
- thirdly, the retention of the offence of attempt to conspire. The English Law Commission has cited a good example of a charge of attempt to conspire: where A agrees with B to commit an offence and B is a police informer who tries to prevent the offence from being committed, there is no completed conspiracy because B lacks the necessary intention. However, A has done all he can to conspire and does have the necessary intention. There is in such a case no reason why A should not be guilty of an attempt to conspire. The Law Reform Commission recommended the retention of this offence.
The offence of incitement takes place when one person seeks to persuade another to commit a crime. The provisions for codification of the offence of incitement are based on clauses in the English Law Commission Draft Criminal Code. The more significant provisions provide for:
- Firstly, a statutory definition of the offence of incitement set out, in new section 159M(1); and
Defence of impossibility
- Secondly, the retention of the offence of incitement to conspire as recommended by the Law Reform Commission because of its importance in the context of triad crime, which relates to long-term conspiracies such as those involving gambling, prostitution and drugs.
In respect of each of the three offences, the Bill removes the defence of impossibility, in line with the Commission's proposal. New section 159H(3), for instance, deals with that defence in relation to attempt and addresses the situation where the offender has the necessary guilty mind to commit an offence but because of some facts of which he is ignorant or about which he is mistaken, the result he intended could not be achieved, or if it could be achieved, would not give rise to the crime he intended to commit. Under current law, for instance, a would-be pickpocket who attempts to steal from an empty pocket could plead the defence of impossibility. The Bill proposes to remove such a defence, on the basis (as argued by the Commission) that "it leads to the acquittal of individuals who would otherwise be considered a danger to society".
The Bill is part of an on-going process in my department of keeping the criminal law under constant review and reform to ensure that it is more accessible, comprehensible, consistent and certain.
Mr President, I commend the Bill to this Council.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
PNEUMOCONIOSIS (COMPENSATION) (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
THE SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the Pneumoconiosis (Compensation) Ordinance."
He said (in Cantonese): Mr President, I move the Second Reading of the Pneumoconiosis (Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 1995.
The Bill seeks to make a number of improvements to the Pneumoconiosis Compensation Scheme following a review of the scheme we completed earlier this year.
First, we propose to introduce a separate compensation payment for pain, suffering and loss of amenities (PSLA) at $2,100 per month and to provide that all eligible pneumoconiotics under the Scheme will receive the same monthly compensation payment of $2,100 irrespective of their degree of incapacity assessed under the Scheme. Currently, the amount of $2,100 is included in the compensation formula without being specified as compensation for PSLA, but the actual amount payable is calculated according to the degree of incapacity. As a result, only about 3.5% of the total number of pneumoconiotics assisted under the Scheme can receive the full amount of $2,100. This proposal therefore will be a substantial improvement to the Scheme in that all eligible pneumoconiotics will be able to receive the full amount of $2,100 as compensation for PSLA. This includes more than half of the pneumoconiotics who opted into the Scheme after it was last amended in 1993, but who could not receive any part of the $2,100 because they had been assessed to have suffered no additional degree of incapacity. I would like to advise Members that as part of our regular revision exercise for employee compensation, I will move a resolution next week to raise the PSLA level from $2,100 to $2,570. This will further enhance the compensation payable to eligible pneumoconiotics.
Secondly, we propose to provide a certain degree of flexibility to the Pneumoconiosis Medical Board in its assessment of incapacity. Under the existing Ordinance, a pneumoconiotic's degree of incapacity is determined solely upon his loss of lung function measured by reference to the Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) figure obtained through a spirometric test. While we consider it appropriate to continue using the FVC test to assess the pneumoconiotics' degree of lung function loss, we also consider it necessary to provide a certain degree of flexibility to the Medical Board in its assessment so as to take account of the varying physical conditions of patients. We therefore propose to empower the Medical Board to consider, where necessary, the findings of not only the FVC test but also other lung function tests or clinical findings relevant to a pneumoconiotic's loss of lung function, and to adjust the degree of incapacity as assessed by reference to the FVC test by no more than 5%. We further propose that where a pneumoconiotic cannot perform the FVC test at all due to certain co existing medical conditions such as stroke or tracheostomy, the Medical Board should be empowered to assess the degree of that pneumoconiotic's loss of lung function on the basis of the findings of such other clinical examinations as it considers appropriate.
Thirdly, since rehabilitation is as important to the well-being of pneumoconiotics as the prevention of pneumoconiosis through educational, publicity and research programmes already financed by the Pneumoconiosis Compensation Board, we propose to expand the functions of the Pneumoconiosis Compensation Fund Board to cover the conduct and financing of rehabilitation programmes.
Finally, we propose to improve the operation of the Scheme in the light of the Fund Board's experience in the following areas:
First, the payment of medical expenses. We propose that in the event a pneumoconiotic dies before receiving any payments for medical expenses claimed by him, the expenses for medical treatment or medical appliances which were incurred or paid for on his behalf by another person should be paid to that other person. This other person may be his family member, relative, friend or any supplier of medical equipment. This will be an improvement over the existing provision under the Ordinance whereby all such payments go to the family members of the deceased pneumoconiotic regardless of whether they are the ones who have actually incurred such expenses.
Second, the monthly interim payments of compensation payable to the family members of a deceased pneumoconiotic pending final settlement of compensation for death. At present, interim payments have to be paid in equal shares to the family members. We propose that these interim payments should be distributed amongst these family members in the same proportion as the distribution of other compensation items under the Ordinance. This will serve to uphold the original intention underlying the provision of interim payments that the aggregate of such payments to the family members of a deceased pneumoconiotic should not exceed the total amount of the compensation for death to which they are entitled. It will also prevent cases of overpayments which have occurred as a result of the two different distribution systems under the existing Ordinance.
To finance the above proposed improvement to the Pneumoconiosis Compensation Scheme, we will submit to the Finance Committee of this Council a proposal to provide an interest-bearing loan of $80 million to the Fund Board to enable it to avoid any cashflow problem arising from such improvements. It is also necessary to increase the rate of levy imposed on the value of construction works exceeding $1 million and of quarry products from 0.3% to 0.4% so that the Fund Board will have sufficient funds to meet its long-term commitments. I intend to move a resolution of this Council under Section 36 of the Ordinance to give effect to such an increase after the enactment of the Bill.
Thank you, Mr President.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
NOISE CONTROL (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
THE SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the Noise Control Ordinance."
He said: Mr President, I move that the Noise Control (Amendment) Bill 1995 be read the Second time.
PRESIDENT: Is it a point of order, Mr LEE?
MR MARTIN LEE: An absence of quorum, Mr President.
PRESIDENT: We shall proceed to count the Council.
After the President had directed that Members be summoned, a quorum was then formed.
PRESIDENT: Council shall resume.
SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS: Traffic noise is a major source of noise pollution in Hong Kong. While planning is the most effective means of preventing the problem, control on the noise from vehicles at source is equally important. However, the existing control on vehicle noise is limited and confined only to the mandatory installation of silencers on exhaust pipes. This measure is inadequate in reducing the noise levels of vehicles with inferior noise performance. It is therefore considered necessary to impose stringent but appropriate noise standards on vehicles at the registration stage.
Consequently, I propose to adopt Japanese and European noise emission standards as these are the most stringent in the world. Adoption of these standards enables Hong Kong to keep up with international standards and prevent importation of vehicles with inferior noise performance. In the long run, as old vehicles are replaced by new ones which meet the standards, noise pollution from vehicles can be minimized.
The proposed control will be integrated to form part of the "Motor Vehicle Type Approval" process which currently covers road worthiness and exhaust emission requirements. A noise certification report issued by vehicle manufacturers will be required for each type or model of new motor vehicle before the model can be registered in Hong Kong. The proposed control scheme will not have a major economic implication as over 90% of the new motor vehicles are already able to meet the proposed noise emission standards. On the other hand, imported used vehicles will need to be individually tested at competent testing centres to ascertain that they meet the stipulated emission standards.
The noise emission standards to be applied to newly registered motor vehicles are prescribed in the Noise Control (Motor Vehicles) Regulation, an advance copy of which has been distributed to Members for reference. This Regulation will be tabled before this Council in early 1996 for the proposed control scheme to commence in March 1996. To make this Regulation, the Noise Control Ordinance and the Road Traffic Ordinance have to be amended to empower the Director of Environmental Protection to prescribe the noise emission standards and the Commissioner for Transport to refuse registration of vehicles which do not meet the stipulated standards. These amendments are enshrined in the Noise Control (Amendment) Bill 1995 and the Road Traffic (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1995. I will talk about the Road Traffic (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1995 separately when I move its Second Reading.
The Noise control (Amendment) Bill seeks to elaborate on the regulation-making power of the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands under the Noise Control Ordinance to enable specific regulation to be made to control noise emission from motor vehicles for the purposes of first registration under the Road Traffic Ordinance. Under such regulation, the Director of Environmental Protection could be authorized to provide for the application of international or local noise emission standards and test procedures for control, to exempt certain motor vehicles from any requirements of the regulation, and to provide for the acceptance of other standards which are as stringent as or more stringent than the stipulated standards.
Traffic noise is a major cause of environmental nuisance and has an adverse impact on the quality of life. With increases in traffic flow, more stringent noise emission controls are necessary to minimize such pollution. I urge this Council to give this Bill a favourable consideration.
Thank you, Mr President.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
ROAD TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) (NO. 2) BILL 1995
THE SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS to move the Second Reading of: "A Bill to amend the Road Traffic Ordinance."
He said: Mr President, I move that the Road Traffic (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1995 be read the Second time.
I expained, in the context of moving the Noise Control (Amendment) Bill 1995, details of the proposed scheme to require newly registered vehicles to meet noise emission standards. To effect the scheme, a link has to be established between the Noise Control Ordinance and the Road Traffic Ordinance.
The Road Traffic (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1995 provides this link. It empowers the Commissioner for Transport to refuse first registration of motor vehicles which do not comply with the noise emission standards specified in the Noise Control (Motor Vehicles) Regulation to be made later.
I look to Members for support of this Bill which is necessary for the implementation of noise emission standards on newly registered vehicles.
Thank you, Mr President.
Question on the motion on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed.
Debate on the motion adjourned and Bill referred to the House Committee pursuant to Standing Order 42(3A).
EMPLOYMENT (AMENDMENT) (NO. 4) BILL 1995
Resumption of debate on Second Reading which was moved on 2 November 1995
Question on Second Reading proposed.
MR LEE CHEUK-YAN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the main proposal of the Employment (Amendment) (No. 4) Bill 1995 is to increase by two to ten times the fines of the maximum penalty for breaching the labour legislation. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions is in support of this proposal, but we also question the effectiveness of this increase of fines. It is because increasing the maximum fined does not mean that the court will correspondingly give a heavier sentence, or that the sentence will be heavy enough to deter the guilty employers from breaching the law again.
Two years ago, there was a case of non-payment of maternity allowance in which the court only imposed a fine of $500. The Government has been talking about recovering costs. I believe in this case, even the cost incurred for prosecution could not be recovered because the fine was only $500. According to my rough estimates, the general sentences on such cases are about 10% of the maximum fines. If only 10% of the maximum fines are imposed, we probably cannot expect any prison terms. I think even though we increase the fines, they still cannot be a sufficient deterrence. Besides, the Labour Department has not been very active in making prosecution. Only very few cases are prosecuted in view of the large number of violations.
In this connection, I urge the Government first of all to step up the work of prosecution. If the Labour Department takes all the violations seriously and steps up the work of prosecution, I believe that will have a deterrent effect. Second, the Government should urge the Legal Department to appeal against cases of particularly low fines and this should serve to remind the court that the public will not accept particularly low fines. Third, the Government should bring this issue to the judiciary, hoping that they can pay more attention to the prosecution work on this aspect for achieving a sufficient deterrent effect on the employers. It is hoped that when considering such cases, the judiciary will impose punishment that is heavy enough to deter violation of the law.
Lastly, I would like to remind the Secretary for Education and Manpower that apart from increasing the amount of fines, the Government originally promised to bring to this Council a number of Bills, including the Bill on the prevention of discrimination against trade unions, for consideration in mid-1995. However, up till now, I still have no idea when this Bill can be tabled in this Council. I hope the Government can speed up the process. Also, in the last Session of the Legislative Council, the Secretary for Education and Manpower promised to table the amendment Bill concerning maternity protection in 1996 as soon as possible. I hope the Government will carry out these two tasks as soon as possible.
Thank you, Mr President.
MR JAMES TIEN (in Cantonese): Mr President, the industrial and commercial sector, notably the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, supports in principle the Government's amendment to the different fines under the Employment Ordinance. It is because we believe that among the employers who have employed a total of three million employees, very few of them have actually violated the law.
However, I would like to raise one point. The increased fines are actually related to over a hundred Hong Kong ordinances, so I believe most of the employers may not realize this point. These include maternity protection, payment of wages, severance pay, long service payments, paid leave and so on. The present revision of fines involves 76 ordinances, and in many cases the fines are increased from $5,000 to $50,000, and also from $10,000 to $100,000. For example, concerning maternity protection, if the employment contract of a female employee is terminated after she has applied for maternity leave, the fine has been increased from $10,000 to $100,000. Mr President, I do not oppose the increase, but I would like to point out that the small and medium-sized companies possibly are one-man operations. Do these employers clearly understand that the Government has increased the fines drastically this time? I hope the Government will try their best to make the employers of these small and medium-sized companies understand this legislation after our endorsement of this Bill. Big organizations probably have their own personnel departments and the managers certainly will study carefully these hundred odd pieces of legislation in order to get familiar with the increases in fines. For instance, if an employee is fired when he is having sick leave and receiving medical allowances, the employer certainly ought to be punished. However, there was no fine involved in the past, but now it is necessary to pay a penalty of $100,000. I am not sure whether the employers of small and medium-sized companies are aware that the Legislative Council is going to pass this legislation today.
Therefore, it is hoped that the Government will make known to all the employers in Hong Kong that the penalty has been increased after we have endorsed the increase in fines. Otherwise, in view of the present economic situation, many small and medium-sized companies will face difficulties in their operations. I am not saying they would be violating the law. What I want to point out is that if they violated the law and are punished, will they have difficulties in their operations, or will they go bankrupt and have to lay off other employees?
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the amendment.
MR JAMES TO (in Cantonese): Mr President, I have a few points to make.
First, we agree that the maximum fines should be raised. However, the problem is that even though the maximum fines are raised, it very much depends on whether the departments concerned will enforce the law. In the present case, the Labour Department has not paid attention to the extent of penalties. If the penalties in respect of some cases are inadequate, it should seek a review through the Legal Department so that the Court of Appeal can issue some new guiding principles on sentencing. In the long run, this should make the penalties more reasonable. Therefore, the Administration should not merely increase the maximum fines. Of course, we can expect that after the maximum penalties are raised, when making a judgment, a magistrate will take account of the new increases and be aware of the purpose of legislation. However, when exercising his power of discretion, the magistrate would still have to take into consideration the precedents. When some penalties are obviously too lenient, the departments concerned can often forget to make use of this channel so that the Attorney General can remind the Judiciary, through the review mechanism, to introduce some guiding precedents to the effect that the penalties in future cases can be reasonably and correspondingly increased.
Secondly, the Honourable LEE Cheuk-yan has just mentioned that some of the penalties are far too inadequate, which I agree. However, I cannot agree with him when he said that the costs could not be recovered if the fine was lower than a certain level. I do not agree with that concept. How many people are involved in inspection and investigation and how much time has been spent by judicial officers in studying the cases should have nothing to do with the fines. It may, however, be related if court costs are included in the sentence, because court costs are part of the costs of the Judiciary. But the fines should definitely not be considered in the cost-recovery principle.
Thirdly, I agree with the Honourable James TIEN that after the penalties have been increased, the Administration should make them known to the public, especially to the small businessmen and the employers of smaller companies. It is because the spirit of legislation is that even though penalties are increased, our greatest hope is that people will not break the law because we just want the deterrent effect. If we do not want people to break the law, we should make them understand the severity of the penalties. Therefore, I hope that the Administration will step up its publicity. In particular, with the penalties greatly increased this time, it is even more necessary to carry out the publicity work.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr President, I want to briefly respond to the suggestions put forward by Members on this amendment Bill.
First of all, I want to respond to the comments of the Honourable James TIEN and the Honourable James TO that if this Bill is carried, we should widely publicize it so that the employees and especially the employers can be clear that the maximum penalties for many offences have been raised. This is in fact one of the main spirits of our amendment to the Employment Ordinance. Apart from regular reviews to tie the maximum penalties in with inflation, as regards many individual offences, there is actually a noticeable increase in their penalties. We hope that the substantial increase in penalties will have a deterrent effect. Therefore, I totally agree that we should widely publicize it and we are prepared to study this with the Commissioner for Labour.
Mr TIEN has also mentioned that employers of medium and small-sized businesses may not understand this situation well or the maximum penalties may be too heavy. To a certain extent, stepping up our publicity will be sufficient to make them understand the possible consequence of violating the law. Moreover, when the court decides on the penalty, the judge will consider the situation of individual employers and employees before passing the sentence. At this point, I want to talk about the problem that both Mr LEE and Mr TO have mentioned and that is in some cases, the fines meted out by the court were much lower than the maximum penalties and this could be the subject for many people's concern. In this respect, there are two things that we can do. First, we will pay close attention in future and if we find any particular case in which the penalty meted out by the court is too low, we will consult the Legal Department to see if application needs to be made for a judicial review. Second, without violating the major principle of judicial independence, we can discuss with the Legal Department to see what proper channels are available to reflect the general public's view that the sentence or fines meted out by the court may not fully reflect the public's concern of these offences. Of course, I have to stress that we will have to discuss it with the Legal Department to see if there are proper channels to reflect this view. At the same time, we must maintain that the major principle of judicial independence is in no way to be violated.
Meanwhile, Mr LEE has also wanted us to step up our prosecution. I very much agree to this point and hope that as long as the manpower allows, we can step up our inspection and prosecution because this is in keeping with the spirit of stopping employers from breaching the Employment Ordinance.
Lastly, Mr LEE has urged the Government to bear it in mind that it has promised to amend the Employment Ordinance concerning matters such as discrimination against trade unions. I can only say that I have noted Mr LEE's views and will actively study our progress in this respect.
Thank you, Mr President.
Question on the Second Reading of the Bill put and agreed to.
Bill read the Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole Council pursuant to Standing Order 43(1).
LAND REGISTRATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
Resumption of debate on Second Reading which was moved on 15 November 1995
Question on the Second Reading of the Bill proposed, put and agreed to.
Bill read the Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole Council pursuant to Standing Order 43(1).
Committee Stage of Bills
Council went into Committee.
EMPLOYMENT (AMENDMENT) (NO. 4) BILL 1995
Clauses 1 to 8, 10, 11 and 14 to 30 were agreed to.
Clauses 9, 12 and 13
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr Chairman, I move that clauses 9(1), 12(1) and 13 of the Bill be amended as set out in the paper containing the Committee Stage Amendments circulated to Members. These are technical amendments to the Chinese text of the Bill.
For the same reason, I also move to add clauses 24A and 24B to the sections specified in the Schedules as set out in the same paper.
The amendments seek to revise the Chinese translation of the term "recklessly" from "罔顧實情" to "罔顧後果" and to add "任何" in the Chinese text of the Employment Ordinance before the terms "employer", "contractor" and "sub-contractor". Thank you, Mr Chairman.
That clause 9(1) be amended, in the proposed section 31P(2)(b), by deleting "實情" and substituting "後果".
That clause 12(1) be amended, in the proposed section 31ZE(2)(b), by deleting "實情" and substituting "後果".
That clause 13 be amended, in the proposed section 33(4BA) and (4BB), by adding "任何" at the beginning.
Question on the amendments proposed, put and agreed to.
Question on clauses 9, 12 and 13, as amended, proposed, put and agreed to.
New clause 24A "實情" substituted by "後果"
New clause 24B "任何" added
Clauses read the First time and ordered to be set down for Second Reading pursuant to Standing Order 46(6).
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr Chairman, I move that the new clauses 24A and 24B as set out in the paper circularized to Members be read the Second time.
Question on the Second Reading of the clauses proposed, put and agreed to.
Clauses read the Second time.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr Chairman, I move that clauses 24A and 24B be added to the Bill.
New clauses 24A and 24B
That the Bill be amended, by adding ─
"24A. "實情" substituted by "後果"
The sections set out in Schedule 1 are amended by repealing "實情" wherever it occurs and substituting "後果".
"24B. "任何" added
The sections set out in Schedule 2 are amended by adding "任何" at the beginning.".
Question on the addition of the new clauses proposed, put and agreed to.
New Schedules 1 and 2
Schedules read the First time and ordered to be set down for Second Reading pursuant to Standing Order 46(7).
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr Chairman, I move that the new schedules 1 and 2 as set out under my name in the paper circularized to Members be read the Second time.
Question on the Second Reading of the new schedules proposed.
New schedules 1 and 2 read the Second time.
SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER (in Cantonese): Mr Chairman, I move that new schedules 1 and 2 be added to the Bill.
New schedules 1 and 2
That the Schedule be amended, by adding ─
|"SCHEDULE 1||[s. 24A]
|"SCHEDULE 2||[s. 24B]
Question on the addition of the new schedules proposed, put and agreed to.
LAND REGISTRATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995
Clauses 1 to 10 were agreed to.
Council then resumed.
Third Reading of Bills
THE SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND MANPOWER reported that the
EMPLOYMENT (AMENDMENT) (NO. 4) BILL 1995 had passed through Committee with amendments. He moved the Third Reading of the Bill.
Question on the Third Reading of the Bill proposed, put and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time and passed.
THE SECRETARY FOR PLANNING, ENVIRONMENT AND LANDS reported that the
LAND REGISTRATION (AMENDMENT) BILL 1995 had passed through Committee without amendment. He moved the Third Reading of the Bill.
Question on the Third Reading of the Bill proposed, put and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time and passed.
PRESIDENT: Member's motion. I have accepted the recommendations of the House Committee as to the time limits on speeches for the motion debate and Members were informed by circular on 4 December. The mover of the motion will have 15 minutes for his speech including his reply; other Members will have seven minutes for their speeches. Under Standing Order 27A, I am required to direct any Member speaking in excess of the specified time to discontinue his speech.
MR CHEUNG HON-CHUNG to move the following motion:
"That in view of the upward trend in the number of youth suicides and the drop in the age of young people attempting suicide in recent years, this Council urges the Government to take positive and effective measures, including reviewing the existing relevant policies and youth services and conducting a comprehensive and forward-looking study so as to prevent and resolve the problem of youth suicide"
MR CHEUNG HON-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I moved the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Committing suicide is not a solution to problems. Very often, people attempt suicide on impulse. The situation could have been avoided had they been listened to and given counselling. The causes for adults to attempt suicide are very complicated, but for most of them, there is a definite motive. However, youths very often attempt suicide just for some trivial matters. An example is that a five-year-old did that because the school uniform had been wetted; two weeks ago a youngster in Tin Ping Estate did that for having altered the school report. These are trivial matters in the eye of an adult, but for young children, they see these as insurmountable problems and choose to commit suicide, thinking that that would solve the problem. Today, what I mainly want to explore is not the causes for youths to attempt suicide but an analysis on why youths choose to solve their problems by attempting suicide, so as to formulate effective measures, including reviewing the existing relevant policies and youth services and conducting a comprehensive and forward-looking study so as to prevent and resolve the problem of youth suicide.
This school term just began three months ago when nine cases of youth suicide have occurred, in which five ended in death, and their ages range from 5 to 17. Most of them who chose to end their lives were schoolchildren of Primary 5 or Primary 6. The rate of youth suicide in Hong Kong is slightly lower than those in other countries. The United States has a rate of 12 people committing suicide for every 100 000 population, and Singapore has a rate of 3.7 people, whereas it is 2.2 for Hong Kong. However, the youngsters who attempted suicide in Hong Kong were mostly between 10 and 11 years of age, and one of them was only a five-year-old kid. This is astonishing in comparison with those in other places and is something that we should be deeply concerned about.
I remember that in my childhood, the word "suicide" never appeared in my vocabulary. Even when I encountered difficulties or setbacks, I would never think of attempting suicide, and in my mind attempting suicide was exclusive something for the adults. In the old days when material life was poor in our community, attempting suicide by youths was a rare thing. To think that we have a five-year-old child who committed suicide now that our modern community is rich in material life! Does it not show that the relations between parents and children in our modern community are at a crisis level? Is it that people are paying too much attention to material life and they have ignored love and care? A school child of only 10 years old who committed suicide had the following last words: "I am leaving first. Please look after father and mother for me." One can hardly believe that these were the last words of a ten-year-old who still needed people's love and care. On the face of it, what the youngsters have said and done seem to be behaviour pertaining to mature persons. But mentally they are not yet mature, and what they do often do not match their age. Is it because our youths lack a wholesome family life, feeling that life is empty and fragile and that they are alienated from their friends and peers, and so they would feel helpless and desperate once they come across difficulties, thereby choosing to end their lives as the solution to their problems?
Mr President, all parties, including the family, the school and the community are responsible for the drop in the age of young people attempting suicide in recent years. The Government obviously lacks a systematic and sound youth policy. It has been 10 years since the Charter for Youth was first hammered out. But for the Government, there have been more words rather than actions on that matter. Such kind of mere theorizing offers little help in resolving the youth problem.
Mr President, let us start with the family in looking at the problem of youth suicide. For single-parent families, broken families, and families in which both parents have to work and thus have failed to take care of their children, I can appreciate their situations. But some parents have offered many excuses like "I am so busy that I really cannot spare some time to keep my children company"; "It is all for the sake of the family that I work hard to make money" or "I have already hired tutors and amahs to look after them, so I have fully done my part." And there are even excuses like "He has got everything he wants and so he should be content. Everything is quite good for him" and so on. However, they have never genuinely cared about their children and tried to understand the troubles they come across in the course of growing up. In my view, as parents in this modern community today, apart from improving communication with their children, they should also develop personal relationships with them and be just like friends who can trust each other. In this way, they can listen to their children's feelings and become someone their children will turn to when they want to pour out their hearts. And whenever they encounter any obstacles, however trivial they might be, if their parents can find out in time and give them help, a tragedy may be avoided.
As for school education, it is indeed something we should not overlook. Schools should strengthen their ties and communication with parents. Class masters should meet parents regularly and they can discuss problems that arise from the schoolchildren's academic performance and growth. They should not shift the responsibility to each other. As soon as problems are spotted, they can immediately advise the students. What is more, they must let the students know that the link between the school and the family is part of their lives.
The present education system focuses only on academic training. It has completely neglected the education on humanity. Many schools have placed too much emphasis on students' academic performance and are lacking in moral education and self-assurance education. Therefore, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) is of the view that it is necessary to introduce life education as a special subject and set it down as a compulsory subject which centres on helping the students' healthy mental development. I think we should give a new image to social workers by giving them a different name, such as "life education officers". It is the general view of the community that those students who need counselling by social workers or disciplinary masters must be students of poorer performance. And students would therefore resist it. When the school authority wishes to meet the parents, the parents would similarly think that their children must have got some problems. Such being the case, students are afraid as well as reluctant to seek help from social workers, teachers or their parents however trivial their problems are. It may not be possible that the students pour out their hearts to their classmates. Even when students are aware that certain classmates have come across some problems, they do not know how to help and advise these classmates. In the end some trivial problems may lead them to the road of suicide because the care and support they need is not available to them. Therefore, the introduction of life education as a special subject is necessary. It is true that the Education Department (ED) has provided a number of teaching materials to schools for strengthening the students' ability to overcome difficulties. However, since the primary and secondary school curricula are very tightly scheduled, teachers are simply unable to spare a few sessions' time or even extra time outside the teaching sessions to provide students with lessons on moral education, still less to explain to students the meaning of life. In addition, the ED has merely "appealed" to the schools that more activities on family life education should be organized. But in the circumstances that the curricula are so tightly scheduled, there are simply not many schools that seriously listen to the "appeals".
The DAB is of the view that in order to provide schoolchildren with family life education and in order that students can understand the meaning of life, we must get the schools to designate normal teaching sessions to provide life education. We urge the ED to actively consider the introduction of life education as a special subject in the curricula of both primary and secondary schools. At present, the curricula of both primary and secondary schools are too much biased towards the training in Chinese language, English language and mathematics. They have taken no account whatsoever of the development of schoolchildren's psychological health. I believe only by setting down life education as a formal subject, together with the curriculum design, teaching aids, textbooks and other teaching materials, can normal psychological development of schoolchildren be possible.
The life education I propose to introduce is meant to help schoolchildren to correctly give vent to their discontent. According to a survey, the primary school education system scarcely provide suitable channels for schoolchildren to air their feelings. If schoolchildren do not have channels to air the discontent in their minds, symptoms of depression will probably develop in the long run. A more terrible consequence is that it may lead schoolchildren onto the road of suicide.
The DAB is of the view that the subject of life education is also to help schoolchildren to establish a healthy self-image. My understanding is that the lower the self-image, the greater is the chance that they think about committing suicide; the higher the self-image, the more capable they will be to deal with various problems. We believe that if life education can teach schoolchildren to establish their self-images correctly, it may help them to become more capable of dealing with various difficulties in their lives.
There is still an important aspect in school education, and that is to realize the target of "one social worker for each school" as soon as possible. Perhaps the title "social worker" could be changed to "life education officer" as I have proposed. The DAB is also asking the Government to allocate more resources in order that the target of "one social worker for each school" can be achieved as soon as possible. It is true that the ED has already taken certain measures to enhance teachers' ability to deal with the problem of schoolchildren committing suicide, but with the heavy workload teachers are now having, they are often unable to do anything even if they want to. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the manpower of school social workers so that more schoolchildren may obtain help from them. The most important thing is that schools should be provided with enough social workers so that once teachers have spotted schoolchildren with a tendency to attempt suicide, they can come to help, and social workers will be able to give timely and suitable counselling to the schoolchildren in question, and suicide cases can be prevented.
I have discussed with a number of social workers on the manpower of social workers and found that the workload of the social workers at present is very heavy. A school social worker has to handle 70 cases within a certain period of time, and he also has to take up several extra-curricular activities. Even if the target of "one social worker for each school" can be achieved, it may not bring any conspicuous improvement to the service to soothe schoolchildren's emotions. They hold that there should at least be two social workers in a school. So, it can be imagined that if the Government still refuses to allocate more resources and increase the number of social workers, it would be unlikely that schoolchildren with a tendency to commit suicide can have the needed and adequate counselling.
Finally, the community also has an unshirkable responsibility. The kind of publicity method used by the mass media and youth publications really ought to be examined. For the former, reports on people who have committed suicide are played up for the sake of enhancing television ratings; for the latter, with money-making as their prime target, "freedom of the press" and "freedom of speech" are used as excuses in disregard of their social responsibility when they preach to the youths egoism and some nonsensical heroism as well as a gloomy outlook on life. What the Government can do is to draw up some guidelines on the moral concepts so that those unscrupulous publishers will restrain themselves. The community needs plenty of healthy spiritual food to imbue the youths with a positive outlook on life, so as to make them understand the meaning of life.
We feel that the Government should give wide publicity through the mass media to strengthen family education. Naturally, it is impossible for the Government to force any family to do anything. What can be done is just that, apart from family education, communication between the school and the family should be strengthened.
Mr President, in a nutshell, in order to prevent youths from attempting suicide, it requires the concerted efforts of the whole community, including all the factors mentioned above. Most importantly, it needs the Government to allocate more resources to implement the proposal we put forth and introduce life education as a special subject, and realize the target of the "one social worker for each school". In this way, youths will have a healthy outlook on life and we shall therefore be able to prevent and solve the problem of youth suicide.
Mr President, with these remarks, I move the motion.
Question on the motion proposed.
MR CHEUNG MAN-KWONG (in Cantonese): Mr President, suicide, no matter by whom, is always saddening and shocking, and even more so if committed by youths in their prime. Moreover, the trend of youth suicide has continued for years and has yet to stop. The whole society seems to be helpless against this situation and that is worrying.
Several years ago, people were only looking for simple and superficial reasons to explain why people committed suicide. The focus of media coverage was only on " who should be held responsible for the suicide". It seemed that once the culprit was found, everything would be fine and no more suicide would happen again. And then, in the newspapers on the following day, there would be astounding headlines with unproved claims. The media were unconsciously playing the role of the judge of a case yet to be heard. Sometimes, the reports only covered part of the facts and sometimes one-sided reasons, so more and more people are wondering whether the reasons for young people to end their lives could be that simple and superficial.
Mr President, I am not laying the blame on the media because this is absolutely unfair. Numerous cases have convinced me that youth suicide is due to very complicated reasons and the causes and effects are intertwined which may involve the family, schools, friends, personal character, social factors and can even be a combination of them all. A scholar has once said, " In the process of investigating the reasons for youth suicide, the simple and obvious ones are only convenient excuses to benumb the society's wound. The closest and the most direct reasons may not be the most important. Youths with a tendency to commit suicide or suicidal behaviour have usually been under various pressures and great distress over a long time. They will collapse in the face of the last straw. If the most recent pressure is taken as the main cause of suicide, it will only mislead the public and prevent people from understanding the incident better."
Mr President, what insurmountable problems are on the minds of these young people when they make all these self-destructive moves such as cutting their wrists and then take the final and heart-breaking step? Is there really no way out for these young people? If at the very moment before they take away their own lives, someone can listen to their problems and console them, would their lives be saved?
A social survey conducted a couple of years ago reveals that in general, over 70% of the parties chosen by young people to pour out their hearts are their friends or classmates. Actually, this percentage figure should not be surprising as young people have their own world when growing up. But what is worth noting is that relatively speaking, very few of these youths pour out their hearts to their parents, few enough to be worrying. Among the young interviewees, we can manage to find one in 10 who pour out their hearts to their mothers but only one in 20 to their fathers. The numbers are far lower than that of those who would talk to social workers. And after a long-term study on youth suicide, the Education Department has found that many of the suicide cases have very close connection with the family.
The concept of the family as the greatest shelter for young people has been seriously challenged. Other than the single-parent families, broken families and problem families, there are families where both parents work, or where the members are apathetic or quarrelsome. Can the young people living in these families not feel sad and troubled? To make the family a warm and happy place is an important key link and a vital safety net aimed at tackling the spread of youth suicide. I have once appealed, "Fathers and mothers should go home and have dinner more often". My point is to have the public pay attention to the value of the family and human relations once again. Having the patience and spending time to listen to the children's heartfelt feelings is far better than any remedies and remorse after a tragedy.
The next thing is the school. The education system, school management, teachers' attitudes, the pressure of school work and examinations and even the school's appointments with the parents can all trigger off a suicide. Individual school child can be very fragile and vulnerable and can be broken down very easily. The adolescent stage is precisely the school age which is also the most sentimental stage. The youths at this stage yearn for heartfelt communication and exchange with others. Unfortunately, Hong Kong's education system has often taken education as a production process, the students as machine parts and the teachers as tools. The whole system lacks human warmth. When the system turns cold and lacks human touch, the school becomes a confrontation ground between teachers and students.
In addition, there is the media problem that I have mentioned earlier. I totally respect freedom of the press and I also expect the media to shoulder the social responsibility of educating the youth. In these few years, I find that every time the media give youth suicide a larger coverage in a more sensational manner, more youths commit suicide in the same period. Also, because of cut-throat competition, the media have no other choice but to look for the causes and report them in a short period of time. As a result, some one-sided causes may sometimes become the focal point of that particular suicide. But these so-called causes are not necessarily accurate. Rather they may even be the starting point where the public are misled or the suicide trend is spread. This is not what everyone could have anticipated but is a lesson that we have to learn from amid the pain of suicide.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the motion.
DR LEONG CHE-HUNG: Mr President, although much has been said already and I am sure there will be some more to be said by Members on the incidence of adolescent suicide, I would like to add two further figures to even highlight the problems.
In a study done by two famous psychiatrists in the United States in 1993, it was reported that the incidence of adolescent suicide in the United States had risen by more than 200% compared with a general population increase of 17%. Whilst it may be said that it is not proper to directly compare this with Hong Kong, we have to bear in mind that Hong Kong has been becoming more and more internationalized and the lifestyle, and even thinking, of our adolescents have become more and more westernized.
The other figure that I would like to bring to the attention of Members is that, according to a local report, some 461 suicide cases of persons below 25 years old have been heard by the Coroner during the years of 1986 to 1992. This is obviously an underestimation of the overall problem, for those which were heard by the Coroner were successful suicides. There must be much more that have not reached the Coroner's office, having fortunately halted before a complete suicide had taken place.
Mr President, much has also been said of the background behind adolescent suicide ranging from postulated risk factors such as psychiatric disorders, poor self efficacies, poor problem-solving skills, sexual/physical abuses, substance abuses, even violent rock music, divorces in family, unemployment and even phases of the moon. I would, however, like to add one very important point which my honourable friend, Mr CHEUNG, has already made, and that is, there are examples and literature in the psychiatric studies to indicate that suicide attempt commonly follows publicity about suicide. Confirmed cases of copycat suicide in which children and adolescents have committed suicide following and using identical methods as those portrayed in books or movies have been reported. Bearing this in mind, it is, therefore, most important that the media should take note of this during their reporting.
Mr President, I would like to express a few thoughts that members of my constituency would like to contribute. Recent reports of studies by members of my constituency in the psychiatric field indicated that whilst the risk factors of suicidal adolescents are not exactly like those of the Western countries, certain factors are obvious. Psychiatric disturbance ranks highest, of course. Experience shows that about one third of the suicidal subjects have depressive disturbances. Many show anti-social behaviour. Inter-personal conflicts and the lack of families or friends comes next, and some 39% among students committing suicide showed recent disciplinary or academic problems.
It is said, therefore, that perhaps three areas should be considered. Firstly, primary preventative programme and overall education which include the introduction of school curriculum in areas that would help to support students to stand up to failure of personal expectation. Other curriculum inclusions that could help to solve social competency building, problem-solving skills and self-efficacy enhancement and basic mental health education are also vital in helping the adolescents to withstand the risk factors that they may be so exposed to.
Secondly is secondary preventative methods by identifying youths who are at risk. Examples have shown that those youths who are more vulnerable to risk factors could be identified even through simple questionnaires and assessment. Obviously, this must be done with extreme caution to prevent stigmatization and sensitization of those high-risk subjects.
I welcome the Government's Student Health Service Scheme which also includes mental health status assessment. At the same time, I would recommend that non-sensitive questionnaires be included in student assessment to subtly identify high-risk groups with suicide attempts and to give them the necessary counselling before it is too late.
The third way is tertiary prevention through intervention. Two areas must be addressed. Firstly, there must be ways to tackle crisis. Hotline services to help solve crises have been suggested, but these must be backed by proper and adequate mental health services support to make them effective.
Secondly, experience has shown that those who have attempted suicide are likely to do it again. Active therapeutic intervention to this group is essential, although it is in no way an easy task as they are usually notoriously non-compliant to any treatment. Yet, there must be sufficient professionals both for the screening service and for the follow-up, as well as adequate co-operative machinery for children screened to have even the slightest mental health problems that should best be dealt with at the earliest possible time.
With just one clinical psychologist attached to the new Student Health Service Scheme which serves some 86% of primary school children, one wonders how effective can our students' mental health be taken care of. The Hong Kong Medical Association has in the last few years done considerable work in conducting talks at schools in a bid to help students face stress in different situations. More must of course be done by the Government, schools and non-government organizations on educating the parents on means of proper parenting and communication with their children. It is only through such provision of supportive network for them to fall back onto and to enhance their skill to solve problems that these youths would not go to self-destruction, be it substance abuse or suicide.
Mr President, while the medical profession is always ready to tackle those who have committed suicide by reviving them, we believe that prevention is always better than cure.
With these, I support the motion.
MR FREDERICK FUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, youths are the pillars of our community, masters of our future. We lay high hopes on our youths. Yet in recent years, more and more of them have chosen to end their own lives, and worse still, their ages are dropping. This breaks our hearts and makes us feel sorry. While we feel sorry and heart-broken, we cannot help asking: Why? Why should they commit suicide? And when our minds have settled, we would also ask: What should we do? How can we prevent youths from committing suicide?
I think the causes of youth suicide are varied and could be very complicated. As a matter of fact, they may be connected with the youths' parents, teachers, friends or even their schools, the Government and the mass media. We do not intend to discuss in detail here the causes for youth suicide and the continually worsening trend in recent years. Instead, I wish to ask the people of Hong Kong as well as Members of the Legislative Council to cast a reflection today. In Hong Kong today, how much time do parents devote to the caring and understanding of their own children? Have teachers made an effort to counsel their students and communicate with them? What kind of social atmosphere have the mass media created in reporting news and social problems? How much work, effort and resources has the Government put into addressing the problem of youth suicide? Of course, I think young people should also ask themselves: Can suicide solve their problems? Why can they not face the reality and overcome the difficulties to solve problems with the same kind of courage and nerve in killing themselves?
I think any discussion on the problem of youth suicide should start with the young people themselves. I think we should enhance the education of youths on the concept of death and rectify their misconceptions, such as the wrong ideas that suicide can end one's pain, that it can overcome one's difficulties, that death will relieve other people's burden, that committing suicide is a heroic act, and so on. We should inculcate among the youths some concepts about the value and importance of life. Moreover, we should also encourage youths to tell their family members, friends, teachers and social workers their difficulties and troubles, so that other people can help them when they learn about their problems, and most importantly, share in their difficulties and troubles. I think the most important thing is that they should drum up the courage to face their pressure and solve their problems together with their family members, teachers, social workers and friends.
Secondly, we have to provide support and care for the youths. A number of studies have shown that poor family relations is a major reason for youth suicide. In fact, the family is the most important base for the growth of young people. The care and love of parents form the most important spiritual support for the youths. Therefore, in my view, strengthening the supportive function of the family and encouraging communication and mutual care between parents and children, thus making it possible for family members to share their personal feelings with each other and to encourage and support each other, are very important and positive to the psychological development of youths.
Apart from the two points mentioned above, the Government needs to launch education, publicity and promotion efforts among youths and parents. Moreover, I agree with what the Honourable CHEUNG Hon-chung has said in his motion that the Government should take more positive and effective measures to resolve the problem of youth suicide, including a comprehensive review on the adequacy of the existing policies and services. Furthermore, the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADPL) has the following views which I would like to share with honourable colleagues.
First, we should review our "spoon-fed" education system and reduce requiring young students to recite and learn by rote. We should instead strengthen the students' training in critical thinking and analytical judgement. On the one hand, we can thus alleviate the heavy pressure on students while on the other hand, we can train our young people to think maturely and rationally.
Second, the Government should put in more resources for students who need special help, namely those from families with problems, single-parent families, families in financial difficulties and so on, so as to provide these students with more counselling and assistance.
Third, the Education Department should speed up the forming of parent-teacher associations in schools. Communication between parents and schools should be enhanced by way of parent's day and school consultative committees. The ADPL advocates the forming of parent-teacher associations in schools to enable parents to take part in school administration. On the one hand, it can improve the quality of school education while on the other hand, it can also enhance the schools' understanding of students and parents. And it would be more effective if social workers can participate in the parent-teacher associations.
Fourth, on the question of the mass media, what we have seen recently is that some of the mass media smack of adding fuel to the fire in their coverage of incidents of youth suicide. Their coverage on incidents of suicide were very detailed and vivid. I think such kinds of news coverage in effect play up matters and are contagious in nature, so much so that more youths would be prompted to imitate the acts. Therefore, I think the mass media should review their approach in covering youth cases.
Fifth, the number of school social workers should be increased. I hope that the ratio of "one social worker per school" can be achieved. The ADPL feels that the present ratio of one social worker to about two schools is seriously inadequate in that a lot of students in need of counselling will find the doors shut on them. Therefore, we hope the Government can increase the staff of school social workers to achieve the ratio of "one social worker per school". At the same time, studies should be conducted expeditiously on the question of replacing the existing primary school guidance teachers with professional social workers in the provision of student counselling service.
Finally, the ADPL demands that the Government set up an independent department for the study of youth affairs and the research and formulation of youth policies. It should also make policy recommendations on specific youth problems when appropriate.
Youths are the pillars of our society. Youth suicide no doubt will break the pillars of our society, and the society edifice will even crumble and kill the people under. If the suicide problem is not properly addressed, society will face the bad consequences eventually. Family members, teachers, and youths all need to conduct self-examinations. The Government, as an institution to take care of society, is even more duty-bound to join us in the self-examination on this problem.
With these remarks, I support the motion moved by Mr CHEUNG Hon-chung.
MRS ELIZABETH WONG: Mr President, thank you. I would like to share with Members of this Council what I learned last week at an Asia social policy forum involving many countries discussing items such as child, youth suicide and the importance of the family. I think it is so important that I want to share with you some proposals also.
Youth and child suicide is an indictment of our society. It illustrates a failure of our policy, a failure not only of our education policy but also our social policy. At the United Nations Year of the Family, "family" is defined as the smallest unit of democracy. Elsewhere also, no matter whether you come from any culture, family is regarded as the basis of individual well-being and the well-being of future generations.
Now, a year later in 1995, we still have a motion debate on youth suicide, child suicide, because of the many, many, many tragic cases. We need to focus. To focus requires a united approach. We need to keep the importance of the family in everybody's consciousness. We need to test every new policy, no matter whether it is environmental policy, financial policy, or what policy, against its impact on the well-being of the family.
The true impact of any policy must be worked out scientifically and I think from what I can read in a lot of paper reports, either in this Council or outside, it is unconscionable that many of us in high positions in the Government do not even regard family as important. To quote a case in point, it is, I suggest, unconscionable for the Director of Audit, who is a government official, to say in his Audit Report that single parents should be encouraged to work, to dump their kids in the care of others so as to keep their expenditure lean and mean, to save money. This is unconscionable because it does not save money necessarily. It simply stores up problems for the future.
I ask you, Mr President, if an important government official or government department should forget the importance of the welfare of the family, what hope is there to keep our families together? What hope is there for keeping our children in the well-being surrounding of a social environment?
Elsewhere, when we talk about protection of families, or when we talk about environment, we talk about the cost of environment in terms of the financial cost if we destroy our environment. There is a move afoot internationally to devise what we call not "green GDP", but "family GDP", which is the cost of any policy to be tested in the long term against the cost of the destruction of family, or family well-being. In other words, the cost of any policy must be examined in relation to its impact in the immediate and long terms on family members.
Unless this is done, we are doing things piecemeal. We are talking about increasing social workers and all that, but I think in any policy, all the policies in the Government, we should assess the long-term implications for the family in the same way as it is important to assess the long-term financial implications. Social implications are just as important as financial implications.
This is the point I want to share with this Council because this is very much the concern not only of Hong Kong but many Asian nations, without which we will forever be loitering in discussion which has no future, which has no outcome, which will continue to enable us to blame each other, to look around for a scapegoat. We should be working together. We should be working with the media. The importance of the media should never be underestimated. They can help with the cohesion of the family. They can help to work to make society more beautiful.
This is a proposal, Mr President, I hope the Government will respond and consider. Thank you.
DR ANTHONY CHEUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, there has been an increase in fatal youth suicide cases in recent years. Over the past five years, there are more than 70 such cases. The trend that younger people are committing suicide has aroused the society's concern and this is also the reason why the Honourable CHEUNG Hon-chung has put forward this motion today. I believe quite a number of Members will share the same perspective and point of views in their speeches. I agree that this problem is very serious. Undoubtedly, we have reached a consensus on this issue.
To most people, including parents, youth suicide is really baffling. We believe youth suicide is not some individual or isolated behaviour. In fact, behind the problem, there exist some complex social factors and the internal influence of one's values. These factors are often very complex and intertwine with each other, such as family discord, personal character, academic problems, as well as interpersonal relationships. These are intertwining factors which cannot be handled in an isolated manner. And troubled social relations is usually the antecedent leading to youth suicide. Certainly the society should pay attention to this problem. Yet there is no straightforward solution to it. And we cannot just depend on any one sector to solve it or affix the responsibility and put the blame on any one party.
I share the opinions of some Members who have just spoken that we should adopt a positive and open attitude to create a liberal environment for the youths and be able to understand the difficulties they have encountered. The destruction of any life will be a great loss to the community. We are concerned with the problem of youth suicide, not only cases involving loss of life, but also other suicidal behaviour, such as abuse of soft drugs, which is damaging to their physical health, although it is non-fatal. These suicidal or self-destructive tendency, which may not be directly fatal, may become an inducing factor leading to youth suicide. This is really a matter of concern.
In 1992, an ad hoc committee to study youth suicide problem was set up by the Education Department. It has proposed some measures such as enhancing the teachers' ability to handle student suicide, strengthening the students' ability to overcome difficulties, upgrading the support provided to the parents and finally, the provision of supportive training to the counsellors of the Education Department. These measures are indeed in the right direction and the Government has devoted a lot of efforts in this aspect over the past few years. Since these measures have been implemented for some years, it is high time for the Government to conduct a comprehensive assessment to review the effectiveness of these measures and proposals put forth by the ad hoc committee in 1992. Should there be any inadequacy, the Government should consider whether an improvement is necessary to cope with this new trend.
Mr President, a recent survey conducted by the Centre for Child Development of the Hong Kong Baptist University found that the self-image of young people in Hong Kong is quite low. For instance, not only is their academic achievement unsatisfactory, but their conduct and interpersonal skills are also poor. When they feel depressed and are in great need of the family's support or to pour out their hearts to family members, they often fail to get the concern and care from their family members. So their peer group in school or friends they get acquainted on other occasions have gradually become their listeners and they no longer want to talk to their parents. They usually make some impulsive and dreadful decisions without careful consideration. Meanwhile, in the eyes of these youths, the school is only a place where they are forced to study. They seldom initiate discussions with the remedial teachers and the school social workers. Without a channel to vent their suppressed emotions, they may commit suicide or some self-destructive acts as a means to resolve their problems or as a relief and protest to society.
So, in order to face squarely this problem, we should consider how to bring the roles of teachers and parents into full play. Communication between teachers and parents is equally important so that they can complement each other. In recent years, school education, in the light of various student problems, can no longer rely solely on the schools and the teachers. The role of the parents has become very important. Some schools have responded positively to the formation of parent-teacher association as advocated by the Committee on Home-School Co-operation, which can enhance mutual communication. But now not all schools have formed parent-teacher associations, mainly because of the teachers' heavy workload and their lack of relevant training. At the same time, the parents lack the interest, time, and a full understanding about education issues. So we suggest that the Government should implement the following measures:
1.promote parent-teacher associations so that both parents and teachers clearly understand the associations' objectives, nature of work, responsibilities, roles and importance so as to foster the confidence of the teachers and the parents to co-operate;
2.strengthen the training and support provided to in-service teachers, enhance the interaction between the teachers and the parents, and develop their skills;
3.provide more resources to schools so as to reduce the workload of teachers who will then have more time to communicate with the students and the parents and be able to understand the students' thinking; and
4.provide parents with some relevant educational activities for the improvement of their ability to guide their children and its effectiveness so that parents can become the best support for their children and help them build a positive outlook on life.
On the other hand, there is a definite influence of the media's coverage on youth suicide. As some colleagues have mentioned this point before, I am not going to repeat it.
All in all, in order to prevent and solve the problem of youth suicide, the teachers, the school authority, the parents, and all sectors of the community should work together in order to create a better environment for the young people to build a more positive outlook on life.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the motion.
MRS MIRIAM LAU (in Cantonese): In the past two months or so since the beginning of this new school year in September, there have already been seven student suicide cases. People in the community, especially parents, are very worried. Why would these innocent children who ought to be happy and carefree commit suicide and choose an irreversible path of self-destruction? This has really perplexed us and made us feel anxious. What has our society done wrong? What has gone wrong? Can we find the causes and give the right remedy for it? This is a pressing problem which the whole society, including the Government and the general public, is very concerned about and eager to solve.
In my view, youth suicide is no simple social problem at all. Nor should it be treated lightly as an isolated and individual problem. The occurrence of a series of tragedies is obviously a signal indicating that it is a burning issue. If needs an immediate solution and all necessary measures should be taken to prevent youth suicide.
To achieve this end, I think it needs the concerted efforts and cooperation from various sectors, and the coordination of the Government, schools, the family and the general public. Undoubtedly, the Government's initiative and guiding actions, such as the deployment of resources and the formulation of effective measures will be the most important at this critical moment.
To effectively address the problem of youth suicide, the first thing to do is to investigate the possible causes. In my opinion, the main causes may be as follows:
1.Youths are confronted with various kinds of pressure, such as homework, choice of friends and other emotional problems. They are at a loss as to how they can resolve the problems;
2.Youths are not loved or cared by their parents. This may be due to the fact that the parents have to work or the parents do not know how to care for and provide guidance to their children;
3.Youths are influenced by extensive coverage of suicide cases in the media. A tendency to commit suicide is hidden in their subconscious minds and they are not even aware of it;
4.Youths do not have any goals of their lives and they find life boring.
To prescribe the right remedy, we must start with measures in three aspects:
From the point of social psychology, human beings are gregarious animals. Their behaviours influence each other. When suicide cases are played up by the media, a small number of people may subconsciously be affected and make similar attempts. Facts also show that after the media has given coverage to these cases, youth suicide cases would occur one after another. And afterwards some people would put the blame on the schools, the parents or the media. But as these incidents have already happened, it will not help to redress the situation by blaming anyone. It is better that we look ahead and solve the problem in concerted efforts.
Some people have urged the media not to play up reports on suicides committed by students or youngsters in order to avert the negative impact. However, some people are also worried that such a call may impede freedom of the press.
Freedom of the press is certainly important. But the media should also fulfill the function and social responsibility of educating the public. The media's unscrupulous and glamourized coverage of youth suicides will benefit no one.
So I suggest that journalists should come to a consensus and consider formulating a code of conduct for themselves so that they will have self-discipline and will not give extensive coverage to youth suicide cases any more. I hope this suggestion will not be regarded as infringing on the freedom of the press. At present, there is legislation prohibiting media coverage of adjudicated cases in juvenile courts. Why? It is for the protection of youngsters in whom we lay our hopes. I hope the mass media will prefer self-discipline to legislation imposed on them.
1.To strengthen the force of school social workers or guidance teachers
The Government should allocate more resources in order that each school can have a guidance teacher specializing in taking care of problems other than academic problems and behaviour, such as emotional disturbance and depression.
2.To strengthen psychological counselling service
The Government should provide a sufficient number of clinical psychologists and accept referrals from schools or from youth associations when the people concerned discover cases of abnormal thinking or behaviour, so that timely psychological counselling can be provided to unravel their psychological knot.
3.To strengthen family life education
Many a times children will feel that they cannot communicate with their parents due to a generation gap between their parents and themselves. So we suggest that the Government should strengthen family life education, enabling the parents to acquire relevant knowledge and skills in caring for and guiding their children in the right direction.
To encourage and advise the parents to give more care and love to their children. They should not shirk the sacred responsibility of guiding their children on the pretext that they have to work hard to make a living. By showing sincerity and love to their children, the parents can certainly squeeze some time after work and have casual chats with their children at home in the evening no matter how busy they are during the day. Regular conversations (whether long or short ones) can often be a timely way to give a timely hand to their children to put their children's minds at ease.
The Government should provide appropriate counselling and assistance to parents who do not know how to deal with problem children, enabling them to face the problem at the earliest opportunity and build a harmonious parent-child relation as soon as possible.
2. The society
The Government and social agencies should advocate a good social climate and painstakingly establish correct values of life as a guideline and objective for youngsters. Of course, it will take time and efforts to change people's habits, yet we must take the first step in this direction.
The rise and decline of a society depend on the development of its useful talents. Youngsters are priceless treasures of a society. We all bear the responsibility of providing them with a good education and a happy environment in which to grow up, so that they can make contributions to society in the future. I hope we can work together and, with courage and determination, solve this serious social problem of youth suicide as soon as possible.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the motion.
MR IP KWOK-HIM (in Cantonese): Mr President, it is really not an easy task to assume the role of parents nowadays. Apart from attending to the material needs of the children, we have to pay special attention to their mental and psychological developments. In recent years, the upsurge of youth suicides has shocked many people. In fact, adolescents at all times encounter the same problems, such as study pressure, family problems and so on. Why is it that today's youngsters have to resort to death when they are faced with these problems? Why do they not treasure their own lives?
Information shows that a total of 700 000 calls for assistance have been received by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups since their hotline service "Youthline" was set up in July 1993. Among those calls, over 300 cases showed a tendency to commit suicide and over 60% of the callers were youngsters aged between 11 and 20. Another survey conducted by the Hong Kong Baptist University shows that among the over 4 000 interviewees, who were young students at Primary Four to Form Three, over 10% frequently thought about committing suicide. These figures show that there are really a lot of unresolved emotional problems in the hearts of our youngsters. Most of them do not have the confidence to handle the problems around them.
The reasons behind the upsurge of youth suicide cases cannot be explained in a few words. With the development of our society, the earlier the youngsters become mature, the more pressure they will face. Adolescents are troubled by family, study and emotional problems.
As regards the family, in particular the families residing in the new towns, the parents are usually busy at work and most of them have to travel a long distance to work in the urban areas. The parents have thus ignored the family life and they could find little time to communicate with their children. Adolescents therefore have no one to talk to when they have pent-up emotions and they have no way to obtain relief. Feeling helpless and seeing no way out, they would think of only how to eliminate the problem instead of getting the problem solved. They believe that "death squares all accounts" and they will then be free from troubles.
Apart from the family, the pressures from homework and examinations at school and the parents' expectations for the academic achievements of their children, have also subjected the youngsters to a lot of pressures. When they suffer a setback in their studies, the students would seek relief by taking their own lives in order to avoid teachers, parents and family members rebuking them.
Youngsters are the pillars of our society. We do not want to see a continuing outburst of traumas involving youth suicide. To combat an upsurge of youth suicide cases, it is of paramount importance for us to instill into youngsters the right outlook of life, so that they can understand the meaning and value of life. Of course, we will have to make use of various appropriate means to relieve the pent-up emotions of youngsters, so that they will try to think of other ways out before they decide to commit suicide.
To achieve these objectives, school education plays a very important role. Over the years, Hong Kong's schools have generally adopted the "spoon-fed" education system, focusing on "boosting" the academic results of students. Our school curriculum lacks moral training, such a teaching youngsters how to get along with people, establishing overall self-confidence in students, and instructing the students problem-solving skills and so on. Furthermore, the teaching workload on the teachers has been very heavy. Even if the teachers can allocate some of their time to deal with the emotional troubles of students, they may not necessarily have the professional knowledge to do so. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong proposes that the Education Department should strengthen the training in student counselling for in-service teachers and students at colleges of education, with particular emphasis on how to spot students showing a tendency to commit suicide and how to teach students to cope with difficulties, so that the teachers' ability to cope with youngsters showing a tendency to commit suicide can be enhanced. The Education Department should reform the curriculum so as to step up moral education for students, to stress to them the meaning of life and to reduce the pressure of homework upon them.
Mr President, the social work sector and the education sector shoulder the same important responsibility to offer assistance to adolescents showing a tendency to commit suicide. The two should be complementary. At present, because of the lack of resources, the "one school social worker for each school" arrangement is not applicable to most of the schools. Timely assistance from social workers thus remains inaccessible by many of the emotionally disturbed students. This is one of the factors behind the tragic incidents. Therefore, the Government must allocate more resources and increase the manpower of school social workers, clinical psychologists, educational psychologists and so on, so that problem students can be spotted early and counselling service can be provided to them.
Apart from social workers and teachers, parents are instrumental in assisting youngsters to get their problems solved. The Education Department should assist all secondary and primary schools to set up parent-teacher associations, and provide resources as well as professional assistance to them with a view to enhancing the communication and coordination between the schools and the parents.
Furthermore, the negative impact of media coverage on youth suicide must not be ignored. The mass media should never glamourize suicide cases. Experts have pointed out that youth suicide generally contains an element of "copycat". I therefore hope that the mass media can pay more attention to this.
With these words, I support the motion.
MR CHOY KAN-PUI (in Cantonese): Mr President, although issues concerning education for young people and school children such as the increase of class places and expansion of school facilities are covered in this year's policy address, there is no mention whatsoever of moral education. At present, the Government's education policy contains no specific plans for the psychological development of school children. A number of youth problems such as the abuse of soft drugs and sniffing of thinner, a popular behaviour now, and even school children committing suicide have not been addressed by the Government.
Hong Kong provides nine years of free education to young people and our society expects them to attain a certain educational standard. But what about the highest ideal of moral education? Has it been forgotten? The values of our next generation seem to have fallen short of our expectations. Lots of young people lack a proper outlook in life. From time to time, we learn about events in which young people show disregard for their own lives. Their personal integrity and contribution to society are out of the question.
One can see from youth suicide cases that most of the causes leading to these suicides are related to family problems. In a highly materialistic society, communication in the family may be more difficult than ever. Youths may be spoiled and, when faced with difficulty, are at a loss what to do. For young people from broken families, their problems can be even more serious. As young people in the course of their growth are prone to peer group influence, parents and teachers should provide suitable counselling. We may still recall the student who committed suicide because of allegations of her stealing a classmate's prestigiously branded schoolbag and the other one who did so after being ridiculed for having a feminine Christian name!
The Government has adopted a rather negative attitude towards this. It seems to have shifted all the responsibility to the family and the school. Undoubtedly, teachers and the family, in particular the parents, play a most important role on the front line in the developmental and growth of young people. However, due to economic pressures or livelihood pressures, parents have often overlooked their responsibilities towards their children or failed to act even if they want to.
Our increasingly complex society and explosive influx of information have added a lot more difficulty and pressure on school teachers as they perform their duties to help students develop. Some of the teachers with a dwindling sense of mission may even confine themselves to imparting knowledge, without paying any attention to the moral education of students. The Government should take a more positive approach by adopting effective measures, allocating more resources, stepping up promotional activities and encouraging parents and teachers to pay more attention to and perform their responsibilities.
With regard to schools, in addition to strengthening moral education courses and reducing the student-teacher ratio, the Government should significantly increase resources and strengthen the manpower for school social workers. At present, a secondary school social worker is required to look after students in two to three schools. Under the circumstances, their counselling work for students can hardly be effective.
Furthermore, I wish to take this opportunity to talk about the question of media responsibility. Currently, media coverage of news has exhibited a rather improper phenomenon. In order to be more appealing to audience and enhance media ratings, media reports have indulged in exposing private information, inciting people's feelings and exaggerating, without regard for the public interest and their audience's or readers' rights to know. Fortunately, such behaviour is only exhibited among a small handful of reporters.
I think the media should bear on themselves a sense of mission. In reporting suicide cases the media should refrain from exaggerating and avoid adversely affecting our youngsters. Instead, they should use these cases as materials to alert young people and to teach them to cherish life. Under the premise of respecting the freedom of the press, the Government may consider laying down specific guidelines or encouraging the media to formulate some principles for self-discipline to stop the media from being unduly sensational or unnecessarily inciting people's feelings, so that negative impacts on the general mood of our society can be contained.
Mr President, with these remarks, I support the motion.
DR JOHN TSE (in Cantonese): Mr President, I would like to point out two misconceptions first in order not to mislead the public.
Misconception one: more young people commit suicide than other age groups.
In fact, the suicide rate of the elderly is higher than that of the youngsters by 11 times.
Misconception two: teaching the topic on suicide will arouse suicidal behaviour.
Many people think that teaching the topic on suicide will arouse imitative behaviour, thereby resulting in more suicides. It is just like many people thinking that sex education will broaden the sex knowledge of young people and thus lead to more frequent sexual behaviour. Actually, many studies in foreign countries have indicated that education on the prevention of suicide and the concept of death has very obvious effect in reducing suicidal temperament and suicide attempts.
Mr President, next I would like to talk about the role of the Government in preventing suicide.
The Education Department emphasizes that the "Whole School Approach to Guidance", which they have strongly recommended in these years, is the ultimate method to prevent student suicide. Since the implementation of this programme in 1992, apart from providing an additional $1,000 subsidies for some activities and organizing a few seminars, the actual contents of the programme are not clearly spelt out. It is not surprising that this has given people the feeling that they are just empty slogans.
The Government has not provided adequate resources for the prevention of youth suicide. Among the present 800-odd primary schools, there are only 194 student counsellors, and there are only 250 school social workers providing services to more than 400 secondary schools. Obviously, we still do not have enough professional school social workers and counsellors.
A fragmented plan
The Education Department has already done a lot of work to prevent youth suicide in the past few years. However, owing to the absence of an established mechanism to monitor and co-ordinate the work on preventing student suicide, it seems that the programme is very fragmented. Isolated seminars and simple publicity actually are not effective at all.
Lack of support for services provided by non-governmental organizations
At present, services for the prevention of suicide in Hong Kong are provided by non-governmental organizations and they are not subvented by the Government. I have done a special survey on these organizations and found that about 90% of them have financial problems and 50% have inadequate professional support. Inadequate financial and professional support certainly will adversely affect the success of these services.
We can see from the above that the Government is only playing a passive and nebulous role in the prevention of youth suicide, and it is even incapable of assuming the role of a resources co-ordinator.
Mr President, I have the following suggestions to solve the problem of youth suicide:
First, establish a suicide prevention service and resource centre to provide diversified and all-round professional support, including the supply of information, training of teachers and administrative staff, and research.
Second, set up a regular team for crisis management in every school. These teams should be very helpful when there is a crisis of student suicide or attempted suicide. They can intervene in a timely way and handle the situation in the aftermath. It is hoped that the Government will actively consider this suggestion and seriously monitor the operation of these crisis management teams.
Third, request all the staff in schools to receive the compulsory "suicide detection training". In fact, we cannot rely on the teachers only to prevent student suicide. All the school teachers and administrative staff should bear this responsibility. The headmasters, teachers, janitors and even the school bus drivers should all attend the "suicide detection training" so that all those who come into contact with students can discover anyone who has suicidal behaviour in a timely way and provide assistance to them.
Fourth, increase the number of professional counsellors. I hope the Government will not use the "Whole School Approach to Guidance" as an excuse to replace the professional school social workers and counsellors, and shift the responsibility of counselling to the headmasters and teachers. It is still our goal to increase the number of school social workers and counsellors. At least one teacher in every school should receive the professional "suicide intervention training".
Fifth, review the school curriculum and include in it the topic on suicide detection and the concept of death. At present, the materials provided by the Education Department to train students' ability to overcome their difficulties are taught outside the regular curriculum. The Education Department should indeed carry out a review on the present curriculum, and there should be a compulsory topic on suicide detection in the curriculum to help students to detect suicidal behaviour among their classmates, so that they can appeal to teachers and the parties concerned for help.
Mr President, according to numerous studies in foreign countries, the prominent and romantic coverage of suicides in the mass media can often lead to imitative attempts among youngsters who have an inclination to commit suicide. Therefore, the media should be very prudent in covering suicides. They should not glamourize their reports so as to prevent imitative attempts.
Mr President, it is a great pity because suicides could have been prevented. Among some 60 countries and regions, Hong Kong ranks 25th in its suicide rate. This is not something to be proud of. The Government should make more efforts to solve the problem. Lastly, may I appeal to our friends in the press to be more prudent in handling reports on suicides in order to prevent imitative attempts.
Mr President, these are my remarks.
THE PRESIDENT'S DEPUTY, DR LEONG CHE-HUNG, took the Chair.
Mr Martin LEE drew the attention of the President's Deputy to the absence of a quorum.
PRESIDENT'S DEPUTY: I would proceed to count the Council. I now suspend the sitting and order that Members be summoned.
A quorum was then formed.
PRESIDENT'S DEPUTY: Council shall resume.
MRS SELINA CHOW (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, today we have to discuss a sad issue. In recent years, we have witnessed a drop in the age of people committing suicide. In the past five years, for every 100 000 students, 2.7% of them have committed suicide. The youngest one was only eight years old and the average age was 17. Young people are the hope and future of every society, and they represent vitality and life. It is a great pity that they choose to destroy themselves at this stage!
It may not be possible to explain in a few words the reasons why young people do not treasure their lives. Different families and environments will produce different variables, but the following factors always exist in those tragic incidents.
Life in a metropolis is becoming more and more individualistic and people are getting more and more alienated. Many parents have to work to make a living, and the young people can only resort to information given to them via the television ad computer for emotional support. Youngsters are at a crucial point of their growth, and they have to face a lot of materialistic and spiritual choices. These choices will keep on increasing in a sophisticated commercial society. If the young people cannot obtain support or advice from their relatives on the proper values and attitude towards life, it is possible that they will think about committing suicide when they feel lonely and helpless.
Many colleagues have cited a recent survey conducted by the Baptist University which shows that the younger generation feel they are not loved by anybody and they have no one to talk to. Committing suicide will be a kind of "relief" when there is any frustration. In fact, many parents are not aware of the needs of their children, and they also fail to build their families into a safe sanctuary for their children. It is indeed difficult to find in our society a message with positive values on life which can be accepted by the young people. Even the Government's announcements of public interest (APIs) also use clippings from a few superstars' films, in which a "heroic ending" is portrayed. Although the APIs are followed by slogans of sincere exhortations, I believe the young people will just accept the former message which is stronger and more direct.
A friend who is a teacher once told me about the feelings of those students who have a tendency to destroy or kill themselves. They think there is simply nobody or nothing they will cherish or miss, and nobody will care about or feel sorry for them even if they kill themselves. Some young people are fond of playing electronic games, and the words "Game Over" will appear on the screen each time they lose a game. This phrase has become part of their mentality and they think life is just the same. They can always start another game after they have committed suicide and there is nothing special about that.
I always feel that to live a worthy life, you should have "needs". When you have needs, you will know how to treasure things. These include the need for other people, and your most beloved one is certainly the one you need most. On the other hand, you can feel your own worth through satisfying the needs of other people.
The former are emotions and the latter are obligations. They are important factors in maintaining close inter-personal relationship. Regrettably, young people today do not have much experience in either one. What they seek is only temporary sensual stimulus, and their lives do not have many memorable and unforgettable days.
It seems that the Government cannot spent too much efforts to solve this problem developed in an advanced society. Rather, the parents have to realize that it is not the sole responsibility of the schools or the Government to help their children. It is because if the parents do not devote more time to solve the underlying problems of the young people in this crucial period of their growth, they will only regret it afterwards.
According to my observation, a good role model rather than any direct didactic approach affects the young people most. The behaviour of their parents and peers is the greatest force that stimulates their thinking and their growth.
Mr President, we have often neglected how significant is the effect of the powerful mass media in Hong Kong on our young people. A veteran journalist pointed out recently that some twisted special news programmes now are only focusing on exaggerated and sensational contents. They can be called "junk news". In the media industry, competition is very fierce, and the focus is always on the ratings or circulation figures. The above phenomenon can be regarded as a vicious circle. I firmly believe that the mass media should pay heed to their social conscience and responsibility when producing their programmes. They should assess whether the programmes which they are broadcasting can have a positive effect on the public, especially on the young people who are always absorbing new knowledge, and whether they can help them build a positive outlook on life.
The most important objective of television operators is to go after the greatest number of viewers, so apart from providing entertainment to the young audience, how many programmes do you think are also focused on their needs and queries?
In fact, under the present education system, the value on life and the attitude towards life are not discussed, so the media can play a very important role in leading the current trends in society. I have proposed to the Cable TV earlier on that since they have more flexible broadcasting time slots, they can consider starting a hotline programme for the young people. The programme should be hosted by persons with a healthy image and an open mind together with experts on counselling. They can thus receive calls from the young people and listen to their difficulties, situations and aspirations, and then provide guidance and suggestions.
Although this programme can never replace family members' concern and support, it can have an exogenous effect of providing the young people with an extra channel to ventilate their suppressed emotions and to learn how to analyze their situations objectively in order to reduce their anguish of helplessness out of loneliness. This programme can also make the adults more aware of the need to listen to, understand and respect the thinking of young people in order to develop two-way communication.
Although I think it is very difficult for the Government to prevent or solve the problem of youth suicide directly, and the responsibility falls upon all those institutions that serve an educational function in the society, including the family, schools and mass media, the Government still can give support to some meaningful and influential ideas and activities through subsidies and publicity. It is useful to set up hotlines and outreaching services to provide assistance especially to parents and young people who have difficulties.
Mr Deputy, these are my remarks.
DR HUANG CHEN-YA (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, I would like to talk about some research findings on the problem of youth suicide in Hong Kong in order that we can prescribe the right medicine and give the right treatment to resolve this problem.
As a matter of fact, the University of Hong Kong has already conducted a number of studies in this area. Dr CHUNG of the Department of Psychiatry and other psychiatrists have studied the reasons for suicide attempts by our young people. Recently, Dr HO and others have also conducted a study on the 461 adolescents who killed themselves during the period between 1986 and 1994. Their reports are very much in line with each other. Basically, they have found that 70% of these young people had mental problems, especially melancholic schizophrenia, solitude and use of drugs. But only 30% of them had received medical treatment. And among the adolescents between 10 and 19 years old, 40% of the students had been troubled by family or school problems before they committed suicide. Thus, the signs leading to most youth suicides can be traced. Besides, there are some features in youth suicides that we should take notice: the rate of suicides among children of single-parent families is higher; and 30% of the young girls aged between 10 and 24 who committed suicide had cohabited with their boyfriends. This shows that the family factor is of vital importance. For those adolescents who were not at school and committed suicide, 25% of them were actually unemployed. This unemployment rate is far higher than that of the same age group. These data have indicated a clear direction for policy formulation:
First, the parents' and teachers' knowledge on the psychological problems of adolescents should be strengthened, and cases relating to psychological problems should be referred to the professionals for assistance as soon as possible. The Education Department should arrange some courses for teachers with a view to strengthening their knowledge on youth psychology.
Second, the youths concerned are usually unwilling to accept any psychological counselling. Thus, there should be more social workers stationing in schools to make sure that these youths can get proper counselling and that all cases are followed up.
Third, the Hospital Authority should have enough psychiatric services specifically provided for young people. Apart from the general services, there should be a special unit for acute cases to provide instant consultation and treatment to patients. It is even more essential that these psychiatric units should have adequate social workers to follow up cases after treatment so that the youths concerned can really obtain long-term treatment. In regard to those young people who committed suicide again after an unsuccessful attempt, 30% of them actually made their second attempts within one month after the first attempts. Hence we should be very alert and keep a watchful eye on those young people with a record of unsuccessful suicide attempts so as to prevent a repeat of such tragic incidents. We should review the existing service to see if it is adequate.
Fourth, the higher suicide rate among single-parent families shows that the Government should provide assistance to these families.
Fifth, cohabitation and unemployment after leaving school are all related to youth suicide. The youths concerned are thus in urgent need of assistance.
Sixth, the last but also the most essential point worth our exploring is that the problem of youth suicide in Hong Kong is actually a problem of women. This has not been mentioned by Members who spoke today. But we have to specifically emphasize that this is a problem of women. The suicide rate of male adolescents in Hong Kong is in fact the second lowest in the world, whereas the suicide rate of female is indeed on the high side. Before those female adolescents, who did not show any signs of mental illness, committed suicide, they usually appeared to be very well-behaved. Neither the schools nor the families thought there were any reason for their committing suicide. A lot of people have mentioned about pressure from school work, lack of self-confidence, lack of family care or social changes. But why are there more female adolescents but less male adolescents committing suicide? This is worth our thinking.
Therefore, we have to ask whether female adolescents committing suicide is basically a problem concerning women's roles. Perhaps behind the good behaviour of female adolescents is the fact that they have actually long been psychologically suppressed. They do not want to air their aspirations or express their worries to their family members or schools. And in many television drama series, the male characters will put up a resistance when encountering any pressure while the female characters will resort to suicide. Will this kind of role models affect the women in Hong Kong to choose the road of committing suicide? When they can no longer stand the pressure nor play the rebellious role, the only way out is to commit suicide. This cultural problem is worth our exploring. It is because apart from Hong Kong, the Chinese dominant societies like Singapore and China have the highest suicide rate in regard to female adolescents. We have to further study and look at the problem from the social roles of women. But from a policy perspective, it is obvious that female suicides cannot be prevented simply by other services. We must enhance communication within the family and promote the self-assurance of female adolescents.
Mr Deputy, there are of course other valuable research findings, particularly those on the roles of women. But we have already had a lot of information about the reasons of suicides and the demands in respect of government policies are also very clear. The Government should, therefore, do a better job in implementing these policies more thoroughly instead of making empty promises while muddling through its responsibility. With these remarks, I support the motion.
MR CHAN KAM-LAM (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy,
Factors unfavourable to the growth of adolescents should not be allowed to develop
Today, besides urging Members to lend their support to the motion debate proposed by the Honourable CHEUNG Hon-chung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, we would like the public to face up to this problem.
Self-destructive behaviour of adolescents is the cumulative result of many factors. As the adage goes, "it takes more than one cold day to form ice three feet thick". We really must not look on with folded arms and allow those factors unfavourable to the growth of adolescents to develop.
Deterioration in the quality of family life
The standard of material life among the people of Hong Kong has improved over the last decades, but today the quality of family life of our younger generation is deteriorating. It seems that the harmonious, caring and mutually supportive atmosphere within the family is becoming weaker. Violence within the family has occurred frequently, the number of divorce cases is soaring and so the number of single-parent families resulting from divorce and other changes in the family has also increased. Meanwhile, separation of family members because of emigration or business engagements has also led to loosening or breaking up of the family unit.
The family should be a safe, warm and reliable net of support for the adolescents, but now the family can only function as a supportive system to a much lesser extent and there is a trend of parents shifting their responsibilities towards their children to their institutions. Unfortunately, the society where adolescents are present is one which is full of pressure. Adolescents who are inexperienced and lack the skill to handle crisis situation are particularly prone to a sense of failure and helplessness. Under the circumstances, not only will adolescents take self-destructive actions, but problems of crime, drug abuse and run-away will also arise on after the other.
However, I believe the majority of adolescents will be able to overcome or release their pressure through different means. But I am most worried about the minority who have encountered the greatest pressure and do not have adequate support. I am worried that they will eventually give up hope and kill themselves in exchange for a "breakthrough" which is never possible. I hope that the public and the Government will not evade the real causes of this problem and will not pay attention only to the superficial causes.
The need for a concept of comprehensive treatment
Mr Deputy, this is the 10th anniversary of the United Nations' International Youth Year. I remember that 10 years ago, the Government had given the community, young people and youth workers great expectations that an appropriate local policy for young people would be formulated, that there would be a coordinating institution so that there would be a mechanism in our community for seeking a consensus on the affairs of young people and that there would be an effective organization. But after 10 years, all that we have today is the Charter for Youth, a document which is not binding.
If we really wish to have a caring society and to make our young people understand that the community has expectations of them and is willing to lend its support to youth development, we have to commit ourselves in the affairs of young people. We should not be just patching up and government departments and "non-government institutions" should no longer just mind their own business.
Review in due course to formulate a policy
Self-destructive behaviour and other youth problems really involve a multitude of issues relating to different sectors. We need a concept of comprehensive treatment and we should conduct a comprehensive review and forward-looking research and formulate feasible policies.
Recently, during a review of the implementation of the Charter for Youth, most of the signatories to the Charter advocated the setting up of a coordinating mechanism which is now lacking to assist each and every signatory to work towards the same goal of youth development.
Mr Deputy, I think it is high time for the Hong Kong Government, being an able government which is concerned about youth development, to start an overall review of youth work as well as the structure and authority of the Commission on Youth, and generate a public discussion.
Mr Deputy, with these remarks, I support the motion.
MISS MARGARET NG: Mr Deputy, children old enough to contemplate suicide are old enough to be consulted on their views on suicide. As I listen to so many speeches from grown-ups on what they think are causes of youth suicide and what ought to be done, I long to hear what the young have to say. When one after another of us speak on the effect of media stories on suicide and their influence on the young, I long to hear what the young read and think about what they read.
I think I would make only one point. Let us lose no time to hear the opinion of the young. If they have not yet been consulted, I urge the Administration to do so without delay. If such consultation had already been done, I urge the result to be published and seriously considered. I am very interested to hear of various studies on the young and their feelings. However, we are still long on morals and short on facts. Further, although we study them and analyse them and profess to help them, we do not seem to consult them and ask them to help us understand. I suggest it is high time we do it.
Mr Deputy, I agree the problem of youth suicide must not be ignored but I believe before we form any firm views on policy, we should consult those whom the policy is aimed to help.
Mr Deputy, with these short words, I support the motion.
MR LAW CHI-KWONG (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, the problem of youth suicide has often attracted the attention of the media and the public. Although the number of suicides among this age group is far smaller than the figures among other groups (such as the elderly), the general feeling is that it is a real pity for young people to give up their promising future and their precious lives. Other colleagues in the Legislative Council have already discussed the figures concerning youth suicide and analyzed the reasons and I shall not repeat them. However, I would like to provide some figures concerning the hotline service for young people so that we can have a better understanding of the present situation.
The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups has been providing the hotline service, "Youthline", for two years. Over these two years, a total of 700 000 calls have been received, which means more than 1 200 calls a day on average. These figures are shocking. However, only 70 calls, that is, 6% of the total number of calls, could be dealt with each day because of limited resources. Among the cases which could be dealt with over these two years, a total of 342 callers showed a tendency to commit suicide and about 70% of them were aged between 11 and 25. The major problems that lead to a tendency to commit suicide are family and love relation and mental health. It is worth noting that the younger the subjects, the more likely they are affected by problems in family relations.
I believe my proposals to alleviate the problem of youth suicide are similar to those of other colleagues in the Legislative Council. The following four points are more important:
First, education of parents. Before we can obtain a driving licence, we have to take a driving test. Educating children is far more difficult than driving a car, but it seems to be a basic right of adults and no licence is needed. Please do not misunderstand me that I am asking for licensing in this area through legislation, I am only saying that we should pay attention to the education of parents. We should help them to understand the needs of the adolescents, to build up a good relationship with their children and to help their children to grow up. More importantly, parents should become trusted listeners.
My second proposal is to expand the hotline service. The figures cited above show that the hotline service provided at present can hardly meet the demand. As a result, the majority of the adolescents who need help cannot receive immediate counselling. The hotline service for young people should be expanded because first, adolescents like to make long telephone calls and second, counselling over the telephone which is conducted in confidence will give adolescents a sense of security.
My third proposal concerns social workers at schools. Just now many colleagues have mentioned that although the demand for "one social worker in each school" has been made for years and the Social Welfare Advisory Committee of the Government has also agreed to the proposal, so far the Government has not set it as a target. We are not saying that all problems will be solved when the number of social workers is increased, but under the present circumstances, it is difficult for social workers to perform even their basic functions. Since the social workers stay in schools for only a brief period, most of the students do not even know who the social workers are, not to mention seeking assistance from them when they think about committing suicide. And when they are committing suicide, the social workers may be staying in other schools. If there is one social worker in each school, these social workers can build up a relationship with the students, and let the students know who they are and that they can offer help when needed.
The fourth proposal concerns the ratio of teachers to students. School teachers are people who have frequent contacts with adolescents. But given the present ratio of teachers to students, it is already difficult for teachers to teach. It is even more difficult for them to build up a good relationship with the students in order to help them to solve other emotional problems brought about by their studies. Improving the ratio of teachers to students will not only improve the quality of teaching, but it will also allow students to have more contacts with teachers so that they can receive proper counselling and adapt themselves to the school life.
Mr Deputy, with these remarks, I support the motion.
MR WONG WAI-YIN (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, a short while ago, a number of colleagues in this Council who spoke about youth suicide discussed the responsibilities borne by the youths themselves, the school, the family, and even the community, the Government and the parents. For the sake of simplicity, I will illustrate, using a new town as an example, the difficulties faced by families living there and the inadequacy of assistance rendered by the Government. I will be using Tin Shui Wai in Yuen Long, the newest new town, as a simple example.
A general feature of new towns is the large amount of public housing there; hence a lot of young nuclear families with very young children. The educational level of these families is generally low. Quite a large number of new immigrants live there. Residents in new towns, whether they have moved in from the urban areas in Hong Kong or Kowloon or are new immigrants from mainland China, have one thing in common: they are either separated or far away from their original support network. Before, when they were still living in the urban areas, they could get help if they needed it from relatives living in the vicinity by simply ringing them up, and their relatives could come and help taking care of their children or keeping them company for several nights. Once in the new towns, however, they are far away from their original support network. In addition, new towns are difficult to reach ─ everybody knows how unsatisfactory the traffic is on Tuen Mun Road. It is almost impossible to invite friends or relatives to come to Tin Shui Wai for a visit. Everybody would frown at the idea. While such a visit every now and then is acceptable, spending a week there at Tin Shui Wai looking after young children is, I believe, a request friends and relatives find difficult to accede to. Moreover, journey time is a problem, too.
The families I have mentioned often do not know how to get help when they run into trouble. Several years ago, the Yuen Long District Board conducted a survey on who these new town families will mostly turn to for help in time of trouble. It was found that most of them, new settlers in the area, did not know they could approach the Social Welfare Department (SWD). Instead, they would seek help from neighbours, who may not be as caring as could be expected if they had not yet established a good relationship with them.
Mr Deputy, another feature of new town families, typically families as Tin Shui Wai, is that the husbands often need to work in the urban areas. Since they need to travel long distances, they have to get up shortly after five in the morning and will not be home until eight or nine in the evening if traffic is heavy. After dinner they may manage to spare a few moments watching TV and then have to go to bed, in order to rise early the next day. These are facts evidenced by survey results, not empty talks. The husbands of these families spend long hours out of their homes. As a consequence, most of the pressure of daily life falls on the wives, who need to take care of the household chores, look after their children or even find schools or tutors for them and supervise their studies. Not all women can handle that amount of work. At times, the wife would like to wait for her husband to return and talk to him. The husband may refuse to talk out of tiredness. With all the pressure the wife needs to bear, and without knowing how to get help, tension may build up in her after some time. She may let off steam on her children. As time goes by, the parents and children would naturally be alienated from each other. This can be a reason why these women have resorted to gambling to give vent to their feelings. Hence, this accounts for the high level of activities of "loan sharks" in new towns.
Mr Deputy, the next point I want to make is that we hope these families can turn to the SWD for assistance when problems arise. I have on hand some manpower figures of the Social Welfare Office in Yuen Long District. In 1991, there were 15 social workers at the Family Services Centre of the SWD there, and they handled a total of 803 cases. On average, each social worker needed to handle 53.5 cases. In 1992, there were 12 social workers assigned to take care of 830 cases. The average case load was 69.2 for each. In 1993, when people began to move in to Tin Shui Wai, there were 13 social workers. With 989 cases handled, the average case load was 76.1 for each. In 1994, 14 social workers were assigned 1 269 cases. The average case load was 90.6. And in 1995, 19 social workers were assigned 1 866 cases. The average case load was 98.2. In five years, the work load of each social worker has been doubled, that is, the number of cases each needs to handle has risen from 53 to 98. However, the manpower for social workers has remained low. That is why I have stressed that the SWD should shoulder the responsibility in this respect. The population at Tin Shui Wai has increased over the last two years. In addition, 150 000 residents were added to the population in Yuen Long District. Despite this, only a few social workers have been added, and the social workers are overloaded with work for the numerous cases they need to handle. Naturally, they feel so much stress that they can neither allocate enough time for cases nor give in-depth treatment or attention to these cases. Some minor cases may not even have files opened for them: clients may just be interviewed and then dismissed by advising them to go home and try to be more tolerant. These neglected cases may lead to a number of tragedies. Of course, the Secretary for Health and Welfare may say later that apart from family services, other services such as family life education and youth service centres are available. But one must not forget that most of these services are for healthy families. What we need to provide to these families are direct and prompt assistance. As the saying goes: "Every unfortunate story originates from an unfortunate family." But with timely assistance from the SWD, the number of unfortunate stories may, I believe, be greatly reduced.
Thank you, Mr Deputy.
MR ERIC LI (in Cantonese): 1985 was the International Youth Year. I was appointed in 1986 a member of the Central Committee on Youth (CCY), of which I am now Chairman. During these 10 years, I have become part and parcel of youth work. If I were requested to declare interests and list all the committees that I am involved, I think I could talk on and on until after nine this evening and might not be able to finish even by then. I did not intend to speak today, not because I am not interested in the subject but because in the past three years I have made known time and again my position in respect of the same. Yesterday I worked till very late at night in preparation for the Public Accounts Committee meeting today and I have not prepared a draft for my speech. However, after listening to Members who spoke on the matter, it seems that there is a lot of misunderstanding about youth services or the information the speakers have at hand is not very accurate. Therefore, I feel obliged to say something in order to be fair to everybody.
First, the Honourable CHAN Kam-lam mentioned that at the time the CCY submitted a report to the Government, stating that the Hong Kong community advocated a central policy department for co-ordination. This was entirely wrong. At that time, social workers, the education sector and people who made representations to the CCY all indicated clearly that they did not want any centralized structure on youth services because this would lead to social engineering effects. Instead, a co-ordinating mechanism was desired. It was hoped that co-ordination could be achieved through other means, but not an agency of the Government designated to regulate or centralize all youth work in Hong Kong. The two ideas were markedly different. However, I must admit that at that time there were also proposals to lay down a youth policy. That explained the subsequent emergence of the "Charter for Youth". As regards a youth policy, indeed at present a number of policies are being handled by different policy branches, and more and more of these have been supplemented years. They have all followed the provisions in the "Charter of Youth". In terms of policy objectives, the Government has indeed displayed a co-ordinating role.
As regards the overall youth work, I proposed a motion debate in this Council in February 1992 and there was full support from all political parties, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) included, for the Charter. So, it came to me as a great suprise today when the DAB, a signatory to the Charter, indicated that the Charter was useless, especially when the DAB had sent a representative to take part in our most recent review and had submitted a lot of useful ideas. I agree that everyone should continue to fight for the formulation of a youth policy, but this is an issue separate from youth suicide. As regards the latter issue, the CCY submitted to the Government several clear and specific proposals in 1993, all of which were adopted. In the first place, we were of the view that the Government should not be the only party to carry out the policy. It is important that parents should take corresponding actions. Young people need to take the initiative to grow up. In order to help them do so, other parties such as social workers and non-government organizations need to take part too. A policy can only be binding on the Government, but cannot urge other parties to take corresponding actions. So if we can work our way through in the form of a charter, everyone, including parents, can then participate. I believe this is a means through which full participation can be enhanced. Of course, the Government clearly has its part to play. This will be discussed by the Administration later and I do not want to duplicate. Our proposals then included the strengthening of family life education for young people and we requested the Education Department to produce a film on the meaning of life. All these were implemented. The only thing different from what the DAB said today is, as I told the Honourable CHEUNG Hon-chung earlier on, that whereas the DAB wanted to make everything compulsory, what is being done now is not compulsory. This is the only difference. We also requested the setting up of a youth hotline, and this was mentioned by the Honourable LAW Chi-kwong. The hotline, established on our request, was made possible with six million dollars allocated by the Government. In addition to the hotline, Radio Hong Kong has its own hotline service too. So, every Saturday evening, everybody can now tune in and listen to the voice of our young people.
Furthermore, we did urge the media not to play up their reports on such suicide cases. In fact, we held a forum to this end and invited representatives from the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the media to take part. After the forum, they laid down their own guidelines and publicized the same, with a view to urging the media and others in the same trade to exercise self-restraint as they do their reporting and refrain from any exaggeration. Unfortunately, after two or three years, some individual media operators seemed to have forgotten about the matter and fell back on exaggerating in their reporting. This is another point different from what was said.
The most important proposal was that the Government should actively co-ordinate efforts to curb youth suicides. As far as policy co-ordination is concerned, the Government should have established a committee two years ago with clearly defined responsibilities to help the so-called young people at risk and, to cater to their special needs. The committee should have the Secretary for Health and Welfare as its chairman and I, as well as representatives from the Executive Council and the social work sector, should be among its members. I am not prepared to talk about the work of the committee because relevant work is still continuing, including very detailed and in-depth research. If there is a chance, the Honourable Miss Margaret NG may go and visit the resource centre of the CCY. There she would find not only studies on views expressed by the young people themselves, as she has mentioned, but also the survey report the Honourable WONG Wai-yin talked about, and a lot of other survey reports on the issue. Other reports are also available. They include the research report, as mentioned by Dr the Honourable HUANG Chen-ya, compiled by a university on behalf of the Education Department.
We have never been complacent, in spite of the above work. We are still conducting further surveys and in-depth research, undertaken by the organization "Breakthrough" on our behalf. As the results of these surveys and research are not yet available, I cannot give you any details now. If we ask our young people for their opinion, they would simply tell us that committing suicide is a foolish and an immature act. If we really support our young people, I think we should concur with what they say in these surveys. That young people taking away their own lives for no apparent reasons is not acceptable. Some young people may be genuinely sick. When they do commit suicide, no one should blame other people for that. Instead, we should provide help as far as possible. Finally, we should send a strong message to our young people: they should never accept suicide as a proper course of action. They should regard suicide as an immature act. Thank you, Mr Deputy.
SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND WELFARE (in Cantonese): Mr Deputy, I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to explain to Members the measures Government is already taking and will be taking in the future to tackle the problem of young people taking their lives. We are as concerned as you are by these tragedies and are committed to doing whatever we can to prevent them.
But before I describe what we are doing and planning, I need to set out a few facts. Over the past few years, there has not been a consistent increase in the numbers of young people (defined as those aged 19 years and below) committing suicide. The numbers have gone up and down. In 1991 the number was 19. This rose to 38 in 1992. In 1993 it fell to 28 but rose again to 37 in 1994. As at 30 November this year, it was 26.
To provide some perspective for Members as to where that places us in terms of international comparison, Members may wish to know that, in 1986 (the latest figures that we have) in Japan the rate per 100,000 of young people committing suicide was 16.5, in the United States it was 12 and in Singapore it was 3.7. In Hong Kong, the equivalent average rate over the last five years was 1.8.
Such statistics can only provide a useful reference. No number can be low enough. One youth suicide is already one too many.
Measures to Prevent Suicide
Let me now describe the wide range of services Government provides to help young people both in terms of prevention and remedial action. They fall broadly into two categories: those provided in the welfare sector and those in the education sector.
On the social welfare side, both remedial and preventive services are delivered by the Social Welfare Department and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Remedial counselling and support are provided by caseworkers in Family Services Centres, school social workers in secondary schools, outreaching social workers, professional youth workers in Children and Youth Centres, medical social workers in Children and Youth Centres, medical social workers and clinical psychologists. There are also a variety of hotlines, for example, that run by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups called "Youthline", which give young people the chance to seek help from a trained, sympathetic and anonymous ear. We started subventing the "Youthline" in August this year.
A number of Members are particularly concerned about school social work service, and they have requested an expansion of this service. In fact we have done a great deal to improve the school social work since. Over the past three years alone, we have provided an extra 99 school social work units. We achieved our White paper target of one school social worker to 2 000 students in 1994-95 ─ that is, one year in advance.
For schools with more students problems, we have halved this ratio to one school social worker for every 1 000 students. When we add another 22 school social workers units in the next financial year, there will be just over 100 schools benefiting from this higher ratio.
We agree totally with Members that this service is important and it helps young people to cope with their problems. That is exactly why we are expanding the service next year.
The Honourable CHEUNG Hon-chung has suggested changing the title of school social workers to "Life Education Officers" so as to improve their image among the students and parents. In this way, the parents and their children would not feel that they have some kind of problems and therefore need the counselling of social workers. Hence they would be more willing to initiate contacts with the social workers. Although I have not received a similar suggestion in this regard, I am happy to consider all facilities that will help youngsters to seek professional counselling. I will direct the Social Welfare Department to study and follow up this suggestion. Meanwhile, I certainly support what the Honourable Mrs Elizabeth WONG said about the importance of the family.
On the preventive side, our main aim is to help parents to create a supportive home environment for their children and to improve communication between them so that young people who are facing problems can talk them through and resolve them rather than try to escape through suicide. We achieve this through our Family Life Education Programmes organized by life education officers and family activity and resource centres. And since very often those who understand young people's problems best are their peers, we also have mutual help and peer support groups set up, for example, in children and youth centres and group work units.
But we need always to maintain our efforts to support all those involved: the parents, the social workers and, most importantly, the young people themselves. The Social Welfare Department has, therefore, produced a cartoon booklet entitled "To Live" which is aimed at young people to put across the message that suicide is not the way out. The Department has organized over 260 activities in the first six months of this year, including workshops, camping trips, film shows and drama competitions, for young people and their families. In addition, special in-service training programmes are offered for staff in the Social Welfare Department and NGOs on topics such as "Working with Adolescent Self-Destructive Tendencies" and "Handling Suicidal Clients".
A great deal of work is also done in the education field, as most young people spend a large part of their time in school. The Education Department provides Student Guidance Teachers or Student Guidance Officers in primary schools and Guidance Teachers in secondary schools to organize guidance programmes to help groups of pupils overcome their learning and/or behavioural problems and to provide individual guidance to those having more complicated social or family problems. Where even greater professional input is required, pupils will be referred to educational psychologists, school social workers or the Social Welfare Department. In additional, for all pupils, these Student Guidance staff will organize Whole School Guidance activities which is meant to promote positive behaviour in pupils, strengthen their motivation to learn and enhance their self-esteem.
The Education Department has also in recent years conducted special seminars, workshops and training courses for teachers and Student Guidance Officers to train them to spot student problems early and to try to prevent suicides. It has also produced video tapes, guidance materials and APIs to encourage student discussion of their problems with their teachers and parents.
Mr CHEUNG also mentioned the need to provide family life education to students, and suggested introducing it as a special subject of normal education in primary and secondary schools. The Education Department (ED) has in fact done a lot of work in this respect and has helped students to build a positive attitude towards life. It has also taught them how to deal with emotional problems. For instance, the ED has produced and distributed to schools a video on "Cherishing one's life". The Department has also regularly issued to schools documentaries such as "Life is no Regrets" together with the guidelines for discussions. There are also a lot of titles on developmental and preventive services. The ED has also produced and distributed to schools a package of teaching material on the relationships between parents and children. This package was distributed to secondary schools in November 1993 and to primary schools in May 1995. The objective of all these efforts, be they in the social welfare or education sectors, is to increase our understanding of how young people think, what they need and how they can be helped to cope better with the stress in their lives.
Review of measures
I would now like to move on to the review of existing policies and youth services called for in the motion. In a way, we are always reviewing what we do so as to ensure that the changing needs of our community are met in the best possible way.
I chair the Co-ordinating Committee for the Welfare of Children and Youth at Risk, which was set up in 1993. This Committee has, in turn, established a Working Group on Services for Youth at Risk with the Director of Social Welfare as its chairman. This Group, which comprises representatives from NGOs and relevant government departments, is tasked with examining current youth problems and recommending measures to tackle them. It has looked at the issue of youth suicide and proposed several initiatives. These include:
First, the formation of a task group to take a fresh look at children and youth centre facilities. The idea being that if we are to attract young people off the streets and away from places where they could be vulnerable to bad influences, we need to make these centres more appealing. So the group is reviewing their accommodation and equipment and suggesting ways to up-date and improve them.
Second, a review of the various youth hotlines run by the Government and NGOs. A task group has now developed a common data recording system so that the valuable information that hotlines collect from young callers can be usefully collated and interpreted. It will also look at how publicity can be improved so that youngsters facing a crisis of just needing someone to talk to know who they can call.
Third, the promotion of peer group support in the Districts through increased efforts by District Social Welfare Officers and NGOs.
But we also conduct more formal reviews from time to time. Insofar as youth services are concerned, we have, for example, conducted two reviews of the outreaching social work service, one in 1987 and one in 1994. The purpose of these reviews was:
firstly, to examine the needs and problems of young people;
secondly, to consider the effectiveness of these services in addressing these needs and problems; and
thirdly, to assess the need for future expansion.
As a result of these reviews, we have created six more outreaching teams since the first review and aim to create two more outreaching teams in each of the next three financial years. These teams are being established in recognition of the more complex problems being faced by today's youth and the effectiveness of the outreaching service in identifying young people in need and preventing their problems from getting worse.
Between 1992 and 1994, Children and Youth Centre Services were reviewed to ensure that our policy objectives were appropriate, and the organization structure and services were meeting young people's needs. The conclusion was that these centres should adopt a "holistic" approach in addressing the problems of young people. That is to say, all aspects of a young person's life should be looked at. In order to do this, it was recommended that an integrated approach in terms of the professionals involved should be adopted so that youth workers of children and youth centres, school social workers, outreaching social workers, family life education workers co-operate in providing support and organizing programmes in the centres. We have already set up ten such teams and will review their effectiveness at the end of 1996.
On the education side, a Task Group on Student Suicide was set up in the ED in April 1992 to review on an on-going basis department procedures for dealing with youth suicides and to study such cases to try to establish possible causes and to recommend appropriate follow-up remedial and preventive measures.
We have also recently commissioned two research projects on youth suicide and are jointly conducting a third with tertiary institutes and the Hospital Authority. The aim is to have better data, to understand the problem better and then to target our services more effectively. The first is, again, an initiative from the Working Group on Services for Youth at Risk. It has engaged a research team with overseas and local professionals to develop a screening tool to identify early on those young people who might be at risk so that we can meet their needs before their problems develop or become too serious. The second research project, commissioned by the ED, is to study the use of peer support and life skills training in the prevention of student suicides. The third is to investigate the risk factors in and impact on the mental health of youngsters whose peers have committed suicide. The results will enable us to support more effectively those who are through this sort of trauma. All three projects will be completed by mid to late 1996 . The Honourable Miss Margaret NG also noted that we must listen to the young people's own voice. I can assure her that in these research programmes, young people will have an opportunity to participate and we will gather their views and opinions.
Before I end I would like to say something about the valuable contribution the Commission on Youth, chaired by the Honourable Eric LI, has made in addressing the problems of young suicide. In 1991, the Commission made recommendations to both the Social Welfare and Education Departments to, for example, strengthen family life education, enhance student guidance programmes and improve communication between parents and their children. These recommendations have all been implemented by the Administration.
Another important point the Commission has made is that the mass media should be more retrained in its reporting of young people taking their lives and should avoid glamorizing such cases. Many Members have mentioned this point and we also agree that this is very important. The ED has already sent out a letter in 1992 to the media, calling on them to join hands with all sectors in the community and convey a positive message to our young people so as to help solve the problem of student suicide. I understand that the ED is now considering writing to the concerned organizations again and reiterate the Administration's call to help solve the problem.
It should be clear from everything I have said this afternoon that the Government is doing all it can to take positive steps to deal with the problem of youth suicide and to review and revise the measures we take on an on-going basis. But we cannot achieve our goal alone. We need the support of the whole community as parents, as teachers, as social workers, as journalists and as Members of this Council. Every one us has a responsibility to help the young people of Hong Kong to cope with their problems so that they can grow up to become the upright citizens we need to shape our future. Thank you, Mr Deputy.
THE PRESIDENT resumed the Chair.
PRESIDENT: Mr CHEUNG Hon-chung, you are now entitled to reply and you have three minutes 50 seconds, out of your original 15 minutes.
MR CHEUNG HON-CHUNG (in Cantonese): Mr President, I believe no one will disagree that the problem of youth suicide is serious in Hong Kong. After listening to the speeches of my honourable colleagues in this Council, I feel that our direction is the same. We all demand that the government should review the existing policies and allocate more resources to conduct a comprehensive and forward-looking study on youth services so as to prevent and curb the trend of youth suicides. Although we may have different views and approaches in respect of the details, this should not prevent us from fighting for more resources from the Government to resolve the problems among our young people.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong(DAB) is one of the signatories of the Youth Charter. We definitely are not against it. We just feel that the Administration should be more positive and work out some feasible measures, including the setting up of a mechanism for co-ordination. Meanwhile, the DAB is not negating the work of the Commission on Youth. We share the same views especially in the aspect of life education. But the Commission on Youth has started that life education is a non-compulsory subject and it is up to the schools whether to introduce it. However, due to the pressure of the school curricula, this has been neglected by a lot of schools. Therefore, the DAB hopes that life education can be included as a compulsory subject to be introduced in schools. With its introduction, the school social workers can also be renamed as "Life Education Officers" in order to have their image changed. Hence, the work of the Commission on Youth is in line with the views of the DAB.
According to an academic research conducted in the United Kingdom, media coverage of youth suicides handled in a low-keyed manner can indeed reduce the occurrence of chained suicides. I therefore take this opportunity to call upon the mass media not to play up reports on youth suicides when covering the news.
Mr President, with these remarks, I urge all colleagues to support my motion.
Question on the motion put and agreed to.
ADJOURNMENT AND NEXT SITTING
PRESIDENT: In accordance with Standing Orders I now adjourn the Council until 2.30 pm on Wednesday 13 December 1995.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Seven o'clock.
Note:The short titles of the Bills listed in the Hansard, with the exception of the Noise Control (Amendment) Bill 1995, Road Traffic (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 1995 and Employment (Amendment) (No. 4) Bill 1995, have been translated into Chinese for information and guidance only; they do not have authoritative effect in Chinese.