LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1671/96-97
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/BC/3/96/2

Bills Committee on Education (Amendment) Bill 1996

Minutes of Meeting held on Tuesday, 8 April 1997, at 2:30 p.m. in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present:

    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung (Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwong

Member absent:

    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung

Public officers attending:

    Items II & III

    Miss Annettee LEE
    Principal Assistant Secretary for
    Education and Manpower

    Mr M Y CHENG
    Assistant Director of Education

    Mr G A Fox
    Senior Assistant Law Draftsman
    Legal Department

Clerk in attendance :

    Miss Polly YEUNG
    Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

    Miss Anita HO
    Assistant Legal Adviser 5

    Ms Connie SZETO
    Senior Assistant Secretary (1)5

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1109/96-97)

The minutes of the meeting held on 12 March 1997 were confirmed without amendment.

II.Briefing by Hon Christine LOH

2. Upon invitation by the Chairman, Miss Christine LOH, Member-in-charge of the Bill, explained that the Bill sought to repeal section 84(1)(m) of the Education Ordinance (Cap. 279) (EO) which empowered the Governor in Council to make regulations for the control of political expression in schools. It would also require the consequential repeal of regulation 98(2) of the Education Regulations (ER) conferring power on the Director of Education (D of E) to give directions or guidance to schools to ensure that political information or opinion disseminated in schools was unbiased. She also highlighted the following concerns :

  1. the aforesaid section and regulation were obsolete under the present political climate since exposure to and discussion of different political opinions had become an integral part of civic education;

  2. there was no good reason to single out information or opinion of a political nature as the subject of statutory control. Indeed, the Administration had previously proposed to repeal section 84(1)(m) in the Education (Amendment) Bill 1990 but it was Members’ view there and then that it should be preserved and amended to its present form;

  3. the arbitrary power conferred on the Administration to decide whether certain information was of a politically biased nature might be further applied in the wider context to control student activities; and

  4. there was no practical need to retain section 84(1)(m) of the EO and regulation 98(2) of the ER since the D of E could avail himself of the power under regulation 98(1) of the ER to restrict any school activities that might be "prejudicial to the welfare of the pupils or to their education generally".

III.Discussion with the Administration

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1195/96-97(01))

The Administration’s stance

3. In explaining the Administration’s position on the Bill, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (PAS/E&M) explained that the present provisions of section 84(1)(m) and regulation 98(2) had been finalized after extensive deliberations at LegCo. So far, the provisions had been observed by schools which considered the present arrangements satisfactory. The Administration was of the view that the relevant provisions should be retained to provide the D of E with the necessary power to safeguard students against undue political influence. These provisions had served useful purposes in promoting the awareness and self-discipline on the part of schools in ensuring a balanced and objective approach in presenting information of a political nature to students.

4. In response, Miss LOH stressed that the Bill, if enacted, would not interfere with the important principles that teaching of civic education and political issues in schools should be conducted objectively and in a balanced manner.

Judgement on the nature of information or opinion

5.Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong shared the concerns of Miss LOH and opined that the value judgement on whether certain information or opinion was politically biased should not be made by the Government but by the teaching profession or the future General Teaching Council (GTC). He also referred to an article about a debate in the House of Lords in the UK in 1986 which concluded that it was inappropriate to legislate for the control of dissemination of political information or opinion in schools. He urged the Administration to reconsider the Bill in the light of the above arguments. Referring to the Administration’s minimal intervention over the use of school textbooks vis a vis the regulatory powers available under the said section 84(1)(m) and regulation 98(2), Mr Cheung considered that the Administration had in fact adopted a double standard in educational matters.

(Post meeting note : Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong provided the said article after the meeting which was circulated vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1256/96-97.)

6. Responding to Mr CHEUNG’s point that the judgement on whether certain information or opinion was politically biased should be made by the future GTC rather than by the D of E, PAS/E&M pointed out that the EO empowered the Director to play an effective role in monitoring schools to ensure that education was properly conducted. In the process, the Director could consult relevant bodies as she deemed appropriate.

7. Concerning the policy on the use of school textbooks, the Assistant Director of Education said that although schools were free to use any textbook outside the ED’s Recommended List of Textbooks, the D of E could give directions or guidance to the schools concerned to ensure that the teaching materials adopted were accurate.

The scope of regulation 98(1) of the ER

8. PAS/E&M expressed reservations on Miss LOH’s suggestion that the D of E might still achieve the purpose by invoking regulation 98(1) since the expression "the welfare of the pupils" might be construed as being inclusive of the well-being of the pupils to be free from biased political information. According to legal advice, it was not sufficiently clear that the activity of dissemination of political information would be caught by the term "welfare". The Senior Assistant Law Draftsman added that any party aggrieved with the Administration’s decisions made under regulations 98(1) and 98(2) could appeal to the court which had the ultimate authority for interpreting the concerned provisions.

9. In reply to the Chairman, the Assistant Legal Adviser 5 (ALA5) agreed that it was the responsibility of the court to interpret the provisions. In doing so, it was likely that the court would draw reference to the dictionary meaning of the term "welfare" and similar precedent court cases. ALA5 informed the meeting that the term "welfare" had a very wide meaning in the context of family law. As regards the legal effects of the guidelines issued under regulation 98(2), ALA5 said that it was necessary to distinguish between regulations and guidelines. The former were statutory rules contravention of which would result in penalties while the latter were usually not legally binding.

Members’ concerns

10. While Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong was in support of the Bill, other members present at the meeting expressed their reservations. Messrs IP Kwok-him and Ambrose LAU were of the view that schools should be free from politically biased discourse. They were inclined to retain the relevant provisions as a last resort to enable the Administration to intervene in proven cases of dissemination and expression of politically biased information or opinion. Dr LAW Cheung-kwok concurred that at present, it was necessary for the Administration to retain such a regulatory power. He opined that if the proposed GTC was established, the need for these provisions could be reviewed.

11. In summing up, the Chairman concluded that the Committee had deliberated on a number of issues but members could not reach any consensus over the Bill. It was also noted that the Administration opposed the Bill. Nevertheless, members agreed that scrutiny of the Bill had been completed and the Committee’s deliberations be reported to the House Committee on 18 April 1997. The next meeting originally scheduled for 16 April 1997 would not be held. Members also noted that the Second Reading debate of the Bill would resume on a date to be decided by Miss LOH.

12. The meeting ended at 3:45 p.m.

Legislative Council Secretariat

27 May 1997

Last Updated on 23 Jun, 1997