PLC Paper No. CB(2)101
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration and cleared with the Chairman)
Ref : CB2/PL/HA
LegCo Panel on Home Affairs
Minutes of Meeting
held on Friday, 20 June 1997 at 10:30 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Chairman)
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon LAW Chi-kwong
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
Members Absent :
Hon LO Suk-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG CHIEN Chi-lien, CBE, ISO, JP
Member Attending :
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Public Officers Attending :
- Item II
- Mr Peter WONG
- Acting Senior Assistant Solicitor General
- Mr John DEAN
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
- Mr NG Hon-wah
- Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (Acting)
- Mr John DEAN
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
- Mr LEE Lap-sun, JP
- Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs
- Mr Carlson K S CHAN
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
Clerk in Attendance :
- Mrs Anna LO
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2
Staff in Attendance :
- Ms Christine LIU
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 8
I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising
The draft minutes of the last meeting were with the Administration for comments. As this was the last meeting of the Panel for the current legislative session, the minutes of meeting held on 23 May 1997 would be circulated to members for confirmation.
(Post-meeting note : The minutes were confirmed on 27.6.97 by circulation vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2)2767/96-97.)
II. Reports on Hong Kong under the various international covenants on human rights matters
(Paper No. CB(2)2706/96-97(01) - provided by the Administration)
The Chairman invited the representative of Home Affairs Branch (HAB) to elaborate on the paper.
Representative of HAB explained that the paper was a round up report on the human rights treaties as requested by the Panel. The paper set out the present position and the way forward on the reporting cycles and reporting processes of the regular reports required under the various international covenants.
In respect of para. 7 of the paper, a member enquired how the UK Government could ensure that China would submit the reports in respect of HK under the ICCPR and ICESCR to the UN. He further asked if China did not submit the reports, would the UK and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Governments consider that as a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and would the UK Government protest or follow-up on the issue. Representative of HAB replied that UKs position was clearly set out in the paper. China had undertaken - in the Joint Declaration - that the Covenants would continue to apply. That had to include reporting as the obligation to submit reports was integral to both Covenants. Britain was confident that China would honour its commitment. The UK Government would continue to raise the issue at the highest levels, including the Joint Liaison Group and diplomatic channels.
A member said that there was a contradiction between para. 7 of the paper which stated that China had undertaken to ensure that the provisions of the two covenants as applied to Hong Kong would remain in force, and para. 9 which said that China had so far maintained that it did not have an obligation to report. Representative of HAB replied that there was a difference of opinion between the UK and China, rather than a contradiction.
A member proposed that the Panel should write to the UK Prime Minister to reflect the unsatisfactory situation, and to request him to take positive actions to ensure that China would submit the reports in 1999. On para. 10 of the paper, the member suggested that the UK Government should submit the six-monthly reports on HK to the UN, in addition to submitting the reports to the British Parliament. The Chairman suggested that the Panel should also write to express the concern to the Premier of the Peoples Republic of China.
(Post-meeting note : The letters to the UK Prime Minister and Chinese Premier was sent on 23.6.97. Copies of the letters were circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(2)2782/96-97.)
The Chairman opined that the HKSAR Government should also guarantee that it would try its best to ensure that the reports would be submitted in 1999, as these were important for the promotion of human rights of the people of Hong Kong.
A member raised concern on para. 5(b) of the paper stating that the report "on the human rights situation in the territory of Hong Kong up to 30 June 1997" to be submitted to the UN Secretariat on 30 June 1997 would be made available in Hong Kong through the British Consulate General in English only. She considered that the UK or Hong Kong Government should be able to translate it in Chinese for distribution. The Chairman added that as the report was submitted on behalf of the predominantly Chinese population of Hong Kong, who were the beneficiaries of the international covenants, it was most undesirable that the report would not be available in their own language. The Chairman proposed to write to the UK Government to express the Panels dissatisfaction.
Representative of HAB explained that the UK Foreign Office had resource constraints on the Chinese translation of the report. The report was written in English because it was a document submitted by the UK as a sovereign state to the UN. The UN Secretariat might translate the report to Chinese later, as it was one of the official languages of the UN. But he was not certain that it would. If it did, the translation would be in simplified characters.
A member failed to understand why the UK Foreign Office was in lack of resources to translate the report into Chinese. The member further opined that the Hong Kong Government should have the responsibility to translate and distribute the report.
Representative of HAB explained that the Hong Kong Government contributed to the draft of the report, and once the draft was submitted, the report would be a UK Government document. The report would not be finalised until its submission to the UN on 30 June 1997. Thereafter, the HKSAR Government - established on 1 July 1997 - would have no locus to distribute the report. That is why the report would be distributed through the British Consulate-General.
A member opined that the UK Government should provide a Chinese translation of the report as a departing gesture to the people of Hong Kong. No major translation workload would in fact be involved as she did not anticipate the report to be a long one. The member suggested to include the request for a Chinese translation of the report in the letter to the UK Prime Minister. She also requested that the report should be sent to the outgoing LegCo Members.
Representative of HAB replied that it would be relatively convenient to obtain the report. The British Consulate-General would accept telephone requests and would be happy to forward the report by post. It was a standard HK Government practice to publish the Hong Kong sections of the UKs reports in both languates; it had just released the bilingual version of the progress report under the Convention on the Right of the Child. This would continue. The case of the ICCPR update was exceptional and reflected the timing of its submission and the change of sovereignty.
(Post-meeting note : According to the Administration, the British Consulate-General will, in fact, make the update available in Chinese.)
Upon enquiry, representative of HAB confirmed that the UN committee would not hold a hearing of the updating CRC report, which was a supplementary report, not a periodic one. The Chairman and a member proposed to form a subcommittee to meet during lunch time on Monday, 23 June 1997 to examine the report, including the following issues -
- single-parent families in Hong Kong, in particular the cases where one parent, being the single parent in Hong Kong, was dead, in hospital, or in prison serving a long sentence; and the other parent, being an illegal immigrant, had to be repatriated to China, leaving the child or children under the care of social welfare institutions; and
- legal representation of children attending Juvenile Courts.
The Chairman, Miss Emily LAU, Mr LAW Chi-kwong and Dr John TSE agreed to join the Subcommittee.
III. Equal Opportunities : Discrimination on the Ground of Race
(LegCo Brief ref. HAB/CR/1/34/56 IV - provided by the Administration)
Representative of HAB highlighted the salient points in the LegCo Brief.
The Chairman queried that the opinions expressed in the submissions received in the consultation exercise should not be quantified, as the people being discriminated against were in fact the minority group and the weight of their response would not be reflected in a quantified assessment. He suggested the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to provide some codes of practice or guidelines on preventing racial discrimination in Hong Kong. A member pointed out that the statement (particularly the Chinese version) "that (anti-racial discrimination) legislation is unnecessary or undesirable" in para. 7 of the paper was biased. Another member raised that the Administration should take the lead in the prevention of discrimination. A third member opined that the Administration should not defer action until the problem of racial discrimination became serious in Hong Kong.
Representative of HAB replied that, under the SDO and DDO, the EOC was at present only responsible for handling sex and disability discrimination. Therefore, the proposed code of practice or guidelines would be outside the EOCs statutory functions. However, the Administration would consider formulating such a code or guidelines to facilitate self regulation by the community.
IV. The Administrations response to the report of the Subcommittee on Review of Advisory and Statutory Bodies
(Paper No. CB(2)2706/96-97(02) - provided by the Administration)
Representative of HAB thanked the Subcommittee for its efforts in compiling the report. He introduced the paper which set out the general position of the Administration (with the point-by-point response in its annexes) to the Subcommittee observations and recommendations. HAB played a co-ordinating role in the compilation of the paper. Of the over 350 advisory and statutory bodies, only a few were served by HAB.
Representative of HAB reiterated that government was firmly committed to a more transparent system of boards and committees. It would, in conjunction with individual boards and committees, take immediate follow up actions to implement the agreed measures set out in paragraph 3 of the paper to further enhance the transparency of the current system of boards and committees. Policy Secretaries had also been asked to monitor closely the operation of the boards and committees under their respective purview to see what other measures could be adopted to better inform the public of their work.
Upon enquiry from a member, representative of HAB elaborated on the immediate measures to enhance transparency and representation of the advisory and statutory bodies including the following -
- requiring the remaining (about 30) advisory and statutory bodies to adopt the guidelines on the declaration of interests devised by the ICAC;
- constant review of the measures to increase the transparency of the advisory and statutory bodies; and
- further examination of the four advisory and statutory bodies at Annex B of the Administrations paper which had not adopted any transparency measures.
The Chairman and a member suggested the Administration to categorise the nature and scope of the advisory and statutory bodies so that different degree of openness would be accorded to these bodies. Representative of HAB replied that, in general, statutory bodies had to operate according to the provisions of their governing Ordinances. As such there might be restrictions on their openness. On the other hand, advisory bodies could be more open. However, the Administration would prefer to leave the discretion to enhance their transparency to these bodies, by encouraging them to do so. Some of these bodies were in fact responding well while others might require more time to prepare for their openness.
A member opined that while the policy directive of the Administration was agreeable, the process to increase the transparency and representation of these bodes should be faster, for example, in appointing more elected members of the District Boards, Municipal Councils, and Legislative Council to these advisory and statutory bodies. The Chairman added that members of political parties should not be excluded from appointment because of their political affiliation. He opined that appointing members of political parties to advisory and statutory bodies might be a mutually beneficial process, as the bodies and the political parties might adjust their own thinking through the interaction. Representative of HAB replied that, in the appointment process, emphasis had been placed on the personal ability and the represented organisations of the candidates. At present, not every advisory and statutory body had elected member(s) of the three-tier system of representative government; but the number was increasing, depending on the scope and nature of individual boards/committees.
On the attendance of individual members of these bodies, a member pointed out that whilst appointing a famous member might promote the status of a committee, he, because of his busy commitments, might not be able to attend meetings and contribute to the committee as desired. An ordinary member, on the other hand, might be providing more contribution to the committee. Representative of HAB replied that the choice of appointed members might be quite limited in some professions. While there had been cases where some appointed members were unable to attend every meeting of the committee, some of them might still be able to contribute to the committee by offering off-meeting advice and professional opinion. Members with very poor attendance records would not be re-appointed.
Upon enquiry, representative of HAB elaborated on the six-board rule and the six-year rule which had been practised by the Administration for many years to ensure that the appointed members would not be overloaded with membership of advisory and statutory bodies and to facilitate the appointment of more new members to these bodies. So far there had been very few exceptions for appointments to serve on more than six boards at any one time and re-appointments to serve more than six years in any one particular board. They also confirmed that not all appointments were made through HAB, although HAB might, upon request by respective policy branches, recommend suitable persons for appointment.
At the request of a member, representative of HAB undertook to provide the Internet web-site addresses of the information homepages mentioned in the paper. Relevant information of the members of the advisory and statutory bodies would only be disclosed in accordance with the provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance
In closing, the Chairman thanked the Administration for its comprehensive response and hoped that it would continue positively to enhance the transparency and representation of the statutory and advisory bodies.
V. Any other business
There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:45 pm.
29 July 1997
Last Updated on 19 August 1998