PLC Paper No. LS 81
Paper for the House Committee Meeting
of the Provisional Legislative Council on 23 January 1998
Legal Service Division Report on
Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) (Amendment) Bill 1998
Object(s) of the Bill
To amend the Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance (19 of 1997) ("the Ordinance") by introducing a legislative framework to improve fire safety of commercial buildings, being commercial buildings with their building plans first submitted to the Building Authority on or before 1 March 1987 or commercial buildings constructed on or before that date.
PLC Brief Reference
2. SBCR 1/1866/96(97) XIV dated 15 January 1998 issued by the Security Bureau.
Date of First Reading
3. 21 January 1998.
4. The Bill represents the Governments responses and follow-up action to the recommendations in the Final Report of the Inquiry into the Garley Building Fire. It seeks to introduce legislative amendments to extend the application of the Ordinance to old commercial buildings to upgrade the fire safety facilities and equipment, means of escape, means of access and fire resisting construction of these buildings.
5. The Administration intends to extend the coverage of the Ordinance to cover pre-1987 old commercial buildings by phases. The Bill seeks to implement the first phase of Governments plan to improve fire safety of old commercial buildings. The first priority is to deal with commercial buildings with their building plans first submitted to the Building Authority on or before 23 March 1973 or commercial buildings constructed on or before that date. These commercial buildings are "specified commercial buildings" under Schedule 4 to the Bill. According to the PLC Brief, there are some 400 such commercial buildings. After the completion of the first phase, the Administration will conduct a review to cover the remaining pre-1987 commercial buildings.
6. The term "commercial building" is defined in clause 4 to mean the whole of a non-domestic building which was constructed on or before 1 March 1987 and which is constructed or intended to be used for the purposes of an office, business, trade or any entertainment but does not include the following buildings:
- a non-domestic building constructed or intended to be used exclusively for the purposes of a hotel, serviced apartment, guest-house or similar establishment; school, college, university or similar educational establishment; hospital, clinic, medical centre, rehabilitation centre or similar establishment; carpark; elderly home, child care centre or social services centre; factory or industrial undertaking; godown, warehouse or place of bulk storage; utilities building or power station or sub-station; or cinema or theatre;
- a building which is partly constructed or intended to be used for domestic or industrial purposes.
For the purposes of this Bill, "domestic" means a part of the commercial building that is constructed or intended to be used for human habitation or family dwelling, but excludes the use of the part of the commercial building for hotel, serviced apartment, guest-house, dormitory, elderly home, child care centre or similar establishment.
7. According to the above definitions, a building which is partly for human habitation and partly for the purposes of an office, etc. will not be covered by the Bill. However, the Bill will apply to a building which is partly used for the purposes of an office, etc. and partly for hotel, elderly home, etc.
8. The enforcement provisions in respect of specified commercial buildings under the Bill are similar to the provisions in respect of prescribed commercial premises under the Ordinance. Under the Bill, the enforcement authority (either the Director of Buildings or the Director of Fire Services) may serve on the owner of a specified commercial building a fire safety improvement direction directing the owner to make improvements on fire safety measures in respect of the commercial building. The term "owner" is defined in clause 4 of the Bill. These measures, as defined in Schedule 5 to the Bill, include the provision of fire service installations and equipment, means of escape in the event of fire, means of access for firefighting and rescue services, and fire resisting construction. An owner of a specified building who fails to comply with a fire safety improvement direction is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine at level 4 ($25,000) and to a further fine of $2,500 for each day or part of a day during which the failure continues.
9. Upon conviction of the owner, a magistrate may issue a fire safety improvement compliance order directing the owner to make improvements to the fire protection measures on the commercial building. An owner who fails to comply with
such an order is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine at level 5 ($50,000) and a daily fine of $5,000 for each day during which the offence continues.
10. The enforcement authority may also apply to the District Court for an order prohibiting occupation of a specified commercial building. A person who fails to comply with a prohibition order commits an offence and is liable to a fine of $250,000 and imprisonment for 3 years and a daily fine of $25,000 for each day during which the offence continues.
11. The enforcement authority may issue a certificate of compliance, on being satisfied that the relevant fire safety improvement direction or fire safety improvement compliance order has been complied with, whether at the request of an owner of an affected building or on its own initiative.
12. If enacted, the Bill will come into operation on a day to be appointed by the Secretary for Security by notice in the Gazette.
13. The PLC Brief states that a public consultation exercise was conducted from May to July 1997. The concerned groups generally supported the objective of improving the fire safety for old commercial buildings, but raised concerns about the cost and practical difficulties in complying with the fire safety requirements.
Consultation with PLC Panel
14. The Administration briefed the Provisional Legislative Council Panel on Security on 16 October 1997 on Governments plan to introduce legislative amendments to improve fire safety of old commercial buildings. While members of the Security Panel generally expressed support to the proposed amendments, some members were concerned about the technical and financial difficulties on building owners in complying with certain fire safety measures.
15. The Legal Service Division is seeking clarification from the Administration on certain technical points. Meanwhile, Members may consider whether a Bills Committee should be set up to study the Bill in detail in light of the concerns of the members of the Security Panel.
FUNG Sau-kuen, Connie
Assistant Legal Adviser
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
20 January 1998