Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 1375/98-99
(These minutes have been seen by
the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/SE/1

LegCo Panel on Security

Minutes of meeting held on Thursday, 7 January 1999 at 2:30 pm in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present:

Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Members attending:

Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon CHAN Yuen-han

Members absent:

Dr Hon LUI Ming-wah, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo

Public Officers attending:

Item III

Mr HUI Ki-on
Commissioner of Police Hong Kong Police Force

Mr LAU Yuk-kuen
Director of Crime & Security Hong Kong Police Force

Item IV

Ms CHANG King-yiu
Deputy Secretary for Security 2

Mr MAK Kwok-wah
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security (Special Duty)

Mr PO Pui-leong
Assistant Director (Environmental Health) Urban Services Department

Mr NG King-sun
Senior Staff Officer (Public Health) Urban Services Department

Mr LAI Kwok-tung
Assistant Director (Environmental Health) Regional Services Department

Ms LI Yuen
Staff Officer (Licensing) Regional Services Department

Mr YUEN Hon-kuen
Chief Officer (Licensing Authority) Home Affairs Department

Mr LAU Shu-lam
Chief Fire Officer (Protection) Fire Services Department

Mr LAU Yiu-wah
Assistant Director (Specialist) Buildings Department

Mr CHEUNG Chi-kuen
Senior Building Surveyor / Licensing Building Department

Mr FAN Sik-ming
Superintendent (Licensing) Hong Kong Police Force

Item V

Ms CHANG King-yiu
Deputy Secretary for Security 2

Mr MAK Kwai-pui
Chief Ambulance Officer Fire Services Department
By invitation :
The Karaoke Requirements Concern Group
Dr KWAN Lim-ho
Professor DRYSDALE
Mr Raymond CHAN
Mr NG Tak-leung
Clerk in attendance:
Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1
Staff in attendance:
Miss Betty MA
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 1
I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper Nos. CB(2) 967/98-99 and CB(2) 969/98-99)

The minutes of meetings held on 3 November 1998 and 5 November 1998 were confirmed. II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 965/98-99(01))

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next Panel meeting to be held on 4 February 1999 -(a) Police Force service quality improvements;(b) Taking of intimate and non-intimate sample; and(c) Proposed registration scheme of drug treatment and rehabilitation centres.(Post-meeting note : The next Panel meeting was rescheduled for 11 February 1999.)

3. Referring to an invitation letter from the Administration which was tabled at the meeting, the Chairman said that the Administration had extended an invitation to members to visit the Police Training School on the proposed construction of a Tactical Training Complex. Members agreed.(Post-meeting note : The visit to the Government Laboratory and the Police Training School was scheduled for the morning of 26 January 1999.)

III. Crime situation in 1998

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Commissioner of Police (CP) gave an account of the crime situation in 1998 as compared with that in 1997. He took members through the statistical information on the crime situation in Hong Kong during 1998 which was tabled at the meeting. He pointed out that though the overall crime rate and the number of crimes had increased in 1998 when compared to the figures in 1997, the figures in 1998 compared favourably with the corresponding figures in the past ten years. The overall crime rate in 1997 was the lowest level in the past 24 years. The 1998 crime rate in Hong Kong was considerably lower than that in many other cities.(Post-meeting note : The crime statistics were circulated to absent members vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 1015/98-99(01).)

Crimes arising from the economic downturn

5. CP said that whilst the general increase in crime could not be directly related to the recent economic downturn, certain crimes such as pickpocketing and snatching as well as criminal intimidation in connection with debt collection were believed to be attributable to the economic situation.

6. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong enquired about the measures which had been put in place by the Force to tackle the possible deterioration in the crime situation in the coming years as a result of the economic downturn. CP responded that the Force would deploy additional front-line Police officers to carry out patrol and improve its intelligence work so that resources could be more effectively deployed. In addition, a set of guidelines for handling and investigating criminal intimidation in connection with debt collection had been issued to the Force.

7. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan was concerned about the allegation of criminal intimidation and nusiances caused by debt collection agencies and the measures adopted by the Police to tackle the problem. CP said that some banks and finance companies did engage debt collection agencies to recover outstanding debts from debtors. The Hong Kong Association of Banks had issued to its member institutions guidelines on debt collection. Should there be evidence of illegal means being used in debt collection, the Police would inform the banks or finance companies concerned which would terminate their contracts with the debt collection agencies in question accordingly. As far as the Police were aware, most of the cases involving criminal intimidation and the use of violence were related to recovering gambling debts, loans from illegal money lenders, etc. The Police had given due attention to the problem.

8. In response to Mr LEE Cheuk-yan's question on the application of the latest guidelines for handling criminal intimidation in connection with debt collection, CP said that under the guidelines, each and every such report received would be followed up by the respective divisional investigation team.

Illegal immigrants

9. CP said that despite a fall in the number of illegal immigrants from the Mainland arrested in 1998, there was an increase of 29% in the number of illegal immigrants arrested for committing crimes. Most of them were involved in crimes related to burglary and robbery as well as in breach of the condition of stay.

10. Mr CHENG Kai-nam asked whether any statistics were available on crimes committed by illegal immigrants. CP said that the problem of illegal immigrants* involvment in crime was not alarming.

11. In response to the Chairman, CP said that two-way permit holders who had committed offences while staying in Hong Kong was not particularly serious, except for those engaged in prostitution activities.

Serious narcotics offences

12. CP said that the amount of drugs seized in 1998, except for "ice" (methyl amphetamine) and cocaine, had been reduced by 23.5% when compared to the figures in 1997. The main reason for the decrease was due to the fact that drug traffickers no longer used Hong Kong as a storage centre. Despite a fall in the quantity of drugs seized in Hong Kong, substantial quantities of drugs were recovered in other parts of the world as a result of the joint investigations with the Mainland and overseas counterparts.

13. Noting from the crime statistics that there was an increase of 271.3% of drug seizure under the category "Others" in 1998 as compared with 1997, Mr Albert HO enquired about the reasons for the substantial increase and whether it was due to a lack of publicity on the harmfulness of drugs. CP said that "ice", cocaine, soft drugs, etc. were grouped under this category. In the light of the enormous amount of "ice" and cocaine seized in several raids in 1998, the relevant figures increased drastically. He agreed that the increasing trend of "ice" being seized was a matter of concern. Regarding publicity work, CP said that the Force would enhance its anti-drug publicity campaign in conjunction with the Narcortics Division.

14. Mr Albert HO was concerned about the problem of drug abuse amongst youngsters. CP said that the number of reported young drug abusers was on the downward trend.

Commercial crimes

15. CP said that though no separate figure was kept for commercial fraud, the number of investigations being carried out by the Commercial Crimes Bureau in 1998 indicated an increasing trend. However, most of the offences were committed before the economic downturn but emerged after the parties involved ran into financial difficulties. Thus, such crimes were not directly related to the economic downturn.

16. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan asked whether any plan was in place to tackle the complaints received by the Police on companies operating "Loco London Gold" as well as the so-called model agency companies deceiving job seekers. In reply, CP said that under the existing legislation, it would be difficult to institute prosecutions in fraud cases relating to the trading of "Loco London Gold" as the complainants had given up their rights by signing contracts, with very unfavourable terms, with the companies in question. Nevertheless, the Force were examining ways to plug the loopholes. Regarding the deceits by the so-called model agency companies, CP said that several prosecutions were underway. He assured members that the Force attached great importance to these cases.

Bank robbery

17. In response to Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's enquiry, CP said that most of the bank robberies were committed by lone culprits. Despite bank robberies increased substantially percentage terms as compared with 1997, the actual number of cases increased by ten only.

18. Mr Howard YOUNG enquired whether the layout of counters in banks attributed to the occurrence of more bank robberies. CP said that bank robberies took place regardless of the banks' layout. As the Police maintained close contact with the management of banks, the Force were not unduly worried about there would be an increasing trend.

Genuine firearms seized

19. In response to the Chairman's enquiry on the types and intended usage of the firearms seized, CP said that most of the firearms seized were air guns. He pointed out that the firearms seized in the case of CHEUNG Tsz-keung and his gang accounted for the increase in the number of genuine firearms seized in 1998.


20. Mr Howard YOUNG asked whether pickpocketing was popular in sightseeing points and about the number of pickpocketing cases in which tourists were victims. In response, CP said that pickpocketing cases which involved tourists represented a small fraction. Pickpocketing took place mostly in areas with high population density as well as in public transport.

21. Responding to Mrs Selina CHOW's follow-up question on the breakdown of pickpocketing cases which involved tourists, CP said that the Police did not keep a separate record in respect of tourists at the moment. Based on the available figures, it was revealed that some tourists, however, were pickpockets in Hong Kong.

22. Mrs Selina CHOW enquired whether any expeditious procedures were adopted by the Police to handle reports on pickpocketing which involved tourists. CP said that the Police would try to bring cases which involved tourists to the court as early as possible having regard to their short period of stay in Hong Kong.

Computer crime

23. Mr CHENG Kai-nam expressed concern about the use of computers in committing crimes. CP said that such offences broadly involved two types, viz. the use of information technology in credit card frauds, and the unauthorized access to information stored inside the computers. Most computer-related offences belonged to the first category as revealed by the statistics on fake credit cards.

Crime situation in Macau

24. The Chairman said that rumours were circulated that the lawlessness in Macau could be attributed to Hong Kong triads who were forced to leave Hong Kong by the Police before the reunification in 1997. If this was the case, it was worried that the triads might return to Hong Kong after the reunification. CP said that triad activities were intolerable. The Police had the responsibility to combat triad activities before and after the reunification. The circumstances leading to the crime situation in Macau were unique in nature. Nevertheless, the Police were aware of the public concern about its possible adverse impact on Hong Kong. The Police had maintained close contact as well as exchanged intelligence with its Macau counterparts. CP said that there was no sign of the violence in Macau being spread to Hong Kong.

25. Mr CHUENG Man-kwong said that a number of offences in Macau were alleged to have been committed by criminal gangs from the Mainland. He was concerned that such criminal gangs could be "contracted" to commit crimes in Hong Kong. CP responded that though there were crimes in 1998 in which Mainlanders were involved, the figure was insignificant. "Contracting" of criminal gangs from the Mainland as a trend was not obvious. Through the good working relationship with the Mainland law enforcement agencies, the situation had continued to improve with the lowest number of crimes recorded in 1997. CP added that "contracting" of criminal gangs could happen anywhere. Success in countering the problem depended very much on the relevant law enforcement agencies' abilities and efficiency to act on intelligence. He was confident of the Force's capabilities to combat crime.

Assault of public officers while on duty

26. Mr Albert HO enquired whether there was any statistics on the number of public officers who were assaulted while on duty and whether there were any preventive measures in place. In reply, CP said that the Police did not keep such statistics. Assistance or protection would be provided to public officers on a need basis.

IV. Licensing of karaoke establishments
(LC Paper Nos. CB(2) 965/98-99(02) and CB(2) 965/98-99(03))

Briefing by the Administration

27. Deputy Secretary for Security 2 (DS(S)2) said that Members were consulted on the proposed licensing of karaoke establishments at a joint Panel meeting held in November 1997. A three-month public consultation was conducted from February to May 1998. Of the submissions received, the karaoke trade and the general public were generally supportive of the objective to improve safety of karaoke establishments. It was also noted that the trade had raised concern about the financial implications in complying with the building or structural safety requirements. Since the public consultation, the Administration had held discussions with the karaoke trade with a view to refining the detailed upgrading requirements to address their concerns. There were four outstandanding building safety requirements yet to be resolved, namely the corridor width, dead ends, population capcity and one hour fire resisting construction within a karaoke establishment. The Administration had provided a written response to these four areas of concerns raised by the trade which was tabled at the meeting. She said that while addressing the concerns of the trade, the objective to improve safety of karaoke establishments should not be compromised.(Post-meeting note : The Administration's response to the four outstanding building safety requirements raised by the trade was circulated to absent members vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 1015/98-99(02).)

Presentation from the Karaoke Requirements Concern Group

28. Dr KWAN Lim-ho said that the karaoke trade agreed that the fire safety management of karaoke establishments should be improved. The trade had taken the initiatives to request the Administration to provide training courses on fire prevention, to issue fire safety guidelines for workers in the trade, etc. He commented that the Administration did not incorporate in its proposal the control of materials and fabrics used for furniture and fittings in karaoke establishments. It also lacked of empiricial findings to support its proposal. Regarding the corridor width, Dr KWAN said that given the karaoke establishments had already satisfied all the licensing requirements for obtaining restaurant licences, the proposal to widen the corridor was considered unnecessary. He further said that the trade disagreed with the proposed legislation as the discretionary power given to the licensing authority might give rise to bribery.(Post-meeting note : The Karaoke Requirements Concern Group's response to the Administration's information paper was tabled at the meeting and was circulated to absent members vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 1015/98-99(03).)

29. Professor Drysdale said that the proposal to increase the fire resisting construction within karaoke establishments would have no material influence on life safety. Instead, the risk to life could be greatly reduced by installing automatic fire sprinklers inside the premises, providing well-trained staff informing customers the way of escape and well-designed escape routes. He pointed out the importance of controlling materials and fabrics used for furniture and fittings in reducing the rate of spread of fire. However, this point was not covered in the Administration's consultation paper. If materials with low combustibility were used for wall linings, furniture and floor covering, in case of fire, fire would not develop rapidly. Thus, customers would have more time to escape. He, therefore, considered that the requirement for the width of corridors within karaoke establishments could be relaxed by adopting a careful control of materials for wall linings, furniture and fittings.(Post-meeting note : The speaking note of Professor Drysdale was tabled at the meeting and was circulated to absent members vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 1015/98-99(04). Members were informed of vide LC Paper No. CB(2) 1025/98-99 that Professor Drysdale had made available a copy of video tape for loan on furniture containing standard grade polyurethane foam could develop fire rapidly.)

Response from the Administration

30. DS(S)2 made the following responses -
  1. Though certain karaoke establishments were operating in premises holding restaurant or liquor licences, the fire safety standards pertaining to these licences were prescribed many years ago. They might not be able to meet the present fire safety standard. Given the physical layout of small cubicles within karaoke establishments and the number and density of patrons, it was considered that more attention should be paid to fire safety in karaoke establishments. The Administration had been flexible as far as possible having regard to the concerns of the karaoke trade; and

  2. It was noted from the Coroners' reports on several recent fire tragedies that fire resistant furniture could reduce the development of a fire. In this connection, the Trade and Industry Bureau had already undertaken to consider overseas experience to introduce flammability standards for selected furniture items under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance.
31. DS(S)2 reiterated that a fire resistance period of one hour was the minimum requirement for fire resistance structures so as to allow time for customers to escape and firemen to conduct rescue and fire fighting in case of fire. Assistant Director (Specialist)/ Building Department (AD(S)/BD) added that the emphasis of Professor Drysdale's research was on pre-flashover period whilst the main concern of the Administration was on post-flashover period. It was important to have the development of fire confined to the karaoke rooms so that sufficient time would be allowed for the firemen to conduct rescue.

Regulatory Impact Assessment

32. While supporting the objective to improve the safety of karaoke establishments, Mrs Selina CHOW said that she would not support a piece of legislation which would impede the karaoke trade. She enquired whether consideration was given to carrying out a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) as suggested by the Business and Services Promotion Unit (BSPU) in its letter responding to the public consultation on licensing control of karaoke establishments. In response, DS(S)2 said that she had exchanged views with the Director of BSPU on the licensing of karaoke establishments in late 1998 on this subject. After the discussion, it was agreed that the licensing scheme was a necessary meam to upgrade fire safety in karaokes. It was also noted that similar initiatives to require upgrading of fire and building safety standards had been put in place through legislation in respect of commercial buildings and premises. The Director of BSPU accepted the Administration's position of not conducting an RIA for the karaoke licensing scheme.

33. Mrs Selina CHOW requested the Administration to provide further information on the rationale under which BSPU agreed that an RIA was considered not necessary. Mrs CHOW enquired whether the Administration had conducted any assessment on the cost-effectiveness of the licensing proposal notwithstanding that RIA would not be conducted. DS(S)2 said that an outline of the licensing requirements was provided at the Appendix to the information paper. In principle, the Administration only specified the standards to be met. The karaoke operators would decide themselves how they would arrange for works to comply with the requirements.

Processing time for issuing licences

34. In response to Mrs Selina CHOW's enquiry about the estimated time needed for issuing a licence under the proposed licensing scheme, DS(S)2 said that the relevant licensing authority would normally be able to issue a licence to a fresh applicant within six months for straightforward cases subject to the applicant meeting the essential requirements. During the interim, a provisional licence would be issued. Should the applicant fail to meet all the licensing requirements within this six-month period due to circumstances beyond his/her control, the authority might consider extending the provisional licence for a further six months. As for existing karaoke operators, a transitional licence or permission providing for an exemption period of twelve months would be granted so as to allow time for them to carry out the necessary upgrading works. The licensing authority might consider extending such licence or permission for another period of twelve months if the applicant could not meet all licensing requirements again due to circumstances beyond his/her control. She stressed that there would be sufficient time for the karaoke operators to carry out the necessary upgrading works.

One hour fire resisting construction

35. As to whether the licensing requirements were too harsh for the karaoke trade, DS(S)2 said that the Administration had discussed with the trade the alteration costs arising from the proposal, particularly regarding the requirement of one hour fire resisting construction. A lot of related assessments had been carried out. AD(S)/BD added that the Administration had carried out the cost estimation for the alteration works in conjunction with the architects engaged by the trade, however, there were different findings. Based on the Administration's findings, the cost of work expressed in terms of karaoke rooms for the alteration of a karaoke to comply with BD's requirement was in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 per room, whereas the findings of the trade was about $80,000 to $90,000 per room. It was because different approaches were being adopted, such as the choice of materials and the method of the alteration works to be carried out. Dr KWAN Lim-ho said that additional costs for alteration would have to be taken into account, such as modification of existing building services installation.

36. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that experience from the Garley Building fire demonstrated the importance of smoke doors and fire resisting construction in the event of a fire. He questioned how the arguments put forward by the Karaoke Requirements Concern Group, viz. careful control of the materials used within karaoke establishments and better fire safety training for karaoke employees could trade off the need for improving fire resisting construction within karaoke establishments could be substantiated if a fire broke out outside a karaoke establishment.

37. Mr David CHU enquired about the basis on which the Administration reached the proposal that one hour fire resisting construction was the minimum requirement.

38. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG asked whether the one hour fire resistance period was applicable to restaurants. If so, he queried the rationale for such requirement given that restaurant operators should have complied with the fire safety and building safety requirements in order to obtain the restaurant licences. It followed that karaoke operators who were holding restaurant licences had already complied with the relevant licensing requirements. As the Administration allowed existing karaoke operators to continue operation while carrying out upgrading works, he considered that the Administration ought to provide more information to justify the necessity of its proposal.

Views of the Provisional Urban Council

39. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG stated that at a meeting of the Public Health Select Committee of the Provisional Urban Council, the scope of the application of the proposed karaoke licensing scheme was discussed. Provisional Urban Councillors were of the view that existing karaoke operators should be exempted from the proposed karaoke licensing requirements. Further discussions would be needed for the details of the licensing scheme.

Population capacity

40. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan was concerned about the impact on the karaoke business if the Administration's formula on population capacity within a karaoke establishment was adopted. Mr Raymond CHAN said that the thrust of the question was on whether people in the corridor of a karaoke establishment were to be included in the calculation of population capacity. It would have a deviation of 20%.

Further views from the Karaoke Requirements Concern Group

41. Mr Raymond CHAN said that the proposed safety requirements in the case of karaoke establishments were not entirely similar to those stipulated in the Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance. For example, requirement on corridor width and dead ends situations were not included in the Ordinance.

42. Professor Drysdale said that he was proposing an alternative, "controlling the fire by controlling the materials", for the consideration of the Administration. He pointed out that fire resistance construction should have already been looked at by the relevant professionals during the construction of a building. He was suggesting an additional fire resistance measure so that people could get out of the scene before the fire spread.

Further views from the Administration

43. In response to members' questions on one hour fire resisting construction, DS(S)2 said that the Administration concurred with the trade's view on the importance of materials used within karaoke establishments as an additional safety measure. Having regard to the layout of a karaoke establishment which was divided into small and closed cubicles, the Administration was of the view that the one hour fire resistance period was the minimum requirement in order to allow time for customers to escape and firemen to conduct rescue and fire fighting in case of fire. This requirement applied to fire resistance constructions in all types of buildings and was in line with the international standard.

44. The Chairman urged the Administration to take into account members' views when drafting the relevant legislation.Adm

V. Ambulance service for passengers using the new Airport at Chek Lap Kok
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 965/98-99(04))

45. The Chairman expressed concern about a recent case where a passenger on board an aircraft requiring emergency medical treatment in the new airport had to pay medical expenses before he was attended to. DS(S)2 said that if a passenger on board an aircraft requested for medical treatment, the flight crew could notify the Airport Operations Control Centre before landing so that an ambulance could be standing-by upon arrival of the aircraft at the designated parking stand. Such service was free of charge. According to the guidelines issued by the Airport Authority (AA), if the passenger in question requested for medical treatment provided by the clinics in the airport, he did not have to pay before he was attended to by the medical service provider at the airport.

46. Referring to the case on 11 August 1998, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed concern that eight minutes were taken for an ambulance to be guided by AA's escort vehicle to the designated plane parking stand and reached the patient on board the aircraft. Chief Ambulance Officer (CAO) responded that it had only taken the ambulance four minutes to arrive at the apron gate from receipt of call. The ambulance was then guided by AA's escort vehicle to the designated plane parking stand. DS(S)2 said that in normal circumstances, the travelling time from the apron gate to the plane parking stand would be no more than four minutes. The above case was an isolated incident. To further enhance the emergency ambulance service particularly for the airport restricted area, the Fire Services Department was exploring with AA the possibility of stationing an ambulance in the restricted area to facilitate prompt and direct emergency ambulance response.

47. In response to Mrs Selina CHOW's enquiry on the implementation of the proposal to station an ambulance in the restricted area, CAO said that the Department was considering running a six-month trial scheme in February 1999 pending issue of airport permits, training provided by AA and carrying out some modifications to the ambulances. DS(S)2 added that the Administration would review the cost-effectiveness of the trial scheme afterwards.

48. The meeting ended at 4:45 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
11 February 1999