Move to halt filibuster poised to fail

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am


A move by pro-Beijing lawmakers to revise Legislative Council house rules to halt a filibuster by their pan-democrat rivals appears doomed to fail because it could result in even more lengthy debates.

Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Legislative Council committee on rules of procedures, conceded a quick fix for the current filibustering tactics was unlikely.

Some pro-Beijing legislators, angered by the surprise suspension of yesterday's full council meeting because attendance fell below the minimum level required - partly due to a boycott by pan-democrats who have also been using a filibuster to block passage of a bill - called for special meetings next week to revise Legco standing orders to combat such delaying tactics.

Lau Kong-wah, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: 'This should be urgently dealt with, otherwise the worst case is that full council meetings could face being aborted every time.'

Tam said his committee would discuss the need for revisions on Tuesday. He said the Legco secretariat had been asked to study examples of overseas parliaments in ending a filibuster, but admitted it was unlikely to come up with a quick fix.

The committee's vice-chairwoman, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee of the Civic Party, said any changes to the rules should be achieved by consensus across the political spectrum.

Under procedures, even if members come up with measures they still have to be tabled for final voting at the full council at which - under the split-voting system - a majority of the 30 directly-elected legislators and the 30 functional constituency legislators would be required.

Legco president Tsang Yok-sing says it would be unsatisfactory to hold more full council meetings to compensate for delays to the legislative process caused by the filibuster. 'Only under very exceptional cases shall we consider calling for extra full council meetings. Procedurally, we have to give members' 14 days' notice. And even if an extra meeting is scheduled, there is no guarantee that there can be a quorum,' said Tsang.

Legco's business for the current session must be completed by July 18.

'The government should consider how many bills are left and set priorities for which ones must be done within this session,' said Tsang.

Filibustering is a way of delaying the passage of a law through the legislature with procedural devices during a debate. These include tabling a large number of amendments, raising spurious points of order, and making excessively long speeches.

In the United States, one way to stop a filibuster is to invoke 'cloture' - a parliamentary procedure that forces a vote. It requires three-fifths of the Senate to agree to stop the talking. For the House of Representatives, there is a rule called the Previous Question Motion, by which a simple majority can end a debate. In France, the constitution gives the government the power to stop a filibuster.

Legislation that's stuck in the system

Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011 to combat online infringements

Electoral Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2012 to prepare for the September Legco elections

Competition Bill to combat conduct distorting competition

Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2011 partly to make way for the implementation of the employee choice arrangement

Personal Data (Privacy) (Amendment) Bill 2011 to tighten laws to protect privacy and restrict the sale of personal data

Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Bill to regulate the sale of new residential properties, including the use of saleable area in listing flat prices

Trade Descriptions (Unfair Trade Practices) (Amendment) Bill 2012 to expand the scope of the law to cover services and prohibit unfair trade practices

Restructuring proposals of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying to give the chief secretary and financial secretary a deputy each, as well as to add two more policy bureaus