No need for more Legco meetings
Hong Kong's lawmakers say they do not need to spend extra days at the Legislative Council in future, despite the likelihood that more than 20 motions will lapse when the Legco term ends at midnight on Tuesday.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has already reduced the eight-week summer break for his Executive Council, giving his top advisory body just two weeks off as part of his plan to revamp the government.
But lawmakers are not planning extra sittings any time soon, despite rushing to complete the last government business before their term ends and Legco breaks up ahead of September's elections.
Bills and motions put forward by lawmakers, covering issues including the creation of a commission on the middle class and a call to improve the public health-care system, will not be debated. And hopes of Leung's plans for a revamp of government being approved before Tuesday have been dashed since the finance committee ran out of time to debate the issue, pushing back its earliest implementation to the end of the year.
A count by the Sunday Morning Post shows that the current Legislative Council will have had 189 recess days since October last year, assuming the new Legco term begins on October 10. That's more than the 180 recess days members of the US Senate will enjoy this calendar year, but fewer than parliamentarians in Britain, Canada or New Zealand receive. The total includes holidays and regular break days.
'It doesn't mean a lot as to whether there should be more or fewer recess days. We used to be able to deal with all scheduled items, except for this year, during which some colleagues have abused the system,' said Miriam Lau Kin-yee, chairman of the House Committee, which sets Legco's agenda. She was referring to attempts by some radical lawmakers to filibuster a bill barring lawmakers who resign from fighting by-elections for six months, and more recent attempts to slow down debates in an attempt to scupper Leung's government restructuring.
'Even if more time is given, it might still be used for filibustering. It is not a matter of how much meeting time we have or how hard we work,' Lau said
Lau instead proposed a review of the rules of procedure in the next term, particularly on the practice of seeking quorum counts - a tactic often used by some pan-democrats to delay or block unwelcome proposed law changes - and on how to limit filibustering. When a quorum count is called, at least half the legislators must be present in the chamber within a short time, or the session is ended.
She admitted that the expansion of Legco from 60 to 70 seats might make for longer debates.
The latest target for time-wasting tactics was the request for funding for the government reshuffle, which would have involved the creation of new departments and new official positions. Pan-democrats had tabled hundreds of motions in the finance committee, each of which had to be voted on, to decide whether it could be discussed.
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong chairman Tam Yiu-chung, who started his legislative career in 1985 in the British colonial era, said there had been no major change in the number of recess days in the years since.
'So far, we see no urgency to change the number of recess days, but we will not oppose it if the plenary council meetings are made more frequent,' he said.
Tam added that recess days within a legislative term were not a complete break for lawmakers, as panel meetings might still take place.
Democrat Cheung Man-kwong agreed: 'During recesses, we dedicate our time to reaching out to the people in our constituencies. We can't really take a break.
'Lawmakers are not voting machines. They need time to broaden their horizons and study various issues,' he said.
Political scientist Ma Ngok said the number of recess days could be reviewed, but he believed the backlog was not due to a lack of time to work.
He blamed part of the problem on the government tabling some of its proposals towards the end of the legislative year, leaving Legco with a tight schedule to scrutinise them.
'Even if its recess days were cut by 10, there could still be a backlog. Some lawmakers might spend the extra 10 days on filibustering,' he said.
'It is a legislator's basic right to deliberate on and move motions and amendments, so it's unlikely they will reach a consensus on restricting those rights,' he added.
The number of recess days the Legislative Council is likely to have enjoyed in the final year of its term. The US Senate has 180 this year