Legco rejects move on power to call witnesses

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 February, 1993, 12:00am

LEGISLATIVE Councillors have rejected a proposal to allow policy vetting panels a free hand to summon people to meetings to give evidence.

In yesterday's House Committee, two options were put to the legislators on the subject.

One was to follow the existing practice of the House Committee and bills committees, under which summoning powers can only be exercised if the request is endorsed by the full council.

The other option is to give the panels full power to call any person to attend.

A total of 21 legislators - including members of the Co-operative Resources Centre and independents such as Mr Simon Ip Sik-on, Ms Anna Wu Hung-yuk and Mr Eric Li Ka-cheung - voted for the first option.

And 18 members voted for the second alternative, including those of the United Democrats of Hongkong, and liberals Mr Jimmy McGregor and Miss Christine Loh Kung-wai.

Legislators who favoured restricting the power to the full council believed the public should not be given the impression that witnesses could be called indiscriminately.

As membership of panels is relatively small, the decision to call witnesses might be made by just a few people.

Those who wanted to lift the restriction believed it was useful to allow the panels to have such powers, and the procedure of seeking authority from Legco might be cumbersome and cause delays.

Legislators also decided yesterday that the current division of labour between bill committees and the House Committee should be maintained.

Under the current practice, bill committees are responsible for examining blue bills, and panels are responsible for policies and white bills, which are basically consultative documents.

The liberal camp has repeatedly asked for panels to be empowered to scrutinise both bills and policies, but the idea was rejected by Legco last year.

Another proposal was put forward by the liberals recently which said all bills would have to be scrutinised by panels if three or more members felt the need to do so.

But it was thrown out of Legco yesterday, together with the compromise model, formulated by Mr Ronald Arculli and Dr Leong Che-hung. The model said panels could only vet blue bills with new policy initiatives.

Many members yesterday argued that it was difficult to determine whether new policy initiatives were involved or not, and that there was no reason to change the existing practice, which had been working well.