Too soon to get tough

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 1993, 12:00am

LEGISLATOR Martin Lee Chu-ming consistently has demanded that the Governor's reform package be tabled in the Legislative Council immediately, before the conclusion of the Sino-British talks in Beijing. He refuses to accept that tabling the legislationwould prove a serious obstacle to further talks.

This newspaper has sided with Mr Lee's cause in the past. When Chris Patten gazetted his electoral bill without introducing it in Legco earlier this year, we urged him to table it as soon as possible.

That, however, was when Beijing was echoing with the sound of doors being slammed shut on negotiations. Now that they are being held, more caution is needed.

The Legco Constitutional Development Panel's decision, at Mr Lee's prompting, to start examining the contents of the Bill before its official introduction in the council is, therefore, unduly hasty.

The Governor has said he does not believe the debate will be an obstacle to the talks. But Andrew Wong Wang-fat rightly reminded his colleagues of Beijing's furious reaction to the passage of the apparently innocent Boundary and Electoral Commission Billlast week. Legco can expect abuse for such a provocative gesture as starting the process of acting on the reform Bill.

That is not to say that the Governor, or Legco, should reject pushing ahead with consideration of the Bill if the talks drag on indefinitely. To rule out any discussion in advance would be to take too much pressure off the Chinese team. There is a deadline in the need to have arrangements ready for the 1994 elections. However, there is little evidence to suggest the talks are yet so stalled as to warrant a highly risky attempt to give them a kick-start.

Given the lack of information on the contents of the talks, it is understandable legislators should worry that a two-week hiatus before the next session signals a further deliberate delay. Many legislators suspect China's main purpose in negotiating was to stall indefinitely discussion of the constitutional reform proposals.

So far, however, the ploy appears to have succeeded only in pushing agreement beyond the current legislative session.

It is still too early to take aggressive action. The truth should be recognised that failure to table or complete discussion of an admittedly complicated stack of proposals and counter-proposals from different factions before the end of July would not bethe end of the world. The Legco timetable is arbitrary. It could be revised by the same people who devised it.