Row over speed on surveillance bill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2006, 12:00am

An almost visible tension has emerged at Legislative Council Bills Committee meetings on covert surveillance, with some legislators racing to get the law passed while others insist on dissecting the bill clause by clause.

Yesterday, a row almost erupted when Democrat James To Kun-sun sought to ask questions on clause 29 of the bill when the discussion had reached clause 40 of the 65-clause bill. Lawmakers had raced through 10 clauses in two hours when Mr To was absent during last Saturday's marathon eight-hour session.

'In Saturday afternoon's meeting, very few members were there,' Mr To said. 'I'm sure I'm entitled to ask questions on earlier clauses - we are talking about matters of detail.'

But Liberal Party legislator Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said there had to be some 'discipline' at the meetings. Not all members could be present throughout all meetings, but lawmakers could not keep going up and down through various clauses of the bill, she said.

'[Mr To] can put something in writing to the administration, but I don't think we can go back to points already discussed,' she said. 'We need some discipline.'

Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee went on to say the bill needed to be seriously discussed. Otherwise, she suggested, Mr To should declare at the resumption of the second reading in the Legislative Council that 'this bill was endorsed under political pressure'.

However, Lau Kong-wah of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said he did not feel any 'political pressure'.

Bills Committee chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee finally allowed Mr To to return to the earlier clause. The government has to enact the law before a court-imposed August deadline.

The Security Bureau has so far proposed a number of mostly minor committee-stage amendments to the bill. The term 'public security' will be explicitly defined as relating to Hong Kong. Further amendments to enhance the protection of lawyer-client confidentiality are also expected.