We're not getting enough bills, says Legco

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2006, 12:00am

The government should work harder at drafting bills because this year it has sent to the Legislative Council fewer than half the number of bills it had projected, according to lawmakers.

But officials said some bills had taken longer to finalise because of last-minute problems and the need to conduct further consultation.

Lawmakers said the practice of hitting Legco with a flood of bills towards the end of its sittings undermined the quality of scrutiny and relations between the executive and legislative branches.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee, chairwoman of the Legco house committee and vice-chairwoman of the Liberal Party, said the government had tabled only about a dozen bills this year against its original plan of 24.

'We have repeatedly requested the government table more bills because we have spare capacity to set up bills committees to scrutinise bills, but every time we get the same answer - that the bills are not ready,' Ms Lau said. 'The progress is slow but what can we do?

'When we are up to our necks scrutinising bills and cannot take more, we are accused of being unhelpful. Now that we have spare capacity, the government says they are not ready.'

Ms Lau hoped the government would speed up the process in the next legislative year, which begins in October. If not, she said, bills that had not completed the scrutiny process could lapse with the end of the Legco term in July 2008.

The government told Legco in October that it would table 24 bills, but it scaled that number down in January. Of the 14 non-budget bills tabled this legislative year, 11 were tabled after March.

Legco will have enacted 20 ordinances this year, some carried forward from the previous legislative year, if two bills to go to a vote on Wednesday are included.

A number of controversial foreshadowed bills have not been tabled, including the Prevention of Bribery (Amendment) Bill, which would bring the chief executive under graft laws, the racial discrimination bill and the bill to enhance credibility of the Independent Police Complaints Council.

In the 2004-05 legislative session, 20 bills were passed, down substantially on the 37 passed the previous year.

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, leader of the Civic Party, said the government has delayed bills as a tactic to restrain Legco's power.

'First, they delay tabling the bills until the very last minute so you don't have time to properly scrutinise them,' she said. 'Second, they practically cram all the details of the bill into the preamble, making the definitions so narrow that we have no chance to amend the bills,'

Emily Lau Wai-hing, of the Frontier, said Donald Tsang Yam-kuen withheld some controversial bills for fear that difficulties getting them passed could affect his election to a second term as chief executive.

The government has successfully launched the bills it considers most politically impor-tant - such as the bill to prepare for next year's chief executive election, which passed in May, and the betting duty bill, which goes to a vote on Wednesday.

And the government has managed to call a special Legco meeting on August 2 to vote on the covert surveillance bill.

But the bill to ban smoking in public places and the long-overdue copyright bill were delayed until next year for more consultation.