Lawmakers face daunting burden of bills to pass

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 February, 2008, 12:00am

Backlog worries committee chief

The Legislative Council has passed only five bills since October, leaving a huge backlog to clear when lawmakers resume work after the Lunar New Year break.

The slow progress has raised concerns that legislative proposals yet to be submitted may have to be postponed. Legco's four-year term ends in July. Unfinished bills will lapse and have to go through the legislative process again when the new term begins in September.

In July 2004, lawmakers rushed through 14 outstanding bills, completing the work in seven working days during the last two weeks of sittings. Ten other bills could not be finished and had to be dropped eventually.

The chairwoman of the Legco House Committee, Miriam Lau Kin-yee, acknowledged that the slow progress in scrutinising bills had been causing concern since October.

'We can only try our best to finish as many as we can. For bills that are not facing a deadline, we just can't help it [if they are omitted],' she said.

The five bills that lawmakers have enacted since October were all inherited from the previous session, according to Legco records.

The government scheduled 15 new bills for the existing session. So far, only eight have been tabled and none have been completed.

Legislators are also grappling with a further eight bills that were held over from before.

The government plans to table five more bills this month, including the legislative framework for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. But since the house rules allow a maximum of only 15 bills committees to operate at the same time, the rest may have to wait for a time slot to get scrutiny by lawmakers.

In one high-profile example, it is still uncertain whether the controversial move to legislate a central slaughtering operation for poultry will be tabled before July, as planned.

Ms Lau said she had repeatedly raised concerns about the progress of bills with Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen during their weekly meetings.

'Actually, there have been concerns since last October, and we have been chasing the government to submit bills as early as possible,' she said.

'I have already told the government we won't be able to finish if the bill is very complicated. We can only say we will try our best and see how it goes. I cannot guarantee whether or not we will make it.'

When asked if lawmakers were to blame for the slow progress, she replied: 'I don't think it's the responsibility of [House Committee] members. It's the duty of lawmakers to carefully scrutinise the bills tabled to us. So all I can say is they should table the bills to us as soon as possible.'

She said it was difficult to predict if any bills would be postponed to the next Legco term.

An administration spokesman would not say if any bills risked being postponed. He said lawmakers accepted the goal of trying to pass all pending bills this session.

'We appreciate the efforts in scrutinising the bills already introduced,' he said. 'The administration will continue to work closely with the bills committees and provide necessary assistance [in] their scrutiny.

'We hope the bills now before the bills committees and the bills to be introduced will all be passed this session. We believe that Legco members also share this target. We will work closely with them.'