Chamber chews cud while counting bleats

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 1994, 12:00am

SECRETARY for the Treasury Donald Tsang knew he was being provocative the other day when he told a Rotary Club luncheon the Legislative Council were a herd of politically motivated, free-lunching, woolly-thinking sheep-shearers and mutton butchers.

''Fellow lambs,'' he exhorted his audience, ''harken unto me. I hear the shears starting up. Let us not be silent.'' He cannot have been expecting the chorus of bleating he unleashed in Legco yesterday. One after the other, the woolly-thinkers of the three major parties stood to protest that they, not the Government, were the lambs.

United Democrat Huang Chen-ya started it.

You are, of course, expecting us to compare his speech to the one by Sir Geoffrey Howe which prompted Denis Healy's famous remark about being savaged by a dead sheep.

Would we be so obvious? We shall be kinder.

It was, as Winston Churchill said after a speech by Clement Atlee, more like being savaged by a pet lamb.

We don't mean Dr Huang did not try to be vicious. But how can you take seriously the fury of a man claiming to be a baby sheep? Was the Government willing to hear the voice of the sheep, he baa'd, little horn-buds lowered like Daddy ram in aggressive mood.

Nor did it add to the violence of his onslaught when the interpreter informed us that Mr Tsang was in charge of the ''shorning machine''.

The interpreter must have been chewing the cud when Fred Li made his opening joke. Of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, she translated helpfully, ''I'm a goat.'' Mr Tsang, continued Mr Li, was a tiger in a lambskin.

Legco President John Swaine settled back ruminatively and tried hard not to count sheep. As he braced himself for an afternoon of ovine metaphors one could imagine him wishing he could exchange his hard wooden throne of office for the wool sack the Lord Chancellor sits on in the House of Lords.

He was startled out of his daydream by a roaring from the back of the room.

James To may have thought he was one of the lambs, but he was giving the best impression of a tiger Legco has seen for some time.

Alternatively, it may have been an impression of Lu Ping delivering one of his tirades against Chris Patten.

''A tragic day'', he thundered. ''Colonial law to suppress Legco . . . colonial Government . . . Does not have the people's mandate . . .'' On and on he fulminated. ''Only 150 years ago . . . Came with cannon . . . Forcing us to revolt . . . Totalitarian. . .'' Britain would have to take responsibility for destroying confidence and stability, he said, sounding more like a Chinese official with every minute.

Members must unite to lobby the British Government to change the Royal Instructions so we could have more democracy in the ''post-transitional period'', he cried, straying for a moment into areas China might have found a little sensitive.

Then he was back again with the mainland mainstream, urging an end to co-operation between the Government and Legco.

Stirring stuff. But greeted by other more inhibited legislators with embarrassed laughter.

And it was all downhill from there. Not even a spirited little tussle between Andrew Wong, whose rambling speech 90 per cent of the audience found incomprehensible, and Albert Chan, who had the bad manners to say so, could enliven the proceedings for long.

Then, long after the gambolling had ceased and the lamb had turned to mutton, the three main parties abstained en masse and Meeting Point and UDHK members staged a walkout.

Little Bo-Peep need not have worried. They came home, wagging their tails behind them for the next debate.