Legco approves sign language for weekly sessions

From today, weekly plenary sessions will be conducted - and broadcast - with sign language

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 3:45am

Sign language will be provided throughout weekly Legislative Council plenary sessions from today, legislature president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing says.

As of October the sessions, conducted in Cantonese, will also be interpreted simultaneously in Putonghua, in addition to current translations in English.

"Local television broadcasters … will also try their best to use footage with a sign language service in their news, if it does not affect the clarity of their [news reports]," Tsang said yesterday.

He earlier chaired a three-hour, closed-door meeting of the Legco Commission, formed with 12 other lawmakers to formulate and execute the legislature's managerial and financial policies.

Before the change, sign language was available only in the opening two-hour question-and-answer session at full council meetings every Wednesday.

The service will be extended to the full duration of the meetings, which include motion debates and may last more than 10 hours.

Simultaneous interpretation in Putonghua will take place at meetings of the finance and house committees, on top of the full council sessions.

Tsang estimated the expenditure of the two new services to Legco will be HK$3.4 million before the next financial year ending in March 2014, then another HK$13.6 million per annum thereafter.

He said house rules barred lawmakers from speaking simultaneously during debates, so sign language interpreters would not run into problems of overlapping voices.

Meanwhile, retired Legco secretary general Pauline Ng Man-wah has agreed to compile a procedural handbook for the legislature that may be similar to Parliamentary Practice, written by 19th-century British constitutional theorist Erskine May.

The project was expected to take about three years and would cost no more than HK$3.6 million, Tsang said.

He dismissed fears that it could impose extra restrictions on lawmakers' rights. "The handbook will focus on Legco's conventions … and cannot represent the rules of procedure. Any new rules must win endorsement in a full council meeting."