Lawmakers' bid to amend the milk ban lapses

Meeting suspended when not enough legislators show up for quorum, allowing controversial curbs to continue for now

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 9:17am

Lawmakers' efforts to amend the government's curbs on milk-powder exports lapsed last night after a Legislative Council meeting that was due to discuss them was suspended.

The meeting was closed for want of a quorum at about 10pm, meaning it cannot continue today, the last chance for the government or lawmakers to amend the bill.

The controversial curbs, which prevent individuals from carrying more than two cans of baby formula out of Hong Kong, will continue unchanged in the meantime. A government amendment to clarify terms also lapsed.

The shutdown came as Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing dismissed hopes that a looming filibuster on the budget debate could be greatly shortened by grouping hundreds of amendments according to the affected government departments.

Pro-establishment lawmakers had said there could be as few as 100 groups for the 751 amendments, but Tsang said the number would be closer to 400.

Suspension of the meeting came after People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, one of four radicals behind the filibuster attempt, called for lawmakers to be summoned and only 24 of the 70 showed up - short of the 35-member quorum.

The lawmakers will not meet again until next Wednesday, delaying debate on the budget bill.

The Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who filed one of the six lawmakers' amendments to the milk-export bill, said she was "angry" at the lapsing.

"Now, the worst possible definition is here, and there is no clause [to end the ban] … it will create confusion and much difficulty as the customs officers enforce the law," Ho said.

Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said it was "not ideal" for the ban to be enacted this way.

The DAB's Starry Lee Wai-king said she believed that Chan was trying to delay the debate on the budget bill by summoning lawmakers. But Chan said he made the call only because there were too few present.

Radicals from the League of Social Democrats and People Power filed budget amendments in protest against the omission of a universal pension scheme.

The earlier estimate of about 100 groups came from commercial-sector lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung after a closed-door meeting of a dozen pro-establishment lawmakers yesterday.

But Tsang said later: "If the amendments are grouped … proposals in the same group have to be inter-related. In this way … the debate session will amount to 360 to 400."

He also hinted at a possible repetition of a controversial move employed to halt an earlier filibuster, saying that the radicals' delaying tactics could "cause unacceptable social consequences".

Tsang last year used Article 92 of the Legislative Council rules of procedure - that allows him to be guided by the practice of other legislatures when the local rules don't cover the issue at hand - to kill a 33-hour filibuster on a by-election amendment bill. Yesterday he said he might not be able to do the same this time but agreed under urging from pro-establishment lawmakers not to rule it out.