Legco stamp-duty vote to go ahead as lawmakers reject motion to delay poll

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 7:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 4:59pm

Lawmakers yesterday rejected a motion to postpone voting on a controversial measure introduced in 2012 to cool the red-hot property market.

Accounting sector legislator Kenneth Leung said debate on the Stamp Duty (Amendment) Bill should be adjourned to give lawmakers more time to discuss how the 15 per cent levy is adjusted in future.

He made the call after the Housing Bureau on Friday proposed making changes through a verbal "policy commitment" instead of changing the government bill. After five hours of debate, Leung's motion was voted down 20 to 14 in the functional constituency, despite being passed in the geographical constituency by 20 votes to 13.

Leung's motion failed despite support from some Beijing-loyalist lawmakers, including the Liberal Party. Lawmakers will continue the debate on the bill, which is studded with numerous amendments, today.

The stamp duty is already being collected; approval of the bill will formalise the law.

Last week, Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the government would adopt different legislative approaches for adjusting the stamp duty, depending on whether it would be increased, reduced or scrapped.

Under the new plan, the government would have to table a new bill for any proposed increase in stamp duty. Downward adjustments would remain on a negative-vetting system - meaning it would be changed without the scrutiny of lawmakers.

But unlike previous legislative amendments to the bill put forward by various lawmakers, the latest changes will be incorporated in the form of a verbal "policy commitment", Cheung said.

Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan said: "The government should properly change the bill in the coming weeks, not waste the 15 months of deliberations by Legco on the original text."

But Cheung said that the government had respected Legco's authority. "How did the government violate Legco's role of making laws, as the bill would have gone through three readings to become a law?

"A total of HK$4.3 billion [in stamp duty] involving 3,000 transactions is in lawyers' custody already," Cheung said.

"We do not want to send any wrong signal to the market, leading to speculation."

Abraham Razack, a staunch opponent of the stamp duty, condemned the government.

"The government is to blame [for soaring property prices] for failing to boost supply," he said. "The Legco-executive relationship has turned from sour to rotten." But he voted against Leung's adjournment motion.