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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Pro-Beijing lawmakers move to end filibustering in Legco’s Finance Committee

Committee chairman Chan Kin-por confirms that four of his suggestions to limit the delaying tactic have drawn consensus from the pro-Beijing camp.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 9:03am

The days of using long-winded debates to block Hong Kong government funding requests could soon be over as the Legislative Council’s pro-establishment camp is close to finalising a plan to restrict filibustering in its finance committee.

The delaying tactic has been used often by pan-democrats to block proposals, but sources have told the Post that the government’s allies in Legco will present their plan to stop filibustering “very soon”.

The finance committee will hold its first meeting after the summer recess on Friday. Incumbent chairman Chan Kin-por and vice-chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun are expected to keep their posts.

Chan, who had floated proposals for restricting filibustering in July, confirmed to the Post that four of his suggestions had drawn consensus from the pro-Beijing camp.

The first places a limit on non-binding motions proposed by each lawmaker on an agenda item to one. The motions grind proceedings to a halt because each one can elicit a vote, plus a debate if passed.

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The second measure bans lawmakers from requesting meeting adjournments. Under the current rules, they are allowed to request both an adjournment and the discussion of an item. Each lawmaker can speak once for up to three minutes to debate whether the meeting should proceed.

Thirdly, any unruly lawmakers who are dismissed by the chairman can no longer return to the meeting room on the same day. They will be free to enter in the next session of the meeting.

Finally, the pro-establishment camp wants to ban debates over motions to shorten the duration of the voting bell, which currently lasts for five minutes.

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Changes to procedures of the finance committee require a simple majority, meaning the pro-establishment camp could change the rules even if the pan-democratic camp had not lost six lawmakers who were disqualified for improper oath-taking.

However, previous attempts failed because of enormous opposition.

In October of 2012, veteran Beijing loyalist Ip Kwok-him’s motion to limit the number of non-binding motions drew more than one million amendments from the pan-democrats. The heavy workload of scrutinising the amendments paralysed the secretariat operations, forcing Ip to retract his motion.

Hong Kong pro-government lawmakers ‘taking advantage’ by moving to restrict filibustering

Yet, Chan was confident that changes could be made this time, saying the camp would table the proposals “very soon” and get them passed in the near future.

“It is no longer what it used to be,” Chan said, adding he could just rule them out if the pan-democrats tabled a million amendments. He said his past rulings had paved ways to reject any “trivial” amendments, without having to be scrutinised one by one by the secretariat.

Chan said the proposals would be discussed in a special committee meeting so as to avoid filibustering by the pan-democrats in the regular meetings on Fridays.

It is no longer what it used to be
lawmaker Chan Kin-por

Charles Mok, a pan-democrat legislator, criticised the pro-establishment camp as “unreasonable and unethical” for taking the advantage of their plight, saying the loss of six lawmakers had reduced their ability to challenge their political rivals.

“Their move would not help [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam in mending rifts, and would worsen the relationship between the executive and legislative branches,” Mok said, warning that they might be forced to “get tough” against the government if their monitoring power in Legco was endangered.

The pro-government camp is also pressing rule changes for full council meetings, which require support from both geographical and functional constituencies.

It wants the quorum requirement – not less than half of all members – to be applied only partly instead of throughout council meetings, so as to minimise the chances for pan-democrats to filibuster by using quorum calls.

But the camp does not expect such changes to be made before March, when two seats are expected to return to the opposition side in the by-elections, given the long list of important bills that need to be handled first.