At least 12 pan-democratic lawmakers are set to meet mainland officials during a visit to Shanghai later this month, after nine more yesterday announced their intention to join the trip.
One of the nine, Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit, said it was his "responsibility, as a directly elected lawmaker, to reflect Hongkongers' demands on universal suffrage".
Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Raymond Tam Chi-yuen welcomed the pan-democrats' decision although he hesitated to call it a breakthrough.
Others announcing their intention to join included Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki of the Civic Party, Cyd Ho Sau-lan and Peter Cheung Kwok-che of the Labour Party, and Charles Mok and Kenneth Leung of Professional Commons. Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen and health services representative Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long also said they would sign up.
The trip, from April 12-13, will include a half-day meeting with Wang Guangya , head of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and Li Fei , chairman of the National People's Congress' Basic Law Committee, to discuss plans for the 2017 chief executive election.
All 70 lawmakers were invited. But previously only three pan-democrats - the Civic Party's Ronny Tong Ka-wah, radical "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats and Frederick Fung Kin-kee of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood - had agreed to go.
The Democratic Party, which has six seats in the Legislative Council, will decide tomorrow whether to send representatives. But party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, along with the remaining nine pan-democratic lawmakers, are expected to skip the trip.
Speaking after a special meeting of the Legco Finance Committee yesterday, Tam said: "I won't say it's a breakthrough per se, but certainly it is a very good basis for the ongoing consultation and our ongoing process to bridge the differences among various political parties."
Pan-democrats said on Monday they would not make a decision until tomorrow as the central government had yet to confirm if an exclusive meeting with officials would be arranged for them - a key condition they had set for joining the trip.
Some pro-government figures said that in the absence of a separate session, they would excuse themselves from the meeting with Wang and Li to give the pan-democrats an exclusive audience.
Tam also told lawmakers that HK$12 million would be spent on a second round of public consultation this year on political reforms. An initial five-month public consultation exercise will end early next month.
Asked whether top officials would follow former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's example in agreeing to a debate with then Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee in June 2010, Tam said: "That experience was rather painful, and I think we don't have to repeat an unhappy experience."