YOU can't be in the Legislative Council and be passionate. Lau Chin-shek tried it; now he's gone. But if you can't have passion, you can always try prejudice. You might think a question about poor Filipinas stuck in Hong Kong without work while they await a hearing against an employer for mistreatment would bring tears to a warm-hearted legislator's eyes. You would be wrong. But there may be votes in Wan Chai for Peggy Lam in raising the issue. There had, she noted, been an increase in the number of foreign domestic helpers suing their employers 'thus becoming able to stay in the territory legally and take up part-time employment while awaiting the completion of the litigation process'. How many were there? How long was the average waiting time before such cases were heard; and were they allowed to find jobs while they waited? If you thought two of those questions undermined her original statement of fact, you would, of course, be smarter than Mrs Lam. But Secretary for Education and Manpower Michael Leung was too polite to take her up on it. The Judiciary Administrator had informed him there were about 500 cases pending hearing by the Labour Tribunal, he said. The average waiting time was about 61/2 months, and women awaiting a hearing were allowed to stay in Hong Kong - but only as visitors. They could not work. Mrs Lam sounded almost sympathetic as she asked, to knowing smiles from most of her colleagues, how women who could not find jobs could support themselves. That is when Mr Leung made his big mistake. Not only could they rely on charity for accommodation and get financial assistance in cases of extreme hardship, they could also, he said, look forward to a shorter waiting time. The Judiciary was offering priority hearings. At first it seemed he might have got away with it. Good-hearted Elsie Tu, Anna Wu and Michael Ho all wanted to know if women awaiting hearings should not be allowed to work. Otherwise, as the Venerable Tu put it, it would be a clear case of 'justice delayed being justice denied'. It was this which prompted Alistair Asprey to give voice to most members' worst fear. There was 'a grave danger', he said, 'that . . . if we were to allow people to work during this period, it would simply give rise to more and more complaints from people wishing to remain in Hong Kong to take advantage of that period to work.' Better, he said, to reduce the waiting time. That was when Mr Leung's chickens came home to roost. Emily Lau was angry. Ms Lau has turned anger into an art form. How could the Judiciary give priority to domestic helpers? Was this fair to others who had waited a long time? Was this just? Ms Lau went for the jugular. On what basis should some people be allowed to jump the queue? 'We are talking about the law here,' she expostulated. 'It has to be fair.' Selina Chow wanted the women sent home to be brought back when the hearing was due. Mr Asprey didn't think the Government could insist on that. But one had the feeling it was the sense of the chamber. We'll miss you Lau Chin-shek. Give us passion any day.