Lawmakers plan freeze on democracy package

CONSERVATIVE lawmakers are planning to trap the Governor's controversial political reforms in the legislative process, possibly long enough to complicate their implementation for the 1995 elections.

The first strand of the Patten plan to introduce more democracy to the territory to be affected would be district boards elections which are scheduled to be held in September next year.

Legislation has to be in place about a year ahead of the polls to allow sufficient time for candidates to prepare their campaigns.

It is understood that some core members of the Co-operative Resources Centre (CRC) are lobbying other political camps and independents to support the attempt to freeze the draft legislation that gives effect to the Governor Mr Chris Patten's plans.

The reforms - contained in legislation to be gazetted next Friday - would be bogged down in legislative proceedings, although the group plotting the manoeuvre have yet to decide on how long the bills should by blocked.

An option being considered is a motion calling for a six-month adjournment of the Legislative Council's deliberation on the bill, sources said.

It is believed that the principal advocate of the scheme is assessing other legislators' support for his motion before formally announcing it.

It is estimated that at least 20 legislators will throw their weight behind the proposal.

It is also known that advice has been sought on legal aspects of blocking bills.

The Legislative Council's legal adviser Mr Jonathan Daw refused to say if he had been asked whether the Standing Orders allowed members to move a motion to adjourn the second reading of a bill.

Mr Daw said, as a legal adviser, his relationship with legislators was like that of a solicitor and a client.

''Lawyers are not supposed to disclose what their clients have asked,'' he said.

In Hongkong, a bill is published in the Government Gazette immediately after it is received by the Clerk of the Legislative Council. The bill is then normally tabled for first and second reading in the following week.

In many cases, the second reading of a bill is divided into two parts with the first part consisting of only an introductory speech by the policy secretary responsible for the bill.

After the official presentation, the second reading will be adjourned and legislators would form a bill committee to scrutinise the legislative proposals.

After the bill committee completes its study and a report is compiled, the legislature will resume the second reading during which councillors normally debate the bill.

But Mr Daw added, under the Standing Orders, members had two ways to adjourn the second reading debate if they so wished.

The first option was that, when the second reading debate was resumed, a member could stand up and - instead of making a speech - move a motion to adjourn the debate.

But he said, if such a motion was passed in the legislature, it would only be valid on that day and officials could re-list the bill at the following sitting.

The second option was that a member could move a motion to stop the bill being referred to the House Committee immediately after the policy secretary delivered his introductory speech in the first part of second reading.

Mr Daw said it was possible for councillors to ask for an indefinite adjournment although there was no precedent.

''The Standing Orders do not provide any procedural time limit,'' he said.

Legislators were divided about the proposed move.

Pro-China legislator Mr Tam Yiu-chung said he had heard of the proposal but refused to say who was the proposer.

He said he would support it as it allowed time for Britain and China to reopen their dialogue on the political proposals.

''It will be a way of no return if Legco starts its deliberations on the political proposals, which have not been agreed by China,'' he said.

He said he was still gauging the support of other legislators on such a proposal.

Meeting Point legislator Mr Fred Li Wah-ming said he supported a brake on the legislative process for a while.

''I think the majority of the Hongkong public want Britain and China to sit down and talk, I support holding up the legislation for a while,'' he said.

Chairman of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood Mr Frederick Fung Kin-kee said he would prefer Mr Patten to initiate a delay.

''If the foreign secretaries of the two governments are going to meet in March, putting the bills to the Legislative Council beforehand may be considered by China that Britain lacks sincerity to really solve the impasse,'' he said.

But liberal flagship the United Democrats of Hongkong rejected the idea.

''I don't think there is a need to delay the legislative process even if Britain and China are going to discuss the issue,'' the party vice-chairman Mr Yeung Sum said.

Mr Yeung said there was an urgency for the bills to be passed before the end of the present legislative session in July.

He said no further delay could be afforded on bills relating to the District Board elections in 1994.

On the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18, he said it also took time to record new registration of young voters.