Legislators to oppose freeze move

A PLAN by conservative politicians to freeze the bills containing Governor Mr Chris Patten's political package for three months is likely to be blocked, a survey of legislators has revealed.

However, a shorter delay might be approved if the British and Chinese governments agree to resume talks to solve the impasse.

While there is a fierce tug-of-war between the Co-operative Resources Centre (CRC) supporting the freeze and the United Democrats of Hongkong rejecting it, at least seven independents say they would agree to a one-month deferment if talks resume.

Supporters of a conditional one-month freeze include Mr Vincent Cheng Hoi-chuen, Mrs Elsie Tu, Mr Frederick Fung Kin-kee, Mr Pang Chun-hoi, Mr Simon Ip Sik-on, Dr Tang Siu-tong and Mr Eric Li Ka-cheung.

Independent Mr Cheng said the proposal would boil down to a mere ''goodwill gesture'' if it was offered without a promise that the two governments would resume discussions.

''I don't mind delaying the legislative process for one or two months if the Hongkong Government comes up with something concrete like the JLG [Joint Liaison Group] is going to discuss the issue,'' he said.

''Otherwise, I think it's pointless to make further delay.'' His view was echoed by veteran legislator Mrs Tu.

''If we have a clear understanding from the two governments that they are going to get together, I will support a delay,'' she said.

The call to freeze the bills for three months, as proposed by the 17-member CRC, had won the support of pro-China legislators Mr Tam Yiu-chung and independent Mr Chim Pui-chung.

Mr Chim said he would support a delay of less than five months, which would still leave enough time for Legco to scrutinise the draft legislation before district board and municipal council elections in 1994.

''I hope the British and Hongkong governments in the meantime come out to state whether they intend to resume dialogue with the Chinese side,'' he said.

Mr Chim said Hongkong was incapable of preventing the Chinese and British governments from striking a secret deal.

''But if the deal is in line with the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, and good for the prosperity of Hongkong, I will support it,'' he said.

Independents opposing the delay described it as unnecessary.

''If we delay the bills, it sets a dangerous precedent where we defer some bills for political rather than technical reasons,'' said appointed member Mr Roger Luk Koon-hoo.

''The act violates the role of the legislature. Our duty is to pass any bills received as quickly as possible.'' Banking representative Mr David Li Kwok-po said: ''I think it doesn't make sense, because whether Legco starts debating on this will not affect dialogue between the Chinese and British sides.

''If they want a dialogue, they can have it any day or any time.

''If they are really going to discuss it, they would have done so already.

''I don't understand why Legco should take steps to delay [the bills] now,'' Mr Li said.

A deferment would give the impression that Hongkong people were not determined on the issue, and the uncertainty would hold back foreign investment in the territory, he added.

Pro-China legislator Mr Philip Wong Yu-hong opposed the delay on the grounds that Mr Patten had to withdraw his package.

''It doesn't measure up to the terms of China if we just defer it. China requests a withdrawal,'' Mr Wong said.

Legislators Ms Christine Loh Kung-wai, Mr Andrew Wong Wang-fat, Mr Samuel Wong Ping-wai, Mr Jimmy McGregor and Ms Emily Lau Wai-hing also opposed the freeze.

Together with the 13-strong United Democrats, who have made clear their opposition to further delays, they constitute 20 votes in the legislature.

Four legislators of the liberal Meeting Point, and independents Mr Martin Barrow and Mr Timothy Ha Wing-ho remained undecided on the issue.

Legislator Mr Hui Yin-fat and Ms Anna Wu Hung-yuk could not be reached for comment.