Lawmakers at Beijing's Municipal People's Congress are proposing relaxing restrictions on officially sanctioned mainstream religions in the capital to allow them to operate more smoothly. Among the regulations being debated by the congress' standing committee members are proposals to allow fortune-telling, palm-reading and exorcism in religious places, the China News Service reported. Local lawmakers also propose allowing the sale of religious works of arts, objects and publications outside religious venues in Beijing. The changes also would allow religious organisations to set up schools, universities and training programmes, it said. The report quoted Zhang Zhijian, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the congress, as saying the original draft regulations banned fortune-telling, palm-reading and exorcism. But the clause was scrapped after some lawmakers said such activities were sanctioned by certain faiths and an outright ban would be seen as interfering in normal religious activities. The China News Service report said the regulations were passed on Thursday. But a spokesman for the Legislative Affairs Commission, Liu Bo, said yesterday that the regulations had not been passed, although lawmakers had approved their first reading. '[Lawmakers] raised their own opinions,' Mr Liu said. 'But this was only the first reading and it has not become law. We have to have a second reading and only then might it become law. In a few days, we will have a statement on this and will open a hotline from July 22 to August 4 to handle questions from the public.' Mr Liu declined to predict whether the bans would be lifted and declined further comment. The new regulations, if approved, would signal a significant relaxation of the mainland's tight control over religious affairs. But an official with the policy and research centre of the Religious Affairs Management Bureau expressed doubts over the part of the regulations that would allow activities such as palm-reading and exorcism. 'Palm-reading, fortune-telling and exorcism have not been legalised,' she said. 'We also have very strict regulations on religious publications. They have to be approved by the Publications Bureau and can only be sold inside religious establishments. It is out of the question that they can be sold outside.' Mainland officials have recently hinted at more tolerance of mainstream religions as the central government is adjusting its policies in response to a rapidly changing society and increased international exchanges following China's entry to the World Trade Organisation.