IT IS A strange world indeed when legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing regrets indulging in freedom of speech and suggests that key public policy issues not be discussed in public. She as much as did so last week after the stock market took a brief scare from her earlier proposal that the Legco secretariat study the linked exchange rate system. Legislators with the penny stock debacle still in mind instantly fell over themselves in their haste to retract their previous support and even she became apologetic for it. In fact she said a possible approach for future Legco studies involving market sensitive information would be to make them available to legislators on a confidential basis and not to the general public. Yes, that was Emily Lau, champion of our civil liberties. Would you believe it? Listen, Emily, there is nothing wrong with you or any other legislator asking whether we should keep the peg and nothing wrong with society at large debating the question. If the thing is so fragile that a little talk will destroy it then it is gone anyway and the sooner the better in that case. There are only three people who should restrain themselves in public when talking about the peg. They are Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung and Hong Kong Monetary Authority boss Joseph Yam Chi-kwong. And the reason they should restrain themselves is purely one of executive prudence. It is they who would have to make the decision if the peg were to be dropped. If they drop hints in advance that it may go they would invite speculative raids on the currency, which would either force the issue on them or, at the very least, destabilise our economy. Their choices for public commentary are either a statement of firm support for the peg or an announcement that a new monetary system has been put in place and, since the first of these would make them liars if it were ever followed by the second, they are better off to say nothing at all. Their position requires that they speak with deed, not word, in this matter. But this is no reason why they should not debate it among themselves or why the rest of us, legislators included, should not debate it in public. The peg is not an icon of religion that we blaspheme if we as much as mention its name. If stock market frights ought to make us shut our mouths, shall we resolve in the future never again to talk of property prices, war in Iraq, corporate scandal or the share price of the CyberWok? The peg is an administrative convenience adopted to ensure a reasonably stable currency after we had proved abject failures in doing it in other ways. I personally think it is a very strong system, not least because it restrains Mr Tung and Mr Leung from their penchant for dabbling in things they do not understand. They cannot print money or monkey with interest rates while we have it. Let us all rejoice. However, there may well be circumstances in which we would be better off to drop the peg and adopt some new arrangement. I cannot think of any just now, that is how good a system it is, but the last thing any of us should want to do is stop anyone else, apart from three people, from raising the question and talking about it openly. That way would lie certain doom for a city that has become prosperous through a free market and a respect for civil liberties. Stop grovelling, Emily. It does not become you to act like just another bought-in Legco mouse, running and squeaking to its hole for cover. We are more likely to weaken the peg than strengthen it if we decide that we cannot even debate it in public.