Hopes were raised yesterday for wider debate on enacting internal security legislation in Hong Kong, with the justice secretary denying a deadline had been set for next July. Despite previous hints by officials that Beijing and Hong Kong had tacitly agreed on July for enactment, Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie said yesterday that it was simply a 'working target'. That did not mean, however, that Article 23 of the Basic Law covering internal security would never be implemented through the passage or amendment of laws, she warned. A clear piece of legislation, Miss Leung said at a luncheon yesterday, would enable everyone to know the limits of free speech. The justice secretary was giving her first major speech on Article 23 since the government issued its controversial proposals on legislation related to the article last month. Officials have flatly rejected calls for a 'white bill' to be issued. This would create an additional round of consultation before it formally goes to the legislature. 'I don't see the difference,' Miss Leung said. 'If you are not happy with it, you won't feel happy regardless of what colour the bill is. 'We are not rushing through the legislation. July is a working target. We think there will be enough time for discussion.' The justice secretary did admit, however, that the issue could not be debated interminably. 'It's a sensitive issue. If it drags on for too long, there will be many groups taking to the streets. It is not good for social stability.' She said the central government had been consulted on the 'major principles, but not the detailed legal proposals'. Detailed proposals on issues such as definitions of the crimes laid down under Article 23 were formulated by the government and could be discussed by society, she said. 'But if you argue there is no need to enact law on crimes such as sedition, I believe there is no room for discussion.' Speaking at a Newspaper Society event, Miss Leung sought to assure the media that their concerns about freedom of speech and press would not be undermined. 'The knife has always been above your head . . . Our responsibility is to let everyone know this [knife] has nothing to do with you [the media.] 'But . . . you need to know the parameters of law, how much room you have so that you won't face criminal liabilities. 'This is why we need to have a consultation process. On one hand, we ask people's views. On the other hand, it's good civic education.' Miss Leung stressed that the proposals were not aimed at expelling dissidents and their organisations and removing 'diversified publications' from newsstands. Martin Lee Chu-ming, leader of the Democratic Party, said Miss Leung was frank in admitting that the law would put pressure on citizen's rights and freedoms. 'Tung [Chee-hwa] has said nothing would be affected, and that was a lie. Now, at least Elsie Leung was more truthful than Tung . . . by admitting that there will be a knife hanging over people's heads,' he said.