No crisis for Legco

SINCE the advent of direct elections the Legislative Council has become more vocal and more assertive. Legco's collective confidence has grown to the point where members are now talking of their right to introduce and support a private member's bill overturning the Government's latest localisation policy. The idea of Legco changing the policies of an Executive-led Government has raised fears of a constitutional crisis.

But there need not be a crisis. The Government is not elected and cannot therefore be toppled simply because it is over-ruled by the legislature. Moreover, the Government is Executive-led; it is not an executive dictatorship. It is not always right; nor does it have a licence to behave in an authoritarian manner.

The right to introduce private members' bills is written into Legco standing orders; and a few non-controversial items have passed into law after tabling by non-civil service members. Nevertheless, it is a right that should be exercised with great caution.

The Government, being neither elected nor representative, deserves to be pulled up short when it behaves with arrogant disrespect for popular opinion. But Legco is not representative, either. Less than one-third of its members are directly elected and can claim with any amount of moral force to speak for the public at large. For all its recent populism, Legco is not a democratically election parliament. Its make-up means its role remains akin to the traditional advisory function of 19th century British colonial legislative councils or, at best, to the upper chamber in a British style bi-cameral legislature.

Its main task is to examine the Government's intentions and policies and to ''give it pause'' - to make it re-think those of its proposals that appear inequitable or unworkable. But for as long as Legco is made up of government appointees and of functional constituency members, whose primary role is to offer advice on their areas of expertise and lobby on behalf of their own professions, the power to overturn government policy should be used judiciously and sparingly.

Legco retains the right and the power to make law. It has considerable authority by virtue of its diversity of membership; and its opinions expressed in motions and debates should be listened to with respect. But it should not mistake its own populism for popular support nor assume that it has a monopoly on wisdom.