The public debate on political reform has been a long time coming, but finally there are indications that progress is being made. On Wednesday, the Legislative Council spent three hours discussing the issue. On Thursday, a new concern group revealed comprehensive proposals for electing the chief executive by universal suffrage. And yesterday, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung attended what is likely to be the first of many public forums on democracy. The formal consultation on proposed reforms will not be launched until early next year. But on a more informal basis, it seems, the process has already begun. We have come a long way since mid-June when pro-government lawmakers secured a temporary ban on the legislature even discussing the question of political reform. There is a great deal of work to be done before any changes can be implemented, but yesterday's forum provided some encouraging signs. Mr Lam confirmed that the government now believed that reforms permitted by the Basic Law might - 'if necessary' - be introduced in time for the chief executive election in 2007. This clears up one important area of uncertainty. Also welcome was the approach adopted by Mr Lam during the discussion. He appeared open to ideas, was prepared to agree with views expressed by government critics on some points and said there was a need for the government to work together with all the political parties. This was very different to the rigid and defensive attitude of officials during the ill-fated consultation on national security laws. Lessons, it seems, have been learned since the mass protest on July 1. Mr Lam also used his speech to dispel what he described as three myths. He said it was not true that the government was opposed to democratic reform or that Hong Kong people were uninterested in politics. He also took issue with the suggestion that political parties should only have a limited role to play. Broad sentiments such as these are easy to express at this early stage and it remains to be seen how - and if - they will be converted into action. But at least it is a promising start. The forum helpfully identified some of the issues that will need to be tackled. The Basic Law states that even if direct elections are held, candidates must be selected by a broadly representative nominating committee. The form which this committee takes and the rules by which it operates could have a significant bearing upon the kind of system we end up with. Suggestions range from using Legco to nominate candidates to allowing the 800-member Election Committee that voted in Tung Chee-hwa for a second term to take up the job. The idea of having an initial vote on a wide range of candidates followed by a run-off election for those who prove most popular was also floated. These are the kind of options that must be further considered as the consultation process gathers pace. Whichever formula is decided upon, it should be one that ensures candidates from across the political spectrum have a fair and equal opportunity to stand. One issue raised at the forum, by the leader of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, Tsang Yok-sing, struck a discordant note. Mr Tsang suggested that the right of non-Chinese nationals to vote could be considered an impediment to the introduction of universal suffrage. The right to vote is guaranteed by the Basic Law and applies to all permanent residents, regardless of their nationality. It is an essential element of Hong Kong's role as an international city. To remove it would be to take a step backwards. There will be much more to discuss in the months ahead. Yesterday's debate got us off to a good start.