Cocktail parties and seating plans were on the menu at the commission of inquiry this week, with comments about 'stupid' Hong Kong teachers thrown into the mix as the man whose allegations sparked the investigation gave evidence. During five days on the witness stand at the inquiry investigating allegations of government interference at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, its academic vice-president Bernard Luk Hung-kay painted a picture of the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, as a man who instilled fear. He also alleged that Professor Li's former second-in-command Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun made disparaging remarks about teachers. Former council chairman Dr Simon Ip Sik-on provided details yesterday about a meeting with Professor Li in which the education chief told him the institute would be merged with the Chinese University because former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa wanted to show himself as a 'strong leader'. He also detailed allegations that Professor Li told him during the meeting on July 19, 2002 that the institute would be 'raped' if it refused to merge. Professor Luk's claim that Mrs Law, the former permanent secretary for education and manpower, told him Hong Kong teachers were 'all so stupid' at a cocktail lunch in Toronto, Canada, came under fire on Tuesday as Mrs Law's counsel produced evidence to support the argument that Professor Luk did not speak to Mrs Law. Under cross-examination, Lisa Wong Kwok-ying SC, said a seating plan showed Professor Luk was not assigned to Mrs Law's table at the lunch. The event was held on May 23, 2000, when a Hong Kong government delegation, led by Michael Suen Ming-yeung, then secretary for constitutional affairs, visited Canada. Mrs Law was director of education at the time, but her appointment as permanent secretary had been announced. Ms Wong also referred to a statement by Eddy Cheung Kwok-choi, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Economic Trade Office, which organised the event. In his statement, Mr Cheung said he sat down with Mrs Law 'and to the best of my memory, Bernard Luk was not at the same table'. 'I did not recall there was any conversation between Mrs Law and any guest during the lunch,' his statement read. 'She did not speak very much and ate very little'. Professor Luk refuted Ms Wong's claim that he 'manufactured this story in order to gain sound bites in the media'. He maintained that he was seated to Mrs Law's right. Benjamin Yu, counsel for the inquiry, also questioned Professor Luk about a statement by Donald Tong Chi-keung, then director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office. Mr Tong said he did not recall Professor Luk speaking with Mrs Law at the lunch. However, under re-examination on Thursday, Professor Luk's counsel Martin Lee Chi-ming SC produced an attendance list of the lunch. It showed that three people assigned to Mrs Law's table did not attend the event. During last Saturday's hearing, Professor Luk also revealed he had been 'frightened' after Professor Li said he would pay for refusing to issue a statement condemning a protest by redundant teachers. Professor Luk said in a phone call on June 29, 2004, the education chief demanded the institute issue a statement condemning the Professional Teachers' Union. When Professor Luk refused, he said Professor Li told him: 'I'll remember this, you will pay'. Professor Luk said: 'I was frightened. He could not touch me physically ... but he could touch me psychologically.' Institute president Paul Morris has told the inquiry he came under pressure from Professor Li, former Chinese University vice-chancellor, to merge HKIEd with the university. Professor Morris has also testified he was pressured by Mrs Law to sack four academics who had publicly criticised the government's education reforms. It has been alleged that Mrs Law phoned Professor Morris on 30 October 2002, the day after the institute held a small class teaching seminar, and asked him to sack senior academic Lai Kwok-chan and then-lecturer Ip Kin-yuen. Professor Luk and Professor Morris have speculated that the academics' support for small-class teaching may have been the reason why Mrs Law called for their dismissal as reducing class sizes was not government policy. Ms Wong said Mr Ip e-mailed Mrs Law to ask if EMB officials would like to meet experts who were attending the conference. She said a reply e-mail from Mrs Law showed that she was interested in discussing small class teaching. But Professor Luk said: 'I think what this e-mail shows is that they were interested to find out what Mr Ip was up to.' The inquiry continues today.