IN the fourth debate in three years on old age pensions, legislators yesterday adopted a moderate response to the Government's scheme. Members endorsed an amended motion - by 26 votes to 22 - put forward by the Liberal Party's James Tien Pei-chun, urging the Government to seriously consider alternatives to the scheme. The amendment followed a private motion put forward by the labour representative, Tam Yiu-chung, which stated that 'the Government has to assume greater financial responsibility for the old age pension scheme' by being the third contributor, in addition to employers and employees. The motion led to a long debate on the need for a welfare scheme, a central provident fund or a protection scheme for the elderly. The Democratic Party tabled an amendment by Lau Chin-shek supporting the planned scheme. It further affirmed that the Government should undertake not less than one-third of the total contribution and should raise the standard rate under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme to $2,300. The adopted amendment raised by Mr Tien was aimed at rejecting Mr Tam's suggestion that the government scheme was the only one and that all refinements should be based on that scheme. Mr Tien, who represents the business sector, said in his speech: 'Universal old age pension schemes or social security in one guise or another have been practised in the West for decades. Even after years of reforms and tinkering, such programmes are bankrupting many countries.' Mr Tien and his supporters described the scheme as a form of salary tax. Independent Emily Lau Wai-hing, who supported the Tam and Lau motions, asked why the Government did not state clearly that the proposed scheme was a tax. But Mr Tien's amendment was criticised by Mr Lau for failing to take a firm stance. It did not urge the Government to quickly implement plans to protect the elderly. The Secretary for Education and Manpower, Michael Leung Man-kin, said after the debate that he was disappointed legislators once again raised the possibility of a central provident fund. The Government scheme would not only help the elderly poor, but also many from the middle class who did not have much savings. Secretary for Health and Welfare, Katherine Fok Lo Shiu-ching, said the Government already had comprehensive allowances for destitute elderly people. It was not proper for members to suggest replacing the pension scheme by increasing the allowances. Speaking after the vote, Mr Tam said he did not want to see the Government go on deferring a pension scheme for the 650,000 elderly.