The government will consider seeking Beijing's interpretation of the Basic Law on the rights of abode of foreign domestic helpers only if it loses a landmark court challenge. The judicial review granted a group of Filipino maids is scheduled to begin on August 22. They are fighting to have current residency restrictions lifted - foreign domestic workers are exempt from Article 24 of the Basic Law, which grants permanent residency to anyone who has been 'ordinarily resident' in Hong Kong for seven years. The government's position on the outcome emerged yesterday after the issue was discussed at a three-hour meeting of the Executive Council. Opinion remains divided among political parties on when or if the case should be referred to the mainland government for a ruling. No government officials spoke to reporters after the meeting, but a source said the administration, 'out of respect for the judicial system of Hong Kong,' would await the outcome of the case before considering seeking an interpretation. No decision had been made, the source said, adding that the government would definitely appeal if it lost and demand suspension of enforcement of the ruling while the appeal was heard. Seeking an interpretation in the event of losing the case would mirror the situation in 1999 when the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress overturned a decision of the Court of Final Appeal granting the right of abode to Chinese citizens born outside the city if one parent was a permanent resident. The Exco also discussed yesterday what administrative measures could be taken to minimise the impact on society should the domestic workers win their case. One measure might be to restrict the length of stay of foreign domestic helpers to less than seven years, the source said. New People's Party chairwoman and former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the government should seek an interpretation before the court made its ruling. 'It is better to seek the interpretation from the NPC before the government loses the case,' she said, adding that Hong Kong could not absorb the impact of an estimated 125,000 maids who would be entitled to permanent residency if they won. Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong kah-kit opposed an interpretation in any circumstances. 'No matter the ruling, the government should not ask Beijing to interpret the Basic Law, let alone before a ruling,' he said. While the party would not comment on details of the case as it was sub judice, Leong said Article 24 and the Immigration Ordinance were clear to him. 'To qualify for the right of abode, one has to pay tax, keep a habitual residence in the city, and have a reasonable means of income supporting herself and her family. She also has to have the intention to take Hong Kong as her permanent residence,' he said. 'How many maids in the city will be qualified? I do not think the number would be large,' he added, criticising what he described as government scaremongering. Yesterday the results of a Liberal Party survey showed strong opposition to the right of abode for maids, while the Commercial Organisation and Domicile Services Employees Association also expressed its misgivings.