Legislative Council of Hong Kong

No need for formal consultation over law against national anthem abuse, says Hong Kong leader

Carrie Lam also urges residents not to worry about government bill, insisting it only targets people who deliberately insult March of the Volunteers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 5:57pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 11:19pm

Hong Kong’s leader on Saturday dismissed calls for a public consultation on a contentious bill designed to curb abuse of the national anthem, urging city residents not to worry about the proposed law.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said calling something a public consultation is merely a “label”, and that there was little left to discuss.

Lam was speaking a day after the government unveiled the legislative framework, which would localise the Beijing-imposed national anthem law and make insulting or distorting March of the Volunteers punishable by a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and three years in prison.

“The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau has planned to move the bill in July and members of the public can keep expressing their views in the coming three and four months. It is also the common practice of the legislature’s bills committee to listen to public views ... after the first and second reading of the bill, and that is part of the consultation,” Lam said.

“I do not understand why one has to insist on the term ‘public consultation’.”

Calling the term merely a “label” applied by some, Lam said it was already incumbent on the city to pass local legislation mirroring the national law, which the National People’s Congress Standing Committee has inserted into Annex 3 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

“What do we need to consult about?” she asked.

Lam was responding to calls from pan-democratic lawmakers, who demanded a public consultation for the proposal, which they said still had grey areas.

Intention key to determining if national anthem insult merits jail

The opposition politicians said it was unclear how “wilful distortion or insult” – the offence to be outlawed – could be defined under the law, and feared the bill might prompt people to stay away from using the national anthem, compromising creativity.

The bill has been seen as a particular threat to fans of Hong Kong’s soccer team, some of whom have booed the song before matches in recent years.

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, a barrister, said it was bad practice for the government to leave the responsibility of consultation to the Legislative Council, which routinely holds public hearings in the chamber for each bill, at which residents can give their opinion. He said that kind of hearing was insufficient, because opportunities to air views are limited.

A public hearing held by Legco cannot replace a public consultation by the government
Alvin Yeung, legislator

“A public hearing held by Legco cannot replace a public consultation by the government as not everybody can attend, while their speaking time is also limited to just three minutes,” he said.

Yeung also questioned the rationale behind skipping a formal public consultation for the anthem bill, which will affect everybody, when the government had held such exercises for less controversial laws, such as the review of the Building Management Ordinance.

“It appears highly arbitrary where the line should be drawn and I hope the government will make it clear under what circumstances a public consultation should be held,” Yeung said.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai accused Lam of deliberately misleading the public by suggesting a hearing in Legco could replace a formal public consultation led by the government.

“A lot of details have been omitted in the current legislative framework and only through a public consultation in the form of a white bill can members of the public have a full grasp of the picture,” he said.

A white bill is how the government puts out draft legislation for consultation, before it is submitted to Legco.

In a bid to soothe public fears, Lam on Saturday emphasised that the bill only targeted people who deliberately insult the anthem. She called on the public not to be overly worried about it.

Lam said many people had overreacted to the law, and that was symptomatic of a lack of trust in society.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung also weighed in, suggesting the threshold for prosecution under the new law would be quite high and there would be no problem as long as residents are reasonably respectful to the anthem.

Meanwhile, some school principals have voiced fears that the bill – which will require primary and secondary schools to teach pupils to sing the national anthem, as well as teaching its history – would bring unnecessary pressure to campuses.

Speaking after a radio programme on Saturday, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said it was a matter of principle for local students to learn about the anthem and its background.

He also said he would discuss with international schools how they will have to respond to the new law.