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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Proposal for suspension and fines targets Hong Kong lawmakers who continue to misbehave

Continued misbehaviour of pro-democracy politicians in Legislative Council leads to proposal for the addition of fines and suspensions to punishments house rules committee can impose

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 6:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 11:30pm

A new rule could give the Legislative Council the power to suspend or fine members who misbehave during meetings.

The suggestion, raised during a meeting of the Committee on Rules of Procedure on Monday, is a direct response to the aggressive and occasionally outlandish protest tactics pro-democracy lawmakers have employed during Legco sessions.

An increasingly vocal minority, those in opposition have resorted to shouting, standing on desks, and tearing up order papers during sessions where they disagree with the administration’s position.

However, committee chairman Paul Tse Wai-chun said the process was at an early stage and no formal proposal on handling disorderly conduct had been made.

Tse said the 12-member committee would consult all lawmakers and study the prescribed procedures – known as standing orders – from parliaments in Britain, Australia, Taiwan and four other jurisdictions during the summer recess from mid-July to September.

“No consensus was reached today and we will consult all members of Legco,” he said, adding the committee would then discuss the idea when Legco reconvenes in October.

Almost two-thirds of the council is dominated by pro-establishment lawmakers who have, during the past few years, called for sanctions or fines against lawmakers, who can be, at the discretion of the Legco president, expelled from meetings for disorderly conduct.

Several pro-democracy lawmakers have staged protests in Legco – ranging from picketing outside the chamber to chanting slogans when their colleagues are trying to speak.

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Last year, during a dramatic debate on changes to house rules, three lawmakers tore up a copy of the rule book. Earlier this month, five democratic lawmakers were kicked out of a meeting by Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen as they shouted from their seats to reject the so-called co-location bill, which allows for mainland laws to be enforced at the West Kowloon station of the cross-border rail link.

Tse pointed out that there are currently two extremes in how the house committee can deal with disorderly conduct.

“One option is just to issue a warning or letter of condemnation, and another is to use the mechanism under the Basic Law to impeach a member, which may be far too severe,” Tse said.

“So, at the moment, we are trying to establish a way forward that will allow us more options to deal with misconduct, including reprimanding or temporarily suspending a member, or making them face financial consequences.”

The standing orders in the British parliament, which Legco rules draw heavily from, say a member accused of disorderly conduct could be suspended from meetings, first for five days, and, in the second instance, for 20 days.

Any subsequent terms of suspension are determined by the House of Commons.

In Australia, the suspension starts at one or three days, and subsequent suspensions are capped at a maximum of one week.

Pro-democracy lawmakers said the suspension was akin to barring lawmakers from meetings, which Leung has already done.

“After lawmakers accused of disorderly conduct are thrown out from meetings, the session would resume, so why punish them and their voters further?” said Andrew Wan Siu-kin, a Democratic Party lawmaker and member of the rules committee.

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Dennis Kwok from the Civic Party, referring to how the council had, after weeks of wrangling last December, approved 24 changes to the rule book mostly to curb filibustering from pro-democracy members, said: “Democrats are, in principle, against any further amendments of house rules.”

Tse argued it would be fairer if all lawmakers decided on grounds for temporary suspension rather than leaving it to the president. But the pan-democrats pointed out that the city’s legislature was dominated by pro-establishment members and any decision would not be made equally.

The convenor of the pro-establishment camp, Martin Liao Cheung-kong, said it was still too early to come to any conclusion on the matter.