As it turns out, the meeting arrangements made by the LegCo president when scrutinizing the Bill were legal, rational and considerate. If the opposition continues to make trouble, they would be the ones who would lose public trust.
Will anyone be confused by the title of this article because they can’t think of why some people “don’t support” the LegCo president in “chairing meetings lawfully”? Unfortunately, such absurdity did arise in reality, as members of the non-establishment camp moved a no-confidence motion against the LegCo president, and members of the pro-establishment camp had to join forces to defend the president’s right to chair meetings according to the law.
No-confidence motion lacks factual basis
In June, a day after deliberation of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Co-location) Bill (the Bill) was over, non-establishment legislators jointly signed a letter addressed to the House Committee chairperson to request a discussion on moving a no-confidence vote against the LegCo president. The other 39 members and I from the pro-establishment camp soon after issued an open letter on June 21 to express our opposition to the no-confidence motion. The reason for the open letter is simple: The allegations made by the non-establishment camp against the LegCo president are not true, and we must firmly oppose such false accusations that are fraught with strong political overtones.
The no-confidence motion did not receive support from the House Committee, yet the non-establishment camp still resorted to various means to table the motion at the full council meeting before the July recess. There was a clear-cut split between members supporting and those opposing the motion. However, the facts speak louder than words. As long as the facts and reasons are clearly spelt out, regardless of the political views and positions held, it is not difficult to come to the same conclusion as that of the pro-establishment camp.
First, the non-establishment camp alleged that the LegCo president violated the Rules of Procedure (RoP), but the fact is that, when chairing the meeting, the LegCo president not only did not violate the RoP, but he also had a solid legal basis. This is because the president’s power to chair a meeting (including exercising power and regulating during the meeting) was granted by Article 72(1) of the Basic Law, the judgments of the Court of Final Appeal and the Court of Appeal of the High Court in the case of “Leung Kwok Hung v. President of the Legislative Council”, and the LegCo’s RoP.
Offenders point accusing finger at others
The non-establishment camp also claimed that the LegCo president’s arrangements “were extremely improper” and “stripped lawmakers of their rights” with regard to allocation of debate time and management of meeting order. However, the fact is that during the year after the Government announced the implementation of the “co-location plan” in a “three-step” process, extensive discussions on the issue were held both inside and outside the LegCo chamber. At the end of last year, the LegCo spent 26 hours deliberating and passing the non-binding motion on the “co-location plan”. As many as 64 of the 67 LegCo members were in the relevant Bills Committee, which had held 17 meetings, spending a total of 45 hours to review the Bill. In addition, two public hearings had taken a total of 19 hours to listen to public opinions. In fact, the arguments for and against the Bill had been repeated for a long time. When the Bill was introduced to the LegCo, it was already at a stage where both sides would not be able to convince each other no matter how much more time they spent on it. Therefore, there is no issue of not having enough time for discussion.
On the contrary, during the consideration of the Bill, members of the non-establishment camp neglected their constitutional duty to scrutinize the Bill. They constantly filibustered to prevent consideration of the Bill that they had all along opposed to, including using nine and a half hours for the adjournment motion and three hours for making quorum calls in the second reading stage of the Bill. They also jumped onto their seats and yelled, tried to rush to the podium and official seats, and jostled physically, causing injuries to the security staff. These were clear violations of the RoP, yet they accused the president of acting in violation of the rules. It is really absurd that they pointed an accusing finger at the president when it should have been more fittingly pointed at themselves. The question is, if the non-establishment legislators did not waste that 12.5 hours, why should they worry about not having a chance to speak during the second reading?
Meeting arrangements were legal, rational, considerate
If the non-establishment legislators were consistent in their words and deeds and respected the courts, they should respect that members do not have the right to filibuster and respect that the LegCo president setting debate limits is a proper arrangement. This is because the judgement of the appellate court has been affirmed, i.e. “any constitutional right to participate in the legislative process cannot possibly include the right to filibuster”; as for the right to participate in the legislative process, it must be read with, and subject to, the power of the president to preside over meetings under Article 72(1) of the Basic Law. According to the judgement of the Court of Final Appeal in the same case, the LegCo president has the power to impose restrictions on and terminate the debate. The Court of Final Appeal also ruled that the powers of enacting legislation as stipulated in Article 73(1) of the Basic Law are not given to individual members of the LegCo but to the LegCo as a body. This provision does not give individual members the right to speak to participate in the legislative process.
As it turns out, the meeting arrangements made by the LegCo president when scrutinizing the Bill were legal, rational and considerate. They were solidly grounded on the relevant Basic Law provisions, the court’s judgements on the constitutional powers of the LegCo president, and past experience in time allocation for the scrutiny of bills. They also took into consideration the balance between member speeches and the Council’s efficiency. The LegCo president also showed an inclusive and patient attitude, striving to maintain the order and dignity of the LegCo and ensuring the successful completion of the deliberation of the Bill. This motion, which is an instance of grandstanding, has been rejected, but I hope the opposition could learn the lesson. Otherwise, if they continue to make trouble, they would be the ones who would lose public trust.
This is a free translation. For the exact meaning of the article, please refer to the Chinese version.
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