Motion on “Vote of No Confidence in the President of the Legislative Council” (2018.07.12)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, today, Members from the opposition camp mainly accuse the President of limiting the number of times a Member could speak and terminating the debate at the time specified by him. Does the President have the power to set time limits for debates and terminate debates at meetings? In fact, there is no express provision for this in the Rules of Procedure. When the Rules of Procedure were made a decade or two ago, it was not envisaged that Members would filibuster, and the political ecology back then was worlds apart from what it is like now.

In the case of LEUNG Kwok-hung v The President of the Legislative Council, the Court of Final Appeal (“CFA”) ruled that the President has the power to set limits to and terminate a debate, and the existence of the power is inherent in, or incidental to, the power granted by Article 72(1) of the Basic Law to the President to preside over meetings. In this regard, I also wish to refer to some other relevant court judgments. CFA held that the President is to exercise his power to preside over meetings under Article 72 of the Basic Law so as to ensure the orderly, efficient and fair disposition of the Council’s business. CFA held that the President has the constitutional power and function to exercise proper authority over the process, and that the orderly, fair and proper conduct of proceedings must be within the province of the President. The Court of First Instance held that when presiding over meetings, the President does not simply sit at his seat listening to the speeches of Members but actually has the constitutional function and power to exercise proper control over the process to ensure that the orderly, fair and proper conduct of business in the Council is not derailed.

Why do I have to refer to these court judgments? This is because when I presided over the meetings of the Finance Committee, I was, like the President, often questioned by opposition Members as to whether it was in my power to make certain decisions. As I have clearly read out the relevant court judgments today, I hope that Members will no longer question me as to whether I have such power at the meetings of the Finance Committee in the future. The Secretariat has printed a pile of copies of the court judgments for me. If, in the future, any Member questions me as to whether I have such power, I can distribute the copies of the judgments to Members anytime. Fortunately, I think not many Members will challenge me about this anymore. Should any Member challenge me, I will give him or her a copy of the judgments.

When presiding over the meeting on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Co-location) Bill (“the Bill”), the President made it very clear that he had, after taken reference from similar contentious bills with amendments, decided to set a total time limit of 36 hours for the scrutiny of the Bill, including the Second Reading debate, consideration by committee of the whole Council and Third Reading procedure. This decision, made reasonably on a sound basis, sought to enable Members to make good use of the meeting time and allow them to make proper arrangements for their speeches and talk about the things they considered most important first, knowing how much debate time was left. If Members really considered the debate important, they actually had enough time to speak. However, the oppositionists chose not to make good use of their time to scrutinize the Bill; instead, they initiated a motion to adjourn the Second Reading debate on the Bill. Consequently, this Council spent a good nine hours debating the adjournment motion. How come opposition Members do not blame themselves but blame the President?

Moreover, another very important point which I must make is that CFA has stated clearly that the power to scrutinize bills is vested in the whole legislature, not individual Members. Opposition Members often think that their power has been infringed upon, but I hope they can respect the rule of law in Hong Kong. CFA has made it clear that such power is vested in the Legislative Council as the legislature, rather than individual Members, and that the President, as the person responsible for regulating the proceedings of the Council, has both the need and the power to set time limits for debates and terminate debates.

Thus, in my view, if Members are willing to get the facts straight, they will oppose this motion on “Vote of no confidence in the President of the Legislative Council”. Thank you, Deputy President.

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