Hong Kong’s controversial copyright bill has completed its second reading at the Legislative Council sooner than expected, but a longer debate is set to commence.
The bill will now move on to the “committee of the whole” stage, in which lawmakers review each section along with some 50 amendments which have been tabled. It will likely take even more time to complete as lawmakers may speak as many times as they wish.
The LegCo will be on Chinese New Year break from February 3. If the filibuster on the copyright bill does not end by that date, it may delay debates on the policy address and the annual budget, thus stalling the government’s spending plans.
Dubbed the “Internet Article 23” by campaigners—a reference to Hong Kong’s ill-fated security law—the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 has faced major opposition from local netizens who fear it may curb internet freedoms. They say it may not have provided enough protection for internet users when they use copyrighted materials for non-profit and personal use.
Pan-democratic lawmakers have been waging a filibuster in order to delay the bill from being moved to a vote since last month. They have been making long speeches using up their 15 minutes time allocation, and repeatedly requesting the chamber’s quorum bell – which triggers a headcount.
At around 4:45pm, no pan-democratic lawmakers made it back to the chamber in time to request the bell or make a speech. LegCo president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing then asked the commerce minister Gregory So Kam-leung – who is responsible for the bill – to speak.
The second reading was therefore concluded by a vote of 37 to 25, with the support of the pro-Beijing camp.
Earlier in the day, pan-democrat Albert Chan Wai-yip told reporters that they expected the filibuster at the second reading to last until Friday. The debate will now be moved to the “committee of the whole” stage.
Lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-Leung said that it was at fault in that he expected lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee to use up all of his 15 minutes of speaking time. Leung was therefore late to arrive back in the chamber.
Transferring to select committee
Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan has proposed a motion to transfer the bill to a new “select committee“. A select committee is established for in-depth consideration of matters or bills referred by the Council.
Lawmakers are currently debating the motion. Should the motion pass, it would allow more time for lawmakers to re-negotiate the bill before it is moved to the “committee of the whole” stage again. But the motion will likely be voted down again by the majority pro-Beijing camp.
Possible short cut
LegCo President Tsang may cut the debate short by setting a time limit, meaning that it could end at a time he found suitable, under rule 92 of the Rules of Procedure. Tsang has done so before for other bills challenged by filibuster at the “committee of the whole” stage.
Rule 92 states that “In any matter not provided for in these Rules of Procedure, the practice and procedure to be followed in the Council shall be such as may be decided by the President who may, if he thinks fit, be guided by the practice and procedure of other legislatures.”
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that she hoped pan-democratic lawmakers will discharge their duties in debating and scrutinising the bill seriously and vote on it afterwards. She originally denied the possibility of pulling the bill, but then said “the government could not rule out anything.”