The pro-democracy camp has successfully stalled a debate on the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for at least a day by employing a rare move that has not been used since the 1997 Handover.
The non-binding motion debate, put forward by the government, was due to start on Wednesday, after the first and second reading of the Banking (Amendment) Bill 2017. Normally, the second reading of the bill would be quickly suspended and sent to the House Committee for review before returning to the general council at a much later stage. However, in a surprise move by lawmaker Eddie Chu, the process was stalled for hours.
Chu proposed that the bill should not be sent to the committee, and the LegCo general council should instead review the bill immediately, thus blocking the motion debate on the joint checkpoint arrangement. Chu cited LegCo Rules of Procedure 54(4), which has not been used since 1997.
The joint checkpoint arrangement will involve “leasing” land to China and effectively giving up Hong Kong jurisdiction across a quarter of the new West Kowloon express rail terminus for faster immigration procedures performed by mainland law enforcement agents. It has been heavily criticised by pro-democracy activists, who say that it is a violation of Basic Law.
Chu said that, if the joint checkpoint debate was important, the government should not have put the banking bill before it: “It is giving lawmakers the message that we should debate this bill in full as a priority.”
There were several instances of using the rule in the 1980s to enact urgent legislation, such as when closed camps were set up for Vietnamese boat people, and on another occasion when the takeover of the financially troubled Overseas Trust Bank was approved within a single meeting.
LegCo President Andrew Leung suspended the meeting for more than hour to look into Chu’s request, before allowing a debate on it. Leung said the rules stated that he must allow the debate, but he would not comment on whether Chu was using a loophole.
Many pro-democracy lawmakers then queued up to speak on the debate, whilst continuously asking for headcounts to stall the meeting. The debate will unlikely be stalled for long, as lawmakers may only speak for 15 minutes each.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that the joint checkpoint debate must be conducted as soon as possible so that the rail link can operate in the third quarter next year.
With the support of the pro-Beijing camp, the LegCo passed a government suggestion last week to suspend the debate of a stamp duty bill, so that the joint checkpoint debate could jump the queue,
The pro-democracy camp said in a statement that they came up with Chu’s move together to oppose “the abuse of power” by the government and the pro-Beijing camp.
However, Lam said on Wednesday that she was disappointed that the banking bill was being used for filibustering: “I believe the government does things in accordance with rules. As per LegCo tradition, it is only the first and second reading for this bill – there isn’t meant to be a debate,” she said. “If lawmakers who oppose the joint checkpoint arrangement try to find all these loopholes, I believe society will have its own judgment.”
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Paul Tse said there was a loophole in the legislature’s rules in that many of them do not require prior notice before they are triggered. He said the rules should be changed to avoid such relentless filibustering.
During the meeting on Wednesday, Tse regularly stood up when other lawmakers were speaking, complaining to the president that the lawmakers were repeating their points and wasting time.
The pro-democracy camp also hosted a rally outside the LegCo building against the joint checkpoint arrangement.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan said that she had initially believed the LegCo would enter the debate on joint checkpoint on Wednesday, before the pro-democracy camp came up with the tactic: “I only knew of it this morning, we had to make preparations [for debating the banking bill] in just two hours,” she said.
Joshua Wong, the jailed activist who was released on bail on Tuesday, was also amongst the speakers. He said that he understood that many Hong Kong people were concerned about mainland officers at the Express Rail station enforcing laws in the city.
He recalled how he was detained at Bangkok airport last year without being given a reason: “Hong Kong people cannot do anything about Thailand, but the West Kowloon terminus may become Thailand and the mainland soon… I hope society can fight on,” he said.
He said the lesson he learned in prison was “the importance of freedom,” and he said Hong Kong people should treasure theirs.