The Legislative Council has passed controversial changes to its house rules that will strip some powers from lawmakers and give the legislature’s president greater control.

Changes to the legislature’s Rules of Procedure were proposed mostly by the pro-Beijing camp in order to curb filibustering by democrats. The democrats previously said that removing lawmakers’ powers contradicts the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that ensures Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The pro-democracy camp launched numerous protests to stall the meeting. 11 pro-democracy lawmakers were ordered by the president to leave.

Ray Chan
Ray Chan being removed by guards. Photo: In-Media.

The dozens of amendments were passed on Friday, after LegCo President Andrew Leung decided to insert additional meetings so that the debate could be completed before the Christmas holidays.

After the vote, lawmaker Gary Chan of the pro-Beijing camp complained to the president after the vote that his voting machine has a glitch – he wanted to vote yes but the result was wrong. Pro-Beijing camp convener Martin Liao also said his voting system was faulty and could not vote.

Explainer: Why the proposed changes to the Hong Kong legislature’s house rules are so contentious

The pro-democracy camp does not have enough votes to block the modifications after six of its democratically-elected lawmakers were disqualified by a court following government legal action. The changes could rob them of the power to block bills or to form certain investigative committees.

They passed around a rape alarm, which lead to the expulsion of Ted Hui. Eddie Chu and Ray Chan also tried to chain themselves to their chairs, but were removed soon after.

Shiu Ka-chun Fernando Cheung
Shiu Ka-chun and Fernando Cheung blocked by guards. Photo: In-Media.

At the end of the debate, Fernando Cheung and Shiu Ka-chun were removed by guards after they stood up to protest. The meeting was suspended for ten minutes as pro-democracy lawmakers tried to protect them from being evicted.

When the meeting started again, Claudia Mo tried to charge into the president’s seat and was removed. Roy Kwong, James To and Leung Yiu-chung were removed after they tore apart a copy of the Rules of Procedure page by page and threw the pieces into the air.

‘Useless’ rule book

To, a veteran lawmaker of more than 20 years, said he did not like filibustering but it was his duty to protect the rule book, as he promised his voters that he would do so.

He criticised the Chief Executive for refusing to listen to their concerns. Carrie Lam previously responded to the controversy in the legislature by saying that the government would not do anything to harm the public.

To also attacked the pro-establishment camp: “I cannot stand there and be lectured by those lawmakers who received zero votes teaching us how to be dogs.”

Leung Yiu-chung Roy Kwong James To
Leung Yiu-chung, Roy Kwong, James To. Photo: In-Media.

Leung said it was his second time being removed from the chamber in his long tenure. The last time he was removed was before the Handover in 1997.

“How can we have power to monitor the government anymore? That’s why I tore the rulebook apart – it’s useless,” he said.

Civic Party lawmakers Kwok Ka-ki and Jeremy Tam were also kicked out following a protest.

Amendments from the pro-democracy camp, such as making sign language an official language of the council and providing additional legal resources to the LegCo secretariat, were rejected.

Pro-democracy lawmakers
Pro-democracy lawmakers after the vote. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

After passing the changes, the pro-Beijing camp will no longer have to be concerned about premature adjournment of meetings due to lack of quorum, as the president has a new power to reconvene meetings on the same day, instead of waiting for the next sitting.

The president can also combine or reject amendments from lawmakers, demand that lawmakers explain rationales behind submitting motions and amendments, and reject motions that could previously be raised without prior notice.

Andrew Leung
Andrew Leung. File Photo: In-Media.

One controversial amendment reduces the quorum needed for general meetings from 35 to 20. Concerns have been raised that the change may be unconstitutional, since the Basic Law stipulates that the quorum for the weekly general meeting of LegCo shall be no less than one half of all members – meaning the minimum should be 35.

Another modification raises the number of lawmakers’ signatures needed to form an investigative committee from 20 to 35, which will effectively block any such requests from the pro-democracy camp, as the camp never had more than 30 lawmakers.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.