Hong Kong’s security chief has announced that the controversial extradition proposal will be tabled at the full Legislative Council next month, a rare move that will allow the bill to bypass its usual committee-level deliberations.
Secretary for Security John Lee told reporters on Monday that he had written to pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee, who chairs the legislature’s House Committee, asking that the bill resumes its second reading in the main legislative chamber on June 12.
“Regrettably, the bills committee has been set up for over five weeks, but it has not been able to function normally,” he said. “The bills committee is ineffective at vetting the bill, and I don’t see any way out of this deadlock.”
“Time is of the essence for this bill. After careful deliberation, the government has no choice but to make this difficult decision.”
Lee said his decision had its basis in Rule 54(5) of the legislature’s Rules of Procedure.
The extradition bill, first proposed by the Hong Kong government in February, would allow extradition requests from jurisdictions with which the city had no prior agreement – most notably Taiwan and mainland China.
Pro-democracy lawmakers have sought to delay the bill’s legislative process, as lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland.
John Lee said on Monday that it was “unprecedented” for the bills committee to go for two whole meetings without electing a chairperson, and that the meetings have resulted in chaos and injuries to lawmakers.
Fast-tracking the bill to the full council would mean that officials and lawmakers would have less time to examine the proposed legislation clause-by-clause, though some pro-Beijing figures such as Tam Yiu-chung argued that there will still be enough time for vetting.
The move on Monday appeared to override a decision made by Starry Lee on Friday. When the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps failed to reach a consensus on the path forward, Starry Lee said lawmakers had until Tuesday to submit written proposals.
Separately, Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said earlier on Monday that it was permissible for a bill to be directly sent to the full Council, because the Rules of Procedure allowed the government to decide when to resume a bill’s second reading.
There were previous occasions in the legislature when all three readings of a bill were completed in one day, he added.
‘Unaccountable executive powers’
Reacting to the move, pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo said she will write to the House Committee to protest the government’s attempt to sideline the bills committee.
“We believe that the government is clearly trying to create an overbearing impression, to have the legislature at the mercy of their unaccountable executive powers,” she said.
Mo added that the “unprecedented” move was a departure from the legislature’s traditions which go back over a century.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To also criticised the government for cutting short the deliberation time for the extradition bill. If the bill were to resume its second reading on June 12, it would have spent around two months at committee meetings.
However, New People’s Party leader Regina Ip said the government should have gone further and not wait for the House Committee at all.
“Our system, especially in terms of making laws, is executive-led. Given that the bill was proposed by [the administration], they should tell us when they want to resume the second reading,” Ip said.
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