The incumbent House Committee chair has the power to handle non-urgent legislative business amid a backlog created by months of failing to elect a new chair, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

Legislative Council President Andrew Leung announced on Monday that Starry Lee, leader of the pro-Beijing DAB party, had the authority to deal with House Committee matters as the current chair, according to outside legal advice.

Carrie Lam. Photo: inmediahk.net.

The committee has been paralysed since last October over its inability to elect a new chair and deputy chair, with democrats accused of filibustering. Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who has presided over 16 House Committee meetings, has also come under fire, with two of Beijing’s representative offices in Hong Kong accusing him of abusing his power and causing major delays to legislative proceedings.

‘Irrelevant’ matters

Speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting, the city’s leader weighed in saying she had read the legal advice: “I do not recall [any] reference to the current House Committee chairwoman only [having] powers when the matter is urgent…[T]hey have made it very clear, having analysed what has happened in the House Committee’s meetings over the last six months, that if the presiding member’s only role and function to help to elect the chairman and the vice-chairman of the House Committee.”

Starry Lee. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

“[M]any of the matters raised by him as a presiding member and also discussed in the House Committee’s 30-hour meetings are irrelevant… including the debates on the security of the LegCo building and advocating some non-binding motions and so on and so on.”

Asked about the proposed national anthem law, which penalises deliberate alterations to the anthem and derogatory performances, Lam said “time is running out” and that the bill has “one final step” before completion.

Additional legal advice

Separately, pan-democrats have announced they are seeking to crowdfund HK$240,000 to finance additional external legal advice to be completed before the next House Committee meeting on Friday.

Civic Party lawmaker and convenor of the pro-democracy camp, Tanya Chan, said after Lam’s press conference that, due to time constraints, the 22 legislators will contribute HK$110,000 towards the drive, bringing the total goal to HK$350,000 excluding handling charges.

Tanya Chan. Photo: inmediahk.net.

“Most of the legislators from the democratic camp hold a different view [from] the present opinion of the legal advisors, so it is essential for us to seek an independent opinion to allow the public as well as the legislators and the chief executive to have a different perspective,” she said.

Responding to Lam’s comments on the controversial national anthem law bill, Chan said they were indicative of her eagerness to fulfil her “political assignment” before the end of the legislative term.

“But without solving the problem raised by the pro-establishment camp and herself last year, because of the extradition bill, together with this national anthem bill, it will only worsen the Hong Kong situation, especially when we are under such a delicate and sensitive situation,” she said.

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.