The Hong Kong government has consulted the legislature’s House Committee chairperson on resuming the second reading of the controversial national anthem bill.
The proposed law has been criticised as an attempt to erode freedom of expression by penalising deliberate alterations and derogatory performances of March of the Volunteers, punishable by a fine of up to HK$50,000 and three years behind bars.
Speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung and the relevant principal officials have written to the committee’s incumbent chair Starry Lee. They consulted Lee – head of the pro-Beijing DAB party – on the prioritisation of certain bills, as laid out in the Legislative Council’s rules of procedure.
“There are a total of 10 bills, I think. Two of the bills have been delayed for a very long time and they are the national anthem bill and the patents (amendment) bill. So we do expect these two bills to be given priority in the resumption of second reading by the Legislative Council,” Lam said.
She added that the remaining eight bills can be considered in turn to “hopefully” be considered and passed by LegCo.
The anthem bill will be tabled at the full council from May 27, according to letter shared with lawmakers from Cheung.
The draft national anthem law has already been tabled at the legislature and has completed the bills committee stage. It is pending resumption of a second reading at LegCo’s general meeting.
Since last October, the House Committee – which handles internal affairs – has been paralysed by its failure to elect a new chair and deputy chair, leading to an accumulation of legislative business.
Lee, as chair of the last House Committee, has taken control of the current session to clear the backlog, amid outcry from democrats who consider presiding member Dennis Kwok as having the power to head meetings before the election of a new chair.
Beijing accused Kwok of misconduct and violating his oath for filibustering, leading to a physical ruck in the committee room last Friday.
Last May, the government pushed an ill-fated extradition bill through the legislature, prompting similarly chaotic scenes in a committee room, followed by months of unrest and protest. Lam said last September that she had caused “unforgivable havoc.”