Law & Crime Opinion Politics & Protest

No Hong Kong legislative meeting until October? I thought your work was important?

Perhaps the most pathetic story of the year so far is the news, widely reported including here, that the Legislative Council is not going to meet again until October, in response to the damage to its usual chamber caused by protesters on July 1.

What a shower of wimps! I mean do they think that what they do is important or not?

Explaining the decision, legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said that the Legislative Council Commission, a committee which decides housekeeping matters, had unanimously agreed that the council would not meet again before October, when the next session is due to start.

legco storming Monday July 1

Photo: May James.

Democrats, he said, were unable to agree that meetings could be held outside the building. This is an example of an elementary confusion which readers may already have encountered in “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. The building in which a body meets is a convenience.

What counts is what happens there. In Persig’s book, the building is a redundant church, whose new owner proposes to use it as a bar. Parishioners complain to the Bishop, who explains that what makes a building a church is what goes on inside it, not the pointy windows and bell tower.

Similarly, there is no earthly reason why Legco should not meet in some other premises. I can understand, of course, that having been bullied mercilessly by the government poodles through most of the present session, the democrats would be quite happy to see Legco closed for as long as possible.

But in any case, the democrats cannot be blamed for this problem. The pro-government group has a comfortable majority. If they were willing to push the extradition bill down democrats’ reluctant throats why be squeamish about a little procedural matter like a change of venue?

legco storming Monday July 1

Photo: May James.

Mr Kwok went on to say that to hold a meeting, more than 1,000 staff were required for back-end support. That may be true. But they do not all have to attend the meeting in the chamber, and nor do they.

Actually when I was reporting Legco – admittedly in the days before interpretation was provided – the number of people in the room who were neither members nor the Governor did not reach double figures.

There has been a Parkinsonian increase in the number of bodies routinely required since then, but it is still nowhere near 1,000. Paring things down as much as possible the council could get by with a team of – say – five interpreters, a similar number of clerks to take care of the record-keeping, an altar boy to keep the chairman on script and hand him the communion wafers at appropriate intervals, maybe a couple of security “flowers” to add gravitas to the proceedings and one or two technicians to keep the gadgets working.

Of course, a temporary meeting place is not going to offer some of the amenities to which members are accustomed. It may be difficult to provide the members’ lounge, free tea and coffee etc. Members will not be able to lurk in their offices until summoned by a bell to determine the result of a debate they have not listened to. People who wish to vote may have to raise their hands instead of pushing a button.

Dennis Kwok

Dennis Kwok. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

These differences are bearable, if members really want to meet.

Mr Kwok went on to ask rhetorically “Which building in Hong Kong can be completely rented out to us for meetings, and which can ensure meetings will not be disturbed?”

Just a cotton-picking moment. You don’t need a whole building. You need a big enough space to hold a meeting of 70 people, with the necessary flunkies. The other 900 or so people whose participation is essential can work elsewhere as they do now.

Let us start close to the existing council chamber. The PLA headquarters used to be the British forces headquarters and in those days I occasionally got inside it. There is a huge high-ceilinged room near the top of the high-rise building (great views of the harbour) which used to be used for Officers Mess events. There are also some very nice smaller meeting rooms nearby. I think we can assume that security will not be a problem.

Too militaristic for you? Then why not try another huge waste of space, the Jockey Club? Racing finished on July 1 and will not resume until late September. Some of the rooms used for this purpose are enormous. I remember visiting a “box” at the Shatin course which was the size of a restaurant. There is also an actual restaurant which is humungous. Or if you really want a big space the pre-race parade ring is vast and has a retractable roof.

Sha Tin Racecourse

Sha Tin Racecourse. Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The horse casino architecture is quite security-conscious for obvious reasons. They want people to pay for admission. And in fact the Shatin course is quite difficult to reach at all on non-racedays when the bus services are not provided and the trains do not stop there.

Also taking the summer off are the local universities. I am sure most of them have rooms which would be suitable, and indeed may already be fitted out with a sound system, headphones for interpretation and other amenities. Alternatively, you could borrow a really big space and build a temporary meeting structure inside it, rather along the lines of the Manchester Corn Exchange Theatre.

The rest of the education industry is also now taking a break for holidays – or research as we university people used to call it – and offers other possibilities. Many international schools have very nice meetings rooms and are in out-of-the-way spots which would be a difficult target for mass protests.

Stanley Prison

Stanley Prison. File Photo: GovHK.

The walls which are intended to keep the inmates in will also keep intruders out. Talking of inmates brings us to another possibility which might be worth exploring: prisons. I am not sure what our correctional establishments offer in the way of meeting rooms but at least security would hardly be a problem

It might be a useful educational experience if you had the prison food for lunch first.

Notice that we have not yet reached the relevant industry: hotels and convention centres offer as a matter of professional practice spaces for a variety of purposes, including much bigger meetings than our legislative council. Did anyone ask for a quote?

I do not doubt that some of these ideas would turn out to have problems, especially if problems were what you were looking for. But there are surely enough unexplored possibilities for us to conclude that the reason why Legco is not going to meet before October is that legislators – offered what they think is a cast-iron excuse for idleness – are happy to skive off and blame any resulting inconvenience on the people who trashed their chamber.

xi jinping security

Convention and Exhibition Centre. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

I think this is not good enough. Being a legislator is usually a rather easy job but the disproportionate respect and deference which it attracts ought to impose some obligation to try harder when difficulties arise.

There are matters which ought to be dealt with before October. Some members are understandably not keen to explore the possibility of approving things by email without a meeting. Never mind the blame game. Get on with it.

There is a distressing contrast here, between our protesters, willing to brave the weather, congestion and the police force’s bracing notions of crowd control, and our legislators, a bunch of idle bastards eagerly looking for the chance to make an early start on their summer holidays.

Shame on the lot of you.

No Hong Kong legislative meeting until October? I thought your work was important?