Following is the speech by the Secretary for the Treasury, Miss Denise Yue, in addressing the Public Revenue Protection (Revenue) Order 1999 in the Legislative Council today (Wednesday):
Thank you for allowing me to speak on the Public Revenue Protection (Revenue) Order 1999, made by the Chief Executive after consultation with the Executive Council. The Order was tabled in this Council on 31 March and has come into force since 1 April 1999. The Order has given full force and effect of law to all the provisions of the Revenue Bill 1999 which is scheduled to it. The Revenue Bill 1999 covers all the legislative amendments required to implement the revenue proposals announced by the Financial Secretary in the 1999-2000 Budget, including both revenue concessions and revenue-raising measures.
The Order made by the Chief Executive is made under section 2 of the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance (Cap. 120). This section stipulates that
"If the Chief Executive approves of the introduction into the Legislative Council of a bill or resolution whereby, if such bill or resolution were to become law -
(a) any duty, tax, fee, rate or other item of revenue would be imposed, removed or altered; or
(b) any allowance, in respect of a duty, tax, fee, rate or other item of revenue would be granted, altered or removed; or
(c) any administrative or general provisions in relation to a duty, tax, fee, rate or other item of revenue would be enacted, altered or removed,
the Chief Executive may make an order giving full force and effect of law to all the provisions of the bill or resolution so long as such order remains in force."
President, I wish to draw attention to four key terms used in this section of the Ordinance that I have just quoted, namely "altered or removed", "other item of revenue", "full force and effect of law ", and "all the provisions of the bill".
"Altered" means either increase or decrease while "removed" means deleted. The use of these words in the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance puts it beyond any doubt that it is lawful and legal for a public revenue protection order made under the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance to cover a bill which sets out both revenue concessions and revenue-raising measures. Therefore, the Public Revenue Protection (Revenue) Order 1999, which includes both revenue concessions and revenue-raising measures, is entirely in compliance with the law.
The second key term used in section 2 of the Ordinance is "other item of revenue". The word "revenue" is not defined in the Ordinance. As such, the word bears its ordinary meaning, i.e. income or "the annual income of a government or state, from all sources, out of which public expenses are met." This quote is taken from The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 1993 Vol II. This meaning is fully compatible with the object of the Ordinance which, as the title clearly suggests, is to protect public revenue. Furthermore, under section 3 of the Public Finance Ordinance (Cap. 2), it is stated that "any moneys raised or received for the purposes of the Government shall form apart of the general revenue". Therefore, it is entirely proper and legal for the Public Revenue Protection (Revenue) Order 1999 to include amendments relating to fixed penalties for traffic offences because fixed penalties constitute an income or revenue to the Government.
I turn to the third key term in section 2 of the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance, namely "full force and effect of law". An order made under this Ordinance has full force and effect of law as soon as it is implemented. Therefore, there can be no question of retrospectivity on the ground that a measure is implemented in accordance with the date stipulated in an order before the passage of the bill covered by the order. In the context of the Public Revenue Protection (Revenue) Order 1999 made by the Chief Executive, the inclusion of the amendment on fixed penalties for traffic offences is fully in compliance with the law, including compliance with the provisions in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. The amendment does not introduce a new offence, it merely provides for an increase in the levels of fixed penalties on existing offences. The amendment is prospective, and not retrospective, as the increases in fixed penalties will only be applied to traffic offences which occur after the increases have taken legal effect. Therefore, it does not contravene Article 12(1) in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance which states that "No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under Hong Kong or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time when the criminal offence was committed".
I turn now to the last key term appearing in section 2 of the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance, namely "all the provisions of the bill". The precision of this term is such that the Public Revenue Protection (Revenue) Order 1999 made by the Chief Executive has to include every provision in the Revenue Bill 1999, including the few measures which are to take effect on a date later than 1 April.
President, apart from being consistent with the provisions of the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance, the Order made by the Chief Executive this year is also in line with the long-standing practice adopted by the Administration and accepted by the Legislature. For the last quarter of a century, the revenue proposals announced by successive Financial Secretaries in each year's Budget have been given legal effect by means of orders made under the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance before the relevant legislative amendments were approved by the Legislature. These orders included revenue-raising measures as well as revenue concessions, amendments relating to penalties, and measures which came into effect at a date much later than 1 April. The Legislature of the day, including the Unofficial Members of the Legislative Council sitting in 1974-75 who sought and obtained the then Attorney General's assurance on the proper application of the Ordinance, accepted all the orders made under the Ordinance without any query. The Order made by the Chief Executive this year is no different from the orders made in 1975 and in all the subsequent years.
President, in closing, I wish to state that the purpose of the Public Revenue Protection Ordinance is to protect government revenue during the period when legislative amendments to implement revenue proposals are being considered by this Council. Any order made under the Ordinance is intended to be a provisional and temporary measure. It does not limit the Council's prerogative in scrutinising the legislative amendments on revenue proposals, nor does it violate the principle that all such amendments have to be approved by the Legislature.
End/Wednesday, May 5, 1999