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LCQ10: Population Policy

    Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Henry Tang, in the Legislative Council today (April 30):


    Last year, the Government established a Steering Committee on Population Policy under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary for Administration to study ways to encourage parenthood, upgrade and nurture manpower resources, and to develop strategies and possible measures in this respect.  However, apart from promoting community-based childcare services and increasing child allowance from 2007-2008 onwards, the authorities have no other specific measures to boost fertility rate.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the progress made by the Steering Committee on Population Policy in developing population strategies and when the relevant policies will be launched; and

(b) whether the authorities will consider providing further financial incentives, such as, by drawing on the practice of the Singaporean and Italian authorities, awarding Baby Bonus to families with new-born babies, or introducing parental leave with reference to the practice of the European countries such as Norway, Germany and Finland, etc., so as to promote parenthood and thereby relieving the pressure of an ageing population?


Madam President,

    The purpose of establishing the Steering Committee on Population Policy is to facilitate the better planning and coordination of Government¡¦s efforts on population policy, with the relevant bureaux/departments continuing to be responsible for implementing the specific measures under their policy purview.  The Steering Committee has been monitoring the implementation of population policy related measures to ensure that the services being planned would take into account the future changes in the Hong Kong population structure.  These measures include initiatives falling under the four priority areas in the 2007 Policy Address to optimize our demographic structure (i.e. raising the quality of our education, developing Hong Kong into a regional education hub, attracting talents and reforming our health care system).

    In relation to encouraging parenthood, in addition to the tax measures introduced to encourage childbirth (whereby the child allowance under salaries tax for the first to the ninth child is $50,000 per child, and an additional child allowance of $50,000 in the year of assessment in which the child is born), a number of other initiatives (e.g. various measures aimed at improving the quality of our education) have progressively been implemented with a view to optimizing our demographic structure.

    To alleviate the burden of parents in supporting their children¡¦s education, starting from the 2007-08 school year, the Government has provided direct fee subsidy for parents towards school fees for pre-primary education in eligible kindergartens. With effective from the 2008-09 school year, the Government will provide free senior secondary education for all students in public sector schools.  We will also provide full subvention for full-time courses offered by the Vocational Training Council for Secondary 3 school leavers. Besides, the Government will work towards the provision of quality education, including the gradual implementation of small class teaching in primary schools as from the 2009-10 school year, and launching of the New Academic Structure for Senior Secondary Education, etc.  These initiatives will help further enhance the quality of education, promote all-round development among students and provide them with more channels to pursue further studies both locally and overseas.

    To assist parents who cannot take care of their children temporarily because of work or other reasons, the Government also subsidises non-governmental organizations to provide a wide range of child day care services.  We have also endeavoured to provide more flexible child care services to address the practical needs of parents.  On top of our existing services, we will allocate additional funding of $45 million over the three-year period between 2008-09 to 2010-11 to promote various types of child care services that offer greater flexibility, and to strengthen day foster care service.

    The Steering Committee has examined whether it should adopt more proactive measures, including providing further financial incentives to encourage childbirth in Hong Kong.  The Steering Committee considered that childbearing is very much a personal choice of individual couples. When a couple makes a decision on childbearing, they would consider various factors and economic factor is just one of their considerations.  Other factors include whether the couple like children, lifestyle changes after having children, education for their children, and child care arrangements, etc.  Accordingly, it would not be appropriate for the Government to influence individual¡¦s childbearing decision through policy means. References to overseas experience indicate that a number of countries with low fertility rates have introduced measures to promote fertility (e.g. by providing baby bonus or introducing childcare leave), but the effect of these measures in increasing the fertility rate is uncertain.  Nevertheless, the Steering Committee agreed that we should foster a pro-family environment and reinforce core family values among the public through the work of the Family Council and relevant bureaux and departments (e.g. providing various child day care services and more flexible child care services).

Ends/Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Issued at HKT 12:44


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