JUST because Beijing has decided to dissolve the Legislative Council after the handover is no reason for China to also cripple the ability of its successor body to function properly. Yet that is what the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) legal sub-group is proposing to do with its ill-conceived proposal to scrap Legco's Powers and Privileges Ordinance. The Beijing-appointed body may be right to point out that this ordinance, as it is now written, is in breach of the Basic Law. But so are hundreds of other laws - and China has no intention of abolishing them. Instead, they will be adapted to be compatible with Hong Kong's future mini-constitution. There is no reason why the same could not be done with the Powers and Privileges Ordinance, simply rewriting the sections that are in breach of Article 48 of the Basic Law, which gives the future Chief Executive the right to decide if civil servants should appear before Legco and its committees. Instead, if it goes ahead with the sub-group's proposal, Beijing will reduce the post-1997 Legco to a body lacking the power even to act as a rubber-stamp. Perhaps the lawyers and former legislators on the PWC sub-group have forgotten, but it is this ordinance which allows those who appear before Legco to speak freely, without fear of being sued over what they say. Without that, it will be all but impossible to summon non-civil servants to give evidence, despite the fact that this is expressly provided for in the Basic Law. Even those who agree to appear will lack the legal immunities that exist at present, and whose value was recently demonstrated during the Kwun Lung Lau landslide inquiry when Canadian Professor Norbert Morgenstern opted to be summoned because of the additional protection this afforded. As a result, Legco would find it difficult to function, with the effect especially devastating for the Public Accounts Committee which monitors Government mismanagement, and showed its worth by highlighting the massive cost overruns at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Beijing has repeatedly insisted that the 1997 dissolution of the present political structure is solely due to a disagreement with Britain over electoral arrangements - rather than an attempt to circumscribe the powers of Legco. The time has now come to prove this, by rejecting the PWC legal sub-group's proposal and instead initiating discussions at the Joint Liaison Group over how to adapt the Powers and Privileges Ordinance. Failing that, the least China must do is give a clear assurance that a new ordinance conferring similar powers, but compatible with the Basic Law, will be enacted after the handover.