CHRIS PATTEN is being 'rapidly marginalised' in the run-up to 1997 as Britain and China repair the damage done by his political reforms, the former British ambassador to Beijing, Sir Percy Cradock, said yesterday. The Governor's primary role in the future, he said, was to veto legislation that might offend Beijing. 'You now have the spectacle of the incredible shrinking Governor,' Sir Percy said during an RTHK interview. 'But he has a local role of some importance in the coming months handling the situation created by the election of Martin Lee and his men in the legislature. 'He may therefore have to use his veto power over legislation in order to prevent more trouble with China.' Sir Percy, a longtime critic of the Governor, described Mr Patten as a 'notable absentee' from the talks between Chinese vice-premier Qian Qichen and British officials last week. There would have been no constructive discussion if the Governor had been there, he claimed. 'If we're to have successful Sino-British negotiations they will have to deliberately sideline or skirt him,' said Sir Percy. The effective negotiation, he said, now has to be between London and Beijing given the limited time left before 1997. Suggestions that Mr Patten had been sidelined at the end of Mr Qian's talks with London officials have been denied. The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, wrote in last week's Sunday Morning Post that the Patten administration had been central to the deal struck in London. Government spokesman Kerry McGlynn dismissed suggestions that Mr Patten would be marginalised as 'wishful thinking'. 'His Policy Address will show he has a hand in every aspect of policy-making . . . Nothing will also change the constitutional fact that no decision can go ahead without a yes from him,' he said. Mr Patten was still taking final decisions, he said, although the Chief Secretary, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, and the Financial Secretary, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, were beginning to take a greater role in the administration. Mrs Chan said Sir Percy had been away from the scene for so long that he was no longer in touch with reality. The administration, the legislators and the community at large were in a far better position to judge, she said, adding the election had showed that Hong Kong people were ready for greater democracy.