TRIPS to Hong Kong have always been among the most popular foreign junkets for British Members of Parliament. Over the past decade, hundreds have taken advantage of the chance to escape the dismal weather in London and enjoy a spot of shopping and five-star luxury at the expense of local taxpayers. Until recently, it was possible to justify such expenditure on the basis that these MPs might help shape British policy on Hong Kong. But now London's influence is irreversibly on the wane, it is short-sighted and damaging for the Government Information Service to still invite more MPs than mainlanders, even in the year immediately before the handover. There is a case for continuing to pay for overseas visitors - but they should be from North America and Asia, where it is more vital that the territory's problems be better understood. Since a vote in the United States Congress can have far more impact on Hong Kong than anything the House of Commons may do, it is absurd that this year the territory expects to see only 13 sponsored visits from the US, compared with 38 from Britain. Worse still is the failure to attract more mainland visitors of whom there will be just 10 this year. There may be problems: mainlanders cannot visit without official approval and most insist on bringing personal assistants with them. But, at this stage in the territory's history, a visit by one Chinese vice-minister is more worthwhile than any number of British MPs. Clearly, the visit programme should be quickly re-orientated to reflect Hong Kong's future rather than its past.