OVER at the Hong Kong Club, they are struggling to keep the upper lips stiff. 'I say, old chap, that Martin Lee fellow's gone a bit too far this time, what?' says Mr Justice Farquharson-Smyth in that booming voice he uses to intimidate the natives in court. 'Always suspected he was unsound, old boy,' replies Mr Justice Hangham-Haigh. 'Could never tell which side he was batting for.' 'Biting the hand that fed him,' expostulates Judge Bangham-Uppe. 'I say shoot the lot of them. Bilingual terms, indeed! 'Coolie! Bring me another whisky. Chop-chop!' Rarely has anything so shocking been said within the hallowed walls of the Legislative Council. (Let us not forget this was once the Supreme Court.) It was bad enough that the Chief Secretary should be calmly admitting she was planning to put local and civil servants and expatriates on the same terms (once the Chinese had given the go-ahead) and that the Judiciary would probably follow suit. But then Mr Lee asked his supplementary question. Now that the conditions that had justified better terms for expatriates no longer applied, he said, what about giving better terms to bilingual officers? He had spoken in a voice betraying bitterness, even, (dare we suggest it?) barely restrained anger. Was he actually indulging in sarcasm? ('No lower form of wit, old boy,' says Farquharson-Smyth. 'Just shows he's a foreigner.') Nevertheless, the colonial establishment had been shaken to its core. How could he? Martin Lee, a man those Reds over the border always claimed was in the pay of the Foreign Office; a man we Brits always thought of as one of us - until he started getting those foolish ideas of his about democracy and out-Pattening that dangerous bounder Patten! The man's a British-trained lawyer. He's part of the system. How could he have done this to us! The Chief Secretary was stunned. Equal status for women and Chinese? That was something she'd fought hard for, something she understood. But better pay for bilingualism? The suggestion that judges who might be able to communicate with the defendants and witnesses might actually be better qualified than some narrow-minded old curmudgeon from a different part of the planet - now that was something that no loyal servant of the Crown had ever before allowed to cross his or her mind. After some shocked silence she passed the question to the Secretary for the Civil Service - a chap who has delighted in promoting Chinese in government. But even he was able only to suggest it was something the Chief Justice and the Government could look into and change if they wanted. No wonder officials were shocked. Had Mr Lee considered the implications? Imagine if this example were to be followed in the private sector. Instead of paying local employees less for more, everyone from banks to English-language newspapers would have to pay locals more! This might actually encourage Hong Kong people to improve their English language skills and (unthinkable, surely?) force foreigners to learn Cantonese! Luckily, the change of sovereignty will make all this unnecessary. We shall all be paid less from now on. In future premium salaries, government quarters and annual return passages will be reserved for the monolingual, Mandarin-speaking compatriot.