AS John Major settles in for what is probably the last visit to Hong Kong by a British prime minister, there may be hope from his likely successor for those who will find themselves stateless on July 1, 1997. The word from London is that Tony Blair - who likes to be seen as caring about the ethical dimension of politics - feels it would be good for a Labour government to make a magnanimous gesture and let them into Britain. Although Labour has a 57 per cent to 24 per cent lead over the Conservatives in the latest opinion polls, Blair is also a supremely political animal, and will be well aware of the electoral dangers of being seen to be ready to let new immigrants into Britain, even if they only number a few thousand. So a formal announcement is unlikely before Labour wins power. JAPAN'S heavy smoking prime minister has disclosed how he fends off critics of his habit. When one of the European leaders at the Bangkok summit said he came under attack for setting a bad example by smoking, Ryutaro Hashimoto had some simple advice: he says he is doing his national duty by helping to boost tax revenue. LAURA Patten, Mr Patten's number two daughter, has been back in the news. Having driven the media into a frenzy with her short skirt a few years ago, she's now being hounded about her dog. According to the Daily Telegraph diarist, Laura, who is on work experience at the magazine Harpers and Queen, has been told that she can no longer take her new puppy in to work. It's named C-Lo, after an American card game. (Government House assures us this game exists, although no American we've come across has been able to confirm it. And, no, there's no reason to suppose it's really a mis-spelling of C. Loh.) At least Laura's not making a fuss. 'I do understand why he can't come in: he's totally off his rocker,' she told the London newspaper. Laura is devoted to C-Lo. She takes him for a walk first thing in the morning, they breakfast together and when she gets home she takes the pooch to the pub. Whisky and Soda, eat your hearts out. IAN Perkin, our former business editor, has been caught publishing verse in the Economic Times. The poem, as you'd expect from the chief economist of the General Chamber of Commerce, is about financial secretaries. It concerns three knights - Sir John Bembridge, Sir Plus (aka Sir Piers Jacobs, who 'closed the stock market in 1987/ but still landed in Budgetary heaven') and Sir Hamish Macleod ('a recent Robin Hood') - and Donald 'not the duck' Tsang. 'Now we come to young Donald,' it says, 'he of bow tie fame/ What will be his budgetary claim?/ To take us successfully through to the new SAR/ Or land us in the biggest trouble so far? 'Mr Tsang as you know is a sensible chap/ And will guide us successfully across the fiscal map/ Knowing, of course, if he does the wrong thing/ He will get the chop from the men in Beijing.' No prize for the poetry, Ian. But the characterisation's good.