WILL delaying the package of political reforms presented by Governor Mr Chris Patten help heal the rift with China? Or will it merely prolong the uncertainty now plaguing Hongkong? It is a crucial question and a difficult dilemma for Legislative Councillors now being lobbied in support of such moves. The suggestion has already bitterly divided Mr Patten's main allies, the liberals. The Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood and Meeting Point have indicated their support for a delay, while the United Democrats have insisted such a delay would be a waste of time. It has also split former political allies like Co-operative Resources Centre convener Mr Allen Lee Peng-fei and Executive Councillor Professor Felice Lieh-mak. The idea emerged at the end of last week, when the motives of those backing a delay were attributed to trapping the Patten package in a complicated web of legislative proceedings long enough to make implementation more difficult. But yesterday, Mr Lee - who is pushing for a three-month moratorium - maintained the move was designed to offer all sides the chance to talk. But will they? Is there any hard evidence that London, Beijing or Government House is prepared to admit there is anything to talk about? Some believe the fact that Mr Patten is reported to have sent a draft of proposed legislation to Chinese officials indicates he may be willing to give ground. Still others point to China's silence since they were presented with the draft as indicating a willingness to forgo their demands that the plans must be dropped before negotiations begin. Neither of these theories is backed by hard fact. If real evidence emerges that both sides are prepared for meaningful talks then, of course, delay is worthwhile. Legislators need to be sure there is no chance of consensus before casting their votes. But delay based on rumour and wishful thinking will merely prolong Hongkong's agony. And, worse, may further widen the gulf between Beijing and Government House.