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Rita earns fans for admitting faux pas

Few doubt that provisional legislature president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai has a tremendous respect for the Basic Law. But perhaps her workload is getting too much to handle in these hectic times.

Last Friday, she was invited to speak at the seminar held by the Joint Committee of the Basic Law to mark the seventh anniversary of the mini-constitution.

She was among leaders like Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office deputy director Wang Fengchao, political commissar of the future garrison Xiong Ziren, and the chairman of Hong Kong Chinese Enterprises Association, Gu Yongjiang.

When it came to her turn, Ms Fan began: 'I have to apologise before I start . . . The speech in your folder is one that has been given before. The one I have just handed round is the one I am making today.' The audience were stunned by Mrs Fan's mistake - but impressed by her frank admission.

A British Labour Government's commitment to Hong Kong? Don't hold your breath.

Not only is there no reference to the territory in its manifesto, but when our man in London asked for the Hong Kong briefing paper which the party's international section was advertising, he was surprised by the contents. It has only two paragraphs, which apportion blame to the Conservatives, and it is not even up to date.

Here it is in full: 'Hong Kong returns to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997. Labour is committed to ensuring that Hong Kong retains its way of life and democratic institutions after the handover.

'The Conservatives were responsible for Hong Kong's constitutional arrangements and we have pressed them to do everything we can to reach agreement with the Chinese on a smooth transition, in particular to ensure that Hong Kong's Legislative Councillors remain in office in the first Legislative Council under Chinese sovereignty.' French foreign policy of cosying up to China will take a step forward when President Jacques Chirac arrives in Hong Kong. Whispers reaching this column say Mr Chirac will convey the Legion d'honneur, his country's highest honour, upon T.T. Tsui, the famous art collector and generous benefactor to a variety of causes.

It will be a welcome diversion for Mr Tsui. He has been under the spotlight because of the alleged arms smuggling scandal involving Rex International, the China-linked company he owned in the 1980s, now under investigation for allegedly supplying equipment to make weapons of mass destruction to Iran.

Can prejudice against the gay and lesbian community finally be laid to rest in Hong Kong? It looks like it - they got a grant of $375,000 from the Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries in December. Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing was told through Legco that the money will be spent on support services and to promote better understanding of sexual orientation.

As the Post revealed, distinguished Australian Cultural Attache Sir Les Patterson is staying at Government House.

Besides giving Governor Chris Patten vital pointers on handover protocol, Sir Les is recording the death of British colonialism in a TV show entitled Last Night of the Poms.

After a session in Statue Square, interviewing amahs, Sir Les returned to base in a spittle-streaked jacket and overstretched trousers - only to be refused admission by security guards. They could not believe suave Aussie comedian Barry Humphries had any connection to Sir Les, and it took all the cultural attache's legendary charm to persuade a guard to ring the house and get a staff member to vouch for him.