LEGISLATORS voted against a motion calling for the political appointment of principal civil servants on the grounds that such a system would undermine the stability of the civil service. The motion, moved by veteran legislator Mr Andrew Wong Wang-fat, was defeated seven for, 23 against, with 17 abstentions. It read: ''This council urges the Government to appoint principal officials in the form of political appointments so that only such officials will be politically-accountable and that civil servants on the permanent establishment can remain depoliticised.'' Opening the 90-minute debate yesterday, Mr Wong said the politicisation of policy secretaries would help allay fears of the lower layer of civil servants about reprisals from the future government of the Special Administration Region. ''With a politicised upper layer of officials, the lower administrative or executive layer could then remain politically-neutral when putting government policies into implementation,'' he said. The political accountability to the public would be ensured by giving no fixed tenure to policy secretaries, and judging them on merit. He also said incumbent secretaries who had political aspirations, politicians, or persons other than public officers could be candidates. He was supported by the liberal party Meeting Point. The group's legislator Mr Fred Li Wah-ming said the Basic Law did not exclude the possibility that policy secretaries could be politically-appointed. However, the Government, represented by the Secretary for Civil Service, Mr Barrie Wiggham, said a change would risk more damage than benefit. ''Our existing system is well tried and tested. Let us build on it as provided in the Basic Law, not imagine that we can start our journey from somewhere else,'' he said. ''Far from reassuring civil servants, I suggest the introduction of political appointments at the top would have a destabilising effect on the civil service and would militate against continuity at the senior levels,'' he added. Mr Wiggham was supported by the conservative Co-operative Resources Centre. CRC convenor Mr Allen Lee Peng-fei said the motion was a completely new concept which could not be supported without detailed investigation. Independent Mr Jimmy McGregor, who opposed the motion, compared civil servants and politicians with collies and a doberman saying they were different breeds. ''The collie tends to work without barking and stays in the same job for many years respected by all round him. The doberman, despite determined training, is always an uncertain friend and very often a dangerous adversary, much given to using his temper,his bark, and his teeth to resolve arguments,'' he said. The liberal United Democrats of Hongkong said they could not support the motion as it did not spell out how the future chief executive could be fairly elected. They abstained. Maverick independent Miss Emily Lau Wai-hing, who criticised the existing system for forcing policy secretaries to perform the conflicting role of civil servants and ministers at the same time, also abstained.