BRITAIN last night responded to a ferocious attack by the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Li Peng, on it and the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, by declaring that London remains ''ready for talks at any time''. The Foreign Secretary, Mr Douglas Hurd, told the House of Commons ''we will continue to pursue steadily the path of co-operation with China. We look to the Chinese side to do the same''. But Mr Hurd's statement may not defuse tension between the two sides because it largely restated Britain's position on the proposals for electoral reform. Earlier, in an emotional opening address to the Eighth National People's Congress, Mr Li warned that Britain had to bear all the consequences for pressing ahead with the changes that Mr Patten proposed for the territory's 1994/1995 elections. Mr Li, the anger in his voice rising as he spoke, also accused Britain of trying to instil unrest in Hongkong before the 1997 change-over. The ferocity of the criticism of Mr Patten surprised observers, particularly because the section of the Government Work Report devoted to foreign affairs has rarely singled out an individual. Mr Li said Mr Patten ''perfidiously and unilaterally'' crafted proposals to alter Hongkong's political system and violated previous Sino-British agreements. Despite repeated statements since Friday that Beijing no longer saw any basis for talks on the proposals, Mr Hurd said he hoped the Chinese ''will be prepared to settle quickly on arrangements for such talks''. ''The key point is that electoral arrangements in Hongkong should be fair, open and acceptable to the people of Hongkong.'' Mr Hurd told the Commons that the UK and China had ''every incentive'' to work together to ensure Hongkong's future success. The Shadow foreign secretary, Dr Jack Cunningham, welcomed Mr Hurd's statement, which he said indicated a ''conciliatory tone'' towards the Chinese position. But he warned that the deadlock could not be ''endured indefinitely''. Mr Li's Government Work Report was amended at the last minute in a bid to toughen China's opposition to Mr Patten. He told the 2,977 delegates that the Governor's political blueprint was ''designed to create disorder and to impede the smooth transfer of power''. The speech was interrupted four times by applause. The unprecedented attack on Mr Patten and Britain came three days after the Hongkong Government gazetted the electoral bill that gives effect to Mr Patten's plans. Mr Li's remarks signalled that the central leadership had reached a consensus on its assessment of the implication of the gazetting of the bill. An article carried by the local branch of the China News Service pointed out that no Work Report since the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 had criticised London. It said the firmness of the attitude and the sternness of the wording used were also rare, showing the severity of the Hongkong problem. The article said a main theme of reports between 1985 and 1992 had been the increased co-operation with Britain to bring a successful solution to the Hongkong problem. ''At the same time, one can find out from the previous eight reports that China has always adopted a complimentary, encouraging and positive attitude to look at Sino-British co-operation,'' it said. It said that, even in yesterday's report, which was full of criticisms, previous co-operation between the two countries was acknowledged. If Britain ignored the stern content of this report and did not change direction, the severity of future consequences would be unthinkable, it said. According to the original version of Mr Li's report, copies of which were distributed to all deputies of the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China wished to look for a solution if Britain complied with the previous understandings reached between the two governments. ''The only solution for the British Government is to change its course and comply at an early date with the documents which have been signed by both sides and the understandings they have reached,'' the original version of the report read. But when Mr Li delivered his speech, this paragraph was replaced by: ''Now the British side has created obstacles to co-operation, all the consequences should wholly be borne by the British Government.'' The British Ambassador to China, Sir Robin McLaren, sat throughout the two-hour opening speech, expressionless even when long applause erupted. Afterwards, Sir Robin said: ''I'm naturally disappointed with the inclusion of such a passage in the Government Work Report. I do not think it would be helpful to comment further.'' The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Michael Sze Cho-cheung, said in Hongkong that the Government was still hoping for talks and had not decided when to table the electoral bill to the legislature. He said there was a natural window for not introducing the bill in the next two weeks as they were earmarked for scrutinising the budget and, normally, the Government would not table bills during those sittings. ''We don't have a definite time,'' he said. Mr Zhou Nan, the director of the Hongkong branch of the New China News Agency, who is attending the NPC meeting, sternly ruled out ''any way out'' for Britain to resolve the controversy. The NPC and sessions of the CPPCC will be used to step up condemnation of Mr Patten and his proposals. CPPCC vice-chairman and former Guangdong Governor Mr Ye Xuanping last night attacked Mr Patten for damaging the prosperity and stability of Hongkong and warned that Britain's attempt to create disorder was doomed to fail. Incumbent Guangdong Governor Mr Zhu Senlin also said Mr Patten's reform package would affect the economic link between the two places. A total of 32 Hongkong and Macau NPC deputies signed a joint statement denouncing Mr Patten's decision to gazette the bill and urging China to adopt effective measures to prepare for the smooth transition. The CPPCC yesterday arranged a special press conference, co-hosted by former Executive Councillor and a newly appointed CPPCC deputy Ms Maria Tam Wai-chu, to condemn Mr Patten. The vice-chairman of the United Democrats of Hongkong, Mr Yeung Sum, said Mr Li's report was not a cause of concern because he had only reiterated China's existing stance. Mr Yeung said there was still hope for talks if both countries acted in Hongkong's interests. A member of the Co-operative Resources Centre, Mrs Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, also agreed that Mr Li had not closed the door for talks. ''We are reading too much into it. Instead of speculating whether there is a toughening of stance or not, it is better to see where we can go from here,'' she said. Mr Fred Li Wah-ming of Meeting Point said such a high-level attack against the British Government reflected that chances for talks over the political reform were slim. Mr Li said Hongkong might not need a through-train and it was not entirely a bad thing to hold fresh elections by 1997. Mr Tam Yiu-chung, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hongkong, said such a rare move reflected that Sino-British relations had suffered a serious blow. ''It is unlikely that [the Sino-British relationship] can be restored,'' said Mr Tam. Although Mr Li did not rule out the possibility of talks, Mr Tam said it was usual Chinese practice to allow room for manoeuvre. He said it was unlikely there would be convergence in the run-up to 1997 as Beijing was shocked by Mr Patten's move to gazette the bill. In London, pro-China MP Mr Robert Adley attacked Mr Patten. The chairman of the all party British-Chinese parliamentary group said he believed Mr Patten's proposals were a deviation from the Joint Agreement. He added: ''If you deviate from an agreement unilaterally you have to accept the consequences.''