IF THERE are to be talks with the Chinese side on arrangements for the 1994-95 elections then Hongkong Government officials must participate in them as full members of the British negotiating team. Of that there can be no doubt. Indeed, the Governor made as much clear when he told the Legislative Council on March 12 that: ''In any talks the British team would include the necessary Hongkong officials with relevant knowledge and experience on the same basis as other officials taking part in the talks.'' That is the position of not only the Hongkong Government but also the British Government, as public statements from Prime Minister Mr John Major and Foreign Secretary Mr Douglas Hurd have made clear. That is an important point of principle. Firstly, there can be little doubt that Hongkong officials, with their extensive knowledge and experience of the local scene, are in by far the best position to give supporting advice to the British Ambassador to Beijing Sir Robin McLaren, who we proposed should be the British team leader. Certainly, the community would have expected nothing less than that. For these were to be talks about Hongkong electoral arrangements; arrangements which must meet local needs, and ultimately would have to be put to the Legislative Council for enactment into law. That is one reason why Hongkong officials must play a full part in them. For who else can better advise the Legislative Council on the acceptability of any agreement reached? And what would be the point in reaching an agreement only to see it rejected by Legco? There is no reason why our presence at the negotiating table should have been an obstacle to such talks taking place, for Hongkong officials have repeatedly participated as members of British delegations in discussions with the Chinese side, ever since the negotiations over the Joint Declaration during 1983-84. Since 1985, they have also formed part of the British team to the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group; indeed both myself and the Political Adviser are current members of that diplomatic body. And Hongkong officials have participated in many other forums where issues relating to the territory were discussed. Most recently these have included last July's talks in Beijing over the financing of the Chek Lap Kok project, and Mr Hurd's meeting withChinese Foreign Minister Mr Qian Qichen in New York last September, which I attended. All these clearly show that China has, for the past 10 years, accepted our presence as part of the British team. YET now it is being said by some that past practice should be changed; that Hongkong officials cannot be full members of the negotiating teamduring any talks over the 1994-95 electoral arrangements because these are diplomatic discussions between two sovereign governments. There was even a report in the South China Morning Post on March 16, quoting Mr Yao Guang, who was head of the Chinese negotiating team in 1983, as saying that during the talks that led to the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the then Governor of Hongkong, the late Sir Edward Youde, participated as nothing more than an ''adviser''. I have to say that nothing could be further from the truth. I have checked the records on this. Sir Edward and then Hongkong Political Adviser, Sir Robin McLaren, were full members of that British delegation. Indeed, Sir Edward participated in all the 22rounds of talks that led to the accord. That was acknowledged by the Chinese Government at the time. Indeed, I recall that a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Qi Huaiyuan, stated clearly on July 5, 1983, that Sir Edward Youde would participate in the talks as a member of the British side. And the plain fact is that diplomatic practice over the past decade, as accepted by China, has been that Hongkong officials participated in such negotiations as full members of the British team. In the context of discussions between two equal sovereign states, it would be odd for one side to seek to dictate the composition of the delegation from the other side. The British and Hongkong Governments have never sought to influence the choice of the Chinese negotiating team on any occasion, nor would we ever dream of doing so. It is, of course, not for me to explain why those on the Chinese side see it differently. I also cannot explain what practical need they have to relegate Hongkong officials to the rank of ''advisers'' or ''experts''. But what I can say is that this is more than a mere matter of status - indeed, it is something which could potentially affect the whole way in which any talks would be conducted. I have seen newspaper reports claiming that Hongkong officials have no right to speak at any talks and, worse still, no right even to be present at the negotiating table. Had such injunctions been followed it would have made a mockery of our presence on the British negotiating team. And, at the end of the day, despite all the niceties of diplomatic descriptions, one is left with two fundamental questions: Is China trying to cold-shoulder Hongkong? And, if so, what does that say for China's attitude towards Hongkong, now and after 1997? WHATEVER the answers to those troubling questions, we now have to face up to the pressing task of getting the electoral arrangements bill passed before the end of the current legislative session - currently scheduled for July 21 - if we are to get everything in place in time for the District Board polls in 1994. That means that, given the complexity and the controversial nature of this piece of legislation, we really cannot indefinitely delay getting it to the Legislative Council as soon as possible. Legco is at present preoccupied with the Budget debate, and the first natural opportunity to introduce the Bill will be on March 31. However, as the Governor has made clear, a decision has yet to be taken by the Executive Council, taking account of Legco business and other developments.