THE Government has been accused of going behind the back of Legislative Councillors with changes to passport rules. Legislative amendments would force Hongkong British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC) passport holders to change to British National Overseas (BNO) passports before the change of sovereignty in 1997. Legislators are furious that the administration had neither informed nor consulted Legco when the decision to implement the amendment was taken by the Executive Council three months ago. The law-makers said the move contradicted the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which said that all BDTC passport holders would only cease to keep such status with effect from July 1, 1997. They said Britain had promised Hongkong people that they could keep their BDTC passports until the day the Union Jack was lowered for the last time in Hongkong. ''This is not a minor amendment - the Government is taking away our fundamental right,'' Co-operative Resources Centre legislator Mr Ronald Arculli said. United Democrat Mr James To Kun-sun said the public might feel that some of their rights had been removed. The principal assistant secretary for security, Mr Simon Vickers, yesterday told the Legco nationality sub-committee that people of different age groups would have to observe different deadlines to apply for BNO passports, all well before 1997. Noting that the move was an administrative measure to avoid any last-minute rush, Mr Vickers said the Executive Council had endorsed the plan last December. The British Government was currently drafting the necessary amendments to the Hongkong (British Nationality) Order 1986, which would soon be tabled in Britain's parliament. The Government estimated that the number of potential applicants for BNO passports before July 1, 1997, could be up to three million. The proposed re-issue exercise will operate in 10 phases, starting from the second half of this year until the end of 1996. The community will be subsequently divided into 10 groups, with those aged between 22 and 26 identified as the first group to change passports. The group's proposed final application date was proposed for October 30 this year. The last group will be those born since last year, which the administration considered the smallest group. Most of those children might already be on their parents' passport, the administration suggested. Mr Vickers said late applications would not be considered unless there were special reasons. Mr Arculli proposed instead a registration process to be carried out that allowed all applicants to obtain BNO passports as long as they register themselves before July 1, 1997. Independent legislator Mr Andrew Wong Wang-fat suggested that BNO passports valid from July 1, 1997, could be issued to applicants who applied before that date. Mr Vickers maintained that the programme was the only practical solution to avoid a last-minute rush for BNO passport applications. But he promised to study the legal and administrative implications of legislators' proposals before he meets them again.