Liberals vow to fight referendum

BATTLE lines are being drawn in the Legislative Council for the debate on a referendum over Hongkong's political future.

The Liberal Party said yesterday it planned to table a motion seeking an adjournment of next Wednesday's Legco debate on whether a referendum should go ahead.

The debate, sponsored by United Democrat Mr Szeto Wah, reads: ''This council urges the Government to hold a territory-wide referendum on the 1994-95 electoral arrangements to facilitate Legco to consider the relevant bills on such basis and to ensure that the decisions of the council will be compatible with the principles of openness, fairness and acceptability to the people of Hongkong.'' But Liberal Party legislator Mrs Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said the debate would not help next week's Sino-British talks, scheduled to begin on Thursday.

''Now the two sides have decided to talk, it is absolutely not the right time to ask for a referendum,'' she said.

According to Legco standing orders, a member may move a motion without notice that a debate be adjourned. The president would then put the question to the council.

Mr Szeto is out of town, but party vice-chairman Mr Yeung Sum said the Liberal Party's move was unusual.

''If the Liberal Party has its views on the motion, it can lobby legislators to defeat it or it can amend it in the way it likes,'' he said.

The United Democrats would not withdraw the motion, he said, claiming it was important that public's views be heard on the issue.

Mr Yeung said Legco members could use the results of a referendum as a reference point on public views when voting on any reform deal agreed by China and Britain.

He said the future electoral arrangements were so crucial the public should be allowed a say in their formulation.

His views were echoed by independent legislator Miss Christine Loh Kung-wai.

''I see no reason why we should delay debating the motion,'' she said.

But other independent legislators called on the party to withdraw the motion.

Mr Vincent Cheng Hoi-chuen said there was no point in debating the subject because public views had already been fully reflected in opinion polls.

''The polls show clearly that Hongkong people are deeply divided in their support for Mr Patten's blueprint, and the number for the proposals is more or less the same as that against,'' Mr Cheng said.

Meanwhile, legislators will ask the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, for details of Sino-British talks when he attends question time next Thursday - the day Sino-British talks resume in Beijing.

Miss Loh said she would press the Hongkong Government to keep its word and brief legislators on progress of the talks.

''We should know when and where the talk takes place. How long are they expected to last? And we should know the agenda of the meetings,'' she said.

''The Secretary of Constitutional Affairs Mr Michael Sze Cho-cheung has promised he would brief legislators on this matter from time to time.''