All elected legislators to stay on, vows Hurd

Fanny Wong

BRITISH Foreign Secretary, Mr Douglas Hurd, yesterday sent a strong signal that Britain would insist that legislators, including liberals, who were elected in 1995 would not be removed from office at the handover in 1997.

Mr Hurd said this was an important objective for the British side in next Thursday's talks with China on the political structure for the 1995 elections.

The remarks came only a day after the Chinese side issued a stern warning that the demand for legislators to get on a so-called ''through train'' was just wishful thinking by London.

In what is seen as an attempt to lay down a tough negotiating position, Britain also indicated that the controversial political blueprint proposed by the Governor Mr Chris Patten would be Britain's opening position in the talks in Beijing.

Such a move would undoubtedly cause friction as Beijing has vehemently opposed the package and has adamantly refused to hold any negotiation on the Patten proposals.

Speaking after a meeting with Mr Patten in London, Mr Hurd said it was good news that the discussions were opening and that it had been possible to arrange them.

''But of course the Chinese know what you know: our aim is to put into place arrangements which will continue after 1995 which mark a substantial step forward along the line already traced in the Joint Declaration and with the Chinese. We are on course,'' he said.

When asked to comment on the Chinese side's warning that it was wishful thinking that Britain should seek a ''through train'' for some of the liberals, Mr Hurd said: ''It is very important, very desirable, and very important that those chosen in 1995 forthe Legislative Council should continue to sit and do their job after the change of sovereignty.

''It is a very important objective. It always has been.'' Mr Hurd also said he had not fixed plans for meeting his Chinese counterpart, Mr Qian Qichen.

In Hongkong, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Mr Michael Sze Cho-cheung said after a closed-door meeting with legislators that the Patten proposals would be Britain's opening position.

''Any talks have a starting point. We have a clear position. Are you saying we should not have a position?'' he said.

Panel convenor Mr Andrew Wong Wang-fat said Mr Sze had not ruled out the possibility of Mr Patten's proposals being amended at a later stage but indicated it was unlikely for the proposals to be broken up into several parts and tabled to the legislature in stages.

But Mr Sze was said to have made clear that the Government still intended to enact the electoral legislation before the end of this legislative year which ended in July.

He also indicated that it was unlikely for agreements to be reached during the first round of talks.

Mr Patten last night appealed to China's advisers on Hongkong to use their influence to make sure the press from the territory can be represented in full at next week's talks.

Mr Patten disclosed that British officials were making inquiries about the apparent attempt to block the presence of the Hongkong media at the talks with the Beijing government.

The Government was making similar representations to the Chinese Embassy.

''It is a mistake to assume that you can stop people trying to find out what is going on,'' he said just before leaving for Hongkong.

''The media understands that the content of the talks is bound to be confidential while they are making progress but the existence of the fact of the talks is not something that can properly be hidden from a free press and a free press, thank heavens, issomething we have in Hongkong.''