A HIGH-POWERED British human rights delegation led by former foreign secretary Lord Howe yesterday called for a thorough review of the way the death penalty is used in China but held back from urging its abolition. The wide-ranging report, following a seven-day visit to China last year, at the invitation of the Beijing Government, called for strict controls on the use of prison labour, greater access to lawyers and a whole series of legal improvements to create better human rights in China. But the 92-page report was mildly worded. While the delegation, including MPs, academics and a bishop, expressed concern about torture, which Chinese officials readily admitted occurred, they failed to come out with any statement condemning it. Lord Howe also refused to discuss any linkage with Hongkong or one of the critical human rights concern in the West - Tibet. Lord Howe said: ''We have chosen language very carefully designed to achieve the maximum result. You're not going to transform society by one paragraph more or less of intemperate language. ''We have not pulled punches,'' Lord Howe said. He hoped there would be a follow-up visit in the future and a continuing dialogue. The visit to Beijing and Shanghai followed Prime Minister John Major's visit to Beijing in September 1991, when he signed the airport agreement with premier Li Peng. Mr Major was understood to be concerned that he might be seen as endorsing the Chinese leadership at the time, and the delegation was seen as a way of winning back some face. The report urged the release of prisoners whose freedom has previously been sought by the British Government, and a thorough review of counter-revolutionary offences. It called for greater religious freedom, arguing that the registration of religious sites should not be used as a means of controlling belief, religious practices or the existence of religious groups. The report said Chinese officials did not dispute the need to reduce torture in detention centres, prisons and labour camps, but this needed to be done speedily. The delegation also called for the Beijing Government to introduce laws so that there was a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. It also recommended the urgent review of all summary forms of administrative detention with a view to their early abolition. Lord Howe said the death penalty should be applied sparingly and the Government should set up a timetable for a reduction in the number of capital offences and ban public executions. The delegates met President Jiang Zemin, who told them: ''My priority is to feed 1.2 billion people.''