THE Secretary for Civil Service yesterday defended the Government's decision to allow overseas-agreement officers to switch to local terms, claiming it was in accordance with the Basic Law and Joint Declaration. Anson Chan Fang On-sang said the Government acted responsibly in removing inconsistent legislation pertaining to staff policy. The Government would be evading its duties if it had left the matter to court, Mrs Chan said. The local civil service staff unions have threatened to take the matter to court. ''On something as important as this, we think it would be totally irresponsible of the administration to leave it to the court to decide,'' she said. ''If, for any reason, we feel that, in staff management, we need more flexibility in the overall public interest, or [if] there is, in any way, inconsistency with the legal provision, the Government has the responsibility to take the initiative to put right the policy,'' she added. She refused to accept the assertion that the decision was made due to the likelihood of the Government losing in court because the policy contravened the Bill of Rights. Mrs Chan said the main consideration for the decision was the fact that it would be in the public's interest to retain expatriate officers with extensive experience in the Government. The decision, she pointed out, was also in line with Sino-British agreements. ''According to the Basic Law and Joint Declaration, we should retain these people, as many of them have been here for a long time, and regard Hong Kong as their homes,'' she said. The two pro-Beijing newspapers yesterday published strongly-worded editorials in which they accused the Governor Chris Patten of stirring up trouble between local and expatriate staff. The Wen Wei Po said the drastic change in the localisation policy had violated the agreement reached between China and Britain in 1986. ''The move indicates clearly that Mr Patten wants to interfere with, and obstruct, a smooth transition, and purposely creates trouble and turmoil by not consulting the Chinese side and civil service associations,'' it said. Branding the move a new trick, an editorial in Ta Kung Pao said, ''it is another of Patten's ploys, trying to challenge the Chinese side''. The State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office warned against drastic changes in Hong Kong's civil service. Deputy Director Chen Ziying, said adjustments should only be made if they fell within the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. He said the Government should have consulted the Chinese side on the amendments to expatriate civil servants' contracts. Legislators from the United Democrats of Hong Kong and the Liberal Party also voiced concerns about the contract changes after meeting local civil service unions yesterday. UDHK vice-chairman Yeung Sum and party colleague Michael Ho Mun-ka met officials of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Union and the Non-expatriate Officers Association. Mr Yeung said: ''We always support the localisation policy. If overseas civil servants occupy the spaces, it would stall local civil servants' chances of promotion.'' Mr Ho said the Government had no obligation to extend the expired contracts of expatriates. Mr Ho and Mr Yeung will meet the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants today today, before seeing Mrs Chan tomorrow. After meeting representatives of the Non-Expatriate Officers Association, Liberal Party chairman Allen Lee Peng-fei said it was regrettable to know that the Government had not consulted Legco or the unions before making such a great policy change. His party will also meet the Association of Expatriate Civil Servants today.