Britain has told China that the Article 23 controversy will undermine international confidence in Hong Kong if the issue is mishandled. The concerns were raised by Bill Rammell, British parliamentary under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, during talks with Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui and other officials in Beijing this week. The British official said he had impressed upon the Chinese leaders that the proposed national security law should be handled with care. 'This is a crucial piece of legislation. The way it is handled will determine international confidence. Our view is that there should be the widest possible consultation on the details,' he said. Moves to legislate against subversion and other state security crime under Article 23 of the Basic Law have already sparked concern in Britain and elsewhere. This is the first ministerial level talks between Britain and China on the issue since the legislative proposals were put to public consultation in September. Mr Rammell - who was appointed in October - visited Beijing and Shanghai this week, before arriving in Hong Kong on Wednesday for his first official visit. It is understood that the Article 23 debate, racial discrimination and the pace of democracy in Hong Kong were raised during talks with Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie yesterday. Mr Rammell said he was 'quietly heartened' that officials recognised that more details of the proposed anti-subversion laws would be needed before the actual legislative procedures began. 'I was somewhat encouraged by what I heard that they have not ruled out further consultation on the details before it gets to the blue bill stage,' he said. Mr Rammell said he would not say if he had been reassured until he had seen the provisions. 'They [officials] hope that people will be pleasantly surprised when they see the content of the legislation. But until people see the detailed legislation, there can't be that reassurance.' When asked what Britain could do if the legislation infringed the freedoms guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Mr Rammell said: 'We take our responsibilities in the Joint Declaration very seriously.' He added: 'We reserve the right to comment on the detailed legislation . . . Historic responsibility gives us the authority to speak. What we are saying and what our international partners are saying is crucial to the international confidence that Hong Kong needs to continue to succeed. 'I don't have the ability just to click my fingers and make things happen. But I do think we are listened to seriously,' he said. Mr Rammell said he had also urged the chief secretary to consult on the pace of full democracy as soon as possible. Despite the current crisis of confidence that Hong Kong is experiencing, Mr Rammell said the future still looked exceedingly promising. He said the current problems were not due to the fact that the British were no longer in power, but the difficulties that the world is facing. But Mr Rammell added: 'Looking back is always fonder.'