DAVID Howell, head of the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said yesterday the Sino-British dispute over political reforms was surmountable and said relations between the two countries were good. Committee members, who arrived in Beijing on Tuesday as part of an inquiry into Sino-British relations up to 1997 and beyond, would not go into details of their discussions, which Mr Howell said were informal and off the record. ''But I certainly was able to express the feeling at Westminster and in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is that Governor [Chris] Patten is proceeding on lines well within the Basic Law and certainly with the joint agreement of 1984,'' Mr Howell said. He was speaking after meetings with senior Chinese officials, including Lu Ping, head of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and members of the National People's Congress. Agreement over the Hong Kong issue ''is what we want to see, and I believe it can be reached'', said Mr Howell, a Conservative MP. ''I think the disagreements are about rather small matters, they can be bridged. ''Looking back over the years, I think it was clear that towards the transition time there would be additional difficulties.'' But, he said, the more one looked at the current Sino-British talks, which on Tuesday ended a 13th round with little headway, ''the more it seems . . . that these are small issues compared with the huge benefits to be achieved by the smooth transition''. He described the Hong Kong dispute as one not over democracy, but ''merely the technique, method and precise pace by which the undertakings in the Joint Declaration are implemented''. This is the first visit to China by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee since May 1989. The group will also visit Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Hong Kong, British Liberal Democratic leader Paddy Ashdown said yesterday that Britain should consider concessions, because a row with China would penalise its economy and businessmen. ''In my judgment, it is quite possible at the end of this that the people who will suffer most are British businessmen and the British economy because I think they are the ones who [would] carry the full weight of Chinese disapproval in seeking to trade in one of the largest markets in the world.'' He said he hoped the talks would lead to agreement. Otherwise, Mr Patten had to table his proposals in the Legislative Council. ''I think he'll be right to put forward his proposals as he originally proposed them,'' he said. ''Legco will no doubt amend those, and they will go ahead in whatever subsequent form for the elections.'' He said he was not against concessions on the functional constituencies and Election Committee. ''If there is a way of achieving an agreement with China consistent with the basic principles that Chris Patten has laid down, and that would require concessions and changes of position from both sides, I'm strongly in favour of it,'' he said.