THE parade of deputies reached a climax yesterday as the last of 2,978 delegates due for tomorrow's NPC arrived in Beijing. The deputies were welcomed with due ceremony by local NPC officials at the capital's airport and railway station before being whisked away in special buses to their designated state-run hotels dotted across the city. Once at their hotels, the deputies were greeted with more applause and presented with bouquets of flowers by hotel employees. The VIP treatment will continue throughout the two-week session. Deputies will be accorded police escorts wherever they go, banquets will be held in their honour, and they will even be given discounts on selected merchandise at some department stores. Security will be tight at the deputies' hotels to ensure they are not disturbed by journalists and other intruders and can concentrate on the job in hand. And the job this year will be to approve the Government's new economic legislation, which is not something many delegates appear very enthusiastic about. It is not that they disapprove of the Government's proposals, they just cannot think of anything original to say about them. Asked what he hoped to discuss during the session, one delegate from Shaanxi province said, after a long pause, ''reform, development and other key economic issues''. The official Chinese media portrays deputies to the eighth NPC as the youngest, best educated and most representative group ever elected to the country's legislature. However, nearly 20 per cent of the deputies are past the official retirement age and the vast majority are middle-aged men, utterly loyal to the Communist Party. About 15 per cent of the deputies are from national minorities, but cynics say this is only because their national dress helps to brighten up the general mass of grey-suited officials at the congress. The biggest delegation by far will belong to the People's Liberation Army. Its 267 deputies include the NPC's most famous member, Deng Xiaoping. However, the ailing chief architect of China's reforms has not actually attended a NPC meeting since 1988 and is not expected to make an appearance this year. As usual, his chair on the presidium will be left vacant.