TO win back his civil rights in Hong Kong, Lau Shan-ching has been forced to request legal aid for a judicial review of the decision to prevent him standing for election to a District Board. How ironic, then, that he could qualify to stand for election to Parliament in Britain with rather less bureaucratic fuss than he has encountered here. United Kingdom law permits any British or Irish citizen, Commonwealth citizen or British national of a dependent territory to stand for election, provided he or she is physically present to hand in the nomination papers. Mr Lau would have to pick up a British National Overseas or British Dependent Territories Citizen passport but that should pose no great hurdle. Hong Kong voters should have a right to choose their representatives. That is the fundamental idea behind the electoral reforms just passed. The disclosure that the British voter has the right to choose a candidate the Hong Kong authorities have disqualified will embarrass the Government, at all relevant levels. The Government's bureaucratic and legalistic decision to reject Mr Lau's candidacy on the grounds that he was not ordinarily resident in Hong Kong while a political prisoner in China has already been sharply and widely criticised. But the disclosure that neither his non-resident status nor his imprisonment in China would affect his right to stand for Westminster highlights the absurdity of the Government's decision to apply the 10-year rule so rigidly, after being flexible in previous elections. The episode lends credibility to the theory that the Government's prime concern is to avoid upsetting China. Mr Lau's disqualification suggests the Government accepts China's view of him as a counter-revolutionary. Neither subversion nor counter-revolution are crimes in Hong Kong - although it is official government policy to ensure that the territory is not used as a base for subversion. But while the Chinese may not want Mr Lau to stand, they undoubtedly would be enjoying the Government's discomfort. Once again, this inept Government has shot itself through the foot.