The government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is proposing a bill of rights for Hong Kong to ensure civil liberties are protected there after China takes over the British colony in 1997.

Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe proposed the idea on Wednesday to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.Questioned about prospects for human rights in light of China's suppression of recent nationalist demonstrations in Tibet, Howe noted that drafts of a new constitution for Hong Kong have not yet addressed the issue out in detail.

He said despite Beijing's commitment to observe international conventions on human rights, "it may be desirable to consolidate the (human rights) provisions into a Hong Kong Bill of Rights."

Hong Kong Governor Sir David Wilson told the committee that Britain and China would ensure that Hong Kong has a system of representative government but said its development would be gradual. Britain plans to hold Hong Kong's first democratic elections in 1991.