Mr Patten said Britain should give right of abode to all those holding British Dependent Territories passports. In 1990 the Cabinet - of which Mr Patten was then a member - restricted the award of British citizenship to 50,000 heads of households under the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act.
Yesterday Mr Patten denied that the awarding of passports would prompt a flood of immigrants. Speaking on BBC radio, he said: "I don't think the three million, or more than three million, Hong Kong citizens are suddenly going to arrive at Heathrow. Nobody seriously supposes that, and to be blunt if they did they certainly wouldn't be living on a welfare state." Later, allies of the Governor said he was reflecting the official policy of Government House in Hong Kong, as opposed to that of the British government.
His intervention was welcomed by Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and by Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats. But it provoked some anger elsewhere.
Lord Tebbit, who led the campaign against the admission of Hong Kong Chinese in 1990, said: "Three million Chinese would do this economy a power of good. But the point is whether or not there is to be a further breach of the election undertaking that there should be no further large- scale immigration to Britain.
"Chris Patten must have changed his mind as he accepted the Government's view back in 1990. That may be because then he was representing the people of Bath [his former parliamentary constituency], and now he is obviously representing the people of Kowloon."
David Wilshire, MP for Spelthorne, said he was writing to John Major in protest. "It's not acceptable to the British people to let in one more, let alone three million. My response and the response of my constituents is that this country is full up."
A Foreign Office spokesman said nothing has happened to change the conclusion reached in 1990, and Home Office sources also said no changes were planned.
But the Chinese government is likely to react to Mr Patten's remarks with fury. It has already denounced the granting of citizenship to 50,000 residents.Reuse content