He said that Hong Kong was like a Rolls-Royce. "I don't quite see the point of lifting the bonnet to tinker with the engine." He maintained that the territory needed governing "with a light touch".
The start of the last hundred days of British rule was marked yesterday with triumphalist celebrations in both the colony and Peking.
But Britain and China remain locked in disagreement over arrangements for the transition of power. Negotiations which ended last week failed even to agree arrangements for the advance stationing of Chinese troops in the colony.
In Hong Kong, thousands of people took part in a series of events to mark the landmark day, while in China students gathered under the clock in Peking's Tiananmen Square which counts down the seconds until the handover of power. As the clock hit the 100-day mark, they chanted: "Come home, Hong Kong".
Thousands of children were mobilised in the territory to take part in a symbolic "run to the motherland". Others participated in tree-planting ceremonies and watched lion dances. A television opinion poll indicated that 63 per cent of those interviewed were confident about the return to Chinese rule, although a larger number expressed doubts over the long- term future.
Tung Chee-hwa, who will head the first post-colonial government, went out of his way to stress that his priorities were things like housing and care for the elderly as opposed to wider political issues.
Zhou Nan, director of the Xinhua news agency, or China's de facto mission in Hong Kong, said Peking had faith in the abilities of the post-colonial regime. "The central government places great trust in the future Hong Kong government. I think all sectors in Hong Kong should give their full support," he said in an interview with a local Cantonese-language station.
In Peking, the People's Daily newspaper devoted much of its front page to the historic occasion and the role played in it by the nation's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, who died last month aged 92 before he could see his dream fulfilled. "At this moment we think even more fondly of Deng Xiaoping," it said.
In Hong Kong, a handful of demonstrators, their mouths taped shut in what they said was a symbol of things to come, took up position in Victoria Park, waving placards silently to condemn China's violent military crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Meanwhile, Mr Patten and Martin Lee, leader of the Democratic Party, the colony's largest party, welcomed the initiative taken by The Independent in bringing back to life The World of Lily Wong, a political cartoon strip which was abruptly terminated in May 1995 by the South China Morning Post, the colony's largest English-language newspaper.
The death of Lily Wong, created by the Hong Kong-based cartoonist Larry Feign, was widely seen as an indication of growing Chinese influence over the colony's media. The strip will be appearing in The Independent until 30 June, the last day of British rule.
Welcoming the reappearance of the strip, Mr Patten said: "Like a lot of other people in Hong Kong, I used to follow the world of Lily Wong every day. I really missed her when, for whatever reason, she disappeared from our lives about two years ago. I am glad to hear she is making a comeback in Britain."
Mr Lee said that the strip had "enabled Hong Kong people to see humour even in the face of blackest events, such as the Tiananmen Square crackdown. I am delighted she will continue to do so. Unfortunately, the Chinese leaders and Hong Kong newspaper proprietors don't love Lily Wong as much as the people of Hong Kong do".