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Page last updated at 12:47 GMT, Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hague: 'The window is closing'

On Sunday 7th November Andrew Marr interviewed Foreign Secretary William Hague MP

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

ANDREW MARR:

The government wants to breathe new life into the Middle East peace process. The Foreign Secretary William Hague was in the Middle East this week and he met with the main players. He's got a lot more on his plate than that, of course. He's got to deal with huge problems over Chinese trade coming up, environmental issues, and, above all of course, Al Qaeda - now Al Qaeda in Yemen. Welcome Foreign Secretary.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

Thank you very much indeed for coming in. Let's start by talking about your trip to the Middle East. You want to get the peace process moving again. Every government that I can remember has been trying to get the peace process moving again. Candidly it never really means anything, you know nothing happens. Is it going to be any different this time?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well we have to try. It is a very, very difficult process. As you know, direct talks began in September between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and then they stopped over this issue of settlements on the West Bank; and we have been saying, and so has the United States and other European countries have been saying to the Israelis, please do resume your freeze on settlements because that helps the Palestinians to come back into the talks. So we have to persist. Our concern is that the window is closing on finding on a two state solution in the Middle East, and so if we don't succeed in this shortly …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) That's what the Palestinians say, isn't it?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Yes. If we don't succeed in that soon, then we may be left with this problem (coughs) - excuse me - for much, much longer in the future.

ANDREW MARR:

And did you get any hint at all of movement when you were talking to Mr Netanyahu or any of the other ministers?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well these people are tough negotiators. They say, Mr Netanyahu says you know he wants to get back into direct talks with the Palestinians; that he can see, he can largely see the way to a settlement of this. But it will remain I think a phenomenally difficult issue. I will be going to Washington at the beginning of the week after next to discuss with Hillary Clinton and others the way forward and how Britain can best support the Middle East peace process. But it remains, along with …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Is there anything specific Britain can do, do you think?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well there's a lot specific that we do. We encourage …

ANDREW MARR:

More, I mean.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… the Prime Minister encouraged President Abbas into these direct talks. I am in very regular touch with the Israelis about it. Really it's only the United States, I think, that can deliver Israel to negotiate an agreement. It's the United States that has that leverage. But Britain is highly active in this process and you saw that on my visit this week.

ANDREW MARR:

And has Tony Blair been sort of caught in the middle? Is he candidly any use in this process?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Yes, he is. I talk to him every few days. He is you know the Quartet Representative. One of his great skills is negotiation actually and he is a great help in trying to get the Israelis to move on certain issues, such as on Gaza. You'll remember the …

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… controversy over the Gaza flotilla earlier this year, and there was a change in the Israeli approach to allowing goods into Gaza. Tony Blair was instrumental in negotiating that, as well as a lot of pressure from the British government. So we do all work together in the international community and we have to continue to patiently apply ourselves to this problem.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

And along with the Iranian nuclear programme, the war in Afghanistan, the problems in Yemen and Sudan, these are the things that preoccupy us in the Foreign Office on an hour to hour basis.

ANDREW MARR:

Just on Israel one more time. There's clearly huge offence in Israel at the possibility that Israeli ministers coming to this country could be arrested. Did you talk about that, and is there anything you can do to soften the threat?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Yes, we are going to change the law on this. This is the application of the law of universal jurisdiction in this country that has led to attempts to arrest visiting leaders. Not just Israelis actually. There was a similar attempt made to arrest Henry Kissinger when he came to Britain eight years ago. And I think the law needs to be changed so that you can only arrest someone on war crime charges if there's a reasonable chance of a successful prosecution, not just a trivial or politically motivated arrest. So we do propose to change the law. We will do so in our own way on our own timetable. Other countries cannot dictate to us when and how we do that, and I made that very clear on a visit to Israel last week. But we will change the law because for instance on Israel, it's important that Israeli leaders can visit London to talk about the peace process. If we are going to help with the peace process, they have to be able to come here.

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh. Let's turn to Yemen, which is clearly coming if not right at the top of your list of things to worry about pretty close to it, I would imagine. We have some advisers, military advisers and some special forces and so on there. Is there any prospect at all of us getting involved in a war there?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well I certainly hope not. Our strategy is to prevent war, not to get involved in wars when it's too late. And that is an important part of our foreign policy and international development policy now - conflict prevention rather than wading into a conflict at a later stage. That's what we're doing in Yemen. I chaired the Friends of Yemen meeting in New York. There's more than two dozen countries working together to try to stabilise the situation in Yemen. I chaired that a few weeks ago. I'm asking Saudi Arabia to host the next meeting. This is Arab states and Western states working together to bring good development programmes to Yemen, encourage political reform there and help them to meet their security challenges as well.

ANDREW MARR:

Because the problem, as I understand it - not dissimilar in some ways from Afghanistan - is that the government controls the capital but not much else, and that therefore there are large swathes of Yemen where Al Qaeda can operate more or less as they like. That's why I was raising the question of military action.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well our emphasis would be, in line with what I was just saying, to encourage the government of Yemen to deal with those problems. I don't think it is the solution to instability in the Muslim world for Western armies to be deployed all over it. And so we have to encourage the host governments to deal with these matters themselves, and that's why we're working closing of course with the government of Yemen and, as I say, with the Saudis as well to do that.

ANDREW MARR:

We and the Americans were clearly lucky over the last bomb plot from Yemen, there was good intelligence. Clearly Saudi Arabia's very, very involved in helping with intelligence in Yemen, and yet there is the constant worry among some people that torture is involved in getting that intelligence. What's your view of the difficult balance, moral balance between needing the intelligence and not wanting to encourage the use of torture?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well torture is abhorrent to us. You will have seen and your viewers will have seen the speech of John Sawers, the Head of MI6 …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… the first public speech, televised speech the Head of MI6 had given in which he made clear - and I've made clear - our position on torture. There can be a difficult balance. What do you do with a piece of intelligence …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well suppose this piece of …

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… that can save human life …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well like this one possibly.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… and you may not be absolutely sure of how it was obtained. And such decisions must be referred to ministers, to people ultimately accountable to parliament and the country. I spend part of my time weighing up difficult ethical, legal decisions, but …

ANDREW MARR:

What about this particular piece of information that may have saved many, many lives? Was there any question of torture being involved there? Is there any suspicion at all?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I can't comment on specific intelligence and operational matters, but I can say this: that with all of our allies, we make clear that if we are working with them on the detention of anyone, we make clear that we expect there will be no mistreatment of that suspect. It frequently comes up in my discussions with foreign ministers in other countries, saying we will help you with this but you have to tell me that if you detain someone as a result of working with Britain, you are not going to mistreat that suspect. And actually I think we have made enormous progress.

ANDREW MARR:

That's a slightly different point, isn't it, because that's what happens afterwards? With something like this, a piece of information comes to you from wherever it may be - the Saudis or wherever - and my question is really do you want to know much about how they got that information, or do you say "Thanks, we'll have that"?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I think we … No, I think we do want to know and we want to continue to improve the human rights records of countries that we work with for our own security. And by the way, I've no evidence that there was any torture in this particular case. But clearly we have to demand assurances, ask for assurances without being 100% always able to know what has happened, and I think people understand that. But this country is one of the prime opponents in the world of torture, of mistreatment of suspects. As a new government we have published the guidance, published to the world the guidance we give to our intelligence officers to make sure that we're not complicit in torture in any way.

ANDREW MARR:

Well you know we're both wearing our poppies - part of a time of year when we honour members of the armed forces for what they've done and sacrificed. But what of this story that there was in effect a British Abu Ghraib operation going on in Iraq down in the south and then further north during the occupation of Iraq torture? Lots and lots of allegations beginning to come out of Iraq just now.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

We already have the mechanism to investigate such things. The Ministry of Defence have the Iraq Historical Accusations team. These things - whenever there is credible evidence of anything, then that team exists in order to investigate them.

ANDREW MARR:

And are they at work, so far as you know, on this particular case?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

They have been working on a variety of ca… Well then let's see how … we'll have to make a judgement on whether there are credible accusations. But let's remember this too: that British forces, wherever they have been engaged, have been risking their lives to protect civilian populations, and the people who actually launch indiscriminate attacks, kill civilians, kill women and children with improvised explosive devices have been the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. So let's not make any moral equivalents here between the work of British forces and the terrorists they have been fighting.

ANDREW MARR:

Are you comfortable that a woman who tried to murder an MP with a knife because she was against the war in Iraq is going to be able to vote at the next election?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

We are …

ANDREW MARR:

That she's in prison?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

As you know, we are determining our policy on that, which is partly subject to appeals to what has been said by the European Court on Human Rights. This country observes international law and human rights rulings, so we will have to design our law to cope with that however uncomfortable we feel about any individual circumstances.

ANDREW MARR:

Yes, well this is part of course of the European agenda that's still, in the view of many of your colleagues, being imposed on this country. It is the case, isn't it, that if the Angela Merkel and Sarkozy proposal to revise the Lisbon Treaty to allow for bailouts of countries in financial trouble - if that goes ahead, that is a treaty revision which would at least in theory give this country the opportunity for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

As proposed, it would not give rise to a referendum because our proposal - and we will publish our legislation on this in the coming week - is that if any government, if we or any future government propose to hand over new areas of power to the European Union, then there must be a referendum of the British people. So we could never have a repeat of what happened under the last Labour government of the Lisbon Treaty going through without a referendum. Now nothing that is being …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) This is a cen… this is a centralising measure, nonetheless. This is a further centralising measure.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

No, no, this measure … What is being proposed by Angela Merkel does not affect the United Kingdom and the powers of the United Kingdom, and in fact the …

ANDREW MARR:

I'm saying you could use it as an excuse for a referendum if you wanted to.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well if we wanted to hold referendums on matters that don't actually affect the rights of the United Kingdom, well then I suppose you could. But clearly the logical and sensible thing to do is to have referendums when if ever we're asking the British people to give up more of their powers. And by the way, this government is not ever going to agree to Britain giving away any more of our powers and rights. So that doesn't occur in this case. What we will …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) It's giving away … It's agreed to give away quite a lot more of our money.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

No, it has not actually.

ANDREW MARR:

2.9%.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well that is set within a 7 year budgetary framework agreed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in 2005 when disgracefully they gave away billions of pounds of the British taxpayers' money for nothing in return.

ANDREW MARR:

But you're going to give away billions as well. And, furthermore, the 2.9% hasn't yet been agreed by the European Parliament who could push it higher. So what happens if they do that?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

It can be blocked. This is the … What you're talking about is the budget for next year …

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… that has to be agreed between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. David Cameron at the European Council ten days ago assembled much more than what we would call a blocking minority to ensure that the Parliament and the Commission cannot have their way, and that will save the British taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds, probably four hundred and fifty million pounds…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So I come back to the question what happens if they increase it beyond the 2.9%?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

They will not be able to.

ANDREW MARR:

Why not?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Because we have now got 11 countries lined up with us out of the 27 to say you cannot have more than 2.9% whatever you do. And I think David Cameron did extremely well with that. And now there is an even bigger task to address the point you're making about European expenditure …

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… and to use the leverage that we have from our agreement being required to the next 7 years of financial spending in the EU. Which is to say our top priority in the EU is to stop the waste of money and budgets going up of European institutions when budgets are being cut in the nation states, and that's the task we have for the next financial perspective in the EU.

ANDREW MARR:

Because there is this strange phenomenon that we have, we're told, the most Eurosceptic Conservative Party ever to be elected to the House of Commons and one of the most Euro-friendly governments many people can remember in the House of Commons. Euroscepticism has become a sort of private confessional religion like Catholicism back in the time of Guy Fawkes: you're allowed to do it at home, but you can't bring it into the public domain.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I don't think our colleagues around Europe would think that because I am on alert every week for any creeping competence in the EU, for any attempt by the back door to extend their powers for instance into consular services when they're setting up the new European External Action Service. And so I don't think it would feel like that to them at all. But …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) We've got a joint deal …

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… but look what we have...

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … we've got a joint deal with the French on defence, we've got 2.9% increase on the budget, and we've got the overruling of British law to allow prisoners to vote. There's three kind of fairly important measures in a matter of weeks.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well the one on prisoners voting is the European Court of Human Rights, which is nothing to do with the European Union …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure, but it's a European issue.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… and which we joined long before the European Union …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… so that is a completely separate matter. The defence agreement with France is between the United Kingdom and France - Europe's two strongest military powers - and is not a European Union arrangement. And the 2.9% increase, we have stopped a 6% increase and we're looking at really dealing with the budget for the future. So actually on all of those …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So you're not taking your leaps on Nick Clegg on this?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well we have agreed … In a way in the coalition negotiations, which I helped to conduct, it was surprisingly easy to reach agreement with the Liberal Democrats on many core areas of Europe: that we would not join the Euro; that we will not give away more of the powers of this country; that we will introduce a referendum lock on any more powers being given away; and that our priority is to save billions of pounds for the British taxpayer on European budgets in the future. Now that's a pretty sensible agenda for a British government.

ANDREW MARR:

You raised the Liberal Democrats. Are you going to be putting up a candidate against them in the forthcoming by-election?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I assume and we will assume we put up candidates in all elections. The Conservative Party is a national party.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So what's going to be your message against the Liberal Democrats in the by-election?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well we have not become the same political party even though we are the same government. It's a coalition, it's not a merger, so a Conservative candidate in any election …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So why should voters make sure that they don't vote for the Liberal Democrat this time?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well they should vote for the best candidate for their seat in a by-election …

ANDREW MARR:

So it's purely about who's got the best personal quality?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

They can do that. They can also, they can indicate what sort of government they want in the future. Actually this is not a new thing. We had one special election after the General Election in May, if you remember …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… and we had Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates of course opposing each other. I think people certainly shouldn't be voting for a Labour Party that has allowed this situation to arise.

ANDREW MARR:

But why not just put up one candidate, a coalition candidate?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well that is a different thing. That is more than a coalition, of course. That is parties actually making an electoral pact.

ANDREW MARR:

How … Sorry how is it actually going to work? You have a Conservative campaign against the Liberal Democrats at a time when you're working terribly closely in government together.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well this happens all over the world in coalition governments. It doesn't mean you abolish the parties. That means your work practice, you come together to work together.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) It's going to be a bit rum, isn't it?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

And by the way, it happens virtually every Thursday of the year in council by-elections all over the country …

ANDREW MARR:

Alright, okay.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… so it's not such a phenomenon. It happens every week.

ANDREW MARR:

Final question. Andy Coulson is in the news again; now the police involved. Is this running out of control?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

No, he voluntarily says he wasn't a … He voluntarily said he would talk to the police about this as a witness about this matter and it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do. So I don't see that that is in any way out of control.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, alright. For now, William Hague, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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