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Conservative leader William Hague
Conservative leader William Hague
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM HAGUE ON APRIL 8TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST:

Now politicians all over Britain are in a slightly strange limbo today because their diaries were all marked for May 3rd, a general election, April campaigning. Well that ain't, that ain't happening but William Hague is still in the news, he's up in his constituency in Yorkshire, good morning William.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Good morning David.

DAVID FROST:

When I say in the news I was, you actually out of the great revelations in the News of the World today, you come out better than most, it's a sort of mixed, mixed verdict, she says you sound like a puppet unfortunately but she also says you're very intelligent and you've got real vision, so you didn't do too badly?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I don't really mind how I come out of it, I'm used to any kind of thing being said about me, it doesn't both me in the, in the slightest. I think we can all get over this now, quite frankly, I think there's been quite enough fuss about this, is there any one of us in public life who hasn't made a mistake, well here one person has made a mistake and it's unfortunate that a member of the Royal family has been tricked by a journalist, well there we are, I think everybody can now just get over it.

DAVID FROST:

And do you think, do you think she can continue to, to combine the two roles alright?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I think any advice given by politicians to the Royal Family should be given in private.

DAVID FROST:

Good reply, good reply.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Thank you very much.

DAVID FROST:

Good non-reply. Coming on to the serious subject of our musings this morning, foot and mouth William, it looked as though the situation was improving this week and these last two outbreaks Jedburgh and Whitby and so on, they seemed a bit worrying again, but how do you see it?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well it is very worrying and of course I'm speaking to you from the north-east of England and we've had the outbreak in Whitby not far enough over the last 24 hours and a new outbreak in the Scottish borders. But in any case even without those the crisis was not yet under control, the number of animals awaiting slaughter is over 400,000 so it's reached a, yet a further highest point in the last few days and still the slaughter process has not taken place effectively and quickly enough. Still there is a huge animal welfare problem, we've got one and a half million animals out there awaiting slaughter under the welfare disposal scheme with utterly unspeakable situations in animal welfare on many farms and still we have tourist businesses facing huge difficulties and it's nearly three weeks now since I asked the government to look at an emergency loan scheme and they haven't come up with anything that corresponds to a scheme that would give the necessary help to those businesses. So I think yet again the government are, are behind the game, the government are too slow in their response, additional action needs to be taken to speed up the slaughter process and to bring this under control.

DAVID FROST:

Do you feel there should be more, someone quoted 1500 troops involved at the moment, do you think there should be more involved and do you still hold to the suggestion you've made that Brigadier Birtwistle disagreed with, about the Army taking control?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I do very much hold to the, that the Army should have greater control, that they should have control over the whole operation of the slaughter, incineration and transport of animals. Of course they would have to operate on clear scientific advice but once that scientific advice has been given I think they should have control of the whole operation. And we now know of course, what we didn't know when I made this suggestion a few days ago, that the Army's own report into the 1967 outbreak called for almost exactly this kind of structure and we know on the ground those of us who are members of Parliament for areas infected with foot and mouth, as I am, know that there is a huge amount of chaos and confusion on the ground, unless or until the Army or in some cases the RAF, take control for what is happening. I can't describe to you in a few minutes the chaos my own constituents have experienced of waiting for the Ministry of Agriculture to decide not to cull some animals and days later decided to cull them, then finding out they're infected anyway. In one case this week moving dead animals 40 miles away from a farm then the next day transporting them all back to that farm delivering them back to the farm they came from. This is the sort of thing we're dealing with on the ground and so it does need a, a more urgent and more coordinated response even than we're getting now.

DAVID FROST:

And, but Brigadier Birtwistle obviously said he didn't want the Army to be in control and so on, then there were rumours that before you spoke there were plans to put the Army in control, that rumour, is that true?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well I don't know, that was a rumour, I don't think the government should put members of the Armed Forces up as their spokesmen on these matters, and I think in any case the Army are there to serve the nation in whatever capacity it is required and I'm afraid it is required in a, in a more decisive way than is happening at the moment with greater control over events than is happening at the moment. They are doing a tremendous job where-ever they are involved and don't get me wrong there are a huge number of vets and other officials around the country who are working themselves to death, who are really doing the most fantastic job in very difficult circumstances. But often without the sense of urgency and coordination, particularly in the early stages of the crisis that was necessary from the top and the main thing is what we do now and now we must speed up the slaughtering process of infected animals and of dangerous contacts and we must get some help to the businesses that may otherwise go to the wall and we should be setting out a plan for the long-term future. I'm going to talk more this week about the plans I have for the long-term future of the industry, setting up a national gene-bank to restore the bloodlines of the animals that we have lost, encouraging smaller abattoirs to stay in business or to come into business, changing the rules on food imports. All of this needs putting in place now and we're not seeing it happen yet.

DAVID FROST:

What about Maff, there are lots of rumours that maybe Maff will not, or should not survive this crisis, that there should be some reform, would you, would you get rid of Maff if you were Prime Minister on June the 8th?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I think we have to see the, the results, I think we have to consider at greater length what should be eventually the public inquiry into this whole chain of events. The priority now is to deal with the disease, to stop the spread of the disease, we're not going to save farming or the tourist industry unless we stop the spread of the disease. So I wouldn't be having a huge reorganisation now but I would be, I would set up a public inquiry into what has happened, of course Michael Meacher has already announced that in a way, admittedly to the astonishment of his colleagues but I think it was the right thing to say and then we should consider what happens to the, to the machinery of government and to the ability of governments to deal with a crisis like this because once again we've seen that the, we've seen a government in a crisis better at issuing press releases than at actually bringing the crisis under control. But I think that's for the future, the priority now is to stop the spread of this disease and we haven't succeeded in doing that yet.

DAVID FROST:

And what are your views today on an election day on June the 7th, a, an election for the county councils and a general election?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I think that the government were right to put off the local elections, again we called on them to do so a long time before that but leaving that aside they were right to do that. I think it's unwise to set a fixed new date when this crisis is not under control, after all if they didn't know a week last Friday whether they could start on an election campaign three days later how do they now know today that they can start on an election campaign in three or four weeks time. I don't think they can know that for sure and so I think they have to bring this crisis under control and that means that the slaughter process has been speeded up, that the geographic spread of the disease has been reversed, that animal movements can be started again. It's only when all these things happen that this crisis is under control and to fix a new date for an election when it isn't yet under control, I think is unwise.

DAVID FROST:

Thank you very much indeed William, we'll come back to you at the end of the programme.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Thank you.

DAVID FROST:

Thank you very much indeed.

[BREAK FOR NICK BROWN AND NEWS]

DAVID FROST:

Well that's just about it for this week but we've just got time to go back for a quick word from William Hague. Nick said what he thought having listened to you, what do you think having listened to him?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well I don't agree with him that it's under control, it doesn't feel here that it's under control where we've actually got the disease still spreading around us. But I do agree with him that we all have to concentrate on is fighting the disease, defeating the disease and I implore the government to do two things in particular. One is to get a more effective grip on and speed up further the slaughtering of infected animals and dangerous contacts. And the second is to bring in the kind of emergency loan scheme of interest free loans payable back through the tax system which could help tens of thousands of rural businesses now in deep difficulty and that's what they need to do right away.

DAVID FROST:

Well you wrote to the Prime Minister about that, didn't you, on 21st March?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

I wrote on the 21st of March which is getting on for three weeks ago, he announced on Friday an extension of the loan guarantee scheme for small firms but that is not the same thing by any means and will not give anything like the same number of firms that I was calling for, anything like the same degree of help. So they do need to do a lot more on that and time will be running out for some of these businesses now.

DAVID FROST:

William thank you very much for joining us.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Thank you very much.

DAVID FROST:

And our thanks to William, our thanks to Nick and to all our guests, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Next Sunday is, as we said, Easter Sunday, that means there'll be no programme from us being a holiday, we're back in a fortnight on the morning of the London Marathon and on that Sunday only, only that Sunday, April 22nd, we shall be on BBC2 but at the same time, 9 until 10. Until then top of the morning and good morning.

END

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