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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 October 2006, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Foreign and financial affairs
On Sunday 22 October, Huw Edwards interviewed William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary .

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

William Hague MP
William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary

HUW EDWARDS: Well now, listening to that was the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague who joins us now from Darlington.

Mr. Hague, a very good morning to you.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Good morning.

HUW EDWARDS: Is it slipping away from Britain and America in Iraq, do you think?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we certainly should be very concerned about the situation and we were very concerned ten days or so ago to get a difference of perception between the chief of the general staff, General Dannet, and the perception of the situation that the government have always given to us.

This does not mean however that it's necessarily the right thing to do to precipitately pull the rug from under the Iraqi government, the democratically elected Iraqi government. I think that would probably be to compound earlier mistakes and so this now needs a careful reassessment in London as well as in Washington.

And what I would like to see is as well as the American government and the Baker commission doing the work on what should happen next, that work should be happening in Whitehall as well and we should be able to fully debate it in this country in the House of Commons and know that there's British influence in the decision, not just solely an American decision.

HUW EDWARDS: But to what end, in the sense that what changes do you want to see in the strategy right now?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I think we, I think it's highly unlikely, I don't know any observers who say that the best thing to do is just to precipitately fall out. I think most people think that that would create an even worse situation. And I don't know many observers who say well we should be there for many more years. And I think there is general agreement that that would not be a sustainable position.

The question is how to be able to withdraw coalition forces on some reasonable timetable, sooner rather than later while leaving behind a democratic Iraqi government and stability, security stability in most parts of the country.

Now in order to evaluate that we need to know more about the rate of progress in reconstruction of the Iraqi economy in the coming months, about how the both political parties in Iraq will be able to work together, about the state of training of Iraqi forces, and so we want to see the government come to parliament at the time of the Baker Commission in America and give a frank and candid assessment of all of that.

And we as the opposition will make sure there is a full day's debate in the House of Commons on international affairs so that we can really go over all of this. So that we can have that national debate that one of the ministers called for just a few days ago.

HUW EDWARDS: Well let's be absolutely clear. Are you calling then for a phased withdrawal of some kind from Iraq, is that what you're saying?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, we are calling for us all to be able to see that frank and candid assessment of the government. Given that we got a somewhat different view from the Chief of the General Staff from the view that's always been given to us by ministers. And we're certainly not in favour of a precipitate withdrawal.

We're not in favour of panic in the face of this situation. But we are in favour of learning from experience and clearly things are not going as well as many of us hoped they would, and as the government hoped they would. So we do have to learn from that.

That means we do now need that well-informed debate, and all we've had from the government in recent weeks, in the last two weeks since parliament came back from the recess, is quite a short statement by Des Browne, most of which was about Afghanistan, we've only had a few minutes of information about Iraq. So that really needs to change in the coming weeks.

HUW EDWARDS: I've understood that you wanted a date, and that you want a full and frank exchange and all of that. But I'm not clear that you have a specific change that you have come up with which you would like to see applied to this strategy. Is there any change at all in the policy of this government that you would suggest today?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don't think it's possible to come up with that change. It's not possible to be an armchair general when this huge reassessment is taking place in Washington. And to make that reassessment you need all of the information that I have just described.

So we are not rushing about saying, oh this is change to make, this is a change to make. We want to see the reconstruction of the economy take place as rapidly as possible because it is the failure of that in some parts of Iraq that has undermined popular support for the coalition. And we don't want to say anything that makes life more difficult for our troops and we're always very conscious of that..

HUW EDWARDS: No, no, well I certainly wouldn't want you to do that Mr. Hague. But just in terms of discussing policy let's just move on to Iraq, to Afghanistan if I may because we'll be talking to the Defence Secretary about that in a short while. We heard from one of the senior officers who came back from Afghanistan recently, saying that frankly they'd have dealt with things far more quickly there if it hadn't been for Iraq. Are you satisfied this strategy in Afghanistan is on course?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, not really. We have been very worried about Afghanistan as well in recent months. And saying that the government should have made the case much earlier for more, other troops from the rest of NATO. Our British troops have really being bearing the brunt of the action, certainly in Helman Province.

We do need more assistance and more reserves available in the rest of NATO. We've called for a long time for more helicopter lift capability for our troops.

Some of those points are now being addressed. The ministers have consistently given an over-optimistic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and I hope we're not going to see that again. I hope Des Browne will be able to give you, when you talk to him in a few minutes, a real frank and candid assessment of the situation.

HUW EDWARDS: Well, we'll ask him for that certainly. Can I bring us closer to home Mr. Hague, if I may for the remaining few minutes of the interview. We heard a lot about tax and your policy on taxes over the recent days and weeks.

Nigel Lawson said something interesting the other day when he said, you know, tax cuts are electorally popular, there's no getting away from that. And he finds it frankly surprising that you're not more enthusiastic about it. Why are you so scared of tax cuts?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we're not scared of one thing to reduce taxes, of course the Conservative Party wants to reduce taxes over time. But sound money comes first, the stability of the economy comes first. And I think people need to know that from an incoming government. I think that is the right policy.

Actually the government of which Nigel Lawson was a member when it came to power in 1979 has very much put the stability of the economy before tax reductions, in their particular case they even increased taxes in the earlier years to get the budgetary situation sorted out.

So economic stability has to come first. Would we like to reduce taxes? Of course we would but we are not going to make open-ended, unfunded promises. We've given the outlines of our policy, there would be increased taxes on the pollution of our environment.

HUW EDWARDS: I mean you ...

WILLIAM HAGUE: ..taxes for families could be reduced.

HUW EDWARDS: I'm just, I mean it just prompts the question that you have had all these eminent people coming up with your tax commission proposals. You've got John Redwood today again in the newspapers calling for tax cuts. You've got Lord Forsythe and all the rest of it. I mean were they all just wasting their time. I mean, they've come up with these big policy issues, 21 billion worth of tax cuts, and David Cameron doesn't seem remotely interested in the proposals.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh no, I don't think that would be fair to David Cameron or to George Osborne who have welcomed this report, who have pointed out that there are proposals in it for the simplification of our tax system. And that is something that this country really needs after nine years of a Chancellor who's given us one of the most complex tax systems in the industrialised world.

So there's many good proposals in it and I think those people including Michael Forsythe who chaired the Commission, realised that they are not going to be the Chancellor, the Chancellor of this country, George Osborne after the next election, has to be able to ensure budgetary stability first. That has got to be the top priority.

HUW EDWARDS: And did you.....

WILLIAM HAGUE: But these are things, many of these things are nice things to do but not necessarily things a government can afford to do in its opening years.

HUW EDWARDS: Just one to end on, Mr. Hague, because Mr. Cameron made a big thing when he was elected of, in the European context, of wanting to withdraw from the European Peoples' Party in the European context. Why don't you just admit now that you've given up on that, it's not going to happen, is it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh no, that is very much going to happen. That is going to happen at the next European elections in 2009. We've signed an agreement with the Czech conservatives to form that group in 2009, that is widely understood now in the rest of Europe and we are...

HUW EDWARDS: Why has it taken so long?

WILLIAM HAGUE: ...and we are working on creating that group. Well, because the Czechs asked us to wait for them in 2009. They said we want to come with you, we can't do it until 2009 for all sorts of domestic reasons. So form that group with us so that we can be founder members. Well we're very happy to do that. So that is a commitment that will be fully met and it will be met at the next European elections and it will be a platform for arguing for a more flexible outward-looking European Union than the one that we've had in recent years.

HUW EDWARDS: William Hague, good to talk to you. Thank you very much.


HUW EDWARDS: William Hague there in Darlington.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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