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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 May 2007, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
Tory foreign policy
On Sunday 27 May Andrew Marr 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

ANDREW MARR: One month from today there will be a new Prime Minister, will Gordon Brown support this historic change in the law in the fight against terrorism?

Will he shift policy on Iraq, get the troops home sooner?

And will he want a more independent relationship with the White House?

But more particularly this morning, how will the Tories who are still riding high in the polls respond to all of this under Brown's Britain.

The Tories' deputy leader and Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is with me. Welcome, thank you for coming in Mr Hague.

Let's start with the story that we've been talking about earlier on.

How would you react to a proposal to give the police new powers to stop and question people about their identity, even if a crime hasn't been committed?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it depends what's in the proposals, you've just had Peter Hain on here half an hour ago, who's a member of the Cabinet and said he didn't know what was in the proposals, and indeed he sounded rather negative about any ideas like this. We will look at them on their merit.

If there are measures that are truly necessary to combat terrorism in this country, which is an immense threat to our country and is a growing threat to our country, then we will support them. But these things should be looked at on the basis of trying to achieve some consensus across political parties. So I hope the government will take the time and the trouble to do that. And they have to explain what they are doing, and why it is necessary.

ANDREW MARR: Because the Prime Minister, the outgoing Prime Minister, was very robust in his language, I mean he attacked the judges, he attacked civil liberties campaigners and, by implication, MPs including Conservative MPs, for not giving him the powers he says are necessary to take on terrorism in this country.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it's a robust language but this is the very government where people on control orders have managed to abscond, where hundreds of foreign criminals who were meant to have been deported turn out to be still in the country and nobody knew who they were. So it's all very well to have strong language about these things, but we get a kind of ineffective authoritarianism from the current government.

And what we need is effective measures instead. When they tried to argue for a 90-day detention of people without charge they couldn't come up with any actual instance of when it had been necessary, and so we voted against it. So we will listen to the proposals and we'll see what they are. But they have to be proposals consistent with popular consent in this country, and without alienating the people whose co-operation we need in the fight against terrorism.

ANDREW MARR: If the police came to you and said, yeah, but we would like these powers, would you back them?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Again it depends on their merit. Parliament shouldn't do things just because the police say they want to do it. They have to justify it. That again was the problem with the proposed 90-day detention.

The police did say they want it but they could not put a very good argument in favour of it. So we don't live in a country, thankfully, where we just do anything that 10 Downing Street says, or that the police say. We do live in a country where with some rational debate and consultation between political parties, we ought to be able to support what is necessary to fight terrorism.

ANDREW MARR: All right, let's move to another big area - Iraq. There is a cross-party group looking at the future for Iraq, Tom King from your party is a member of it. Do you, generally speaking, support the idea of a sort of cross-party commission of enquiry, trying to find a way ahead?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes, very much. We're very open to that and indeed we're very much in favour of an enquiry not only into the future but into what's happened in the past in Iraq, into the origins and conduct of the war. Because I don't think people will ever believe a British government again in circumstances like Iraq, unless they can see that we have learned the lessons and gone into what has gone wrong. But we do support, of course, any forward-looking piece of work.

Indeed the time is ticking away for this, it's been clear for many months now that we need a far stronger effort by the Iraqi politicians to achieve what is called reconciliation within Iraq, national reconciliation, and to confront the militias, that we need a much more rapid training of the Iraqi army so that it can take over more quickly from British and American forces. And these things I think were clear at the time of the Baker-Hamilton report last December, and not enough has been done about those things.

So, again it's part of the reason why, if we're having a new Prime Minister we should have a new Prime Minister now, not one who starts work in a month on these things while the situation frankly continues to deteriorate.

ANDREW MARR: Gordon Brown says he's going out there to pick up more information about what to do next. Do you have advice for him in specific terms about what we need to do next?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well he will find when he goes out there that there is no magic solution, and no military solution, no purely military solution now to the problems of Iraq. David Cameron and I went out there just before Christmas and it was very clear to us that so much depends now on the Iraqi politicians. Because unless they find more effective ways of working together and confronting these militias then the situation before very long is going to be irretrievable.

And there is no magic solution to that, it requires them to work hard, it requires the international community to give them plenty of support, it requires the Iraqi Army to be built up much more quickly. And it is a pity that these decisions were not made before. The mistakes are now accumulating even more in what is happening in Iraq.

ANDREW MARR: It is a grievous situation. In this situation can you see yourself, not making party political capital if I can put it that way, but standing alongside Gordon Brown and helping a process of getting the British troops out more quickly?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes, we've never made party political capital, in my view, out of the situation in Iraq. It's easy for oppositions to say "oh this has gone wrong, you know, bring the troops home on such and such a date". And that is what one of the opposition parties, the Liberal Democrats, say. But we don't think that you can do anything like that by published timetable.

Nobody ever concluded a military operation successfully by saying we will have finished it on a certain date. It's an invitation to your opponents to manipulate that date and take advantage of it. We all want to see our troops back home as soon as possible, and we agree with the government's plans to draw down some of those troops. But we've got a lot of questions to ask about how the remainder will then manage in that situation.

ANDREW MARR: Let's look at some of the domestic issues in front of your party. Explain to me one thing about the grammar school row, because you were actually sitting in, I think, the Shadow Cabinet meeting that discussed all of this, chairing it. If it's the case that there's no practical likelihood of building more grammar schools around the country, why raise this as a huge matter of controversy now? It was a fight for the sake of it, wasn't it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, I think it has in the past been a kind of comfort blanket to some in the Conservative Party who have thought this was still our policy, or that this was the answer. And it's very important to explain, since it's not our policy to build new grammar schools, why that is the case, and indeed probably why the last Conservative government in 18 years in office didn't do that, and to underline the importance of improving education generally across the country, and getting rid of the fads and fashions that have distorted teaching, and getting proven teaching methods in there and streaming within schools, rather than having this old sterile debate about grammar schools. And so I think we have got that clear now, actually, and I think we're getting a lot of support for that now, and it shows the Conservative Party really is determined to move on.

ANDREW MARR: And yet this has been, I guess, the biggest row inside the Conservative Party since David Cameron took over. Do you think that the period when you were trying to say collectively to the British people, "look, we've changed, we're a slightly different kind of Conservative party, all cuddlier and, you know, that chap William Hague was banging on about Europe and immigration, ah, that's all gone". Has that period ended? Do you now have to go back to your grass roots and reassure them a bit?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, I don't know. This is very much a process that has to continue and I am a great enthusiast for it, having been through some of the defeats of the past. We have to show what is the truth, that the Conservative Party is the best party to handle the NHS, to handle education. We are not just about Europe and immigration and so on, we are about those things.

And there again was Peter Hain in your programme earlier saying, how have we come to a situation where the Conservative are ahead of Labour as the party best to handle the NHS. Now it's partly because they have made such a terrible mess of it, but it's partly because the Conservative Party is now convincingly putting things like that at the top of our agenda, so that must go on and there must be no relaxation in that process.

ANDREW MARR: You mentioned Europe a moment ago. How concerned are you about this new mini treaty? Tony Blair's going to be over discussing it, we don't know whether Gordon Brown's going to go with him or not, but at any rate, do you think there's an attempt to get the constitution in by the back door?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well there is by some people. And here we will certainly be talking about Europe again because it's very much our view that any new treaty that transfers power from Britain to the EU should be subject to a referendum of the British people. And that was reluctantly promised by Tony Blair a couple of years ago.

Then we seemed to be hugely relieved when it wasn't necessary to have a referendum because the French and the Dutch voters knocked it on the head. Now it is starting to come back in a slightly modified form, but with much of the same detail still there. And if that is the case then it is vital to have a referendum in this country, and I hope Gordon Brown is not going to try to wriggle out of that.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Let's talk finally about the state of the party, if you like. Because clearly you had a very good set of local elections, there's been a slight bounce for Labour in the polls but you're still ahead of the Labour Party in the polls.

And yet, I sort of detect in some parts of the Conservative Party a readiness to write off Gordon Brown, You know, he's old-fashioned, he's grumpy, he's Scottish, he's not going to be too much of a problem for you. He's a pretty formidable politician nonetheless, isn't he?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh yes of course. We don't write him off, in a party leadership we don't write Gordon Brown off at all, of course we don't. And we know, and as David Cameron has said himself, we have a mountain to climb to win the next election and we're halfway or a little bit more than halfway up that mountain.

So we're not underestimating Gordon Brown, but we know that he cannot be the change that the country needs. And if you look at what he's said so far in his leadership campaign, well he wants GPs' surgeries to be a bit more available to people, but it's actually under the current government that they've arguably become less available to people. He wants to strengthen parliament but it's under the current government that parliament has been ridden roughshod over by the government on so many occasions. And he's been fully involved in all of those things.

So I don't think he is going to be the change that the country needs and we are confident therefore that when people decide they need change, as they are increasingly doing, they need to turn to David Cameron and to the Conservative Party.

ANDREW MARR: One final question, back on your main turf which is foreign affairs these days - Iran - we seem to be closer and closer to the moment when they are unstoppable with their nuclear ambitions. And we're still at the stage where everyone's saying, well there should be perhaps some tougher sanctions, or we should talk tougher or whatever. But nobody really seems to know what to do.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we produced some detailed proposals on this, this week. I hope the government will look at them. This requires both a juicier carrot and a bigger stick, if you like, in shorthand, to deal with the Iranians. It requires the United States to be fully willing to be involved in direct talks with Iran, and they are increasingly moving in that direction.

That leaves the Iranians of course to co-operate with that, and it needs two to do that, but it also needs the European Union to join the United States in putting serious pressure on the Iranians and that means, for instance, denying Iranian banks access to our financial system, doing things that really pinch so they can see the rest of the world is taking this very seriously.

ANDREW MARR: And don't rule out military action?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Don't rule out military action, but the whole thrust of our policy has got to be to avoid that situation coming about. Iran getting nuclear weapons would be a disaster for the world. Military action could equally be disastrous. We have to try and resolve this situation in a multilateral, peaceful, legitimate way.

ANDREW MARR: William Hague, for now thank you very much indeed.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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