Page last updated at 13:12 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

William Hague MP transcript

On Sunday 7 February Andrew Marr interviewed Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP.

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

ANDREW MARR:

Now then, not so long ago, the Conservatives were rampant in the opinion polls and taking full advantage of Labour disarray. But in recent weeks, there's been a shift. The opinion polls have tightened, with the Conservatives unable to keep the kind of lead essential to guarantee them an overall majority. One poll suggests the Tory lead, which had once been over 20 points, is now down to about 7. Well I'm joined from Darlington by the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague. Mr. Hague, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

First of all, before we get onto Conservative Party policies, I wonder if you have any reflections or reactions to what Alastair Campbell was saying on the Chilcot Inquiry?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well I'm sorry Alastair Campbell was upset to be asked the questions about the inquiry. I think we're all upset about various aspects of what's happened in Iraq. I'm very upset that it seems our soldiers were often sent into action without the necessary equipment because of poor political decision-making, that there was no plan for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. We're all upset. I'm upset about the fact that in a debate in which I supported Tony Blair at the time of the Iraq War, we were told the intelligence was "authoritative" and "extensive" and "beyond doubt", and it seems, listening to the Chilcot Inquiry, that that was not the case. So I think many people are upset in different ways about it, and that must not stop us debating it and learning the lessons. And we know, although we don't know all the lessons because the inquiry isn't over yet, we know that intelligence must be presented more honestly in future, that decisions must be made with proper consultation, and that there must always be a coherent plan when we send our forces into action. So we must continue this examination of what happened that's only taking place, and only taking place in public, because of the pressure from opposition parties over the last few years. Gordon Brown wanted to avoid that happening at all.

ANDREW MARR:

And had you known then what you know now, would you still have voted for war?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well on that, I would say I feel that increasingly in many aspects of the case, parliament was misled. But I think to come to an overall judgement on that question, we have to see the inquiry result as a whole. This inquiry has been set up after years of pressure from us and other opposition parties. So we'd better see the overall result of that before we come to a final judgement on what you're saying. But I don't regret, of course I don't regret that Saddam Hussein has been removed, that our friends in Iraq are trying to build a working democracy there. Hopefully there will be a lasting benefit from that. But immense mistakes were clearly made along the way and that's what we have to learn from.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's turn, if we could, to domestic politics. The polls have narrowed pretty dramatically. And I know you'll say there's no wobbles, there's no sense of worry or panic, but I read so much from Conservative sources in today's newspapers, in the newspapers of the last few days. It does seem there's some kind of rethink going on or at least a sensible questioning of whether the strategy needs to be tweaked.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well, look, I sit next to David Cameron every morning as we look at the political situation. He does not wobble. He is not a man who wobbles, and nor are the rest of us who are sitting around him. Polls will go up and down, although the one that's in the headlines today is actually only 1% different from last month, which is not a statistically significant change in any way. Though of course they will go up and down, and we will never get complacent when they are up; nor will we get depressed when they're down because sitting up here campaigning in the Northern marginals, as I am every week, this is a…it's a much more even situation actually out there in the country. People want change. Yes of course they're looking at us very carefully. We've never claimed we've sealed the deal with the electorate. We've always said this will be a difficult election. But people want change, they know they can't go on like this, they can't face another five years of Gordon Brown, and so the prospects for the election remain good from our point of view …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… but we'll never take it for granted.

ANDREW MARR:

During our review of the Sunday newspapers, we were talking quite a lot about climate change, which seems to have become a very politically charged thing - it wasn't before, but it is now - and half a dozen or so leading Conservatives are said to be, in the shadow cabinet, pretty sceptical as to whether the science is right and whether we're being told the truth about climate change. Are you one of them? What's your view?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

No, I'm not. I don't know who those people are, by the way. As far as I'm aware, everybody in the shadow cabinet accepts that there's a compelling case on climate change and a strong scientific case. My view is that we shouldn't demonise people who have a different point of view - you know there is a legitimate debate about climate change - but my own view is that even if you're agnostic, even if you thought it was 50% likely that the science is right, that there is manmade climate change, then that would be a sufficiently massive risk for the whole future of the planet and the human race; that you would need to take pretty drastic action and that we would need the sort of international agreement that was being looked for at Copenhagen. So simply on the precautionary principle, we really do have to take serious action to try to avert climate change. But much of that action in any case is good environmental practice, good environmental measures.

ANDREW MARR:

I'm hopping about a little bit, but on your own brief Iran very, very important obviously, very worrying at the moment. Liam Fox is quoted as saying that actually military force against Iran, if it carries on in the direction it's going, "absolutely has to be on the table." Do you agree with that?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well he said what we've always said, and indeed what the governments of all major European countries and the United States say, which is that we don't take that off the table. The possibility of military action is one of the pressures on Iran. But he also makes clear in that interview that he's not calling for military action, that we're not looking for military action. And I've always said that military action against Iran may very well be a calamitous situation, but them getting nuclear weapons would be a calamity. And it is now one of the emerging crises in the world, in the next few months certainly in the course of this year, that Iran is heading towards creating a nuclear weapon and it's time for European countries to step up the pressure with some serious financial sanctions on Iran's nuclear programme, on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who run so many of these activities. It's really time for European countries, with the United States, to put on serious economic pressure if this crisis is to be averted.

ANDREW MARR:

As you go around the world as Shadow Foreign Secretary, how close are you to Lord Ashcroft?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

He's one of my great friends. I don't have to go round the world. Lord Ashcroft was Treasurer of the party when I was the Leader, did a fantastic job. We've been great friends ever since and I think he's someone who adds immeasurably to public life in this country in many ways, so I'll always defend him.

ANDREW MARR:

Right. Well and in defending him - because we've had this conversation before - can I ask you again about his tax status because I'd like to read you something by the Information Commissioner who says that 'statements by senior politicians concerning Lord Ashcroft's undertaking' - that's on tax - 'have been evasive and obfuscatory.' Now can you therefore tell me whether or not he pays tax in this country?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well let me give you something that's not at all evasive and obfuscatory. We have called … David Cameron has called, and the government have then come into line with that, for all members of both Houses of Parliament to be treated as if they're fully resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom for tax purposes with no ifs and buts whatsoever from the next financial year. Lord Ashcroft has said that causes him no difficulty at all and that he will still be sitting there in the House of Lords under those rules. Now there are many donors to the Labour Party who are not in a position to say that, so perhaps some of this attention should be turned around onto them because that is a very clear statement of where he stands. And I think for the Prime Minister in one of the newspapers this morning to say that this is a "scandal" is simply an attempt to distract attention from three Labour MPs trying to use parliamentary privilege, something that was designed to secure freedom of speech for parliament over the centuries, to try to escape …

ANDREW MARR:

Absolutely.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… allegations of fraudulent misuse of taxpayers' money. And that is the abuse and debasement of our constitutional principles and attacking Lord Ashcroft is simply a way of trying to get out of that.

ANDREW MARR:

And it's certainly something that I want to raise with the Home Secretary in a moment. But just returning to Lord Ashcroft, you gave a very, very clear statement about your policy. You didn't give quite such a clear statement to the question does he pay tax as a British taxpayer, as a British citizen, which is a very straightforward question.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

Well I'll give you another clear statement, which is that when he was made a peer in the year 2000, he was asked to give certain guarantees about that and he then implemented those guarantees and he's assured me that he did. Although what they were in detail was defined between him and the Inland Revenue at the time. I am not a party to that anymore than the …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But he's a very key figure …

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… Labour Party are a party to all those people in the House of Lords, some of whom are non-domiciled and so on, but who give donations to the Labour Party.

ANDREW MARR:

Did he sit alongside you when you were in Cuba and elsewhere as Shadow Foreign Secretary? I mean he's more than just another donor, isn't he? It's been said he's given £5 million. He's alongside you. He's … You know he's a very influential man.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

He is. He should be. He's Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. He does an immense amount for charity in this country. He set up Crimestoppers in the UK that has done a fantastic amount of public good. He's been with me on some, a minority of my overseas visits as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and he's helped to make those visits possible. There is no budget for travel for a Shadow Foreign Secretary. I either raise the money to travel abroad or I pay for it myself or I travel in somebody else's plane. So of course it's helpful to have somebody like that around. But I take no criticism of him because I think he adds a lot to public life in this country, and I think if the Labour Party were as open as we have been about our donors … And by the way, let me add this point. Lord Ashcroft has supplied in the last year less than 2% of the funds and resources of the Conservative Party.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

So the idea he's sitting here funding the Conservative Party …

ANDREW MARR:

Pulling the strings. It's not true.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… is a nonsense.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

But the real story is about trade unions supplying three quarters of the money of the Labour Party …

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

WILLIAM HAGUE:

… and getting policies and influence in return.

ANDREW MARR:

And, as you said earlier on, there's the question of MPs who have fiddled their expenses and are facing the courts. Do you believe that they should face criminal prosecution in the courts or do you think that the Bill of Rights of 1689 exempting parliamentary proceedings from the courts should be used as a way of escaping that?

WILLIAM HAGUE:

They should face prosecution in the courts. I'm in no doubt about that. The Bill of Rights was intended to secure freedom of speech - the freedom of speech of members of parliament to speak freely rather than be at threat of … the threat of an over powerful monarch at the time. That was what it was all designed to do. MPs didn't have expenses at that time when the Bill of Rights was assembled. It was never intended to protect the abuse of taxpayers' money. And so for it to be cited in defence, for it to be used to try to block the trials of members of parliament now is, I think, a disgusting and appalling misuse of parliamentary privilege. It is, as I said earlier, the debasement of our constitutional principles and I hope that the leaders of all political parties will be clear about this and that members of parliament will desist from using this in their defence.

ANDREW MARR:

William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary, thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS



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