British Foreign Secretary William Hague left New Zealand last night after two days of high-level talks. It was the first such visit in 20 years. He spoke to political editor Audrey Young

Why has it taken a generation for a foreign secretary to visit NZ or Australia?

I don't know. That was an astonishment to me. That was far too long when I came into office and indeed I had indicated to my counterparts when I was in Opposition that I hope to put that right very quickly.

Were your predecessors too distracted with Europe, with Iraq and Afghanistan?

Well there may be something in that. British foreign secretaries are kept quite busy in European Union affairs and we have a relationship with the United States which, of course, we give a lot of time to and, yes, we have had major pre-occupations with middle eastern affairs and with Afghanistan. Even so, I believe it is important to try to deal with all of those things correctly but to create the right network of relationships in the world which includes some new friends and allies, as in Latin America or the Gulf, but re-invigorating old friendships as well and that is why I have come to Australia and New Zealand.


You want stronger economic engagement with the Asia Pacific region. But do you see a future with a stronger military presence for Britain in the region - notwithstanding your defence cuts - when your economy recovers?

No, we are not really looking at a military presence. Our militaries do good work together, often in the same country as in Afghanistan, but really Britain withdrew a long time ago from east of Suez in terms of stationed forces. So we are looking more at increased diplomatic and economic presence in East Asia.

Britain is still a nuclear power, yet you have had no difficulty with our anti-nuclear legislation when the United States has?

We are a nuclear power, but that doesn't mean we expect every other country to adopt the same policy, and we are friendly countries for so many reasons that we are not going to fall out about that.

What is your response to the cyber attacks that put back Iran's nuclear programme four years? Do you welcome that sort of cyber attack?

I think there would be a variety of estimates about Iran's nuclear programme and timing estimates on such things are very uncertain. I think it would be a mistake to take any estimate as a certain truth. Iran's nuclear programme is a major threat to proliferation in the world. If Iran develops nuclear capabilities, then other nations will set out to develop nuclear capability as well. So I think it would be a mistake to take any figure given or any date given or any information of things slowing down or speeding up being necessarily what was actually happening. This remains an urgent problem. It remains something that requires serious negotiation and these negotiations are about to begin in Istanbul.

What are your views on a YouGov poll this week that puts you as the most popular choice to replace Prime Minister David Cameron should he fall under a bus?

It reinforces my sincere wish that he should not fall under a bus. He is a great Prime Minister. And second, having been leader of a political party once, I am not going to do it again it in my life.

Have the Wikileaks leaks of US cables undermined public confidence in diplomacy?

I don't think they have. If people read the Wikileaks cables as a whole, they add up to a rather positive account of US diplomacy which is my own experience so far of American diplomacy - concern to advance democracy and human rights, and to prevent conflict in the world. These things come through very regularly. I think it is quite a positive impression of the United States. Clearly we disapprove of the leaking of confidential material. Governments have to be able to conduct business confidentially to be able to work on a whole range of sensitive issues. But I don't think that these leaks have undermined the image of the United States.

Does the royal wedding present positive opportunities for British diplomacy?

That's not really what it's about, of course. It's a happy personal occasion, but I think it will be a very joyous national occasion and to some extent a global occasion and I think, for many people in New Zealand, very much a happy occasion. Is it a diplomatic opportunity? Well, nations of the world will be represented there in some form but that's not mainly what it is about. It's about a marriage and the future of the royal family.

Are you consulted on the invitation list, given the potential for offence?

I don't think there will be much potential for offence because I'm sure the royal household and Buckingham Palace will have these things clearly in mind, and they are very used to doing so. I'm probably going to spend more time on things like Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Middle East peace process than trying to interfere in the royal wedding guest list.

What are the chances of getting rid of the departure tax [up to $355] for long-distance travel to New Zealand?

I've had strong representation on this ... and I entirely understand the point being made. Of course in the UK we have inherited that and we have inherited a large budget deficit to go with it so it is not a thing that is easy to change. But I will take [the matter] back to my colleagues in London.

Your wish to make greater use of the Commonwealth as a better vehicle for good in the world diplomacy sounds good - but how would that work in reality?

There are various things it can do - and, by the way, we are awaiting the report in a few weeks of the eminent persons group which one of my predecessors, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, sits on which is going to make recommendations about the future of the Commonwealth.

Then we will all be able to look at those recommendations in the run up to the Chogm [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting] meeting in Perth at the end of October. I don't want to prejudge those recommendations but I have said we can do more to boost the economic connections within the Commonwealth because the Commonwealth is becoming a larger share of world economic output.

Commonwealth countries are already starting to do more trade with each other. I think the Commonwealth can also do a lot of climate change and it was important at the last Chogm [in Trinidad and Tobago].

And I think it can co-ordinate help to countries within the Commonwealth that need it. Zimbabwe in the future is going to need a lot of help and the Commonwealth is well placed to bring some of that together. So I think it can be more actively used than in the recent past.

Does Britain support NZ's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in the 2014 vote?

As a permanent member of the Security Council, we never say how we cast our votes, but clearly we are very friendly nations.

How do you justify Britain or any other permanent member of the UN Security Council having a veto to countries like India or Brazil?

We are in favour of reforming the Security Council to have more permanent members, and we are committed to support the permanent membership of the Security Council for India, Brazil, Japan and Germany and to have permanent Africa representation as well. So we would like to get on with that.

We entirely say that the point of the Security Council was created in the aftermath of the Second World War and still reflects the distribution of economic and political weight in the world at that time. So it does need to be changed and we will continue to press the case for it to be changed.