UK Politics

William Hague on humour - and his worst moment as foreign secretary

William Hague Image copyright BBC News

William Hague - who is standing down as an MP after 25 years at the next election - reflects on his worst moment as foreign secretary. And how he learned the art of humour from former Labour leader John Smith.

The new Leader of the House of Commons, has some advice for anyone who thinks the chamber is too boisterous.

"If people want a quiet parliament, well, go to Pyongyang and see what the North Korean Parliament is like. It's very quiet. Because nobody gets a say about anything," William Hague tells BBC Parliament.

Commons Speaker John Bercow has repeatedly warned MPs there's too much braying and shouting. But Mr Hague is all in favour of a "vigorous, sometimes noisy parliament."

Mr Hague was foreign secretary for four years - so the job as Commons Leader, which is very much about "housekeeping matters", could seem like a bit of a comedown.

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Image caption William Hague shares a joke with UN envoy Angeline Jolie at a recent conference

But he insisted he'd always been interested in the job, because "I do love the House of Commons, the debate, the repartee and I believe in the House of Commons.

"It's a place that should be relevant to people, it should be known about by people."

Military action

He admits the Commons can appear "dry" but reckons it has become increasingly relevant in recent times.

He will be spending the summer recess thinking about how to improve its impact still further.

One way is give MPs more power.

It has become a convention now for MPs to vote on whether to take military action. Many want that convention enshrined in law.

Mr Hague agrees with that, in principle, but says it's a complicated business and there's no agreement on how to do it.

Anyhow the issue is not on the table at the moment. It is one for a future Parliament to sort out.

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Image caption Mr Hague hit the national headlines while still a teenager

The issue of MPs voting on military action is a sensitive one for him. Last year, the Commons voted against taking action in Syria.

"It was very difficult, really really the worst...certainly the worst moment of being Foreign Secretary for me," he said, adding: "Well that's a democracy."

'No ambition'

He had his first Question Time as Commons Leader on Thursday and delighted MPs with his trademark humour.

He says he learned the art of using humour to good effect from former Labour leader, the late John Smith.

"I particularly admired that he could get us on the Tory side to laugh at ourselves. He undermined us in that way. I've always set out to ensure that I could make the Labour MPs laugh at their own side."

He could not promise jokes every week but he reflected: "It helps MPs like it helps any group of normal people to lighten things with a touch of humour now and again".

On stepping down as an MP after 25 years, he said: "Undoubtedly I will miss it but we all do many things in life that you like doing but that you move on from."

He says he has "no ambition" to be Conservative leader again.

And he has not thought about elevation to the House of Lords or discussed it with the prime minister: "There is no deal about that or plan for that at the moment."

Watch the full interview on BBC Parliament at 2300 BST on Friday, 18 July. Presenter: Kristiina Cooper; Producer: Billy Hill.

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