Standard & Poor's decision to cut the sovereign credit ratings of nine euro zone countries shows Europe must step up its efforts to kick-start growth, the foreign minister, William Hague, said on Sunday.

He also said the Foreign Office had contingency plans for a variety of scenarios in the euro zone while declining to confirm media reports that his department had drawn up plans to aid Britons living in euro zone countries if the currency collapsed.

S&P downgraded the credit ratings of nine euro zone countries on Friday, with France and Austria stripped of their coveted triple-A status.

This is serious. It underlines the fact that the euro zone is not through its problems. We want it to be stable and healthy, that's in our national interest in this country, but it means that across Europe, including the UK, we need to redouble our efforts to get growth going, Hague told Sky News.

He called for the European Union to agree more free trade agreements with other countries, drive forward the EU's single market and stop passing regulations that made life more difficult for businesses.

Prime Minister David Cameron would press this case at an EU summit in Brussels on January 30, he said.

Hague, one of the most senior ministers in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, travels to Brazil this week as part of the coalition's drive to lessen Britain's dependence on Europe by expanding trade and investment with major emerging economies.

Britain and other European countries have embarked on deficit-cutting policies that critics say have damaged growth prospects by sucking demand out of the economy.


But Hague said S&P's move underlined the importance of the British government's drive to cut a budget deficit that peaked at above 10 percent of national output.

Britain has so far kept its triple-A status, although ratings agency Moody's warned last month that its top-notch debt rating was under threat from the crisis in the euro zone.

The Labour Party says the coalition has cut the deficit too quickly, risking pushing the country back into recession, although it said on Saturday it would make no promises to reverse the coalition's spending cuts or tax increases if it regained power.

Hague said that if the government adopted the centre-left Labour Party's approach it would put Britain's triple-A credit rating in danger, potentially leading to higher interest rates that could damage the economy.

He said he did not think S&P's downgrades drove the euro zone nearer collapse. He welcomed the fact that the European Central Bank had been more active recently in improving the liquidity of Europe's banking sector and said he hoped difficulties over Greek debt repayments were resolved.

Media reports said last month that the Foreign Office was drawing up plans to evacuate thousands of Britons from Spain and Portugal if their banking systems collapsed.

Asked about these reports, Hague said: We do have contingency plans for a variety of events that may happen in the euro zone over the coming months ... That doesn't mean we believe all these things are going to happen. Some of the press reports ... were rather exaggerated ... Nevertheless, we are prepared for all eventualities.

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)