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Defence Responsibilities

Volume 533: debated on Monday 10 October 2011

I would like to take this opportunity to inform the House about my defence responsibilities in the light of considerable media coverage and the interim report this morning by the permanent secretary. I would like to discuss the meeting in Dubai in June 2011, my relationship with Mr Werritty and my involvement in Sri Lanka. If I may, Mr Speaker, I will take these in turn.

As I said yesterday, I accept that it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalties to a friend. Mr Speaker, I am sorry for this. I have apologised to the Prime Minister, to the public, and, at the first opportunity available, to the House.

Let me deal first with the Dubai meeting, which has been the subject of so much speculation. Mr Werritty first met Mr Boulter of Cellcrypt on 1 April 2011 in Dubai. This meeting was arranged by the lobbying firm Tetra. At this time, Mr Boulter asked for a meeting to discuss Cellcrypt. Nothing happened for the next three months, but during the week of 13 June, Mr Werritty was dining in Dubai at a nearby table and Mr Boulter again requested a meeting. Mr Werrity suggested that it might be possible the following day, as I was coming through on my return from visiting forces in Afghanistan. The meeting—[Interruption.]

Order. Let me say at this early stage that the Secretary of State is making a full statement. It is a matter of basic courtesy that that statement be heard. By now the House can trust me, I think, to ensure that there will be a full opportunity to question the Secretary of State, but he must first be heard.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The meeting took place on the morning of 17 June, where there was a general discussion about Cellcrypt and what it might be able to do to support the MOD. At the end of the meeting, in the interests of probity, Mr Boulter mentioned that he was in a dispute with 3M alongside the MOD, and I acknowledged this. Beyond this, there was no discussion of the case or any individuals involved, nor was any classified information discussed.

That night, Mr Boulter sent e-mails claiming that he had had discussions on the issue of George Buckley’s knighthood. This correspondence later became the basis of a blackmail case in the United States. I made it clear that I was willing to testify that I had never had any such discussions. Subsequently, Porton Group has since clarified that Harvey Boulter did not in fact discuss the matter of the knighthood.

I accept that I should not have had a meeting with a potential commercial supplier without an official being present. This was entirely my fault and I take full responsibility for it. After the meeting, however, I notified my private office and asked them to prepare a brief on the subject of Cellcrypt.

Let me turn now to Mr Werritty, whom I first met in 1998. While I was in opposition, he worked as a paid intern in my House of Commons office and at this time had a parliamentary pass. He also received payments for research work undertaken during my time in opposition. Records currently show total payment of some £5,800 over the total period. He has not received any payment from me while in government. He has a very wide range of long-standing business, international relations and political links of his own. He did not receive any payment as a result of the meeting in Dubai, nor has he been involved in any defence procurement issues.

As a matter of transparency, I would like to inform the House that I have met Mr Werritty in the margins of trips of various sorts overseas, including annual leave and holidays with family and friends, on a total of 18 occasions.

As the permanent secretary points out today in her report, Mr Werritty visited me at the Ministry of Defence over 16 months, either in my office or in the refreshment facilities, on 22 occasions. The majority of these were short social meetings. In only four instances were others present. Three related to Sri Lanka and one was with Matthew Gould, known socially to both of us. It was also during one of these meetings in June that I first learned about, and told him to stop, using his business card stating that he was my adviser. Mr Werritty was never present at regular departmental meetings. During private meetings we did not discuss either commercial or defence matters. He had no access to classified documents, nor was he briefed on classified matters.

As I said yesterday, I accept, with the benefit of hindsight, that I should have taken great care to ensure a more transparent separation of Government, party political and private business and that meetings were properly recorded to protect myself and the Government from any suggestion of wrongdoing. Again, I accept my personal responsibility for this. The permanent secretary is making arrangements to ensure that such a separation of powers will exist in the future. In addition, because I do not believe that to be enough, Mr Werritty will not make private visits to the MOD in future, will not attend international conferences where I am present, and we will not meet socially abroad where I am on official business. This should ensure that no appearance of potential wrongdoing will occur in the future.

Since 1996, when I was a Foreign Office Minister, I have been involved in attempts to help resolve the conflict in Sri Lanka. As the war with the Tamil Tigers drew to a close, I worked with a number of others in business, banking and politics. It was my aim to create a mechanism that would allow reconstruction funding to occur through the private sector. This was called the Sri Lanka Development Trust, which seeks to promote post-conflict reconciliation and development in Sri Lanka. The aim was to use a proportion of profits made to fund development projects in Tamil communities. Neither myself, Mr Werritty nor others sought to receive any share of the profits for assisting the trust.

During the Shangri-La dialogue of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in 2010, I attended a bilateral meeting with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister. This was attended by Mr Werritty and MOD officials and was minuted. The purpose of the meeting was to make it clear that although I would no longer be able to participate in the project, the others involved would continue to do so.

In December 2010, Mr Werritty and I met with the Sri Lankan President in London. This was not an official visit, hence why it was held in the Dorchester hotel. In July 2011, I gave a lecture hosted by Mrs Kadirgamar, the widow of my friend and Tamil former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2005, as the House will know. Mr Werritty is a personal friend of Mrs Kadirgamar and helped with the arrangements, as it was a personal not a ministerial commitment. I know that there are some in the Sri Lankan diaspora who do not want any contact with the current Sri Lankan Government, but as I said in my lecture, unless we have reconciliation based on mutual tolerance and respect for all citizens regardless of ethnic origin, we will not find peace in that island.

I have made it clear throughout this process that my desire is to be as transparent as possible, and I accept where I have been at fault, as Ministers must. Following the interim findings, the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to work with the permanent secretary to complete the report, addressing all the remaining questions that have been raised publicly and privately by this issue, and I shall fully and willingly co-operate with this.

I remind the House of my properly declared interest and thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I have enjoyed shadowing him in the House of Commons, and until now we have had a good working relationship. Indeed, he will know that I defended him for the first month of this case, until he started to defend himself and his answers unravelled, but this whole crisis is self-inflicted. There have been daily revelations which barely 36 hours ago he described as “baseless”, but yesterday he was forced into a partial and belated apology. It is not a partial apology we want; it is full and complete disclosure of all the issues, so today we will listen with great care to any questions that he does not fully answer.

Some will question the loyalty of a friend who abuses his contacts in that way, and many will doubt the judgment of a Secretary of State who willingly allows himself to be professionally compromised in that manner. But this is not just about the Secretary of State’s judgment; it is also about his conduct and breaches of the ministerial code. The code is clear. Paragraph 7.1 says:

“Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.

Yesterday the Defence Secretary apologised for the “misleading impression” that his actions may have given. His apology in itself is an admission of a breach of the code. So it is beyond doubt that he has breached the ministerial code; the only issue is on how many grounds and on how many occasions?

Paragraph 5.2 of the code says:

“Ministers have a duty to give fair consideration and due weight to informed and impartial advice from civil servants”.

The Secretary of State claims that the infamous meeting in Dubai happened by chance. Today we have another version of events: he has told the House that he did not discuss defence or classified matters with Mr Werritty. How then did Mr Werritty know his diary and how he was travelling back from Afghanistan? Why did the Secretary of State exclude civil servants from that meeting? Did he ask for advice and briefing before the Dubai meeting? Did he seek civil service advice in advance of any of the 22 meetings with Mr Werritty? If so, will the Secretary of State publish all such advice, together with a full list of topics discussed and those who attended, and any actions taken by his private office or his special advisers following those meetings?

The Secretary of State has admitted that distinctions between his professional responsibilities and personal loyalties have been blurred. Again, the ministerial code is clear on this. Paragraph 7.3 says:

“On appointment to each new office, Ministers must provide their Permanent Secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict.”

Paragraph 7.4 continues:

“Where appropriate, the Minister will meet the Permanent Secretary and the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests to agree action on the handling of interests.”

So on their first day in a new job every Minister has to make a declaration. Under paragraph 7.5 of the code, statements of ministerial interests are published every six months, and the Secretary of State’s entry makes interesting reading. There are mentions of good organisations such as the Strawberry Line project in his constituency, but there is no mention of his adviser who ran a defence consultancy, arranged his meetings and handed out his business cards across the world.

Did the Secretary of State provide full and complete disclosure to his permanent secretary about his links to Adam Werritty and his defence consultancy, Security Futures? What advice did the permanent secretary give him and what was agreed on the handling of this interest? Will the Secretary of State now publish the record of the information that he supplied to his permanent secretary when he took up this job? In the media this morning, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, is reported as saying that he raised his concerns with the Secretary of State for Defence’s office. Is this true, and has the current or any previous permanent secretary ever raised their concerns about his professional proximity to Mr Werritty with him or his office?

Looking at the ministerial code, it is clear that, on paragraphs 5.2, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 7.5, the Secretary of State has driven a coach and horses through the rules. He cannot believe that today’s partial apology gives him a free pass round breaches of the ministerial code. Our forces look to him for leadership. When they step out of line, when they break the rules, they take responsibility and accept the consequences. They, and we, expect no less of the Defence Secretary. We all hope that he has done nothing wrong, but the only way to clear his name is total transparency, which is why this case should now be referred to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests.

In conclusion, we might never know what got the Secretary of State into this crisis—whether it was arrogance, naivety or hubris. The British people

“expect the highest standards of conduct…We must be...transparent about what we do and how we do it. Determined to act in the national interest, above improper influence”.

[Interruption.] Government Members might shout about that, but those are not my words; they are the words of the Prime Minister in the foreword to the ministerial code of conduct. The Prime Minster must now apply those standards to the Secretary of State, otherwise the ministerial code will not be worth the paper it is written on.

I am not entirely sure what questions arise from that. The right hon. Gentleman asked why no civil service advice was sought before social and private meetings. The answer is that civil service advice is not sought before social and private meetings. He asked when the permanent secretary raised concerns. The permanent secretary raised the matter of the business cards with me in August. I told her that I had dealt with that in June when I first saw them. I demanded that they should not be used again and that any subsequent cards should not display either the portcullis or a reference to me as Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman has spent most of his time over the last few days focusing on the meeting in Dubai with Cellcrypt. I have set out how the meeting came about, what the conversations were during the meeting, what conversations did not take place, what Mr Boulter said did take place and the action I took as a consequence, which was to ask my private office for a full briefing. No commercial contracts were made and no financial gain was made as a result of any of those discussions. When a man who was involved in a blackmail case is feeding information to the media, which is often taken without question, it is rather difficult to take the shadow Secretary of State beginning his statement without telling us the specifics of the declaration he was making, which is that his Front Bench team took £10,000 from Cellcrypt, the company at the centre of all this, to visit the United States. I hope that today I have answered as many questions as I can; perhaps the shadow Secretary of State might want to answer some that arise for him.

May I, as a former Defence Secretary, pay tribute to the robust and effective leadership that my right hon. Friend is giving, which I hope he will continue to give to a Ministry of Defence that has sadly drifted in recent years? With regard to what he said about links with Sri Lanka, may I, from my own personal knowledge going back to the time when he served with me in the Foreign Office, confirm that my right hon. Friend made sterling efforts to try to broker peace between the various factions in Sri Lanka? I think it is a tribute to his integrity and his qualities that he has continued to advance that cause in the years since.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that. A great deal of work is still to be done in Sri Lanka, and I am very pleased that I was able, eventually, to make an official visit as Secretary of State. I hope that the United Kingdom, with all its historical links to the country, will be able to use the levers at our disposal to try to bring peace to a region where, sadly, too little has been done in recent years to try to bring reconciliation.

Experience shows that over the last 40 years these decisions are very rarely decided by the raucous voices behind the Government Front Bench. What the right hon. Gentleman really has to consider is the fact that his friends in the right-wing press—not, now, The Guardian, but The Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph today and probably Kavanagh of The Sunare against him. It looks to me like Cameron is going to get his Fox.

It is certainly possible to keep a good bottle just a little bit too long. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point—that these issues are not decided purely inside this House, as they reflect the judgments made not just by the media, but by the public in general. Serious issues have been raised here. I accept that, and I accept that they must be investigated fully, which is why I said I would co-operate with the Cabinet Secretary on all the issues raised. It is important not only to be clear that, as I believe, there was no wrongdoing, but to recognise that the perception of wrongdoing also has to be eliminated.

My right hon. Friend has said that he has made a mistake, and he has apologised to the House. Will he accept that many people believe that, compared with the important issues with which he has to deal, this is pretty small-scale stuff? Will he please concentrate on issues such as the conflict we are continuing to fight in Afghanistan, the shortage of money in the Defence budget and the implementation of the strategic defence and security review?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who does not have to remind me of the list of serious projects with which we are currently dealing—not least with our armed forces in combat in Libya and Afghanistan. It is important for me to continue with that work. We will certainly not be diverted from the important issues. I nevertheless think it important for those in front-line politics to be big enough to say that they are sorry and have made a mistake if they have done so.

As Mr Werritty joined the Secretary of State, attending defence meetings in various countries, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that at no stage during those meetings were security issues or security relationships raised? Will he also assure us that Mr Werritty had no pecuniary interests whatever in any of the items under discussion at any of the meetings?

The right hon. Lady raises a key point with which I thought I had already dealt, but let me deal with it again for her. I have made it clear that at no point did Mr Werritty attend departmental meetings; that at no point did he have access to classified documents; that at no point did he have classified briefings; and, therefore, that at no point was any issue of security affecting the United Kingdom either discussed or put at risk. As for the pecuniary interests of Mr Werritty in those particular conferences, I am confident that he was not dependent on any transactional behaviour to maintain his income.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on what he has achieved in the Ministry of Defence to date. Does he agree with one of the oldest maxims in politics? Advisers advise; it is Ministers who decide.

It is Ministers who decide, and, as I have said, I am still awaiting any information or proof that any advice that I was given changed the way in which I made a decision. There has been a lot of speculation and a lot of innuendo, but if someone has an accusation to make—that there was wrongdoing, that there were financial transactions, or that advice was given that changed a ministerial decision—let that person come forward with it.

This afternoon the Secretary of State said, “with the benefit of hindsight… I should have taken great care to ensure a more transparent separation of Government…political and private business”. However, we know that he was warned by Sir Jock Stirrup and Bill Jeffrey, the then permanent secretary, about his relations with Mr Werritty. Will he tell us why he ignored their advice and shuffled them off quickly, and will he publish their advice?

The two individuals that the hon. Lady mentioned were not shuffled off quickly; they retired after long and distinguished service to the armed forces and to the civil service. In any case, as I said earlier, I accept that there was a lack of transparency and clarity, and that, as the permanent secretary pointed out in her report this morning—which I suggest the hon. Lady read —there is a need for more mechanisms in the Department to ensure that the ministerial code is clearly implemented.

I believe that this may be the first time that the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), has mentioned a registered interest. If that is the case, I wonder whether he could tell the House how long he has had that registered interest, and why it has not been mentioned before.

Order. The question needs to be put to the Secretary of State. However, it is on the record now, and I do not think that the House can wait any longer to hear from Mr Peter Bone.

I think that Members on both sides of the House will welcome the Secretary of State’s action in coming to the Dispatch Box. I do not recall that, in all my time in Parliament, a Minister has come to the Dispatch Box voluntarily to answer such questions. However, there is one group of people whom we have forgotten today: our armed forces, in Afghanistan and also in Libya, who will be amazed that the House could be packed with Members wishing to discuss a matter relating to a business card when they have a superb Secretary of State getting on with the job.

I accept that tribute with particular humility, given that my hon. Friend has a son serving in our armed forces at present. I think it important for us to deal with issues such as this and for them to be fully and transparently addressed, but I also think it important for me to recognise that I have very important issues with which to deal. I have just come back from Libya, where I was over the weekend. Those were not, perhaps, the best two days on which to be incommunicado, but none the less a very important task is still in hand. I realise that a great deal of attention and time will have to be given to it, and I still fully intend to ensure that that is my primary objective.

I thank the Secretary of State for the letter in which he apologised for misinforming the House on a matter earlier this year, but his judgment is what is in question today. He confessed his lack of judgment yesterday. Is he a fit person to take what can be life or death decisions affecting our troops in Afghanistan?

As soon as I had information from the civil service that there might have been a mistake in a parliamentary answer, I did what you would expect us to do, Mr Speaker, and corrected it immediately. It seems that if we correct mistakes of one kind or another, we are now regarded as lacking in judgment. I think it absolutely correct that, when we make a mistake, we apologise for it; but, as I said earlier, if the hon. Gentleman or anyone else has a substantial charge to make, let him or her bring it out into the open rather than whispering from the weeds.

Those of us who were in the House in 1996 will recall my right hon. Friend, as a Minister in the Foreign Office, devoting considerable efforts and energy to the peace process in Sri Lanka. I am sure that any reasonable Member would think it commendable that he has consistently supported the peace process and those involved in it, and I fail to understand why there should be a scintilla of criticism of him for wanting to maintain those contacts and help to bring peace to that benighted island.

I agree that it would be surprising if anyone did not want that peace to occur, but we have to accept that there are forces in that country, and even more in the diaspora, who do not want anyone to deal with the current Sri Lankan Government. My point is this: however much people may regret what the current Government have done or dislike them, unless we deal with that Government and get proper reconciliation, we will not be able to get peace in that island. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) shouts “Foreign Office” from a sedentary position. The Foreign Office, through the Foreign Secretary, agreed that I should make that visit and, indeed, cleared the speech that I gave, as it believed that because of the contacts I had developed over time in Sri Lanka, I was in a good position to try to take the process forward. In respect of achieving peace, what matters is what works, rather than what is a departmentally strictly delineated process.

The Secretary of State has twice failed to respond to a specific question, so may I ask him for a third time? When was he made aware that first the permanent secretary and then the Chief of the Defence Staff were concerned about this relationship, what was the advice given to him, and what he did he do as a result of that advice?

As have I said, I was not aware of any direct approach from them. The first direct approach I can remember was when my current permanent secretary came to me in August and said that she had grave concerns about the use of a business card that had “adviser to the Secretary of State” printed on it. She asked what I was going to do about it, and I was able to reply to her that I had already, in June of that year, decided to stop those cards and demand that they not be used again.

With the revelations today that the Labour Front Bench took money from Cellcrypt, is it not clear that we are witnessing a conspiracy between a desperate business man and a rotten Labour party?

I think we should keep our discussion within the realms of reasonable debate, but I understand the reasons for my hon. Friend’s anxiety. Huge amounts of criticism have been emanating from Cellcrypt in recent times, and the Opposition have said that all they want is to get information. As it has come to light that, in fact, they took a lot of money from that company, we need to know when, and on what terms, that happened, because it raises a potential conflict of interests.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he had meetings with Mr Werritty on defence matters in which Mr Werritty had a pecuniary interest, and if so, why does he think he was asked to be there?

As I have made clear, I am not aware of any specific interests in that sense at all, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks there was any particular pecuniary interest, I am sure the Cabinet Secretary would love to hear from him, as would I.

Is it not the case that taking a close interest in a dangerous and divided country with a civil war going on does, indeed, amount to an interest, but is it not also the case that the framers of the ministerial code took it for granted that people reading it would understand the difference between a public and a private interest?

I am sure that is correct, but although we may understand that, it does not allow any of us to absolve ourselves of our responsibility to ensure that it is fully transparent and understandable. As I said in a previous answer, although the code is clearly set out, we must now ensure that we put in place processes that make it properly waterproof.

It would appear that if anyone wanted to breach the Secretary of State’s security arrangements all they had to do was check the travel plans of Mr Werritty. Can the Secretary of State take me through this: one day Mr Werritty just happened to be in a Dubai restaurant at the table next to that of somebody who had a pecuniary interest in defence procurement and defence expenditure—Mr Boulter—and that just happened to be the day before the Secretary of State was passing through Dubai? We are being asked to accept that, but can the Secretary of State say—I did not hear his answer earlier on—how Mr Werritty knew of the Secretary of State’s travel arrangements?

Very simply, because I told Mr Werritty, who was in Dubai with his girlfriend at the time, that I would be passing through and that we should meet up. The hon. Gentleman will have to take my word for it that there was a chance meeting with Mr Boulter, and I think that that is perfectly reasonable. [Interruption.] Labour Members are saying, “It is classified”, but we are allowed to tell our friends and family where we are going to be as Ministers, because all Ministers, in ministerial down time, will want to try to get their diaries to coincide. If the Opposition are saying that we can never, as Ministers, divulge to anybody—friend or family—what is in our diary, that is an utterly ridiculous position to take.

The Secretary of State said that this issue will not be resolved in this House. Nevertheless, in coming to the House and presenting his apology to it, he has acted both properly and honourably. Let us put this issue in context. He has been attacked and criticised today by members, or previous members, and supporters of the Blair and Brown Governments, for whom a single meeting without officials or a record was not an issue; they made it a whole system of sofa government. Furthermore, in some cases they took very large sums from the attendance of that and changed public policy. Can the Secretary of State confirm to this House that he neither gained financially, either personally or politically, nor changed public policy in any way as a result of these meetings?

I know exactly what my right hon. Friend is referring to, but I want to get back to the point that where there are serious allegations we do have to treat them seriously. I go back to the point I made earlier, which was that my contacts with Mr Werritty were neither for his financial gain in any of the issues I have mentioned, nor for my financial gain. However, I do think that in terms of making sure that there is total transparency, we have to make every effort not only to behave properly, but to be seen to behave properly.

On the issue of the meeting with the President of Sri Lanka, can the Secretary of State give assurances to the House that the President of Sri Lanka was clear as to Mr Werritty’s status in that meeting?

Yes, the meeting in London, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, was not an official visit to this country by the President. I was very keen to talk to him about some of the projects that I had been running in opposition but was not going to be able to run in government. That meeting included the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, a long-standing friend of mine, and the governor of the bank of Colombo, who is also a long-standing acquaintance. I simply wanted to try to make it clear that much as I would not be able, as the Secretary of State and a member of the Government, to continue with what I had done in opposition, there were those who were willing to continue to do that in politics and business. I hope that they will be successful.

Listening to my right hon. Friend’s statement one gets the impression that a company, Cellcrypt, spent hundreds of thousands on lobbyists to try to get a contract and failed to do so. Will he confirm that that understanding is correct? Having failed to get that contract, the company then tried to buy the politics of the Labour party, which is now throwing rocks. Does that not have profound implications for our politics, on both sides of the House?

Following the meeting in Dubai, when I had been interested in what Cellcrypt could bring to the Ministry of Defence, I immediately called my private office and asked to be provided with a briefing that I could get on my return. The correct way to make decisions about procurement is through our regular procurement process. It is quite reasonable to talk to contractors, as we do on a regular basis. All Ministers talk to contractors on a regular basis about what they may or may not bring in terms of capability to the MOD. The question is whether, having been given that information, we make snap decisions or we put it through due process, and this—Cellcrypt—is being put through due process.

The Secretary of State has told us today that on 18 separate occasions he met Mr Werritty on overseas trips. In my experience as a Minister, in the margins of visits the diary secretary records where the Minister intends to be. Was that the case on the 18 separate occasions on which the Secretary of State met his friend on official visits?

As I said earlier, there were a wide range of visits, and they included overseas visits that were family holidays and so on. I included them all for the sake of completeness. A number would have been conferences, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore or Bahrain, for example, that Mr Werritty was attending in any case. Many of the occasions would have been on the margins and would not have been political meetings. Of a very small number of the meetings I have had, which I set out today, three were about Sri Lanka, where I included him because of the experience we had in opposition, and one was with a member of the diplomatic staff whom we happened both to know personally. I know that the right hon. Lady is trying to get to genuine and legitimate concerns, but I can assure her that we have tried at all times to separate the professional work abroad, either party political or governmental, and the social.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour party’s so-called independent report on defence procurement was supported by the same company, Cellcrypt, as is funding Front-Bench trips overseas?

I was aware of that issue. The right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) talked about his declared interest today, but I think that it would have been better to have been frank and upfront and to have said that the particular company concerned is the central company in many of the allegations about the meeting in Dubai on which the shadow Secretary of State has so focused. I am not saying that that would in any way diminish his case, but I think it would have been better for transparency all round.

I apologise for my voice, Mr Speaker—I was shouting at the television over the weekend. Several years ago, on my first day as a Minister in the Wales Office, the ministerial code was put in front of me and I was asked clearly and precisely whether there were any associations with individuals or organisations that I should declare. I declared them, including my long historical link with the Scout Association. I was advised at that point—and I listened to my private secretary—to break that link on a temporary basis and as far as I know that organisation was not involved in arms lobbying or trading, and neither is it now. Did the Secretary of State make clear his association to this individual and to this lobbying company at all points or did he hide it from his private secretary and the permanent secretary? If he did make it clear, was he ever given advice that this should not be done?

Like all Ministers, on taking office I believed that I was fully within the ministerial code. As I have said to the House several times today, I accept that I have allowed the blurring of the distinctions on occasion and I fully accept my personal responsibility for that. I do not believe that there was a specific allegation for me to deal with at the time, nor a specific interest to deal with.

May I say to my right hon. Friend that Combat Stress came to the House of Commons earlier today, to the Speaker’s apartment, to launch the next phase of its campaign, “The Enemy Within”, highlighting the plight of veterans who are suffering from mental illness due to the scars of war? As the Secretary of State made his statement on defence responsibilities, he will doubtless have those responsibilities in mind. It is the mood on the Government Benches that we hope that the matter will quickly be put behind him so that he can get on with the excellent job he has been doing as Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend is not the only one who would like this put behind us quickly, but I think that it is more important that it is put behind us thoroughly and comprehensively. I do not wish in any way to diminish the seriousness of some of the questions that have been raised and I hope that what I have set out today, and the process the Prime Minister has set out for the Cabinet Secretary to examine further questions, will ensure that such an inquiry is thorough rather than quick.

The Secretary of State is right—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am sure that hon. Members will agree with everything I am about to say. The Secretary of State is right that it is perfectly understandable for a Minister, when travelling abroad, to bump into a friend. It is also perfectly understandable for a Minister, even in politics, to have a friend—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is one of mine, so he should be careful. However, the Secretary of State is stretching our credulity by suggesting that he could have done so on 18 separate occasions. Will he provide us with a list of the meetings when he went abroad when Mr Werritty was not present? Is the only reason that Mr Werritty was able to be there because he had access to the Secretary of State’s diary? From what we see he is going to continue to have access to it—surely, that is inappropriate.

In general, it is inappropriate for the civil service or anyone else to release ministerial diaries, which could be a threat to the security of the Minister or to national security. Where Ministers choose to give information in advance about where they will be to family or friends, that is perfectly reasonable. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that Ministers—particularly Defence and Foreign Ministers—travel abroad with excessive regularity and I would be happy to provide him with a list of the times I have been abroad, excluding those 18 times, over the year and a half that I have been Secretary of State.

My right hon. Friend has been very frank indeed in accepting that it was a bad mistake not to have an official present at the Dubai meeting and he has apologised for that. Does he also accept that the main victim of an official not being present was he himself? Had an official been present and had a proper note been taken, it would not have been possible for anyone else at the meeting to misrepresent what was said and then have to withdraw it afterwards.

Yes, it does damage to me as the Minister to have failed to take the appropriate precautions of having a meeting minuted and having an official attend. It also, sadly, does damage to the Government in that it might give the appearance of something being wrong. However, I will say to my hon. Friend that it beggars belief that a particular individual at that meeting, Mr Boulter, has said that I discussed with him a knighthood and said that I was going to have the Cabinet discuss a knighthood being taken away. I was very clear that I was willing to give evidence in a US court if required, because I was very clear about what was said and what was not said. Mr Boulter has subsequently given a totally different version of events, which, sadly, leads me to believe that he is a very poor witness and lacking in credibility.

I should like to ask the Defence Secretary again today exactly how many unofficial visits he has made to Sri Lanka, who sponsored those visits, why they are not registered in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and what role Mr Werritty played in any meetings during those unofficial visits that the Secretary of State had with Government officials in Sri Lanka.

There are no meetings that were unofficial that were not recorded and I made one official visit as Secretary of State. As I have said, the role of Mr Werritty in that was, first, in the official meeting, to organise the lecture for the Kadirgamar Institute, which he did, and, secondly, to ensure that we were able to try to get continuity in the efforts we were trying to bring to investment and subsequent diversion of profit into social projects. I think that is an enterprise that is still worth following.

May I commend my right hon. Friend for his apology to the House and for his answers to the questions that have been raised? Over the weekend, I met two servicemen who are shortly to be deployed to Afghanistan. Now that those answers have been provided, I am sure that they will want him, and indeed the whole House, to focus on that conflict and on sorting out the mess in the defence budget that we inherited from the previous Government rather than on this story.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his very kind words. We will continue to focus on those issues because we cannot afford not to. They are literally a matter of life and death and they have to be what we give our greatest attention to. These political matters are matters of extreme discomfort for those of us in the firing line and for our families; however, we have to recognise that the trials and tribulations that we face in public life are nothing compared with the threats facing those in our armed forces.

The Secretary of State has just told the House that Mr Werritty had no access to confidential material. The House knows that the Secretary of State’s diary is highly confidential. Has the Secretary of State ever shown Mr Werritty a copy of his diary, or discussed what was in his diary?

As I have said, it is entirely appropriate for Ministers to show anybody they like what is in their diary. What is not acceptable, under departmental rules, is for the Department to release a diary to any third party when that is not agreed by a Minister. However, because of the question that the hon. Gentleman raises, I have instructed the Department not to release any part of my diary, on paper, to any individual—friend or otherwise.

First, I would like to thank my friend for being so up-front and honest. I have known him for many years, and he has always been an upstanding gentleman. Let us put this in the truest context: the Opposition are trying to accuse him of some kind of negligence, but 10 years of no spending reviews have been forgotten about; that is true negligence, and that should be put before the House today. That is what the troops are worried about.

All those involved in the complex matters of defence and national security will want to ensure that we are able to put this issue to bed as quickly as possible and to deal with it, as I said, as thoroughly and transparently as possible, because there are great issues at stake for our country, our armed forces, and those countries that we are involved with. I hope that we, and the Cabinet Secretary, can deal with this as quickly as possible. I assure my hon. Friend that in the meantime I will not be deflected from what I understand are the great burdens and responsibilities of my office.

Can the Secretary of State inform the House whether any information has been passed to Adam Werritty concerning the legal case involving Porton Capital and 3M?

As far as I am aware, the only information has come from Porton Capital’s lawyers, who sent a clarification following the meeting in Dubai to say that the account of the meeting given by Mr Boulter was incorrect. The lawyers accepted, on the legal case that Porton Capital faced with 3M, that none of the accusations made by Mr Boulter were correct, and no confidential information was given.

I want to place on record my support for the Secretary of State. There is no one I would rather have going in to bat for our armed forces and our country when it comes to the difficult issues in his in-tray. Can he assure me and the House that the issues in his statement will not detract from the way that he deals with the other issues in his in-tray, and particularly our immediate opportunities to get our allies to pull more weight?

It would be disingenuous of me to say to the House that being confronted, as some of my other colleagues have been, by a non-stop bombardment from the media, day in, day out, and the effect that that has on our families, does not in some way make it more difficult to get on with our daily work. I thank my hon. Friend for her comments, and say to her that when we are confronted with these situations, we sometimes find unexpected resilience.

May I clarify that the Secretary of State has told the House today that his officials were, on his instructions, routinely giving out details of his ministerial diary to Adam Werritty, who then passed on that information to the people sat next to him at a dinner table in Dubai? Is that, in essence, what he has told the House today?

The hon. Gentleman will see, when he looks at the official record, that that is not what I said. I was perfectly capable, without officials, of telling any of my friends where I would be, if I wanted to meet up with them. We have to be very clear—the permanent secretary is clear about this in her report today—that it has to be understood by the civil service that it does not give out to anybody details of ministerial diaries unless that is personally sanctioned by a Minister.

I strongly echo the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Committee and others: British servicemen and women are daily risking their lives in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan, and they will be looking in bewilderment at the priorities of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition. Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that he will not allow smear, innuendo, and lack of substance on the part of the Opposition to distract him from the important business of his job?

When these stories began to appear in earnest last Wednesday during our party conference, I faced the option of trying to stay and deal with immediate issues or attending the NATO ministerial in Brussels and going on to the planned visit in Libya to Tripoli and Misrata. Had I decided to cancel any part of that official programme because of what was happening domestically and politically in the United Kingdom, it would have sent the wrong signal, not only in this country, but to our allies and to those who are fighting for us overseas.

Returning to the subject of the business cards that said that Mr Werritty was the adviser to the Secretary of State, and which the Sri Lankans believed were true, will the Secretary of State confirm that those business cards were known to him before he asked for them not to be used in June, and will he say whether they were funded from his parliamentary expenses or from Ministry of Defence expenditure?

I was first aware of them in June, when I saw them for the first time. I commented that it was inappropriate for a portcullis to be used on a private business card and that it was not appropriate for anyone to say that they were an adviser to the Secretary of State. At that point, I made it very clear that they should be withdrawn and not used again. They were funded privately, and have nothing to do with public or, indeed, my money.

May I commend my right hon. Friend on not changing his programme, and on going to visit our armed forces abroad, when it must have been tempting for him to come home immediately, given what was happening here? I have listened carefully to what he said today, and I personally am very satisfied. May I advise him to go back to his job, which is looking after our armed forces, who are in combat in two operational theatres? That is what he must concentrate on now.

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I intend to concentrate very much on those issues, which remain at the top of my in-tray. As I said, we in the House understand that those outside have legitimate concerns and that they have a right for them to be addressed, and I think that the correct way to do so is for the Cabinet Secretary to continue the investigation begun by the permanent secretary. I can only reiterate my willingness to co-operate in every way that I possibly can with that investigation.

What was the perfectly innocent explanation offered up by Mr Werritty when the Secretary of State had to confront him about touting around false business cards?

He—Mr Werritty—accepted that he should not have done so, and I think that with hindsight, he would think twice about doing so. Having made that clear, he told me that he would get new business cards, not use those ones again, and he accepted that what he had done was wrong.

May I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State today and his apology? It is clear that some errors have been made, and it is quite right that the Cabinet Secretary should look into those matters. However, it is also clear that there was no breach of security, and I assure the Secretary of State that he retains not only my support but the support of these Government Benches?

The permanent secretary makes it clear that at no time was Mr Werritty given access to confidential information or any security information to which he should not be given access; and that no documents or briefings were given. I am afraid that these accusations that national security was breached, which is probably the most serious accusation that could be thrown at any Government Minister, are utterly baseless. If anyone knows of a genuine case where they believe that to have happened, they have a duty to bring it to the Cabinet Secretary. If they do not do so, they should do what is appropriate and not say anything about it at all.

The Secretary of State has told us today that Mr Werritty was present with him on 18 separate occasions on overseas visits, but he has told us that some of those were family holidays. I think we could all accept that. I have done a quick mental calculation. Since May 2010 I have had two family holidays. Could the Secretary of State clarify for us how many of those occasions were family holidays and how many were official visits?

There were a number of different categories, as I said. Some of them were overseas visits where I was there purely on a defence basis. Some were conferences, for example, where I may have been speaking and Mr Werritty might have been a delegate. Some were long weekends when my wife and I were abroad. Some were longer family holidays. One was a skiing holiday. We need to understand that Ministers have downtime on visits. In particular, when we have long overseas visits, we try to manage our political time, our party political time often, and our personal time. It is unreasonable to think that we should not have any private time at all.

I would also like to put on the record my support for my right hon. Friend. The way that he has come to the House today, with honesty and courage, to make his statement without any pressure from elsewhere has been excellent. Given where we are, with our troops in action all over the world and with the challenges that we face, it is time that we move on from this and concentrate on the job in hand.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for much of the help that he has given me in recent days. I finally say this: where there are serious issues of probity to be dealt with, we need to deal with them in an open and transparent manner. I hope I have helped with that process today, but I shall continue to co-operate with the Cabinet Secretary in doing so. However, there is an equal duty on those who have genuine allegations of wrongdoing to make that they bring them into the public domain. When we get sniping from the sidelines and innuendo, it does nothing to improve the health of our political process. I hope that if those exist who have such accusations, they bring them forward. I will be very ready to give my explanation, but what I think is unacceptable is this constant sniping and undermining without, it appears, genuine substance.