Total of British soldiers killed in Afghanisatan = 389
Below is the full uncorrected verbatim account of my clash with Gus O'Donnell impeded by the Committee Chair and MP Robert Halfon. This morning Halfon's constituency party was named as a recipient of £5,000 from one of the NeoCon backers of Werritty. Halfon declares £22,000 of donations to his party from individuals. He previously was prominent in the Conservative Friends of Israel.
I raised the matter at Business Questions in the Commons today.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Witnesses before a Select Committee have said that the inquiry into the Werritty affair was rushed and inadequate, and possibly in breach of the ministerial code as it was not conducted by the only person who is the enforcer of the code: the independent adviser on ministerial affairs. As the inquiry was conducted for reasons of political expediency to avoid embarrassment for the Government, and as new evidence is available, should we not have a full legitimate inquiry conducted by the only person authorised to undertake it: Sir Philip Mawer?
Sir George Young: No, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not intend to cast any aspersions on the person who carried out that inquiry, Sir Gus O’Donnell. It was a full inquiry; it was not rushed, as the hon. Gentleman implied, and I think it brought the matter to a satisfactory resolution.
TMr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House invite the Prime Minister to come to the House to explain why he did not feel the need to declare his land deal with a major Conservative party donor and lobbyist? Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), what is the point of having an independent standards commissioner if his advice is never sought?
Sir George Young: The right hon. Gentleman might have put that question to the previous Prime Minister. On the first issue, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took the necessary advice from those at No. 10, and that advice was that he did not have to register that particular piece of property. The information is in the public domain anyway because of the Land Registry.
Publc Admininstration Committee 24/11/2011
Q<365> <Paul Flynn:> May I personally thank you for your unfailing courtesy and help over the years that I have been on this Committee? You have occasionally had courtesy back from us, too; that is a bit uncharacteristic from this group of people. Possibly your abiding legacy will be your contribution to promoting the ethos of the Civil Service—civil service as a job that has rewards and responsibilities above what a commercial job would offer. We wish you well if you do retire.
The Civil Service code states: “It is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary…to enforce the Code.” Was your investigation into a possible breach of the code itself a breach of the code?
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> What I was doing was looking at the facts—
Q<366> <Paul Flynn:> May I come back to it? The code goes on to say—if you want the rest of it––that if a matter warrants further investigation, the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister should “refer the matter to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests.” He exists; he is still is around. Why wasn’t it?
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> What I would have done when I was looking at the facts—I was trying to establish whether there was anything to this—would have been to hand the material over and say to the Prime Minister, “You now need to get this investigated.” We just got overtaken by events along the way.
Q<367> <Paul Flynn:> Was it not a quick fix done for political reasons, as has been suggested by two of our witnesses? If Philip Mawer had taken it over, the whole thing would have rumbled on for months. It was convenient for you to do a quick job on this to get it out of the way, dead and buried, so that it did not embarrass the Government.
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> I do not think so. It was clear from what the Secretary of State himself had said, and it was backed up in my report, that there was a clear breach of the ministerial code. The Secretary of State took responsibility for that and resigned. If you had said, “Right, we want a full, lengthy investigation into all these issues,” what would the Secretary of State have done? In the past—in the Shahid Malik case, for example—the Minister was suspended. Would you have wanted a long period of having the Secretary of State for Defence suspended? I just do not think that would have been good for government.
Q<368> <Paul Flynn:> What I want is for the full truth of this to come out, so that we can plan to ensure that some of the activities that are alleged to have been going on, and may have happened, will not take place in future. That is our main goal. Will Sir Philip Mawer have a look at this again? Will he continue the investigation and look at the loose ends that remain?
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> In a sense, we feel that this has covered the ground.
Q<369> <Paul Flynn:> Okay. Matthew Gould has been the subject of a very serious complaint from two of my constituents, Pippa Bartolotti and Joyce Giblin. When they were briefly imprisoned in Israel, they met the ambassador, and they strongly believe—it is nothing to do with this case at all—that he was serving the interest of the Israeli Government, and not the interests of two British citizens. This has been the subject of correspondence.
In your report, you suggest that there were two meetings between the ambassador and Werritty and Liam Fox. Questions and letters have proved that, in fact, six such meetings took place. There are a number of issues around this. I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories, but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran, in the service. Werritty is a self-proclaimed—
<Robert Halfon:> Point of order, Chairman. What is the point of this?
<Paul Flynn:> Let me get to it. Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran.
<Chair:> I have to take a point of order.
<Robert Halfon:> Mr Flynn is implying that the British ambassador to Israel is working for a foreign power, which is out of order.
<Paul Flynn:> I quote the Daily Mail: “Mr Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran and has made several visits. He has also met senior Israeli officials, leading to accusations”—not from me, from the Daily Mail—“that he was close to the country’s secret service, Mossad.” There may be nothing in that, but that appeared in a national newspaper.
<Chair:> I am going to rule on a point of order. Mr Flynn has made it clear that there may be nothing in these allegations, but it is important to have put it on the record. Be careful how you phrase questions.
<Paul Flynn:> Indeed. The two worst decisions taken by Parliament in my 25 years were the invasion of Iraq—joining Bush’s war in Iraq—and the invasion of Helmand province. We know now that there were things going on in the background while that built up to these mistakes. The charge in this case is that Werritty was the servant of neo-con people in America, who take an aggressive view on Iran. They want to foment a war in Iran in the same way as in the early years, there was another—
<Chair:> Order. I must ask you to move to a question that is relevant to the inquiry.
Q<370> <Paul Flynn:> Okay. The question is, are you satisfied that you missed out on the extra four meetings that took place, and does this not mean that those meetings should have been investigated because of the nature of Mr Werritty’s interests?
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> I think if you look at some of those meetings, some people are referring to meetings that took place before the election.
Q<371> <Paul Flynn:> Indeed, which is even more worrying.
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> I am afraid they were not the subject—what members of the Opposition do is not something that the Cabinet Secretary should look into. It is not relevant.
<Paul Flynn:> But these meetings were held—
<Chair:> Mr Flynn, would you let him answer please?
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> I really do not think that was within my context, because they were not Ministers of the Government and what they were up to was not something I should get into at all.
<Chair:> Final question, Mr Flynn.
Q<372> <Paul Flynn:> No, it is not a final question. I am not going to be silenced by you, Chairman; I have important things to raise. I have stayed silent throughout this meeting so far.
You state in the report—on the meeting held between Gould, Fox and Werritty, on 6 February, in Tel Aviv—that there was a general discussion of international affairs over a private dinner with senior Israelis. The UK ambassador was present. Are you following the line taken by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who says that he can eat with lobbyists or people applying to his Department because, on occasions, he eats privately, and on other occasions he eats ministerially? Are you accepting the idea? It is possibly a source of great national interest—the eating habits of their Secretary of State. It appears that he might well have a number of stomachs, it has been suggested, if he can divide his time this way. It does seem to be a way of getting round the ministerial code, if people can announce that what they are doing is private rather than ministerial.
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> The important point here was that, when the Secretary of State had that meeting, he had an official with him—namely, in this case, the ambassador. That is very important, and I should stress that I would expect our ambassador in Israel to have contact with Mossad. That will be part of his job. It is totally natural, and I do not think that you should infer anything from that about the individual’s biases. That is what ambassadors do. Our ambassador in Pakistan will have exactly the same set of wide contacts.
Q<373> <Paul Flynn:> I have good reason, as I said, from constituency matters, to be unhappy about the ambassador. Other criticisms have been made about the ambassador; he is unique in some ways in the role he is performing. There have been suggestions that he is too close to a foreign power.
<Robert Halfon:> On a point of order, Chair, this is not about the ambassador to Israel. This is supposed to be about the Werritty affair.
<Paul Flynn:> It is absolutely crucial to this report. If neo-cons such as yourself, Robert, are plotting a war in Iran, we should know about it.
<Chair:> Order. I think the line of questioning is very involved. I have given you quite a lot of time, Mr Flynn. If you have further inquiries to make of this, they could be pursued in correspondence. May I ask you to ask one final question before we move on?
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> One thing I would stress: we are talking about the ambassador and I think he has a right of reply. Mr Chairman, I know there is an interesting question of words regarding Head of the Civil Service versus Head of the Home Civil Service, but this is the Diplomatic Service, not the Civil Service.
Q<374> <Chair:> So he is not in your jurisdiction at all.
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> No.
Q<375> <Paul Flynn:> But you are happy that your report is final; it does not need to go the manager it would have gone to originally, and that is the end of the affair. Is that your view?
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> As I said, some issues arose where I wanted to be sure that what the Secretary of State was doing had been discussed with the Foreign Secretary. I felt reassured by what the Foreign Secretary told me.
Q<376> <Chair:> I think what Mr Flynn is asking is that your report and the affair raise other issues, but you are saying that that does not fall within the remit of your report and that, indeed, the conduct of an ambassador does not fall within your remit at all.
<Sir Gus O'Donnell:> That is absolutely correct.
<Paul Flynn:> The charge laid by Lord Turnbull in his evidence with regard to Dr Fox and the ministerial code was his failure to observe collective responsibility, in that case about Sri Lanka. Isn’t the same charge there about our policies to Iran and Israel?
<Chair:> We have dealt with that, Mr Flynn.
<Paul Flynn:> We haven’t dealt with it as far as it applies—
<Chair:> Mr Flynn, we are moving on.
<Paul Flynn:> You may well move on, but I remain very unhappy about the fact that you will not allow me to finish the questioning I wanted to give on a matter of great importance.