Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi was guilty of only a “minor” breach of the ministerial code in relation to a trip to Pakistan with a business partner, the Prime Minister’s adviser on ministerial interests ruled last night.
Sir Alex Allan said Lady Warsi, from Dewsbury, accepted that she should have informed officials of her relationship with Abid Hussain – a second cousin of her husband – and had already issued an apology.
David Cameron said he was satisfied that Sir Alex’s report found that she did not use her office for any personal financial gain.
Sir Alex said that when he interviewed Lady Warsi a number of “related issues” arose – including her wish for clearer guidance on travelling with spouses.
“Baroness Warsi’s office was clearly stretched when it came to handling arrangements for overseas travel, especially given that her overseas visits tend to involve issues and arrangements which are out of the ordinary for regular departmental ministers,” he said.
“I therefore recommend that the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Office should discuss and agree arrangements for providing advice and support to Baroness Warsi in relation to the ministerial code.”
Lady Warsi said in a statement: “I have always maintained that I have never misused my ministerial office for personal or financial gain.
“The allegations on this matter were untrue and unsubstantiated and I am pleased that Sir Alex Allan’s report has confirmed that.
“The last month has been a difficult time for me and my family and I am pleased I can now move on from this period and get on with the job that I am privileged to do.”
Mr Cameron referred the case to Sir Alex earlier this month following press reports of a visit she made to Pakistan in July 2010, shortly after she became a minister.
The Prime Minister reaffirmed his support last night for his minister.
He said: “Baroness Warsi is a great asset in building our reputation overseas and representing the British Government abroad in her role as Minister without Portfolio.”
Mr Hussain – who was involved with Lady Warsi and her husband in a restaurant supply firm called Rupert’s Recipes – was among a number of individuals from the UK Pakistani diaspora recommended by Lady Warsi’s office to provide help organising two “outreach” events as part of her programme.
Mr Hussain attended and spoke at both events although he was not part of the official UK delegation and Sir Alex said he did not receive any government funding on the visit for his travel or accommodation.
Sir Alex said he was satisfied that if Lady Warsi had declared her business relationship with Mr Hussain, it would not have been seen as a barrier to him helping to organise the visit.
“Nonetheless,” he said, “she should have been more aware of the perception of a conflict of interest, and the potential criticism which could arise.”
On the same grounds, he said that she should have made officials aware of their business relationship when she became aware that Mr Hussain had been invited to an Eid reception at No 10 in November 2010.
Barnsley MP Michael Dugher, Labour’s Shadow Minister Without Portfolio, said “Sir Alex Allen’s verdict that Baroness Warsi did break the ministerial code is no surprise.
“Nor is the fact that David Cameron has been quick to seize on his words in an attempt to clear her, even though the serious allegations over her House of Lords expenses are still under investigation.
“The real question posed by this affair is why David Cameron is still refusing to refer the much more serious breach of the Code by Jeremy Hunt – who misled Parliament on at least three occasions over the BSkyB bid – to the independent adviser.”