Cameron takes dig at Liam Fox over 'leaks'

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David Cameron delivered an apparent dig at Defence Secretary Liam Fox today, saying his department had a "problem" with leaks.

The comments came as the Prime Minister discussed the tough negotiations to reach spending settlements across Whitehall over recent months.

Asked about the leaking of a private letter from Dr Fox in September, in which he warned that proposed cuts to the defence budget were "draconian", Mr Cameron said it had "added to the pressure".

"Ministers stand up for their departments and make the case for their departments. Sometimes they do it orally, sometimes it appears in a letter," Mr Cameron said.

"Regrettably, sometimes it appears in national newspapers."

He went on: "That department does seem to have had a bit of a problem with leaks, which is worrying when it is the department responsible for security."

But Mr Cameron added: "I don't think it had a huge impact."

Mr Cameron made the remarks as he gave evidence to the powerful House of Commons Liaison Committee.

Dr Fox has always denied leaking the letter to the Daily Telegraph, and launched an official hunt to find the source.

The Prime Minister said the leak of the letter intensified the public pressure the Government was already under over the defence review.

But he insisted it did not "materially" affect the discussions.

"I think the point is that because it was the most difficult area to deal with, there were always going to be more discussions about defence and the trickier process of getting it right than perhaps other departments," Mr Cameron said.

"I mean, leaked letters don't help, I'm not trying to be evasive, they don't help, of course they don't - they add to the public pressures, they mean the meetings you are having are under huge external scrutiny, everyone wants to know what happened after this National Security Council or that National Security Council whereas in a normal week you can have a meeting and no-one's the slightest bit interested.

"So, of course, it adds to the pressure, but I don't think it materially changed what was a genuinely collective discussion."

Asked whether it was a letter "written to be leaked", as former Tory minister Lord Heseltine described it, Mr Cameron said: "It was a letter written to put the view of the Secretary of State about the importance of not making too deep cuts in defence."