Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has defended himself for taking a skiing holiday as UK troops prepare for military action in Iraq.
Hoon took a 'short break'
Mr Hoon said it was the first time off he had taken, including weekends, since the Christmas recess and added that his children were off school for half-term.
He declined to say where he had been but stressed that he had been in regular contact with his office "as always" and attacked the way tabloid journalists had tried to trace him.
Author and military analyst John Nichol, who was imprisoned and
beaten by the Iraqis in the 1991 Gulf War, said British troops in Kuwait would be unimpressed by Mr Hoon's response.
"That will get an icy reception from servicemen and women who haven't had a day off for months, or any prospect of having one for the foreseeable future, and who are also laying their lives on the line."
'On the ball'
Mr Hoon said he would be asking the troops he met on this three-day visit to the Gulf what they thought of his holiday decision.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I believe that they would understand the importance of all ministers... having some private life and having some private time with their children and with their families and that is all that I did."
Mr Hoon said he did regret the way the holiday was reported - "and indeed some of the means used by tabloid journalists to secure information".
One journalist had contacted his elderly parents and suggested there was an urgent telegram for him, he said.
It's a matter of great regret that tabloid journalists do not respect elderly people's privacy
"It's a matter of great regret that tabloid journalists do not respect elderly people's privacy," he added.
Earlier, Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, said Mr Hoon should have spent his recess visiting the troops, rather than going skiing.
However Major-General Peter Martin, ex-Colonel of the Cheshire Regiment, supported Hoon, saying:
"If he wants to be certain of being absolutely on the ball when the balloon goes up - if it does - it's as well he gets a rest now."
Earlier Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led the 7th Armoured Brigade 'Desert Rats' in the 1991 Gulf War, told the Mail on Sunday: "I wonder what message it sends to Saddam Hussein?
"I am amazed that the minister in charge should take a holiday just as men are preparing to risk their lives."
But the Sunday Mirror quoted Mr Hoon's mother-in-law as saying: "He is in desperate need of a break, yes, my goodness gracious me. He is very tired."
Mr Hoon was reported to have travelled with his wife and children to the ski resort of Chamonix, in the French Alps.
He told BBC Radio Nottingham: "I spent a couple of days with my family away from home. I was in regular contact with the office as I always am.
"I think it is fair to say that this is the first day that I have had off in that sense - including Saturdays or Sundays - since the Christmas recess.
British military had leave cancelled
"It is the parliamentary recess. I am not required to be in Parliament and it's half-term, when my children are away from school.
"I decided it was in their interests that I should spend some time with them - a very short time as it turned out."
After returning from his holiday, Mr Hoon left for Kuwait as part of his tour of key allies in the Gulf.
Mr Hoon will also travel to Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates during the three-day trip, holding talks with their senior ministers.