BRIGHTON - Veteran Lib Dem peer Baroness Williams, the darling of the party, has criticised Nick Clegg's decision to sack three ministers in the recent cabinet reshuffle.

Addressing a fringe meeting at the Lib Dem annual conference in Brighton on Tuesday, Williams said she did not understand why health minster Paul Burstow, education minister Sarah Teather and defence minister Nick Harvey had lost their jobs.

"I wouldn't like to see this conference end without paying full tribute to three ministers who have left the government although they have been brilliant and have made huge contribution," she said. "I wasn't very happy with the reshuffle."

"Nick Harvey was greatly admired by the Armed Forces, I still don't understand why he went, but go he did. I would have thought defence could do with his judgement and balance," she said.

Williams said Burstow had been "steadfast" in protecting the NHS and Teather had seen herself carrying out the "deepest wishes" of the Lib Dems.

Appearing on the pannel alongside Williams, Lib Dem chief secretary Danny Alexander (who kept his job in the reshuffle) paid tribute to the departed ministers but avoided criticising their removal.

He also praised the former communities minister Andrew Stunnell who he said had been the Lib Dems "secret weapon" in the coalition negotiations with the Tories.

But it was another sort of weapon that was playing on Williams' mind. It was reported earlier this month that he told friends he was fired to allow Nick Clegg to agree to a potential Israeli-US strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Williams told Lib Dem activists that she was "dead scared" that there was a "growing acceptance" in the United States that there would be a strike against Iran.

"I think we absolutely have to do desperately and necessary to work very hard to see if we can get some security guarantee in the middle east," she said.