The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR NORMAN PETER LAMB (sworn).

  • First of all, Mr Lamb, your full name, please.

  • Norman Peter Lamb. I should just correct you: I am not a member of the Privy Council, it is just "Honourable". I don't mind the promotion, but ...

  • Yes, I have had this problem throughout the Inquiry. Everybody thinks I am a peer of the realm even now.

  • Mr Lamb, you have kindly provided us with a witness statement dated 20 June. Are you content to adopt this as your sworn testimony to the Inquiry?

  • Can we just establish, first of all, who you are. You are a Member of Parliament for Norfolk. You are currently parliamentary undersecretary of state in the Department of Business Innovation and Skills. You have been in that position since 3 February 2012, so for the events with which we are concerned, you weren't obviously in that position, but you were then assistant government whip and chief parliamentary and political adviser to Mr Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister; is that right?

  • You have come here to tell us about two meetings. The first place took on 10 June 2010, between you and Mr Michel. First of all, had you met Mr Michel before?

  • As your statement suggests, it was at his invitation that the first meeting took place; is that right?

  • Yes. He asked to meet with me and I consulted one or two people and felt it was appropriate to meet with him. I met with journalists in that job and occasionally with people -- other representatives of the media, so I felt it was appropriate to meet with him. But there was no agenda before the meeting.

  • The first meeting took place at Portcullis House at Westminster, over a cup of tea or coffee, presumably; is that right?

  • Can you tell us, first of all, approximately how long it took?

  • Well, I'm afraid it is a fairly vague recollection, but about half an hour. It wasn't a long meeting.

  • And aside from one particular matter, which is BskyB, can you remember in general terms what else was discussed?

  • This was the early days of the coalition. He gave an impression of being quite positive about the coalition. He was a very charming individual, but it was a general discussion and I don't have any recollection about other matters that were discussed beyond that.

  • To be clear, was the BskyB issue, if I can put it in those more neutral terms, discussed at that first meeting?

  • My recollection is that it was discussed in general terms. I think it was five days or so before the formal announcement. I certainly have no recollection of him making any suggestion that the announcement was imminent, but in general terms, I am quite sure it was discussed.

  • Was it discussed more in terms of an idea rather than the particular bid?

  • I think it was -- again, from recollection, it was that he put the general case for it being allowed, whenever it was to happen.

  • Mr Michel's evidence, as I am sure you are aware, is that he didn't know that the bid was going to be announced until the day before, which was 14 June, which was four days after --

  • Can you remember whether there was any discussion about Dr Cable or anybody else possessing quasi-judicial functions at that first meeting?

  • Not that I recall, no.

  • So your evidence is a discussion in general terms about a bid which may or may not be announced at some stage in the future; is that the gist of it?

  • Yes. My recollection is that it was in the public domain that this might happen at some stage and, as I say, there was a general discussion about the case for it, as it were. But beyond that, I don't really recall anything else from that meeting.

  • Can we move forward, then, to the second meeting, 27 October.

  • At that stage, of course, the bid had been announced. Dr Cable, as secretary of state, had the relevant quasi-judicial duties to decide on the bid. At whose invitation did this second meeting take place?

  • Again, it was at Fred Michel's request. I think that it was words to the effect that there were some things he wanted to discuss with me and would I be prepared to meet with him and I said I was.

  • Did those things include the BskyB bid?

  • Well, the invitation, the request to meet, didn't refer to it. But when we got to the meeting, yes, he did raise the bid.

  • Was this likewise at Portcullis House?

  • Now, we know that you have very recently found a note which was taken of that meeting?

  • Can we understand a number of things in relation to that note. It is dated Wednesday 27 October. First of all, who took the note?

  • I wrote the note. It is my own handwriting. I should just explain -- I mean, this was, as I say, the early days of the coalition. It was the first coalition in the post-war period, it was quite an interesting time, and I was making notes of some of the more interesting things that were happening during that period, not, I have to say, particularly consistently, because my workload was enormous, but -- and after a period of time, I think about the end of 2010, I gave up on it, because there just was no time to maintain it. But I remembered that there may be a note of this particular meeting and I asked my wife -- I texted my wife to ask her if she could look through the pile of notes and she came up with this note and sent it through to me.

  • Yes. So you texted your wife very recently?

  • May I ask you this: why didn't you go through that thought process earlier, for example when you were preparing your witness statement?

  • Well, I mean, the truth is that I am four months into a ministerial position, as you indicated. We have a bill starting in committee today and I have been -- I have had a very, very heavy workload and my mind hasn't been -- has been on a lot of other things as well. But I felt -- when I remembered this, I just felt I had to check and I had to get the relevant paperwork to the Inquiry, given that it was obviously relevant to your considerations.

  • Yes, and where did your wife find this note?

  • At home, in the pile of notes that I had collated at the time.

  • I am going to invite you just to read out -- we have a transcript, but --

  • Just before you do, do I understand this note was written immediately after the meeting or during the meeting or what?

  • No, not during the meeting.

  • What I tried to do was at the end of the day, often late at night, to write out notes of interesting things that had happened. I can't confirm that it was definitely the same day, but it would have been within days of the meeting taking place.

  • The standard question one used to ask in prosecution cases was: was the incident still fresh in your memory when you made the note?

  • It was, and I was a solicitor until I --

  • So you understand the question only two well.

  • It is quite clear that it was written afterwards because of a word in the second line.

  • Right. Shall I -- do you want me to read through it?

  • Yes, just read it out for us, Mr Lamb.

  • "Wednesday 27 October, 9.00 meeting. Fred Michel, News International. An extraordinary encounter. FM is very charming. He tells me News Int papers will land on VC's desk in next two weeks. They are certain there are no grounds for referral. They realise the political pressures. He wants things to run smoothly. They have been supportive of the coalition but if it goes the wrong way, he is worried about the implications. It was brazen. VC refers case to Ofcom -- they turn nasty. Then he talked about AV [this was obviously the run-up to the AV referendum campaign] -- how the Sun might help the debate -- use of good graphics to get across case.

    "James M has met Nick -- he could be receptive to case. Times will give it fair hearing. So refer case and implication was clear. News Int turn against coalition and AV."

  • Can I ask you, please, to search your recollection as best you can, and when we get to the -- you read out the heart of this:

    "... but if it goes the wrong way, he is worried about the implications. It was brazen. VC refers the case to Ofcom, they turn nasty."

    Can you remember what Mr Michel said exactly?

  • No, I can't remember the precise words used. All I can say is that I left that meeting with a very clear understanding that (a) they had tried to be helpful in the period since the election through their newspapers but that if things went the wrong way in terms of the actions that Vince Cable took exercising his responsibility, then he was concerned that things could change, and I took that to mean very clearly that the positive coverage that they had -- he said that they had given might change.

  • And there is also the suggestion, of course, that if things went the right way then they might be able to help you in certain ways?

  • Can I ask you, please, about what happened fairly shortly thereafter. Your statement refers to a discussion you had with Mr Clegg but I think there is a further note, Mr Lamb, is that right, evidencing a conversation you had with the Deputy Prime Minister on 2 November?

  • We can put that up on the screen as well. You have only very recently found it. I am going to ask you to read this one out for us in the same way you read out the previous one.

  • "Later, discussion with Nick on several issues. He is horrified what I tell him of Fred Michel's meeting last week re News International. We will lose the only papers who have been positive."

    That is Tuesday 2 November.

  • Can you remember whether you had a similar discussion with Dr Cable? Paragraph 7 of your statement suggests you did, but I want to try and pin you down to the date, if possible, and what you might have said.

  • I can't remember the date, and my wife has looked for any note of the meeting and hasn't found any. It was a very brief meeting in the House of Commons and I can't remember the date. It was, I think, almost certainly in the fortnight after my meeting with Fred Michel. I just, in very briefly terms, told him that -- of what had happened and expressed my concern about it.

  • Did you ever use the expression "done over" to anyone in this context?

  • No. I mean, it is not the sort of way I would have put it. I mean, you know, I was -- I was very much aware throughout of the quasi-judicial duty that Vince Cable was under and I just reported to him as factually as I could what had happened, as I did to the Deputy Prime Minister.

  • Because there is a piece in the Guardian, which I know you have seen, by Mr Porter and Mr Helm, dated 23 July -- it is under tab 3 of this small bundle we prepared for you -- which refers to a campaign of bullying. Third paragraph:

    "According to one account from a senior party figure, a Cabinet minister was told that if the Cabinet did not do as NI wanted, the Lib Dems would be 'done over' by the Murdoch papers."

    First of all, were you the source for this article?

  • Do you recognise the phraseology "the Lib Dems would be 'done over' by the Murdoch papers"?

  • No, I hadn't seen that expression until the secretary of state gave his evidence to the Inquiry a few weeks ago and then I saw it in the newspaper article. I don't think I had even -- I have no recollection of seeing this newspaper article at the time. I mean, I may have seen it, but I have no recollection of it.

  • Obviously, the material is (inaudible) you are not a Cabinet minister, but I am not sure you can take that third paragraph any further, can you?

  • No, I can't. And you are right; I am not a Cabinet minister.

  • I have been asked to put this to you, Mr Lamb: why were you so late, if I can put it in these terms, in coming forward with this evidence?

  • Well, I have been thinking for some time about whether I should contact the inquiry. I have been thinking over in my mind, at a time, as I say, when I have been trying to get to grips with new ministerial responsibilities. When Vince Cable gave his evidence, I felt I had to tell the story of what happened. In a sense, you were left with a gap, you were left with a lack of clarity and I felt it was important that you got that full story.

  • I am also asked to put to you that Mr Michel's position remains that he made no express or implied threat to you and moreover did not link the BskyB bid with coverage of the Lib Dems by News International papers; would you comment on that, please?

  • Well, the note of the meeting is there for all to see. My recollection accords with the note that I wrote soon after that meeting had taken place, and, as I say, I left the meeting with no doubt about the implication of what he was saying to me.

  • Those are all the questions I have, Mr Lamb. I don't know whether there will be --

  • Mr Lamb, thank you very much indeed for giving us the time.

  • (The witness withdrew from the witness box)

  • I wanted to say something in light of Mr Lamb's evidence.

    It's simply this: we received Mr Lamb's note of the meeting on 21 October whilst the Inquiry was sitting at 10.30 this morning. The note of his conversation with Mr Clegg we saw on the screen for the first time during his evidence. In those circumstances, we haven't had an opportunity to obtain full instructions.

  • I understand that, Mr Rhodri Davies, and I am sorry about that. You have it in advance of me in some regards.

  • If Mr Michel wants to put in a further statement, he is at absolute liberty to do so.

  • Thank you, sir. I haven't seen him. I just wanted to explain why -- and as the Inquiry has just heard, Mr Michel's position remains that he didn't make any threats of any sort.

  • I understand. I am merely giving him the opportunity if he wishes to avail himself of it, but I understand what you have said.

  • Sir, good afternoon. Our next witness is the right honourable David Mellor QC.