Norman Lamb apologises to Tim Farron in Lib Dem polling row
Norman Lamb has said he has apologised to Lib Dem leadership rival Tim Farron over the conduct of two of his aides in a row over private polling.
The staff quit amid reports that party members were asked questions about issues related to Mr Farron's faith.
Mr Lamb told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme he was upset by their "unacceptable" behaviour.
Mr Farron urged the party to move on and said it was not incompatible for a "Christian to lead a liberal party".
The issue was raised as the two men faced questions from the public on the BBC show.
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Mr Lamb, the MP for North Norfolk and former care minister, is running against Tim Farron, former party president, for the Lib Dem leadership following the resignation of Nick Clegg after the party's election drubbing.
The row emerged at the weekend after the party said it was looking into allegations that private polling conducted by Mr Lamb's team may have breached data protection rules and was considering referring the matter to the information commissioner.
The two aides resigned after party members claim they were called by someone they believed to be from Lib Dem HQ rather than Mr Lamb's personal team and reportedly asked questions about the candidates' stances on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Appearing on the Victoria Derbyshire show, Mr Lamb said he did not condone the actions of the two aides and said they would play no further part in the campaign.
"They should not have done it and as soon as I saw Tim I apologised to him," he said. "I don't want the campaign to be fought in this way - this campaign has to be about ideas and our competing merits".
Mr Farron said he accepted his colleague's apology and said "let's just move on".
Pressed on his views on abortion, Mr Farron said that he supported a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy in line with the current law but suggested that every time this happened, it was a "tragedy".
"I am not saying it should be illegal. I am saying it is always a tragedy... when anyone is in a situation where they feel they need one."
He added: "The point that is being made here and what tends to be landed by those folks who Norman has now expelled from his team was 'is it compatible for anybody to lead a Liberal Party and be a Christian".
But Mr Lamb, who previously told the studio audience he was an agnostic and "did not have any faith", intervened to say this "was not the point". He added: "It is about the particular issue about abortion."
Mr Farron used the example of Charles Kennedy's personal faith to suggest it was possible to lead the Lib Dems as a committed Christian.
Both men defended the party's decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives and also refused to rule out entering another coalition despite the party's disastrous election result.
Tim Farron said he would seek a "guarantee" of electoral reform before joining a coalition. He said "history would be kind to Nick Clegg" and he did not agree with those who believed being in power was "grubby".
"If you want to change the world, then you have to come first."
The party needed "to re-establish its integrity in a big way", he said, by focusing on issues that differentiated them from their opponents such as support for immigration, public housing and action to tackle climate change.
However, he said it was "not inevitable" that the party would survive.
Mr Lamb said the party had made "stupid mistakes" in office, such as over tuition fees, and had acted as "novices" in comparison to their "ruthless" Conservatives counterparts and had made "stupid mistakes", such as pledging to oppose any rise in tuition fees.
"Once you lose the trust of people, they will stop listening to you," he said.
But he said he was proud that they had put the country first by agreeing to "get their hands dirty" and was proud of the contribution that the party had made in areas such as education and mental health.