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Former Liberal leader David Steel quits House of Lords after damning child abuse inquiry

David Steel (right) and Cyril Smith.
David Steel (right) and Cyril Smith.

Former Liberal leader David Steel has quit the House of Lords after being condemned by a child abuse inquiry for failing to alert authorities about the actions of paedophile MP Cyril Smith.

Lord Steel admitted last year he failed to pass on the allegations against the Rochdale MP even though he believed them to be true, because it was “past history”.

He was initially suspended by the Scottish Lib Dems, but was readmitted after leader Willie Rennie concluded that there were “no grounds for action” against him after an internal investigation.

The former presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament decided to step down today after the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) published a damning report on the saga.

“Lord Steel should have provided leadership. Instead, he abdicated his responsibility. He looked at Cyril Smith not through the lens of child protection but through the lens of political expediency”, the report said.

In a lengthy personal statement, released through a PR firm this afternoon, Lord steel said he now wanted to “a quiet retirement from public life”.

Lord Steel’s statement in full

Former Liberal leader Lord Steel

For the last ten days I have been visiting old friends and projects I have supported over the years in Africa.

Despite poor phone and email reception I have been made aware of press speculation about the IICSA report which I have now been able to read after its publication. I am angered by it as many others will be.

Knowing all I know now, I condemn Cyril Smith’s actions towards children. Children deserve protection from predators, especially those in authority. Dealing with such cases is the IICSA’s legitimate role. I believe in the highest standards of human rights, particularly for young and vulnerable people.

I regret the time spent on pursuing Leon Brittan, Lord Bramall and others, who it is clear had done no wrong. Not having secured a parliamentary scalp, I fear that I have been made a proxy for Cyril Smith.

Nowhere do IICSA explain what powers I was supposed to possess to investigate 14 year old allegations against someone (who at the time of the actions alleged was not even a member of my party), that the police and successive DPPs reviewed with access to all files.

IICSA refused my offer of clarification on my oral testimony to them, which has since been widely reported.

Ex-Liberal leader David Steel accused of ignoring child abuse allegations for ‘political expediency’

Contrary to some reports, at no point did Cyril Smith admit to me the truth of the allegations in the Private Eye report. He admitted that there had been an investigation by police of acts alleged against him whilst he was a councillor in another political party, as was reported. Smith and I did not discuss further what IICSA counsel himself correctly described as “a very very brief conversation” in 1979.

My legal advisers have expressed concern to me that the Inquiry should have delayed my appearance until they had sorted their failed “loop” hearing system for my hearing aids. They are right, and I did not have legal representation when giving evidence to IICSA. I should have asked for a delay myself as the transcript shows, I had difficulty hearing their questions.

Cyril Smith was a well-known MP for Rochdale for 15 years, at the end of which he was granted the then customary knighthood, that having been approved by the Honours Scrutiny Committee, and by PM Margaret Thatcher after again considering the full available information.

That Smith was never a friend of mine is exemplified by his public decision not to speak for any constituency party which had voted for me as leader in 1976.

I have received indications that some in the Liberal Democrat Party wish me suspended and investigated again, despite a previous disciplinary process in Scotland which concluded that no further action was required. I am told that others are threatening to resign if a new investigation is started.

I wish to avoid any such turmoil in my Party and to prevent further distress to my family. I have therefore thanked my local party secretary for their stalwart support through the whole IICSA process, and have informed the local Party that my resignation is with immediate effect.

As to membership of the House of Lords, friends and colleagues including The Lord Speaker are aware that I have been contemplating retirement next month to coincide with the 55th anniversary of my election as an MP. With considerable personal sorrow, and thanks to all I have worked with in the Party and more widely, I have now decided this is what I should do as soon as possible.

My wife has suffered poor health this past year. I shall now stop the weekly travel from Scotland to London and enjoy a quiet retirement from public life.

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