Lord Steel resigns from Lib Dems after inquiry warns of 'abdication of responsibility' on child sexual abuse
Lord David Steel has resigned from the Liberal Democrats and the House of Lords after an independent inquiry accused him of “an abdication of responsibility” on child sexual abuse in Westminster.
In a new report, the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse found both police and political parties “turned a blind eye” to allegations of child sexual abuse connected to Westminster.
The inquiry found Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith and Conservative Sir Peter Morrison were “known to be active in their sexual interest in children” but were never prosecuted.
It also claims Steel, the former leader of the Liberal Party who was also the Scottish Parliament’s first presiding officer, “abdicated his responsibility” on claims of child sexual abuse, with the report warning he “looked at Cyril Smith not through the lens of child protection but through the lens of political expediency”.
Smith stepped down as an MP in 1992 and died in 2010. He faced claims that he abused young boys from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Steel was suspended by the Liberal Democrats last March after admitting to the inquiry he had been aware that Smith was a child abuser but had failed to assess whether he was a risk to children.
He said he had "assumed" allegations against the Rochdale MP were true, but that it was "nothing to do with me".
Steel was then re-instated by the Lib Dems after a probe, saying his "open and honest answers" had been "erroneously reported and taken out of context", which had caused him "great personal distress".
He has now announced his resignation, saying he wanted to avoid causing “turmoil” in the Lib Dems and “prevent further distress to my family”.
The report says: “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… When attending the inquiry, far from recognising the consequences of his inaction, Lord Steel was completely unrepentant.”
“This failure to recognise the risk that Cyril Smith potentially posed to children was an abdication of responsibility by a political leader and an example of a highly placed politician turning a blind eye to something that was potentially troublesome to his party, with no apparent regard for criminal acts which might have occurred or for any victims, past or future.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Cyril Smith’s acts were vile and repugnant and I have nothing but sympathy for those affected.
“This is a powerful report that has lessons for everyone including David Steel, the Liberal Democrats and the wider political sphere.
“It is therefore right that David Steel has decided to resign from the Liberal Democrats and retire from public life including the House of Lords.”
Steel said: “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."