Lord Steel has sought to “clarify” evidence he gave to an inquiry about child abuse allegations against former MP Sir Cyril Smith.
And he warned that “sensationalist headlines” from what he told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) could “distract from the panel’s search of the truth”.
The former Scottish Parliament presiding officer spoke out after the Liberal Democrats yesterday started disciplinary proceedings against him after he told the inquiry a conversation with Smith left him “assuming” the allegations were correct, but the party did not investigate them.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson tweeted: “The party has rightly begun a disciplinary investigation into Lord Steel following his revelations.
“Clearly this is incredibly serious and he should be suspended while this takes place.”
She spoke after Lord Steel denied he had been “hiding his head in the sand” over accusations made against former Rochdale MP Smith.
Lord Steel said he asked the late politician in 1979 about claims that he abused boys at a Rochdale hostel and found they dated back to Smith’s time as a Labour councillor in the 1960s.
He told the inquiry he came away from the conversation with Smith “assuming” he had committed the offences, because he did not deny them.
Lord Steel recalled Smith had told him police had investigated and taken no action.
The IICSA heard no formal inquiry was then held by the Liberal Party into the claims.
On the suggestion that no action was taken then because Lord Steel did not want to get involved in a nasty confrontation with Smith, he told the hearing: “I wouldn’t have been hiding my head in the sand.
“These allegations all related to a period some years before he was even an MP and before he was even a member of the party, therefore it did not seem to me that I had any position in the matter at all.”
Smith, who was an MP for Rochdale between 1972 and 1992, is accused of sexually abusing a number of boys.
Allegations against him found a greater public spotlight after he died in 2010.
Lord Steel’s conversation with Smith was prompted by a story in Private Eye in 1979, which said police had investigated Smith over allegations of abuse against teenagers at the Cambridge House hostel in the town.
Lord Steel told the inquiry: “He accepted the story was correct. Obviously I disapproved, but as far as I was concerned it was past history.”
He added: “He was not an MP at the time. He wasn’t even a member of the party.
“I did not feel I had any locus in it all, other than being a reader of the paper.”
In a statement released yesterday Lord Steel said he wanted to “clarify what happened in 1979” and claimed he had been in “no position to re-open the investigation” into Smith.