David Steel

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Person.png David Steel  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
David Steel.jpg
BornDavid Martin Scott Steel
31 March 1938
Kirkcaldy, Fife
Alma materGeorge Watson's College, University of Edinburgh
ReligionChurch of Scotland
SpouseJudith Steel
Member ofKönigswinter/Speakers, The Other Club
PartyLiberal Democrats
Leader of UK Liberal party, merged with the Social Democratic Party

Employment.png Leader of the Liberal Democrats

In office
3 March 1988 - 16 March 1988

Employment.png Leader of the Liberal Party

In office
7 July 1976 - 16 July 1988
Preceded byJoseph Grimond

Employment.png President of the Liberal International

In office
25 April 1994 - 15 April 1996
Succeeded byFrits Bolkestein

Employment.png Liberal Chief Whip

In office
18 June 1970 - 7 July 1976
Succeeded byCyril Smith

David Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood is a British Liberal Democrat politician who was Leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until its merger with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats. He was president of the Liberal International from 1994 to 1996. He was a member of the House of Lords as a life peer from 1997 to 2020, when he resigned due to a child abuse report.[1]

Early life and education

Steel was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, the son of a Church of Scotland minister also called David Steel, who would later serve as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He was brought up in Scotland and Kenya,[2] followed by the University of Edinburgh, where he first took an active part in Liberal politics.[3] and graduated in Law. Steel was president of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement campaign from 1966 to 1970.[4][5]

Political career

After university, Steel worked for the Scottish Liberal Party and then the BBC before being elected to the House of Commons, just before his 27th birthday, becoming the "Baby of the House".

From 1966 to 1970, Steel was president of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement campaign.[6][7]

As an MP, he was responsible for introducing, as a Private Member's Bill, the Abortion Act 1967, and has argued for greater liberalisation of this legislation in recent years (see Abortion in the United Kingdom).[8] He also became the Liberal Party's spokesman on employment, and in 1970 its Chief Whip.

SDP–Liberal Alliance

In 1981, a group of Labour politicians left their party to form the well-funded Social Democratic Party. They were joined by the former Labour deputy leader, Chancellor and Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, who had previously had discussions with Steel about joining the Liberals. Under Jenkins' leadership, the SDP joined the Liberals in the SDP–Liberal Alliance. [9]

The Alliance secured more than 25% of the vote at the 1983 general election, almost as many votes as Labour. However, its support was spread out across the country and was not concentrated in enough areas to translate into seats under the first past the post system. This left the Alliance with only 23 seats—17 for the Liberals and six for the SDP,[10] but this was more than enough split the vote and hinder a Labour victory, which was the whole point with establishing the SDP.

Steel denounced the British miners' strike of 1984-1985, believing that the trade unionists are only seeking "to extend the Marxist empire" [11]

Shortly afterwards, the former Labour Foreign Secretary David Owen replaced Jenkins as leader of the SDP, and the troubled leadership of the "Two Davids" was inaugurated. The relationship was mercilessly satirised by Spitting Image which portrayed Steel as a squeaky voiced midget, literally in the pocket of Owen. Steel has often stated that he feels this portrayal seriously damaged his image.[12]

Steel was convinced the answer to these difficulties was a single party with a single leader, and was the chief proponent of the 1988 merger between the Liberals and the SDP. He emerged victorious in persuading both parties to accept merger in the teeth of opposition from Owen and radical Liberals such as Michael Meadowcroft, but badly mishandled the issuing of a joint policy document. Steel had often been criticised for a lack of interest in policy, and it appeared he had agreed to the document – drawn up by politically naive SDP advisers – without reading it. His colleagues rejected it immediately and demanded a redraft, fatally wounding his authority.

Steel was briefly joint interim leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats (as the new party was at first called) in the run-up to elections in which he did not stand, before becoming the party's foreign affairs spokesman. In 1989, he accepted an invitation from Italian Liberals to stand for the European Parliament in the 1989 election as a Pan-European gesture. Although not elected, he polled very well.

He became President of the Liberal International in 1994, holding the office until 1996.[13]

Steel retired from the House of Commons at the 1997 general election and was made a life peer as Baron Steel of Aikwood. He was appointed Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in both 2003 and 2004.

Cyril Smith child sex abuse scandal

On 14 March 2019, Steel was suspended by the Liberal Democrats after an admission that discussions he had conducted in 1979 with the then Liberal MP for Rochdale Cyril Smith, at a time when Steel was leader of the Liberal Party, had led him to conclude that Smith had been a sexual abuser of children in the 1960s and that Steel nonetheless failed to instigate any assessment by the party of whether Smith was an on-going risk to children. Richard Scorer, representing victims at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, called for him to be stripped of his peerage.[14] On 14 May 2019, the Liberal Democrats ruled that there were 'no grounds for action' against Steel and reinstated him to party membership.[15]

On 25 February 2020, Steel announced his resignation from the Liberal Democrats and subsequently his position as a member of the House of Lords, after admitting that during his leadership of the Liberal Party he "assumed" that Smith had been a child abuser, and failed to investigate claims made by Private Eye against Smith, dating from before Smith was a party member.[16] This came about after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse accused Steel of an "abdication of responsibility" over allegations against Smith. He retired officially from the House of Lords on 27 March 2020.[17]


Events Participated in

Bilderberg/197722 April 197724 April 1977Imperial Hotel
The 25th Bilderberg, held in Torquay, England.
Bilderberg/197927 April 197929 April 1979Austria
Clubhotel Schloss Weikersdorf
27th Bilderberg, 95 guests, Austria
Bilderberg/198625 April 198627 April 1986Scotland
Gleneagles Hotel
The 34th Bilderberg, 109 participants


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:The Rossing File:The Inside Story of Britain's Secret Contract for Namibian Uraniumpamphlet1980Alun RobertsScandal in the 1970s and 1980s of collusion by successive British governments with the mining conglomerate Rio Tinto to import yellowcake from the Rössing Uranium Mine in Namibia (illegally occupied by apartheid South Africa) in defiance of international law, and leading to the targeting of UN Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson on Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988.
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