David Steel

From Academic Kids

David Martin Scott Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood KT PC KBE (born March 31, 1938) is a British and Scottish politician and a Liberal Democrat member of the UK House of Lords. He was leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until its 1988 merger with the Social Democratic Party that formed the Liberal Democrats, and was briefly joint interim leader of the "Lib Dems". He was also the first Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, holding that post between 1999 and 2003.

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Sir David Steel, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament 1999-2003

David Steel was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, 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. He first took an active part in Liberal politics at the University of Edinburgh, and after graduating in Law worked for the Scottish Liberal Party and then the BBC before being elected to the House of Commons at the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election of 1965. He represented this seat until 1983, when he became member for Tweedale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, a new constituency covering some of the same territory.

As an MP he was responsible for introducing, as a Private Member's Bill, the Abortion Act 1967 (see Abortion in the United Kingdom). He also became the Liberal Party's spokesman on employment, and in 1970 its Chief Whip.

After the downfall of Jeremy Thorpe, he won the Liberal leadership in 1976, by a wide margin over fellow MP John Pardoe. In 1977, he led the Liberals into the "Lib-Lab Pact" by which they agreed to keep the Labour government in power. The unpopularity of the Labour government rubbed off on the Liberals, and Steel's first election as leader, the 1979 general election, saw a decline in Liberal fortunes.

In 1981, a group of Labour moderates left their party to form the Social Democratic Party. The SDP joined the Liberals in the SDP-Liberal Alliance, an electoral alliance that was so promising in its early days that Steel was able to tell the Liberal Assembly to "prepare for government". After the 1988 merger with the SDP, of which he was the chief proponent, Steel was briefly joint interim leader of the Social and Liberal Democrats (as the new party was at first called), before becoming the party's Foreign Affairs spokesman. He was knighted (KBE) in 1990.

He retired from the House of Commons at the 1997 general election and was made a life peer in the same year. He campaigned for Scottish devolution, and in 1999 was elected to the Scottish Parliament as a Liberal Democrat member for Lothians. He became the first Presiding Officer (speaker) of the Scottish Parliament on May 12, 1999. In this role, he used the style "Sir David Steel", despite his peerage, and had no party allegiance. He stepped down as an MSP when the parliament was dissolved for the 2003 election, but remained as Presiding Officer until he had supervised the election of his successor George Reid on May 7 of that year.

On November 30, 2004, the Queen created Lord Steel of Aikwood a Knight of the Order of the Thistle - the highest honour in Scotland.

Preceded by:
Jo Grimond
Leader of the British Liberal Party
1976-1988
Followed by:
Paddy Ashdown
(Liberal Democrat)
Preceded by:
---
Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament
1999-2003
Followed by:
George Reid
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