THE Scottish Liberal Democrat peer Lord Steel is facing a disciplinary hearing after telling an inquiry he was aware of abuse by paedophile MP Cyril Smith but did nothing about it.

Deputy UK leader Jo Swinson announced the move on Twitter and called for his suspension.

She said: “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.”

It followed Lord Steel, the former Liberal leader party and Holyrood’s first Presiding Officer, testifying at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse on Wednesday.

He admitted that Smith, a sexual predator who became the Liberal MP for Rochdale in 1972, confessed to him in 1979 about spanking boys at a council hostel he helped set up.

Lord Steel also said Smith admitted holding boys’ testicles for ‘medical examinations’.

The peer said he did nothing about it because the offences had taken place in the 1960s when Smith was a Labour councillor.

He said: “Obviously I disapproved, but it was - as far as I was concerned - past history.”

He added: “It had nothing to do with me.”

The evidence appeared to contradict one of Lord Steel’s previous statements about Smith.

Last year he told BBC Newsnight “nothing had been proved” against Smith, and said it would be wrong to say he was an abuser based on “scurrilous hearsay” and “tittle-tattle”.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “Following his remarks at the Inquiry, the party has begun an investigation into Lord Steel.”

READ MORE: Lord Steel says Cyril Smith confessed to him about spanking boys

Some of Smith’s offences were committed in the 1960s at the Cambridge House Hostel in Rochdale, which he had helped set up when he was Labour councillor in the town.

The police investigated and recommended prosecution but in 1970 the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not a prosecute, a decision the DPP says would not happen today.

In 1979, the allegations were reported in a local paper in Rochdale and reprinted in Private Eye, to which Lord Steel, then Liberal leader, subscribed.

At the time, the party was already reeling form a scandal about its former leader Jeremy Thorpe being accused of trying to have a gay lover killed.

Lord Steel told the inquiry he “accepted the article as presumably correct” and questioned Smith about it shortly after the 1979 general election.

He said: “What I said to him was, ‘What's all this about you in Private Eye?’, and he said, rather to my surprise, ‘It is correct’, that he had been in charge of - or had some supervisory role in a children's hostel, that he'd been investigated by the police, and that they had taken no further action, and that was the end of the story.

“I was just trying to find out whether this was correct or not, and it was.”

Lord Steel suggested the claims were of little interest to him because they were “quite old” and dated from when Smith was a councillor.

He said: “I saw no reason, or no locus, to go back to something that had happened during his time as a councillor in Rochdale.”

He said his opinion was that Smith had been “misusing” his supervisory role at the hostel.

He said he ”had some supervisory role in the hostel as a councillor which entitled him to do these things, which I disagreed with, but, still, that was his view”.

Smith, who at 29-stone was an instantly recognisable public figure in his day, was a Liberal MP from 1972 until his retirement from Parliament in 1992.

He was knighted in 1988 and died at the age of 82 in September 2010.

Asked by Inquiry Counsel Brian Altman QC if he understood, from their conversation, that Smith committed the offences referred to in Private Eye, Lord Steel replied: “I assumed that.”

Asked if that “wasn't that all the more reason to take matters further and hold some form of inquiry”, he said “No, because it was, as I say, before he was an MP, before he was even a member of my party. It had nothing to do with me.”

He said he “never” raised the subject again with Smith.

Asked why he didn’t tell the Honours Committee about Smith’s confession before he recommended him for a knighthood, Lord Steel said: “It never occurred to me to tell the Honours Committee about it. It was all, in a sense, in the public domain through Private Eye.

“But what I can say is that, if I'd had any suspicion that these activities had been continuing or he'd been involved in any activity after he'd been an MP, then I certainly would not have recommended him for a knighthood. That would have been my natural instinct.”

Asked if he ought to have asked Smith about it before recommending him for a knighthood, Lord Steel said : “No, I don’t think so.”

Asked why he had referred to “scurrilous hearsay” and “tittle-tattle” in last year’s Newsnight interview despite the confession, Lord Steel said he had been thinking of contemporary events in 2018 and a 2014 book by former Labour MP Simon Danczuk about Smith.

Lord Steel, 80, said he had "nothing to add" to his written and oral testimony.

He also said he had not been suspended, and did not expected to be suspended any time soon.

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie told ITV Border: "The [UK party] office bearers last night agreed that we would instigate an inquiry into this issue, and this evening we're meeting again to consider whether a suspension is apppropriate. But that is a matter for the office bearers of the party."