As Alton decides to quit ...

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The Independent Online

David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP whose passionate opposition to abortion rendered him semi-detached from his party, announced yesterday that he would not fight the next general election.

The youngest member of the Commons when was elected in 1979, Mr Alton, now 44, put most of the blame for his decision on the "unelected and unaccountable" Boundary Commission which has abolished his Liverpool Mossley Hill constituency.

He said polls showed he would win in two of the new Merseyside seats, but he refused to "play the Boundary Commission's game".

A committed Catholic, Mr Alton's fervour on "pro-life" issues rankled many MPs and caused severe strains with his party leaders.

In 1987 he introduced a Bill to tighten the abortion legislation authored by his then party leader, David Steel, and in 1992 he fell out with Paddy Ashdown, again over abortion.

"It is for me the supreme human rights question," Mr Alton said yesterday. Acknowledging past differences, he stressed that he backed Mr Ashdown's stance on Bosnia and the need for the party to co-operate with Labour.

"Paddy will receive my support between now and the general election," he said, adding that Mr Ashdown was told of his decision about three months ago, when it was agreed to make the announcement after Parliament rose for its summer recess.

During their 1992 spat, Mr Ashdown said Mr Alton's threatened departure, "though sad", would not alter the effectiveness of the Liberal Democrats, as he had played no part in building the party or campaigning for it for four years.

Yesterday, however, Mr Ashdown was more charitable, describing Mr Alton as a "vigorous and effective campaigner" throughout his political career and praising his "key role" in last week's Liberal Democrat victory in the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election.

"David has also established a wide respect beyond Westminster and a moral authority that is respected across party political boundaries. Parliament will be a less interesting and less independent-minded place without David Alton," Mr Ashdown said.

Mr Alton said he was now considering approaches about his future from academia and from campaign groups and charities.

with which he is associated. He intends to remain in the political arena, particularly with the Movement for Christian Democracy which he co-founded in 1990.

"I shall continue to work for a politics based on social concern combined with personal responsibility. I remain deeply critical of the trend towards the politically correct, technocratic politics greased by vested interests which we see across the political spectrum."

The son of a Ford car foreman, Mr Alton was educated in Hornchurch and Liverpool by Franciscans, Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits, and became a teacher, specialising latterly in children with special needs.

He married Dilys Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bell, a speech therapist and anti- abortion lobbyist, in 1988. They have two sons and a daughter.