Sir Cyril Smith

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last night led tributes to "larger-than-life" politician Sir Cyril Smith, who has died at the age of 82.

Mr Clegg said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of the death of Sir Cyril, who served as the Liberal and later Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale between 1972 and 1992.

He praised the veteran figure, who was famous for his distinctive appearance and frequent TV appearances in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sir Cyril, who was said to have weighed 29 stone at his heaviest, could be disdainful of Westminster, once branding Parliament as "the longest running farce in the West End".

The lifelong bachelor was made an MBE for his public services in 1966 and was knighted in 1988.

Mr Clegg said: "Cyril Smith was a larger-than-life character and one of the most recognisable and likeable politicians of his day.

"Everybody in Rochdale knew him, not only as their MP but also as a friend. He was a true Liberal, dedicated to his constituency, always showing great passion and determination.

"Cyril was a colourful politician who kept the flame of Liberalism alive when the party was much smaller than it is today.

"Rochdale and Britain have sadly lost one of their great MPs, and I think we can safely say there will never be an MP quite like Cyril Smith again."

Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: "Cyril Smith was a one-off in British politics. His views were always forthright and he did not suffer fools gladly.

"His service to the Liberal cause was immense and whilst in recent years he suffered from poor health, his commitment was as robust as ever."

Lord Steel of Aikwood, a former leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until 1988, said Sir Cyril was a "warm-hearted" colleague, adding: "He was first and foremost Mr Rochdale.

"His by-election victory picked up the Liberal Party from the disastrous 1970 election when we had only six seats and started our recovery."

Famously outspoken with a typical Northern bluntness, Sir Cyril never made it to the leadership of his party.

During a political career spanning decades he changed parties three times and in 1976 suggested the formation of a completely new Centre party.

From humble beginnings in Rochdale he won a scholarship to Rochdale Grammar School for Boys, honing his debating skills at the local Unitarian Church.

Elected to Parliament in 1972 in a spectacular landslide victory over Labour in his home town, he began his resolutely independent career at Westminster.