Frank Doran, Labour MP who campaigned on oil and gas safety after Piper Alpha

Born: April 13, 1949

Died: October 31, 2017

FRANK Doran, who has died aged 68, had two separate spells as a Labour MP; first, from 1987-1992, in Aberdeen South – where he quickly found himself with a high profile because of the Piper Alpha disaster – and then for Aberdeen Central, from 1997 until 2005, and Aberdeen North until his retirement in 2015.

The explosion on the Piper Alpha rig in July 1988 led to the deaths of 167 men and remains the worst offshore tragedy in the oil industry’s history. Doran, who had been rather surprised to win his seat and had been in the job for only a year, found himself unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight. “I spent several years fighting the case mainly for the victims and their families but also for the survivors,” he later said. “It virtually took over my life.”

His doughty campaigning won him many admirers, but it also led to concrete legislative proposals when the Labour leader Neil Kinnock gave him the oil brief, under the shadow energy secretary, a young Tony Blair.

“I did lobby [Blair] a bit,’ he said. “I had become so immersed in the oil and gas industry that it was a great job to have… but the biggest thing was to get things properly sorted for the people who had been most affected. Since then I’ve never moved away from the health and safety aspect.”

On his return to parliament, Doran was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then trade minister, Ian McCartney, during which he worked on the legal aspects of the minimum wage, the social chapter, working time regulation and other aspects of what became the 1999 Employment Rights Act. But he showed no particular ambition for ministerial office, and later claimed that the job he had most enjoyed as an MP, besides representing the interests of his constituents, was becoming chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art.

Frank Doran was born on April 13 1949; his parents Francis and Betty were active in the trades union and Labour movements. He was educated at Ainslie Park Secondary School in Pilton and then Leith Academy, which he left aged 16 to work for the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board as a junior clerk in the legal department.

His ability was spotted, and he was promoted and encouraged to attend night classes; he then went on to the University of Dundee, from which he graduated in law in 1975, becoming a solicitor two years later. Over the next decade, he built up a good practice, with much of his work was in employment law; he also worked for trades unions and the Labour party.

Doran had no particular personal political ambition, but he was active enough to stand as a candidate in the European election of 1984, where he did better than expected in what was thought a fairly hopeless seat, cutting the Tory majority substantially.

As a result, he was asked by Aberdeen South’s Constituency Labour Party to contest the parliamentary seat. “I thought ‘Why not? It’s not going to disrupt my life, I’m not going to win.’ But I did.”

The first clue Doran had that the seat, which had always (bar 1966-70) been Conservative, might be winnable was when, after handing in his nomination papers, he emerged on to the street to see the incumbent, Gerry Malone, waving at the voters from a 1930s Rolls-Royce. “Not very Aberdonian,” was Doran’s judgment. “I turned to my agent and said: ‘I can win this’.”

When he did, it was not all plain sailing. “It was very difficult in some respects,” he said. “I had assured my wife that there was no chance that I was going to be elected. That created a problem.” He at first found it tricky to come to grips with the scale of Westminster and its procedures, and made a mess of his maiden speech. It was three months before he got an office and, like his colleagues, was disappointed to find himself in opposition.

But his legal training meant that he was soon in demand (he played a leading role in opposing David Alton’s bill to limit late-term abortion), and Piper Alpha, despite the emotional toll the campaign demanded from him, brought him attention. He separated from his wife, Patricia (née Govan), with whom he had two sons.

If Doran’s initial win had been unexpected, so too was his losing his seat at the 1992 general election, when John Major squeaked a majority, but the Conservatives fared badly in Scotland. Indeed, Doran was the only incumbent Labour MP (other than those who had won by-elections) to lose his seat to a Conservative in that election.

Doran placed the blame firmly on John Smith’s plans for higher rate taxpayers. When Doran sought to reassure oil workers that the shadow chancellor’s plans did not apply to anyone earning less than £21,000, there was uproar, and he was bluntly informed that “there’s no one on the platform earning as little as that.”

He decided not to return to the law, but joined the GMB and ran the trades unions’ political ballot fund campaign, which sought to secure the levy on members for funding Labour and Co-operative MPs. In 1997, he became the MP for Aberdeen Central, with a healthy majority of 10,801. By this stage, he had become the partner of Joan (now Dame Joan) Ruddock, who had also entered Westminster in 1987 (as MP for Lewisham Deptford) and who was also separated. Her husband died in 1996 and she and Doran married in 2010.

Before the election of 2005, Central merged with Aberdeen North, and Doran and Malcolm Savidge, the other Labour incumbent, had to compete for the nomination as candidate. Doran won and then took the seat with a majority of 6,795. One of the most controversial moments in his later career came when, as chairman of the Administration Committee, he ruled that MPs should be allowed to jump the queue in the House of Commons canteen.

Frank Doran and Joan Ruddock both stood down at the 2015 election, when he hoped that he would be able at last to enjoy the galleries and cinemas which he had initially imagined would be one of the major attractions of life in London, but for which he had little time while an MP. He is survived by his second wife and his two sons from his first marriage.