Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The power to suspend driving instructors

I presented a Bill in the House of Commons today on the power to suspend driving instructors. The “Driving Instruction (Suspension And Exemption Powers) Bill” provides for – wait for it – “the suspension in certain circumstances of registration and licences relating to the provision of driving instruction; to make provision about exemptions from prohibitions concerning registration (including provision about suspension); to make provision about compensation in connection with suspension; and for connected purposes.”

It follows the case of Lesley Anne Steele whose driving instructor was allowed to operate for almost two months AFTER he was convicted of sexually assaulting her. I am attempting to close this loophole so that driving instructors can be immediately suspended upon conviction.

The Bill will receive its second reading on Friday 27th March when I am working to ensure it has a trouble free passage.

Here's the link to my ten minute rule bill debate on the subject from last year.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Governor Gulab Mangal

Governor Gulab Mangal has been in charge of the Helmand province in Afghanistan for a year now and has developed a formidable reputation both in the international domestic communities. His first achievement has been to survive in the precarious world of Afghan politics.

Unsurprisingly he came to our meeting, with a small group of Lib Dem Parliamentary Colleagues in the House of Commons, with a message. He was initially, uncharacteristically, restrained but with a bit of teasing he was blunt. “The people of Helmand expected more from the UK,” was the assessment. In line with Britain’s commitment to stabilising his country he wanted more troops, better cooperation with the Afghans and more development aid.

More controversially, he told us that he was concerned that the quality of some of the work of the British troops was not good enough. He cited Sangin in the north of Helmand where the combination of British and Afghan sources with Afghan police had been unable to secure more than 200 yards outside the base.

That’s strong criticism which the Defence Secretary must investigate urgently and take the necessary action to resolve.

I’m in favour of sending more troops combined with a greater effort to talk to soft Taliban and establishing a high level regional conference to engage all the neighbours in the region in seeking a solution. That must include China, Russia and Iran.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Stop school bus overtaking

Lynn Merrifield from Kingseat is a doughty campaigner for school bus safety. She is rightly concerned for the safety of children, especially primary school children.

I recall the first day I put my 4 year old son, Alexander, on the school bus. Even though that bus did have seatbelts it was an alarming prospect for my wee boy. However, thankfully, in seven years at Primary School there wasn't one problem. Unfortunately that's not been the case for so many children who have died travelling to and from school.

Last week Lynn and I met with Stagecoach for what was a very informative discussion on safety issues on buses. One of the issues we explored was the speed of the vehicles and whether overtaking school buses should be banned just like in the USA. But how could that be done without investing in a stock of yellow buses? Perhaps more distinctive temporary signage on school buses could be provided or we could simply ban bus overtaking during the hours of the school run in the morning and afternoon.

Grandad Ron Beaty from Aberdeenshire is lobbying for a change to the Road Safety Act to make such overtaking illegal. The Scottish and UK Governments need to consider this urgently. For more information log onto

The next stop in our campaign is a meeting with Councillor Tony Martin and officers from Fife Council.


I have received reports that there has been an upsurge in the number of cowboy builders and tradesmen touting for business in West Fife. If you’ve been affected I’d be keen to know the details. With the recession biting hard the last thing we need is people being stung by bogus builders.

Email with details on

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Bridge must be high on agenda for FM and PM talks

When Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown meet for talks this week, for the first time for ten months, the funding of the new Forth Crossing must be high on the agenda.

It's all gone very quiet since the First Minister begged Westminster to bail them out following the failure of their Scottish Futures Trust to raise any funds for the bridge.

This is a major transport artery for Scotland and we, especially the business community, need certainty about its future. We need answers - quickly.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Vetsnow shows the way

My good friend Richard Dixon today asked his mother to bang the supersized gong to officially open his bright and airy new offices by Pitreavie Castle in Dunfermline. With Richard at the helm Vetsnow, which provides out of hours emergency vets services throughout the UK, has grown to a turnover of £12.5m since it launched in 2001.
The Vetsnow performance shows that businesses are not one big homogeneous mass of decline. With drive, fighting spirit and the right values companies can do well - even in the current economic climate.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Champagne and Caviar?

Three years ago about now news was seeping through from the count at Queen Anne High School. Campaign Manager Paul Rainger and Agent Peter Barrett were keeping expectations under control but were starting to prepare for the shockwaves to come. I still remember every second of that night as if it were only yesterday.

Tonight I celebrated in style. Champagne? No. Caviar? No. Surveying on the sub zero, dark streets of Crossford with party colleagues. Yes - I wouldn't have it any other way.

Chernobyl children - work under threat

I've recently posted an article on my work with the Chernobyl children's charities and the possible threat to their work. Take a look on the Dunfermline Press website

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Scottish Labour MPs

It's no surprise to me that Adam Ingram, John Robertson and Jim Sheridan are leading a charge to return powers from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster as they have never fully accepted devolution Through loyalty to their leadership they have been forced to stew in their own juices for the last decade.

Using the nuclear energy fig leaf to protect their nakedness will deceive only a few - probably those who would prefer to see the abolition of the Scottish Parliament or to see MSPs neutered.

Their motivation is little to do with any considered analysis of the constitutional settlement. I suspect it's more to do with their crude, partisan opposition to fair votes and jealousy of those who are making decisions in Holyrood.

Crombie tenants deserve better

For twenty years tenants in Central and Farm Road in the small village of Crombie have had to put up with substandard housing. In the late eighties the Government declared that the Unitroy design of houses were Statutory Defective at which point the landlords, Scottish Homes (now Fife Housing), stopped almost all investment in the properties as it was estimated that they would only have a short life and therefore any investment would be wasted.

Twenty years on the houses are still standing but are not wind and watertight and are expensive to heat because of the poor heating systems and insulation. Further investigations have found that the properties could last for a further fifteen to twenty years but that isn't long enough to justify any investment (thirty years is the usual return period) and it's not short enough to demolish.

So the residents are left in limbo, living in substandard housing. Yet Housing Minister Stewart Maxwell has turned down pleas for assistance. That's why the residents are launching a campaign to urge the Government to take action. They're not taking no for an answer - and quite right too!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Budget success

It's good to see that Tavish Scott has driven a hard bargain with the SNP on the Scottish budget.

Successes include action to fund the building of schools, the Scottish Government's involvement in the Calman Commission, planning for future tax cuts and a refocussing of the Scottish Government onto economic recovery. We might even see a resolution to the dispute over the funding of the new Forth Crossing.

Tavish has shown effective leadership and good judgement.

No mugs in the tearoom

London literally ground to a halt yesterday but apart from the lack of milk in my local store the only real disruption the snow caused me was the lack of mugs in the Commons' tea room. I'm not sure why mugs are more vulnerable to the freezing weather than cups but I thought it best not to ask.

Refuge for miscarriage of justice victims

I get the chance to work with a range of immensely talented people with passion and drive. Paddy Hill and Gerry Conlon are two of the finest examples. Today I took the opportunity to press the Justice Minister on the need to establish a refuge for people who have been wrongly imprisoned.

I was pleased that the Minister agreed to meet a delegation for a second time to discuss Paddy and Gerry's idea. The first meeting was with Maria Eagle who received us well and even cancelled two of her subsequent meetings so she could extend our meeting. I am sure we will get a similar reception for our next meeting and hope that we can further progress the campaign for a desperately need refuge.

Here's the transcript from today's question:

Willie Rennie: That is very welcome, but when innocent people are wrongly imprisoned, it is a traumatic experience that can scar them for life. When they are released, they often receive little support other than a helpline, which is welcome but not sufficient. Will the Minister meet me, a cross-party delegation of Members and Paddy Hill and Gerry Conlon of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, to consider their proposal for a refuge that will give such people the residential, in-depth support that they need and deserve?

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Of course, I and my ministerial colleagues will happily meet him, because how individuals are reintegrated back into society, particularly when they have been proved innocent, is an important issue.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

School exclusions reduced

Brian Blanchflower, the Head at Dunfermline High School, is rightly very proud of his Inclusion Unit which halved exclusions from the school. It's a partnership with Apex Scotland and has been part funded by Fife Council.

I met four of the pupils who had benefited from Karen's (the unit leader) work which addressed and challenged their behaviour and provided them with the tools, skills and confidence to be able to handle life both at and beyond the school. A visit to Perth prison, a discussion with a prisoner and a talk on drugs were just some of the practical ways in which the project reinforced the messages and lessons from the classroom.

Karen has done some magnificent work with young people who needed her. It's a work that has delivered clear results - for the school, the community and most importantly of all the young people themselves.