Mary Creagh

Working hard for Wakefield

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Parents and students returning to school this month should be settling into a new term and a new academic year. But with the news that Wakefield City Academies Trust is pulling out of running its 21 schools across Yorkshire, many students and teachers face huge uncertainty. This has come as a bolt from the blue.

In Parliament, I asked the Education Secretary Justine Greening what action the Government was taking, and what reassurance she could provide the parents, students and teachers who are worried about the future of their local schools. She had no answer, and resorted to political point scoring to avoid answering my question. This is yet another stark example of failure in the Government’s management of its academies programme, and comes hard on the heels of the chaotic handling of CAPA College. I am hopeful that a new home in Wakefield can be found soon for this outstanding academy, although this will be cold comfort for the lower sixth students who missed out on a place this year because of uncertainty over its future.

After seven years of falling pay for public sector workers, the Tories attempted to play a political trick in announcing the end of the public sector pay cap for police and prison officers. But the increase is actually a cut, because it fails to keep up with inflation. The money will come from existing budgets, which means there will be further cuts to frontline staff, and could mean losing 80 officers in West Yorkshire. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the terrorist attack at Parsons Green last week. After a summer marred by attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, the Government must do everything they can to keep people safe. It is deeply concerning that Ministers are planning a £50m cut to the budget for the Office for Security and Counterterrorism, which is responsible for Britain’s overall terrorism strategy, and which pays for the government’s Prevent programme.

After a summer of infighting and the resignation of key Ministers working on Brexit from the Department of International Trade, Exiting the EU, and the Treasury, Theresa May is now facing a civil war in her party on two fronts. First, she faces a backbench revolt over her Government’s latest Bill, which gives Ministers unprecedented powers to change or scrap key legal rights and protections for consumers, workers and the environment with minimal Parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament must not be side-lined on key decisions as we leave the EU, and I and my Labour colleagues voted against this fatally flawed Bill.

Second, Boris Johnson triggered fresh chaos last weekend by undermining Theresa May and repeating the lie that leaving the EU would magically generate £350m a week. The head of the UK Statistics Authority Sir David Norgrove condemned this as a “clear misuse of official statistics.” As Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson should be focusing on the UK’s response to hurricane Irma, dealing with North Korea’s reckless missile tests and finding a solution to the appalling ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya muslims in Burma. The world is more unstable now than at any time in the last 30 years. We need a Government united and pulling together for the good of the country, not tearing itself apart over Brexit.

Wakefield Express Column September 2017

Parents and students returning to school this month should be settling into a new term and a new academic year. But with the news that Wakefield City Academies Trust is...

Mary's speech in the debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill:

I will be joining my colleagues in the Lobby tonight to vote against this Bill, because of the unprecedented Henry VIII powers that will transfer power away from Parliament and give it to Ministers. In some ways, these powers will turn the Prime Minister into a female version of Louis XIV, the sun king, who, as he lay on his deathbed in the palace of Versailles, said, “L’état, c’est moi.” That is what she is doing with the Bill, but as representatives of the British people, sent here with a democratic mandate, we say, “L’état, c’est nous.” We are the legislative force in this country; no sun king or sun queen will be created on our watch, and we will not give up our parliamentary democracy without a fight.

It is perfectly possible to recognise and respect the result of the referendum without sacrificing hard-won economic, social and environmental rights and freedoms. As we have heard, at the general election the people declined to give the Prime Minister the majority she sought. Through the general election, the people have already rejected a hard Brexit, so the question before us tonight is: who governs Britain—this Parliament, or a Prime Minister reliant on some hard-liners in her party and on the Democratic Unionist party, which she is paying whatever it demands to get her laws through?

Clause 9 would allow Ministers to introduce regulations to make any provision that can be made by an Act of Parliament, including modifying this legislation, a huge power that will last right up to exit day. It is therefore the great power grab Bill, which will create an infinite legislative loop: the powers can be extended infinitely to amend laws, through delegated legislation, with no scrutiny. The fact that the power to amend this Act lies within it means that the Bill can eat itself; it is like a constantly regenerating loop in some science fiction nightmare, providing new powers ad infinitum at the whim of whichever Government are in place at any given moment.

We have seen this before, because the Government have form. They did not want to give this place a vote on article 50, or on the final deal. They fought at every turn to frustrate this House in overseeing what they are doing, and frustrate us in our duties and responsibilities to our electors. The powers in clause 9 will end on exit day, but the Bill allows exit day to be set by Ministers, so those powers could continue for many years—indeed, there could be several exit days. That is not how we make laws in this country. We also have money and ​Ways and Means motions before us tonight that mean that Ministers can spend any sum or raise any tax as a result of this Bill. As well as being a legislative blank cheque, the Bill is therefore a literal blank cheque for the Government. That is not how we make laws in this country.

All these new laws made by delegated legislation can be amended by delegated legislation. The Government say that there will be opportunities for scrutiny, but they want a majority of one on all Delegated Legislation Committees, so that they can rubber-stamp the delegated legislation, despite failing to win a majority at the general election. That is not how we make laws in this country. The Bill can create new criminal offences under the negative resolution procedure of things such as food adulteration or trading illegal chemicals. New criminal offences will be made with no parliamentary scrutiny. That is not how we make laws in this country.

This Bill should protect our hard-won social, environmental, political and economic rights. In fact, it guarantees nothing of the sort. Even if those rights are somehow replicated in the future, the Bill is silent about remedies, and it is the remedies, not the rights, that are the spur to action. The threat of EU fines led to us taxing waste that goes to landfill, which kick-started the recycling industry in this country. The threat of massive fines for filthy air pollution has led to the Government publishing not one, not two, but three clean air plans. The threat of fines under the water framework directive has led to UK water companies cleaning up our filthy beaches and rivers. Those environmental improvements and industries were created because the threat of financial penalties focused the minds of Ministers and civil servants. If there is no remedy for the citizen, the right that the law confers is toothless.

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said on Second Reading that the Government would introduce proposals. Why are they not in the Bill? How many rights that we currently enjoy are threatened by the Bill? Francovich will not apply to the individual, so future rights will be removed from citizens. The acquis communautaire, which we have adopted, refers to the environment, but a third of it cannot be neatly cut and pasted into UK law.

We will not simply be able to cut and paste chemicals measures. REACH is the big regulation on registering, evaluating and authorising chemicals. It protects the public and the environment from hazardous substances and it is vital to British jobs, growth and investment. Our chemical industry is the second largest exporter to the EU after cars, selling £15 billion of chemical exports to the EU every year. Leaving REACH could cause market freeze and supply chain disruption to the industry. The Environmental Audit Committee heard from techUK and the defence industries how incredibly concerned they were about that. One in five UK chemicals companies represented by the Chemical Business Association are not waiting for regulatory certainty from the Government, ​and are already investigating opportunities to set up shop in other EU countries, harming jobs, investment and growth in this country.

The Bill does not protect the citizen and it does not incorporate either the principle of EU law that the polluter pays or the precautionary principle. For those reasons, for the vast destruction of our environmental and social rights, I shall vote against the Bill.

Speech in EU Withdrawal Bill debate

Mary's speech in the debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill: I will be joining my colleagues in the Lobby tonight to vote against this Bill, because of the unprecedented Henry...

This summer has seen a double whammy for rail passengers in Wakefield.

First, the Government announced they are scrapping plans for the electrification of the railway line from Leeds to Manchester which they promised back in 2012. After a “pause” in 2015, ministers promised plans were still on track. On the day that Parliament broke for the summer holiday, the Transport secretary announced the route, along with routes in Wales, the Lake District and Nottingham to Sheffield, will not be electrified. Yorkshire and the north continues to suffer from underinvestment in our transport infrastructure. All the government has delivered is delays, excuses and now, this final blow to the North’s economy.

Second, we have learnt that rail fares are set to rise by 3.6% in January, the biggest increase for 5 years. That means an annual season ticket from Wakefield to Leeds will cost £1048. Public sector workers, like teachers, nurses and police officers are experiencing their seventh year of a 1% pay cap. It is simply unacceptable for rail fares to rise so much faster than wages. 

Last week saw the naming and shaming of over 200 businesses, including Argos, who have been ordered to pay back money owed to staff after failing to pay the national minimum wage. Poor working practices, such as deducting money from workers pay packets to pay for uniforms and incorrectly recording overtime, are deliberately used to avoid paying low paid workers what they are due.

These practices are contributing to a low pay economy where we see more people employed in low-paid or part-time jobs, struggling to make ends meet. I have had people attend my constituency surgery in tears as they try to hold down two or three jobs and are still struggling to pay rent and support their family. This situation is being made worse by the Government’s Universal Credit system.

Universal Credit is supposed to simplify the way people claim benefits but instead is pushing people into debt and leaving families relying on food banks. Debt support charities and the Citizens Advice Bureau have told me that some people are waiting up to 12 weeks to receive their first payment, leaving them unable to pay their rent or buy food, putting them at risk of eviction.

Universal Credit has only been introduced for some new claimants in Wakefield so far- the full rollout starts in August 2018. The Government must get a grip on the project fast making sure families affected by delays in payments have access to hardship funds immediately and the application process is not overcomplicated. I will continue to push the government to make sure the system is fit for purpose before it is rolled out fully in Wakefield.

Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. I want to congratulate all students in Wakefield who picked up their GCSE and A-level results in the last fortnight. We are lucky to have the fantastic new Wakefield College Advanced Skills and Innovation Centre providing opportunities for our young people right across the district. Whether you choose an apprenticeship, are going off to university or are starting A levels or your first job, I wish you all the best on the next exciting chapter of your lives!

Express Column August 2017

This summer has seen a double whammy for rail passengers in Wakefield. First, the Government announced they are scrapping plans for the electrification of the railway line from Leeds to...

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