Career file: Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
Title: MP for Wakefield & Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
How did you get into your role?
I started my political life as a Councillor in Islington for seven years before being elected as Wakefield's MP in 2005. I served as a health whip before being elected onto the Shadow Cabinet. As shadow environment secretary I was proud to force the government to abandon their plans to sell off England’s forests, and held them to account over the horse meat scandal. Now as chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee I want to make sure that the government doesn’t use the result of the referendum as cover to quietly drop key environmental protections.
What does the role of EAC Chair entail?
Aside from chairing committee meetings once or twice a week, there is a lot of work behind the scenes coordinating the work of the committee with the clerks and overseeing the day-to-day running of our inquiries. Because select committees are cross party, it means working with MPs from different parties. I also act as an ambassador for the committee, to promote our work in the media and at conferences.
What is the best thing about your job?
Like the Public Accounts Committee, the EAC has no particular government department to scrutinise, so we are able to hold the government to account on a broad range of issues. For example, we recently concluded an inquiry into the problem of microplastics, which are polluting our seas and oceans. Did you know that if you’ve eaten six oysters then you’ve probably eaten 50 microplastic particles? We have also done inquiries into soil health, flooding, and EU membership and UK environmental protection.
Where did your interest in the environment come from?
I am a keen gardener and cyclist and my grandad was a cattle farmer in Northern Ireland, but the environment, and people’s access to nature has always been a key Labour issue ever since the Kinder trespass where working people asserted their right to roam. Social justice and environmental protection go hand in hand because the poorest always pay the price for environmental neglect. Our inquiry into soil health found that government cuts to the clean-up of contaminated land had left the poorest areas most at risk. And if we do not tackle climate change it is the poor who will suffer the most.
What have you learnt from your time on the EAC so far?
I really enjoy working with MPs across parties, which has been a revelation to me! I am also deeply impressed by the quality of expert evidence that we have available to us. British science leads the world and we must make sure that we do not fall behind in the global race and global thought leadership with the EU referendum result. Whether it is tackling climate change or cleaning up our beaches and rivers, the UK must work with its neighbours and allies to protect the environment.
What is the biggest environmental issue that you have come into contact with in the role?
Flooding is an environmental and human catastrophe. Over a thousand homes in Wakefield were flooded in the 2007 floods. It is the biggest threat the UK faces from climate change. Yet in a recent inquiry we found that the government lacks a long-term strategy to deal with flooding, that cuts to critical flood defences had increased the risk of flooding for businesses and communities, and that vital energy, transport and digital infrastructure are not protected well enough.
What is your vision for the future of the UK’s environment?
As we negotiate to leave the EU, we need to make sure that we have strong environmental goals enshrined in law, to provide the framework for a new green industrial revolution in sustainable technology. Industries and investors need a strong signal from government about the future direction of environmental standards and targets. The Landfill Directive has been a great example of this, but we need to make sure that we don't fall behind. Earlier this summer we launched an inquiry into the future of the natural environment after the referendum, and we are keen to hear from industry about the risks and opportunities this presents.