Maria was first elected to Parliament as the MP for Liverpool Garston in 1997. She has been re-elected five times since (in 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2017). The boundary changes in 2010 extended the constituency over the local authority boundary into Knowsley to encompass Halewood in addition to Garston, Speke, Woolton, Cressington, Allerton and Belle Vale. Maria lives locally and is proud to represent South Liverpool and Halewood.
Maria was born in Bridlington but the family moved over to Formby, Merseyside in 1965 when Maria was 4, as her father, a print worker, moved to Liverpool for work. She has considered Liverpool her home city ever since.
Maria went to St Peter’s C of E School and Formby High School, the only local comprehensive school in Formby in those days. She went on to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Pembroke College, Oxford. She and her twin sister, Angela, who studied PPE at St John’s College, Oxford, were the first people in her family ever to attend university. (They are also the only twins to have ever both been elected to the UK Parliament – Angela has represented Wallasey since 1992).
Following some time working in London in the voluntary sector, campaigning for better public transport, Maria studied to become a solicitor and returned to Liverpool to work in a number of local law firms between 1990 and 1997. She specialised in personal injury litigation and housing law as well as conducting many employment law cases. It was in this context that she first became aware of the civil litigation following the Hillsborough disaster as the solicitor to whom she was articled was on the steering group of that civil litigation. This meant that she had access to but not conduct of some of the case files.
She fought the seat of Crosby in the 1992 General Election for Labour (now renamed Sefton Central) and came second, behind Tory Sir Malcolm Thornton, (who had previously been MP for Liverpool Garston!) Her performance lifted Labour back to being the main challengers in Crosby after the period of SDP success that the Shirley Williams by election victory in 1981 had engendered. Crosby became a Labour seat in 1997, won by Claire Curtis-Thomas (Then Claire Curtis-Tansley) and it’s successor, Sefton Central is still a Labour seat, held by Bill Esterson MP. In 1997, she fought and won Liverpool Garston for Labour with a majority of 18,417. Her majority in 2010 in Garston and Halewood was 16,877.
Maria played chess for Lancashire and England as a junior and also managed to play cricket for Lancashire on occasion. She describes herself as a lapsed cricketer and chess player though she enjoys watching test match cricket in particular and follows chess when she gets the chance.
Her longstanding involvement in campaigning for justice for the Hillsborough families, some of whom are her constituents, is one of the things she is proudest of as is the success of the campaign to vindicate the MV Derbyshire families, which she spearheaded as the Secretary of the All Party parliamentary Group on the MV Derbyshire. This was a role she took on from her predecessor in Liverpool Garston, Eddie Loyden, who had been a merchant seafarer himself. The publication of the “Report of the Re-opened Formal Investigation into the Loss of the MV Derbyshire” by Mr Justice Colman in 2000 brought a successful end to a 20 year campaign by families to ensure that the people who died in the disaster were not blamed for it. The APPG was central in persuading John Prescott’s transport department to undertake the massive survey of the wreck of the Derbyshire on the bottom of the South China Sea which showed the real reason for the loss was NOT poor seafaring skills by the crew who all perished but poor design of the holds.
Maria was a member of the Public Accounts Committee from 1997-1999 as a backbencher, holding the Government to account for the way in which it spends public money. Maria also steered the abolition of fur farming, which she considers a barbaric practice with no place in a civilised society, through Parliament. She came second in the private members bill ballot and though her bill, The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill was wrecked at it’s Commons report stage, by Tories who talked it out, she persuaded the Government to take it up the following year and with Government time, it became law in 2000.
Maria was a Minister in the Labour Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between 2001 and 2010 when Labour lost office.In 1999, she served as PPS to John Hutton, then the Minister for Social Care in the Department of Health. In 2001, she became the Minister for Disabled People in the DWP, a role she retained for the entire 2001-2005 Parliament. She is particularly proud to have steered the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 into law. It gave full civil rights to disabled people for the first time. (It is now incorporated in the Equality Act 2010, a law which she also had some policy responsibility for in a later role.)
Maria then served in The Department for Education and Skills for a year, in the Northern Ireland office until devolution in 2007 and then as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, responsible firstly for courts and then for prisons. She was also an Equality Minister serving in the Government Equalities Office.
After Labour lost office at the 2010 General Election, Maria was elected to the Shadow Cabinet and spent three years as Shadow Transport Secretary before serving as Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.