I have been the Labour Member of Parliament for Vauxhall, since a by-election in 1989.
I was born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, where my parents were farmers. I attended the Belfast Royal Academy and the Ulster College of Physical Education before going on to take an economics degree in London. During my student days I was elected a sabbatical Vice-President of the National Union of Students.
I have always been very interested in sport and was once the Northern Ireland High Jump Champion. I have worked as Educational Advisor for a number of football clubs including Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea
This involvement in sport – particularly football and cricket – has continued into my political career. I am now an honorary Vice-President of Surrey County Cricket Club in my constituency.
I was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Frank Field, the Minister for Welfare Reform, after the election of the Labour Government in 1997. Before then I was a member of the Social Security Select Committee and the Broadcasting Select Committee. In July 1998 I was appointed as a Minister in the Home Office before becoming the UK’s first female Sports Minister in 1999 – a position I held until the 2001 General Election. I was until Parliament was dissolved a member of the Select committee on Public Administration and Constitutional affairs the European Scrutiny committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs committee.
Since then I have been an active backbencher promoting the views and interests of my constituents in Parliament. I am very interested in foreign affairs – visiting Sarajevo at the height of the siege, monitoring the first democratic elections in Angola, and visiting Zimbabwe undercover in 2003 and 2005 to investigate the deteriorating political and humanitarian crisis.
I am proudly independent minded,having stayed true to Labour values. I voted against the war in Iraq, renewal of Trident, foundation hospitals, university tuition and top-up fees, ID cards, and extended detention without trial.