My Lords, before I call the Leader of the House to begin the tributes to the late Sir David Amess MP, I would like to make some brief remarks of my own.
Sir David was not a Member of this House, but he was one of us. He was a true parliamentarian. He was also an exemplar of decency and courtesy. When I entered Parliament in 1987, Sir David had already served in the Commons for four years. I quickly found myself working with him on cross-party and international issues, as well as on social campaigns and causes that promoted the common good. David relished working across the party divides. He was not tribal. As an example to the society we live in, he embraced minorities and was tolerant, not intolerant. His willingness to reach out and engage with those he represented went to the heart of what he considered to be his vocation in life. He could never have been accused of being remote or detached.
He championed Private Members’ Bills on animal welfare and fuel poverty, always speaking up for his constituents and placing their concerns at the heart of his work here in Westminster. He was well known in his local area and was keen to engage the local press in his many campaigns; his frequent engagement with the sub-editors obviously paid off when, following a trip to Rome, one headline read “Pope Francis meets David Amess”.
His character was well known. At the weekend, I heard one TV commentator refer to him as a little eccentric. Well, if that was the case, I declare: long live eccentrics. Not once did I meet him in these corridors over the 34 years we served together without being met with an enormous smile as he bounded toward me with a spring in his step. He had an ability to make every encounter bright—something which reminded me time and again of the inherent goodness of humanity.
Today, Parliament mourns. We join with his family, his friends, his staff and those who knew him and worked with him. It is right that we conclude our proceedings today by joining together with the House of Commons to pray for him, remember him and celebrate all that he was and all that he gave to this place and to the nation.
Like all noble Lords, I was shocked, shaken and saddened by the tragic death of Sir David Amess on Friday. He was killed while holding a constituency surgery in a place of sanctuary, serving the residents of Southend West as he had done proudly since 1997. As the Lord Speaker said, Sir David was a veteran parliamentarian of almost four decades who was admired and respected across both Houses of Parliament. Only three other sitting MPs have served the House of Commons and their constituents longer than Sir David had.
A working-class boy from the east end of London, Sir David was first elected in Basildon, in 1983. It was a bellwether seat for the 1992 general election which he held on to with the backing of Essex men—and women—providing the pivotal moment of the night that Sir John Major won an unexpected majority. At the 1997 general election, Sir David moved to the neighbouring constituency of Southend West, and our very own Lady Smith followed him as the MP for Basildon. She tells me that she soon discovered that one of Sir David’s traditions was giving students a spelling test on primary school visits. Apparently, he had a preoccupation with two words in particular, and the local schools had posters of them plastered all over the walls to ensure that their students were ready to impress their visiting MP. I understand that there is a certain cohort, educated in south Essex, who have Sir David to thank for being able to spell “yacht” and “unnecessary” correctly.
In his new seat, Sir David continued his tradition of campaigning in a motorhome, playing his song, which I assure noble Lords I will not attempt to sing but which went:
“Vote, vote, vote, for David Amess,
David is the man for you.
If you want to be true blue, and to air your points of view,
Then David Amess is the only man for you.”
Although his campaign style was compared to that of an ice-cream vendor, it was authentically Sir David, and it worked.
Throughout his parliamentary career, he was well known as a dedicated Brexiteer, a doughty animal rights campaigner, a devout Roman Catholic and a devoted constituency champion. It is true to say that he achieved more on the Beck Benches than many of us Ministers manage to achieve in government; he piloted numerous Private Member’s Bills into law, such as those on cruel tethering and warm homes, helped to ensure that the bravery of Raoul Wallenberg was recognised with a memorial statue, and organised 200 inspirational students from the Music Man Project to perform at the Royal Albert Hall and again at the London Palladium.
There cannot be anyone in this House who is not aware of Sir David’s campaign to make Southend a city, a campaign that he pursued doggedly and determinedly, but with the humour and warmth that characterised his approach, because above all, he was a kind, generous and decent human being. I am delighted to tell the House, if noble Lords did not know already, that the Prime Minister has confirmed that Her Majesty the Queen has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status that it so clearly deserves.
I was not lucky enough to have known Sir David well personally. However, from the stories that I have read from colleagues, friends and strangers over the weekend, it is clear that he was a wonderful man who touched the lives of many. So many colleagues have commented on his love of being a parliamentarian. Whether in the House or in his beloved constituency, he had as much joy and enthusiasm in his fourth decade in the job as he did in his first, and that enthusiasm was infectious to all with whom he served. A former colleague of mine from Policy Exchange, who began his career working for Sir David, shared what many have commented was an accurate reflection of his character: not being bothered about missing or even returning a call from David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, yet turning his office upside down to find a missing local charity invitation for a duck race, and moving heaven and earth at all hours of the day for constituents in need.
My husband, James, joined the House of Commons following the last election, and experienced Sir David’s generosity of friendship first-hand. They spent some time together recently, during lockdown, discussing Sir David’s new book, Ayes & Ears, as part of his virtual book tour. Said with great humour and a big smile, it is fair to say that Sir David’s opening line of “Now then, James, someone told me that you sleep with a member of the Cabinet” was not the introduction that James was expecting. In his book, Sir David asked how someone like him, born into relative poverty and with no great political helping hand, became a Conservative Member of Parliament.
The many thousands of people that he helped, and the causes that he supported, will be for ever grateful that he made that journey from those humble beginnings in Plaistow. As would be expected from Sir David, the proceeds office book will go to three charities whose causes he consistently championed: Endometriosis UK, Prost8 and the Music Man Project.
I stand here today not just as the Leader of this House but as the wife of an MP. I see the vital work they do day in, day out, on the front line to help some of the most vulnerable people in society: listening and offering support, and speaking up for those without a voice, all to serve the people in their constituencies, regardless of how they voted. Of course, for many of your Lordships here today, that was your daily reality when you served in the other place.
Alongside Jo Cox, we now have had the horror of two MPs in the last five years killed while doing their jobs—simply serving their constituents, as they were elected to do. One of our own colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, was badly injured and his aide Andrew Pennington killed in a horrific act of violence. Any attack on any parliamentarian is an attack on our democracy. All of us, across both Houses, across all parties and groups, stand together in condemnation of these senseless and callous attacks. It is right that the security measures in place for MPs are reviewed, but we cannot allow these dreadful events to break the close link between MPs and their constituents which is so central to our democracy.
It has been a devastating week for our party, our Parliament and our country, with the loss first of our dear friend James Brokenshire, and now of the much-loved Sir David Amess—both men taken from us too soon and with so much more to give. But today, I know I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that our deepest sympathies are with Sir David’s family, friends and staff, especially his wife Julia and their five children. We have lost a dedicated public servant and a colleague, but they have lost a husband and a father. I hope they can find some comfort in our admiration and respect for the most decent of men.
Sir David’s family have called on everyone to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all—something we should all reflect on. I know that there are many noble Lords who wish to speak today who had the honour of knowing Sir David much better than me. I look forward to learning more about him from them, but I have no doubt that we can all learn from Sir David’s example of compassion, kindness and public service.
My Lords, I think the whole House welcomed the noble Baroness’s very emotional, genuine and fond tribute to Sir David.
As the news unfolded on Friday that Sir David Amess had been attacked, our hope that he had not been seriously hurt was mixed with that dreadful feeling we had in the pit of our stomachs that something deeply shocking and terrible had happened. When it was confirmed that he had not survived, it was hard to find the words to convey our feelings about this act of devastating horror.
We send our deepest and heartfelt condolences to Sir David’s wife Julia, their children, their wider family, and his many friends and colleagues. Their loss is profound and overwhelming. We also feel for the staff who were with him at the time; the emotional shock that they suffered will be deeply felt for a long time.
I also take this opportunity, as the noble Baroness did, to express our sadness and condolences on the death of another Conservative MP, James Brokenshire. It is a cruel connection that James also had strong Essex links, having been born in Southend and previously represented Hornchurch. As she said, both men have left us too soon and had so much more to give.
I first met Sir David Amess in 1983, when he famously achieved that remarkable victory that many thought impossible: winning the newly drawn parliamentary constituency of Basildon, where there was not a single Conservative councillor. At the time, I was living in Southend and working for the League Against Cruel Sports. David was one of the then small group from his party strongly supporting our campaign to ban fox hunting and hare-coursing. He remained passionately committed to the welfare of animals; indeed, his recent, final comments in Parliament—though none of us knew they would be so—were to urge for debate on animal welfare.
Over the years, our paths criss-crossed in Basildon, Southend and Westminster—and, just occasionally, on the same side of an issue. Leaving Basildon for Southend was both painful and an opportunity for him. As with everything else, he embraced his new constituency with enthusiasm, commitment and genuine affection, which, as has been clear from the responses of his constituents, was warmly reciprocated.
Throughout his nearly 40 years in Parliament, he was a formidable campaigner on a range of issues, usually triggered by a constituent who had come to him for help. At the end of term in the House of Commons, Sir David would always be there until the very end, making the most of an opportunity to speak in the Adjournment debate on the constituency issues closest to his heart. There were often a lot of them. His last opportunity to do so was on 22 July this year. You have to smile and admire the fact that, with just a three-minute time limit, he managed to raise the issues of care home costs, building regulations and accessibility, zero-carbon emissions, energy costs, gas boilers, tidal power, jet skis, single-use plastic, sewage discharge, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, trees in Southend, the export of live animals, the Pensions Ombudsman, charity raising by a constituent, vulnerable children, the Olympics and Paralympics, the Royal British Legion and a memorial to Dame Vera Lynn. He finished by saying that
“we must make Southend a city.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/7/21; col. 1212.]
Some made the mistake of not initially taking his Southend campaign seriously, but he was totally committed. A few weeks ago, he formally launched the bid for city status. In typical Sir David style, it was quite an occasion, with the town crier and local dignitaries all there in Southend in support. The council leader, Ian Gilbert, told me that Sir David arranged everything, saying of the event:
“It had a serious purpose but also a great sense of fun, which was the hallmark of Sir David’s work”.
As the whole House heard, we greatly enjoy the fact that the Queen has now given permission for Southend to become a city. What a great tribute, which will be well received not just in Southend but across the whole of south Essex.
To those who knew him best, it comes as no surprise that so many shared their experiences of acts of kindness and support from David when they needed it most. A good friend of mine, Southend Labour Councillor Julian Ware-Lane, was David’s opponent in the 2015 and 2017 general elections. Julian tragically died before his 60th birthday. David’s thoughtfulness and kindness, including visiting Julian in hospital, was not something that most people knew about, but it meant so much to Julian and his friends and family. It is clear from accounts over the weekend that this was not a random act but part and parcel of how Sir David lived his life. The Mayor of Southend, Councillor Margaret Borton, spoke for the whole town and wider when saying:
“To have him taken away in this manner is a tragedy for our community”.
It is too easy and too lazy for some to be cynical about MPs, councillors and indeed all politicians. At its most benign it is uninformed and unfair. At its worst it has devastating and heartbreaking consequences. We will celebrate Sir David’s life and achievements, although today we mourn his loss. We also mourn the loss of what this attack represents. The similarities between the murders of Sir David and Jo Cox are deeply disturbing. Like so many other MPs, they put their heart and soul into being the best they could be. That means face-to-face engagement with constituents, many of whom will become friends. Those meetings, events and surgeries, visits to schools, factories and businesses, and even being stopped in the supermarket, are all part and parcel of being a local MP at the heart of your community.
It was just over five years ago when we gathered here to pay our tributes following the mindless and needless violence that had taken Jo’s life. For her family—indeed, for her sister Kim, who now represents the constituency—the manner of Sir David’s death brings back all that horror and fear. I said then:
“When good people of passion and principle tell their family and their friends they want to be a councillor or a Member of Parliament, I want their families to be proud of them, not to fear for them.”—[Official Report, 20/6/16; col. 1334.]
This is the third time since 2016 that this House has paid tribute to a dedicated public servant colleague killed in the line of duty—Jo Cox MP in 2016, PC Keith Palmer in 2017, and today Sir David Amess. They were killed because they embodied the best of selfless public service. Others will recall previous attacks, not least that on Nigel Jones—now a Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham—in 2000, when Andrew Pennington was killed, and the attempted murder of Stephen Timms MP in 2010. Yet here we are again. Again, we are talking about dialling down the toxicity of debate in modern politics; about how social media, especially when used anonymously, can be chilling and scary; and about how we respect and protect our MPs. The talk has to stop; it is not enough.
On behalf of these Benches, I pay tribute to the life and work of Sir David Amess and offer our condolences to those who knew and loved him.
My Lords, I begin by joining the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing my condolences and those of my colleagues to the family and personal friends of Sir David, and to his wider family, the constituents of Southend West.
For Liberal Democrats of my generation, the point at which Sir David first made an impression on us was general election polling day in 1992. I was with Paddy Ashdown in his cottage near Yeovil on polling night. Michael Buerk had a BBC camera in the street outside. The opinion polls were suggesting a hung Parliament and we were, naturally, extremely excited at this prospect—until the first result of the evening came in from a Conservative seat, namely Basildon, when the smiling features of Sir David confounded the predictions of the exit polls and our hopes. Michael Buerk folded up his equipment and slunk away. Sir David’s delight counterpoised our disappointment.
In the years since, I have had little personal contact with Sir David, but a surprising number of my colleagues in your Lordships’ House have—in work ranging from the Industry and Parliament Trust and the Iran Freedom Movement to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue. They share the common reflection that he was a lovely person: courteous, entertaining and completely devoted to serving the public good and his constituents. In short, he had exactly the qualities that people wish to see in their elected representatives. He will certainly be greatly missed equally in Westminster and Southend.
Today, as we remember Sir David, our minds inevitably turn to the murder of Jo Cox, the deadly attack involving my colleague and noble friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham and the attack on Stephen Timms. After each of these terrible incidents, there was understandable soul searching on why the attack happened and how similar attacks might be avoided in future; and the same thoughts are in our minds today. It is obviously appropriate that there will be a review of the security of MPs to see what additional measures might be taken that are consistent with MPs being able to continue to meet their constituents and hear their concerns.
We in your Lordships’ House are in a somewhat more fortunate position than our MP colleagues. Although, like them, we may receive abusive emails—or at least I do, every time I make a speech about Brexit—threats to our physical safety are, I believe, pretty rare. We will therefore largely be bystanders in the formal security review. But, for anybody involved in politics at any level, this tragedy should give us pause to consider how we conduct ourselves and the contribution we make to the heat generated by public debate. As we do, we might start by heeding the words of the Amess family and thinking about how to embody them in the way we go about our business. The family have said that they want people to
“set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all … be tolerant and try to understand.”
In politics it is not always possible to set aside differences altogether—but it is always possible to show kindness and consideration to all. There could be no better way of respecting the memory of Sir David than to make tolerance and kindness our watchwords as we face the challenges of the months ahead.
My Lords, so many noble Lords know Sir David—or knew Sir David—that I shall be brief. On behalf of the Cross Benches, we respectfully and mournfully join in and associate ourselves with the expressions of condolence and sympathy to Lady Amess and her family on what is, obviously, a calamitous loss— made, I suspect, much more poignant by the time when it happened, the occasion when it happened and the cruel circumstances in which it happened.
An MP for 40 years was cut down while doing his job—an MP who, by all accounts, had that wonderful additional attribute, beyond serving the needs of every one of his constituents, of having an independent mind. Everything I have read about him tells me that he did. He was his own person, and we need Members of Parliament like that.
As I say, I did not know him. I know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York will be speaking soon, and he was a personal friend, so noble Lords will want to hear from him and not me, but I must add something. Can we think about the way in which we deal with these issues ourselves? Can we reflect on the impact on the House of Commons, rather than on this place? Can we reflect—and I do, with sympathy and concern for the other place—on the troublesome paradox that it seems to require a catastrophic disaster, such as this murder or the murder of Jo Cox, to bring back to mind, and highlight before the public, the societal contribution and the contribution to the welfare of the nation that is going on with 650 elected Members of Parliament sitting in the other place? We owe them rather more, do we not, than a fleeting acknowledgement on an emotionally induced occasion? If we could retain, recover or find a way for the public to appreciate what our Members of Parliament do, we would be living in a much happier society. You do not have to agree with your MP, but you do have to respect him or her.
For today, though, noble Lords have heard enough from me. Our thoughts from these Benches are with Sir David’s family, his wife and his friends, many of whom are in this Chamber; and let us not overlook the unhappy people who were there, very close to the scene at the time.
My Lords, on behalf of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of the Church of England and, I am sure, all Christian people and all people of good will, I am here to offer the family of Sir David Amess and the constituents of Southend West my condolences and the assurance of the prayers of the Church. I am very grateful for all that has been said thus far, and, certainly, we on these Benches wish to associate ourselves with those comments.
As was said, I considered David Amess a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my home town. Southend—now the city of Southend—is where I grew up. This appalling murder happened in streets I know well, just around the corner from where my mum lives. It was characteristic of David, whom I got to know during my time as Bishop of Chelmsford, that, when I was appointed, he was one of the first people to congratulate me. When I was translated to York, it was the same. He thought this was another way of putting Southend on the map: a boy who went to a secondary modern school in Southend was now the 98th Archbishop of York. He was so pleased. Last time I saw him, he asked to have his photograph taken with me.
I reckon that, now Southend has been declared a city today, forget about a statue of Vera Lynn at Dover; we are going to put a statue of David Amess at the end of Southend pier. He was—and I know this from the work I did with him—a deeply committed constituency MP. He exemplified what that means. He knew the people he served, and in the constituency he was completely colour blind to political difference. He just served the people he had been elected to serve.
But I want to say this: hate cannot win. It may score many points and land many punches, but it cannot win, because, trusting no one, hate just ends up with endless divisions and suspicions, and, in the end, it just consumes itself. Sorry—I am going to go into sermon mode just for a moment, sisters and brothers. Love is always stronger; it is always more tenacious; its patient endurance draws us together. By love, I mean not just warm feelings of well-disposed good will but that deeply committed determination to get up each morning and live what you believe in, put the needs of others before yourself and recognise our common humanity. That is where the word “kindness” comes from: it is linked to the word “kin”. It means that we belong to each other; we serve the common good; we know that our best interests are absolutely interwoven with those of others, and they lead to those things, those values and that vision, that are worth living for.
This love is what we on these Benches see in Jesus Christ. It was that love and faith in Christ within the community of the Church that was the source and sustenance of David Amess’s vision and values. It was this that enabled him to reach across party-political divides, get on well with everyone and exhibit a good-humoured generosity and a kindness that is, sadly, often woefully lacking in public and political discourse today.
These same values, this same vision, are held in our democracy. They require us to listen and to love one another, especially those with whom we differ and disagree, and to attend to each other’s needs and serve the common good. They call us to speak kindly of each other, to think well of each other and to act generously. It is because Sir David Amess so exemplified those things, regardless of what his politics happened to be, that we are so easily able to come together and remember him, to esteem his contribution to public life and to mourn his death—but not be defeated by the hatred that killed him.
I will conclude with some words that I wrote in a newspaper yesterday about his faith:
“David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart.”
That is the best place for faith because, when you wear it in your heart, it shapes everything.
My Lords, I will call three remote contributions before opening up to the rest of the House.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham cannot be in his place today but has asked me to start by saying something on his behalf about Sir David Amess. As noble Lords have already heard, my noble friend Lord Jones was himself attacked, and his aide and friend, Councillor Andy Pennington, was killed, at a constituency surgery in 2000.
My noble friend wants me to say on his behalf:
“To learn David’s life has been taken is the most unimaginable shock. I simply can’t believe this has happened again, and to the kindest, most decent of men.
He was a mate, David. We were on opposite sides of every debate, he voted the wrong way on most things and disagreed with me on just about everything. We were in different parties but always got on well. He was a wonderful personality and worked exceptionally hard for his constituents.
He was a proper parliamentarian, a dedicated public servant and a lovely man. If he bumped into me when he had visitors to the House, he’d say, ‘Oh and this is my friend Nigel, he was attacked, you know? Do you remember, he was on the television?’ I’m appalled that he has suffered like this.
David, like my friend Andy Pennington and I, was just trying to do the job to the best of his ability. Our democracy relies on an open channel between those in power and the people who we represent. It’s vital to be able to meet people face-to-face so they can feel we are here and working for them.”
Turning to my own tribute, I first got to know Sir David when I joined your Lordships’ House a decade ago and he quickly nobbled me—there is no other word—to join the all-party group for fire safety and rescue, which he chaired; I really did not have a choice. He had been a friend of my father, Tim Brinton, having met when they were MPs together, and David knew that my stepmother, Jeanne, had been a Conservative chairman of the Kent fire safety committee and that I had campaigned actively for sprinklers in schools. But that was David: every argument well researched, compliments paid and, before I knew it, I was even an officer of the all-party group too. To the utter bemusement of the much younger members of the all-party group and visiting experts, he usually introduced me as Tim Brinton’s daughter, which always made me very proud. Their friendship was based on rejecting preferment but loving the core job of being an MP, both in the constituency and in the House.
Over the decade that followed, I saw David’s campaigning zeal through the work of the all-party group, holding Ministers and sector professionals to account. Schools Fire Minister after Schools Fire Minister and Building Planning Minister after Building Planning Minister were truly held to account in David’s inimitable style. Of course, our work became even more important after the tragedy of the Grenfell fire and still is not over. We will carry it on in his memory.
Many have spoken since Friday of David’s kindness, decency, courtesy and humour. I have seen all in plenty. I was unwell for a large part of last year, and he rang me regularly to check on my progress. I want to send my deepest sympathy to Julia, their children, his wider family and all his staff and colleagues.
In this day and age of daily abuse—online and in person—death threats, attacks and even murders, David stood as an oasis of reasonable behaviour and genuine affection for all those who crossed his path. In 2017, Christians in Politics ran a campaign for learning to disagree well. I cannot think of a better example than David of always disagreeing well. In political terms, we were polar opposites, but, with him, that was never a barrier: he always found what we had in common, and we could stand together. His faith was intrinsic to every action, every word he uttered and every passing smile to faces that he recognised. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
My Lords, we never discussed politics: David knew mine and I his, and it was always like that over the years we worked together. He succeeded me as chair of the Industry and Parliament Trust in 2014, having been a board member himself for a number of years previously. I always valued his contributions, if not always the way he put them.
I well recall him saying to me before one meeting, with that lovely crinkly smile on his face and his eyes twinkling, “Now, Angela, this isn’t going to take too long, is it?” The agenda was huge.
Nick Maher, the trust’s chief executive, told me a lovely story which epitomised David. He was introducing the Lord Mayor of London at an event and said, “I would like to introduce the lord mayor. Of course, none of us can aspire to be lord mayor because we don’t have enough money and didn’t go to the right school.” The room went very quiet. That was so David. You never really knew what he might say next. I know that Nick would also want me to say that David would always go that extra mile for the IPT, was adored by the staff there and worked enormously hard for the trust, which he continued to chair until 2017.
We also worked together on the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom. David was passionate about the Iranian resistance movement, and we shared many platforms together over the years. His commitment to everything he campaigned for was inspiring.
He was a kind, funny and thoughtful man, dedicated to his beloved Southend, which I often teased him about as I had worked at the airport there in my younger days. He was totally without malice or nastiness and always charmed everyone with whom he came into contact. It is almost impossible to believe that anyone would want to harm him, let alone attack him so brutally and fatally. He was a true parliamentarian, who lived for his family and for his constituency—in that order—and his loss to us is deeply felt and incredibly painful.
My Lords, as many people were, I was especially shocked and saddened when I heard of the terrible murder of David while he was helping his people. I had the privilege of working with him on liver disease and hepatitis C. He was always cheerful and good to be with. We shared an interest in animals and the same faith. We are the poorer for having lost two very good Members of Parliament while they were doing their work. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family. Could priests be allowed to attend a crime scene so that they can give the victim their last rites, especially when they are dying?
My Lords, I open to the House.
My Lords, David Amess and I entered the House of Commons together at the 1983 general election. He was my colleague and friend for nearly 40 years. He was, as so many others have said, a really lovely man. He was one of that select band of people who are truly life-enhancing. When you left a meeting with David, even a chance encounter, you felt happier and better than you had felt before.
He was one of those rare human beings who looked for the best in others and, in doing so, brought out the best in them. He was a living antidote to the cynicism with which so many regard politics and politicians, and I join so many others in expressing my heartfelt sympathy to his family. He was, of course, a Conservative, and his conservative beliefs were deeply held and truly felt. However, as so many have said this afternoon, they did not in any way prove an impediment to his working with others across parties for the causes in which he believed.
This appalling tragedy has focused attention on the constituency role that was the core of David’s parliamentary life. It is one of the great strengths of our parliamentary democracy that every Member of the House of Commons represents a constituency. In my opinion and on the basis of my 27 years in that House, the constituency surgery plays a key role in the bond between a Member of Parliament and his or her constituents. It ensures that whatever our failings—and heaven knows there are many of them—it is quite difficult for a Member of Parliament to be out of touch.
Many years ago, not long after President George Bush senior had failed in his bid to be re-elected, I was visited by a presidential contender from the United States. He asked what plans I had for the weekend and I explained that I would be in my constituency, holding my surgeries. He asked what they were. He was very puzzled. When I explained, he expressed his surprise that a Cabinet Minister—which I was at the time—would be spending his weekend on this kind of activity. If George Bush’s Cabinet had held surgeries, he said, he would still be President.
Although I have no doubt that measures can be taken to improve the security and safety of Members of Parliament, I hope that nothing will be done to weaken the links between Members and their constituents, in which surgeries play such an important part. That would be the very opposite of the legacy which David Amess so richly deserves.
My Lords, I knew David Amess when he first came in because I was elected before him. For nearly 40 years, I was on good and friendly terms with him as a parliamentary colleague. I am as shocked as anybody in this House that such a man should come to such a terrible end.
We are all saying the same things about him and the tributes that were paid publicly last week by various people repeated the same points. As others will wish to join in, I will not repeat them all. The reason is that on this occasion the things are all true. We have a very good convention in this country that if you have to pay tribute to someone when they die, you find something polite to say. I have heard people say very moving things about people whom I know they thought privately were rather nasty pieces of work, but they were sympathetic when they died.
With David Amess, as everybody has said—and for the sake of others I will not just repeat it all—the first words that come to mind, or variants of them, when you think of him is that he was a very nice man. I cannot believe that a man like that ever had an enemy and that applied to his political life as much as to his private life. People from across the other side of the aisle from him, people from different parties who disagreed profoundly with him, have said these things. I, too, was a Conservative but it cannot be said that David and I were on the same wing of the broad coalition—as it is with all political parties in this country—that is the Conservative Party. He was a very fierce Eurosceptic. He was a great supporter of capital punishment. These are opinions which, to put it lightly, I do not share.
He was one of that group—the majority of British politicians—who would never have dreamed of allowing political disagreement to interfere with personal friendship. He respected the true right of free speech in a free society, which is that you respect the integrity and the sincerity of the person with whom you are having an argument and you maintain civilised dialogue. He was also an enthusiast—a hard-working, enthusiastic Back-Bencher who never betrayed the slightest interest in being such a keen party man that he was seeking preferment.
He always had campaigns. I shall not list the ones that I have encountered over the years but, at any given stage, he pursued quite a lot of campaigns, and he pursued them all with the same energy and enthusiasm. His personality was always amusing and engaging, and it was one of the things that forwarded what he was trying to argue for and helped recruitment to it.
I join noble Lords in all sympathies to his family, and I agree that the tragedy of this latest disaster for our democracy and our Parliament is that the victim is one of the very nicest political practitioners of any political view that I, and most of us, have encountered. It is a truly moving occasion.
On the wider aspects, you can never make controversial figures such as Members of Parliament totally safe—there is an element of minor and quite acceptable degree of risk for any Member of Parliament, however obscure and quiet. We have always had a fringe of violence in recent years; people have talked of the most recent four knife attacks, all by lunatic madmen. I think that through my time in the House of Commons I lost about six of my colleagues, who were killed by IRA terrorists and others. The most well-known occasions were the Brighton bomb and the murder of Airey Neave in the Palace of Westminster. There were others—I have not counted them all. We have to have precautions, and we have always had to have them. When I was a controversial and prominent figure, there were several weeks when the Nottinghamshire police advised me that they would like to have a Special Branch policeman sitting in the outer office of my surgery. Nothing ever came of it. The death threats that I got were usually from harmless lunatics who were just trying to frighten or offend me. But to a certain extent, it is difficult to minimise. I fear that, whereas the IRA was at least predictable, had a coherent political agenda and was determined to use terrorist violence to advance it, nowadays it is loners, fanatics and madmen, people with perverted views of their own, and it is very difficult to guarantee security against such people.
I shall only echo what everybody else has said about the contribution that political debate can make. The deteriorating tone of debate over the last 10 or 20 years is somehow encouraging these mad loners to start emerging and becoming active. There is an absurd cynicism among the public towards the political class. I fear that if you told the majority of the public in casual conversation that most MPs were crooks and only in it for what they were getting out of it, and it does not matter who you vote for, they would agree, although it is a bizarre, ridiculous and untrue allegation. Standards of honesty in the House of Commons are rather higher on average than the standards of honesty among the general public—although all groups have scoundrels, and the House of Commons has always had one or two.
The public exchange of views has become nastier and simpler. Politicians themselves are partly to blame, but social media has had a dreadful effect on the tone of debate, and the media give more courage to the lunatic fringe on the edge of perfectly good lobbies than they do to the people arguing the cause. As parliamentarians, we all have to maintain the standards, as we undoubtedly do, and mourn the loss of a very great, very nice and hard-working parliamentarian.
I associate myself with the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, particularly about the declining standard of political debate. He is also right to remind us of the high price that so many in politics have to pay. I was elected to the House of Commons in 1979 on the very day before Airey Neave was murdered in the precincts of Parliament. It was with profound and aching sorrow that I heard the shocking news on Friday that Sir David Amess MP had been murdered. Over the past 40 years, David and I had become close friends, and I shared many platforms with him, in his constituency and elsewhere.
We both had our working-class origins in the East End of London and, indeed, were baptised within a year of one another in the same church by the same Franciscan priest. He often joked that there must have been something in the holy water. His faith was in his DNA, and it animated his belief in public service and the principle of duty.
I first met David when he came into the House in 1983. From across the House, we joined forces in taking up the case of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jewish lives from the Nazis. In 1997, thanks to David’s assiduous campaign, a statue was erected to Wallenberg outside the Western Marble Arch Synagogue. There were other campaigns, about Soviet Jewry and the plight of Alexander Ogorodnikov, a Russian Orthodox dissident. We frequently shared platforms to highlight the persecution of people because of their religion or belief or human rights violations, especially—as we have heard from others—the situation in Iran.
David’s faith informed his passionate commitment to the very right to life, human dignity and the common good. But it was also rooted in his absolute conviction that an MP’s first priority was to their constituents. It was the death of a constituent from hypothermia which led to his successful Private Member’s Bill on fuel poverty.
Just a few weeks ago, David asked me to take part in the launch of his memoir, Ayes & Ears. Typical of David’s kindness and generosity, as we heard from the Leader of the House, the proceeds of the book were dedicated to three charities: Endometriosis UK, Prost8 and the Leigh-on-Sea-based Music Man project. David’s causes were rooted in the neighbourhoods and people he represented. He was committed to direct face-to-face engagement, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, was right to remind us, is at the very heart—the essence—of being a Member of Parliament. Indeed, the noble Lord contested the constituency I was ultimately elected in in a previous general election, and he knows, as I do, that it is a precious relationship you have with your constituents. But now it has taken David’s life, as it took the life of Jo Cox, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, reminded us, and Andy Pennington. If it had not been for a mercifully foiled plot, it would have also led to the murder of another friend since teenage days—Rosie Cooper, the Labour Member of Parliament for West Lancashire.
But as Mr Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has rightly said, heinous crimes must not be allowed to drain the lifeblood from our representative democracy. This was an attack on democracy itself. We would be making a terrible mistake—and I know it is not what David would have wanted—for his death to simply lead to more barriers being put between the people and their representatives. We will all want to understand the killer’s motivations; to delve deeper into the failure of the Prevent programme; and to understand the radicalisation which takes place in our prisons and through the promotion of intolerant, toxic and violent ideologies, sometimes with the indulgence of social media. Our thoughts today should also be with every family in this country—far too many—who have lost loved ones to knife crime.
As David’s family said in a statement today, people of faith, from all the great religions, and people of no faith must work much harder to create a more respectful society which honours difference. Too often we have been in denial about the sources of the hateful threats to the foundations of a liberal, open and pluralistic society. As David’s horrific death demonstrates, notwithstanding all the good in the world, we still have the capacity to do truly evil things.
His death reminds us of the deep-seated challenges we face. Above all, it will have devastating consequences for his family and loved ones, and my principal thoughts and prayers today are with Julia and their children. May this good man now rest in peace.
My Lords, I will be brief to allow other colleagues to say a few words.
On this sad occasion, when we mourn the death of our colleague, I remember a smile—the smile of David Amess. I have known David for some 15 years, and I never saw him without that smile on his face. In those years, I never heard a bad word said about him. How could there have been? He was, in the true sense of the word, a true and perfect Christian gentleman.
I remember fondly an all-party delegation to the Philippines led by David. It was an honour and privilege to be a part of it and to be with him. He moulded a very diverse group of parliamentarians into a very united group. His personality, charm and smile charmed the pants off all the Philippine members we met, both Ministers and parliamentary delegates.
As many have mentioned, Sir David had many interests; one was a keen and abiding interest in Northern Ireland. Each time we met, either the first or second sentence he would say was, “Well, Dennis, how’s Northern Ireland? How can I help?”.
Julia Amess has lost a husband. David’s children have lost a father. We parliamentarians have lost a colleague. Northern Ireland has lost a friend. David, we all miss you.
My Lords, as time is short, I will not say very much about David. So much has been said already. We both entered the House of Commons on the same day, along with my noble friend Lord Howard. David served for 38 years; I lasted 14 before I was asked to leave.
I am grateful for that in some ways, because I missed the cesspit that is social media. I used Twitter for about three months, but that was as much as I could stand. That is not to say that lots of negative material was directed at me, but social media is a cancer at the heart of our political system. The fact that people can write this stuff anonymously and without being accountable for it is something that needs to change.
David was an exceptional person, but there are many exceptional people at the other end of this building, as there are in this House. The role of an MP is not a job, but a vocation. At this moment, as we think of David’s family, we should think of the sacrifice they have made. There are the endless phone calls on a Sunday afternoon about drains, someone’s views or to say that “You’re not getting your message across”. Those who have been in the House of Commons will be very familiar with those. There are the distractions—the inability to go and see your children play sport and so on. It is a complete way of life and the support which David had from his family is something we should all be profoundly grateful for. That he should be robbed of the joy of retirement and the chance of seeing his children perhaps go on to produce grandchildren is a particularly savage thing to have happened to such a nice man.
I looked at Hansard for this year to see what David had been saying. He spoke on topics from endometriosis to forced adoption, from car charging points to the Maldives fishing industry, from motor neurone disease to night flying, from knife crime to Operation Yewtree, and of course the now celebrated campaigns for city status for Southend and a memorial for Vera Lynn. Both David and Vera were great patriots and supporters of our country and, to echo the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, David was also a fantastic supporter of the union of the United Kingdom.
The launch of the campaign for the statue of Vera Lynn included a song called “Irreplaceable”—how ironic. David is irreplaceable to the people of Southend; he was a one-off—I hope that will not be used by anyone in the by-election campaign. I began to think about which song would be appropriate for David. I thought of Vera Lynn’s “When You Hear Big Ben, You’re Home Again”, but then thought that, with David’s hugely energetic campaigns, it is probably “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”.
David Amess and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, worked tirelessly in support of persecuted Christians around the world. We should honour that by tackling these issues and recognising that it is in all our interests and in our nation’s interests that we support freedom of expression and freedom of religious belief. David Amess was a champion of that.
My Lords, we have heard wonderful tributes by people who knew Sir David much better than I did, but I want to put on the record very briefly some messages that I picked up from his constituents. Jill Allen-King, aged 82, has written about her guide dog. Most recently, she asked me to write a foreword for her latest book about being blind in lockdown. In that book, she talks about Sir David, and when I phoned her a couple of months ago, she described what a wonderful man he was: attending charitable dos when it would have been a lot easier not to; helping her with fundraising; and being there at the drop of a hat. That was the measure of Sir David Amess.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I remember him from 1992, because two or three days before the Sheffield rally, I went to Basildon to campaign and it was patently obvious then that we had lost. I knocked on doors, and the response was not just about whether people were going to vote for Labour: they were going to vote for David. I went back and reported to headquarters that we were shot. Unfortunately for us, we were.
I say to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, “Yes, we must not let hate succeed”. There is a “Panorama” programme on BBC television tonight, “Why do they hate me so much?” Yes, social media has whipped this up and made it more prevalent and dangerous. However, apart from those who are seriously mentally ill, to whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, referred, we have a phenomenon of hate that is about difference, intolerance and the way in which people can no longer have the dialogue that allows us to speak strongly, think emotionally and believe that our values are worth fighting for, but do so by upholding them in the spirit of democracy. So often now, the hate is about—with Sir David, it certainly was not about the individual—our system, our democracy and the world around us.
One thing that I picked up over the last few weeks about Sir David that is very close to my heart was his engagement with young people learning about politics, citizenship and democracy. If there is one thing that we can carry forward, which I hope will bring comfort to his family and close friends, it is being able to teach our young people how to do democracy, how to be understanding and how to have very strong opinions but express them in a way that is respectful to others as well as to themselves. If that comes out of this and people can have a dialogue across the country about how we could make that work better, Sir David’s life —wonderful as it has been—will also be remembered for making another contribution, like that of Jo Cox, to changing the way in which we do our politics.
My Lords, I will pay a very brief tribute to David, based on 32 years of shared friendship in the other place. As my noble friend Lord Howard said, he was basically loyal to his party. Speaking as a former Chief Whip, of the 876 votes in the 2010 Parliament, David supported the Government 97.6% of the time. No one could complain about that. However, he was a man of strong principle, impervious to the bait of ministerial office, as my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke said.
When he voted against the Government, he did so on a matter of principle. Your Lordships might be interested to hear that he voted against the Government on the House of Lords Reform Bill in 2011. He also voted against military action against Syria, when the Government were defeated, and he opposed the badger cull, animal welfare being one of his special subjects. More recently, he actually voted against the Government on leaseholder compensation post the Grenfell tragedy, on which many of us may share his views.
His sunny optimism, revealed by that broad smile, his basic decency, his generosity and his modesty made him a great colleague. We would see him walking briskly from engagement to engagement with a sheaf of papers under his arm, his timetable fractured both here and in Southend by his willingness to stop and talk to colleagues. The shadow Leader mentioned his insistence that the House of Commons should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess until it had answered 18 issues of great importance to the burghers of Southend. Just pity the Leader of the House replying to that debate.
I mention one other factor about David. He was generous with his time and happy to visit and speak in the constituencies of Conservative MPs—an obligation often overlooked by his more self-important colleagues. He was also capable of mischief. He once came to North West Hampshire, and the convention is that the visiting speaker pays a glowing tribute to the industry and energy of the incumbent, however well founded in truth that may be. But there was none of that from David. “Great to be here in George’s patch,” he began, “but I don’t want to waste time talking about him. I want to tell you about myself.”
Reading and listening to the tributes paid to David over the weekend, I asked myself whether people would join the dots and link the tributes we are paying to David today with those we paid last week to James Brokenshire and those we paid earlier to Jo Cox. I realised that those public servants, whom fate has cruelly taken from us too early, were between them more representative of this country’s often-abused public servants than the bad apples who get us unfavourable publicity. David’s family has expressed the hope that some good should come from this tragedy. David was essentially a generous man, and he would not mind sharing some of the tributes to him more broadly if it helped to change the perception of the profession to which he has selflessly given his life.
My Lords, I was also elected in 1983, but I first discovered Sir David’s fundamental decency, integrity and courtesy when I was a junior Whip. Later, I was David’s Chief Whip for four years. I held him in the highest regard because he was the sort of MP we Chief Whips liked and rated—not because he sycophantically voted for us 96% or 97% of the time, but because he always told us well in advance on the 3% of occasions when he could not because his conscience and constituency priorities prevailed. Chief Whips can live with MPs who have that level of courtesy and decency.
As has been said, he was deeply religious. That clearly influenced his views on political issues, but he was always capable of seeing the other point of view. He always disagreed with the viewpoint, not the person making it; that is a sign of greatness and generosity of spirit. He followed the great commandment of Jesus to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. Well, David loved 70,000 neighbours —all his constituents in Southend West—and people further afield in the UK and even further afield around the world, as has been said. In fact, those suffering in the world were David’s neighbours—and not just people; as the great hymn by Cecil Alexander says:
“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.”
If the Lord God made them, David Amess defended them.
I say this carefully: I think that David died a Christian martyr. I mean “martyr” in the proper Greek derivation of the term meaning a witness and nothing else. He died a witness to his belief in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and to their practical realisation, including in working for others until the very end. He did his duty to his God, his family, his constituency and his country. What truer passport is there to eternal life? I am reminded of the opening to the anthem “In Paradisum”, which was sung at the funeral of Lady Thatcher. It begins:
“May the angels lead you into paradise”—
but there will be no resting in peace for David Amess in paradise, for even now he will be campaigning among the angels and archangels for heaven to be granted city status.
I pass on my sincere condolences to Lady Amess, David’s children and all those others who may have been traumatised by his awful murder. It was a privilege to know him and I really liked serving with him.
My Lords, there is one aspect of Sir David’s work that is perhaps not widely known. Every year for the last 30 years, he took into his office a young American student from the Catholic University of America. I had the honour of arranging the programmes over those years, so I worked closely with him. He gave those young people a wonderful insight into British parliamentary democracy. Those young people, who had perhaps met the Senators or Congressmen they had worked for on the Hill only once in a three or four-month period, saw Sir David every day. He took them to his constituency. They saw at first hand what it meant to be personally represented. They all benefited from that experience, and he made an intangible contribution to British-American relations in the process.
My Lords, I had the pleasure of getting to know David when I first came into the House in 1986 after a by-election, and he was incredibly helpful to me at that time. Like my two predecessors in the Whips’ Office as Chief Whip, I got to know him over a period of time. It is fair to say that David followed two Whips: the Conservative Whip and the Whip of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church would always take precedence over the Conservative Whip. However, I am glad to say that they did not often collide, on parliamentary occasions at any rate.
David was a man of true belief and deep conviction. After what happened to him last week, his family will be asking, “Why?” I do not think there is an answer. It is random devastation—devastation that could affect almost any parliamentarian. As we have heard today, the issues that David covered, the projects that he raised and the campaigns that he fought for and fronted were so widespread that everyone could see what a superb constituency Member of Parliament he was.
One of the things about the House of Commons is that sometimes we come across some very strange people. They are well represented in Parliament overall, and Parliament is stronger for it. We have to come across those people, meet them and listen to them—although sometimes we might not listen for too long. I hope his family can come to accept that while their husband and father was taken from them and he cannot be replaced, this was a random attack by an evil person.
My Lords, I also pay tribute to Sir David, whom I admired and with whom I had dealings over many years. It would be a fitting tribute to him if all in both Houses would emulate his gracious words and actions and avoid, as he did, aggressive words, false allegations and visceral hatred. Such an improvement should also involve the media. This would be a great tribute to a great man, a loyal friend and a fine Christian gentleman.
My Lords, it is almost 40 years since the first meeting David and I attended on our respective roads to Westminster, entering Parliament for marginal constituencies in 1983. Here was a man who was constructive, committed, amusing and always willing to go the extra mile for you, or indeed for anyone he felt he could help. We stayed close for many decades.
Last week, at his request, I was with him on a delegation to Qatar, where his charm and mischievous sense of humour, deployed in a way only David could get away with in front of the most elevated in society, was put to wonderful effect. It was so good to be with him. On asking the Father Emir how many children he had, and receiving the reply “24”, he promptly reached for a small House of Lords picture frame as a gift and challenged him to fit all 24 into the frame. When he told the Emir, who had just received a copy of David’s book, that he could “throw it in the wastepaper basket”, that led to more laughter and marked him out as being wonderfully self-deprecating. We flew out sitting together and flew back chatting away. The mission had been one of the most successful we had been on.
His sensitivity and determination to help rehouse the 13 unaccompanied Afghan children with British family connections; his strong Catholic faith; his work as a strong supporter of Israel, yet always welcomed and respected in so many Arab countries; his ability to bring together and unite members of many a parliamentary delegation; and the quips and asides that always raised a smile, were there for all to see.
As co-founders and co-chairs of the All-Party Group for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we were planning a celebration for our Olympic and Paralympic medallists here in the Lords, an event he was much anticipating. It was no surprise, then, to receive the following tribute from the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, who yesterday wrote:
“Sir David fought keenly for sport and for all it could do. He understood that the Olympic Games are the only event this can bring the entire world together in peaceful competition … He worked tirelessly to keep the games free of politics and dispute.”
David was a true friend. He proved that politics was more than the collective DNA of ministerial ambition. It is, as has been said many times, not least in this House, about public service, about challenging and changing the lives of constituents, even in the smallest possible way; and to make a difference to your constituents and the causes you felt passionately about was everything that David stood for. He was a decent, uplifting, unstintingly hard-working, kind man with a mischievous sense of humour; an outstanding parliamentarian and constituency MP; devoted husband to Julia and loving father to their children; and such a loyal friend and colleague to so many of us. At the end, he was doing what he loved best and what he was brilliant at: helping his constituents, and not least realising his long-standing ambition that Southend, for which he long campaigned, should be a city, both on earth and, God willing, in heaven.
My Lords, as I explained earlier, we have to end now because the House is going to join the House of Commons and process at 5.30 pm behind the Lord Speaker to St Margaret’s. However, I am of course aware that many other noble Lords would have liked to pay tribute to Sir David today. Those Members who have not had a chance to speak may email their speeches to Hansard by noon on Friday. Those speeches will be included in a special collection of tributes published by Hansard which will be sent to Sir David’s family. I shall now adjourn the House so we can join the procession starting at 5.30 pm from the Chamber.
My Lords, Members who wish to take part in the procession to the service in St Margaret’s should wait in the Chamber as we prepare to leave in the next few minutes.
House adjourned at 5.23 pm.