In a moment I will ask the Prime Minister to move a motion for the Adjournment of the House, which will give an opportunity for us to pay tribute to Sir David Amess. As I said earlier, the issues raised by the circumstances of Sir David’s death will be looked at urgently and with the utmost priority. I remind hon. and right hon. Members that a police investigation is ongoing, so our focus this afternoon should be on Sir David’s life and his contribution to our democracy.
In nearly four decades in this House, Sir David was second to none in his determined commitment to his constituents, first as the Member for Basildon between 1983 and 1997, and since then as the Member for Southend West. He was tireless in making sure that the voice of Southend West was heard in this Chamber—it is difficult to believe that we will not hear him make the case for Southend achieving city status before the next recess.
Sir David worked equally hard outside the Chamber for his constituents, always going the extra mile to make sure their case was heard and their needs were met. He used his skills as a parliamentarian to pilot numerous pieces of legislation on to the statute book, reflecting his political priorities, such as fuel poverty and, of course, animal welfare. He was a much admired member of the Panel of Chairs, respected across the House for his fairness and expertise.
I would like to thank the Speakers from around the world who have sent messages of support, including—along with many, many more—Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Smith of Australia, who wanted to let us know that Congress and the Australian Parliament are thinking of us, David’s family and all at this time.
On a personal level, David was a lovely man. He was well liked by Members and staff alike, and during his almost four decades here built a reputation for kindness and generosity. Sustained by his faith, David was devoted to his family. As much as we will miss a much loved fellow parliamentarian, the loss felt by David’s wife Julia and their children is unimaginable. I know the whole House will want to join me in sending them our deepest condolences. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I call the Prime Minister.
I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
The passing of 72 hours has done little to numb the shock and sadness we all felt when we heard of the tragic and senseless death of Sir David Amess. This House has lost a steadfast servant, we have lost a dear friend and colleague, and Julia and her children have lost a loving husband and devoted father. Nothing I or anyone else can say will lessen the pain, the grief, the anger they must feel at this darkest of times. We hold them in our hearts today. We mourn with them and we grieve alongside them.
Sir David was taken from us in a contemptible act of violence, striking at the core of what it is to be a Member of this House, and violating the sanctity both of the church in which he was killed and the constituency surgery that is so essential to our representative democracy. But we will not allow the manner of Sir David’s death in any way to detract from his accomplishments as a politician or as a human being. Sir David was a patriot who believed passionately in this country, in its people, in its future. He was also one of the nicest, kindest and most gentle individuals ever to grace these Benches; a man who used his decades of experience to offer friendship and support to new Members of all parties, whose views often confounded expectation and defied easy stereotype, and who believed not just in pointing out what was wrong with society but in getting on and doing something about it.
It was that determination to make this country a better place that inspired his outstanding record on behalf of the vulnerable and the voiceless. The master of the private Member’s Bill and 10-minute rule Bill, he passed legislation on subjects as diverse as animal welfare, fuel poverty and the registration of driving instructors. He was a prodigious campaigner for children with learning disabilities and for women with endometriosis, a condition on which he became an expert after meeting a woman at one of his constituency surgeries.
Behind the famous and irresistible beam lay a seasoned campaigner of verve and grit, whether he was demanding freedom for the people of Iran or courting votes in the Westminster Dog of the Year contest, whether he was battling for Brexit or fighting his way to the front of the parliamentary pancake race. And as every Member of this House will know, and as you have just confirmed, Mr Speaker, he never once witnessed any achievement by any resident of Southend that could not somehow be cited in his bid to secure city status for that distinguished town. Highlights of that bulging folder included: a world record for playing the most triangles at once; a group of stilt-walkers travelling non-stop from the Essex coast to Downing Street; and a visiting foreign dignitary allegedly flouting protocol by saying he liked Southend more than Cleethorpes—a compelling case, Mr Speaker. As it is only a short time since Sir David last put that very case to me in this Chamber, I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
That Sir David spent almost 40 years in this House but not one day in ministerial office tells everything about where his priorities lay. He was not a man in awe of this Chamber, nor a man who sought patronage or advancement; he simply wanted to serve the people of Essex, first in Basildon and then in Southend. It was in the act of serving his constituents that he was so cruelly killed. In his recent memoir, Sir David called surgeries a part of
“the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians”.
Even after the murder of Jo Cox and the savage attacks on Stephen Timms and Nigel Jones, he refused to accept that he should be in any way deterred from speaking face to face with his constituents. So when he died, he was doing what he firmly believed was the most important part of any MP’s job: offering help to those in need.
In the awful moments before we knew the full horror of the tragedy, a member of Sir David’s constituency association, her voice breaking with emotion, told an interviewer that
“we need him…the country needs him”— and we do. This country needs people like Sir David, this House needs people like Sir David, and our politics needs people like Sir David: dedicated, passionate, firm in his beliefs but never anything less than respectful for those who thought differently. Those are the values he brought to a lifetime of public service. There can be few among us more justified than him in his deep faith in the resurrection and the life to come. And while his death leaves a vacuum that will not and can never be filled, we will cherish his memory, we will celebrate his legacy, and we will never allow those who commit acts of evil to triumph over the democracy and the Parliament that Sir David Amess loved so much.
In the last few days, there have been many tributes to Sir David, from politicians of all parties, from his constituents and members of the public, from friends and from family, and from faith leaders, especially the Catholic Church, of which he was such a devoted follower. Each tribute paints its own picture—of a committed public servant, of kindness and of a man whose decency touched everybody that he met. Taken together, these tributes are a powerful testimony to the respect, the affection and, yes, the love that David was held in across politics and across different communities. Together, they speak volumes about the man that he was and the loss that we grieve.
Sir David was a dedicated parliamentarian and his loss is felt profoundly across this House. We are united in our grief at this terrible time. We are thinking of David and his family. We are thinking, once again, of our dear friend Jo Cox, who was killed just five short years ago. I know that hon. Members and their staff will have spent the weekend worrying about their own safety. The emotion is the same across the House, but I remember just how acutely Jo’s loss was felt on these Benches, so today, on behalf of the entire Labour party, I want to lean across, to reach across and to acknowledge the pain that is felt on the opposite Benches, and I do. Of course our differences matter—after all, that is what democracy is about—but today we are reminded that what we have in common matters far more.
I spoke to Jo Cox’s parents on Friday afternoon because I knew that they would be reliving that terrible day. They said to me they were thinking of David’s family and how their lives would be changed forever. So today, just as the Prime Minister has said, this House holds in our hearts David’s wife, Julia, his children, Katherine, David Jr., Sarah, Florence and Alex, and all of those who loved him. We cannot begin to imagine what they are going through, but our thoughts, our love and our prayers are with them.
I also thank those who did everything they could to save David’s life and our emergency services, who run towards danger to protect us. I also want to take a moment for us all to think about David’s staff and what they must be going through. This Parliament that David loved so much has lost one of its finest advocates, his colleagues have lost a dear friend, and the people of Southend have lost one of their own.
Sir David was a dedicated constituency MP. When I visited Southend on Saturday, I was struck by the affection and the regard in which he was held by everybody I met. He rejected ministerial office to focus on Southend; we remember his historic battle to see it given city status, and I am so pleased about the announcement that the Prime Minister has just made. It is a fitting tribute to Sir David’s hard work, it really is—fitting because David delivered on the causes that he championed and cared about. He introduced a Bill that forced action on fuel poverty, he paved the way for better standards of fire safety and he delivered protections for animal welfare.
No tribute has emerged in recent days that resonates more vividly than that of David’s former parliamentary staffer Edward Holmes. As he was in his first job out of university, Holmes forgot to tell Sir David about an urgent call that the then Prime Minister David Cameron had made. He said that he felt terrified until he finally plucked up the courage to tell David, whose response was typical: “Don’t worry about that, Edward.” So relaxed was David that Mr Holmes says that he suspects he never actually called the Prime Minister back.
That tells of a politician who had his priorities right: one who put his people before his party, and his patch before his personal advancement. Even as a political opponent, he was a man and a politician we can all learn so much from. I use that phrase “political opponent” very deliberately, because David held his beliefs passionately but gently. I believe not only that we can learn from that, but that we have a duty to learn from it. Civility matters, and it matters in politics.
We must not lose sight of the fact that David’s killing was an act of terror in our country. We cannot help but think of Jo Cox, Andrew Pennington and PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life defending all of us in this place in 2017. We thank God that my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms is with us in the Chamber today, and that the would-be attackers of my hon. Friend Rosie Cooper were stopped in their tracks. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I know that politicians across the country and across this House have their own experiences of threats to their security. Today is a chance to remember David, but in the weeks and days to come we must confront the threats and violence that everyone faces in enacting this country’s democracy.
It is too early for us to comment on the exact motivations and circumstances of David’s killing, but I want to finish by saying this: a cowardly attack on a public servant doing his job is an attack on our country and on our way of life—a way of life that prizes tolerance, democracy and respect, that accepts our differences but cherishes our commonalities, that refuses to succumb to the poison of extremism. No matter what perverted cause, faith or ideology these attackers support, their intention is always the same: to sow division among us. That is why our response must always be to show that we will never be cowed, that our bonds to one another can never be eroded, that the hatred that took Sir David’s life will never win.
Our democracy is precious. It has held firm against many tests, but it is also a fragile, living thing. Let us use the memory of Sir David’s life and his passions to nourish it, to recommit ourselves in standing for the things that he stood for, the things that extremists will never comprehend—for decency in our disagreements, for kindness in our hearts, for our great democracy, and for the hope that through it we can make our country and our world a better place.
Sir David Amess was my best and oldest friend in politics, so I confess that I am hurting terribly, and I hope the House will forgive me if, because of that, my contribution this afternoon is even more incoherent than usual. I certainly cannot match those two beautiful and, if I may say so, extremely moving tributes from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I thank them.
Everything that I ever learned about how to be a constituency MP, I learned from David Amess. He sponsored me for the candidates list, and he mentored me when I arrived. Without him, I would never have become a Member of Parliament, so some might well argue that he has much to answer for.
I grew up in Basildon when David was the local MP. I grew up on a working-class council estate which even the locals nicknamed Alcatraz. David helped me to campaign in 1991 to win election to Basildon Council—quite a robust place to learn one’s trade, and once described as the only local authority in Britain where at council meetings the councillors actively heckled the public gallery. I was there. Trust me: I’m a politician.
In return, I ran David’s ground war in his iconic defence of Basildon in 1992. During that campaign, the late Paul Channon came down from Southend to help, and we were out canvassing on a council estate in Pitsea. I will never forget that. We knocked on a door, and a monster of a bloke answered it. He looked at us both, and he looked at the blue rosettes, and he said, “Conservative? Tory? You must be bloody joking, mate— I’m voting for that David Amess!” I said, “I know when I’m beat, sir. Well done.”
My partner Olivia and I were due to be on David’s table at the Southend West Conservatives’ annual dinner on the day he was murdered. But David is now our fallen comrade. He was a devoted and a loving family man, and our deepest sympathies are with his widow, Julia, and his five children, who produced the most amazingly courageous statement, the essence of which was, I think, that love must conquer hate. I am sure we all agree with that. He was an animal-lover, a patriot, a Thatcherite, a Eurosceptic, a monarchist, a staunch Roman Catholic whose faith sustained him throughout his life, a truly great friend to those in need—I can vouch for that—and a fine parliamentarian. He was probably the best potential Father of the House we will now never have.
David had a zest for life, a joie de vivre. For him the glass was never half empty; it was three quarters full. He was a doughty champion for Basildon and then for Southend. So thank you, Prime Minister—and I thank Her Majesty and the Privy Council—for making Southend a city after all. It was the right thing to do; and our apologies to Cleethorpes! While you are at it, Prime Minister, perhaps you can help Southend United: they are going through a bit of a sticky patch, and they really need all the help they can get.
You never knew what David was going to do next. That Essex “cheeky chappie” smile, that impish Amess grin, always with a hint of gentle mischief behind it. He once even persuaded His Holiness the Pope to bless a boiled sweet, as my friend and neighbour, my hon. Friend James Duddridge, will explain in a moment.
However, David also had a serious side, and it is that on which I want to focus the rest of my speech. In the last few years, he had become increasingly concerned about what he called the toxic environment in which MPs, particularly female MPs, were having to operate. He was appalled by what he called the vile misogynistic abuse that female MPs had to endure online, and he told me recently that he wanted something done about it. Three years ago, my right hon. Friend Ms Dorries wrote a powerful article about this on ConservativeHome in which she quoted the following social media post:
“I want to see you, trapped in a burning car and watch as the heat from the flames melts the flesh from your face.”
I ask you, Mr Speaker, what did she ever do to deserve that? Another fallen comrade, Jo Cox, whose sister now graces this place, said that we have more in common than that which divides us, and I think she was absolutely right.
All of us, wherever we come from, came here to try to help people. We may disagree, sometimes passionately, about how best to help people, but surely we could all agree that we came here to try. For this, we are now systematically vilified day after day, and I simply say to you, ladies and gentlemen, that enough is enough. We all have one thing in common: we are legislators. So I humbly suggest that we get on and do some legislating. I suggest that if we want to ensure that our colleague did not die in vain, we all collectively pick up the baton, regardless of party, and take the forthcoming Online Safety Bill and toughen it up markedly. If I may be so presumptuous, let us put “David’s law” on to the statute book, the essence of which would be that, while people in public life must remain open to legitimate criticism, they could no longer be vilified or their families subjected to the most horrendous abuse, especially from people who hide behind a cloak of anonymity, with the connivance of the social media companies for profit. The mood I am in, I confess that I would like to drag Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter to the Bar of the House, kicking and screaming if necessary, so that they could look us all in the eye and account for their actions, or rather their inactions, which are making them even richer than they already are.
Let us also do that for all our councillors, who are sick and tired of reading on Facebook after every planning committee meeting the night before, that “it must have been a brown envelope job”. Let us do it for all those other people who hold surgeries, including our GPs who have carried on tending to the sick throughout the pandemic but who are now being vilified online, along with their loyal receptionists and staff, just for trying to do their job. If the social media companies do not want to help us to drain the Twitter swamp, let us compel them to do it by law, because they have had more than enough chances to do it voluntarily. Please bring in this Bill, Prime Minister, and if you need any assistance in toughening it up, we are called the Back Benchers of the House of Commons and we are here to help. What better way to ensure that a fine parliamentarian did not die in vain than to enshrine one of his last wishes in legislation forever, for the benefit of all those in public life?
Many Members wish to pay tribute, so I will end with this: another thing about David was his legendary timekeeping, or rather lack of it. His constituency events always ran late because he was so popular and so many people wanted to speak to him. By the end of a busy constituency Friday, of which he had many, he was sometimes running up to an hour late—he invariably overran, and this afternoon, in his honour, so have I; sorry, Mr Speaker—but what better fault to have than that wonderful trait? Among some of his closest friends, he was known affectionately as the late Sir David Amess.
Well, now he really is the late Sir David Amess. I am absolutely determined—I ask for the House’s support in this—that he will not have died in vain. He is now resting in the arms of the God he worshipped devotedly his whole life, so farewell David, my colleague, my great friend—in fact, quite simply the best bloke I ever knew. I thank the House for its indulgence.
It is a considerable pleasure to follow Mr Francois. I do not think I have ever said this after any of his contributions, but I pretty well agree with every single word he said. I hope the House listens very carefully to what he said about the responsibilities we all have.
We are gathered here united in mourning and grief at the loss of a proud champion of Southend—now to be the city of Southend; a great Back Bencher, a beloved husband and father, and a dear friend to so many, particularly on the Government Benches. Sir David Amess was valued in so many ways, but I think the most powerful description of him was, in some ways, the simplest and most human: David was, above all else, a good and deeply decent man—a man who would always greet you with a welcoming smile whenever you met him.
For Members and staff across the House, it will take time to come to terms with the terrible shock of the senseless loss of another colleague. Just as our thoughts and prayers today are with the entire Amess family, we think too of the family of Jo Cox, who are forced to relive the nightmare of their experience all over again. Members of this House are being murdered while simply doing their job. That is the terrible reality we are faced with and, just as we face it together, we need to put an end to it together. In providing that security and safety, we need to protect all those at risk. We all know that it is often our staff who are on the frontline of the threats and abuse. I welcome the review of MPs’ security, but I urge the Home Secretary to include our staff as a central part of that security review.
The devastating loss of Sir David has once again laid bare the twin threat of terrorism and the toxic culture of hate and intolerance that has become all too common. Today of all days, it is crucial that we show the same spirit and speak with one voice across this House, as indeed we are.
I stand firmly with and echo the powerful and poignant words of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, but I also want to commend them for jointly going and standing together in Southend on Saturday. That was exactly the right image and the right message to send. People need to see Saturday’s image of unity, and it is an image and ethos of political leadership that we need to project in public far more often, of a healthy democracy that engages with passionate disagreement, as appropriate.
But we all know that, somewhere along the way, we have been badly diverted. For too long we have been dragged down a path where passionate disagreement has been infected by poison. We can all do better not to feed into that corrosive culture. We have all been a victim of it, and every single one of us has a responsibility to put an end to it.
It is the truest tribute to Sir David that he personified exactly what we need to get to. He was a person whose politics could be forceful, but he was always friendly. He was a person who could disagree without ever, not ever, being disagreeable.
I look forward to hearing the fond memories of many of Sir David’s colleagues and friends. The beautiful statement released by the Amess family last night put it better than I possibly could. David’s lesson and his legacy is to show
“kindness and love to all.”
All of our memories will be of a good man and of a life well lived. May his family and community know today the true depth of respect, affection and love that he enjoyed across this House, and may his gentle soul now rest in peace. God bless you, David.
David was a man of faith and convictions—faith in his religion and convictions in his politics. He was, above and beyond everything else, a family man and a very funny man. He would often break all the rules, cutting through pomp and ceremony, and connecting with people. When introducing me, he would always make up a story: I was the “Strictly Come Dancing” winner at his annual party for people over the age of 100; before there was a raffle, he would describe me as a lottery millionaire at a charity fundraiser; and there was my favourite ice breaker, which was, “Meet James, he is my neighbour. He has recently got out of prison.”
David would hold the audience with his anecdotes and stories, and I would like to share the story of the boiled sweet. David was a regular visitor to the Vatican, given his faith. In the receiving line, people were getting items blessed, and David, perhaps slightly absent-mindedly, being used to these things, reached into his pocket for a boiled sweet—he had a sore throat. David got his timing wrong and the Pope took the sweet, thinking it was a revered object to be blessed, and blessed the revered object—[Laughter.] And David had to put it in his pocket. It was a holy sweet. When David would tell the anecdote, as he would do many a time—I suspect Members have all heard it—he would again reach into his pocket and say, “And this is the sweet that was blessed!” I suspect that many sweets have been passed off as the holy sweet, but there is only one chosen one.
As the neighbouring Member of Parliament for what we must now say is Southend city—thank you, Prime Minister, as it means a lot to everybody, it really does—colleagues would sidle up to me and say, “You’re David’s neighbour, aren’t you?” A bit tentatively, I would say, “Yes”, but I knew what was coming. It was always an outrageous story of his behaviour at a meeting or, in particular, on an overseas trip, which completely broke the ice. He was indeed a great man. David loved animals, but there will no longer be the infamous “dog of the day” tweets. He will never again dress as a knight in full battle finery, mount a horse and ride across the city of Southend, as he did after receiving a knighthood. That really is unbelievable; it seems as though I am making it up.
Mr Speaker, thank you for coming on Saturday. To have the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and yourself there sent a real message to the town—the city—that the nation cared and the nation was mourning with us. The impact of David’s death has been profound on the city. Southend is in shock and I am in shock. I am told that the pathway for the city will be difficult. Having spoken to people around Jo Cox’s family, I know that this is going to be a long process. We do not want to be the city where the MP was murdered; we want to be the city with the longest pleasure pier in the world, with a great airport and with a successful football team—even though David was conflicted on the latter, as a confirmed man of the east end and a West Ham supporter.
David loved his mum, who lived to 104. In Southend, we all assumed that David would go on forever. The late Eric Forth told me that David would be the Father of the House. I just thought it was going to be thus one day, but it was not so. In gathering my words, I thought of the phrase “cut short in his prime” and then smirked to myself; it seemed ridiculous, as he was aged 69. But he was sprightly, a secret gym goer, with a full head of floppy hair, and I just felt there was more ahead of him than behind him. Sadly, his future was stolen from us all, and Southend and this House are poorer for it. Over the weekend, I kept watching the news, hoping that the ending of the story or news clip would somehow be different from the previous ending.
At a vigil in Southend there were hundreds of people from all walks of life. Every story was very different, but at the same time every story was the same: David listened, David cared, David delivered—he had a knack of getting things done. Like others have said, I always expected him to turn up late, so I was not surprised when he was not there at the beginning of the vigil, but I really did expect him to be there, because he is always there.
It is unbelievable that David is not coming back. Members can think of the last meeting they had with him—I think of the last Remembrance Day service and the last Christmas with him dressing up as Santa Claus and going out and giving chocolates to the kids in the Neptune ward in Southend, whether they wanted them or not! I would bring the remainder to my kids, who would stick them to one side, despite all the rules about eating chocolate.
This is not the last of David: he lives on in us all. I do not think David would have seen himself as a mentor to people in this House—he would not have called himself that—but that is what he was, by demonstration and osmosis. David inspired great loyalty in his staff, and his office was always packed with people, paperwork and, as anyone who has been there would know, fish and birds, despite the House authorities’ ban on the subject. It was part office, part museum of decades of political memorabilia, part pet shop. It was an office like the politician: unique.
David is survived by a lovely family: Julia, his wife, and his children David jr, Katherine, Sarah, Alex and Florence. It is with sadness that the family comes from all corners to be back together in the city of Southend. We pray for them collectively. Their statement yesterday was poignant. They said:
“we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all.”
That should not be beyond us all; it is not a bad instruction to this House. Let us take that message back to our constituencies. Let us make some good of this horror. To Julia: Southend thanks your husband for his service. Rest in peace, my good friend. Rest in peace.
Beyond the horror that we all feel, Sir David’s family are first and foremost in my thoughts. I want to add my heartfelt sympathy to his wife and children. Their statement, released in their unimaginable shock and grief, shows such extraordinary dignity.
Sir David was one of the most dedicated but also the most affable of MPs. He looked beyond party differences to work with so many of us on a multitude of issues of common concern. That is why there are tears on all sides of the House this afternoon. To give just one example, most recently he took the lead on a cause that I then took up: the injustice done to young, unmarried mothers whose babies were taken from them in the 1960s and 1970s. We all have examples of when he worked with us. My tribute to him will be to redouble my efforts on that cause and to remember and work in the spirit that he exemplified: commitment to constituency, commitment to Parliament and a belief that he could and did make a difference. Sir David Amess, rest in peace.
In 2010, David Amess made a speech in which he said it was extraordinary to listen to the then acting leader of the Labour party, now the Mother of the House. He said that she made a splendid speech, and that one of the jokes was fantastic and he was going to use it in the future.
David’s all-party group on fire safety and rescue worked with the all-party group on leasehold and commonhold reform—we had a number of meetings over the year. Alongside city status for Southend, may I put it to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that they could make his legacy the finding, fixing and funding of the problems on defective leasehold flats, while chasing those responsible and getting them to pay up? I think he would wish for that.
If we look around this Chamber, we can see the shields of those who have died—some in active service in the last world war. Ronald Cartland was the first. Other Members went forward knowing the risks. So did Police Constable Keith Palmer.
Jo Cox and her family are in our hearts, as we have been told, and we remember Andrew Pennington, the Liberal MP’s caseworker who also died in a constituency attack. A few of us were here when Airey Neave’s car was blown up. Robert Bradford and I were together in the Westminster Wobblers, the House of Commons’ football team. Tony Berry was my Whip, and Ian Gow and I canvassed together in Ulster. Gow’s death, I believe, was timed to make us forget the murder of the Sister of Mercy, Catherine Dunne, a few days earlier in July 1990.
In David’s first speech in January 1984, he said:
“Charity has been described as that amiable quality that moves us to condone in others the sins and vices to which we ourselves are addicted.”
When he made that first speech in the Commons, he was able to say that there with him were five people who had previously represented his own constituency, which must be some kind of a parliamentary record.
David was followed by Mr Brown, who cheerfully said:
“At the risk of inciting dissent from those behind me, I congratulate
That was the line that Douglas Jay used when he congratulated me in 1975, so the response must be in the Labour Whips’ booklet.
“the simplicity of a man who served.”
“He knew his constituents well and showed them what the Tory party could be.”
Mr Speaker, can we thank you and the party leaders for what you have said over the past three days? May I also add John Bercow who, in an interview I heard, represented the feeling of those who have served with David in this House?
Many of these attacks are done for calculated publicity and public reaction. We should try to make both act against the wishes of perpetrators. The only guarantee is that, when there is a gap, it will be filled. MPs are in the middle of a pack of people at some risk, including ministers of religion, mental health workers, public transport staff, lone shopkeepers, women police officers, journalists, fair employment builders in Northern Ireland and the judiciary, and especially women and girls going home and at home.
We should defend people in every walk of life, in politics and universities—here I mention mildly the philosopher Professor Kathleen Stock in my county of Sussex. St Margaret’s Church, Parliament Square, where I serve as parliamentary warden, is where we will gather later today and for the Roman Catholic service on Wednesday.
We have learned to stand with the Irish and the Northern Irish against violence. We stand with Muslims against Islamophobia, with Jews against anti-Semitism and with all the targets of fascists and white supremacists. We do have to be vigilant, but we also have to continue to be diligent in contact with constituents. Of course, we must review security risks, including the insecure location of the national holocaust memorial presently proposed in Victoria Tower Gardens.
At the opening of the Imperial War Museum’s holocaust galleries last week, I collected posters. David might wish us to remember their words, as if directed to us and to our constituents.
“Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might.”
Another, which brings his face to my mind, says:
“Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory.”
I end with the then Prime Minister’s first speech to the House of Commons:
“Let us go forward together.”—[Official Report,
The grief, the sadness and the shock that we are all feeling today on the awful loss of Sir David Amess—this collective sorrow—unites us all today. Like the Leader of the Opposition, I want to reach across the aisle and say to every Conservative colleague who knew David much better than many of us on the Opposition Benches, as has been so evident in the brilliant speeches that we have heard: we feel for you.
David’s wonderful friendliness and his eclectic mix of campaigns that bridged the political divide were very special. From his campaigns on animal welfare to his championing of the fuel poor, David always spoke with compassion and authority, and often with humour.
Since Friday, I have spoken to a range of people about David, not least Liberal Democrat councillors from Southend. I have to confess to Government colleagues that not all Liberal Democrat councillors are always complimentary about their sitting Conservative MP, but about David Amess their affection was totally authentic. Carole Mulroney, a councillor in Leigh-on-Sea, told me how appreciative she was of David’s support for the Leigh Society and the local heritage centre that it runs. Local history was clearly a passion of David’s, as shown by his championing of the cause of Endeavour, the only one of Leigh’s little ships to have survived the years since Dunkirk. Endeavour has been brought back to Leigh and restored, and now takes part in Dunkirk ceremonies and local events, not least thanks to David.
As well as being proud of Southend’s past, David will always be deeply connected to its present and its future, particularly now that we will have the city of Southend. Carole told me how David would proudly boast of walking each road, street, drive, avenue and lane of his constituency, and how supportive he was of every community, not least the local fishing and cockling industry. Every community needs champions like David. The point is that we do not have to agree with each other across our political divides, but we can learn to be kind and warm, even when we disagree; David was.
Today is not the day for discussing the implications for MPs’ security and so on, but I want to reflect on what happened to one of my close Liberal Democrat colleagues nearly 21 years ago. Yesterday I spoke to Nigel Jones, a former MP for Cheltenham, who, as many will recall and a number have mentioned, was brutally assaulted during his constituency advice surgery. Nigel was saved that day by the bravery of his member of staff, Andrew Pennington. Andrew Pennington was killed. Andrew was a local councillor, who, Nigel told me, used to work seven days a week for local residents. He was Nigel’s right-hand person. As we reflect on the loss of David and on the threat to MPs, let us remember this too: our staff and many in public services face abuse, threats and violence on an alarmingly frequent basis. It is incumbent on us in this House to defend them all. I am sure that that is what David would have wanted.
Laughter, service, compassion: these are three of the words that spring to my mind when I think of David Amess.
Laughter, because you could never have a conversation with David without laughter and smiling, whether that was because one of the outrageous stories that he was telling, perhaps about one of his colleagues or somebody else—[Laughter.] It was always smiles, always laughter, always fun around David.
Service, because he had an extraordinary record of dedicated service to his constituents. I suggest to anybody who wants to be a first-class constituency MP that they look at the example of David Amess. He was deeply embedded in his constituency and, as we all know, championed it on every possible occasion. I do not think that a question or speech from David went by in this House without his constituency being mentioned. But he did not just promote his constituency here in the House. He was a part of it: he understood it, he knew it, he was in the community, he was of the community, and he was respected and loved by the community. His death is tragic and the manner of his death appalling, but isn’t it fitting that his last acts were acts of service to his constituents?
And then there was David’s compassion, born out of and strengthened by his faith: compassion for the vulnerable; compassion for those in need. But he did not just talk about it; he acted. He changed laws. He went out there and made a difference to people’s lives, because he was also an accomplished parliamentarian and he knew that a Back Bencher who is dedicated and resolute can make a real difference.
To echo some of the comments that have been made today, first of all, I think it is a wonderful legacy for David that Southend is now a city. But we can also add to the legacy of David Amess by ensuring that in all our political debates and our political discourse we bring to those debates and that discourse the same respect, decency and compassion that were the symbols of his life. Because David Amess made a difference. His compassion made a difference to people outside of this House. His kindness made a difference to people inside this House. Our thoughts and prayers are with Julia and the family. Their loss is devastating. His constituency has lost a much respected and loved Member of Parliament, this House has lost a remarkable and valued parliamentarian, and every Member of this House has lost a friend. May he rest in peace.
As has been alluded to, Sir David was a man of deep Catholic faith. The Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10, reminds us that the Lord came not just to give life but to give it in abundance, and David lived his life in abundance—a joyous service both to his constituents and here in this House. We would see him late at night, often in a tuxedo, going from charitable concern to charitable concern, championing the causes he believed in. He looked good in a tuxedo—no Daniel Craig, but this was no time to die either.
My wife reminded me of the time when we went to the beatification in Rome of John Henry Newman, just before lockdown—a beautiful service presided over by Pope Francis. We were whisked to the Oratorian College on one of the mountains of Rome overlooking Vatican City, where Prince Charles addressed us brilliantly. Then the royal cavalcade rushed out. Unfortunately, the parliamentarians on the trip were left stranded. The former Member for Ealing North, Stephen Pound, a former naval commander, decided to lead the vanguard in a military operation to get us back down to our hotel. Like troglodytes we entered a cave and ended up in a vast Franciscan monastery. Our party become separated; it was now more like an Ealing comedy under Stephen’s leadership. My wife reminded me that I abandoned her and her safety—a lifelong Labour activist, my wife—to three Tory MPs getting stuck in a lift, including Basildon Man, as she said, because he was still etched on our 1992 election memory. The other two MPs, by the way, were for North Dorset and Fylde, so I will catch Mark and Simon up about what went on in that lift, because my wife said, “What an utterly, utterly wonderful man.”
He participated fully in the liturgy of the Church. He participated fully in the sacraments of the Church. While I have the attention of those on the Front Benches, let me say that Catholics believe that extreme unction helps guide the soul to God after death, so maybe we could come up with an Amess amendment so that no matter where it is, in a care home or at a crime scene, Members, or anybody, can receive that sacrament.
David believed fundamentally in the social teaching of the Church: dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity to the nth degree when it came to Southend, a preferential option for the poor, and care for the environment. That meant that he came with unique views on things such as life, death, Europe and animal protection, sometimes in chime with his party, sometimes in chime with the country, but sometimes not. He channelled the 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich, who said, “All things shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” That is difficult for us all here today. His cheeky catchphrase was, “Don’t worry; it will be fine”—not quite Bruce Forsyth, but he was a friend of Bruce Forsyth and his family.
He did not die a martyr, but he died, as has been said, doing the things he loved and helping constituents. He would have known that the theologian Karl Rahner said that power is a gift from God. That portcullis on the top of our letterheads gives us all that power, whether on the Front Bench, in opposition or on the Back Benches. Let us recommit to Sir David today that we will use that power for the common good.
He died on the feast of St Teresa of Ávila. She said this, famously:
“May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.”
David used those gifts, and he passed on that love.
Sir David, may the choirs of angels come to greet you. May they lead you to paradise. May the Lord enfold you in his mercy. May he grant you eternal life. Eternal rest give to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
It was a true privilege to have known David Amess. He was simply one of the best people I have ever known in my entire life. He was a true friend. He had time for each and every one of us. He looked down on no one. He was everyone’s equal. He was kind, he was generous, and he was sincere. He was a man of principle and courage. He was uncompromising in what he believed to be right. He was not one of those who change their views in order to progress. He knew what he believed in, and he stood firm for those things. He was a man of enormous integrity, but he was a true friend to so many of us.
I knew David for around 40 years. We became friends instantly, because we shared the same political views. We came from the same background. I am from Essex—some say east London, but I say Essex—and he knew that our instincts, coming from that neck of the woods, were the same. We hit it off from day one. We were committed to this country. We love our country. He was a passionate believer in Britain and a true patriot. He was a royalist. He was never afraid to fly the flag and to champion great British values. He was a Christian and was proud to be a Christian and uphold the Christian heritage of this country.
He also loved animals, as I do. He loved my dogs almost as much as I love his dogs. On many occasions, I would visit his home in Southend, often taking my elderly mother. He had an elderly mother who lived to 104. When his mum died, he spoke to my mother as if she were his mother. He treated me like family. My heart goes out to Julia and the five children, who are wonderful people. He had a fantastic family. He was so dedicated to his constituencies: Basildon and Southend West. He lived for them, and he did sacrifice everything else to put his constituency first.
I will say this: the one legacy that we must hold true to David is not to let his horrific murder and the horrific way that he left us change our democracy. I remember the day after the appalling Grand Hotel bombing in Brighton in 1984. I remember Margaret Thatcher—he was a dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher—saying, “It is business as usual, we must carry on.” I take the same view. Whatever happens and whatever we do to carry on and protect ourselves, we must not let our democracy be undermined by that kind of evil. We must stand up to evil, defend our democracy, cherish the freedom that gives all of us the right to be here and represent our constituents, and defend and cherish the freedoms and liberties that have held our country together for generations. David was a fine example of a parliamentarian, a magnificent constituency MP, a true friend, a gentleman and a truly wonderful human being. We are going to miss him, but I feel truly privileged to have known him. Thank you, David. God bless you.
I rise on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends to record the common and unified voice of the people of Northern Ireland, who share in the grief and sorrow at the loss of our esteemed and much-loved colleague and friend. My condolences and sympathy to the Prime Minister and his colleagues on the Conservative Benches. Words cannot adequately describe or suitably express our heartfelt sympathy, but I pray that the words spoken here today and across our nation in recent days sustain and give strength to David’s family. No one will feel the loss of David more than his family. To his wife Julia, his beloved children and the wider family circle, I offer my heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, and I trust and pray that almighty God, the greatest of all comforters, will draw near to all of them.
David epitomised the true meaning of public service. He was the model parliamentarian. He sought office not for self but to serve others, influenced by his deep Christian faith to champion the needs of the most vulnerable, to give a voice to the voiceless and to stand up for the interests of the people of Southend West. David’s greatest joy came not in holding office but in how he could use that office to improve the everyday lives of those he was honoured to represent. The people of his constituency and from the city of Southend have lost their greatest champion, and I, like Members on all sides of the House, have lost a dear friend.
The plaques at the entrance door to the Chamber and around the Chamber in memory of the late Airey Neave, Robert Bradford, Anthony Berry, Ian Gow and Jo Cox are a daily reminder to all of us of the threat that our democracy faces in modern times. In Northern Ireland, all parties in the Chamber have experienced these threats and the loss of dear colleagues at the hands of the enemies of democracy. Today, this House sends a clear message—a resounding message—that democracy in the United Kingdom will never be suppressed. Our voices will never fall silent. We will never allow evil to triumph over good.
David taught us all the true meaning of public service. He showed us the true value of public office and provided us all with a true example of faith in public life. His legacy lives on in all the causes and communities that he championed, the lives that he improved and those whom he inspired.
Mr Speaker, it now falls on us all to take forward the beacon of hope along the path that David led us and to ensure that the flame of his legacy is never extinguished. The House is the poorer for his loss, and this country—all of it—mourns the tragic passing of one of its most faithful servants. Our response collectively is simple. When one of us falls, another will step forward. Together, we will continue to defend the values and ideals that David stood for and that are the foundation stones of this great nation.
I think the whole House will be left in no doubt of the genuine affection in which Sir David’s constituents held him just by watching the TV footage this weekend. As a friend of his, I am hugely comforted by the genuine affection that has been shown today, in response, by hon. Members. For me, David was a great friend as well as great parliamentarian.
Last week, Sir David led a delegation of the Qatar all-party group on a visit to Qatar, and he led it with his characteristic good humour, dare I say great fun, and inclusivity. During the visit, we had the benefit of an audience with His Highness the Emir. As the meeting came to a close David, with a great flourish, referred to the need to present a gift, and with his characteristic self-deprecation, he said, “What could I give the man who has everything? Here is an inscribed copy of my book!” That was David.
I suggest that those hon. Members who have not yet read Sir David’s book go out and get a copy, because the proceeds go to some of the charities that he championed. Could I also say that, in actual fact, it is the authentic voice of David, with his pen portraits, some of which are humorous and some of which are quite barbed? It is actually a great insight into Parliament from somebody who, as we have heard today, spent all of his career on the Back Benches, but who loved this place. He genuinely thought it was a privilege to be a Member of Parliament. He loved his work on the Panel of Chairs, he was proud of the legislation he had secured, there were the end-of-term Adjournment debates—they will never ever be the same again, will they?—and he may have become the Father of the House.
I believe there is a serious point here. In the 38 years Sir David served as a Member of Parliament, one of the things he lamented was the decline in the respect for this institution and for the Members within it. The reason he lamented it was that he felt our constituents were the poorer for it, because as that respect declined we just became inconveniences to be managed by public authorities, rather than the genuine voice of challenge. I think that if we do anything to remember him, that is something he would wish us to work collectively to address, as that is what makes this place worthwhile.
In reflecting on Sir David’s memory, we must not remember the way in which his life was taken, but remember how he lived. His beaming face in 1992, when his victory marked a fourth election victory for the Conservatives, is of course iconic. However, I should say to the House that his biggest pride was not actually that result, but the one in 1983, when he won Basildon for the first time—a victory as much against the odds as the one in 1992. I would say that he held Basildon as a marginal seat for all that time because he was an amazing campaigner. He had time for everyone, as we have heard, and his megaphone was never too far away. I have to say that we enjoyed some visits by David and his megaphone in Thurrock over the years, and it was always great fun.
As an east ender, Sir David instinctively represented the politics of south Essex. He would describe himself as a working-class Conservative, and he very much epitomised the kind of person who embraced the politics of Margaret Thatcher. He would recount with great pride the occasion when, after everyone had written off his election prospects in 1992, it was Margaret Thatcher who came on the eve of the poll to support him, and he credited part of his victory to that.
Our thoughts are obviously now with Sir David’s family. Just as a final note, the last time I went to David’s house he was proudly showing me his wedding video. The reason he was doing so was not just to show me my hon. Friend Miss Dines and her dancing back in those days in 1983—he was hugely proud that she got here too—but that the exact wedding he had to Julia in 1983 at Westminster cathedral and then a reception here was what he repeated for his daughter only a few weeks ago. I hope the whole family receives some comfort from the fact that we all loved him.
I knew David for perhaps 25 years, and for eight years we were constituency neighbours when I was the MP for Hornchurch. Following on from one of the anecdotes given by Mr Francois, I remember David telling me a few times that people had said to him on the doorstep, particularly in Basildon, “I’m going to vote for you, David, because you’re a good Labour man.” I once said to him, “Did you ever put them right, David?” and he said “Er...”. That was the closest I got to an answer, so I think we can all deduce that he probably didn’t put them right.
We all know that David was a hyper-assiduous constituency MP. Jackie Doyle-Price mentioned the pre-recess Adjournment debates. For a long time, David and I were both contributors to every single—or so it seemed—pre-recess Adjournment debate. We used to call it whingeing gits day, and Members who have taken part in those debates can probably imagine why we did so. There used to be a bit of a competition between us to see who could get the greatest number of constituency topics into the debate. I think David won every time, covering perhaps eight, nine or 10 issues in his staccato way.
On a more general point, I want to say one more thing about David. There are profound and visceral issues that divide parties and individuals in this place, but they are minuscule compared with what divides us from the forces of darkness who brought this about.
Finally, on a deeply personal note—on behalf of my wife, Ellie, my hon. Friend Ellie Reeves, who is here, and myself—I will always remember that David always asked about our sons, our children, and how they were getting on. I will carry that with me for the rest of my life.
I am going to be, or at least intend to be, brief; after all, pretty much everything about David has been said, but that does not mean I cannot repeat it.
I knew David for 29 years. When I first came into this place in 1992, he was outstandingly and unfailingly kind, conscientious and generous, even to new Members who had arrived here eight years after him. I remember that very clearly. Later on, when I got to know him better, I recalled that a constituent of mine had referred to David, when he represented Basildon, as somebody who would go to the opening of an envelope. I put this to him, saying, “You are accused of going to the opening of an envelope,” and he said, “I damned well hope so, because I wrote it to them so I could go there in the first place.”
When the Conservatives won Basildon Council—for the first time, I think—David was there. It was not enough for him just to be with the councillors when they went in; he formed a conga that took the whole of the newly elected council through the council buildings and into the chamber. His sense of humour was always there, preceded by that megawatt smile that he could turn on. For most of us in this Chamber, it is hard work sometimes being able to smile enough, but for David it was hard work not to smile, and he would smile even in some of the most difficult circumstances.
After I ceased being Leader of the Opposition—I have to say, with respect, to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the current Leader of the Opposition that no matter how much he is enjoying it now, it really is not what it is cracked up to be—[Laughter.] I have to tell him that. [Interruption.] That is what I thought, too. I had to go and speak at an event for David, and he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Are you going all right?” I said, “Yes, fine,” and he got up and introduced me by saying, “I’m so pleased to have Iain Duncan Smith here; he has just slid down the greasy pole”—and then he carried on. [Laughter.] He did tell me directly afterwards that he had retired finally from a long time in government and thought that he would have more influence elsewhere; actually he spent a very short time in government, but that did not bother him in the slightest.
On a more serious note, I want to say that David has shown us the way—the way of co-operation. Most Members in this place know that we get things done by co-operating across the Floor. Little is talked about that, Mr Speaker, as you know, but it is the embodiment of who we are in this place. We cannot get stuff done by ourselves, so we form alliances. Whether it is on modern-day slavery or, in my case, gambling harms, we go on, we form alliances and we eventually move things and get them done. David was the architect of that. There was not an alliance that he could not form; even if there was not an issue on which he could form it, he would form it. [Laughter.]
My point is that this is who we are. We are often, as Jo Cox said, more united by the things we believe in than necessarily divided. The fact is that we are in this place because we argue with each other about our ideas. The important feature of this place is that we may disagree with arguments, but we do not disrespect the motives of those who hold them.
This is a lesson to us that we need to be careful here what we legitimise in what we say about our colleagues. They are not evil people. Nobody in this Chamber is an evil individual. They have strong beliefs. I was struck when the media had finished talking about David and then said, “And he was a man with very strongly held beliefs,” as though that was an aside that they wanted to bury. We come here because we have strong beliefs, and we should be proud of that. We argue with each other because we are the point where people can see us debate these things, have power of emotion and be angry about them—this place is a cockpit of that—so that they do not have to do it outside, violently, elsewhere. I believe the point that David was making was that we need publicly to show each other the respect that those ideas are greatly held. We respect each other, but we do not dislike or hate each other. That is not for us, and it is not for that that he lost his life.
I have been told that today, a document came through the door of my constituency office. The front page was all about David, and on it was written, “Like you. You bastard.” In fact, I did think he might have done it, because it was spelled “Barsted”. Even in that threat, I think there is a sense of irony.
In conclusion, let me say that for David’s family, this is a tragedy, which this deranged, hateful and violent individual has brought to them, unwarranted and without cause. David taught us something very important that they can remember. He believed not in the power of position, but in the power of purpose. Mr Speaker,
“They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remember’d how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake”— that is the important thing, Mr Speaker: he will be with us forever.
Can I just urge us to try to be brief to get plenty of others in? I call Yvette Cooper.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will just briefly join the tributes that we have heard.
Sir David Amess asked all of us about our families, and we now send our condolences to his family, not just from all of us but from all our families, who will very much be feeling the need to reach out to them at this difficult time. We pay tribute, too, to Sir David’s staff, who went to work on Friday morning to try to help his constituents, like all our staff do for every one of our constituents, and had to face the unimaginable.
Every one of us has a story of things that we worked with David on. There were so many different issues, but for me it was the work we did together on amendments to help child refugees reunite with their families, which was something he felt strongly about. You could never predict what issue he would feel strongly about next, but then you would look back and think that it made absolute sense that that was what he was championing, because kindness, compassion and helping others were so often at the heart of it.
David’s office is just above mine, so I would often chat to him while walking to vote and coming across here. Walking across today to come and pay tribute to him, I really felt it, knowing that I would not walk with him again and chat about our families. Coming out of the lift to David’s office, you could never get wrong which floor you were on, because, as many will know, there is, hanging on his door, a giant cardboard cut-out of a knight in shining armour with the helmet tilted in a jaunty way just looking at you. A knight in shining armour is what David will have been to so many of his constituents. Around the corner, there is a box of nodding reindeer decorations, ready to be spread across the corridors. That was what David would do at Christmas time: spread friendship and joy. If you stand by that knight today, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will also hear the ethereal sound of birdsong, for so many reasons, for David.
Jo Cox said to us that we
“have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report,
David showed us how to do that, because while he had disagreements with pretty much every one of us, he also had the unerring instinct of finding what it was he had in common with each and every one of us. When we face awful things happening and extremists try to divide us, we know the most powerful thing in our armoury against them and in defence of democracy is the powerful words said on all sides of the House in unity, in defence of democracy and, now, in respect for David.
I first met David Amess nearly 40 years ago, shortly after his historic election as MP for Basildon, the image of which, the picture of his smiling face, came to symbolise the Conservative victory under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. He won because he embodied all that was best about Essex man: he was patriotic, he came from a working-class background, he was devoted to his family and he was passionately independent. I got to know him when I was working for Margaret Thatcher in No. 10 Downing Street. He adored her. He was absolutely furious when she was removed from office and, indeed, remained furious long after. In 2013, he held an Adjournment debate on her legacy, following her death. She, in turn, hugely valued him.
David championed many causes, as others have said, but most of all he loved his constituency and the people he was so proud to represent. My constituency is just about 30 minutes away from his, and a number of times I spoke for him at events and he spoke for me. The huge respect and affection in which he was held was always obvious. He loved meeting people and he made sure that he spoke to every single person at whatever gathering he was present. As has been referred to, it became a joke that for his first 14 years he would make sure that, in every question and every speech, he referenced Basildon in ringing tones, as my right hon. Friend Mr Francois demonstrated in his contribution.
After David’s election to Southend, his campaign for Southend to become a city was mentioned at every opportunity. It is well known that he was a great animal lover and devoted to his dogs. Even when seeking support for his French bulldog, Vivienne, in this year’s Westminster Dog of the Year competition—as the Prime Minister referenced—the reason he gave as to why we should vote for Vivienne as Westminster dog of the year was that she is an enthusiastic supporter of Southend becoming a city. [Laughter.] So when, in 2012, Chelmsford, as the county town of Essex, was granted city status, David took the news reasonably well. [Laughter.] I can say, on behalf of my constituents in Chelmsford, how delighted we are that Essex will now have two cities.
I represent a part of the Chelmsford local authority area, but my hon. Friend Vicky Ford represents the city itself. She is unable to be here today, as she is on ministerial duties abroad, but she asked me to say on her behalf how much she appreciated the kindness and gentle wisdom that David typically showed to her and other new Essex MPs when they were first elected. I also join her in paying tribute to the work that David did for all of us to improve our hospitals across mid and south Essex, a legacy that will continue to benefit hundreds of thousands of Essex residents.
David was, quite simply, the best of us. All of us are still in shock but our hearts go out to his family, and I hope that people listen to their words. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford spoke powerfully about the abuse that particularly Members of Parliament—but not just MPs; a lot of other public servants—suffer from online in social media. I have been heartened by the huge number of messages that I have had from my constituents and others, first, to express condolences and, secondly, just to express their appreciation of the work that we do in this place. I like to think—and I strongly believe—that those horrible, aggressive voices that sometimes seem to dominate social media are not representative of the views of the vast majority of people, who share all the qualities and would respond to the appeal of David’s family that we should show each other kindness and love, and that that should be his lasting legacy.
We have rightly been reminded of David’s enthusiastic advocacy for the constituencies that he represented, but he was also an enthusiast for the London Borough of Newham, where he was born and grew up; where he attended the excellent St Bonaventure’s Catholic school, which he stayed in touch with for the rest of his life; where he supported West Ham United football club; and where his mother lived until her death five years ago, as we have been reminded, at the age of 104. I heard over the weekend from somebody who was in the sixth form at St Bonaventure’s with David but who, unlike David, supported the Labour party. He told me that the politics teacher, Mr Cunningham, predicted that David was going to be a Conservative MP. He also told me that in a period when he was not able to attend quite a lot of the politics lessons, David very carefully wrote out all of his notes so that his friend could copy those notes afterwards. Kindness was evident at that early stage as well.
David stood for election to the council in Newham in 1974 and 1978 and for Parliament in Newham North West in 1979, before finding more promising opportunities further east, but notwithstanding party differences, his supportive interest in Newham remained. As council leader from 1990, I pressed the Conservative Government to bring the channel tunnel rail link through a station in Stratford. David was our unwavering ally on the Government side. Singlehandedly, he made the campaign cross-party, and that was crucial to its success, leading to London 2012 and the regeneration that is under way at the moment.
Of course, David was not initially seen as a friend by my Newham Council colleagues, who have not seen a Conservative elected for 30 years. We all remembered David dashing our 1992 general election hopes by holding Basildon, but we invited him to our town hall celebration when the Stratford campaign succeeded. I was not quite sure how that was going to go, but David won over everybody with a beautifully judged speech. Newham has lost a great friend.
David was accessible to his constituents. Tragically, he has now given his life. We will rightly reflect on what more we can do to stop that happening again—I wonder if we might ask the police to review our appointment lists ahead of each surgery, for example—but we must not give up on the accessibility of Members of Parliament. If we do, the sponsors of those who attacked David and who attacked me will have succeeded. That must not happen.
Order. We would all like to have a long time to hear more of these heart-warming stories and recollections of our dear lost friend, but we are due to go to church quite soon, so I implore colleagues: please take just two minutes or so each, because then everyone will get a chance to say what they would like to say.
We have heard magnificent tributes from the Prime Minister, from the Leader of the Opposition, from David’s Essex colleagues and from many Opposition Members. I think we are all grateful for that, and the tone of the House is as it can be at its best.
I want to spend just a couple of minutes speaking on behalf of the remnants of the class of ’83. Of the 100 of us who came in, sadly only two remain with continuous service, along with another three who have come back after leaving the House briefly. We had all hoped and expected that in the fullness of time, once my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley had surrendered his position, by which time David would have been a very old man—[Laughter]—he would have become the Father of the House. He would have made a magnificent successor to my hon. Friend. Sadly and cruelly, that has been denied us.
The many of us on both sides of the House who had the privilege of working with David on his campaigns—on foxhunting, when campaigning on it was unfashionable; on the reunification of Cyprus; on Iran; on pensions for expat UK citizens; and on a whole range of other issues—know just how doughty a campaigner he was. That is clearly why he was so loved in his constituency.
Mr Speaker said at the weekend that David’s death had left a void in this House. He was absolutely right, and there is another void: in David’s family home. I hope that David’s wife Julia and his children will take comfort from the fact that across this House there is clearly nothing but affection for his memory. That must speak volumes for the man whose life we celebrate today.
I spent a lot of time over the weekend thinking about what to say if I were called today—and indeed whether to say anything at all, because I did not know David personally. It has been a traumatic few days for many people, and none more so than David’s family and friends; it is they who remain at the forefront of my mind this afternoon. Sadly, I know from my own all too similar experience that in reality there is nothing that anyone can say to make things all right for them—but nor is it any use to stay silent, so I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to someone who was clearly a well-respected and much-loved colleague to many people in this place.
For reasons that I would never wish on any other Member of this House, or indeed anyone, I have a unique perspective on what those closest to David are going through. I send them love, support and solidarity from me, my parents, our family and the people of Batley and Spen.
I have blocked out much of what happened when Jo was murdered, but I remember very clearly the moment when I took the phone call saying that she had been attacked. I remember physically trembling, and the visceral pain that overtook me. It breaks my heart to think that another family have had to experience that phone call and the nightmare that follows. It is a rollercoaster of deep trauma that no one should have to experience. I also know that David’s family will still be in utter shock, as I know many Members are, but I hope that at some point they will be able to hear at least some of the beautiful and very funny tributes that have been paid to him today, and that that will provide a morsel of comfort amid their pain.
I cannot talk about David on a personal level—as I say, I did not know him—but from what I have heard, he strikes me as the sort of MP I might well have come across in the coming months and ended up going for a cuppa with, to hear his thoughts on his work on a children’s Parliament, on animal welfare or on getting more support for people with learning disabilities. We would have been two Back-Bench MPs from different parties and different parts of the country discussing issues close to our hearts, and I imagine it would have been a lot of fun. Sadly, that day will never come.
I know that wider discussions will now take place about the safety of MPs, the awful abuse and intimidation that we face, the nature of political discourse and how we can deal with the evils of terrorism. It is quite right that they do, but today is about David and his family, along with his staff, his colleagues and the community he served so well; the service he gave; and the support we should show all of them in the coming days, weeks and months. It is up to us to make sure that we do that, because I know more than most that they will need it, and the powerful difference that it will make to them.
David was indeed a great character, with a fantastic sense of humour, and I am honoured to have been able to call him my friend. So much has already been said about him that I do not want to do a repetition. We were both elected to Parliament for the first time in 1983 with small majorities, became firm friends during the 1980s, and shared an office until 1987 in Abbey Gardens. We also shared staff for a while. In those days the House of Commons sat very late, and I was fortunate enough to get to know David really well during that time. Cheerfulness and dedication were his hallmarks throughout his parliamentary career. As for his boundless energy, well, many of us could not keep up. When he took us canvassing and campaigning in Basildon, we certainly could not keep up.
Working in the office with David was quite an experience —we have already heard about the “menagerie” of things that were in his office—but he was also never backward in coming forward. I remember going to a No. 10 reception on the first occasion after we had been elected. Of course, I was in awe of every Prime Minister—including the current one, of course—but Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister then. I cannot do her accent, but “Ah,” she said, putting her head on one side, “the two Davids!” I just said, “Prime Minister, lovely to be here”, and all the rest of it, but David Amess said, “I have never been here before—can you do me a tour?” At that moment, I wished I had quietly died, but she said, “Yes, I will come and get you later.” And she did! We had a tour. Then she said, “I am going to take you upstairs to show you the flat.” She said, “Of course, this is where I cook Denis his breakfast.” “Really?” said David. “He has a cooked breakfast?” “Yes,” she said. “Well,” he said, “it is very poky up here, isn’t it?” He did not think much of it at all. He never had aspirations to be Prime Minister, I think.
David was a friend. I was privileged to know him, and privileged to work with him on so many campaigns. He was a great parliamentarian, a great politician, a fantastic advocate on behalf of his constituents, and a great champion of our nation. He was also one of the nicest, kindest and most genuine people I have ever met. He was always smiling, and was an indefatigable campaigner for all the many issues that he held dear. We are all devastated by his murder. I have been privileged to know his wife and family over the years, and we think of them and we grieve with them; but we will remember his legacy, and we will look on the positive side, because one thing that David Amess always was, was very positive. I am proud to have known him.
If you had told me before I was elected in 2015, Madam Deputy Speaker, that just a few years later I would be sitting at home grieving over the death of a Thatcherite Tory MP, I would not have believed you, but my partner Nadia and I did just that, for it was David who had died.
David was the first cross-party friend I made in the Commons when I was elected. He was a joy to work with on Committees, and he roped me into all sorts of all-party groups and escapades. He will be sorely missed. He will not, however, be forgotten; when I think back on my memories in this place, my favourites will feature David. I should say that he already features in a number of my Burns supper speeches around the story of a haggis, but it is too long to tell in these short tributes—I hope that I can find the energy and enthusiasm to tell it with the fun that it deserves—so let me just pay my respects to David and send my best wishes to his family. I cannot believe what they will be going through at this time.
I will be brief because I know that many others want to pay their respects and tributes. It is right that I, as the chairman of the 1922 Committee, should pay tribute to David, who was a dedicated and effective Back-Bench Member of Parliament, but I also want to say a few words today because I had the privilege of his friendship for the past 24 years. I am deeply touched by the tributes that have been paid from across the House, including the moving tributes from the Prime Minister and from the Leader of the Opposition. I am also pleased to follow the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, and my constituency neighbour Mike Kane, who was one of the first people to get in touch with me on Friday to offer his condolences. That was much appreciated.
We have all had so many messages of condolence from constituents and others since we heard the terrible news. I think that people across the country could sense the goodness, the kindness and the decency of the man we have lost. It is wonderful that we have heard tributes to David’s great achievements in politics, but it is also wonderful that so many references have been made, right from the start, to the joy that he brought into all our lives and those of so many others. He clearly enjoyed the House of Commons and politics, and he loved meeting people. I hope that that is something that will stay with us.
My recollection of David, over the past few years especially, is of seeing him coming towards me in Portcullis House and seeing his infectious smile. I knew that he was looking forward to starting a conversation. He would say, “What are they doing now, Graham? Why are they doing this?” I will miss that. Like others, I will still be looking out for him.
Finally, on a serious point, this is the most open and accessible Parliament of any major country in the world, and the right tribute to David must be that it remains so, and that while we take sensible precautions, we stay open and continue to connect with our constituents as he did so brilliantly.
It is with incredible sadness and, I have to admit, some anger that I rise to pay tribute to my friend David today. I was fortunate enough to have known him as a family friend before he entered this House, and some three decades later as a parliamentary colleague. My mother Elizabeth was his association chairman and, at times, his election agent in Basildon before, during and after the 1983 election. He was of course the MP for Basildon as well as for Southend; he represented Basildon from 1983 to 1987. When I made my maiden speech last year, like for many other Members who were new to the House, he was here. He was seated just behind me and his face beamed with delight when I recalled that, as a teenager, I had been the Young Conservatives representative on the committee that selected him to become the prospective Conservative candidate for Basildon in 1983.
I remember him as a young, enthusiastic candidate in 1983, a good-looking unconfirmed bachelor with a flowing new romantic hairstyle. He fought an energetic election campaign with a very small team of helpers. We all had our jobs: I made cups of tea—I was 16 or 17 at the time—when we came back after a hard day’s canvassing. My father Tony often had to go and find him; he would be talking to somebody or, more often, he would just have run out of petrol. That was David. He was the recipient of constant motherly advice from my mother, who was his chairman. She would say, “Don’t worry, of course you are going to win”, “You had better get married now, David” and “You need to have some children”, right through to “You’d better get a haircut”. Of course he did win Basildon, he married the love of his life, Julia, and the children followed one after another in rapid succession, but he never did get that haircut.
I know David as a showman. I could tell you numerous stories, but I have had to throw most of the best ones away. What I will say is that, when I found myself on these Benches following the last election, he was delighted. He went out of his way to settle me into the institution he loved so much, and I know he mentored many others, not just me. I speak on behalf of all the 2019 intake when I say how very sad we are to lose him.
It is an honour to speak on behalf of my party and to send commiserations to Sir David’s family, friends and colleagues.
The one thing I would like to emphasise is that people outside possibly do not appreciate how much we work together and how much of an honour it is to work together, and how by that we achieve so much. For all of us here, the reality is that democracy is what we have developed so that we no longer attack each other and use violence to achieve our aims. This terrible, abhorrent death has struck us so badly, as of course it has the constituents and so many other people who knew Sir David so well. When we stand up for democracy, we remember that we are standing up for civility, for good behaviour and for treating people properly because, historically, the alternative has been violence, and violence must never be allowed to succeed again.
I rise to pay respect to our dear colleague and my friend, Sir David Amess. I got to know David in 2017, when he reached out to me with his characteristic kindness. He had an extraordinary gift of knowing what to say and when to say it. His many kindnesses provided a firm foundation for our work together on the Dame Vera memorial project.
David was a Christian soul, a fellow Catholic, and his life fully reflected his beliefs. He also enjoyed life. He loved people and had that lightness, vivacity and enthusiasm that drew people to him, and it was infectious. For so many months, we worked together on the Dame Vera memorial on the white cliffs of Dover. He spearheaded this project from the very beginning. From similar working-class backgrounds, we shared a commitment to creating opportunity and social mobility. It makes sense that the Dame Vera project is the centrepiece of Dover’s levelling-up fund bid, one that brings together opportunity, jobs, culture and entertainment, for as the House knows David was a great entertainer as well as a great campaigner.
My enduring memories of David will be of both of us, arm in arm, around the piano singing to Dame Vera’s songs, and of him taking selfies at the white cliffs of Dover. The Dame Vera project was very close to David’s heart, and his family has made a call for public support for fundraising for the Dame Vera memorial in his memory, so let us get behind that, get the fundraising done and build the memorial, and let us include in it a tribute to the life of Sir David Amess, a lovely man who was a true friend to me, to Dover and to our nation.
I join the tributes to the hon. Member for Southend West, who was a kind and generous colleague and a committed and conscientious constituency MP. Just how conscientious he was can be seen in his record of speaking and action in the House.
I recollect Sir David speaking in a pre-Christmas recess Adjournment debate back in 2009, when I was Deputy Leader of the House and it was my job to respond. We heard earlier about his performance in such debates. I remember him raising many, many points that day to be answered or sent for action in Departments, so I looked back and found this amazing list of matters that he raised with me: his view of the then Labour Government; the state of the economy; small shops, having visited every small shop in his constituency during the summer recess; the pay of public servants and the scrutiny of public sector pay; communications with his chief constable and decision-making structures in the police; our forces serving in Afghanistan; the Chilcot inquiry; solvent abuse; compensation for UK users of Vioxx; tax credits and the tax credits helpline; the Southend Association of Voluntary Services and its funding; services for people with rheumatoid arthritis; and seatbelts and the risks to people who do not wear them.
As it was the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate, he concluded that impressive list by talking about the issues of unwanted pets at Christmas and the work of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I have to say to my hon. Friend John Cryer that that was 15 issues, not eight, nine or 10, which is the reason David beat him in these debates. That is why he won. [Laughter.]
I fast-forwarded to the most recent pre-recess Adjournment debate, on
I will finish by saying this: there were so many causes that Sir David championed, and so many of us worked cross-party with him on issues such as support for people with endometriosis—there was going to be a debate on that today—and children with a learning disability. David’s family have asked us to renew our commitment to the many causes he championed. It is a heartwarming tribute to David’s work that Southend will become a city. We will continue that tribute by renewing and carrying on the work he started.
May I begin by sending my condolences and prayers to David’s wife, Julia, and his five children?
Not only did Sir David represent the people of Southend West, being a dedicated campaigner on a broad range of issues and achieving some real meaningful changes, but he spent a great deal of time representing this House on overseas delegations. That is what I want to focus on this afternoon.
Sir David was an active member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and a number of all-party groups, including the all-party group on the Holy See. It was on such delegations that I first got to know Sir David well. It was well documented that Sir David was a devout Catholic, but even in the hallowed walls of the Vatican he did not lose his mischievous sense of humour. I think of a time when we were in the Vatican for the canonisation of Cardinal Newman, which has been referred to, and attended a highbrow theological seminar with cardinals. Midway through, David whispered to me, “Isn’t this fabulous? I can see you’re loving it”, to which I replied, “To be honest, not really, David. I am not really understanding it.” It was at the tea break that David and I slipped out, like errant schoolboys. I said to him, “David, are we not going to get into trouble walking through the Vatican gardens?” He said, “Nah”, and nor did we.
As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, not all meetings are engaging or go according to plan. I remember vividly a meeting with a foreign Minister who demanded that the meeting take place in English, with the only problem being that that foreign Minister did not speak English and had instructed his translators not to intervene. Several minutes in, with only the Minister understanding what had been said and parliamentary colleagues becoming increasingly frustrated, I passed a note to Sir David saying that this was getting ridiculous. David simply smiled, in his usual way. About a minute later, Sir David leant forward and said, “Minister, your English is superb. Where did you study?” Tears were rolling down colleagues’ cheeks, and nobody was able to make eye contact, for fear of damaging the reputation of this House, but this was a perfect example of Sir David deploying his full sense of humour and ability to address serious situations with a polite and jovial tone.
Just last week, I and others in this House had the privilege of spending time with Sir David on a parliamentary delegation he was leading. He was at his very best, ensuring that colleagues of all levels of seniority were made to feel included and that they played an active role. Every day, we conducted serious business, but he made sure that we always found time to laugh. It will come as no surprise that, even there, he found time to demand that Southend be made a city.
This House has lost a great representative; his family have lost a father and husband. I have lost a dear friend, but it was a real privilege to be with him on his final adventure.
If David had been here to hear the words spoken today, he would have loved the fact that there was so much humour in people’s contributions, as well as the obvious warmth and respect for his decency. It is just so obvious how genuine the tributes are.
I knew David fairly well through working with him on animal welfare issues. All I wish to do is to quote from some of the animal welfare groups that have paid tribute to him on social media. World Animal Protection talked about his support for calls for an end to the global wildlife trade. The Dogs Trust, with which he worked to support the end to the cruel puppy-smuggling trade, said it was “devastated to hear” of his death. Animal Aid posted a picture of David calling for a ban on game-bird battery cages, saying that it was “shocked and saddened” and describing him as a “friend to animals everywhere”.
I feel particularly for the Blue Fox campaigners—the Conservative campaigners against foxhunting. When the campaign was first established, only a very few MPs on the Conservative Benches supported it, but David was so integral to it. We are now at a place where whether there could ever be a successful attempt to overturn the foxhunting ban is a bit of a moot point, because we have managed to win the debate on both sides of the House rather than just on the Opposition Benches. David was so much a part of that.
“celebrates individuals who made a difference”.
PETA said that he “did that in spades.”
Finally, Nick Palmer wrote a lovely tribute to David. Nick was a Labour MP whose time in the House overlapped with David’s for quite some time, but he is now at Compassion in World Farming. He wrote a lovely article in which he said:
“I was especially struck by Alastair Campbell’s comment that the first thing you noticed when David entered the room was his beaming smile, and that not many of us”— in politics—
“are remembered especially for our smiles.”
I think that is fair to say. He concluded his article by saying:
“When animal sentience is officially on the statute book, when live exports end, when cages on farms are banished to history, all of us in the animal welfare movement will celebrate—and we shall remember the quiet idealism that made Sir David help bring it all about.”
In this debate, the life of David Amess keeps invoking one word above all: kindness. The family’s heart-rending statement reflected that word. The Archbishop of York wrote that his life
“showed the true meaning of kindness”.
It would be the greatest of all tributes to David if we, or even just some of us, who are engaged in the daily political battle made kindness our resolution from this day forward. There is much reaching across the Chamber in today’s debate, but which of us in this House can honestly say that, when we have looked across the Chamber—or at those in our own parties—we have never fallen prey to feelings of contempt, lack of respect or unkindness towards those who oppose us? Which of us can honestly say that we cannot do better?
Kindness is giving without any expectation of getting. Kindness inspires hope and optimism, which David also embodied. Like many on all sides, we had our disagreements, but nobody could doubt David’s sincere wish to make the world a better place with his kindness. I wonder why the seven principles of public life do not include the principle of kindness. Henceforth, let kindness be known as the David Amess principle of public life. He, Julia and the rest of his family could bequeath the nation nothing more generous. We could do no greater service to them and to David’s memory than to learn to live that principle more evidently in our daily political lives.
I rise to speak about the brutal killing of our friend, David Amess. I know that we have an adversarial workplace here—we have a face-off—but some of our best friends are often on the other side. I know that when I have been in a hole, it is people on the Conservative Benches who have helped me out and been friendly to me.
This killing was all the more shocking and painful to me because I was certainly the last Labour MP who saw him alive. It was on that delegation to the middle east last week—at the baggage reclaim as it happens. Everyone else had scarpered; everyone else’s stuff had gone. I had missed mine because I had been tying up my shoelaces or something. David said, “No, I will wait with you.” I said, “Come on, you’ve got to go to Essex. Be off with you.” That was the measure of the man and how kind he was. The next day, the last stragglers were saying, “We got back. It was a great trip, thank you.” His was the last WhatsApp message I saw, thanking everyone for their service. How shocking it is that he was taken in service—a public servant slain in the line of duty at his surgery.
Again, on the trip, his million-dollar smile, which we have heard so much about, won over everyone. To one of the dignitaries that I had to introduce him to, I said, “He has been a parliamentarian since the last century, but he never ages.” To another one, David said in his inimitable way, “Oh, you know what? I thought I had a lot of kids, because I have five, but you have 24!” On the coach, in advance of the meeting, he said to us, “Ladies, when we get there, I don’t want any ruffling of his hair, any sitting on his lap, any twiddling of his tie, because he already has three wives, and he doesn’t need any more.”
Everyone has so many Amess-isms. I was with him for a week and miss him dearly. I was shocked. I could not process the news. I had to go and do my own in-person surgery. When I got on the Panel of Chairs, he said, “You? You should be a shadow Minister by now”—no comment! He did not want party preferment and nor do I in that case. When our dear friend Jo Cox—it was so brilliant to hear from my hon. Friend Kim Leadbeater, who is a dear friend already in a short space of time—was taken from us, we all said that we should live by the diktat of “more in common”. I feel that, in life, we should all be a bit more like David. That means being less cross and more cross-party.