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David Amess

David Amess
Portrait photograph of Sir David Amess smiling
Official portrait, 2020
Member of Parliament
for Southend West
In office
1 May 1997 – 15 October 2021
Preceded byPaul Channon
Succeeded byTBD
Member of Parliament
for Basildon
In office
9 June 1983 – 8 April 1997
Preceded byHarvey Proctor
Succeeded byAngela Smith
Personal details
Born
David Anthony Andrew Amess

(1952-03-26)26 March 1952
Plaistow, Essex, England
Died15 October 2021(2021-10-15) (aged 69)
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England
Cause of deathStab wounds
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)
Julia Arnold
(m. 1983)
Children5, including Katie
EducationSt Bonaventure's Grammar School
Alma materBournemouth University (BSc)
Committees
AwardsKnight Bachelor (2015)
WebsiteOfficial website

Sir David Anthony Andrew Amess (/ˈeɪmɪs/ AY-miss; 26 March 1952 – 15 October 2021) was a British politician who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Southend West from 1997 until he was killed in 2021. He previously served as MP for Basildon from 1983 to 1997. He was a member of the Conservative Party.

Born and raised in Essex, Amess studied economics and government at Bournemouth University and then had short careers as a primary school teacher, underwriter and recruitment consultant. He was elected as a Conservative councillor for Redbridge in 1982 and MP for Basildon in 1983. His position was seen as a bellwether seat, exemplifying the enthusiasm of the "Essex man" for the government of Margaret Thatcher. He held the seat in the election of 1992, but when boundary changes made it untenable, he became MP for Southend West in 1997 and served the constituency until his death.

In government, his highest position was as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Portillo for twelve years. He was more prominent as a backbencher, serving on many select committees and sponsoring several pieces of legislation, including the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act (1988) and Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act (2000). The causes for which he campaigned included animal welfare, awarding city status to Southend-on-Sea, the honouring of Raoul Wallenberg and support for those suffering from endometriosis.

A Roman Catholic who opposed abortion and same-sex marriage, his socially-conservative political views included support for the reintroduction of capital punishment. On the issue of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union (EU), he was in favour of leaving on grounds of parliamentary sovereignty and removing supremacy of EU law. He married in 1983, and had five children, including actress Katie Amess.

On 15 October 2021, Amess was stabbed multiple times while holding a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea. He died at the scene. A 25-year-old British citizen, Ali Harbi Ali, who is understood to have extremist Islamist beliefs, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and later detained under the Terrorism Act. On 21 October, he was charged with murder and preparing terrorist acts.

Early life and career

David Anthony Andrew Amess was born on 26 March 1952 in Plaistow, Essex (now part of Newham, London). From a working-class background, he was the son of James Amess, an electrician, and his wife Maud Martin, a dressmaker. Amess was raised Roman Catholic like his mother. Maud died on 12 October 2016 at the age of 104.

Amess attended St Anthony's Junior and Infant School, then St Bonaventure's Grammar School (now St Bonaventure's Catholic School), an independent school on Boleyn Road in Forest Gate. He said later in life that his political interests stemmed from his time at St Bonaventure's, where he stood for the Revolutionist Party, whose key demands were for minimum pocket money and the abolition of homework; by the time he became an adult, he was a Conservative. As a child he had a stammer, and speech therapy to correct this resulted in the loss of his natural Cockney accent. Amess went on to Bournemouth College of Technology (now Faculty of Science and Technology of Bournemouth University), where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics and government. Amess taught disabled children at St John the Baptist Primary School in Bethnal Green for a year (1970–71), and then spent a short time as an underwriter (1974–76) before becoming a recruitment consultant.

Political career

He contested the safe Labour Party seat of Newham North West at the 1979 general election, and the seat was retained by Labour's MP Arthur Lewis. In 1982, Amess was elected as a councillor to the London Borough of Redbridge.

The incumbent Conservative MP for Basildon, Harvey Proctor, moved to Billericay in the 1983 general election; Amess was selected to replace him and was elected Member of Parliament for Basildon on 9 June 1983. He exemplified the new demographic of "Essex man" who supported Margaret Thatcher enthusiastically. Campaign described him as "representative of new Essex man, working class, father, electrician, right wing, keen hanger, noisily rambunctious, no subtlety".

Amess continued to serve both as an MP and a local councillor until 1986 when he stood down from Redbridge Borough Council to concentrate on his Westminster seat. He held his Basildon seat narrowly at the 1987 general election, in part by developing a significant personal following. After the election, Amess was appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Portillo, a position he held for ten years throughout Portillo's ministerial career. Amess held his seat again at the 1992 general election, which was the first sign that the Conservatives would unexpectedly win that election; the Basildon constituency was viewed as the make-or-break milestone.

Prior to the 1997 general election, there was a boundary review which divided the Basildon seat into two parts, which were added in to two neighbouring seats. At the time, Amess remarked that the Boundary Commission "had raped the town of Basildon" by adding an extra seat there. Given his small majority, the new Basildon constituency was almost certainly going to be gained by Labour. Amess thus decided to seek re-election elsewhere. In June 1995, Amess was selected for Southend West after the retirement of former Cabinet minister Paul Channon. He was consequently returned to Westminster again in the 1997 general election. Angela Evans Smith won the newly-drawn Basildon seat for Labour in 1997 by over 13,000 votes.

Southend city status

Amess was known for being at the centre of a long-running campaign to make Southend-on-Sea, the main town of his constituency, a city. On 18 October 2021, it was announced that Southend will be granted city status in his honour.

Involvement in legislation

Amess in 2012, for Horticulture Week

Amess sponsored many bills in Parliament, including the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act 1988, and the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000.

In 2014, he helped to pass the Security Printing (Specialist) Materials Bill. This bill ended a loophole which allowed companies who supplied specialist printing equipment to counterfeiters to evade prosecution.

In 2016, he helped to pass the Driving Instructors (Registration) Bill. This statute streamlined the process whereby instructors whose registration has lapsed can apply to return to the register. It also allowed instructors who wish to leave the register for personal reasons to do so without being penalised. The bill was supported by driving school owners and motoring organisations.

Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act 1988

The Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act came about as a result of Amess's long-standing concern for animal welfare, supported by the National Farmers' Union. Amess stated in the House of Commons that the Ten Minute Rule Bill was "inspired by the Essex Horse and Pony Protection Society". The bill stated:

In section 1 of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 there shall be added in subsection (1) the following words after paragraph (e) "or (f) shall tether any horse, ass or mule under such conditions or in such manner as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering …

Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000

Amess in 2015

Amess's most publicised legislative success came in 2000 with the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act. According to a speech in the House of Commons made by Amess, the Act came to fruition after he was drawn out of the Private Members Ballot. He met with Martyn Williams, a campaigner from Friends of the Earth, who convinced him of the need for the Act following on from the death of a constituent in a cold house.

The Act required the Secretary of State to "publish and implement a strategy for reducing fuel poverty".

This Act was widely credited with a significant change in both attitude and policy towards fuel poverty within the UK. The scale of fuel poverty in England fell from 5.1 million households to 1.2 million households between 1996 and 2004, indicating the impact of the Act.

Parliamentary committees

Health Select Committee

Amess served on the Health Select Committee from 1998 until 2007. Due to his role on the Health Select Committee, he became Chair of the Conservative Party Backbench Committee for Health in 1999. He campaigned on various health issues since. While a member of the Committee, Amess played a prominent role in holding an inquiry into the state of obesity in the UK, leading to the publication of a report in 2004. The report found that two-thirds of the population of England are overweight or obese and went on to discuss the causes of obesity, as well as making various recommendations to combat the problem. He maintained an interest in the issue, tabling a series of Parliamentary Questions in July 2013.

Panel of Chairs

Amess was also a member of the Panel of Chairs, which comprises the chairman and two deputy chairmen of Ways and Means, as well as ten members nominated at the start of each session by the Speaker of the House of Commons. Amess was last appointed on 26 May 2010, but had been on the Panel since 2001. As a member of the Panel, Amess was responsible for chairing public bill committees; chairing Westminster Hall debates; and at times, for chairing committees of the whole House.

Backbench Business Committee

Amess was elected onto the newly formed Backbench Business Committee in 2010; he stood down in 2015.

Administration Committee

Amess became a member of the Administration Committee in 2015. This committee is responsible for overseeing the running of the Parliamentary Estate and services. He stepped down from the Committee following the 2019 general election.

Raoul Wallenberg

Amess campaigned for many years to have a statue erected in honour of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary, an endeavour for which Wallenberg eventually lost his life. Amess began asking parliamentary questions in the late 1980s regarding Wallenberg, campaigning for him to be awarded honorary British nationality. Amess had previously attempted to push through a Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill in the 1989–90 session and he held an adjournment debate in Wallenberg's honour in 1996. The resultant memorial created by sculptor Philip Jackson was installed in London, at Great Cumberland Place, outside the Western Marble Arch Synagogue and unveiled in 1997.

All-party parliamentary group on endometriosis

In March 2018, Amess launched an all-party parliamentary group on endometriosis to raise awareness of the condition, and to investigate how those who suffer from endometriosis can get the support that they need. The group was chaired by Amess, with Emma Hardy, Jackie Doyle-Price and Hannah Bardell as vice-chairs.

Industry and Parliament Trust

Amess became a Fellow of the Industry and Parliament Trust in 1994. Amess completed an IPT Post-Graduate Fellowship I in 2012 specialising in the Cultural and Creative Industries, at BRIT School, ITN and the Royal Opera House. Amess became chairman of the Board of Trustees in 2014 and stood down at the end of his term in 2017.

Comments about Weinstein scandal

In October 2017, following the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations, a statement was issued in the name of Amess which described the allegations against Weinstein as "dubious to say the least" and quoted Amess as having said that the "sudden flurry of alleged inappropriate advances beggars belief". Amess later retracted the statement and apologised "for any upset", saying that the statement had been issued by his staff without his authorisation.

Media and publications

Publications

Amess wrote a pamphlet about his 1992 re-election to the Basildon constituency, Basildon—Against all Odds (2012). It was launched in the House of Commons at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the election and was attended by Prime Minister David Cameron and Conservative Party activists.

Amess compiled a pamphlet titled Party of Opportunity with the Renewal Group, which contained thirteen short biographical accounts of Conservative MPs who identify as working class or who come from a working-class background. The pamphlet, which was launched in the House of Commons in April 2014, included contributions from four government ministers, including Sajid Javid, Mark Francois, Patrick McLoughlin, and Mike Penning. The second edition of Party of Opportunity was launched in January 2015, sponsored by the Association of Conservative Clubs and included contributions from 29 Conservative MPs.

Ayes & Ears: A Survivor's Guide to Westminster was published by Luath Press in December 2020. The book includes sketches of colleagues, memorable speeches, scandals, and descriptions of major events in Parliament from an insider's viewpoint. In February 2021, it was announced that the book had been shortlisted for the Parliamentary Book Awards in the Memoir/Biography category.

Brass Eye

Amess appeared in the "Drugs" episode of the spoof current affairs television programme Brass Eye, and was fooled into filming an elaborate warning against the dangers of a fictional Eastern European drug called "cake". Amess later asked a question about "cake" in Parliament, alongside real substances khat and GHB. In response, the Home Office minister incorrectly replied that "cake" was a name "we understand refers to 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-benzylamphetamine", a real drug. In 2001, when Brass Eye was repeated and released on DVD, a disclaimer was added to the "Drugs" episode at Amess's request reiterating his disapproval of recreational drug use.

Political views

Official portrait, 2017

Amess normally adhered to Conservative party policy when voting in the Commons.[non-primary source needed] He voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq but was afterwards critical of the Labour government's failure to find the weapons of mass destruction with which they justified the action at the time. On foreign policy, he was also a leading member of Conservative Friends of Israel. He was one of the few Conservative MPs to support the campaign to impeach Tony Blair.

Amess was one of 30 Conservatives who voted against military action in Syria in August 2013. He later commented that he felt the way he and his colleagues voted "made a difference" and if he had previously voted against the war in Iraq "things might be different" there as well. Amess supported the reintroduction of capital punishment. He was a critic of the government of Iran, and advocated for the National Council of Resistance of Iran; he publicly endorsed Maryam Rajavi's 10-point manifesto. Amess was supportive of refugees and asylum seekers.

Amess opposed abortion. In June 2005, Amess supported the Prohibition of Abortion (England and Wales) Bill introduced by Laurence Robertson that sought to almost entirely ban abortion. After entering the House of Commons, Amess generally opposed bills furthering LGBT rights, including equal age of consent and same-sex marriage.

Amess campaigned for improvements in animal welfare and husbandry. He consistently voted to ban foxhunting and hare coursing. He was a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation. Amess supported many campaigns, including banning cages for game birds, animal testing, puppy farming and smuggling, and ending the transport of live animals for export.

In September 2011, Amess accused the BBC of being biased regarding its reporting of events in Israel, which he said was covered in a "highly disproportionate manner", showing the state in a "poor light".

Amess was a staunch Eurosceptic and came out in support of Brexit prior to the EU referendum, in which he said it was "dangerous" and a "huge mistake" to vote "remain". He described a "loss of Parliamentary sovereignty" as the main negative of UK–EU relations. Amess criticised then United States president Barack Obama's intervention in the EU referendum campaign when he met with David Cameron, stating that he had "absolutely no right whatsoever getting involved".

Awards

Amess was knighted in the 2015 New Year Honours for political and public service.

At the Dods Charity Champion Awards 2011, Amess won the Animal Welfare and Environment Champion award, in which he was recognised formally for his leading role in and commitment to animal welfare, and was presented with the award by John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, in the State Rooms of the Speaker's House. The award is given to the parliamentarian who has done the most to tackle issues concerning the welfare of animals and the natural environment.

Amess received the "Outstanding Achievement Award" at the Charity Champion Parliamentary reception hosted by Dods in 2012 in recognition of his lifetime commitment to charitable work.

He was nominated for the Policy Driver for Animal Rights Protection award at the Grassroot Diplomat Awards 2014 for his longstanding dedication to animal rights.

Personal life

He and his wife Julia Arnold had one son and four daughters. Arnold was a part-time caseworker for her husband. Their eldest daughter is actress Katie Amess. Amess was a lifelong supporter of Premier League team West Ham United and attended their final game at the Boleyn Ground in May 2016.

As an animal-lover, his family had several pets. In 2016, these included a rescue dog – a pug called Lily. Lily was succeeded by a French Bulldog called Vivienne who, shortly after his death in 2021, won the Westminster Dog of the Year Show.

Amess was the president of The Music Man Society, a local charity that provided musical opportunities to people with learning disabilities. He appeared with the group in performances at the Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium.

Death

On 15 October 2021, Amess was stabbed multiple times at his constituency surgery at Belfairs Methodist Church Hall in Leigh-on-Sea. He was treated at the scene, but died from his injuries. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:13 pm.

Amess's killing was later declared a "terrorist incident" by the Metropolitan Police. The investigation, led by Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command, is exploring "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism". The suspect, Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British citizen of Somali descent, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and later detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000. On 21 October 2021, he was charged with murder and preparing terrorist acts under the Terrorism Act 2006. He will stand trial in March 2022.

On 27 October an inquest was opened into Amess's death, but was immediately suspended "pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings". The suspension would be reviewed in April 2022. Coroner's officer Paul Donaghy told the inquest that, the day after Amess's death, a Home Office pathologist carried out a post-mortem examination which showed the cause of death was multiple stab wounds to the chest.

A procession and memorial service took place in Southend on 22 November 2021. The private service, attended by family, was held at St Mary's Church, the Church of England parish church in Prittlewell. The service was led by the Reverend Paul Mackay and Monsignor Kevin William Hale. A family statement was read by the former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe. Afterwards his casket processed through the streets in a horse-drawn hearse. The following day a funeral service was held at Westminster Cathedral. Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined former prime ministers, the Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle and the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at the service. A message from Pope Francis was delivered by Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain.

See also

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