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By Lord Forsyth
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'The epitome of decency': Lord Cormack pays tribute to Sir David Amess

A vigil is held for Sir David Amess at Saint Peter's Catholic Church, Leigh-on-Sea, 15 October 2021 | Alamy

4 min read

Enthusiastic, good-humoured and kind, Sir David was deeply committed to the Commons, his constituents and his Catholic faith

If I were asked to sum up the character of David Amess in a single sentence I would say that he was the epitome of decency. But, of course, as these pages of tribute movingly and graphically underline, he was so much more. He would have been embarrassed, astounded, but secretly very proud, to know that so many pages of one of his favourite magazines were devoted to him. For he was a great supporter of The House and believed that it helped parliamentarians to get to know each other better and provided a unique window into Parliament for those outside.

I am so glad that, just a few weeks ago, I was able to review his book and in doing so reflect upon his being one of the most widely liked, indeed loved, Members of the Commons. In all the comments that have appeared since his death certain words have occurred time and time again: decent, friendly, enthusiastic, good-humoured and kind. He was a man of firm principles and strong views, sometimes quite controversial ones, but I never knew anyone who disagreed with him – and I did myself on numerous occasions – feel in any way alienated. Indeed, one warmed to the man the more one disagreed with him. I do not think that I ever saw him, in the 38 years I knew him, without a smile on his face. Even when he was being at his most controversial he diffused tension.

He was a great supporter of The House and believed that it helped parliamentarians to get to know each other better

There were two reasons for this. First he was a House of Commons man through and through. He loved the green benches. From the moment he entered the House he took to them like the proverbial duck to water. And he knew how to appeal to his colleagues because, just as he was a House of Commons man, he was a constituency man. From the moment he entered the House in 1983 he made it known that, for him, Basildon was the centre of the universe and we were never allowed to forget that. He used every possible opportunity to mention the constituency, and the same was true after 1997 when he was first elected Member for Southend. His campaign for city status has now been crowned with success, a fitting tribute.

One of David’s favourite moments always came at the end of a parliamentary term when there was an Adjournment Debate on which one was permitted to raise the subject of one’s choice. In David’s case it was always subjects. In 10 minutes or so he would bring in references to a dozen or more from Brexit to animal welfare but always including numerous mentions of Basildon or Southend.

Although he never wavered in his political allegiance, he sought every opportunity to work with fellow Members, in all parts of the House, on subjects like animal welfare. He was also a very great supporter of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, bodies which enabled parliamentarians from around the world to work together and diffuse tensions. And for 30 years he had a young American student from the Catholic University of America in his office for the summer months.

David was a devout Roman Catholic and he never sought to hide his commitment or belief. He was respected for that by all he met, just as he himself respected those of other faiths among his constituents and elsewhere.

Some three years ago I had the great privilege of addressing a dinner for his constituents in the Palace of Westminster and when I talked to them before, and wandered around the tables afterwards, the affection in which he was held, and the respect, were palpable.

Lord Cormack is a Conservative peer and life president of The House magazine

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