Sir David Amess MP - a true champion for animals
A guest blog by David Bowles, our head of campaigns and public affairs.
In early November, the RSPCA will be holding our first reception in Parliament for two years. You never know when you hold these events, who will turn up and how many to cater for particularly after the long gap due to Covid-19 restrictions.
However, one constant in the 25 years that I've been with the RSPCA and attending this annual event was the presence of Sir David Amess. He would pop in, have his photo taken for the local newspaper, speak to an inspector about horse issues in his constituency and then head off to his next engagement.
His stance on animal issues never wavered
You see, animals and improving their welfare were a priority for him throughout his 38 years in Parliament. His stance on animal issues never wavered, even when it was unpopular in his own party. When he entered the Commons in 1983 he was against fox hunting, becoming one of only a handful of Conservative MPs who took this position. This was brave. In the 1980s there were more giant pandas in Europe than anti fox hunting Conservative MPs.
By 2005 when the Hunting Act 2004 came into force the rest of the country had caught up with him and by 2019 when the Government decided not to include repeal of this Act in its election manifesto for the first time, so had his Party.
In 1998, he steered through a new law to bring better protection for horses
His ethics shone through in his work. As a backbencher, he felt he could achieve more for animals if he could say what he wanted. And he did. In 1988 he steered through a new law to bring better protection for horses that were tethered by the roadside, an issue that was important in his Basildon constituency, so was important to him.
This campaign combined his three loves, animals, Essex and serving his constituents. It's not easy to guide a Bill through Parliament without Government help but his persuasive skills, upbeat personality and understanding of the Parliamentary system saw it onto the statute book.
Its legacy lives on, as specific guidance on tethering under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It undoubtedly achieved its aim by helping improve the welfare of countless horses throughout the country and of course it helped RSPCA inspectors when enforcing it or giving advice to horse owners.
He always wanted to champion the underdog and make a difference
Year after year he would pilot legislation on a wide range of issues, from animals to vulnerable people - always wanting to champion the underdog and make a difference. Fast forward 31 years and another of his Bills, this time to end the farming system of farrowing crates for pigs, was being piloted through the House of Commons. He didn't stop there. Last month, he co-sponsored and spoke in favour of a new law to end all cages for laying hens. Whatever issue came up to protect animals, you knew he would be there to speak and support it.
I last saw him in Manchester at the Conservative conference when he was speaking at two meetings, both on animal issues. He made the case very persuasively to stop imports of lower welfare food entering the UK under the Australia trade deal and get the Sentience Committee up and running as soon as possible.
We will continue to carry on the work he started
We at the RSPCA will remember his drive and zest for life, his beaming smile and obvious delight in his work. We will remember his work as President of the RSPCA South Essex branch, opening their fetes and emploring people to support their vital welfare work. We will remember his enthusiasm and knowledge on a range of issues. We will remember that he never turned you down, whether it was to host an event, ask a question of a Minister or speak in a debate.
Sadly, he was not in his normal place in the Commons this week to witness when he finally got his wish for Southend to become a city. Another fitting legacy will be to ensure his Bills on improving the welfare of pigs and laying hens become a reality. We will be working hard to ensure that this happens, to carry on the work he started but so sadly never completed. That is the greatest honour we can give him and his family.