Baroness Stowell – 2016 Speech in Tribute to Jo Cox

Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Stowell in the House of Lords on 20 June 2016.

My Lords, Jo Cox was clearly a remarkable woman. I never met her. Tragically, the first thing I knew about her was that she had been killed. We are shocked that a young woman in the prime of her life has been stabbed and shot dead in the streets of a town like Birstall on a Thursday lunchtime. We are sad that a husband has lost his wife and two young children will never see their mother again, and we are horrified because Jo was a Member of Parliament who was killed by a constituent while she was going about her work serving the people of Batley and Spen.

We have learned a lot about Jo over the past few days. None of us could fail to be impressed by her dedication and commitment both before and since entering Parliament. She was a woman who clearly cared about other people. She had travelled far, had wide horizons and she thought big. For me, what is most moving has been hearing what was clearly a woman with a passion for the world say in her maiden speech how proud she was to come from Yorkshire and to be representing the place where she had grown up and the people she had grown up among. The impression she gave this stranger, listening to her for the first time, was that Jo Cox was a woman who knew who she was, and I really like that.

We are not just paying tribute to Jo Cox today, we are standing in solidarity and shoulder to shoulder with the other House of Parliament. The House of Commons has lost one of its own in the most dreadful of circumstances. It is not the first time. Over the past 40 years, we have lost Airey Neave, Robert Bradford, Anthony Berry and Ian Gow at the hands of IRA terrorists. One of them, Robert Bradford, was holding a constituency surgery at the time of the attack and his caretaker was also killed. Thankfully, Stephen Timms survived a violent attack by a constituent, as did the noble Lord, Lord Jones, when he was the MP for Cheltenham, although tragically the noble Lord’s assistant was killed in that attack. But Jo Cox is the first MP to be killed in the line of duty by a constituent.

Today, as Leader of this House and on behalf of all noble Lords, I would like to pay tribute to all Members of the other place, our elected colleagues who follow their vocation to improve things for the benefit of those they represent. Their route to Parliament is rarely easy and it can take them years. It is usual for them to have to accept failure many times before being selected to represent their party, hopefully in a winnable seat and often not before they have had to stand and lose in a hopeless one. Those who do make it work tirelessly for their constituents, not just here in Westminster, but every week in their constituencies. But as the last election showed, dedicated or not, MPs can be unceremoniously rejected if the electorate is fed up with their party at large.

The British people deserve the best public servants to represent them in Parliament. Jo Cox was clearly a great public servant for her constituents. Thankfully, in that respect she was far from alone. Marking her death, tragic and unfair as it is, presents at least one opportunity for the sake of good democracy, and it is this: for those of us who know how hard MPs work, to raise awareness of their commitment to the people they represent.

On behalf of the whole House, I offer my sincere condolences to Jo’s husband, children, parents, sister and to all her family and friends. On behalf of the Conservative Party in this House, I offer all of our colleagues on the Labour Benches our deepest sympathies for the loss of their dear friend. Finally, on behalf of the House of Lords, I offer our condolences and respect to our colleagues in the other place.