Mr. Mark Hughes
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on Thursday last, during business questions, I requested the Leader of the House to make arrangements for an early statement to be made, either in this House or in another place, on the death of a constituent of mine, Mr. George Wilkinson, who was then in prison in Walton, in Liverpool. As hon. Members will know, if one is informed of such an occurrence at 2.30 pm on a Thursday the opportunities to raise the matter are strictly limited. It is not possible to table a private notice question or to seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9.
Since I raised that matter, and the Leader of the House was kind enough to say that he fully understood my concern and would pass my request to his right hon. Friend, certain things have happened. First, the other place has not sat—either on Friday or today—so it has not been practicable for a statement to be made there by the Home Office Minister responsible for the prison service. Secondly, there has been a great deal of speculation 915 in the press, both nationally and, particularly, in the North-East.
I am now in the difficulty that, at 2.50 this afternoon, I was informed by the Liverpool coroner that he had opened a coroner's inquest. At about 3 o'clock, the inquest was adjourned.
I therefore ask, Mr. Speaker, not for a ruling today but for your consideration of the difficulty that faces an hon. Member in these circumstances. It would be improper for me to raise in the House the cause of death, because that is now under the auspices and control of the coroner; it is sub judice. But there are other matters relating to the death of this person—not as to the cause of death but as to the circumstances prior to the immediate cause of death—which are the proper concern of the coroner.
I ask for you ruling, Mr. Speaker, and the comments of the Leader of the House, as to how an hon. Member is to proceed, particularly on a Thursday, when he learns that a constituent has died in prison in circumstances that give rise to difficulty. I ask for your opinion and ruling on the question whether, over the next five weeks—the inquest has been adjourned till at least 16 January—I shall be inhibited from asking any question, not on the cause of death but on other matters, whether I shall be inhibited from applying for an Adjournment debate and whether the Home Office is inhibited from making a statement in the House, since the Leader of the House said that he would at least pass on my request in good faith to the Home Secretary.
What is the position of an hon. Member when an inquest has been opened at 2.50 pm, as this one has today, before the first opportunity for a statement to be made, a private notice question to be tabled, or any other facility available to a Back Bencher to be used? What can I do and what can the House do between now and 16 January?
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before you give your ruling, perhaps I might say that, fulfilling what I told the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), I passed his request immediately to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. These other events have supervened.
§ Mr. Speaker
I shall of course look into what the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) has said and will communicate with him if there is any way in which I can help him. I shall give serious consideration to the matters that he has raised.
§ Mr. Heffer
Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful if on that matter you would also communicate with me. The unfortunate man was in Walton prison only for one night, which is why I have not raised the matter, but the issue involves my constituency and some of my constituents, and it is therefore important that I should be informed. I reiterate that the unfortunate man was in Walton prison for only one night. I do not believe that the prison officers who are my constituents were involved, but I should like to be kept informed.
§ Mr. Speaker
It would be preferable if I made my statement to the House briefly. Then the whole House will be in the picture.