§ Madam Speaker
I have looked into the circumstances of the written answer that was given yesterday by the Home Office on arrangements for asylum seekers. The matter was raised last night by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).
Although I am satisfied that no formal breach of the rules relating to pursuant answers has occurred, it is important that the House is given proper notice of the tabling of questions. The Home Office could have met that criterion simply by answering other questions already standing on yesterday's Order Paper, and without resorting to providing a further answer to a question that was tabled some three months ago.
I regret the use that was made of the procedure yesterday. Had the Table Office had any indication of the scope and extent of the reply, I would have advised it that it was not the practice of the House to allow pursuant answers to be used in that way.
I look to Departments to ensure that answers pursuant to earlier questions are made only in limited circumstances to correct or add information, and are not used to make substantial written statements. To do otherwise is to avoid giving proper notice of important impending answers. I believe that I have made my views clear.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)
I accept your ruling completely, Madam Speaker. I wish to apologise to you and to the House for any inadvertent breach of the procedure.