I undertook yesterday to investigate a case of what appeared to be the premature disclosure by the Department of Trade and Industry of the text of a written reply to a parliamentary question put down for answer yesterday by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). The matter was brought to my attention by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett).
I understand that a press release setting out the terms of the reply was intended to be issued by the Department for release at 4.30 pm but was, through an error, sent out at noon.
That constituted a breach of the rule under which answers to written questions may not be issued before 3.30 pm or before mid-day on Fridays. I hope that this rule will be maintained in the future.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for making that statement. You are right to say that the press notice was issued in error, being wrongly sent among a number of other notices to the Central Office of Information at the time required for a noon distribution rather than at the time required for a 4.30 distribution, for which it was intended.
I should emphasise that the press notice did not carry an embargo. Therefore, no question of a breach of an embargo arises, so that on this occasion the press was innocent of any improper behaviour. I can only apologise to the House and to hon. Members who feel that they were inconvenienced for the breach of the rule which you have reiterated, Mr. Speaker.