The German parliament and government employees have been laid low by a sudden flood of spam, which has seen e-mails delayed for up to three days.

The spam clogged the government's e-mail system at the start of the week and is only now being overcome, a spokesman at the Federal Ministry of the Interior said today.

But the delicious irony is that the collapse has come smack bang in the middle of a debate on whether an anti-spam law should be introduced and if so what approach should be taken.

"We aren't having any difficulty so far today but, yes, we have had problems this week," a spokesman said, declining to say whether the flood of unwanted e-mail was the result of a targeted attack or an internal computer hitch. Some e-mail messages arrived three days late, he said.

The crippling tide of spam has come in the form of non-delivery reports, which are generated when mail can't be delivered. Over 500,000 such reports were sent at one point to the government's central mail server, according to German public service broadcaster ARD.

For technical reasons, the reports could not be removed centrally, ARD said, citing a document obtained from the Informationsverbunds Berlin Bonn (IVBB), the government IT unit established to manage, among other things, the government's e-mail service in both Berlin, the capital, and Bonn, the former capital, which is still home to several federal ministries.

The unit uses state-of-the-art intrusion detection systems, according to an official from federal government's main IT agency, the KBSt.