Commons speaker blocks release of Home Office reports on ID card scheme

Commons speaker Michael Martin is using a 319-year-old law designed to protect freedom of speech to try to stop the publication of Home Office reports on the failing ID card scheme.

Lawyers for Mr Martin appeared unexpectedly at a High Court hearing last week aiming to prevent potentially damaging internal assessments being published under the Freedom of Information Act.

And onlookers were astonished when they argued that the Home Office documents should be kept secret under "parliamentary privilege" – a law created in the 1689 Bill of Rights to protect MPs from prosecution over anything they say or do in Parliament.

The latest twist in the dispute over ID cards occurred as the Government was appealing against an Information Commissioner's Office decision to publish the 'gateway' reviews, which monitor and assess the ID scheme's chance of success.

Mr Martin's lawyers, led by Martin Chamberlain, joined the Government team to back their argument. The decision to release the documents was based largely on a 2004 parliamentary select committee report that said the Government should be more open.

Speaker Michael Martin uses 319-year-old law to gag reports on the failing ID card scheme (Daily Mail, March 2008)