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Let's Stop the Government's Gagging Bill

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This afternoon I will be in the chamber leading Labour's opposition to the David Cameron's Lobbying Bill, one of the worst bits of legislation I've seen in some time.

From a prime minister who solemnly promised he'd fix our broken politics, this is a bill that does the complete opposite. It is a sop to powerful vested interests and a sinister gag on democratic debate, and it shows just how out of touch David Cameron and his government are.

Before he was elected David Cameron warned that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen and he pledged that his government would act. But after three years of prevarication, during which we have seen lobbying scandal after lobbying scandal, what he's actually produced amounts to a lobbyist's charter. It is so useless that even Lynton Crosby - the tobacco lobbyist at the heart of Downing Street - wouldn't be covered by it.

Both transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry agree that the government's toothless register is actually a step backwards from the codes of conduct and sanctions that already exist. And they say that the end result of this new law will be that there is less lobbying transparency not more.

The government should rename it the 'Let Lynton Lobby Bill'.

Before the last election David Cameron used to evangelise about the 'Big Society', but the second part of the bill is a shameful attack on it. The bill makes wide ranging changes to the regulation of so-called 'third parties' in the year before the election which could mean that charities and campaigners even just raising awareness of a public policy issue would be captured and restricted.

In the words of the government's own election regulator, the Electoral Commission, this bill will have a "dampening effect" on public debate.

Over the past few weeks charities and campaigners have been speaking out in their thousands, but the government has refused to listen. The fact that they are ploughing on regardless reveals that this is a deliberate attempt to insulate their record and policies from criticism in 2015.

This is a draconian, illiberal Bill that lets vested interests off the hook but prevents civil society from having a say.

This is shocking even from the Tories, but the Liberal Democrats should be truly ashamed. In a bill that is neither liberal nor democratic, they would rather fight the Tories' corner than fight for free speech. Although, I don't suppose they'd be too upset when NUS finds it harder to hold them to account for their broken pledges on tuition fees at the next election.

This bill wouldn't stop arch-lobbyist Lynton Crosby setting the government's tobacco policy, but could stop an organisation like Cancer Research UK or the British Medical Association from campaigning about it. No wonder the British public think David Cameron stands up for the wrong people.

I'll be telling the Government this afternoon that their Bill is an affront to our democracy. They must go back to the drawing board and come forward with proposals for genuine reform.

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