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This Government's Lobbying Bill Remains an Unworkable, Sinister Mess

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The snappily titled 'Transparency of lobbying, non party campaigning and trade union administration' Bill completes its final stages in the Lords today, and is due to return at breakneck speed to the Commons on Wednesday.

The Lords have delivered some important changes, but it essentially returns as it began: an unworkable, sinister mess of a Bill that was badly drafted, badly handled and written in the partisan interests of the governing parties.

When we first got this Bill I think the Government hoped that the grandiloquent title would distract us. But it didn't take anyone long to crack the government newspeak. 'Transparency of lobbying' meant a license to lobby. Transparency of 'non-party campaigning' was really just a transparent attempt to silence the Government's critics in the run up to an election. No wonder people think David Cameron stands up for the wrong people.

From a government that promised that it would fix our broken politics, this really is a Bill to be ashamed of. Despite a raft of panic concessions won by huge pressure from irate charities and third party campaigners, this is still a Bill that stands up for vested interests and shuts up everyone else.

The register of lobbyists in part one of the Bill is so narrow it doesn't even cover the Tory election guru and tobacco lobbyist Lynton Crosby, and is so badly conceived that many in the industry have argued it will make lobbying less transparent. The restrictions on charities and campaigners in part two remain burdensome and unworkable, and will have a chilling effect on our democratic debate.

And as for the new trade union regulations in part three, the government has still not been able to produce any evidence to suggest these changes are actually needed, leaving the lingering suggestion that this is just a cheap and partisan shot at the trade union movement.

The House of Lords have inflicted two important defeats on the Government, which we will fight to keep in the Bill on Wednesday. One broadens the definition of those who can be lobbied to include Special Advisers, and the other removes some staff costs from having to be counted under the slashed spending limit. Both make this bad bill slightly better, but deck chairs and sinking ships come to mind.

This is not what this legislation should have looked like. We have a desperate need for political reform in our country because people are switching off from politics in their droves. They want to see action to clean up lobbying because every lobbying scandal just erodes their trust further. And they want politicians to keep their promises not break them - like the Liberal Democrats on tuition fees. The last thing our politics needed was legislation which lets vested interests off the hook and which makes it harder for ordinary people to hold their government to account.

We need more transparency in our politics. We need to get the big money out. We need to regulate a lobbying industry that has lived in the shadows for too long. But this Bill does none of those things. A Labour Government in 2015 will be certain not to squander such an opportunity.

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