A Times investigation has found that 40 charities and more than 300 companies have been banned from publicly criticising the Prime Minister and her Cabinet.
The groups were required to sign ‘gagging’ clauses before starting major government projects, including the Grenfell Tower inquiry.
Paul Morgan-Bentley, Head of Investigations at The Times, told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer: “What this investigation shows is that the Government has been using these clauses in a pretty standard way across lots of different contracts over the past three years - going back from 2015.
“These are the types of clauses in private company contracts. So a big private company is hiring an IT contractor and there will a reputation contract that says ‘don’t do anything that will bring us into disrepute’.
“The Government has clearly adopted these across various different departments without thinking, or maybe with thinking, that it is a totally different thing when they are used on public contracts.
“It is different when they specifically ban criticism of the Prime Minister.
“Many of the contracts we have found ban charities from criticising Secretaries of State and in this case, something as sensitive and high-profile as the Grenfell fire.
“Twelve days after the fire, a contract was signed with an engineering firm to test the Government’s cladding and there was one of these clauses in it that said you cannot embarrass or cause any adverse publicity to the Cabinet Office or even the Prime Minister.”
The investigation also found that former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling banned 39 prisoner rehabilitation charities from causing him “adverse publicity”.
“Within the piece there is also an investigation into Chris Grayling when he was Justice Secretary and there was a big overhauling of the probation sector,” Mr Morgan-Bentley said.
“That has been a massive failure and has been criticised almost across the board.
“Huge reports have come out saying that his reforms have not led to a reduction in reoffending.
“Lots of charities were involved in the work and their contracts also included these ‘do not cause adverse publicity’ clauses.
“When we looked through who has been criticising the Justice Secretary and the probation reforms, these charities on the whole have been very quiet.
“When we went to comment for them about it, they spoke about having to be really careful.”