The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government in the UK is planning to introduce a register of lobbyists similar to that being discussed by the EU institutions, in an attempt to restore trust in politics following an expenses scandal that hit parliament last year.
"The parties will tackle lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists," reads the text of the agreement, published on 12 May.
"We also agree to pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics," it continues.
No details of the breadth of the register – or the timescale of its introduction – were immediately available.
However, it receives another explicit mention in the coalition's programme for government – presented on 20 May – which states: "We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency."
The programme – which was formally unveiled by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg – covers the next five years, so the establishment of the lobby register is to be expected during the course of the current parliament.
UK government officials contacted by EURACTIV were unable to provide further information.
Addressing MPs at the state opening of parliament on Monday (25 May), Queen Elizabeth II did not directly refer to the register when presenting the 23 bills and one draft bill to be introduced by the new government during its first term.
"My government will propose parliamentary and political reform to restore trust in democratic institutions and rebalance the relationship between the citizen and the state," said the Queen in her speech, delivered amid the traditional Westminster pomp and ceremony.
The coalition government's promise to introduce a register represents a victory for the Liberal Democrats, as the Conservatives – like the previous Labour government – had favoured self-regulation and a voluntary code.
While the Lib Dems pledged in their manifesto to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, but the Conservatives stopped short of promising to do so. "The lobbying industry must regulate itself to ensure its practices are transparent – if it does not, then we will legislate to do so," read the Tory document.
Public 'fed up' with politics
The public is still reeling from a series of high-profile MP expenses scandals, which rocked British politics last year and ensured that cleaning up politics was a major theme of this year's election campaign.
"I think people are so fed up with the way money and greed is corrupting our politics and it's why I've always said we need to go far further than reforming MPs expenses – we need to reform the whole rotten system," said Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on the campaign trail.
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, an alliance of civil society groups who are concerned about the growing influence of lobbying on decision-making in the UK, described the introduction of a statutory register as "a significant policy U-turn for the Conservatives".
Other transparency groups reacted cautiously to the news, warning of potential problems ahead on the road to establishing the register.
"The timescale hasn't been announced [and] big business pressure could change the government's mind again," said grassroots campaigning organisation 38 Degrees.
The group is collecting signatures from the public for a letter addressed to Cameron and Clegg, urging the government to turn the proposals into law as soon as possible.
"The announcement of plans to ban secret lobbying is a great step forward. But now it needs to be turned into law, quickly," argued 38 Degrees on its campaign website.
New ministerial code
Meanwhile, last Friday (21 May) the government published three documents to ensure greater accountability and transparency for ministers.
A new 'Ministerial Code', published by Prime Minister David Cameron, sets out the standards of conduct expected of ministers.
The code bars former ministers from lobbying the government for two years, tightens controls on government cars and numbers of special advisers, and requires regular publication of details of ministerial meetings, hospitality, gifts and travel.
Ministers’ meetings with external organisations will also be published quarterly.
The code makes clear that ministers’ decisions should not be influenced by the hope or expectation of future employment with a particular firm or organisation.
The new code governs all aspects of ministerial life, from access to official papers and appointments to the use of government resources and the handling of ministers’ private interests.
The government also published a list of cabinet committees, detailing the membership of each committee.