Masonic councillors to be outed
Tuesday January 13, 2004
Councillors with masonic links will in future be forced to declare their membership in order to avoid conflicts of interest in town hall decision-making.
The Standards Board for England decision potentially ends a two-year tussle under the new code of conduct over freemasons who stand as councillors.
When the code was first introduced in April 2001, an argument erupted over whether elected councillors should be made to reveal their freemasonry on the register of interests.
The matter was subsequently left to local authorities, which have the powers to strengthen the code locally. Some councils decided to introduce this requirement, while others declined.
There are 300,000 freemasons in England and Wales, although the number of councillors who belong to the organisation remains unknown.
The standards board has now issued guidance confirming that membership of the Freemasons must regularly be declared under the councillors' code of conduct, under the auspice of its charitable activities.
Under the code councillors must disclose their charity membership on the register of interests.
The guidance was issued after the united grand lodge admitted that part of freemasons' annual subscription fee to their lodges goes to the Freemasons' Grand Charity, which ranks as the second biggest charity donor, second only to the national lottery.
The standards board issued a statement which states: "Freemasons must register membership of their freemason lodge on the register of interests and, where appropriate, declare their membership as a personal or prejudicial interest before, or during, council meetings."
The united grand lodge retorted by accusing the standards watchdog of singling out its members.
UGL media manager and grand officer Chris Connop, said: "It is more a matter of principle and the fact that we are being singled out and being targeted. There are other organisations that are not being mentioned. You do not have to declare the golf club you belong to, yet a lot gets decided on golf courses. We think this is based on ignorance and prejudice and a misunderstanding of what freemasons stand for.
"When we become freemasons, we promise we will not use our membership for professional or financial gain. We can get thrown out for doing it."
A legal challenge had not been ruled out, he added. "This has never been tested in court," he said. "I certainly do not think this is something we would let rest."