Should councillors have to tell us if they are Masons?
PUBLISHED: 12:34 17 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:28 19 November 2017
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Voters in Suffolk can see which of their elected representatives are Freemasons - but the public in Norfolk can not.
That quirk in what councillors have to declare on their register of interests has been described as “illogical” by the former deputy leader of Suffolk County Council.
Since 2011 councillors no longer have to tell the public if they are a member of the society, traditionally famed for its secret rituals. But some councils have put rules in place meaning they do.
At Suffolk councils, including the County Council, members are asked to declare if they are a Freemason, while at Norfolk County Council they are not.
At Waveney Council three councillors have declared membership and in Suffolk Coastal District Council four have, including the leader of the council, Ray Herring, and the chairman of the scrutiny committee, Philip Dunnett.
They are members of the same Masonic Lodge but Mr Herring said that did not lead to a conflict of interest.
“I completely support openness and transparency in Government at all levels,” he said. “It avoids any possible conflicts of interest and I have always been completely open about my membership of the Freemasons and Grand Charity. I also encourage it in others.”
Councillors have to declare their interest under something called the Suffolk Code which asks them to state membership of any body “directed to charitable purposes” which would include Freemasonry.
Christopher Hudson, a councillor at both Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Coastal District Council, said all local authorities should require members to declare membership of Freemasonry.
“Our voters and ratepayers will find it perplexing, illogical and inconsistent that councillors’ codes of conduct are not the same across local government,” he said.
At South Norfolk District, North Norfolk District and Norwich City councils membership does have to be declared. Three councillors declared it as an interest in South Norfolk, including the chairman of the council, Barry Duffin.
But at Breckland, Broadland and Norfolk County councils councillors do not have to declare if they are Masons.
The same applies to Great Yarmouth, Fenland and West Norfolk and King’s Lynn councillors.
•Who are the Masons?
The Freemasons are traditionally famed for their secretiveness, but in recent years they have attempted to become more open.
A documentary on Sky this year, called “Inside The Freemasons”, took viewers behind the scenes of the society, which is known for its ancient rituals.
At a local level the Masons are organised into Lodges with a Provincial Grand Lodge overseeing them.
The Masons also raise thousands of pounds a year for charities.
Freemasonry is not a religion but members do need to believe in God.
The perceived secrecy of Freemasons has led to conspiracy theories about them for hundreds of years.
But a booklet on the website of the Norfolk Freemasons states: “Freemasonry is not a secret society. Members are perfectly free to acknowledge their membership and should do so in answer to any reasonable enquiry. There is no secret about the aims and principles of the Order.”