Motion asking Freemasons to declare interest “would be unlawful” claims legal boss
- Credit: Ian Burt
Norfolk County Council has been warned that requiring Freemasons to declare their membership could be 'unlawful'.
As members prepare to debate a motion asking just this, the United Grand Lodge of England's head of legal services has written to the council's leader, Andrew Proctor, advising that the council could be fined if it is carried.
In an open letter to Mr Proctor, Donald Taylor has warned the motion, which was raising by Labour councillor Mike Smith-Clare, would be in breach of the Humans Rights Act.
He said: 'Freemasons are welcome to disclose their membership voluntarily and are obliged to disclose their membership where a specific conflict of interest could arise.
'However, the proposed motion if passed would impose an unlawfully wide obligation on Freemasons.
'The United Grand Lodge of England encourages Freemasons to acknowledge their membership, but advises them that they are not obliged to comply with unlawful disclosure requirements.'
Mr Smith-Clare said the motion had been designed to maximise transparency among county councillors,
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He said: 'Suffolk moved to make it a requirement last year. I think transparency is so important in local government and I don't want Norfolk to be an anomaly in that sense.
'I'm not kicking at the Freemasons at all, it's about making sure people know more about their councillors, who they are and what they do.'
Mr Taylor, however, argues passing the motion would see the council in breach of both the Human Rights Act and data protection laws.
He said that in 2007 the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that singling out Freemasons for special treatment 'was both discriminatory and unnecessary in modern democracy'.
Tom Garrod, county councillor for the Wroxham division said he had no reservations with declaring his membership, but that he felt the organisation was being singled out.
He said: 'I have no problem with it – if I was not proud to be a Mason, I would not be one.
'However, it is no different to being a member of the Lions or Rotary clubs, so I don't really see why we should be treated any differently.'
The motion goes before Norfolk County Council on Monday.