Labour in mass walk-out as Freemasons vote is 'wrecked'
PUBLISHED: 13:24 23 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:18 24 July 2018
Labour councillors left a Norfolk County Council meeting en masse after accusing the Conservatives of "wrecking" a motion calling for councillors to have to declare if they are freemasons.
Labour’s Mike Smith-Clare had tabled a motion calling for members who are freemasons to have to declare it on their register of interests. Freemasons on Suffolk County Council already have to do that.
Mr Smith-Clare said: “The motion is neither controversial or contentious.
“It’s an honest attempt to promote accountability, openness and transparency amongst us.
“It represents an opportunity for a declaration in line with public expectation to avoid any future potential conflicts of interest.”
Conservative Ron Hanton said he was a freemason and proud to be one.
But he said the motion discriminated against freemasons, questioning why it was not seeking for councillors to declare themselves as members of, for example, rotary clubs, the round table or of trade unions.
Fellow Tory Tom Garrod, who is also a freemason tabled an amendment to the motion.
It removed all reference to freemasons and instead asked the standards committee to review the code of conduct to ensure members operate within a framework of accountability and transparency.
Conservative Stuart Dark said he was concerned the implication of singling out freemasons was that there was something wrong with being a member of that organisation and made reference to the Human Rights Act.
That angered Labour deputy leader Emma Corlett, who said it was rich of the Conservatives to talk about that when there are cuts to social care.
She accused the Conservative amendment of being a “wrecking motion” and said it was a “shambles”.
All Labour councillors then walked out of the council chamber.
In their absence Conservative Bill Borrett said he thought people would like to know which Labour councillors were members of Momentum.
The Conservative amendment was passed, with Tory Tom FitzPatrick saying it made sense for the issue to be looked at by the standards committee.
Labour did not return for the rest of the meeting.
Suffolk County Council asks for all groups to be declared, which is not limited to the freemasons. They ask for declarations of interests in regards to many things, such as bowls clubs or even charity organisations such as St John Ambulance.