County councillors walked out of a meeting en masse as a proposal was made for them to declare membership of Freemasons.
Derbyshire County Council’s Conservative group refused to debate the motion, but forward by Matlock councillor Andy Botham, for members to declare membership of pressure groups, trade unions and Freemasons, at a full council meeting.
Councillor Botham said he had been “surprised” by the action of the opposition, who stood up and walked out of the meeting last week, not to return.
“For the whole of the Conservative group to stand up and walk out and not even return is quite disrespectful,” he said.
Cllr Botham said he decided to put forward the motion after central Government called for councillors to declare membership of trade unions.
“That got me to thinking ‘hang on a minute, why don’t we have to declare membership of Freemasons’,” he added.
Cllr Botham said shortly after putting the motion forward, the council received a letter from the United Grand Lodge of England, the oldest Masonic grand lodge in the world, objecting to it on the grounds that it went against the human rights of members.
“I have got no idea why they are so protective about disclosing membership,” Cllr Botham said.
Cllr Simon Spencer, deputy leader of the county’s Conservative group, said members had not walked out of the meeting because the were unwilling to debate the motion.
Rather, he said they had been informed by the director of legal services, John McElvaney, at the beginning of the meeting that members would have to declare any membership of such organisations in order to debate in the meeting.
“It defeats the object of the motion in the first place,” he said.
The motion was carried in the members’ absence.
Cllr Spencer, who said he was not a Freemason himself, said he was planning to meet with the council’s chief executive Ian Stephenson, to discuss the matter further.