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Freemasonry Watch

Isle of Wight News: Group leaders were written to over changes to Register of Interests

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On the Wight

Group leaders were written to over changes to Register of Interests

Readers may remember Retired Hack’s article which revealed that the need for councillors to declare their membership of the Freemasons on the Members’ Register of Interests was removed during changes made by a delegated officer last summer.


Unprompted, we received an email from ex-Cllr Eddie Giles on Saturday (18th May), for which we’re grateful, as accuracy is vital to OnTheWight.

The email (sent by a council officer last summer) casts doubt over what OnTheWight had been told by Cllr Ian Stephens in relation to consultation over changes to the Register of Interests. It reads

Sent: 26 July 2012 14:43
To: Pugh, David; Barry, Reg; Stephens, Ian (Councillor); Lumley, Geoff
Cc: Fiore, Davina;
Subject: Revised Register of Interests July 2012

Dear Group Leaders

You will recall that a few weeks ago I circulated for comment a suggested Register of Interests that was required following the publication of the regulations. Following this some concern was raised about whether we should simply comply with the legislation rather than adding some local additional requirements. It has been suggested that we should go with the legal minimum rather than create additional burdens (no matter how small).

Therefore I attach a further revised version and this only includes the declarations that have to be made by the regulations – and nothing more.

As I consulted with you all on the earlier version I am recirculating this again and would welcome any comments that you may have by Wednesday 1 August. Subject to any comments you may have I plan to implement the agreed version as from 6 August, and we will be advising all members that as we now have to publish these interests on our web site they can only be completed electronically. This will also make it far easier for Members to update the register should they need to. We will provide guidance for members on how to complete on line and indeed on any issues they may have in understanding the requirements.

Councillors re-approached

We’ve put this to both Geoff Lumley and Ian Stephens. With a quick response, we had the following from the Geoff (our additions for clarity within []). We had to wait longer for the response from Ian because as he’s now Leader of the council, his responses have to go through the Comms Dept.

Geoff gave us this swift response:

I did receive the email, but I couldn’t say at this distance [of time] that I fully registered the specific implications of it in regard to declarations of freemasonry.

However, it was clear to me at the time that they were intending to limit to the absolute legal minimum what needed to be declared. Consequently I replied:-

Personally I would prefer the original declaration in the interests of greater transparency.

The response from the council stated
“It is important that members declare any information that could cause a conflict of interest or give the impression that a conflict exists at Council meetings. The current Code of Conduct still requires this.

“However it is accepted that the current Register of Interests, which is effectively a standing declaration of interests and potential conflicts, does not require members to record their membership of clubs, bodies and charities and other possible sources of potential conflicts.

“Group leaders (and at the time that was Reg Barry, Geoff Lumley, Ian Stephens and David Pugh) were consulted about proposed changes to the register last year which reflected the minimum that was required by the Localism Act 2011 but within that consultation these was no mention of the impact of the changes in relation to declaring interests by virtue of involvement in particular groups or activities including, for example, the Freemasons.

“The new administration intends to change the requirements of the Register of Interests to ensure transparency in respect of both members financial and non-financial interests. This will include the need to declare membership of or involvement with the activities of clubs, bodies and charities. Members are currently taking advice on how this change can be best effected.”

Stephens: “I am happy to set the record straight”

Within the council’s response, IW Council leader Cllr Ian Stephens said:

“Island Independents were elected with the promise in our Framework for Change of operating a more open and transparent council. A robust system whereby the interests of councillors are clearly declared and are publicly available is a key part of that. I therefore welcome the current review.

“To make my own position clear, I was consulted about changes to the current register although not specifically on the issue of freemasonry. I am happy to set the record straight and to apologise if my earlier comment left room for any doubt.”

Not discussed in public

It remains a fact that the dropping of the requirement to state membership of the Freemasons was not discussed in public or debated in the council Chamber.

Based on the quotes received by the group leaders who responded to OnTheWight, it is clear they were unaware of the extent of the changes and that the changes included dropping the Freemasonry declaration.

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