Councillors to disclose interests
July 21, 2003
Paul Dale, Birmingham Post
A Government directive inviting councillors to say whether they are Freemasons has aroused passions in Birmingham.
It is not compulsory to give details of membership, but elected members are prompted to do so when they enter their personal details in the official Register of Interests.
The register also contains information about councillors' occupations, financial interests and membership of clubs - details of which must be given.
The document, renewed following the May elections, has enabled a number of councillors to state publicly that they are not Freemasons. Only two admit that they are.
John Alden, Harborne Conservative councillor and Lord Mayor of Birmingham, wrote in his entry: "For the avoidance of doubt, I am not a Freemason."
His Tory colleague James Hutchings (Edgbaston) also makes it clear he is not a Freemason.
Two women councillors - Lib Dem Sue Anderson and Labour's Ann Holtom - also state they are not Freemasons, even though women do not normally join the brotherhood.
Weoley Tory, Peter Douglas Osborn, when invited to admit any links with the Freemasons, simply wrote "Christian". Tory colleague Tim Huxtable (Bournville) wrote: "Worshipping Roman Catholic".
Dr Jerry Evans, the newly-elected Liberal Democrat councillor for Sparkhill, chose to emphasise his non-Masonic links by underlining an entry stating that he is not a Freemason.
The register appeared to be all too much for Coun Ray Hassall (Lib Dem Perry Barr), who stated he was unemployed and was signing the form "under protest".
Only two of the 117 councillors declare themselves as Freemasons - Tories David Roy (Sutton Vesey) and John Lines (Bartley Green). Both have never made any secret of their membership.
No record of paid employment is registered by 45 councillors. Seventeen councillors have jobs in the public sector, trade unions or work in the offices of MPs.
The race to hold down the most jobs at any one time boils down to a close contest between John Hemming, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, and Labour councillor Mike Olley.
Coun Hemming (Acocks Green) lists seven different occupations and financial interests in eight companies, all of them owned by himself.
Coun Olley (Kingsbury) lists his interest in four companies, two based in the Middle East.
On the question of Freemasonry, Coun Olley writes: "I am not or never have been a Freemason (other than by right of a Lewis).
A "Lewis" is the term given by the brotherhood to the son of a Freemason.
The amount of information that must be included in the Register of Interests has been increased by the Government since 1997, with the tightening of guidelines prompted by national "sleaze" scandals during the 1990s.
Many councillors feel they must include any outside interest, however unlikely it is to place them in a difficult position when taking council decisions.
Margaret Byrne (Lab Shard End) declares "very occasional work" as a walk-on TV artiste.
Peter Hollingworth (Con Harborne) admits to being president of Queens Park Bowling Club.
The sporty Tony Ward (Con Kings Norton) is a member of Kings Norton Bowls Club and Kings Norton Golf Club.