NAMING the Freemasons in a report about local government conduct has raised hackles at Dorset Council.

Conservative group leader, Cllr Andrew Parry, said it was unfair to single out the organisation when other groups, such as Extinction Rebellion, were likely to have more influence on the work of the council.

“It’s a bit of a dis-courtesy for the Freemasons for them to be named,” he said.

His comments came while councillors discussed potential new rules around disclosing their personal interests and membership of outside groups.

Dorset Council’s 82 members would be expected to follow the rules, if approved, with an assumption that around 1,400 Dorset town and parish councillors would also follow suit.

Cllr Parry, and other Conservatives on the committee, which is responsible for checking proposals from the ruling Lib Dem administration, succeeded in deferring the report until later in the year, with a task and finish group to look at its details.

Cllr Parry said he hoped that local Freemasons could be invited, meanwhile, to talk to councillors about their work and how they operate. He said he believed it might ‘bust a few myths’ about the organisation.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Parry, from West Parley, said he has not been a member of any Freemason Lodge but had carried out his personal charity work through groups such as The Young Farmers, Round Table and Rotary.

Other concerns about the report included the 21-day target for a complaint about the behaviour of a councillor to be lodged, to start an investigation.

Lyme Regis and Charmouth Green Party councillor Belinda Bawden said she believed the timescale almost impossible as those complaining might have to wait weeks for a council record of a meeting to be produced, or wait a long time for recordings to become available.

Council deputy leader Lib Dem Richard Biggs (Dorchester) said he also had concerns about where to draw the line with councillors declaring an interest – asking if being a member of the National Trust or English Heritage would fall under the scope of the rules.

“The list could become exhaustive” he said.

Cllr Parry said there might also be an issue around each councillor having to undergo an enhanced disclosure check into their backgrounds as, in some reports, allegations made against individuals remained on the official record kept by the police, even if they were later proven to be untrue – with councillors occasionally the subject of malicious claims.

The Dorset Freemasonry website, which features its activities and aims, as well as listing local lodges (meeting groups), talks about 'building people of integrity' and says: "Freemasonry brings people together irrespective of their race, religion, or other perceived differences that can divide us as a society. Members are expected to be of high moral standing and are encouraged to talk openly about what the organisation does and what it means to be part of it."

The organisation has been active in Dorset since 1736 with many lodges initially based around traditional stone industries across the county.

Today the organisation describes itself as "one of the UK's largest fraternal and charitable organisations... proud to be both non-religious and non-political. Our members come together to realise their potential, make new and lasting friendships, develop new skills, contribute to society and regardless of race, religion or position in society to have fun."