Masons told to reveal themselves

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The Independent Online
The days of freemasonry as a secret organisation may be numbered. Freemasons in the police force and the judiciary should be forced to disclose their membership of the organisation, an all-party group of MPs will recommend in a report to be published next week.

The recommendation will send shock waves through the 7,823 lodges and 349,213 Masons around the country for whom secrecy has always been sacred. Membership of lodges may decline if men joining them are no longer able to keep their membership secret. However, the committee is unlikely to make recommendations on how registers should be kept and whether they should be open to everyone or only to relevant parties.

A new Labour government is likely to seize on the recommendation, especially as Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, suggested in his evidence that there should be a register for defence and prosecution lawyers in court cases.

The Home Affairs Committee, which has spent the past six months examining masonry in the police and judiciary, has been inundated with more than 200 submissions and its members have been influenced by the fact that so many have recommended that Masons in public life should declare themselves.

Several bodies involved in the administration of the law and the judiciary have submitted evidence recommending more openness about freemasonry. For example, the Law Society, which represents solicitors, said there were a number of options, including some form of registration system by the Lord Chancellor's Office for judges and chief constables for police.

The Association of Chief Police Officers also said it was prepared to support a register, although it did not specify how it should be done. Among police groups, only the Police Federation, which represents lower ranks, is completely opposed.

MPs on the committee have been surprised that freemasonry is not as prevalent among the judiciary and the police as expected. Of the 130 senior judges, only a handful are Masons according to evidence given to the committee. This is seen as a decline in the prevalence of masonry since it first started attracting major media attention in the mid-1980s.

Among a sample of local magistrates for which evidence was obtained, between a sixth and one-third were Masons in one area, while freemasonry was less common in other areas.

The members of the Home Affairs Committee have not been divided solely on party lines with some Conservative MPs supporting a disclosure of membership by freemasons, while some Labour MPs have expressed opposition.

The inquiry into freemasonry was first suggested by a Labour member of the committee, Chris Mullin, who was disturbed at the number of freemasons who appeared to be involved in the Birmingham Six case.

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