Police must reveal links to Masons

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The Independent Online
ALUN MICHAEL, Minister of State at the Home Office, is to write to all of the country's police officers, demanding to know whether they are Freemasons.

Anger is expected from officers who will regard this as an invasion of their privacy.

But the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has made clear to colleagues that he is determined to press ahead with identifying Freemasons in the police force, the Probation Service and the Prison Service.

Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, recently wrote to 5,000 members of the judiciary, from the senior law lords to members of judicial tribunals, asking them to declare whether they were members of Masonic lodges.

Judges have reacted with hostility to the demands for disclosure, and ministers are now considering action to break through the wall of silence and secrecy surrounding Masons.

Home Office sources said last night that officials were already working on legislation to force the disclosure of membership, if the voluntary approach failed.

Senior judges, including Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, have objected to the demands. He said there was "no justification" for judges to reveal whether they were Freemasons. The United Grand Lord, the head of the Masons, has so far refused to comply with Home Office demands for information.

Mr Michael wrote to the ruling United Grand Lodge in March, asking for disclosure of names of members in the police, the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service, Probation Service, Prison Service, and among coroners and members of police authorities.

No information was given. In May Mr Michael wrote to the Lodge again, saying that "the Government would press on with the process of implementing its policy of declaration and registration".

Officials are collating the names of serving office-holders and employees. The refusal of the Freemasons to co-operate has brought forward the threat of legislation by the Home Office. Earlier this year he accepted the report and recom- mendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Chris Mullin, a Labour campaigner for civil rights, who called for the Freemasons to make the disclosures voluntarily. Mr Straw said: "Membership of secret societies such as Freemasonry can raise suspicions of a lack of impartiality or objectivity. It is important that the public knows the facts."

All recruits will now be asked to sign a register saying whether they are Masons. The Home Secretary has not ruled out legislation to force the creation of a register of existing members in public service. "The Government will address the need for legislation, having regard to the extent of compliance with voluntary registers, once they have been established."

It had been thought that the Lord Chancellor was reluctant to act, but he was the first minister to require information from those employed under his departmental brief.

Lord Irvine warned that any who did not declare membership of the Masons would have their names published. They would be marked down in a new public register as "not prepared to provide information", a category that will persuade many critics that they are in fact Masons.

Lord Irvine's threat was condemned by leading Freemasons as discriminatory. They said it was unfair to single out judges among all those involved in the justice system.