The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, told the House of Commons Home Affairs select committee he would consider asking the 150 most senior judges - the Law Lords, Court of Appeal and High Court judges - whether they were prepared to take part in the exercise.
In response to a letter from the committee, Lord Mackay told them: "I could invite the judiciary to say, if they wish to, whether or not they were Freemasons." But he did not immediately undertake to carry out the statistics-gathering exercise, and made it clear that if he did, he would not insist upon a declaration.
Lord Mackay told the committee, which is conducting a lengthy investigation into the influence of Freemasonry in the police and judiciary, that he saw no justification for an obligatory register, whether confidential or published. And there was no point to a voluntary register as a failure to declare membership would attract no sanction.
But he agreed to consider polling the most senior judges after committee chairman Sir Ivan Lawrence told him it was impossible to gauge whether there was a problem with undue Masonic influence in the police and judiciary without knowing the numbers involved.
Labour MP Chris Mullin said there was a suspicion that an "unhealthily large" proportion of the legal profession were Masons and "give each other a leg up when the time comes."
But Lord Mackay insisted he had no reason to think that the Freemasons did exert any improper influence over the judiciary. "I'm aware of no evidence of any substance to suggest that Freemasonry has an adverse influence, indeed any influence at all, in relation to the conduct of the judiciary," he said. He assured the committee that he himself was not a Freemason, nor ever had been.
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