Parliament & Politics: Masons' silence scuppers debate

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Indy Politics
A BBC radio news item about secret societies was dropped yesterday because the World at One was unable to find a Mason to debate the issue with Chris Mullin, the Labour MP who later moved a Commons Bill to force public office holders to declare their membership.

Mr Mullin, MP for Sunderland South, was given unopposed leave to introduce his Secret Societies (Declaration) legislation, a 10- minute rule Bill which will make no further progress.

He warned earlier that the parliamentary device was an 'opening shot' in a campaign to require candidates either for appointment or election to public office to make public declarations of secret society membership.

'Recently, there have been a number of speeches by senior Masons designed to persuade public opinion that they have entered an era of glasnost,' he told the House.

But he added that that openness did not extend to discussing the matter with him on BBC radio, which, with 'characteristic gutlessness', had cancelled a planned interview with him at lunchtime yesterday.

Mr Mullin told a Westminster press conference: 'I was rung up by the World at One at 10 o'clock and asked if I'd come on the programme, and they would find a Mason to debate the issue with me. They've declined to co-operate, so it's off. I said to the BBC, 'You're allowing them to dictate the agenda', and I was told by the person I spoke to, 'I'm afraid I disagree with you.' That was the end of the conversation.'

Moving his Bill, Mr Mullin told MPs: 'I wish to stress that my Bill makes no objection to the practice of Freemasonry. If grown men wish to wear aprons, bare their breasts and indulge in strange rituals, that is entirely a matter for them.

'What I object to is the secrecy and corrosive effect which that secrecy has on public confidence in many of our most respected institutions.'

Martin Short, author of Inside the Brotherhood, a book about the Masons, told the earlier press conference: 'It goes on in all walks of life.

'The Ministry of Defence lodges are very peculiar; procurement officials in the same lodge as people who supply military goods and services to the procurement department of the Ministry of Defence.'

He said he had only discovered that because someone had found a file of papers in a junk shop. 'Although I can't prove any corruption, I can't see that this can be right.'