Home Affairs Committee

Third Report

FREEMASONRY IN THE POLICE
AND THE JUDICIARY

The following are the conclusions of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into Freemasonry in the Police and Judiciary. The report was ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 19 March 1997.

The principal issues addressed are,

"(i) whether membership of the freemasons causes any problems in the criminal justice process, and, (ii) whether any restrictions should be placed on membership of the freemasons by police officers, prosecutors, judges or magistrates, or any requirements for them to disclose membership should be established."

IS THERE A PROBLEM ARISING FROM
THE NATURE OF FREEMASONRY ITSELF?

32 We have come to the following preliminary conclusions about the nature of freemasonry:

  • The Committee conclude that, when the oaths are read in context, there is nothing in them that would appear sinister, and nothing in the evidence that we have heard that would show a conflict between the oath taken by a judge or policeman and that taken by a freemason.
  • We do not believe that there is anything sinister about freemasonry, properly observed, and are confident that freemasonry itself does not encourage malpractice.

IS THERE EVIDENCE OF A PROBLEM IN PRACTICE?

49: We have come to the following conclusions on what we have been told during this inquiry:

  1. there is a large number of freemasons within the criminal Justice system, but the numbers in themselves give no general cause for concern;

  2. there is some evidence that the numbers may be high in (i) some parts of the judiciary and magistracy, and (ii) some areas of the police (although it seems that in both areas the numbers may be substantially less than in the 1960s and 1970s);

  3. where it is not entirely groundless, most or all of the evidence alleging masonic corruption in the field of policing is largely circumstantial, in the sense that it involves assuming that steps taken by individuals who were freemasons, in respect of others who were also freemasons, were taken because both individuals were freemasons rather than because the individuals knew each other or for some other reason;

  4. it is not possible on the evidence we received to say that there has never been any abuse of masonic contacts and certainly there are many allegations. But some of the extreme criticisms of widespread abuse we received are manifestly unfounded and the others can not be said to have been substantiated to us on the balance of probability let alone beyond reasonable doubt, although in a small number of cases, such as that in Blackburn, this is a reasonable inference;

  5. where there is evidence of criminal or otherwise improper behaviour by freemasons, the freemasons themselves are taking stronger action against the perpetrators than was the case in the past; whether or not this is because of increased public interest, we welcome it; and

  6. there is a widespread public perception that freemasonry can have an unhealthy influence on the criminal justice system, and we certainly believe that one of the main reasons for freemasonry's poor public image is a perception that it is a secret society. We therefore encourage freemasons to address this perception and to correct the negative image of freemasonry.


DISCLOSURE

56: It is obvious that there is a great deal of unjustified paranoia about freemasonry and we have no wish to add to it. We believe that there would be practical difficulties in requiring a register of freemasons in all areas of the Criminal Justice system, but it would certainly be possible to establish one. We also note that the Prime Minister himself has said that he was in favour of a requirement for public officials to declare whether they are freemasons or not, and that the Shadow Home Secretary believes that membership of the freemasons should be a declarable and registrable interest.We believe however that nothing so much undermines public confidence in public institutions as the knowledge that some public servants are members of a secret society one of whose aims is mutual self-advancement - or a column of mutual support, to use the masonic phrase. We note the claim by United Grand Lodge that freemasons are not a secret society but a society with secrets. We believe, however, that this distinction is lost on most non-masons. The solution is not bans or proscriptions or any form of intolerance. We acknowledge that a lot of honest people derive innocent social pleasure from membership of freemasonry and we have no wish to deprive them of such pleasure. The solution is disclosure. We recommend that police officers, magistrates, judges, and crown prosecutors should be required to register membership of any secret society and that the record should be available publicly. However, it is our firm belief that the better solution lies in the hands of freemasonry itself. By openness and disclosure, all suspicion would be removed and we would welcome the taking of such steps by the United Grand Lodge.

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Source: Home Affairs

Committee Third Report: Freemasonry in the Police and Judiciary (HCP 192 1997) Parliamentary copyright 1997. Reproduced by Gordon Charlton under licence from the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office on behalf of Parliament.

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The following is a News Release issued by the United Grand Lodge of England on 25th March 1997, in response to the Home Office report.

  1. The inquiry was originally into the police and the judiciary, and Freemasons gladly accept the Committee's conclusions at paragraph 32.

  2. As a lawful and law-abiding society, Freemasons will be disappointed by the hasty conclusion in paragraph 56 of the Home Affairs Committee's report, which is in marked contrast to the observations in the report itself. Page xxii of the report shows how the Committee's original understanding and tolerant view of Freemasonry was changed by an amendment. This draws on three suppositions for which the report provides no basis (and for which there is no basis) to support a recommendation which if implemented would interfere with a fundamental right in British life.

  3. There is no basis for saying in paragraph 56 that Freemasonry is a secret society. It is not one by law and never has been (the Unlawful Societies legislation in the 1700s exempted Freemasonry) . In practice our meeting places are known locally and published in Grand Lodge's Masonic Year Book, which with its rule book Grand Lodge┬╣s Book of Constitutions) is on sale to the public; our aims are a matter of public record, and Freemasons are free to disclose their membership.

  4. There is no basis for saying in paragraph 56 that one of Freemasonry's aims is mutual self-advancement. Freemasonry's aims were published in 1938 (and are re-printed in the front of the Book of Constitutions). None of these aims include mutual self-advancement. Grand Lodge's written and oral evidence emphasised that Freemasonry is not to be used to advance interests, and that this is very clearly understood by every Freemason, even from the time before he becomes a member of a Lodge. [A column of mutual defence and support, to use the correct phrase, does not mean mutual self-advancement.]

  5. Paragraph 56 is wrong in saying that Grand Lodge claims that Freemasonry is not a secret society, but a society with secrets. This is a minor point, and only worth mentioning because it shows that the amendment comes from a mind reluctant to admit any evidence not matching its preconceptions. This phrase has been used in the past by Freemasons and commentators to summarise an important difference between Freemasonry and secret societies. In recent years it has been recognised in Freemasons' Hall as too facile, and it is not in current use by central Masonic spokesmen, nor has it formed any part of Grand Lodge's evidence to the Committee.

  6. The Committee abandons its initial and reasonable reluctance to recommend a compulsory form of registration of Freemasons. Before paragraph 56 was amended this was 'because we acknowledge that to do so implies a basis for suspicion' (the Committee would have agreed there was no such basis) 'and would be an unnecessary interference with a person's right to privacy which, like the secrecy of the vote, we struggle to preserve in so many areas of British life'. Instead, and on the uncertain basis of unfounded suppositions (see above), the report recommends that those concerned with the administration of justice should be required to register membership of any secret society, and that the record should be available publicly.

  7. Because Freemasonry is not a secret society, the Committee has been led into accepting a flawed amendment. This is legislation based on perception, not reality, and if it comes into effect will be a sad day for individual freedom.

(signed) MBS Higham
Grand Secretary