Select Committee on Home Affairs First Special Report


Government Reply to the Third Report from Home Affairs Committee, Session 1996-97

Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary

The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:

We have received the following response from the Home Office to our Third Report of Session 1996-97 on Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary.

The Home Affairs Committee report was in the context of arrangements in England and Wales, as is this response. It is for the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland to consider whether similar provisions should apply in those parts of the United Kingdom.

1.  In its report, the Committee made this principal recommendation: "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."

2.  This recommendation is consistent with the evidence given to the Committee by the then official Opposition that "membership of the freemasons (and any other similar organisation) should be a declarable and registrable interest" (HC 192-II, Appendix 25, page 139).

3.  In the same evidence we said that "we accept that there are important and sensitive questions about how any register should be maintained and the criteria for access to this. We look forward to considering the detailed recommendations of the Committee on these questions in due course".

4.  The Government proposes to implement the recommendation of the Committee in the manner set out below. It has decided that the arrangements should apply to police officers, judges, magistrates and Crown Prosecutors, as the Select Committee recommended and to probation officers and staff of the Prison Service.

5.  The Committee said that it welcomed "the recent decision of the Council of the Magistrates' Association to propose that applicants to magistrates' benches should be required to declare that they are freemasons on their application form and that they should inform their Advisory Committee if they subsequently become freemasons. We recommend that the Lord Chancellor's Department act to alter the wording of the application form accordingly." The Government proposes to accept this recommendation.

6.  All new appointments to the judiciary (including part-time offices such as Recorders, Deputy High Court Judges etc), to the magistracy, to the police, to the legally qualified staff of the CPS, to the Probation Service and Prison Service shall have as a condition of appointment a requirement to declare membership of the freemasons (and any later admission to them). We will consult the relevant bodies on the extent to which new appointments may include those currently in service but who are appointed to a wholly new position or transfer in service or who are promoted.

7.  For those already serving in the above categories, the Government accepts the view of the Home Affairs Committee, the "better solution" lies in the hands of freemasonry itself.

8.  Accordingly, the Home Secretary proposes to make a formal request to the United Grand Lodge that they provide on a regional basis consistent with the regional structure of the Lodges, the names and identifying occupations and other necessary details of those who are or who become freemasons in the specified professions and occupations.

9.  If the United Grand Lodge is unwilling or unable to comply with this request, or to comply only partially (for example because it does not itself have the data in the required form) the Government will initially make arrangements for registers to be opened for all the specified professions and occupations. All would be invited to register. Although at this stage a failure to return information would not of itself be a breach of conditions of employment, any nil returns would be shown as such on the register.

10.  The Government will consult on where the registers should be available; but in any event it believes that they should be publicly available.

11.  The Government will address the need for legislation having regard to the extent of compliance with voluntary registers, once established.

Home Office
17 February 1998

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