Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report


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



1. This is the second report from a Home Affairs Committee into the role of freemasonry in public life. Its purpose is twofold. First, to tie up a number of loose ends arising from the first report by examining allegations drawn to our attention relating to particular cases. Second, to analyse and draw conclusions from the information collected by the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department regarding the extent of freemasonry in the criminal justice system.

Response to the previous Home Affairs Committee report

2. The first report, by our predecessor Committee, Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary was published in March 1997.[1] Its concluding paragraph stated: "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 publicly available."

3. The Home Office, on behalf of the Government, responded on 17 February 1998,[2] accepting our recommendation in relation to freemasonry and extending it to the Probation and Prison Services. In its reply the Government said:

    "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."[3]

4. As regards serving members of the police, judiciary and other specified occupations, the Government proposed formally to request the United Grand Lodge of England to provide "the names and identifying occupations and other necessary details of those who are or who become freemasons ..."[4] The Government Reply went on to say:

    "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."[5]

In the event Grand Lodge said it was unable to co-operate and the Government has taken steps to compile its own register of freemasons in the specified professions.

5. So far as the judiciary is concerned, substantial progress has been made in establishing the numbers of freemasons currently serving. The position in response to the 1998 request[6] to all judges and magistrates to declare whether or not they were freemasons was as follows:[7]

Professional judiciary

Lay magistracy[8]

Forms sent:





 263 (5.0 %)

 1,465 (5.0%)


4,744 (89.7%)

23,350 (80.4%)

Not disclosed

 70 (1.3%)

 660 (2.3%)

Not replied

 213 (4.0%)

 3,579 (12.3%)

Thus, for the professional judiciary, the proportion who are masons lies roughly between 5 and 10%, depending on how many masons there were amongst those who did not respond in one way or another to the Lord Chancellor's request. The position in respect of the lay magistracy is less clear. The possible proportion of masons ranges from 5% to roughly 20%. However, the number who had not replied or refused to disclose their status —at nearly 14%—was much higher than among the professional judiciary; whether all these might be regarded as possible masons is greatly affected by how many of them were women.[9]

6. Members of the Crown Prosecution Service were asked to declare their masonic status in October 1998.[10] A total of 2,097 forms were sent out. Seven of those responding indicated they were masons[11] and 1,096 (52%) that they were not; 133 (6%) did not disclose their status, and 859 (41%) did not return the form. Thus although the declared masons were few, the very large number of non-returns or non-disclosures means that the proportion could theoretically be as high as 48%.[12] Ministers have indicated that there are no plans to take further action to increase the number of responses.[13]

7. In respect of other parts of the criminal justice system, the process of establishing registers, and thus the numbers of masons, is much less advanced. In July 1998, the Home Office stated that officials were considering how to establish the voluntary register for existing post holders in the police and that the necessary initial steps of collating names had been begun. For new appointments, including those transferred to new posts, it was stated that consideration was being given to how recruitment procedures needed to be revised.[14] In October 1998, the Home Secretary told us that the process of establishing the voluntary register had been held up by discussions over the problem of how the registers could be made available to the public, but that "numerical data on police officers who are freemasons should be available after April 1999".[15]

8. However, in March 1999 it was stated that "officials are currently working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to set up voluntary registers for existing staff".[16] In April, it was indicated that the Home Office had written to ACPO on 1 April to request that each Chief Constable be asked to establish voluntary internal registers for their forces, and that ACPO wrote accordingly on 7 April.[17] However, at the same time it was explained that it was now thought "that the first useful information will be available by October this year".[18]

9. Going beyond the police, it was declared that the "Arrangements for the other categories of occupation affected by the policy, including the Prison and Probation Services, will be implemented once the internal registration arrangements for the Police Service have been set up and are in operation", and that arrangements for new staff and staff transferring between posts would "swiftly" be made "once voluntary registers are in place for existing office holders".[19]

10. In our opinion, difficulties over how the information about the masonic status of individuals should be accessible to the public are not sufficient reason to prevent voluntary registers being established in the first place; and once they are established then the overall numbers can become known. We therefore call on the Government to speed up the process of establishing the registers of masonic status among the police and other parts of the criminal justice system, and to announce a firm timetable for completion of the exercise.

11. As indicated above, one of the reasons for the slow progress on establishing the voluntary registers has been the problem of deciding how the information in the registers should be made available to the public. In October 1998, the Home Secretary told the Committee that chief constables were "very concerned about the arrangements concerning public access to details of freemasonry membership" and that the requirements of the data protection legislation also had to be taken into account.[20] More recently, the Home Office have indicated that "Lawful publication of information about freemasonry membership disclosed voluntarily will require the informed consent of those who have disclosed that information, which can only be given once the precise nature of the publication arrangements has been determined".[21] In the absence of any compelling reason to the contrary, we support full public access. If necessary, appropriate legislation should be passed. Additionally, the names of all those who have failed to indicate whether or not they are masons should be published; such persons should not be allowed to exempt themselves entirely from the process simply by declining to cooperate.

Further enquiries

12. In the meantime the Committee, on 17 July 1997, resolved to conduct further research.[22] We decided to examine what role, if any, freemasons played in three specific areas: (a) the operations of the West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad; (b) the investigation into the Birmingham pub bombings; and (c) the so-called Stalker affair.

13. We provided Grand Lodge with the names of persons principally involved in each of these cases and asked which were freemasons. Although Grand Lodge agreed to seek to respond as to the numbers of freemasons in each list, they were not willing to provide the names. At a meeting between the Chairman and the Grand Secretary in November 1997 a compromise—under which the names submitted would be regarded as supplied in confidence—had been offered and, it appeared at the time, accepted; it later transpired that Grand Lodge rejected this proposal.[23] A prolonged correspondence ensued, culminating in an oral evidence session on 19 February 1998, during the course of which it became clear that Grand Lodge was unwilling voluntarily to supply the information requested.[24] The Committee, therefore, formally ordered the information to be made available.[25] It was supplied to us on 5 March. We now deal with each case in turn.

The West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad

14. The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad was arguably the most complained about unit in what was the most complained about police force in the country. Before and after it was disbanded in August 1989 the convictions of more than thirty people were quashed by the Court of Appeal after allegations of police malpractice, and most have been awarded large sums in compensation. Systematic fabrication of confessions was the main allegation. Among the more shocking cases was that of Derek Treadaway. Mr Treadaway was one of several men who alleged that he had been persuaded to confess by having a plastic bag held over his head until he lost consciousness. He was eventually awarded £50,000 damages against the West Midlands police. The judge said he was satisfied "to a high degree of probability" that Mr Treadway had been telling the truth and that the police officers had been lying.

15. During the course of its first inquiry, the Committee submitted to Grand Lodge a list of 96[26] names of officers who had served in the Serious Crime Squad between 1974 and its disbandment in 1989. We received various replies. The first indicated that eight were probably masons, six possibly, 58 were not and in another 24 cases it was not possible at that stage to tell.[27] Grand Lodge later indicated that only 10 of the 14 probable or possibles were in fact masons at the time they were in the squad and one other had been a candidate for membership; another had become a mason after he left the Squad and one other was no longer a mason when he joined.[28] Still later, in oral evidence, the Secretary of Grand Lodge (Commander Higham) reported that further checks had reduced the figure of 10 masons to five, plus one possible and one who had become a mason after leaving the Squad.[29]

16. The information handed to the Chairman, following the Committee's Order of 19 February 1998, revealed the names of seven officers who were masons during the relevant period. At this point the Chairman drew the attention of Grand Lodge to an eighth officer who had said on television that he was a mason and in due course Grand Lodge confirmed that this was so.[30] Among the names listed are two who featured prominently in allegations of corruption, although so far as we are aware neither has ever been charged or disciplined in connection with these allegations.

17. We regret that it has taken Grand Lodge five attempts to arrive at a definitive—if it is definitive—list of masons in the Serious Crimes Squad. We accept, however, that this may be explained by the difficulty in cross checking local and national records and we do not attach particular significance to this.

18. On the basis of the information supplied, we conclude that freemasonry was not a primary cause of the difficulties within the Serious Crimes Squad although we cannot entirely exclude the possibility that it may have been a contributory factor.

The Birmingham pub bombings investigation

19. The case following the Birmingham pub bombings, in which 21 people were killed and many more seriously injured, was one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British legal history. The trial judge, Mr Justice (later Lord) Bridge said that, if the defendants were telling the truth, the police had been involved in a conspiracy "unprecedented in the annals of criminal history". Although the convictions were ultimately overturned, no one responsible for securing and sustaining the convictions was ever convicted or disciplined in connection with the case.

20. The Committee supplied Grand Lodge with a list of 66 people (mostly police officers) involved in a variety of capacities in the Birmingham pub bombings case. According to the information supplied in confidence by Grand Lodge, eight of these were masons. These included a senior officer in the Lancashire police, a senior West Midlands Special Branch officer, three West Midlands detectives involved in the initial arrest, interrogation and detention of the suspects, a forensic scientist who played a prominent part in the case and a stipendiary magistrate who played a small part in this and a more significant role in several other controversial cases involving allegations of police corruption.

21. In addition the Chairman drew the attention of Grand Lodge to a very senior West Midlands police officer whose name had been included on the list which the Committee had supplied, but who had not been identified as a mason by Grand Lodge. In due course Grand Lodge confirmed that he was a mason, although he had resigned from his lodge in 1981.

22. With one exception none of the police officers listed played a significant role in the case although all but one would have been at least aware of, if not party to, the alleged malpractice. As regards the police officers we conclude that freemasonry was not a significant factor. As regards the forensic scientist we conclude that freemasonry could have been a factor in the close and unprofessional relationship he enjoyed with the police. In the case of the stipendiary magistrate we do not believe that the fact that he was a freemason was of relevance in this case, although it may have been a relevant factor in several of the other controversial cases in which he was involved. Overall, we conclude that freemasonry was not a significant factor in the Birmingham pub bombings case.[31]

The Stalker-Sampson Inquiry

23. Mr Stalker was the Assistant Chief Constable of Manchester chosen to investigate allegations that the security forces in Northern Ireland had been conducting a shoot to kill policy. He was removed in extremely controversial circumstances and replaced by Mr Colin Sampson. There have been repeated claims that freemasonry was a factor in these events.[32]

24. The Committee supplied Grand Lodge with a list of seven serving or former police officers of the rank of Superintendent or above who were prominently involved in the case. Grand Lodge responded that two of those on the list were masons, although one had resigned from his lodge some time before.[33]

25. On the basis of the information supplied, we cannot conclude that freemasonry played a significant part in the Stalker affair. We cannot, however, entirely exclude the possibility that it did.

Other matters

26. What we are trying to establish in this short inquiry is whether there are instances which suggest that masonic contacts have been abused or masonic pressure has been brought to bear on matters where public duties arise. We discuss two possible cases below. But it should be noted that these are not the only possible instances which have been drawn to our attention. For example, in one other case which was referred to us, trustees of a charitable trust became subject to disciplinary proceedings within the masonic movement, amid accusations that improper pressure may thereby have been placed on the trustees in the discharge of their legal duties; we do not feel able, at least in the context of this short Report, to adjudicate between the different versions of what happened, though we are making the papers submitted to us available with this Report so that others can judge for themselves.[34]

27. Over the years, freemasons have faced allegations that there has been undue masonic influence in some local councils, either involving elected members or officers. It was partly in response to such allegations that Grand Lodge established with the Local Government Ombudsman the system whereby Grand Lodge would, following representations from the Ombudsman that particular individuals were under investigation, identify whether they were or were not freemasons.[35] We are aware of two cases where the Local Government Ombudsman had admonished councillors in respect of failures to declare membership of freemasonry in connection with planning applications.[36]

(a) Pembrokeshire County Council

28. We agreed to pursue limited inquiries in respect of one council. This was the Pembrokeshire County Council, which first met in 'shadow' form, following local government reorganisation in Wales, in May 1995.[37] The Council had been drawn to our attention as raising concern because of the number of councillors, in particular members in the majority group, who appeared to be masons.

29. Pembrokeshire County Council decided at its first meeting to establish a public Register of clubs, societies, associations and similar bodies to which its members belonged. Most but not all councillors submitted a return. As at June 1998, the position was that there were 40 independent councillors (from amongst whom all the Committee Chairmen and Vice-chairmen were drawn), with 11 Labour, 4 Plaid Cymru, 4 Liberal Democrat councillors and one vacancy. All but four of these had, or have since, submitted a return, with all the non-returners being independents; the Chairman of the Committee wrote to the four councillors who had not submitted a declaration, inviting them to inform the Committee - in confidence - whether or not they were masons.[38] The resulting overall information indicated one declared current mason amongst the non-independents, and 16 (41%) current or former masons among the 39 independents for whom information was available. A similar proportion of official positions—such as Committee chairmanships—were held by masons. No one masonic Lodge appeared to have more than three council members.

30. Thus around two-fifths of the majority group on the Council were masons or former masons; the proportion could be higher than this, since councillors were not asked to state whether they were former masons (although some have indicated that they were). This is a substantial proportion, and can easily give rise to concerns that improper influences can be brought to bear on council work.

(b) Gorsey Hey Masonic Home

31. In March 1998 the Chairman received a letter from a Mr B Rourke of the Wirral, suggesting that the Charity Commissioners ought to be included among those public servants who should be required to declare membership of freemasonry. The letter—which is published in full at Appendix 9—went on to suggest that improper masonic influence had possibly been a factor in the way in which the Liverpool office of the Charity Commissioners had dealt with the sale and disposal of Gorsey Hey Masonic Home at Bebington in Wirral. We make no comment on the particular allegations made by Mr Rourke.[39] His letter is, however, of particular interest because he has been an active mason for over thirty years and an officer of Grand Lodge. We frequently receive such allegations from people who are not masons, but it is unusual for such assertions to be made by a member of Grand Lodge. We conclude that if it is possible for a freemason of Mr Rourke's experience to believe that masonic influence can sometimes be used improperly, then it is not unreasonable for those who are not freemasons to reach the same conclusion.

Overall conclusions

32. We repeat the point made in the previous Report: there is a great deal of unjustified paranoia about freemasonry, but freemasons, with their obsessive secrecy, are partly to blame for this. We particularly regret that it was only possible for this Committee to obtain the co-operation of Grand Lodge by compulsion. We did not do so lightly, but only after being faced with months of prevarication and obfuscation since the original requests for information by this Committee were made in the summer of 1997. As already indicated (see paragraph 13 above), a compromise involving confidentiality for the names supplied was offered and rejected. Only then did we issue an Order.

33. We are aware that many masons regret the tenacity with which their organisation clings to secrecy. More openness on the part of freemasons would not only serve the public interest, but also help to undermine the paranoia and possibly draw more attention to the non-controversial and charitable activities undertaken by freemasons.

34. We are also aware that there is a widespread belief that improper masonic influence does play a part in public life. Most of these allegations are impossible to prove. Where they can be carefully examined, they usually prove unfounded. It is clear, however, from some of the examples cited in this Report, and the previous Report, that there are cases where allegations of improper masonic influence may well be justified.

35. The solution is a simple one. It requires no bans or proscriptions, which generally have no place in a democratic society. It merely requires public servants who are members of a secret society—or "a society with secrets" as freemasons used to say—to disclose their membership. We reject the suggestion that this is an unwarranted intrusion on privacy. It is not enough for public servants to behave with integrity. They must been seen to be doing so. There is no new principle being enunciated here. Members of Parliament and of local authorities are already required to declare interests which might compromise their duties as servants of the public. All we are suggesting is a modest extension of this process.

36. We welcome the steps which the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department have so far taken to require the police, members of the judiciary and others within their remit to disclose membership of freemasonry. However, progress has been slow, particularly in respect of the police, and we call for the process to be significantly speeded up, with a clear timetable set.

37. Finally we look forward to the extension of such disclosure into other areas of public life such as local authorities and Parliament.

1  Third Report from the Home Affairs Committee (1996-97) HC 192. Back

2  First Special Report from the Home Affairs Committee (1997-98) HC 577. Back

3  ibid., para 6. Back

4  ibid., para 8. Back

5  ibid., para 9. Back

6  An example of the request sent to lay magistrates is at Appendix 5. Back

7  Official Report 22 March 1999 col. 122w and Official Report 10 May 1999 col. 57w (see Appendix 6); the figures apply in essence to judges and magistrates in post in July 1998 (excluding magistrates appointed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) and those in post at the end of 1998 (for magistrates appointed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster). Back

8  All Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee areas and the Duchy of Lancaster. Back

9  There are lodges of women freemasons (and mixed lodges) but far fewer than for men. These do not fall within the principles for recognition by the United Grand Lodge of England, which require lodges and Grand Lodges to be composed exclusively of men. The Magistrates' Association, in evidence to our predecessor Committee's inquiry, indicated that it had been suggested that there might be as many as 14,000 women masons, though the United Grand Lodge of England thought this might be an overestimate. By comparison, UGLE estimated that there were just under 350,000 freemasons within lodges recognised by them within England and Wales (or around 2% of the male population over 21) (see evidence to previous Committee Report, Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary HC, Session 1996-97, 192-II, QQ 506, 779, 748). The Lord Chancellor's Department have indicated that it is not at present possible to provide a male/female breakdown for all the figures in the table, but they are in the process of entering the figures on to a new computer system which should make this possible; the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is also seeking a male/female breakdown of the figures supplied. Back

10  Official Report 22 March 1999 col. 2w (see Appendix 6). Back

11  A further 2 indicated they were former masons. Back

12  Official Report 23 April 1999 col 699w (see Appendix 6). Back

13  Official Report 11 May 1999 col. 82w (see Appendix 6). Back

14  Official Report 30 July 1998 col. 395w (see Appendix 6). Back

15  Evidence submitted following the Home Secretary's appearance before the Committee on 20 October 1998 (Q 13) (see Appendix 2). Back

16  Official Report 23 March 1999 col 177w (see Appendix 6). Back

17  Official Report 23 April 1999 col 712w (see Appendix 6); see also Times 6 April 1999. Back

18  Official Report 23 April 1999 col 712w (see Appendix 6). Back

19  Official Report 23 March 1999 col 177w (see Appendix 6). Back

20  Evidence given on 20 October 1998, Q 13 and Annex (see Appendix 2). Back

21  Official Report 23 March 1999 col. 177w (see Appendix 6). Back

22  Minutes of Proceedings of the Home Affairs Committee (1997-98) HC 1167. Back

23  Evidence pp 10-11(QQ110-124). Back

24  Evidence pp. 1 to 11. Back

25  Minutes of Proceedings of the Home Affairs Committee on 19 February 1998 (1997-98) HC 573 (re-printed in HC (1997-98) 1167). Back

26  The Committee originally sent a list of 96 names to Grand Lodge. Further research showed that six of these names were duplicates, so the effective list was in respect of 90 names. The list did not represent a complete list of officers who served with the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad in its period of operations 1974-1989, and the West Midlands Police were able to supply the Committee with a list of 51 additional names of officers serving with the Squad; the Committee chose not to ask Grand Lodge to undertake further research in respect of these 51 names. Back

27  Letter of 20 February 1997; further letters of 4 March 1997 and 18 March 1997 refined this estimate, indicating 14 'definite' masons and 82 non-masons (see Appendix 7). Back

28  Letter of 10 September 1997 (see Appendix 7). Back

29  Q 51. Back

30  Following supply by the Committee of further details on certain of the names in the original list of officers, Grand Lodge was able to identify a further officer who became a mason after the Squad was disbanded. Back

31  Although the fact that the stipendiary magistrate was a freemason-had it been publicly known-at the time of controversial rulings he gave in other cases would have given rise to justifiable public concern. Back

32  In a letter of 3 December 1997 (see Appendix 8), Grand Lodge claimed that "Freemasonry was not an issue in the Stalker inquiry until the Manchester Evening News ran an article claiming that many individuals involved were freemasons"; the article was, in their view, "riddled with factual errors". In particular, apart from a misidentification as a mason of a leading Councillor, the article (according to Grand Lodge) "also stated that Sir John Hermon, then Chief Constable of the RUC, was a senior freemason. Sir John denied he was a freemason and took out an action against the Manchester Evening News, which resulted in the paper paying him damages and printing a full retraction". Back

33  The oaths taken by new masons or masons advancing to higher levels (which include undertakings to provide mutual support and to abide by the law) are not, we understand, limited in their application to the period for which a person is an active mason; they would remain binding even after a person has ceased to be a mason. (See previous Report Freemasonry in the police and the judiciary (HC, 1996-97, 192-I) paras 26-29, and evidence (HC, 1996-97, 192-II) QQ 891-898 and Appendix 19 (III)). Back

34  The case was brought to our attention by a representative of a trustee of the Duncombe Place Masonic Hall Trust, York. One of the features of this case is that those involved in conducting the masonic disciplinary proceedings included serving (and former) judges. The list of submissions received in relation to this case, and details of how to consult them, are at p. xvi. Back

35  See letter from Grand Lodge 4 December 1997, printed at Appendix 4, for a fuller description of the process. Back

36  Derby and Castle Point (see previous Report Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary HC 1996-97 192-II, pp. 119 and 121). Back

37  Because any government responsibility for concerns about such a council would rest with the Welsh Office, we sought and obtained the agreement of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee to our inquiries. Back

38  Replies were received from 3, to whom the Committee is grateful for their cooperation. No response was received from Cllr A J B Griffiths. Back

39  We note that Mr Rourke expresses concern also about events relating to the sale of the Royal Masonic Hospital in London and to a charity festival held by the Cheshire Province in 1993. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 25 May 1999