Masonic secrecy under fire

March 13, 1998

CALLS for the compulsory declaration of Freemasonry membership in higher education were stepped up this week, as campaigners said that quasi-judicial university bodies should fall under the government's new disclosure rules.

As the government moves to force the disclosure of masonry in the criminal justice system, there are at least 11 Freemasons' lodges affiliated to British universities.

Oxford, Durham, Cardiff, Liverpool, Aston, Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield all have masonic lodges using the name of the local university, and registered with the United Grand Lodge, the Freemasons' ruling body.

Chris Mullin, chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which is looking into masonry in the police, said this week that disclosure rules should apply to all public servants, including further and higher education managers.

"It is desirable that all public servants and those who do business within the public service who are members of an organisation such as the Freemasons, ought to disclose it, so we can see where they're coming from," he said.

Mr Mullin, a veteran campaigner against injustice, said he had come across cases in higher education where there was a potential conflict of interest.

John Pickering, visiting professor at Bath and Durham universities and a veteran anti-corruption campaigner, said: "The police and judiciary will be required to disclose membership, but many other groups of people sit in judgement, in quasi-judicial bodies. University governing bodies and appointments committees should be required to disclose."

Lecturers' union Natfhe this week reaffirmed its call for more open and transparent governance in universities and colleges. "As we told the Nolan committee on standards in public life, this should include the disclosure of membership of any group such as the Freemasons," said a spokeswoman.

Representatives of the universities with affiliated lodges this week moved quickly to distance themselves from the Freemasons.

Keith Seacroft, information officer at Durham University, was alarmed to learn that masonic lodges in both Durham and London were using the university name. "Questions will be asked," he said. He later aknowledged that the lodge was recognised by the university's alumni office and that "there is an association with university staff".

He said that Durham, like many universities, had standing orders that required that members of the governing council disclose potential conflicts of interest through "paid employment, directorships, membership of professional bodies, and charities".

He acknowledged that this does not specify Freemasonry, but that there was a "clear facility for declaring any interest" and that Freemasonry would be included in the "spirit" of the rules.

Julian Perry, media relations coordinator of the United Grand Lodge of England, said that as an alumnus of Oxford University, he is a member of two lodges affiliated with the university: Apollo University, Oxford, and a Magdalen College lodge.

Mr Perry said that there were an "enormous quantity of members" at Oxford's Apollo lodge, but likened university lodges to "office five-a-side football teams, affiliated to a specific organisation, but with no powers over their management at all".

Most university lodges were established by an accident of history, he said, when a group of masons were united by a common affiliation to an institution.

The principles of Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge has said, "do not in any way conflict with its members' duties as citizens. There is no conflict of interest in a Freemason's obligation and his public duty."

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