13 November 1984
In this live radio broadcast, listeners phoned in to Tuesday Call to ask questions about Freemasonry, under the chairmanship of Sue Macgregor. In the transcript below, her words are printed in italic, and those of the two participants are prefixed with
(K) - Stephen Knight author of `The Brotherhood ` or
(H) - Commander Michael Higham, Grand Secretary of the UGLE
to differentiate them from the questioners.
Good morning. The world of Freemasonry conjures up all sorts of strange and mysterious pictures to outsiders, a world of secret oath taking, elaborate ritual, a special handshake, and perhaps above all an all-pervading influence over its membership. Freemasonry as we know it today goes back about three hundred years, and many distinguished figures have been and are Freemasons. Mozart, George Washington, Garibaldi, members of our present Royal Family - the Duke of Kent is currently Grand Master of Britain's 700,000 Masons - members of the professions, the church and the armed forces.
Lately, though, Freemasonry's come under suspicion for unwarranted involvement in, for instance, police matters, local government, and in Italy, where masonry is rather different, the P2 scandal. Earlier this year, Stephen Knight brought out a book called The Brotherhood which contains strong criticisms of masonic influence particularly in the church, and in jobs and careers generally. He is with me in our studio today and so is Commander Michael Higham, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, appearing live for the first time on a radio programme to answer your questions, and Stephen Knight's, about Freemasonry. Is it for instance a religion or an allegorical science? Do masons, members of the Craft' as they're often called, promote masons at the expense of non-masons, why are women excluded, and why, above all, are they so secretive?
Well our number, on which you can find out, we hope, answers to some of those questions, is 01-580.4411. Our first caller lives in Walton on Thames, and he is David Pointsmerton Smith. Good morning Mr Smith.
Good morning, dear.
What's your question?
I`d like to know why, when they hold their meetings, it's so secret that people who are working in a hotel washing up have got to clear out. I`d like to know why.
You think that the masonic influence is totally secret?
Yes, I do.
And why are they so secret? Commander Higham, are masons secret?
(H) No they're not. They are a private organisation, they're definitely not a secret society, their aims have been published and are available if you want to go and buy them, they've been published in the newspapers, and there's very little you'll find, I think, in this programme that we can't discuss about Freemasonry. Mr Smith's question about waiters at a masonic dinner is simply to allow Freemasons to refer in any speech they make to a matter which may have gone on in lodge, not because they're going to discuss any great secret matter, it's something that they prefer to be private among themselves when they make speeches about Freemasonry.
Mr Smith, would you like to come back on that?
Yes I think perhaps you've answered the question very well Commander, and I-because I was in a hotel washing up where they used to hold the lodges, bud when they had the meeting we had to clear out, know what I mean, where there's no noise whatsoever.
(H) Yes I do, and I also know that in the serveries of hotels the waiters can hear exactly what goes on, so the disappearance is one rather of form at the best rather than substance. I've heard waitresses criticising the performance of masonic fire in a dining room, they know the drill rather better than some of the masons, which I think proves how secret the whole organisation is.
Stephen Knight, you having investigated the masonic movement, would you accept that there isn't much secrecy? For instance the lists of members are not published, are they?
(K) No, and this is my concern. As far as I am concerned masons as much as anybody else have a right to their own privacy and their own private meetings, and I'm not at all concerned about what goes on behind their locked doors. What I am concerned about is who is, it's finding out who, or the opportunity to find out, who is a member and who isn't, and this really is my definition of a secret society. Unless you can find out who is a mason, unless there is a published register, and I think the contents of my book give strong evidence that there must be a public register, if there isn't that then it remains a secret society.
Now why you're keen that we should know who the members of the masonic movement are will emerge during this programme I think, but we'll thank Mr Smith for his question and go on to talk to Mrs Joan Fiddie who lives in Broxbourne" Hullo Mrs Fiddie, what's your question?
Thank you. I am a Freemason and a district councillor, and we are debating in council this evening a motion that says that the council be required to maintain a register that all councillors provide details of their membership if any of Freemasons' lodges and other similar organisations.
You're talking about local councillors Mrs Fiddie?
Yes, local councillors. And my question is should we declare an interest in this motion or stay in the chamber to debate same, and I do have a second question ....
Well now, you've raised two questions I think in your question itself, because, you have given us the impression that there are women who are Masons, is that right?
Yes, there are women, there are many women masons, there are many women lodges and we are proud to say we are Freemasons, accepted by Grand Lodge.
Do you, you do accept them, do you, Commander Higham, as masons?
(H) I think that Mrs Fiddie's Grand Lodge is different from my Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge of England which deals with masons in England and Wales, and not Britain as you said, Miss MacGregor in the introduction deals with men and masonry, there is another Grand Lodge, which we have no official contact with, which organises women's Freemasonry.
Right, now the other part of Mrs Fiddie's question was about local councillors should they- and members of the police etcetera- should they declare to the general public that they are Freemasons?
(H) If standing orders lawfully require that somebody should declare membership then any Freemason under the Grand Lodge of England would comply with standing orders. I believe that there's doubt about the legality of such standing orders. There is a law which says that a councillor must declare his financial interest, I don't think there's a law yet which says he must declare his personal ones. There is however a rule of practice which means that a councillor declares his personal interests if they're relevant. I don't believe that publishing lists of Freemasons' lodges is going to assist the performance of that duty by a councillor, and as Freemasons' lodges are very much akin to private members clubs I think they have every right to resist any move that they should publish their names.
Of course Commander, as you know, there is a movement, particularly amongst I think Liberal and Labour local councillors that any local councillor who is a mason should declare so publicly. Stephen Knight do you think that this would be a good Idea, and why?
(K) I think it would be a good idea simply to guard against that minority of Freemasons- and in speaking of a minority I say that if five per cent of Freemasons are corrupt it is still a very large number, 25,000 or thereabouts, in this country-to guard against any possible future conspiracy between corrupt Freemasons in secret. And this also applies to solicitors, particularly, I mean a man who is taking action against a Freemason is going to want to know whether his solicitor is a Freemason or not. Now that's not to say that the solicitor he goes to even if he is a mason is going to act against his interest, quite the opposite. I've never suggested such a thing, but there is that danger because it has happened in the past.
How would the Freemason's solicitor recognise that the other solicitor's client is a mason?
(K) The other-well, I mean it could be, he could be informed, and he could get a letter. There are all sorts of ways in which people can learn that other people are masons.
And how might the influence be bad in local government?
(K) What is-I've been told not to talk in specifics, but ....
In general terms.
(K) It just undermines democracy. It can undermine democracy. Masons who are in local government can get together with mason councillors can get together with mason officers in lodge and decide the way things are going to go in advance. And although this isn't against any law it is against the spirit of the Redcliffe Maude Report which suggested that councillors and officers should keep each other at arm's length.
(H) Two points about that. One is that I think Mr Knight greatly exaggerates the number of Freemasons in the country and therefore his percentage figures are slightly suspect. I don't believe that we've got more than 500,000 members under my Grand Lodge and five per cent of that is not the figure he mentioned. The other is that I think this move for open government shows a great mistrust of councillors as councillors. They ought to know what their job is and if they are Freemasons they'd know their job better. And if anybody believes that Freemasons only go to lodge meetings to rig the next council meeting they've got a strange idea of what goes on in lodges. We're much too busy about other things, and I hope that as we go on I shall be able to explain it. But the prime duty of a councillor is to his council and Freemasonry comes a long way second.
Mrs Fiddie, can ask you briefly to answer the question of whether you think it would be a good idea for masons to declare their interest as it were?
Well I do feel it's an infringement on civil liberties. If Freemasons have to provide details, and the specific thing is "and other similar organisations" should not the register then take in the Ancient Order of Foresters, Inner Wheel, trade unions, Rotary, Toc H, ab lib? Why just Masonry?
Well presumably if people want to declare that they are members of those organisations they can.
Then that would clear the whole of the council chamber because everybody in some way or other belongs to an organisation.
(K) It wouldn't clear the whole of the council chamber, what would happen is that you would know who belonged to what organisations.
And at that point let's leave that question and move on, .............. (continued in part 2)