Sunday, July 26, 2009

Knight versus Higham - part 2 - Personal Advancement

BBC Radio 4'S Tuesday Call
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.

...continued from part 1

And at that point let's leave that question and move on, thank you Mrs Fiddie for your question, to Ian Morshead in Dorking who's got a question about the movement in general. Hullo Mr Morshead.


Oh hullo, good morning everybody. I would like to ask Commander Higham in general what motivates people to join Freemasonry, because a country solicitor once told me- a solicitor incidentally, because you were talking about solicitors just now- he said if you want to do business, any business virtually, in a small country town you won't get anywhere unless you become a mason, and this is a very worrying thing, because you must be joining for advancement which is not the reason that I would have thought a mason would join ....

Commander Higham- can I just pick up your question Mr Moorhead because rather a bad line from Dorking I'm afraid- what motivates people to join the Masonic movement. Is it for advancement within their profession?

(H) No. Anybody who wants to become a mason is first of all proposed and seconded by people who know him well, they then quite likely will go before a committee of members of the lodge, he then has to apply, and at at least two of those stages he is specifically asked questions why he's joining Masonry, and the answer which is expected is that he is not doing it to advance himself, he says it in conversation to the committee, he says it on a declaration form before he's initiated, the first question when he gets inside the lodge has to do with his motives for joining, he is reminded of it during the rituals and when he's presented with his grand lodge certificate he is reminded again, and the message is always that Freemasonry is not to advance. There's no personal or professional interest.

What is the point of it, then?

(H) It used to be a sort of haven, in the very old days, two hundred and fifty years ago, where people could go and be away from the very fierce religious and political controversy of the times, it was a social connection, it had charitable aims, it looks after, it promotes morality, it teaches good citizenship and nowadays it follows all those aims. But the prime thing is that Masonry is not there to advance personal interest, and I'm afraid that Mr Morshead's solicitor chum has got a misapprehension about masonry. It's a very difficult one to dispel but there is absolutely no doubt that masonry is not there for personal advancement.

Stephen Knight do you share that misapprehension, as the Commander puts it?

(K) I agree with Commander Higham that Freemasonry is not there to promote personal advancement, but can Commander Higham really say that he believes that anyone who's joining it for personal advancement would not answer 'no' to the question on 'are you joining for personal advancement?'

(H) I think you'd have to admit that there must be somebody who would go through the joining process I've described, who's got a different motive and is prepared to fib his way in. I think he'll find he's a fish out of water, and I hope, I'd like to think that his brethren in Freemasonry would perhaps persuade him that his way of thinking wasn't right. And that's I think the truth of it. You do get people who want to advance themselves, who are prepared to tell fibs: but they're not really the sort of people who ought to be masons.

Presumably, Commander, you also do get people who do advance themselves through the movement, through knowing the right people?

(H) It's a- you're arguing from the particular to the general. Yes, people who are Masons do advance, but I don't think that they advance because they're Masons.

Mr. Morshead thank you for raising that question. I think it'll crop up later on in a different form, so please stay with us, but we'll move on now to Bramsgore in Hampshire and talk to Michael Oliver. Hullo, Mr Oliver. What's your question please?

Michael Oliver:

Oh good morning. I'd like to make a small comment in that, in the leader to the programme just before the Nine O'Clock News Mr Knight said that he had no complaints about Freemasonry as an organisation. I think anybody who's taken the trouble to read his book with any care would tend to doubt that statement. I would like to put to these two protagonists this morning that the book is in fact an attack on the legal system, there's a great inference there that the 'first eleven' of the legal profession doesn't want to be preferred to high office in the judiciary and the' second eleven', as it was put in the book, use Freemasonry to jostle for position. I think Freemasonry is possibly being used as a convenient vehicle for a more insidious attack on the legal profession, and I wonder what the two protagonists think about this.

Well let me put it to the first protagonist, Stephen Knight in this case, an attack on the legal profession, the 'first eleven' wouldn't get anywhere if they weren't masons?

(K) I don't say that in the book. That is part of one point I make in the book. The book nevertheless is about Freemasonry and anyone who reads it carefully is not in any doubt about that. And what more can I say? I mean that's it, the book is about Freemasonry.

But you do give the impression that a lot of barristers and judges and solicitors have got advancement through being members.

(K) oh yes, yes I do, and that is true. That the law especially has a lot of Freemasons in it.

Would you like to come back on that Mr Oliver before we move to Commander Higham?

Yes I certainly would, because I don't think that- you had that a little wrong actually, the 'first eleven' do not want preference in the higher offices of the judiciary because there's not enough money about, it's the 'second eleven' that Mr Knight- I don't think there's any doubt about it, he does say that the 'first eleven' does not want to be in high office, it would avoid it, and the 'second eleven' uses the lodges to gain high office, and the inference there is of course that we're not getting the best judges.

I think we'd better clarify what you mean and what Stephen means by the 'first eleven' Mr Oliver.

Well the 'first eleven', as he states quite clearly to me in his book, are the people who are the best in their profession and can earn extremely high fees. He mentions half a million a year in one instance. He's talking about a forty thousand pound fee for a High Court judge, you'll forgive me if I-but his is the sort of order we're talking about. And it's the others who, as Mr Knight says in his book, by the time they're fifty, if they haven't really made It, this is when they go and join the lodges to make sure that they've got a good pension arrangement, that's what he says in the book quite unequivocally. I'm not a lawyer incidentally, or connected with the legal profession in any way.

All right Mr Oliver, let Stephen answer that point.

(K) I do make that statement. I don't make it as generalised or as specific rather as it is being suggested here. What can I say?

Would you care to answer the point that you've implied that judges get good........

(K) There are sixty percent of judges who are Freemasons, and forty percent who aren't. So it clearly isn't as strongly as it is being suggested.

Would you like to come in there Commander Higham?

(H) I'm amazed at Mr Knight's knowledge of what Freemasons- the proportion of Freemasons among the judiciary. We can't possibly confirm his, we don't keep records of what people's professions are after they join masonry. I don't think there's any harm in barristers making money. I think there's an enormous amount of misunderstanding of the promotion system in any organisation, if people honestly believe that someone in charge promoting judges in the country is likely to pay any attention to Freemasonry. And in fact the Lord Chancellor himself has written to the press to say that not only is he not a mason, no member of his staff who assists him in selecting judges is a mason either, which I think makes him fairly proof against masonic influence. But if he was a mason I would like to think that he would also resist pressure because the pressure would be improper. If any pressure was put on to promote somebody to a judicial office because he was a mason I hope first of all that the man wouldn't get promoted and second that, or that the man who made the suggestion wouldn't get promoted either.

Wouldn't it be better, though, Commander, in the end if a membership list was published and then everyone could see exactly who was a mason and who wasn't and then the figures about influence would be absolutely, you know, carte blanche, one would be able to see exactly who was what?

(H) No, I don't think it would, and I've given you part of the reason for that already, and I'm glad we've come back to it. The first one is that Freemasons' lodges are like clubs. Nobody has I think so far, is trying to say that every club should publish a list of its members merely on the basis that because, if they meet in the bar of the club they're going to transact business and rig things. The second one I've referred to, and I'd just like to go on with it. If a Freemason joins the craft on the basis that he's not allowed to advance himself and he's told not to exhibit his Grand Lodge certificate, which is, another thing that he's told not to do, it could be said that if you publish list of masons that the publication is to assist people to advance themselves through their membership of the craft and we're against it for that reason as well. I don't think it's going to help, I think you've got to trust people in local councils or in the judiciary or in the police to do the job they're principally there for, and realise that Freemasons have to think about their priorities they know that their duty to the law, to their profession, to their council, to their employer prevails over any obligation to masons and they're reminded of it again and again and again.

Of course that is one of the questions that people who are critical of masons might dispute, but let me at this point thank Mr Oliver for his question and move on to Mr Leslie Hopkins who's in Devizes in Wiltshire.

....continued in Part 3

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