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The home office is to block public access to a register of freemasons within the police service for fear of damagin...
The home office is to block public access to a register of freemasons within the police service for fear of damaging confidence in the forces, reported The Sunday Telegraph (p11).

It marks a realisation among ministers that Labour's early plans to end the masonic culture in the judicial system is in danger of backfiring by undermining officers who are innocent of any impropriety.

Ministers will announce fresh plans for the register of freemasons, which is currently voluntary, next month. They have yet to decide on calls from a Labour-dominated commons committee for it to be strengthened by being made compulsory for police to declare their membership of the secretive society but will undertake that those who do so will not be exposed to public scrutiny.

Labour MPs have long campaigned for freemasonry to be banned in the judicial system, believing that it fosters corruption by encouraging police and judges to feel they are under an obligation to fellow lodge members.

Freemasons, however, insist that the society is merely a charitable and social institution, despite its code of secrecy and rituals.

A home office official said: 'We are not backing away from the need to establish just how widespread masonic activity is within the forces but it is a question of how to do it. It will not help if police are deterred from being open about their membership because they think it would be raised in trials or disciplinary hearings.

'There is a case for public access to the register as a gesture of open government but this is outweighed by the risk that defence lawyers might exploit an officer's membership to suggest he or she is corrupt.'

Earlier this month, Britain's most senior masonic judge attacked the government's investigations into freemasonry. Lord Millett, a sitting law lord, accused a parliamentary inquiry of having 'absolutely no basis' and of being 'oppressive'.

He said it had led to defendants demanding to know whether judges hearing their cases and police officers giving evidence against them were masons.

About 20% of judges have refused to reply to a questionnaire issued by Lord Chancellor Irvine asking if they are freemasons. The voluntary register for the police has fared even worse, with only 38,875 of the 126,000 officers in England and Wales responding, of whom just 417 admitted to being freemasons. There are an estimated 8,000 masonic lodges in Britain.

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