SERVICEMEN will be banned from taking part in masonic ceremonies on defence ministry property, The Express can reveal.
And members of the forces who are masons will be forbidden to recruit or encourage colleagues to join a lodge.
The controversial move is a big breakthrough for the Commons' cross-party Home Affairs Committee, led by Labour MP Chris Mullin.
Last night Mr Mullin, a campaigner against the masons' network of secret influence, declared: "This is a victory."
His original complaint was based on an article in the Royal Army Medical Corps News last autumn.
Describing the article as "thinly-disguised propaganda", he objected to a sentence, which read: "Past members of the In Arduis Fidelis lodge have included three former directors general of Army Medical Services and many distinguished officers, warrant officers and senior NCOs, serving and retired, of the regular and Territorial Army."
Mr Mullin said: "What impression does it give to women in the armed forces who, of course, are not eligible to join?" Mr Mullin lodged a complaint to the MoD last November and the protracted delay in the reply suggests a fierce rearguard struggle within Whitehall.
But a ban on all masonic activity is now to be an order from the top brass.
Announcing the decision, Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson told Mr Mullin: "Membership of a legal though secretive society is a matter for the individual."
But he added: "It would be wrong for there to be any perception that to be a member or not might have an impact on an individual's career. It is not acceptable, therefore, for serving personnel to encourage or promote membership among their colleagues, nor is it acceptable for Ministry of Defence property to be used for meetings."
He told told Mr Mullin: "It is not right that secretive societies are advertised in magazines that receive support from public funds."
The new ban could have implications for the rest of the civil service.
Because of its secrecy, the extent of masonic membership and influence in the public service is not known, but it is believed that there are strong and powerful networks.
In a recent report, Mr Mullin's committee complained of delays in setting up registers of masonic status among the police and other parts of the criminal justice system.
The MPs said that justice system registers should be open to the public, adding: "If necessary, appropriate legislation should be passed.
"Additionally, the names of all those who have failed to indicate whether they are masons should be published. They should not be allowed to exempt themselves from the process simply by declining to co-operate."
Members of the Crown Prosecution Service were asked to
declare masonic status in October. But 41 per cent have not
done so, although five per cent of magistrates and judges who
have responded declared membership.That compares with two per
cent of the adult male population of England and Wales -
350,000 freemasons - estimated by the United Grand Lodge of
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