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Welsh Assembly blocks move to halt Masons Registry

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Legal worries over masons vote

Thursday, 14 November, 2002

The Welsh Assembly Government could face legal action after rejecting plans to change rules forcing members to say if they are Freemasons.

At present, Freemasons are singled out - as members of other private clubs and organisations do not have to provide membership details.

Welsh Assembly chamber
Freemasonry has been the subject of much debate
The assembly is the only democratic body in the UK to insist on Freemasons declaring their membership.

But attempts to change those rules - by forcing members to declare all memberships of private clubs - have failed.

Labour members in the assembly revolted against the proposal of the Standards Committee that other societies - including "harmless groups" such as the Soroptomists - should be listed alongside the Freemasons.

On Thursday, Conservative AM David Melding resigned as chair of the Standards Committee in protest.

Mr Melding said he feared the assembly could face legal action over the enforcement rule.

The committee had previously accepted legal advice that the assembly government was breaching Human Rights Act by singling out the masons.

No majority

It therefore proposed to get round the legislation by demanding that AMs declared their membership of any club or society whose committee has to approve applications.

On Wednesday, 29 AMs voted in favour of the new proposals, but a two-thirds majority was needed for the rules to be passed.

North Wales Conservative AM David Jones - the only declared Freemason in the assembly - has claimed the current rule is a breach of his human rights.

Freemasons across Britain have been striving to throw off their image as a secret society.

David Melding AM
David Melding AM: Resigned over issue
In June, the doors of lodges across England and Wales were opened to the public as part of an awareness campaign.

Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, Lord Northampton, said: "We are determined to dispel the myths and misconceptions that have surrounded Freemasonry for far too long."

More than 1,000 events were organised in an effort to set the record straight - one of which was about membership of the organisation.

Although openings to women are limited, Freemasons insiste they accept men of all races and religions.

And far from being a secret society, members are free to publicly acknowledge their allegiance.

Lodge officials have also said they condemn members who use their connections to promote their business or personal interests.

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