A chance find of records pertaining to the Duke of Windsor has led to the Lord Chancellor stating he is perfectly prepared to accept that Freemasonry is not a secret society and adding he has never expressed a view that it is.
The statement is in a letter from the Chancellor's department to William D Patrick, District Grand Secretary of the District Grand Lodge of Bahamas and Turks, who lives in Nassau.
W Bro Patrick wrote to the Lord Irvine (plus MP Chris Mullin and the Clerk of the Home Affairs Select Committee) regarding holders of judicial office registering whether they were Freemasons or not. After explaining he was writing "in the hope of throwing fresh light on the subject of Masonry as being a 'secret society' and indeed, perhaps, of dispelling that false notion once and for all" he told of the discovery of a long-lost history of the lodge which included a chapter on a visit to the lodge by the Duke of Windsor in 1941, as the then Governor of the Bahamas.
The history, compiled by a Past Master, W Bro TA Thompson, includes the Duke's reply to the formal welcome, in which he said: "...it might interest you to know that my connection with Masonry was almost severed when I became King in 1936, as it was a principle that a ruling monarch should not be a member of a secret society. I referred this matter to the Grand Master and the Lord Chancellor who ruled that while Masonry has its secrets, it is not a secret society. It is one of the most loyal societies that exist."
W Bro Patrick's letter adds: "In view of the charges levelled against the Fraternity by the media in general and by the Home Affairs Committee and others alleging that Freemasonry is a secret society, I consider that that statement, made by a former Monarch of the Realm based upon a ruling by your then predecessor as Lord Chancellor and long before the subject of Masonic secrecy became a public issue, is of extreme relevance at the present time. I am confident in assuming Your Lordship will agree that such a statement made by a former King of England is one the veracity of which cannot be called in question."
The DGS's letter continued that, given the facts upon which that decision was based remain unchanged, they must assuredly result in an identical ruling today. He added that it was perhaps ironic to discover that the oft-quoted phrase: "While Masonry has its secrets it is not a secret society" which critics of the Order have seized upon as being an example of Masonic 'double talk', may well have originated in a ruling by one of Lord Irvine's predecessors, or at the very least was quoted with apparent approval by him.
W Bro Patrick went on that on his accession to the throne at the end of 1936. the Duke's successor, George VI, would have been fully cognisant of the royal policy prohibiting membership of a secret society by a ruling monarch. He wrote: "That Freemasonry cannot be a 'secret society' was fully borne out by the fact that King George nevertheless maintained a close and active association with Freemasonry." He listed him being installed as Past Grand Master, and later installing the Duke of Kent, the 6th Earl of Harewood and the Duke of Devonshire as Grand Masters. He also quoted historical precedence of King Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, being Grand Master until, as King, he followed the precedence established by George IV and became 'Protector' of the Order.
His letter concluded: "Having amply shown that as each of the three Kings of England who were Freemasons and who reigned during the 20th century maintained an active association with the Order subsequent to their respective accessions to the throne, taken in conjunction with Royal policy quoted, it must therefore be proven beyond any doubt that Freemasonry cannot be a 'secret society' within the popular meaning of that term." He further wrote that the Duke of Windsor's statement was of itself the most compelling substantiation, from an unimpeachable source, of the verity of the assertions by the United Grand Lodge of England that Freemasonry "is not a secret society - it is one of the most loyal societies that exist."
In reply, Bruce Eadie of Judicial Division 4, Lord Chancellor's Department, wrote: "I am grateful to you for putting before the Lord Chancellor the information which you had discovered in the records of your Lodge. In fact, however, the Lord Chancellor has never expressed the view that freemasonry is a secret society, and he is perfectly prepared to accept that it is not such a society. It is true that this issue arose during the deliberations of the Home Affairs Committee, but the Government has not accepted that point of view, nor relied upon it as a basis for the actions which it has subsequently taken in relation to freemasonry. Rather, the Government has taken action to promote greater openness about membership of the freemasons amongst those working within the justice system because it belies that this will be the best way to allay the suspicions which some people hold about the possible influence of freemasonry; and, thereby, to maintain public confidence in the justice system."
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has overruled environment minister Nick Raynford, and the Chief Planning Inspector, by ordering the abandonment of a ban on masons seeking jobs in the planning inspectorate.
This is a retreat from a policy his ministers had previously approved.
It came after pressure from Freemason and MP Tom Baldry, a former Conservative planning officer, who was quoted as saying the ban had been part of a "witch hunt imposed out of pure prejudice ". This was, he said, the only one of its kind imposed on Freemasons.
An advertisement for inspectors had stated that as those taken on would need to be seen to be impartial, fair and open at all times, this meant members of "certain organisations" were excluded. One example given was the Freemasons.
In a written answer to a question from the MP, Mr. Prescott said: "The policy was incorrect and has been withdrawn." .