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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Freemasons fight assembly register
freemason graphic
Freemasons have complained that the Welsh Assembly's policy of compulsory declaration of membership could be illegal.

The organisation claims it is being discriminated against and has said it is ready to call on the new Human Rights Act to challenge the assembly's decision.

The matter was raised with the assembly's standards of conduct committee by senior lodge officials on Wednesday.

Freemasonry symbols
There had been concerns of 'undue influence'
The policy of registering membership - following concerns about "undue influence - was approved by AMs two years ago following public consultations.

But presiding officer Lord Elis-Thomas has since received complaints.

James Bevan, the Provincial Grand Secretary of the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Wales, said the policy contravened the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000.

He told the committee that Wales had waited 300 years for some sort of parliament and one of its first acts was "imposing Masonic Welsh knot around our necks".

"We are hoping that common sense will prevail here and that we will get fair play down at the assembly," said Mr Bevan.

There was widespread consultation and enormous public support for the clause

Helen Mary Jones AM
John Hamill, from the United Grand Lodge of England, said no evidence had been produced to show the general public perceived freemasons as using the organisation to advance themselves.

Mr Hamill added that such actions were against Masonic rules.

The challenge by freemasons has received support from within the assembly.

"It always seemed a curious thing that AMs had to register membership, when MPs and members of the Scottish Parliament do not," said Tory AM William Graham.

'Undue influence'

But Llanelli AM Helen Mary Jones, who sat on the committee which set up the regulations, said: "I am sure the standards committee will give a full and proper hearing to the case.

"There was widespread consultation and enormous public support for the clause asking members to record whether or not they were Freemasons."

Ms Jones said there had been concerns in the past about undue influence, particularly in areas like the police service.

Police officers voluntarily log their membership, but are encouraged to do so.

Labour AM Christine Gwyther said there was public concern about freemasons because they had existed "in the shadows" for so many years.

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