Almost every local authority in the country has its own Freemasonic Lodge, the temple often situated actually within the Town or County Hall. These local government Lodges are known variously as 'A Borough Lodge', 'B County Lodge, 'C Town Hall Lodge' or'DCouncil Lodge', depending where they are. In London alone there are no fewer than twenty-four Lodges which from their names in the Masonic Year Book can be identified as being based on local authorities. * There are at least as many again in Greater London whose identity is cloaked under a classical or other obscuring title like 'Harmony'.
In addition to these there are the Lodges based upon the City of London Corporation, with which I deal in Chapter 24, and the Greater London Council Lodge No 2603 for officers and members of the GLC, originally consecrated as the London County Council Lodge in 1896.
In the provinces, most County Councils and district councils and many parish councils have their own Lodge.
:The boroughs of Acton, Bethnal Green, Camberwell, Finchley, Finsbury, Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Newham, St Pancras, Shoreditch, Stepney, Woolwich; Barnet London Borough Council; City of London; City of Westminster; Greater London Council; Guildhall; Holborn Boro' Council; Lambeth Boro' Council; St Marylebone Borough Council; Tower Hamlets; Wandsworth Borough Council; Westminster City Council.
One thing is clean the vast majority of councillors and officials join these Lodges, rather than a Lodge based on a geographical area or on an institution or profession, because they believe it increases their influence over local affairs.
How realistic is this belief, strongly denied by some but generally acknowledged by the more honest of local authority Masons, especially after one or two whiskies?
The basis for what criticism there has been of the concept of local authority Lodges is that they undermine the process of democracy.
For democracy to work at its best there has to be a party system, preferably with at least two strong parties politically at odds. The British system of democracy avoids widespread corruption in government by a series of checks and balances. One of the most important of these is an official Opposition party. The Opposition has a duty to oppose the majority party that forms the government. Only by the criticism and constant watchfulness of an Opposition can a government be kept up to the mark. The bad points of the ruling party are by this means constantly shown to the public, and if its strengths do not outweigh its weaknesses the government will eventually, in theory, fall.
This efficient system of keeping government inefficiency and corruption to a minimum can scarcely be threatened when it comes to central government, where there are so many checks and balances and where both Press and public are vigilant in the extreme. But on a local level journalists are usually in their teens or early twenties and do not have the experience or wherewithal to keep such a critical eye on the processes of democracy, and the majority of residents do not take much interest in their local authority beyond its decisions about the annual rate increase.
The parliamentary system works as well in the local council chamber as it does in the Commons - except, say the critics, where Freemasonry rears its head in the shape of a Town Hall Lodge.
Within the Lodge three things which are generally considered undesirable can happen:
1. There is fraternization between council officers and elected members, who in the public interest should keep each other at arm's length.
2. Party differences are broken down and men who have a duty fiercely to oppose each other in the council chamber and in all their actions on behalf of the electorate are brought together in intimate harmony.
3. There is undesirable contact with local businessmen - builders, architects, etc. - who often join such Lodges blatantly to curry favour and exploit the masonic bond to canvass for local authority contracts.
None of these objections would be valid, perhaps, if all Freemasons scrupulously avoided discussing business, politics or religion with each other within the Temple. But of course Freemasons are human, and no matter what claims are made that such talk never goes on at masonic gatherings, there is ample evidence that it does. Additionally, there is no bar against talking business, religion or politics at the customary drinking session which follows the ceremonies in the Temple.
The critics say that Lodges where leading members of the majority party swear an oath of allegiance to leading members of the Opposition party, and vice versa, destroy the two-party system. From there on, especially when council officers belong to the Lodge as well, democracy is finished. Whatever debate occurs in public is a facade that covers the disturbing truth that everything has been decided in advance.
Are the critics right? In 1974 Prime Minister Harold Wilson presented to Parliament the findings of his committee on local government rules of conduct. The committee had been set up in the wake of the Poulson scandal and amid growing public concern about corruption in local government. Under the chairmanship of Lord Redcliffe-Maud, the committee had produced a seventy-two-page report that analysed the problems and ended by recommending a National Code of Local Government Conduct.
On the question of fraternization between council officers and elected members, the code had this advice for councillors:
(i) Both councillors and officers are servants of the public, and they are indispensable to one another. But their responsibilities are distinct. Councillors are responsible to the electorate and
serve only so long as their term of office lasts. Officers are responsible to the council and are permanently appointed. An officer's job is to give advice to councillors and to carry out the
council's work under the direction and control of councillors.
(ii) Mutual respect between councillors and officers is essential to good local government. Close personal familiarity between individual councillor and officer can damage this relationship and prove embarrassing to other councillors and officers. [My italics.]
(iii) If you are called upon to take part in appointing an officer, the only question you should consider is which candidate would best serve the whole council. You should not let your personal or political preferences influence your judgement. You should notcanvass the support of colleagues for any candidate and you should resist any attempt by others to canvass yours.
Elsewhere the report deals with proper declaration of interests by councillors. Numerous minor cases of failure to declare pecuniary interests can be cited: where, for instance, a councillor discussed and voted on the arrears of rent by Council tenants without admitting that he was himself a Council tenant in arrears with his rent; or where a councillor voted on the question of his own expenses.
Failure to declare pecuniary interest is illegal. But failure to declare non-pecuniary interest is not against the law and is therefore hard to combat. Even so, a councillor can be influenced in his decisions by his connection with an organization or a person just as strongly as he can by financial considerations.
A councillor should never take part in debate or voting on such matters as a relative or friend seeking planning permission, rehousing, or employment with the council or where any other conflict of interest exists.
The report goes on:
There are other interests which are less easily defined but where the same principles of disclosure, and usually, of non-participation, should apply. Trusteeship in a charitable body, membership of a religious denomination, a trade union, a professional association ora society such as Freemasonry [my italics], or even ordinary friendship, can all create situations where it is to the member's credit, and for the health of local government, if he is quite open about them.
The committee did not think that these matters needed to be covered by standing orders because what was involved was a principle rather than a procedure. And the principle should be for councillors to treat non-pecuniary interests on the same lines as pecuniary interests - which means very seriously indeed.
In its final recommendations, the committee again refers to kinship, friendship, membership of an association or society (Freemasonry, etc.) and other bodies and states where such membership 'can sometimes influence your judgement or give the impression [it] might do so'.
So it is acknowledged that the dangers are real enough.
But has Freemasonry ever actually undermined local democracy to any extent worth worrying about?
One does not have to look too far for the strongest evidence that it has.
In its report to the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, chaired by the Rt Hon Lord Salmon between 1974 and 1976, the Society of Labour Lawyers makes this statement:
We regret the timidity of the Redcliffe-Maud Committee in their recommendations relating to the disclosure of interest. We think it essential that there should no loopholes; oral and public disclosure of all direct and indirect interests, financial and otherwise, must be made (for example) by local councillors at every meeting of council or committee in addition to a comprehensive written record; this obligation should not be avoided by a councillor absenting himself from a meeting. In case of absence his interest must be declared at the meeting at the instance of the councillor concerned by the chairman or clerk. We say 'financial or otherwise' because it is well within the experience of our members that secret decisions or understandings are reached in places which would not exist if generally known. In particular, we refer to 'town hall Lodges' which, we know, existed at each and every one of the local authorities concerned in recent criminal proceedings and almost all of the defendants were members. These Lodges take into membership leading councillors across the political divide together with a limited number of senior officers, to the prejudice of the justification of the two-party system - that of public dispute and decision - and to the prejudice of the proper relationship between councillor and officer. It is no part of our message to decry the traditions and charitable good work of the masonic movement; we imagine that the national leaders would be as distressed as anyone if they knew of the extent to which the town hall Lodges were used, at the very least, to ease communication of matters which would never have been communicated at all in the full glare of publicity. Membership of such groups as these must be subject to disclosure and if this should offend the rules and practices of an organization of the nature of Freemasons, the remedy is to dissolve Lodges based upon restricted membership of those in a local field of public life. If those concerned complain that it limits their opportunity to engage in the honourable and altruistic activities of their movement, their desires can, no doubt, fructify in the company of like-minded persons elsewhere than in or about the town hall.
The authorities referred to as being involved in criminal proceedings and all having a masonic thread running through the corruption were, among others, Bradford, Birmingham, Newcastle and Wandsworth.
The town hall Lodge at Wandsworth in south-west London was consecrated in 1903 as Wandsworth Borough -Council Lodge No 2979. Its members are not only current officers and members of the council (now the London Borough of Wandsworth) but also past members and officers and others associated with local government. A number of builders, architects, civil engineers and such like belonged to the Lodge in the 1960s when masonic corruption starting there spread outwards until it engulfed and ruined national figures like former Home Secretary Reginald Maudling, himself a Freemason. As former Wandsworth Town Clerk Barry Payton told me: 'The real seriousness of the Wandsworth affair was the incestuous relationship between the two opposing leaders, Sidney Sporle and Ronald Ash. Sporle was the Labour leader. He had no visible means of support, he didn't have a job, but he nevertheless lived at a fair old rate, always having rolls of five-pound notes in his pocket. Although his home life was not in any great style, he really enjoyed entertaining and going out and being the grandiose host. He got his income through his association with certain dubious activities. Ash, the Conservative leader, was the proprietor of Lewis of Balham, a builders' merchants.'
One example of the oddity of the relationship between Sporle and Ash was in relation to an organization called the South London Housing Consortium. This had been formed by a group of south London local authorities who were engaged in a lot of building work at that time. The object of forming the consortium was to enable the authorities to buy building materials in bulk direct from the manufacturers, thus making big savings and also being sure of obtaining materials when they were required. For a reason that has never been discovered the consortium employed Lewis of Balham as an intermediary. This negated the reason for forming a consortium in the first place: there is small point in a consortium if a middle man is used. It is interesting to speculate that if Lewis of Balham earned only one per cent for acting as intermediary, which is an improbably low rate of commission, this previously modest business would, on a turnover of £10 million, have made £100,000. And that sort of money in the late sixties was a very great sum indeed.
In the municipal election in 1968 Labour was defeated in Wandsworth and Ash became the Leader of the Council. Shortly afterwards, the new Tory controllers of the council had their first meetings to appoint committees and nominate members to outside bodies. The Conservatives' first group meeting was to consider whom to nominate as the council's representatives on the South London Housing Consortium. Ash fought tooth and nail to nominate the Labour leader, Sidney Sporle. Finally, Ash forced the issue by threatening to resign if he didn't get his way, and his members reluctantly voted for Sporle. It was not known to them that the two 'opponents' were close friends, and that their friendship had sprung from the deep ties of being Brother Masons in the same Lodge.
Sporle, now dead, was a corrupt man who used the Lodge at Wandsworth unashamedly for setting up crooked deals. Among seven charges of corruption for which he was later jailed for six years, Sporle was found guilty of taking a job from ‘I. Dan Smith, PR man and fellow conspirator of architect John Poulson. It is generally thought that Smith, who did so much to further the interests of Poulson (himself known to have exploited his masonic membership at every opportunity), was also a member of the Brotherhood. According to what he told me, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, he is not and never has been a Freemason, however. This is what he said when we met for a cup of tea at the Charing Cross Hotel: 'People have always assumed that I am a Mason, so gradually I found the way they shook hands and the way they made the next move - and because I virtually detested them (for no reason other than that I hate that kind of organization) I always used to give them the handshake back. Still do. I met a journalist last week from theDaily Mirror. He gave me a Freemasonic handshake and I gave him one, and he said, "Oh, you're on the Square." He said, "As you're on the Square, why didn't you pass the money to Ted Short*" that way?"
'I said, "Well, how do you do it that way?" He said, "Very simply. You just pass it through the organization."
There are clues that there is a well-established system within Freemasonry for passing money untraceably from one Mason to another. No fewer than seven informants within the Brotherhood as well as ‘I. Dan Smith on the outside have told me of the system. If such a system does exist, it is probably connected with the method by which the vast sums of money collected in charity by individual Lodges each year is transmitted to Grand Lodge.
*Edward Short, MP for Newcastle Central, was an old friend of Smith's and a Freemason. He accepted £500 from Smith 'for the work you have done on behalf of the firm'. The DPP later considered prosecuting Short for accepting a bribe but decided there was no case to answer. Eleven years after the event, when it all came out, Short, by then deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House, astonished Parliament by not resigning despite dissatisfaction with his explanation.
Until further clues come to light, however, I am unable to say more than this. It seems highly unlikely that the officers at Great Queen Street are in on the secret - unless, of course, they have some legitimate purpose for operating such a system, and this can be used by corrupt members without the knowledge of the hierarchy or the Charity trustees.
At any one time there seems to be only about thirty to sixty Freemasons in Parliament, and there is no real discernible influence by Freemasonry on voting in the Commons: even if there were a large number of masonic MPs, debates so rarely touch issues masonic that any kind of cross-party collusion by members of the Brotherhood is inconceivable. There are far greater and more important vested interests than Freemasonry at Westminster.
The majority of MPs who are Masons - witness Cecil Parkinson, Paymaster General and Chairman of the Conservative Party* - have no time to attend Lodge meetings. Those who do have the time tend to pursue their Masonry on a local level with no connection with Parliament. So far as I have been able to discover there is no House of Commons or parliamentary Lodge. Members of Margaret Thatcher's post-Falklands Cabinet* who have told me they are not members of the Brotherhood include Lord Hailsham (see pp 153-4 above), the Lord Chancellor; Sir Geoffrey Howe, Chancellor of the Exchequer; James Prior, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; John Nott, Secretary of State for Defence; George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland; John Biffen, Secretary of State for Trade; David Howell, Secretary of State for Transport; Leon Brittan, Chief Secretary to the Treasury; and
*Again reshuffled by Thatcher in June 1983.
Norman Tebbit, Secretary of State for Employment. Lord Carrington, Foreign Secretary before the Falklands crisis, told me he is not and never has been a Freemason. Those who ignored my letters include Home Secretary William Whitelaw, almost certainly a Mason, Sir Keith Joseph, Francis Pym, Peter Walker and Michael Heseltine. Neither Humphrey Atkins, Lord Privy Seal, nor Patrick Jenkin, Industry Secretary, wished to comment.
In the Labour, Liberal and Social Democratic parties, no senior member owns to being a Freemason now or in the past. And even Tony Benn, whom one would expect to make political capital from anything getting close to masonic influence in Parliament, has 'never heard Freemasonry mentioned'. None of the main parties has any particular policy on Freemasonry, although a Labour Party assistant information officer did say the party regarded the Brotherhood 'as a secret and select club and object to the way it undermines the National Health Service by providing private hospital beds', a reference to the Royal Masonic Hospital at Hammersmith, West London. The officer then took the sting out of her bold accusation by saying, 'The problem is that we do not know enough about it to be critical.' Even the Communist Party can muster insufficient enthusiasm to talk about the subject, and simply dislike it because in their view it reinforces the class structure.
Two men in particular seemed to have achieved high office in the Labour Party directly through membership of the Brotherhood: Attlee, Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, and Arthur Greenwood, Deputy Leader of the party from 1935. On 22 November 1935 a masonic Lodge whose members included Transport House officials and several Labour MPs held one of its regular meetings. The party meeting to select a new Leader was fixed for 26 November. Three men were in the running. Even though Attlee was a Mason, it was Greenwood, a member of the Transport House Lodge, who was, according to Hugh Dalton, Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1945 and 1947, 'the Masons' Candidate'. In his book The Fateful Years Dalton wrote:
Most members of the Lodge were closer friends of Greenwood than they were of the other two candidates, Attlee and Morrison. On the first ballot the result was Attlee 58, Morrison 44, Greenwood 33. As had been decided in advance, the bottom candidate, Greenwood, dropped out. On the second ballot, all but four of Greenwood's supporters voted for Attlee, giving him a victory over Morrison of 88 to 48.
First, of course, this is not an example of Freemasonry at work in Parliament but inside an individual party, which is quite different. Secondly, considering the facts coolly, it is hard to see much that is sinister in them. Freemasons getting together in secret to decide whom they as a group want to have as leader seems no different from the Tribunites, the Manifesto Group or any other sub group within a party doing the same thing. Were there a secret non-party band of Freemasons influencing matters behind the scenes and manipulating this Mason into power in this party and that Mason into power in that party, the matter would be somewhat different.
There have been several attempts in Parliament to initiate official enquiries into the effects of Freemasonry on society. Every one of them has failed.
On 11 April 1951, Fred Longden, MP for the Small Heath district of Birmingham, stood up in the Commons and asked Prime Minister Clement Attlee whether 'in the interests of all sides' he would move for the appointment of a Royal Commission to enquire into the effects of Freemasonry on the political, religious, social and administrative life of the country.
Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison, a non-Mason, said, ‘I have been asked to reply. No, sir. This is not a matter for which the government are responsible, and my right honourable Friend the Prime Minister does not think that an enquiry of this kind would be appropriate.'
To this, Longden said, 'As I have received a large number of letters on this question might it not be good for Freemasons themselves if, apart altogether from their rites and ceremonies, the suspicions and accusations concerning their influence on personal appointments and interference with our constitutional institutions were brought to the light of day?'
‘I understand the point made by my honourable friend,' said Morrison, 'but I really think we have enough troubles without starting any more.'
Masonic MP for Kidderminster Gerald (later Sir Gerald) Nabarro sprang to his feet and said, 'Would not such an enquiry be an infringement of human liberties?', and the House passed on to the car mileage allowance of threepence-ha'penny per mile for army chaplains, the cheese ration, and to a question about a speech given in South Shields by the Home Secretary in which he had said, 'We cannot control General MacArthur because we do not pay him.'
Whitehall and the Civil Service generally is the side of central government where Freemasonry plays a part. Membership of the Brotherhood can be an important factor in promotion, especially to the ranks of the powerful Permanent Secretaries. In some ministries, Defence for example, it can be a distinct disadvantage not to be a Mason. Several people have recounted how when they were interviewed for senior positions at the Ministry of Defence, they were suddenly, in the middle, asked how they interpreted a certain biblical quotation. One of my informants, a non-Mason, could not remember the exact quotation. Both the others, one a Mason, did remember. The two quotations were not quite accurate, but amended as Masons amend them for use in their ceremonies. The Mason identified himself as such and was appointed. The two non-Masons, not knowing what to make of a request to interpret a biblical reference, were not. This might all, of course, be coincidence. We do not know how able the individuals were and how well or ill they suited the posts for which they were applying. What is certain is that the Civil Service has real and continuing power in the administration of this country, in that it remains while governments come and go; and that power is largely in the hands of members of the Brotherhood. This area of masonic influence warrants a book in itself, and will, I hope, command an entire section in future editions, when more detailed research is completed.