HC Deb 12 December 1912 vol 45 cc794-7

Nothing in this Act shall preclude the Society of Freemasons in Ireland and kindred societies recognised as such by the regulations of the Grand Lodge of Ireland from having the same rights of meeting, of admitting members, of holding property, and of maintaining charities as are now or shall from time to time be allowed or accorded by law to similar societies recognised by the Grand Lodges of Scotland and England, respectively, and any law made in contravention of the rights secured under this Section shall, so far as it contravenes these rights, be void.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."


In moving this Clause I can assure hon. Members I am not going to delay the Committee very long, because I am here for business and not for obstruction. One of the very first things I wish to do is to acknowledge as simply as I can the support on this question of Members from all quarters of the House. I do not wish hon. Members for one moment to think that I am moving this Clause simply on my own initiative. I wish to say to hon. Members who may not be Freemasons that, although Freemasons may be political on the Continent, there is no such thing in this country. Our one object is to keep the question of party politics and denominational questions out of the Freemasons of this country. In this country we know nothing so far as the craft is concerned with regard to denominations, and we know nothing so far as politics are concerned. The Clause which I am moving has got the backing of the Masons not only of this country, but in Ireland and in Scotland, and also in the Colonies and all over the world, and I hope hon. Members will assist me to get it through. I will say to those who are not members, that the Society of Freemasons does an immense amount of charitable good in the best sense of charity, in the way of schools, annuities, benevolent funds, and so on. In Ireland I do not know what the regular numbers are, but the recruits every year in the three countries are—in Ireland, 4,000; in Scotland, about 12,000; and in England, 12,000. That shows very encouraging results so far as numbers go. So far as property and capital are concerned, the joint income is about £73,000, and the capital and property £1,750,000. They are a very influential society, and from that point of view its members ask for this protection.

Quite apart from that, I should like to say that hon. Members opposite may be quite certain, and indeed I am prepared to guarantee, that the members of the craft are most sincerely anxious to practice every kind of charity and not alone monetary charity; they are really anxious, and more anxious every day, themselves and through their society, to bring different sections of the people a little closer to one another and to get them to see things more and more from each other's point of view—to bring, as a matter of fact, a real sense of fraternity about in this country and in Ireland. I think that that is a society which ought to be assisted, and I am anxious to show, so far as Ireland is concerned, that it is a society which should have our support and should be helped out of any difficulty. I cannot see why the Freemasons in Ireland, quite apart from any other body, should be placed under a disability as compared with the Freemasons of Scotland and England. Surely the Freemasons of Ireland have just as much right not to be placed under a disability as the Freemasons of the United Kingdom. In the early days in this country the Freemasons were freed from being banned under the laws relating to secret societies. In Ireland they have never been freed, and I think it is hard that the Irish Freemasons should ever had have to suffer under what I may call the White Boy Acts, which I do not think any of the Nationalist Members approve of. I think it would be an excellent idea, so far as the Freemasons are concerned, to insert a provision of this kind. The new Clause which I am now moving is not exactly the Clause which fits the case; it goes too far in some directions and is too short in others; but since it was placed upon the Paper I have had expert advice, and I now think it could be better done in another way. I have drafted another new Clause, which is further down on the Paper. I do not know whether it would be in order to move it. It is really the same idea, and has the same intention, and, if possible, I would like to substitute it in place of this one. It is simpler and goes straight to the point.


I think the Noble Lord's second Clause, although it may be possibly of the same substance, but I cannot decide on that, not being an expert on this matter, appears to be so wide that I could not allow it to be substituted, but if he moves the first Clause, and the Government are prepared to accept it, or the other one, it might be possible for them then to move that the other one be inserted in its place.


That is absolutely satisfactory to me, and I hope it will be to the Government. I will move my Clause, and, if the Government accept it in principle, they can then say they do not accept its terms as they stand, and possibly they will move the other one, which, I am quite certain, will be satisfactory. I hope hon. Members generally will support me. I have a personal interest in the matter, because a hundred years ago my great-great-grandfather moved a similar Amendment in another place, and it was carried by all parties in that House.


The last observation of the Noble Lord about his great-great-grandfather and what took place in another House almost makes me wish that I had been a Member of that House, and then I should have been quit of this. As I understand it, the principle of the new Clause which he wishes to be incorporated in the Bill is the same in both cases, but he prefers not the Clause which is earlier on the Paper, but one which appears subsequently in these terms: "It is hereby declared that existing enactments relative to unlawful oaths or unlawful assemblies in Ireland do not apply to the meetings or proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland or of any lodge or society recognised by that Grand Lodge." The existing enactments which are referred to, are, as he says, what is known as the White Boy Code, which will receive the condemnation at all events of existing society; but it is nevertheless the fact that there is existing in Ireland this code of laws which would hit the Freemasons. Nobody has any desire that the Freemasons or anybody else should be exposed to the provisions of enactments of that kind, and I am quite prepared to meet the views of the Noble Lord without saying anything about the Freemasons, an admirable body to whom I belong myself, which is altogether outside the terms of these existing enactments, although they might possibly hit so excellent, charitable, and fraternal a society. I am quite willing to move in the words I have just read that a Clause of that kind be added.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.