HC Deb 29 March 1993 vol 222 cc14-5
26. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to make membership of the freemasons by public servants a declarable interest; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)

Civil servants are already required to report conflicts of interest which affect their official duties. This includes freemasonry, where relevant. We intend for clarity to incorporate a list of possible conflicts of interest in the civil service code, which will include a reference to freemasonry.

Mr. Mullin

I am grateful for that reply. I think I am right in saying that the Ministry has no serious plans to face up to this problem, apart from a token reference. Of what is the Minister afraid? Is it of the fact that the Tory party is so deeply in hock to masonic interests that it dare not face up to what hon. Members on both sides of the House know is quite a large problem? Only a few weeks ago a Tory Member mentioned to me that 34 of the 39 members of his local county council were masons——

Madam Speaker

Order. Interesting though they are, we do not want conversational exchanges across the Floor of the House. I think that the hon. Gentleman has made his point now.

Mr. Mullin

Is not the point the fact that the Tory party is too deeply in hock to masonic interests?

Mr. Jackson

I am afraid that I cannot join the hon. Gentleman in his paranoia, but I will make the point that we have been meeting the concern that he has expressed. I have announced a shift of policy—we will be changing the civil service code and the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that. We have communicated with the Council of Civil Service Unions and we are consulting it about the step. If the hon. Gentleman wants to do a serious bit of lobbying, as opposed to making paranoid party points, he may like to talk to the civil service unions.

Mr. Wilshire

May I preface my question by saying that I am not a mason? I am, however, alarmed by what I heard my hon. Friend say. Does he agree that if he is to require the disclosure of membership of the masons, that establishes a fundamental principle that would have serious, even dangerous, implications—including a requirement to disclose membership of a religious order or organisation? That would be very dangerous indeed.

Mr. Jackson

That will not be a requirement. The requirement will be that if the civil servant is aware of a possible conflict of interests, he should declare it. The amendment of the code on which we are consulting the civil service unions would put it on all fours with the local government code, which has been working successfully and which does not give rise to the objections that my hon. Friend cites.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Minister agree that if that welcome change to the civil service code is to take place and apply to senior civil servants, it should be applied also to judges?

Mr. Jackson

The Office of Public Service and Science is responsible for many things, but not the judiciary. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, who is so responsible, to the question asked by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

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