HL Deb 13 May 2002 vol 635 cc9-10WA
Lord Burnham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the application form for lay membership of employment tribunals contains the question "Are you a Freemason?" when no other voluntary associations are singled out for declaration, and [HL4085]

Whether the question "Are you a Freemason?" contained in application forms for lay membership of employment tribunals is in breach of human rights legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights; and whether this represents unfair discrimination. [HL4086]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

First, I would like to reassure the noble Lord that the answer to the "Are you a Freemason?" question has no impact on this selection process. The decision on appointment as a lay member to an employment tribunal will be based on how far applicants meet the published criteria. Whether or not candidates are freemasons has no bearing on their suitability for these posts.

The Home Affairs Select Committee's third report Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary, published in March 1997, recommended that a register should be established in order to promote greater openness about membership of the freemasons in the criminal justice system. Although the Select Committee's report had found no clear evidence of freemasonry exerting any improper influence within the criminal justice system, it concluded that suspicions about the influence of freemasonry were damaging to the credibility of the criminal justice system, and that the greatest cause of the suspicions was the secrecy surrounding freemasons. On 17 February 1998 the Home Secretary announced that the Government accepted the committee's proposal.

Consistent with the Government's response, the Lord Chancellor decided that new appointees to judicial office for which he was responsible in both the civil and criminal justice system should be required to declare whether or not they are freemasons. Employment tribunal lay members act in a judicial capacity and it is the policy of my department to adopt the same approach to these appointments. Equally we are committed to transparency in public appointments.

The Government believe that the requirement to disclose membership of the freemasons as a condition of appointment of the application form for these appointments is not incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and does not represent unfair discrimination.