Clubs added to AMs' disclosure list
Apr 21 2005
THE National Assembly yesterday passed a controversial motion which places members of groups including Rotary International and the Cardiff & County Club in the same category as Freemasons.
Assembly Members must declare their membership in such private clubs and societies or face investigation by the Standards Committee.
The legislation was introduced to prevent the Assembly being prosecuted on human rights grounds for discriminating against Freemasons.
During yesterday's debate Conservative AM William Graham asked for assurances that members of churches with specific membership requirements would not be forced to reveal their religious affiliation.
Kirsty Williams, who chairs the Standards Committee, said, "I can't give you the assurances you are looking for... The rules are the rules."
She said she expected that the vast majority of religious groups would not fall into that category.
Dan Boucher, the Assembly Liaison Officer for the Evangelical Alliance Cymru, later said, "If it transpires that those AMs who are members of religious organisations will be forced to declare this fact or face legal action then this seems intrusive and wholly at variance with the values of a liberal society."
Ms Williams had earlier argued for the change in the rules on the grounds that the reform would improve general transparency.
She said, "To put this in context for colleagues, the point has been made that while Freemasonry is required to be registered, there is no requirement for a member to register their membership of the Ku Klux Klan."
Labour AM Huw Lewis opposed the change in the rules and wanted Freemasonry to continue to be singled out, regardless of the risk of legal action. He said, "This chamber is the voice of the people of Wales and not the voice of the lawyers of Wales."
He said he was concerned about Masonic influences on public life because "there are actual oaths of secrecy and that creates unease. The reality behind it may not be sinister but the perception matters."
James Bevan, Provincial Secretary of the South Wales Eastern Division of Freemasons, said he was shocked by the attitude of AMs. He said, "What bothers me is the uninhibited bigotry... A lot of the younger people seem to be directed rather than think for themselves."
While he welcomed the broadening of the rules he regretted that it was the threat of a lawsuit which had spurred the Assembly to action.
He said, "They are not responding to any sense of fair play. They are trying to excuse their decision because they say we were about to beat them over their head with a big stick."
AMs voted in favour of the changes by 37 votes to seven, with two abstentions, thereby gaining the necessary two-thirds majority.