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Warning to Assembly: don't pick on Masons.

Byline: TOM BODDEN Welsh Affairs Correspondent

ASSEMBLY Members were warned yesterday they risk court action if they force colleagues to reveal if they are Freemasons.

Legal advice is to be circulated to AMs ahead of a second bid to amend rules which singled out Freemasons for the declaration of interests.

James Bevan, a spokesman for the 18,000 Freemasons in Wales, protested yesterday: ``The rules mean you can be a member of the Ku Klux Klan or Combat 18 and it is permissible to hide that information if you are an Assembly Member.

``But if you are Freemason and hide that, you area criminal.''

The Assembly is the only political body in the UK to insist on the demand, with a threat of criminal action for failure to do so.

But the Assembly standards of conduct committee is again seeking to widen the scope of the rules to include all private clubs or organisations, such as Round Table, exclusive golf and country clubs.

The full plenary session will consider the change again in February after failing a year ago to secure the necessary two-thirds majority in a vote to change standing orders. AMs remain split on the controversial issue.

Urging a fresh attempt to settle the question, chair of the standards committee,Brecon Lib-Dem AM Kirsty Williams said: ``Status quo is not an option.''

Freemason leaders in Wales say that they are ready to challenge the ruling in court under the Human Rights Act after similar successful cases,including Italy.

Monmouth AM David Davies said the 11-strong Conservative Group was split 7-4 in favour of the change, with the dissenters insisting the Freemasons clause should be struck out.

Labour AM for Presili Pembrokeshire Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneafsey said her group was divided. ``I can't tell you that our group would vote in sufficient numbers,'' she said.

Legal advice to the committee is that there is a significant risk of a successful challenge in the light of two recent cases in the European Court.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2003
Words:331
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