Turning back to Freemasonry, how has your role as Grand Master fitted into your life?
It's probably true to say that Freemasonry has taken a more prominent part in my life as Grand Master visiting groups of Masons around the country - on the whole not individual lodges - because I decided a long time ago that it would be very difficult to choose particular lodges. What I like to do is to go to Provinces and meet groups of Masons there, because one gets a better idea what they are thinking about. I try to meet as many as possible in an afternoon or evening. Another aspect is being involved in policymaking and talking to senior Masons about the future of Freemasonry and about problems as they occur; all in all it has consumed quite a large part of my life. But, I have been extremely fortunate in that I have been able to leave most of the day-to-day operations of the whole business of Freemasonry to my Pro Grand Masters. I've been extremely fortunate to be served by some wonderful people who have given a huge amount of time and energy to it, and by successive Grand Secretaries (the senior official who works full-time at Freemasons' Hall).
You mentioned that you were involved in policymaking. What do you think is the future for Freemasonry in a changing world - does Freemasonry need to change?
There have already been considerable changes. Most notably we have worked hard over these last few decades to encourage the idea that Freemasonry is not something entirely closed and secret. There is no doubt that principally during the Second World War - and in the years following - that the habit of secrecy and of withholding information had become very ingrained. That did Freemasonry a lot of damage because it also allowed this idea to grow up that we were a secret society, and that did imply that we had guilty secrets that we wanted to keep to ourselves, which made us the object of great suspicion. This undoubtedly did us a great deal of harm because once that sort of idea takes root, it is extremely hard to get rid of it. One still, unfortunately, encounters articles in books and even television programmes which suggest that we've been up to all kinds of malpractice such as shady financial dealings, where one Mason protected the interests of another. Such practices are strictly prohibited. So one of my main preoccupations along with my senior helpers has been to promote a more open climate and habit; this will take a long time to develop, but I believe we have moved quite a long way. We do now, for example, encourage people who are Freemasons to be completely open about the fact that they belong to the craft. We don't intend to publish lists of people. I don't think that's in any way necessary, and certainly it is wrong to force people in public office to declare that they are or are not Masons. We object to that, because we regard that as an intrusion on personal privacy, but we do encourage people to be completely open about their membership. The only thing that we seriously regard as secret and the proceedings in our own lodges, as these are entirely private matters which are not the concern of anyone outside. It's a matter of privacy rather than secrecy.
Do you think that the change in attitude which you've talked about to try and encourage more Freemasons to be more open will be a difficult task to accomplish?
It is never easy to change attitudes in a large organisation. You have to remember that within our membership of more than 300,000 there are many who have grown up with the tradition of regarding anything Masonic as a subject that was never discussed outside, and to expect them to alter that approach is something one needs to work on with patience but I'm confident that over time we can produce a change in attitude. In particular we need to work on the relationship between Freemasonry in the Community Week which we are launching this year. It is designed to make much clearer to people that the ideas of Freemasonry, of good works, honesty, integrity and charitable activities, do benefit society and are generally a force for good in the world. This is something that we can encourage all our members to devote time to.
Are the charitable aspects of Freemasonry important?
Our charitable work is very extensive. The Masonic charities last year raised £20 million, but the effort is not devoted entirely towards Masons or Masonic objectives. The amount given to non-Masonic causes is also very large. The Grand Charity exists very largely to make donations and grants to causes which are nothing to do with Freemasonry. It gives money to a whole range of charities and charitable activities. It amounts to millions of pounds every year and I would like that to be better publicised. I hope that this new quarterly magazine may find space to do this.
Do you see Freemasonry in the Community Week as a watershed in Freemasonry's relationship with the community?
It could well become so, yes. This is purely an experimental week. We hope that it will have beneficial results. It is a very important step for us, and something that could never have happened even perhaps 10 years ago, and certainly longer back would have been really unthinkable. It is something I personally strongly encourage, and I have great belief that it will be to our advantage and to that of society generally.
So what part will you be playing in the week?
There's an important service taking place in St Paul's on 18 June, which is designated to be multi-denominational, and I'm hoping to come to that. I think it will make an excellent start to the week.
Thank you very much indeed, Sir, for this inaugural interview in MQ Magazine, which is going to be the flagship for Freemasonry in the United Grand Lodge of England. It is excellent that we have your support.