A statement from the President of the Board, Geoffrey Dearing:
At the Quarterly Communication in March of this year (which now seems a long time ago), you may remember that RW Bro. Michael Ward, a Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master, presented an explanation of the origins and work of the Membership Working Party.
Membership of our organisation is obviously an important issue for all of us and the Membership Working Party helps to bring together the views of all Provinces in England and Wales through nine Provincial Grand Masters each of whom represents the nine regional communication groups which contain all forty-seven Provinces.
Recommendations for some alterations to the Book of Constitutions have been made by the Membership Working Party and if we had had a Quarterly Communication this month I would have given Notice of Motion to amendments to the Book of Constitutions, including the amendment to Rule 157 seeking a reduction in the age requirement for initiation. The proposed amendment has not only the support of the Membership Working Party but also the support of the Rulers and the Board of General Purposes.
Rule 157 provides that no person may be initiated into Freemasonry under the age of twenty-one unless by dispensation. The working party took the view that this provision had become detrimental to the interests of Freemasonry and that the age of initiation should be reduced to eighteen.
A number of persuasive arguments were put forward starting with the fact that the common law of majority of twenty-one was applicable throughout the first 250 years of organised Freemasonry. The age of majority was changed by the Family Law Reform Act of 1969 to eighteen. This means that those aged eighteen have been adults for all civil law purposes and the vast majority of social organisations have brought their requirements into line with that change, but not Freemasonry. As an important social organisation, Freemasonry needs to remain relevant and up to date and the change in the minimum age requirement is both relevant and perhaps overdue.
I am sure that everyone one will accept that young men need to be able to come to a mature decision on whether to join Freemasonry and a cursory reading of the report available to Parliament in 1969 satisfactorily and conclusively found that young people matured both physically and mentally at an earlier age that in the past.
The Universities Scheme has resulted in “automatic” dispensation for undergraduates to join at the age of eighteen and over the last thirty years there has been huge expansion in the number and size of universities. There is no evidence to suggest that these students are more capable of making a reasoned decision that those who choose not to pursue a degree course. Is it divisive to select one part of society for automatic entry at the age of eighteen to the exclusion of another without reasonable justification? At a time when membership is particularly important, it is thought unhelpful that we risk losing candidates because of the current rule.
One final point is that different standards exist around the country where in some Provinces dispensations are granted as a matter of course whereas in others decisions are made on a case by case basis.
When we are able to meet once again at a Quarterly Communication, I would hope to put forward the proposition that Rule 157 be amended to enable those who are over the age of eighteen who have ceased full-time secondary education to be initiated.