The cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Sir Ivan Lawrence, voted to launch the inquiry - the first by such a highly placed body.
Its scrutiny is likely to pre-empt the Nolan inquiry into standards of public life which has also indicated it wants to examine the secret society. For the first time, senior Masons are expected to be called to give evidence in the Commons about the controversial order, its rituals and practices.
For years, allegations of corruption have surfaced among the estimated 500,000 members, especially those in the police, law, civil service and local government. Headed by the Grand Master, the Duke of Kent, they are organised into more than 8,000 lodges. One lodge, the Manor of St James, is mainly confined to senior officers in the Metropolitan Police. Others are restricted to local police stations and the Inns of Court.
In his best-selling book a decade ago, The Brotherhood, the author Stephen Knight reckoned as many as 33 of the 50 chief constables at that time were Masons. A confidential copy of the Masonic Year Book for 1991-92 named 20 judges.
The society's love of secrecy and the solemn oath by members to help each other have fuelled the corruption claims.
A 44-man squad at Scotland Yard is investigating accusations that officers in the South-East Regional Crime Squad were being bribed to help criminals win bail and to destroy evidence. Membership of the squad, which was established in December 1993, was restricted to officers who declared they were not Masons.
This limitation, imposed directly by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, followed the case of Chief Inspector Brian Woollard at Hendon, who went public with accusations that a corruption inquiry at a London council had been obstructed by Masons. He was taken off the case, he said, after discovering two suspects were in the same lodge as two of his colleagues.Reuse content