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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 12:03 GMT
Duncan Smith snubs Carlton Club
Interior Carlton Club
The Carlton Club was founded in 1832
Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has broken with tradition by declining membership of the Carlton Club because of its policy towards women.

The decision, greeted with "more than surprise" by former Tory MP and Carlton member Sir Peter Emery, may put at risk Tory funding from the club, which reached 1m during the last parliament.

I am more than surprised, particularly when in fact the club made donations at the last parliament of nearly 1m to the Conservative Party

Sir Peter Emery
Sir Peter, chairman of the St James' club's political committee, said women had "exactly the same" rights as men at the club and that many women did not want to see a change in membership rules.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I am more than surprised, particularly when in fact the club made donations at the last parliament of nearly 1m to the Conservative Party. I would have thought that Mr Duncan Smith would have wanted that to continue."

Sir Peter said that women could drink in bars in the club and go to "nearly" every room.

"Many of the lady members of the club do not want to change the position because they only pay half the subscription of the male members," he said.

Voting barred

Membership of the club has been automatic for every Conservative leader - including honorary membership for Margaret Thatcher - since it was formed in 1832 by Tories opposed to the Reform Bill.

To become a member of the club, a person must be a Conservative supporter and be aged over 18.

According to its website, lady members can use all facilities except for the members' bar on the ground floor and the members' dining room at lunch time. They also can not attend or vote at general meetings

Mr Duncan Smith confirmed his decision not to join during an interview with the Spectator magazine.

"I don't care what private clubs do. That's for them to decide and I'm not going to interfere in that. But this invitation comes to me because of what I am rather than to me personally; as the leader of a Conservative Party that believes that there should be no 'no-go' areas for women.

"I will have to say that I can't do it while it is different for many of my colleagues here who would like to become members but cannot."

Rule change ballot

A move to change the rules so Tory women could get full membership rights failed last year.

That was despite a majority of members attending a meeting voting in favour of allowing women full membership.

However, under the club's rules a change to its constitution would need to be supported by two-thirds of those who voted.

The result was a blow for former Tory leader William Hague, who voted to grant women full membership of the elite private members club.

He has long campaigned for equality, saying hard working women who form the backbone of the party should not be excluded from the club.

'Naturally disappointed'

Former Tory prime ministers Baroness Thatcher, John Major and Sir Edward Heath were also said to be in favour of the move.

But the two-thirds majority needed was missed with the vote split 289 to 166 in favour of allowing women to lose their limited status of "Lady associate" members.

The Carlton Club has about 100 "Lady associate" members.

Lady Thatcher is the only woman with full membership. She was made an honorary life member after becoming Conservative leader in 1975.

See also:

30 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Carlton Club votes against women
19 May 00 | UK Politics
MP to quit 'schoolboy' Commons
24 Feb 00 | UK Politics
A woman's place is in the House
07 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Men's club ban a 'nonsense'
07 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Commons breastfeeding ban widened
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