The moves were said to be being discussed by at least four ministers, including the Cabinet Office Minister, Mo Mowlam. They would lead to the end of membership restrictions from every body ranging from the 17th century St James' club in London to golf clubs and the traditional Labour bastion, the working men's club.
It was claimed that private clubs, exempted by the Sex Discrimination Act, would be modernised under an amendment to the Equal Opportunities Bill in the next session of parliament. Senior Labour figures are said to be heartened by recent about-turns by men-only stalwarts such as the MCC which last year voted to admit women after 211 years.
A Government spokesman rejected reports of new laws in the pipeline. Many topics were covered in ministerial discussions on equality but Government plans for anti-dis-crimination legislation did not extend beyond public bodies.
Last night Nicholas Soames, the former Tory defence minister, who is a member of White's, Pratt's and the Turf, said: "This is another sign that living under new Labour is like living in Soviet Russia.What sensible woman wants to be a member of a men's club?"