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Norman Ziman’s plea to members

For reasons of convenience the proposal to open up membership of the Club has been split into three resolutions. I propose to talk to all three of them now.

At the bi-annual meeting in November I outlined why the General Committee saw it important to increase the membership of the Club, the different ways in which this could be done, and our preferred path. The proposals before you today for amendments to the Rules of the Club will, if passed, bring about a small and fairly painless step towards democratisation of our Club, but without risking a major change in its character

As I stated in November, during the 130 years of the Kennel Club’s existence the number of people affected by our regulations and authority has increased from a mere handful to an estimated 50,000 (perhaps more), yet membership of the Club has increased only from 100 in 1873 to about 800 today. The right of those 800 people alone to elect members to the General Committee and thereby to govern dogdom in this country is frequently called into question not only by those canine enthusiasts who are not members, but also by the canine press and to an ever greater extent by those with whom we come into contact.

Our main object, as set out in the Kennel Club’s constitution, is "To promote in every way the welfare of dogs". One of the strategies adopted by the General Committee to achieve that aim, and something you have heard the Chairman refer to more than once today, is to make the Kennel Club the first port of call in all matters pertaining to dogs. In pursuance of this aim and strategy we are continually working to build up good relations with Government and the Civil Service, as well as canine bodies both at home and overseas. As I explained in November, we are concerned that the limit which currently exists on the number of members calls into question the validity of our claim to be that first port of call and to speak for the world of dogs.

Full democratisation would involve throwing membership of the Club open to all people who are able to show an interest in dogs. Whether this would involve increasing our membership to 50,000 or just 15,000 it is not, I think, a solution which is likely to gain the support of many people present here today. But I am not proposing full democratisation – merely a greater degree of democracy than exists at present – and accordingly the first proposal before you is simply to increase the maximum number of ordinary members to 1,500 (which number of course includes the existing membership).

In November I touched on various possibilities which had been considered by the Committee including the idea of having different classes of members and the possibility that people could attend general meetings and be eligible to vote in committee elections, without having any rights to membership of the Club or to use the clubhouse. I explained why any such proposal would be fraught with difficulties and that therefore this was not the Committee’s preferred way forward. Notwithstanding this, a number of people seem to have gained the impression that this is what we are proposing. Not so.

Changes

The proposal is much simpler than that. What the rule changes will mean if you accept this proposal and vote them into existence is that in future there will be two ways of becoming a member of the Kennel Club:

Firstly, the existing way will continue as before. A candidate will be proposed and seconded by members, will meet with and be considered by the Committee, will have his or her name posted on the notice board to invite comments from members, and will be subject to election by a secret ballot of the Committee requiring a two-thirds majority. This is the existing way.

Additionally, in future a person who has been an Associate of the Kennel Club for at least 3 years would be able to propose him or herself for membership, would meet with and be considered by the Committee, would have his or her name posted on the notice board to invite comments from members, and would be subject to election by a secret ballot of the Committee requiring a two-thirds majority.

The only difference, therefore, is that an Associate of three years’ standing would not need a proposer or seconder. He or she would still be required to meet the Committee. He or she would still be subjected to the scrutiny of members by having their name posted on the notice board, and he or she would still have to be elected. There is no guarantee that any particular application will be successful. I must emphasise that the only difference between what is proposed for Associates and the arrangements which currently exist for other candidates, is that Associates will not require a proposer and seconder.

This is not without logic, as in order to be elected an Associate a person must have established a responsible reputation with regard to dogs, dog shows or trials. Their application is vetted by the relevant subcommittee and is then submitted to the General Committee for approval and also advertised in the Kennel Gazette. Hopefully, any "undesirables" are weeded out by this process; any that are not would be unlikely to survive the membership vetting process that I have just outlined.

Another worry, which I know has been troubling some of you, is that we will be overwhelmed by a flood of new members. Again, not so. If everyone who today is an Associate were to become a full member of the Club our total membership would not exceed 1500, and that is why this figure is proposed in resolution number 14(a). Not everyone could apply, however, as the proposal is that only Associates of 3 years’ standing would be eligible, and I very much doubt that even all of them will want to apply, some of them being content to remain as Associates. Further, those who do apply will have to wait their turn to go through the selection process, so it is likely to be some considerable time before our membership reaches the new total of 1500. And 1500 is a pretty modest total, especially when compared with membership of most other London Clubs – clubs, I might add, which do not also purport to act as the governing body for anyone other than their own members.

It would be dishonest for me to pretend that the exclusivity of a club such as ours does not have its attractions. We all, I hope, feel honoured to be members and the fact that it is an exclusive body adds to the sense of honour; and we are all conscious of the very special position we are privileged to hold in the canine world. I submit that the proposals before you today will not change that - your committee will still have the right to exclude, and the comparatively small number of additional members will not detract from the sense of privilege which we enjoy at present.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Kennel Club cannot survive as a credible ruling body in the world of dogs while governance is overtly in the hands of the self-perpetuating few. If we are to continue to govern that for which we are currently responsible, let alone have some influence on the shaping of canine legislation in the corridors of power, we have to allow the possibility of access to those of good character who have proved their interest in our sport over a period of time.

The proposals before you today are the minimum necessary to achieve our objectives. They will not open the floodgates, but our standing both with those whom we govern and those whom we seek to influence would be vastly enhanced if the resolutions are carried. That would be to the immeasurable benefit of Dogdom in this country.

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I move the resolutions nos 14(a), 14(b) and 14(c) and I urge all of you to vote in favour.