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Requirement of Postal Ballot for Certain Ballots and Elections

Part of Orders of the Day — Employment Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 10th February 1988.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 4:45 pm, 10th February 1988

I shall reply to the hon. Lady, whose question I should have anticipated. In all honesty, I must say that it was not a large number of people, but the branch meetings were open to anyone who was a member and they could not be held on an authorised basis if a single member had not been notified beforehand of the proceedings. Anyone who wanted to could turn up. We would have a 15 or 20-minute discussion to decide whether X or Y or A or B should be given our vote. We would have a general discussion about those people's qualities.

The Government decided to go beyond that and have workplace ballots. As I have already said, there is an argument for the branch method, but given the choice between a workplace or postal ballot, I think that far more people are likely to participate in a workplace than in a postal ballot. My union is in the process of having a postal ballot; the votes have to be in by next Monday. I would imagine, although I could be wrong, that the percentage of members voting in the current elections in my union on a postal ballot basis will be far smaller than the percentage of members who participated two years ago in the workplace ballot. I very much doubt that I shall be wrong.

The hon. Member for Lancaster asked about the number of people that attend branch meetings. If the argument is that participation should be extended so that more people are involved, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West was valid. If more people are likely to vote in a workplace than in a postal ballot, the workplace ballot is surely preferable. However, the important point is that the matter should be decided by the union. Some unions, including my own, prefer a postal ballot and that is a matter that the union executive and conference should decide.

In a democratic society, unions should not be dictated to. We know how Governments operate in dictatorships. Despite nine years of Thatcherism, I am glad to say that, in essence, this is still a democratic society. In such societies, trade unions should be able to conduct their own affairs.