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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 Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North 4:45 pm, 10th February 1988

The hon. Gentleman does not agree, but I ask him to reconsider the figures, which cannot be contraverted.

The Government may come unstuck. The average percentage of people voting for a political fund in workplace ballots was 83 per cent. and in postal ballots it was 80 per cent. That is little difference, given the degree of national campaigning that went on. The Government, who are bad losers and took a right pasting in the political fund ballots, may well not achieve the outcome that they wish from changing the rules.

This legislation will not change an Act brought into being by a Labour Government or one of the revolutionary steps attributed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who is accused of giving things away to trade unions. The legislation that is being changed was laid on the statute book by a Conservative Government in 1984. The Government are unpicking their legislation just four years after it reached the statute book. In 1984, the Government tried to murder the ability of trade unions to defend themselves politically and to campaign, but the system did not deliver All the ground rules are up for grabs again and there will be change.

This reminds me a little of the great affinity of the alliance, particularly the SDP, for postal ballots. The Government have now taken on postal ballots in their entirety and to the exclusion of any other form of balloting, as, indeed, the SDP sought to do. For the Government, just as for the SDP, these postal ballots are not an advance of democracy; they are a device for reaching their ends by different means. The Government will ditch postal ballots, just as Dr. Death, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), ditched them when they did not produce the results that he wanted. This is a farce. It is a fallacy to say that this is democratic and allows union members a choice, because it does not.

We have heard about corruption in ballots. The grossest ever corruption in trade union ballots is about to be perpetrated by the Government who will disfranchise thousands of people who would vote in a workplace ballot but who for some reason cannot vote in a postal ballot. On a re-run of all the political fund ballots, up to 3 million trade unionists may lose their ability to vote.

5.15 pm

As I said in Committee, this must be the largest vat of sour grapes ever trampled by the Government for having been hammered by 40-odd trade unions in retaining their political funds. The fact that the Government are had losers is writ large. This is just the latest in a long line of attacks on the political funds of trade unions, stemming from the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927. It is not that the Government have dreamed up something new. They thought that they could bend the rules in 1984. They even set the question—trade unions were not allowed to set the question—yet they could not win. They specified how the unions must ballot, but they could not win. The Government have had every possible advantage and the trade unions, by a united campaign, turned that round into victory.

Because of the fear that the Government engender in trade unionists, not only were the political funds held, but the insurance workers—not a radical or revolutionary bunch of people—set up a political fund; the teachers in Scotland have been radicalised and set up a political fund; post office clerical workers and even the tax men have set up political funds. In some perverse way I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) for his foresight in introducing these political ballots. The nurses and other groups may be next.

There has been no obvious demand for this change. The Government are introducing it on the basis of dogma. The certification officer received seven complaints—up to 10 million trade unionists were balloted in this exercise—in the first year of the political fund ballots and five complaints in the second year. He received 12 complaints out of a possible 9 million, so there is no demand. The Bill, particularly this clause, has been introduced because of dogma alone. It is undemocratic and hypocritical. I hope that if it is not defeated tonight or in the other place, it will be the first clause to be repealed when we are returned to government.