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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 Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge 4:45 pm, 10th February 1988

I would have come in due course to the contribution of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), but I will deal with it now. I accept what he has said about his experience in the trade union movement. I can understand that someone with his determination, commitment, industry and eloquence would never put up with some of the abuses which might happen. What we have to decide goes further.

Where trade union members do not have the benefit of the commitment of people such as the hon. Member for Walton to see that the procedure runs properly, can we provide a system that is free-standing?

The point has been made that many unions already have postal ballots. All we are saying is that essentially it is a question of trying to extend to all unions the benefits that some enjoy. It cannot be sufficient to leave it to the trade union when the present system can give rise to abuses which the hon. Member for Walton would deplore as much as I do.

5.45 pm

Another point ran through the contributions of several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), the idea being that in some way we had abandoned the legislation which we passed as recently as 1984 and that we were embarking on a different course. If we consider the Trade Union Act 1984 as it finally emerged after debate in the House, it is clear that we had a commitment to the principle of postal balloting but it was said that in certain circumstances it need not take place.

The reason for my right hon. Friend taking that view was that he had heard, as we all had from trade unions, that it would be unfair to require postal ballots because unions had not had a chance to compile proper membership lists. We have moved on four years. We say that unions have had ample time to compile the lists and that it should now be possible to have a system of postal balloting.

In the end it must come down to this: can we leave this to the trade union movement and can we be certain that in every single case abuses will not take place? Obviously we cannot. Therefore, we have to devise a system which minimises the possibility of abuse. Although it is not a fail-safe or a guarantee, in the end a postal ballot comes nearer to that ideal.