HC Deb 26 March 1984 vol 57 cc91-104

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 3, line 13, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

  1. '(a) a class determined by reference to any trade or occupation;
  2. (b) a class determined by reference to any geographical area;' —[Mr. Alan Clark.]

No. 3, in page 3, line 17, at end insert— '; or

  1. (d) a class determined by reference to any combination of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above.'. —[Mr. Alan Clark.]

Mr. Wrigglesworth

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 3, line 28, after 'constraint', insert 'by a means other than a workplace or union branch ballot'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No.

26, in page 3, line 30, leave out from 'supplied' to 'a' in line 31 and insert `by post with'.

No. 27, in page 3, line 34, at end insert `by post'.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

This is an important issue which was covered in our debates in Committee, but it is appropriate for the House to have the opportunity to consider it again. The amendments deal with the method by which the ballots for the principal executive committee should take place. We propose that they take place by postal ballot. I shall illustrate the arguments for and against by the example of the National Union of Mineworkers, which was referred to in Committee.

8.45 pm

The arguments deployed by the Minister and others against postal balloting are that it does not lead to as high a poll as that obtained by other methods. We have heard the Minister condemn the low turnout at branch meetings in union after union. I therefore assume that he will want to rule out the possibility of a high turnout at branch balloting meetings. He chose the NUM as an example of a high turnout in a workplace ballot, which is the other method that is cited as a better means of balloting than postal balloting. I shall deal with that point and consider some of the representations that have been made to me by miners about their balloting system.

NUM balloting at the pithead is unlike balloting that would take place in virtually any other union. The pit is the focus of attention and a regular place of work for the mining community, whereas members of other unions often do not work at the same place and therefore do not have the same cohesion or identification and involvement with their union as NUM members. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that workplace balloting, such as is the case with the NUM, is typical of what might happen in the Transport and General Workers Union, for example, the members of which are spread over a vast range of industries and workplaces in dribs and drabs throughout the country. The General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union also has a vast membership that is spread all over the country in many different workplaces. In those unions it is unlikely that there would be the type of turnout that the Minister cited as an example of good practice.

The argument against workplace and branch balloting is overwhelmingly that it is open to abuse and corrupt practice in relation to ballot papers and members of the union being open to undue influence, threats and bullying. I have a paper that has been prepared by an official of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union. He is widely experienced in these matters. On workplace ballots, he points out that the system is wide open to abuse at various stages. I shall go through the list of points at which he believes the system is vulnerable: 1. In the number of ballot papers claimed for distribution at each location. 2. In the unsupervised distribution of ballot papers. 3. In the return of ballot papers. 4. In the improper use of discarded papers, which in many cases are over 50 per cent. of those issued. 5. In undue influence exerted on the voter. The variety of forms of pressure is legend. 6. In the count at local level. 7. In the national returns. The Minister referred to the NUM as an example of good practice. He said: The NUM's system of workplace ballots is, I think we would all agree, a democratic system, and is one that ensures a high turnout. On many recent occasions, the decision made in a workplace ballot has been different from the decision that the union's leadership sought. Bully-boy pressure has not been in evidence or at least not sufficiently in evidence to affect decisions. If there is any such evidence, I find it disturbing. The Minister was being rather complacent. To hear the Minister and the chairman of the Conservative party, bearing in mind the background of the current dispute, talking about no bully-boy pressure is, to say the least, surprising. When I suggested to the Minister that it was curious that there were always press reports of the NUM ballots and asked whether that raised questions about the validity of the way in which they were being conducted, he said: That has certainly struck me as peculiar. I have also noted that those reports have become less, rather than more, accurate over the years, as the arrangements for ballots have become more democratic." — [Official Report, Standing Committee F, 17 January 1984; c. 502–503.] I think the House will agree that that is a good testimonial from the Minister for the NUM system of branch balloting.

I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if I refer to the beginning of this year, when the elections for the new general secretary of the NUM took place. As hon. Members will know, the results of that ballot were very close. Mr. Peter Heathfield, who has now been appointed as the general secretary of the NUM, obtained 74,186 votes and the defeated candidate, Mr. John Walsh, with a different viewpoint, obtained 70,571, so there was a majority of nearly 3,000—a narrow margin of votes in such an election.

The Minister said that press reports had become less and less accurate. Therefore, I took the trouble to study the reporting of the election. I shall come to the allegations about it made by Mr. Walsh later. The ballot boxes closed on Friday 20 January. In a report in The Times that can only have been written within hours of the ballot closing, it was said: early returns put Mr. Peter Heathfield, leader of the Derbyshire pitmen, out in front of his moderate rival, the Yorkshire area agent, Mr. John Walsh. The second moderate candidate, Mr. Les Kelly from North Wales, was trailing a poor third … Mr. Heathfield's members have returned a vote of under 60 per cent. for their 'favourite son' and in Lancashire one pit recorded an 8 to 1 vote for the moderate candidate, with three others evenly divided or just in favour of the Left. I think that the House will agree that that is interesting. One pit recorded an 8:1 vote for the moderate candidate, while three others were evenly divided or against the Left. One has to ask how anybody knew, before the votes had been counted—they were counted 48 hours later by the Electoral Reform Society—how the voting in particular pits had gone. I leave hon. Members to speculate on how The Times might have got hold of that information.

The report goes on: In South Wales, they were 'weighing' the Heathfield votes, and in Kent there is at least a two-to-one majority for the Left. In Durham a vote of about 70 per cent. was recorded for the Derbyshire leader, Eppleton colliery nearby turned in a similar vote. In Northumberland he was 'a nose in front'. Other reports also appeared, and, by Monday 23 January, the final result was being widely reported in stories written on Sunday, although the result was not due to be announced until 24 January.

For instance, on Monday 23 January the Financial Times reported: Britain's 190,000 miners have voted by a narrow margin to elect a Left-winger, Mr. Peter Heathfield, as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers … The result of the pithead ballot on Friday will not be formally announced until tomorrow but Mr. Heathfield, secretary of the Derbyshire NUM, has scraped home with a majority of little more than a few thousand votes. I shall not delay the House any further because I have said enough to illustrate the sort of reports that were appearing. Clearly, somebody had access to the ballot papers before they were counted by the independent Electoral Reform Society. It is clear that they were counted before they ever got to the independent body. Not only did such people have access to the ballot papers, but they counted the individual results of individual areas. That opens up questions of how accurate and open to abuse this ballot is.

That is the first demonstration that all is not right in the NUM balloting procedure, and it calls into question Mr. Heathfield's victory as general secretary of the NUM. I have also received some letters from the minefields—from the miners. [Interruption.] I should perhaps have said from pitheads, but to some members of the NUM these letters may come from minefields. I shall quote some of these letters to the House because they add further to the anxiety that has been expressed about the way in which this workplace balloting can be interfered with and abused.

The first letter comes from a miner in Derbyshire, who says: I didn't get a voting paper for the NUM general secretary ballot last week, mainly because my accredited representative forgot to bring me one, due to me working an afternoon shift. That is 1 vote for John Walsh that hasn't been reflected. I personally spoke to something like 150 associates and workmates last week and there is seething dis-content among the membership at the under-handed method employed by Scargill and the NEC in enforcing this overtime ban, as it is serving no useful purpose whatsoever! I have given no mandate for an overtime ban to be applied, neither would any of the workmates I have spoken to. Personally speaking I think that John Walsh should demand a re-vote on unnumbered ballot papers". Mr. Walsh raised the question of unnumbered ballot papers with the NUM executive. The letter goes on: posted to the Electoral Reform Society and then we may get a 100 per cent. accurate result. The result last week should be declared void, you have one member here that didn't get his chance to record a vote, and is not too happy about that. 3,900 voting papers dis-figured is too high a number for my liking. Mr. Walsh has also raised that with the NUM. Hon. Members will have seen that there have been queries about that in the press, but there have been no satisfactory replies either from the Electoral Reform Society or the NUM.

The second letter is another demonstration of what goes on at workplace ballots. It comes from a miner, who says: I know at our pit the secret ballot is taken and the voting papers placed in unlocked plywood boxes, from there, it is anyone's guess what happens to them before they go to a central location to be put into locked boxes before being sent to London counting centre. I am sure that this is the way that Arthur Scargill was elected, the ordinary miner doesn't stand a chance, there should be no delay in getting secret postal ballots. Plesase let this be known. The third letter, which comes from a miner's wife, is another demonstration of what happens when there are workplace ballots. I know that the Minister will say that the Bill lays down certain criteria, but he must tell us how the criteria will deal with this case. The lady says: The point is that when the local branches of the NUM held their meeting to vote on whether or not the National Executive had the backing of the miners to call an overtime ban, the meeting was held on a Saturday morning at 10.00 am and the men were only informed at the end of the shift the previous day. Consequently, the only people to attend were the ones who do not work overtime, (mainly the militant Scargillites) and therefore permission was granted. I come to the important matter to which I want to draw attention: Now going onto the more recent issue of the ballot held last week,"— that was for the general secretary— at the pit where my husband works, the underground men leave the baths by a different exit to the surface workers (the majority of which work overtime). On the day of the ballot the only place where there were any ballot papers was the exit which is used by the underground men. So those who were for Mr. Heathfield and for the overtime ban were able to vote, and an impediment was put in the way of the surface people, who did not support the overtime ban.

9 pm

That is a subtle way of influencing the outcome of a vote. Where one puts the ballot box in relation to the baths at the pithead has a profound influence on the people who vote. It is difficult to introduce legislation to stop that type of abuse and the conversations and threats that prevent people from voting freely. I know that the Minister has tried to lay down strict criteria in the Bill, and I applaud the criteria that he has laid down, but I do not accept that the Bill will stop abuse of that nature if he is prepared to allow workplace balloting to continue. There are too many opportunities—as union officials would quickly tell the Minister, if he were to ask them—for subtle influencing and abuse of voting to take place.

Mr. Evans

I am sure the House has listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's story about the abuses that took place in the recent NUM elections, but would it not help his case enormously if he were to name the collieries that were involved in those appalling abuses?

Mr. Wrigglesworth

I have the miners' letters here, and I should be happy to show them to the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans), but I do not want to go back through the whole of my speech and list all the collieries involved.

That leads me to conclude that the only way to overcome such abuses is to have postal ballots. I know that the Government have thought about the matter and I know that the Minister took this view before, but I ask him to think again. In my view, postal balloting is the only way to ensure that undue influence and abuse do not take place. The Minister and Opposition Members who oppose this type of ballot may make jokes about ballot papers being stuck behind clocks on mantelpieces or people not having peace and quiet in their homes to sit down and mark their ballot papers, but that is not a serious argument against postal balloting. As the Minister knows, it has worked most effectively in two major unions in this country. I take my hat off to the way in which the ETU—the EETPU, as it is now — and the AUEW have arranged their affairs. They have transformed their unions as a result of introducing postal balloting.

I cannot for the life of me see why the Government—I understand the Labour Opposition's view—cannot accept this proposal when it has operated so successfully in those two unions. Apart from what I said earlier about not every union getting the size of turnout that the NUM gets, the Minister—as well as the Labour party—should look carefully at the change in the turnout that took place in the AUEW elections when postal balloting was introduced. It is not as high as I would like, but it is considerably higher than it ever was before postal balloting was introduced. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the postal balloting systems in the EETPU and the AUEW led to their having a leadership that more truly reflects the opinions, interests and views of their members than any other system that I have seen operating anywhere.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will reconsider his insistence on allowing workplace ballots to take place. I hope that he is not ruling out postal ballots. Although the Bill does not lend itself to our tabling amendments to put into operation the full system, we would prefer postal ballots to be the norm, as I said in Committee, with exceptions being allowed if the certification officer—as in the case of the National Union of Seamen—said that postal ballots were not deemed necessary in certain circumstances.

We have also tabled an amendment, to which we shall come later, on the supervision of ballots. Therefore, I shall not raise that issue now, although it is obviously related to some of the points that I have been making. I hope that I have said enough, by taking the NUM ballot as an example, to convince the Minister that he should think again about the provisions in the Bill. I hope that the House will support the amendment.

Mr. Evans

I shall repeat the comment that I made to the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) earlier. It would have helped his case enormously if he had had the grace to reveal to the House the collieries where the appalling incidents that he described took place. It is not fair, right or proper to give such stories in any shape or form in the House and not back them up with some hard facts. Had he named the collieries, all who are concerned with abuses of that nature could make inquiries to check the validity or truthfulness of the points made by correspondents who have been in touch with the hon. Gentleman. One suspects that if people write such letters to the hon. Gentleman the chances are that they will also have written to members of the Government or the Opposition. I am not aware of anyone else receiving letters of that nature. I stress that I am not suggesting that such events did not occur, I am merely saying that it would have been far better if the hon. Gentleman had named the collieries.

I was surprised to find from the hon. Gentleman's remarks that he knew the Labour party's arguments even though he had not heard them. I found that rather interesting because I happen to be a member of the engineering section of the AUEW and took part in all the debates and arguments within that union when we were discussing the change from branch to postal ballots.

The hon. Gentleman referred to fiddles which took place, or could take place, at branch and workplace ballots. Fiddles are to be deplored no matter where they take place. I am sure that every hon. Member is aware that fiddles can occur wherever human nature can devise a means to gain something that they think can be of advantage to them. Fiddles can take place in postal ballots as well as in branch or workplace ballots. Fiddles can take place in local authority and general elections. Recently I read of a lady who appeared in court charged with the offence of fraudulently voting on behalf, I believe, of a Conservative party candidate. I am sure that all appreciate that, no matter what rigid criteria Parliament lays down about the offence of impersonation, it goes on throughout Britain at general and local elections. Indeed, the slogan in Northern Ireland is, "Vote unionist, vote early and vote often." I believe that I read somewhere that the Government are concerned about the propensity of people in Northern Ireland to vote more than once and that they are hoping to do something about it. Unfortunately, fiddles at elections take place no matter how much hon. Members and trade union leaders deplore it and no matter how much town clerks at elections deplore it. I merely want to record that fact so that the impression will not be gained that there is any particular method of voting which is fiddle-proof. No man or woman has so far devised any such method.

I am not merely criticising amendment No. 25 on drafting grounds when I say that, looking at it carefully, I do not think that it will bring about postal ballots. As I read it, a union could hire a local miners' institute or city hall and organise a ballot there. The amendment seeks to insert the words: by a means other than a workplace or union branch ballot. If we are to discuss the principle of postal ballots, it would be better to have a correctly worded amendment. I should not like trade unions to have ballots other than at a workplace or a branch, but if amendment No. 25 is included and the Bill is enacted that could happen.

Whether elections for principal executive councils are by post, at a branch or workplace, the assumption, which appears to be abroad in the House of Commons, that trade unions are concerned only with who elects the members of the executive council and how and where they are elected is much more important. There is far more to running a trade union than activities regarding the election of the executive council—no matter how important that body is.

Ten years ago in the engineering section of the AUEW the question whether there should be branch ballots or a switch to postal ballots was raised. That was a valid argument, which I suggest has been borne out. The danger of removing ballots from the branch was that it would have a detrimental impact on the life of the branch. As in any other organisation, the activities of the branch are at the heart of the organisation.

At the same time in the AUEW there were discussions about the merits or otherwise of the check-off system—where a member no longer needs to go to his branch to pay his trade union subscriptions, which can instead be deducted by his employer at his place of work. In the Tyne district committee of the AUEW, to which I belonged, we had many long and sincere arguments about those twin developments—the introduction of postal ballots and of the check-off system. The chances were that they would be detrimental to the framework of the union.

Hon. Members should not lose sight of the fact that at branch level, unions try their utmost to encourage members to participate in the union's affairs. Members receive the reports of the executive council and area council representatives, reports from the local district or area committee, and reports from the conveners of various industrial establishments who report on the activities that appertain to that branch. That is where the membership participates in all union affairs. Arguments raged hot and strong within the AUEW to the effect that anything that took life away from the branch would be detrimental to the union.

The methods that were adopted in the AUEW then were perfectly fair and proper for conducting elections. I was a branch member who for many years had been the branch teller and had conducted the elections at the branch. Despite all the arguments, none took place that cast doubts on the integrity of the many thousands of AUEW men and women who conducted the ballots at the branch. The arguments were solely about turnout.

9.15 pm

One of the difficulties involved when the House discusses voting in trade unions such as the AUEW is that hon. Members assume that electing a member of the executive council of the union or the general secretary, the president or a national officer is like electing a Member of Parliament. It is assumed that there are clearly defined constituency areas and that the candidates are reasonably well known to those who are asked to vote for them. The truth is different. The United Kingdom is divided into seven AUEW divisional council areas and each area elects one member of the executive council. The whole of Scotland is one area and all the union's members in Scotland elect one member of the executive council.

Members receive through the post a ballot paper with 10 or 12 names and each candidate is allowed to include a précis of his activities in the union. The union member who knows even one of the candidates is lucky. Too often, members vote blind.

When votes were cast at branch meetings, members would ask tellers or branch officers who was the best candidate. The union rules precluded a teller from answering such a question directly, and the teller would make that clear, but often he would say, "I am voting for Joe Bloggs." One often found that Joe Bloggs got the most votes, and that was hardly surprising, because the teller was often the union convener at the plant. Nowadays, members often have little or no knowledge of the candidates.

We now find the media—wonderful newspapers like The Sun—rushing in to fill the vacuum. They suggest who members should vote for in union elections. Of course, it does not necessarily follow that the person whom The Sun regards as the best candidate is the best candidate in the members' view.

There is always considerable debate in the trade union movement about how ballots are conducted. After all the arguments in the AUEW, I supported a move to postal ballots. It was a long and agonised debate within the union, but the important aspect was that the union itself decided to switch to postal ballots. The membership of the union put a resolution to the national committee—not the executive council, which had no say in the matter—and that committee, the principal policy-making body, decided that the union should switch to postal ballots.

It is true that in the first flush of enthusiasm, following the introduction of postal ballots, the number of those voting went up substantially from 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. to 50, 60 or 65 per cent. of the membership. The percentage turnout in the AUEW—and it varies from election to election, according to whether it is the president or the general secretary, as opposed to an executive councillor or a district official — has slipped, unfortunately, and is of the order of 28 per cent. Nobody in the AUEW is proud of that or pleased with it. It is simply a fact.

Nor can we be proud of the percentage turnouts in other elections. General elections in Great Britain attract only about 66 per cent. of the electorate, which means that one in three electors does not bother to vote. However, nobody suggests that there should be postal ballots for general elections to increase the turnout.

In local authority elections, the figure is even worse, and goes down to approximately 25 per cent turnout. In some authorities, the best turnout will be about 55 to 60 per cent., balanced by others where the turnout is as low as 13, 14 or 15 per cent.

Ignoring the fact that one of the planks of Tory party policy is to do away with a great deal of local government in the country, if we as a Parliament deplore the low turnout in elections at bodies that are of vital importance to the people, I suggest that we should be giving our time to discussing compulsory postal ballots for the conduct of local elections long before we start to consider the conduct of local elections for trade unions.

We are not for postal ballots, nor are we opposed to them. We are not for branch ballots, nor are we against them. We are not for workplace ballots, nor are we against them. We maintain that the trade union has enough wit, nous and common sense to decide what is best and what is right for itself. Why should a trade union be denied the opportunity to arrive at its own conclusions? It is incredible that the House should spend valuable tine debating whether postal ballots will be imposed on every union in the country, with all the problems that society faces.

I stress again that there is no guarantee that postal ballots will not be fiddled. I do not wish to rake over the ground of the ETU and the problems that it faced many years ago but merely comment that that was a postal ballot and the fiddles that took place were well known. We are opposed to the amendment, because we believe that trade unions should decide how the membership casts its votes. If we are to concern ourselves only with the percentage of people who vote in the election, all the evidence is that workshop ballots win every time.

Mr. Lightbown

We have been told of the commendable record of democratising the AUEW, but, in the 90 or so years that most unions have been in existence, can the hon. Gentleman say how many more have moved towards secret ballots or postal ballots?

Mr. Evans

I do not see the purpose of that intervention. Our argument is that unions should decide for themselves. If a union wants to have postal ballots, that is for it to decide. The majority of unions that conduct ballots have secret ballots.

Mr. Gummer

In this debate at least I was disposed to take common ground with the hon. Member for St Helens, North (Mr. Evans). He has fought all the proposals tooth and nail, line by line, yet between nil and four Labour party members have been here in the Chamber to hear him. That proves that to a large degree the opposition to the Bill is non-existent and spurious.

The hon. Gentleman said that the AUEW had had long discussions before deciding to introduce postal ballots. The amendments are not about whether there should be a minimum standard of democracy but whether that minimum standard of democracy should be confined to postal ballots.

I remind the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) that this issue has exercised the Government's mind considerably. I admitted to him in Committee that I began by believing that postal ballots were the best, and perhaps the only, way of electing the executive committee of a union. I must explain why I have moved from that position. First, it is important that we should define the minima of democracy not by the method of balloting but by the conditions under which the ballot should be held. A ballot should be secret, it should provide equal votes for those who have title to vote and it should be a convenient vote. Those are the basic minima.

The hon. Member for Stockton, South goes further than that and suggests—[Interruption.] It is interesting that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who has not been in the Chamber all evening, should feel obliged to comment from a sedentary position. Those with many hundreds of acres should look after them instead of taking part in this debate.

Mr. John Smith

The Minister is jealous.

Mr. Gummer

Of course I am jealous. I also think it odd that the hon. Member for East Lothian should be sitting on that side of the House. The hon. Member for East Lothian was not here to listen to the Opposition argument.

The hon. Member for St Helens, North said that we cannot achieve the three conditions without a postal ballot. I do not agree. To suggest that a workplace ballot cannot be legitimate, one must believe that there is dishonesty or dishonourable behaviour throughout the trade union movement. Most people do not believe that that is so. I do not believe that, in general, ballots will be rigged. I believe that, in general, ballots will be honourably and decently conducted. I also believe that if they are not so conducted the Government will have to look at the matter carefully. It may be necessary to change the rules to ensure that people are protected.

It is not right for the House to assume that unions throughout the country are incapable of conducting a decent and honourable workplace ballot. In using examples of letters from the NUM, the hon. Member for Stockton, South did the trade union movement a disservice. I do not believe that that is a general pattern in trade unions. He should not use it as the basis upon which to decide whether we restrict votes to one type of balloting.

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's unwillingness to say who these people were. They were complaining about a form of intimidation, and I do not think it right for hon. Members to insist that the names of miners and collieries should be produced in circumstances which would mean that they would not be prepared to write again. Even if Labour Members do not agree, I shall take the word of the hon. Member for Stockton, South. If he tells me that the letters were written by miners or their wives, I shall accept that. I do so because he is an honourable Member of this place and he would not say that if he did not believe it to be so. It is outrageous that anyone in this place should suggest that the letters are otherwise than what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

9.30 pm
Mr. Evans

I have not challenged the truthfulness of the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth). I merely said that it would have strengthened his case immeasurably if he had named the collieries. If he had done that, we could have made our own inquiries into whether the alleged incidents took place. I did not suggest that he should have named the authors of the letters.

Mr. Gummer

With respect, many of us would accept that in some circumstances such inquiries would produce results in which letters would be difficult to write. The letters are part of the evidence that we must take into account, while realising the difficulties that some people face.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

I did not quote the letters at length, but one of them specifically referred to threats that had been made to a husband because of his views and the action that he was proposing to take.

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right to have taken the action that he has. If the House were to take the view that the individual's position was widespread and general, it would have to cast aside the difficulties of the hon. Gentleman's proposal. However, if those circumstances are unusual rather than run of the mill, we must consider seriously the disadvantages of the hon. Gentleman's case. His proposals do not amount to the presentation of a case for or against postal ballots as opposed to branch ballots.

Following the request of those who were members of the Committee which considered the Bill, my considerations have led me to the conclusion that there can hardly be an instance in which a branch ballot could be carried out in circumstances that would meet the requirements of the Bill. It is not one's custom to say "never", except in extreme circumstances, but I do not think that there is any likelihood that a branch ballot would fulfil the specific requirements laid down in the Bill. That means that we are talking about workplace ballots or postal ballots.

A later amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stockton, South suggests that he has in mind a postal ballot under close external scrutiny. The only ballot that cannot be fiddled is one which takes place under the control and supervision of an exterior body. That body must have control of the list of members who are to be balloted. It will have to send the ballot papers to those members and it will have to carry out spot checks upon the members to ensure that the lists are as they are supposed to be. It must control the keeping of the lists to ensure that they are up to date, ensure that the papers are returned and, finally, count them.

There will have to be an organisation—I am not using the term "quango", because I am trying to gain the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are especially unhappy about quangos—that will carry out all those functions. If that were the only way to ensure democratic elections within trade unions, the hon. Member for Stockton, South would have a point which we would have to take seriously.

If that were brought about, it would mean exactly what Opposition Members say: the whole conduct of elections in trade unions would be outwith those unions. That would be a most serious step to take. It could be taken, if that were the only way to ensure that democracy was served, but there would have to be much more proof than three letters, however carefully written and important they were.

The evidence of widespread continual fraud is not great. The evidence is that people are not given an opportunity to vote. That is what the argument is about —that they do not have a chance to vote—and that is the real feature of the ASTMS argument. It is not an argument about people being fraudulent or dishonourable but about the system not being right if 98 per cent. of the people do not vote.

Therefore, to apply to the system the complicated arrangement which the hon. Member for Stockton, South must mean seems not to be possible unless the evidence is there. The evidence is not there, and for that reason I urge the House to reject the amendment.

There are two other aspects to which I should refer, because the hon. Member for Stockton, South made much of them. The first was that, because the press claimed to know the results in various places, that must mean that it knew. That is not my experience of the press. Part of the duty and stock in trade of the press is to appear to know a good deal more than it actually knows. There is nothing wrong in that, but it would be a mistake to suggest that every sentence was the result of some illegal or improper arrangements with the ballot.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Stockton, South must get his facts right about the AUEW and its change. It did not change from a work-based ballot under the sort of arrangement that we have here. It changed from a branch-based ballot. Therefore, merely to say that the turnout now is better under a postal ballot than it was under a branch ballot is a statement of the obvious. It always is, because branch ballot turnouts are so bad. However, workplace ballot turnouts are not always bad, and they can be very high indeed.

The hon. Member for Stockton, South, in support of his case, must prove a degree of fraud—which he has not proven—or he must show why it is preferable to have a complicated system of postal ballots and a lower turnout, when a high turnout must be an important part in the measurement of democracy in a union.

If his fears turn out to be true—if he is right and we are wrong—we shall be the first to see what must be done about that, because we are not in any way tied to a dogmatic view on the subject. We are simply determined not to be forced to make the single test when proof of widespread misuse of balloting is not found, and the hon. Gentleman has not been able to answer this major problem of turnout, which I should have thought was important for any democrat.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Having listened carefully to the Minister's reply, I remain unconvinced by his argument. He said that there was no evidence. I gave him some evidence—I thought it was quite formidable—of the very union that he lauded before the Committee as the pinnacle among examples of the sort of workplace balloting that he foresaw taking place under this legislation. If the example that he chose is as defective as I pointed out, I should have thought that he would have second thoughts about what is being proposed to the House. It was indeed a bold statement that there was no, or very little, evidence.

The Bill will introduce a vast extension of balloting, in a way that has not taken place in the trade union movement before. As the Minister said, there has not been much balloting in any trade unions, which is why legislation—in my view, rightly—has been introduced. There will be extensive balloting in all unions as a result of the Bill. Therefore, the House needs to be more convinced than the Minister has been able to achieve that that balloting will take place independently and freely and without the kind of activity and abuse that I described earlier.

The Minister argued that our proposal was terribly complicated, but I rebut that. There is nothing complicated about it. Two of the biggest unions in this country already use this procedure effectively and efficiently, and it is not an enormous burden on their resources. If the Government regarded it as such a crazy, complicated idea, why did they introduce it in their own recent legislation to provide for the funding of such ballots? It is quite simple. The Government rightly put legislation on the statute book to allow funding of postal ballots when they were more enthusiastic about the idea than they now are.

The Minister's argument showed the weakness of the Government's proposals. I hope that many of his hon. Friends, having listened to the debate, will decide that they should support postal balloting as the only means of ensuring a free and fair system of voting in trade union elections.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 26, in page 3, line 30, leave out from 'supplied' to 'a' in line 31 and insert 'by pest with'.—[Mr. Wrigglesworth.]

Question put,That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 12, Noes 242.

Division No. 203] [9.42 pm
Alton, David Johnston, Russell
Ashdown, Paddy Kennedy, Charles
Carlile, Alexander(Montg'y) Kirkwood, Archibald
Howells, Geraint Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Penhaligon, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Steel, Rt Hon David Mr. John Cartwright and Mr. A. J. Beith.
Wallace, James
Wrigglesworth, Ian
Aitken, Jonathan Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Alexander, Richard Freeman, Roger
Ancram, Michael Fry, Peter
Arnold, Tom Galley, Roy
Ashby, David Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Glyn, Dr Alan
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Baldry, Anthony Goodlad, Alastair
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gorst, John
Batiste, Spencer Gow, Ian
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Grant, Sir Anthony
Bellingham, Henry Greenway, Harry
Bendall, Vivian Gregory, Conal
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Benyon, William Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Berry, Sir Anthony Grist, Ian
Best, Keith Ground, Patrick
Bevan, David Gilroy Grylls, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gummer, John Selwyn
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hampson, Dr Keith
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hanley, Jeremy
Bottomley, Peter Hannam, John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hargreaves, Kenneth
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Harvey, Robert
Braine, Sir Bernard Haselhurst, Alan
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Bright, Graham Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Brinton, Tim Hawksley, Warren
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Hayes, J.
Brooke, Hon Peter Hayhoe, Barney
Browne, John Hayward, Robert
Bruinvels, Peter Heathcoat-Amory, David
Buck, Sir Antony Heddle, John
Budgen, Nick Henderson, Barry
Butterfill, John Hickmet, Richard
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hind, Kenneth
Carttiss, Michael Hirst, Michael
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Chapman, Sydney Holt, Richard
Chope, Christopher Hooson, Tom
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Hordern, Peter
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howard, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Cockeram, Eric Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Colvin, Michael Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Conway, Derek Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Coombs, Simon Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cope, John Hunter, Andrew
Corrie, John Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Couchman, James Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Cranborne, Viscount Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dickens, Geoffrey Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Dover, Den Kershaw, Sir Anthony
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Durant, Tony King, Rt Hon Tom
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Eggar, Tim Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Emery, Sir Peter Knowles, Michael
Evennett, David Knox, David
Eyre, Sir Reginald Lamont, Norman
Fallon, Michael Lang, Ian
Favell, Anthony Latham, Michael
Fletcher, Alexander Lawler, Geoffrey
Fookes, Miss Janet Lawrence, Ivan
Forman, Nigel Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lester, Jim
Fox, Marcus Lightbown, David
Lilley, Peter Pattie, Geoffrey
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Pawsey, James
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Lord, Michael Pink, R. Bonner
Lyell, Nicholas Pollock, Alexander
McCrea, Rev William Porter, Barry
McCrindle, Robert Powell, William (Corby)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Powley, John
Macfarlane, Neil Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Price, Sir David
Maclean, David John. Proctor, K. Harvey
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Raffan, Keith
McQuarrie, Albert Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Major, John Renton, Tim
Malone, Gerald Rhodes James, Robert
Maples, John Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Marlow, Antony Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Mather, Carol Rifkind, Malcolm
Maude, Hon Francis Robinson, P. (Belfast E)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Roe, Mrs Marion
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Shersby, Michael
Merchant, Piers Skeet, T. H. H.
Meyer, Sir Anthony Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Moate, Roger Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Montgomery, Fergus Stokes, John
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thurnham, Peter
Moynihan, Hon C. Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mudd, David Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Murphy, Christopher Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Neale, Gerrard Viggers, Peter
Nelson, Anthony Walden, George
Newton, Tony Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Nicholls, Patrick Ward, John
Norris, Steven Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Onslow, Cranley Warren, Kenneth
Oppenheim, Philip Watts, John
Osborn, Sir John Wood, Timothy
Ottaway, Richard Yeo, Tim
Page, John (Harrow W) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Paisley, Rev Ian Tellers for the Noes:
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Mr. Donald Thompson and Mr. Michael Neubert.
Patten, John (Oxford)

Question accordingly negatived.

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