§ 11. Mr. Hunter
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many trade unions have now applied to the certification officer for reimbursement of the cost of ballots, under the provisions of section 1 of the Employment Act 1980; and what has been the total amount paid to trade unions under this section.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Thirty-two trade unions have applied to the certification officer under the provisions of section 1 of the Employment Act 1980 for reimbursement of costs incurred in holding secret ballots. Payments made total about £1.4 million.
§ Mr. Hunter
Does my hon. Friend agree that what he has just said irrefutably demonstrates the wisdom underlying the 1980 measure and provides further evidence of the Government's success in reforming previous employment legislation?
§ Mr. Bottomley
Yes, Sir. In particular, it deals with those people who are unwilling to come out and say openly that they oppose secret and democratic ballots, but argue against them on the ground of cost. They have no argument on the ground of costs and they had better come clean and say whether they believe in secret ballots.
§ Mr. Prescott
Is the Minister aware that the latest ballot conducted by the General Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union cost £250,000, and that the result, whether the vote was taken at the work place or by secret ballot, showed a 9:1 ratio in favour of maintaining a political fund? Is that not an adequate answer to the scurrilous charge made by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) during a previous Question Time about an unfair ballot?
§ Mr. Bottomley
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman wants or expects me to become involved in a spat which he may have in the House with other political parties. At some convenient moment, will he say whether he believes in ballots and whether he draws the same conclusion as I did—that if one spends £250,000 giving a one-sided argument one may obtain a one-sided result? One of the important issues that people should consider is whether they believe that their trade union fulfils its purpose by being associated with one political party and whether the trade union leadership is willing to accept that it has members who support different parties and who may change their allegiance. Trade unions would be better advised to pay more attention to such people.
§ Mr. Fry
Is my hon. Friend aware that in a ballot on the future of the political donation, ballot papers were sent to my constituents who had not been members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers for four years? Does that not show that there is a need for ballots to be properly organised, otherwise people who are not members of a union can take part in elections for officers and decisions on the political levy?
§ Mr. Bottomley
My hon. Friend makes a sensible point. Even with full postal ballots there are difficulties. Mailing lists can get out of date. For example, I recently received a letter addressed to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who in 1968 held the job that I now have.