HC Deb 29 October 1985 vol 84 cc804-5
8. Mr. Winnick

asked the Paymaster General what information he has as to the numbers of unions that have now undertaken the balloting of their members on the political fund following recent legislation.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

According to press reports, 19 trade unions have recently completed political fund review ballots.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Government be congratulating union members, including members of the Minister's union, the TGWU, on the way in which they voted—by such overwhelming majorities—to retain their political funds? Is the Minister aware that one of the many reasons why union members have voted in that way is the unfairness of the law in that companies which donate for political purposes do not need to have political ballots? When will the Government ensure that companies must have political funds and conduct ballots if they wish to contribute to the Tory party?.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman is one of those who have tried to explain during the passage of various pieces of legislation how difficult it would be for unions to have ballots. The ballot held by the Transport and General Workers Union has shown that instead of having about 30,000 members contracted out. 120.000 voted against the political levy. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman should join me in making it plain to others —the 100,000—how they and many others can contract out.

Mr. Rowe

Having sat through the proceedings on the Trade Union Bill in Committee, when the intention to ballot trade unions on the political levy was fought tooth and nail by the Opposition, does my hon. Friend share my astonishment that the Opposition should now be crowing over some kind if victory? The victory is for the arguments advanced by the Government, to the effect that trade union members should be given a proper chance to make their views clear.

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is right. It is clear that if the ballots had taken place a year ago, the results may have been very different. It is clear also that if ballots are held again in nine or 10 years' time, the results may be different. If that were not so, there would be no reason for the Opposition to say that they will take away the right of union members to review every 10 years whether to have a political levy. If the Opposition were not frightened of trade union members, they would not want to alter the provisions that are set out in the Act.

Mr. Prescott

The Minister is always proudly proclaiming that he is a member of the Transport and General Workers Union. As he believes that ballots provide a chance of giving trade union members the right to control their unions, will he tell us whether he participated in the ballot that was held by the TGWU, and give us his views?

Mr. Bottomley

My views are well known. I contributed to the political levy for years. As the Government have made plain, if we want democratic elections we must allow people to decide for themselves which way they will vote.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours

Did the hon. Gentleman vote?

Mr. Bottomley

I have given the same answer on all the ballot issues and I shall continue to maintain it, however much, and irrespective of the way in which people shout at union branch meetings. Secret ballots are designed to be just that.