HL Deb 07 March 1990 vol 516 cc1174-5

3.17 p.m.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they intend to take with regard to the conduct of the recent election in the Transport and General Workers' Union and the breaches of Section 15(4) of the Employment Act 1988 laying down the duties of the independent scrutineer.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, it has been a consistent principle of the Government's approach to the reform of industrial relations and trade union law that those directly affected should have a remedy, by means of legal proceedings, to prevent or restrain unlawful acts. Accordingly, any union member or election candidate can make a complaint to the certification officer or to the court if he believes there is evidence that his trade union has failed to comply with the statutory requirements on elections.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the cost of rerunning the election will be £500,000 to be borne either by the taxpayer or, as many union members think, by the union members themselves? Is he further aware that the independent scrutineer who was appointed failed to keep charge of the distribution of the votes and allowed about 7,000 to be held at the headquarters of the Transport and General Workers' Union where they were targeted on nine marginal seats in an election which he did not even know was being conducted? Is the Minister also aware that it is laid down in the Act that the independent scrutineer must keep control of the votes at all times? Perhaps the Minister will also note that the Transport and General Workers' Union executive has refused to call in the police.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, on the face of it, it would certainly appear that this official did not properly discharge his duties in the conduct of this election. I certainly believe that Mr. Todd was right to call for a new election. I dare say that he regrets that as much as the noble Lord. It will be an additional expense which is to be regretted. However, I believe that is better than to allow the election to be improperly conducted.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the independent scrutineer to whom reference was made has been granted two injuctions against the newspaper that orginated the story and is currently suing for libel? In such circumstances, is it not better to leave the matter in the hands of the courts?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, there is a proper procedure for complaints about the conduct of elections. That is the right way to proceed. I also believe that Mr. Todd was right to convene a new election.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, irrespective of the legal position and given the unsatisfactory history of balloting in the union and its earlier unwillingness to permit the Electoral Reform Society to conduct or supervise the poll, would it not be wise for the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union to refer the latest malpractice without delay to independent investigation in the interests of the union's members and of the trade union movement as a whole?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the shortcomings in the conduct of elections in trade unions were not formerly confined to the Transport and General Workers' Union. That is why we have introduced legislation in recent years to correct the position and to make the officials in trade unions much more accountable to their members. We have included procedures whereby members can complain about the conduct of elections and have any shortcomings put right. I believe that that is the right way to proceed.

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