§ Viscount WOLMER
I must apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for Air for interfering with his holiday by raising again this matter, but as I was prevented by the action of his friends from doing so the other night, I am afraid that I have no alternative. I raise this matter because it is one which affects my constituency particularly. The Royal Aircraft establishment is in my constituency. Until now the industrial employés of the Royal Aircraft establishment have in the past had a week's holiday and been allowed to have the great national holidays as well. The Under-Secretary of State, I cannot help feeling, has been misinformed on this matter. I do not know whether the conditions at the Farnborough factory are different from what they are in other factories, but the hon. Member has assured me that in the past they have not had this week's holiday. I have most specific assurances from the men themselves that in the past they have always had a week's holiday and these great national holidays as well. For instance, last year they had seven days' leave, with pay, and were allowed the national holidays besides. The Government have introduced a new arrangement for holidays, and as a result the industrial workers at the factory are to he required to work on Good Friday and the King's birthday, upon which they have never before been required to work. I need hardly say that the majority of them resented it very much indeed. I think that it is absolutely without precedent that any Government factory should be required to work either on Good Friday or on His Majesty's birthday. I very much regret the step that the Government have taken in this matter, and I feel that it is my duty to make the strongest possible protest against it. The Under-Secretary has stated in defence that before taking this step his Department consulted the local Whitley Council.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am suggesting that the practice of the past should be continued under which all Government factories should take a full holiday on 3210 the King's birthday. For instance, the whole of the Aldershot Command will be shut down on the King's birthday and the only spot at which work will be in progress will be the factory over which the hon. Member presides, and here. I wish to point out, it will only be the industrial workers in the factory. This is the second point to which I wish to draw attention and about which my constituents feel very acutely. The staff are to be given a holiday on Good Friday and the King's birthday but the industrial workers are not. I do not know why the staff should be regarded as more holy or more loyal than the industrial employés. There is no reason why there should be this distinction between the two classes. There has not been this distinction in the past. They have both had their holidays on Good Friday and on the King's birthday, and the distinction which has now been drawn has caused the very greatest resentment.
The Under-Secretary has justified the action of the Government on the ground that the Whitley Council was consulted. The Whitley Council in most places is an admirable and representative body but at the Aircraft Factory the Whitley Council happens only to represent about 30 per cent. of the industrial employés. As the House heard the other day, the late Secretary of State for Air, when he was negotiating with the staff at the Aircraft Factory, always took steps to ascertain the opinions of the men who were not represented by the Whitley Council either through the British Legion or other representative organisations which could show that they were entitled to speak for a large proportion of the men. [Interruption.] There are other associations, committees and deputations. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary himself does it, but I can assure him that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), when he was Secretary of State for Air, used to go down to the factory very frequently and hold conferences with the men so that he could know what was their point of view on any important question. The British Legion in matters of this sort is far more representative at the factory than the Whitley Council. It may be a shock and unpalatable to hon. Members opposite, but I can give them one reason for that. After the conclusion of the General Strike, there were at the Royal 3211 Aircraft establishment a great many resignations from the trade unions. A great many of the men working at the factory said that they were no longer going to be identified with organisations which led them into that sort of business. From that moment onward the trade unions ceased to represent anything like a majority of the men working at the aircraft establishment.
The Under-Secretary of State, I suppose, likes to consider himself an orthodox Socialist and trade unionist, and undoubtedly he has the strict letter of the law on his side in this matter. But I submit that in his present position as employer, or as the representative of employers in the factory, it is his duty to face facts, and, if he wants to ascertain what are the wishes of the men employed in the factory, he should make his inquiries of a body which really is representative of them. It may be orthodox, but is it not sensible for him to hide his head in the sand and to pretend that the Whitley Council in this particular factory is as representative as it is in other districts. I need hardly say that the order of the Air Ministry that the men for the first time in the history of the factory should work on Good Friday has caused indignation among all denominations and among the men themselves. Some of the men have pointed out to me that it is going to be difficult for those who live at a distance to get to the factory on Good Friday because the train service will not be a normal service, but a Sunday service. These points do not appear to have been considered at all. I desire to make the strongest possible protest against this attitude, which, I can assure the hon. Member, has caused the greatest indignation and is going to lead to much friction in the future
§ Mr. KELLY
I had not intended to intervene, but it is somewhat surprising to hear the Noble Lord refer to the Whitley Council as being unrepresentative. Both he and his chief have been failing in their duty during the whole period from 1926, because the Whitley Council is not supposed to exist unless it is representative of the whole establishment for which it has been appointed. That is laid down in its constitution. I understand that the Noble Lord, as 3212 representing the Aldershot Division, and the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Samuel Hoare), say that they have known of the Whitley Council not being representative, and yet they have condoned its existence all this time.
§ Mr. KELLY
No. It shows what enemies of Whitleyism they are. They have been going behind the backs of the Whitley Council throughout the whole of that period and dealing with matters concerning trade and working conditions with people whose organisation and whose constitution does not enable them to understand and deal with those problems. Is the Noble Lord asking for Good Friday and the day on which the King's birthday is celebrated, as additional paid holidays? If he is asking for them as additional paid holidays, I will join forces with him. We on this side are willing to increase the number of paid holidays from five to seven. I have been trying to get the number increased to eight. I am glad that the Noble Lord has come along, but I do not think that he is in the best faith in the way that he has brought the matter forward. If he is asking for these two days as additional paid holidays, I am with him. He will not answer. I am willing to give way if he will answer.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am asking that the arrangement which has operated in the past and was in force last year shall be continued.
§ Mr. KELLY
With not enough wages to enjoy the leisure. Now, they are being given five days paid holidays, with six other paid holidays, which have not been mentioned. I hope the Air Ministry will consider increasing the number of holidays and giving more paid holidays. The Noble Lord, apparently, wishes to add to the number of holidays without payment, because somebody in an organisation which has never done anything to lift wages or to improve con- 3213 ditions happens to come along with a grievance. On the other Councils we have dealt with this matter and have secured agreement. We are being paid for Good Friday, because Good Friday was an excepted day by most of the joint industrial councils. Other additional days are given which are not paid. I wish the Noble Lord had the courage to join forces with those of us on this side who desire to see more holidays, paid holidays, for the men.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Mr. Montague)
I am rather at a loss to understand why the Noble Lord began by suggesting that his appearance this afternoon in order to bring up this question would interfere with my holiday. I think I am as good an attendant at the House of Commons as the Noble Lord, and I can assure him that I am not in the slightest degree interfering with my own holiday in order to be present to answer his criticism.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
When the Noble Lord complains that the House was counted out the other evening, I think it is only reasonable to suggest to him that if his own party cannot keep a House for him it is hardly for the Government to keep a House for him.
§ Viscount WOLMER
We shall be delighted to keep you up every night until midnight, if that is what you want.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
There is no need for the Noble Lord to be vicious on the matter. My retort was a perfectly justifiable one. If he suggests that there was concerted action in the matter, I can assure him that such was not the case. With regard to the merits of the question that he has raised, I say at once that he is under a complete misapprehension as to the practice at Farnborough being different from the practice at any other Royal Air Force establishment. It is not true that the industrial employés at Farnborough have had a week's paid holiday always. They are in exactly the same position as every other industrial worker in the Department. If the Noble Lord is basing his statement upon the letter which he was good enough to let me see, I can assure him that, if he will read the letter again very 3214 carefully, he will find that the local Secretary of the British Legion makes no such statement.
The Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough comes under the Government concession of last year, where industrial employés were given a week's paid holiday. There is this difference with regard to the Air Ministry, that throughout the Departments there has been, by Government order, a determination to equalise the number of the remaining paid holidays, ordinary public holidays, which have varied to a considerable extent, ranging from four public holidays to eight public holidays, or to seven and a-half. It has been decided by the Government that these holidays shall be equalised throughout the Departments. That is why in the Air Ministry, as in other Departments, in addition to the week's paid holiday, there are five paid public holidays. The Air Ministry consulted the Whitley Councils of the establishments—
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
So far as other holidays are concerned, there is a levelling down, but, taking the number of all holidays together, there is a levelling up to the extent of three days. That is a position which has to do with the Government instruction as a whole and is not the peculiar concern of the Air Ministry. If the Noble Lord has any criticism to make it should be made, not at the expense of the Air Ministry in particular, but at the expense of the Government. The decision was that all paid public holidays, apart from the extra week's paid leave, should be equalised throughout the Departments. Therefore, in order to carry out that decision the Air Ministry approached the Whitley Works Committees in all the establishments under their charge. The majority of them decided upon the five public holidays, which excluded Good Friday and the King's birthday, and ultimately it was unanimously agreed that those particular days should be excepted.
The Whitley Works Committee at Farnborough agreed to exclude Good Friday and the King's birthday. The Noble Lord says that the Whitley Works Committee only represents 30 per cent. of the industrialists at Farnborough. I do not know where he gets those figures, 3215 but even if I accept them as correct the implication is that some other organisation, which has no industrial status whatever, represents the other 70 per cent. That, however, is not the case. The British Legion is not the authorised machinery on industrial questions; and it cannot possibly represent a majority of the workers at the Farnborough establishment, because I doubt if there are as many as 50 per cent. ex-service men employed there. Moreover, it is highly improbable that all the ex-service men employed at Farnborough are members of the British Legion, and even if they are it is very possible that the Legion also contains amongst its members a majority who are trade unionists and directly represented through the Whitley Works Committee.
The British Legion is an important organisation. I am a member of it myself, and I think it would be a much more important organisation if it were a little clearer of Tory psychology and the Tory mind. But the Air Ministry is not prepared to accept an outside body of that character, which has nothing to do with industrial questions, in preference to the accepted machinery which has always been used in the past and which is being used now. It was used by the Noble Lord's own Government and is the recognised machinery for settling industrial questions of this kind.
Finally, may I point out that if the Noble Lord puts his argument upon the ground either of holiness or patriotism there is no reason why anyone who is concerned with religion and patriotism should not, if he wishes, enjoy his Good Friday and the King's Birthday as a paid holiday. He can do that by sacrificing two days of his paid annual leave, if he prefers to have the Good Friday and the King's Birthday. After all, I do not suppose the Noble Lord will argue, if there is anything in the plea of holiness and patriotism, that those splendid qualities should not call for some amount of self-sacrifice.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Does the Under-Secretary mean that the individual man can leave his shop without interfering with the work?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I do not mean that the individual man can leave the shop just how and when he pleases without notice. It is a matter of arrangement, 3216 but, subject to the exigencies of the service, there is no reason why anyone who wants Good Friday and the King's Birthday should not arrange to take these two days as part of their paid annual leave, or arrange for leave without pay if they wish that to be the case. These are the actual facts and I think they dispose of the tremendous feeling which is supposed to exist in Farnborough on the subject and also prove that the Air Ministry has been acting according to the best established customs upon matters of industrial concern.