HC Deb 02 May 1951 vol 487 cc1159-61
15. Mr. Niall Macpherson

asked the Secretary of State for Air why Mr. Cyril Edwards, employed by Number 8 Main tenance Unit, Royal Air Force, Little Rissington, was on 23rd April, 1951, demoted from the position of charge-hand to which he had been promoted in November, 1950, as a result of a com petitive examination; and what were the relative places of Mr. Edwards and the person who replaced him as charge-hand in the competitive examination referred to.

Mr. A. Henderson

A man who is registered as a dilutee under the 1939 agreement is not eligible for advancement to charge-hand if a fully skilled craftsman who is qualified for promotion is available. Such a craftsman was available at this unit last November. In these circumstances Mr. Edwards, who is a dilutee, although recommended by the Promotion Board, should not have been advanced to charge-hand at that date and when the facts came to light there was, unfortunately, no alternative but to downgrade him.

Mr. Macpherson

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the second part of my Question, and also say, in more general terms, whether he thinks that the time has come when these matters should be governed by merit and capacity?

Mr. Henderson

As regards the first part of the Question, if the hon. Gentleman will look at my answer, he will see that I did reply to it. I stated that Mr. Edwards was recommended by the Promotion Board. As regards the second part, as to whether promotion should be by merit, there are differences of opinion in industry as to what constitutes merit when one is dealing with skilled labour. All I can say in reply to that suggestion is that I am bound by the terms of the Relaxation of Customs Agreement which was signed with the Amalgamated Engineering Union in 1939.

Sir Herbert Williams

Does the same regulation apply to the Prime Minister when he is promoting back benchers?

Mr. Pannell

Is it not a fact that any breach of agreement by my right hon. and learned Friend's Department would have repercussions not only on other Departments but on industry generally where this Agreement applies? Is it not a fact that the Amalgamated Engineering Union gave up customs of a century to sign this agreement? There must be no defaulting on it at this stage.

Mr. Henderson

Yes, Sir, the facts as stated by my hon. Friend are quite correct. As I said in an Adjournment debate a few nights ago, I have certainly no intention of abrogating this Agreement.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

If as I understood correctly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that this Mr. Edwards was actually promoted to charge-hand. Can he say what action is being taken against the official who made this mistake? Mr. Edwards has been penalised, having been promoted and then afterwards being told that it was wrong. Who gets the blame for that?

Mr. Henderson

It is quite true that there was a mistake in the unit, but I do not think it calls for any drastic action against anybody. We all make mistakes.

Mr. Macpherson

As the Government seem intent on re-negotiating quite a lot of agreements these days, would they not consider re-negotiating this one?