§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
The Opposition have asked for the debate today because the House has recently had presented to it a Report on Cadet Entry into the Royal Navy by a Committee set up by the First Lord about a year ago. We have asked for the debate at this moment because we fear that there is a prospect of the Navy making a serious mistake in its attitude towards the recruitment of officers, a mistake which might lead it to lose the confidence, in so far as it has not already been forfeited, of a great number of scholastic institutions in this country. We wish, therefore, to focus public opinion upon the Report and to bring out the issues involved in it.
There is no doubt that recruitment of officers to the Navy since the war has fallen off. The first question that one must ask is whether the Service is unattractive, or more unattractive than it was. This question concerned the Committee which the First Lord set up, and they reached the conclusion, with which I agree, that the Service as such is not unattractive and that the prospects of remuneration and the possibilities of promotion are such as to be equivalent to those of other professions.
To paraphrase the Committee's words, the financial rewards in the Navy do not 869 compare unfavourably with those which are to be secured in industry. I do not know whether there will be any disposition on the part of any hon. Members to challenge the finding of the Committee. I should not wish to do so. I believe that, broadly speaking, there is little doubt that the Navy should be able to attract the type of man it wants in order to build up its officer cadre, and so I should return a negative answer to that question.
Therefore, it seems to me that we must turn to the next aspect of the question. If conditions in the Navy are not unsatisfactory, and if they ought to be able to attract, as I believe they should, persons to do the job, then, if the men are not coming forward, the only conclusion that one can reach is that the Admiralty are not setting about getting them in the right way. That seems to me to be a conclusion that the Committee reaches, and I certainly find myself subscribing to it. It is the more surprising because only a small number of officers is required, 200 to 250 every year, drawn from the age groups of 16, 17 and 18. It is a remarkably small number by comparison with the number of boys between those ages leaving school every year. It is, therefore, the more surprising that we have had the fall in the number of officer recruits coming forward.
I am very glad—I must say this to the First Lord now—that he set up the Committee. That is not what I said when he set it up. I am glad, not because of some of the conclusions that have been reached, but because of the Committee's analysis of the situation. They have done an excellent job of work in analysing the reasons boys are not coming forward and in explaining some of the difficulties that stand in the way. Even if it were for nothing else but that, I should say that this Committee, to the setting up of which I was opposed, has done a valuable job, for it has produced a Report which analyses more completely than I have ever seen analysed the officer prospects in the Royal Navy. I should like the Committee to know that I withdraw at any rate part of the criticism that I made when it was set up.
What is clear is that the Committee, which was set up, let it be remembered, in the atmosphere that the 16-year-old 870 entry had failed, finds that neither type of entry today is producing the men who ought to be produced. I hope the First Lord will forgive me for quoting a number of passages from the Report, but they are worth it. Paragraph 31 of the Report says:Although 18 is considered the ideal age of entry … it is clear from the figures given … that the Special Entry has … not been much more successful than the Entry at 16 in filling the vacancies or in encouraging the entry of the right boys from all types of school.I did not appreciate until I read the Report that both the 16-plus entry and the special entry, the 18-year-old entry, are falling short of the number of vacancies allotted to them. The actual percentages, according to the Report, are that the 18-year-old entry are down by 13 per cent. on the number of vacancies to be filled and the 16-year-old group are down by 15.4 per cent. There is not a lot in it, but what the Committee has exposed is that we are facing a general shortage of officer recruits both in the 16-year-old and the 18-year-old groups. I do not think that public opinion has yet caught up with the Report in exposing this particular decision, and I do not use the word "expose" in any way derogatory to the Committee's Report.
A letter from the headmaster of Eton recently to "The Times" referred to the failure of the 16-year-old entry and Admiral Sir Louis Hamilton, in a letter to "The Times" this morning, says:The Report admits the failure of the 16-year-old entry.But the problem is wider than that. He does not say whether he is referring to the number or the quality—a subject about which I shall have something to say later—of the entrants. So far as the number is concerned, both the headmaster of Eton and Admiral Sir Louis Hamilton, who is writing as the Chairman of the Navy League, miss the point in the Report that the shortage of naval officer recruits extends to both sources of entry to the Navy, 13 per cent. in the case of the 18-year-olds and 15.4 per cent. in the case of the 16-year-olds. So it is a common problem to both. I do not think it is surprising in some ways. There is inevitably what we call war weariness and the reluctance to go into the Services after a war that has afflicted so many nations. I do not suppose that there will be any particular dispute about that.
871 The Report goes on to suggest that there are particular reasons why there should be this shortage and I think they are worth pointing out. In paragraph 28, the Report points out—and here again I had not fully appreciated the position—that we are dealing with an exceedingly small age group. The number of boys reaching the ages of 16 to 18, who were born in the years 1935, 1936 and 1937, is very small. They are, in fact, the ebb tide referred to in the Minority Report by Mr. Barraclough, with which I have a great deal of sympathy.
Mr. Barraclough shows quite clearly that in the next 18 years at least—and no one can forecast beyond that point—we shall never have so small a number of boys becoming 16, 17 and 18. Indeed, the number is going to rise quite phenomenally from the year 1960 onwards, from about 350,000 now to 500,000 then. That obviously must make a difference to the number of candidates coming forward, and I think it is worth while emphasising that the number of candidates coming forward has already started to move up. That was apparent in the last examination, and if the number of boys reaching the examination stage continues to increase, there is a reasonable prospect also of the number of candidates continuing to increase.
The second point that the Committee's Report brings out is the publicity failure of the Admiralty, especially in connection with the 16-year-old examinations. For that my right hon. Friends and myself must take their share of responsibility, because we launched the examination in 1948. I am anxious that there should not develop a party wrangle over this Report. I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I am developing this case in such a way as to try to emphasise the benefits and weaknesses of the scheme, and not to make any party points on it. I should therefore say that it would have been better if we ourselves had gone forward with a big publicity campaign in order to popularise the 16-plus examination. However, it is now open to the First Lord to do that instead, and he is recommended to do so by the Committee's Report.
872 The third reason the Committee advanced for the small number of candidates is that there is little enthusiasm among headmasters for sending their boys forward, and the fault is that there is a feeling that the interviewing board—and this applies to the 16-year-old examinations—is biased against the secondary grammar school boy. Those two particular reasons hang together.
I should like now to return to the publicity angle, and put to the First Lord one or two suggestions that the Committee makes and which I regard as of value. There is, first of all, the suggestion that he should bring the examination for the 16-year-olds into line with the curricula of the schools from which they are drawn. That seems to me to be an elementary suggestion, and something which I should have thought should certainly take place. The second recommendation, which is made in paragraph 270, is that there should be an advisory panel of educationalists who would be able to keep abreast of the changes in educational curricula, and be able to advise the First Lord on what changes should be made in the nature and conditions of the examination in order to ensure that the two things do not get out of hand.
Thirdly, in paragraph 103 they suggest a closer liaison with the Civil Service Commissioners who, after all, run the special entry examinations for the Navy at the present time. The fourth suggestion, which is in paragraph 74, is that the age of entry at which entrants are recruited should be the widest maximum age, and that the age range should be increased. For myself, I cannot see why the 16-year-old entry and the special entry at 18 should not touch. At the moment the gap between the 16-year-old entry and the 18-year-old entry is almost two years, and I have never been able to understand why that should be. I should have thought that the upper examination should take over where the lower examination left off. I do not see any reason for having a gap between the ages of recruitment, and I suggest that the First Lord should so remodel the system that it would provide recruits between the ages of 16 and 18, and if possible there should be devised such an examination system as would cover whatever age seemed to be appropriate.
873 I do not know why, on some of the recommendations made by the Committee, particularly those on administrative questions, there should not be decisions made straight away. A number of those things should have been done before, and there is no reason why the Admiralty should not go ahead now and put some of the recommendations into force, particularly if the First Lord agrees with them. If he does not agree with them, I hope he will tell us why, and we shall be very glad to hear it.
I want now to return to the third and fourth reasons why there is a small number of candidates coming forward. The Committee say that, first of all, there is little enthusiasm among headmasters to send forward candidates, and secondly, that the interviewing board is biased against the secondary grammar school boy. This 16-year-plus entry introduced in 1948 was a new entry, and was designed for a special purpose—to catch the 16-year-plus boy who had got his general certificate of education and who expected to leave school at that time.
It was not designed for the public school boy who was half-way through his public school education, and it was not designed to take him in at the age of 16. It was intended that he should take the 18-year-old examination. The 16-plus examination was brought in for the very good reason that, of the boys attaining the age of 16, by far the largest number leave school at 16-plus with a general certificate of education, and they represent a field which it was felt at the time could provide a very satisfactory source of recruitment for the Navy.
Viscount Hall, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, put it in this way, when he announced the scheme:The new educational system of the country, designed as it is to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity of securing the best education he is capable of absorbing, makes it possible to afford the opportunity of becoming a naval officer to boys from all classes of the community who possess the qualities of mind and the potential leadership required by the Royal Navy.It was for such boys that the examination was designed.
Very large numbers came forward for the first examination—I think the largest field ever—and nearly all of them failed. Eventually a handful got through. A 874 large number passed the written examination but they failed at the interview, and from that time onwards the number of boys coming forward from that examination has declined considerably. At the same time, the number of boys from public schools taking that examination has increased and we have now reached the position, never intended when the scheme was designed, that the public school boys are taking by far the largest number of vacancies at 16-plus, as well as taking them at the special entry at 18. I think we must look at the reason for this.
The key to it is the interview board. On the written results of both the 16 and the 18-year-old examination, there is a margin of superiority in favour of the public school boy, but it is only a margin. There is not a substantial difference, as the Report says, between the written results of the public school boy at 16-plus and the written results of the secondary grammar school boy at 16-plus. The failures take place at the interview, and it is upon this that the Report has concentrated a lot of attention, in my view rightly so. The Committee has subjected the interview boards to considerable criticism.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman, he is making the point that a lot of places in the 16-plus entry are taken up by the public schools. I would suggest that there is an easier reason than the one he has given. As a result of abolishing the 13½-entry, it is almost inevitable that boys who are anxious to go into the Navy will take the first opportunity of doing so.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is partially true. I do not know much about public schools, apart from an occasional visit, and neither does the hon. Gentleman. His education ceased at an early age, too, because he went to Dartmouth, although I would not wish to say anything against Dartmouth, as he knows.
Another reason is that, with the pressure of financial difficulties, a number of parents have been ready to take their children away from public schools and send them to Dartmouth, if they get the opportunity, because of the favourable financial treatment they get there. I should think that the bias of a headmaster is all against a boy being taken away once he is in the middle of his public school education. It is the case 875 that the examination was designed for the secondary grammar school boy and it is being filled largely by the public school entry. The reasons for that we can discuss at our leisure at some other time.
What does the Report say, and what do witnesses say, about the interview board? They have some scathing things to say and I want to indicate what they are. In paragraph 165 the Committee includes a note made by the Ulster Headmasters Association which they submitted, as follows:The best publicity is the acceptance of good candidates, and the worst publicity is their rejection. When a boy who has been warmly recommended by his headmaster and who is widely regarded in the community as a fine type of boy whom the Navy ought to be glad to accept is in fact rejected on interview, and that without any explanation to him, to his parents or to his school, it is all too easy for others, parents, schoolmasters and boys alike, to decide to risk no further discouragement.I am sure that is right, and it is the case that boys whom their schools regard as first-class have come to the interview board and have failed lamentably there.
On the attitude of the board the Committee, in paragraph 116, acquits them of conscious bias against boys from any type of school or social class. The significant word to me there is not the word "bias" but the word "conscious." I think that here we are getting near the truth. In paragraph 130 a naval witness, a member of a past Admiralty board, wrote that in his view there had been "unwitting unfairness" to a small number of boys who had been at a disadvantage educationally and socially. He said there had been "unwitting unfairness"; the Committee said there had been "no conscious bias." If hon. Members will forgive me, I want to read an Admiralty minute which I dictated in 1951 before that Committee was set up, which I hope is still on the Admiralty files—[An HON. MEMBER: "Is that in order?"] It is quite in order. It said this:I cannot get rid of the feeling that there is an unconscious bias … against the Secondary Grammar School product who has a provincial speech, a rugged manner and is on the borderline between success and failure. I do not think for one moment that any boy who is well over the top in the examination results would suffer because of these characteristics, but I think there is quite a chance that 876 although the Admiralty Interview Board will strive to overcome their own bias, nevertheless a borderline boy from an Independent School stands more chance of success than a borderline boy from a Secondary Grammar School.There is certainly a melancholy consolation in finding that one's own feelings at the time have been confirmed two years later by a Committee of this kind. My only regret is that in the intervening two years no notice has been taken of that or of a great many other suggestions contained in it, about publicity and the like, designed to improve the position that existed then and exists now.
It is interesting to see that the Committee says in paragraph 122:Some of our witnesses … contend that some of the naval members of the Board, in particular, have not succeeded in getting below the superficial characteristics of these boys, which were often unimpressive, and have not appreciated the extent to which their potentialities can sometimes be obscured because of their backgrounds.It goes on to say something which only emphasises the point, so I need not quote that. I am afraid that there has been an unconscious bias in favour of the public school boy with a smooth manner and the polish that is given by the public schools, as against the boy from a secondary grammar school with a provincial accent and a rugged manner. I held that view after I had seen the interview boards at work. It is confirmed by the Report of the Committee. I think it is almost inevitable.
Naval officers in the past have been drawn from a certain social background, a middle class or upper middle class background. When they get candidates before them, hear them, and see the boy who comes from the same type of family, who can talk about the same kind of things and perhaps knows the same kind of people, inevitably they feel a warmth towards him that they do not feel towards some rugged, rough, unpolished young man from a secondary grammar school of which they have never heard, in some obscure town which has no connection with the Navy in any way.
I hope I am putting the case fairly. I think it is inevitable that this kind of thing should happen and I am confirmed in my belief by the Report before us. If I may sum it up in a word, it is snobbery.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It shows a weakness on the part of the interview boards in failing to penetrate below the surface and find the real qualities of boys with whom perhaps they have had very little contact. The result, in terms of figures, has been simply this, that of all the boys who pass the written examination, no matter what their origins, if they come from a public school they stand a 68 per cent. chance of getting through the oral examination, and if they come from a secondary grammar school they stand a 28 per cent. chance of getting through it. I just do not believe that, as between the two types of boys of equal scholastic ability, there is all that difference in potential leadership, characteristics of integrity, and the rest of it, that the Navy wants.
The problem of the First Lord is how to restore confidence among the secondary grammar schools that their boys stand a fair chance when they come before the interview board. I am not associating myself with some of the wilder criticisms that have appeared in some of the organs of public opinion about the methods of selection of the interview board. I know they have tried to do their job properly, and as far as I am concerned some of the criticisms that have appeared have been quite out of this world.
The fact still remains, however, that for the 16-plus examination, the Admiralty interview board has forfeited the confidence of secondary grammar schools. That is why a wide stream of candidates for this examination has, comparatively speaking, now become a mere trickle. How is the First Lord going to restore the confidence of the secondary grammar schools, and their headmasters and would-be candidates, in the possibility that their products will be fairly treated when they come before the interview board? It is a most serious matter for the right hon. Gentleman, and I should like to hear what he has to say.
The Report is in no doubt about the job that the Minister has to do. I ask hon. Members to turn to paragraphs 51 and 52, where the Committee says:… it has been impressed upon the Committee by almost every witness that the Admiralty has not succeeded in convincing the public of its sincere desire to recruit officers from all possible sources.878 That is the Committee speaking, and not me. Then, in paragraph 52:The development of public confidence in the Admiralty is, however, not only a matter of improved relations with the public. It has been impressed upon us that the arrangements for the competitions … should be considerably revised if more candidates are to be attracted.That is the problem. It is because we regard this as of the greatest seriousness that we have asked for this debate this afternnoon.
The first thing that I suggest to the First Lord—I do not know that I should have held this view three or four years ago, but I certainly hold it now—it that he ought to hand over the control and administration of this examination to the Civil Service Commissioners. There would be nothing very revolutionary about that. The Civil Service Commissioners already run the 18-year-old examination, and have run it for years. I am not sure whether they have run it since its inception; at any rate, they have run it for as long as I can remember. There would be nothing particularly revolutionary that would be likely to give any admiral a form of apoplectic fit if the Civil Service Commissioners were to administer this examination also. Had they not forfeited the confidence of the public, there would be a case for the Admiralty retaining hold of this examination, but now that it has got to this position, I suggest that the case is made out for them to hand over.
I should like to make another point about the examination. I want to say this in fairness to the Navy. Once the boys are through and once they are in Dartmouth, there is, as far as I know, no discrimination whatever between any of the boys. In the scholarship scheme days, I believe that some of the scholarship boys were called "red students" and the others were "blue students"—those were the phrases that went round. As far as I know, that has completely gone, and certainly once the boys get on and get into the Navy there is no discrimination against them, no matter from where they come. They are judged on their merits once they are in, and they are all doing fairly well.
In relation to that, I should like to say one more word about the suggestion that the 16-year-olds have failed. I view this with considerable scepticism because 879 those who opposed the scheme have been saying it almost since the scheme started. Remember that the scheme has been going only since 1948. When I got to the Admiralty in 1950, I was told that the 16-year-old scheme had failed. They were not only talking about the numbers, but about the quality of the entries at that time. That, of course, is not so. I ask the First Lord to give us his views upon the quality, as distinct from the numbers, of the 16-year-old entry. I hope he will feel, as the Report itself says in paragraph 20, thatThe only evidence of comparable performance which is available is the Training Cruiser passing-out marks for four cruises in 1951 and 1952.The 1948 entry, of course, did not go to the cruiser until 1950 and they passed out in 1951. The 1949 entry went in 1951 and passed out in 1952. They are the first batches. Paragraph 20 continues:These show no significant differences in officer-like qualities between the cadets who entered at 13, at 16 or by Special Entry. This conclusion has been supported by the general views of the naval witnesses we have seen.So that, numbers apart—the shortage, I have demonstrated, applies to all types of entry—there is nothing to choose in quality. If the First Lord has anything to gainsay that, I hope he will say it now, but I do not believe that there is anything to gainsay it.
That brings me, again, to the two letters, which I read with considerable surprise. Admiral Sir Louis Hamilton says:The Report admits the failure of the 16-year-old entry.The Report admits nothing of the sort. The Report says that the 16 and 18-year-olds are both equally short in numbers, but the Report goes on to say that the 16 and 18-year-olds are equal in quality as far as can be judged so far.
When a top letter in "The Times" this morning from the Chairman and General Secretary of the Navy League can make such a basic error as that, it seems to me that there is a lot of education of public opinion to be done. I very much regret to find myself differing from Admiral Sir Louis Hamilton, because I know that the Navy League does a lot of good work; but I am afraid that the 880 Navy League's approach to this is that of a great many other senior officers in the Service.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Commander Allan Noble)
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I think he would like to be fair to the Committee. He said earlier that the object of the 16-plus entry was to attract boys at that age from the grammar schools. Would not the fact that it has failed to do that mean that it had failed in some way in what it set out to do?
§ Mr. Callaghan
If I were to go into that, I should merely repeat a number of the arguments I have already put forward, but I do not wish to weary the Committee by doing that. I thought we were all agreed that it has failed, as the 18-year-old entry has failed, to produce sufficient numbers. I spent a rather long time abusing the Admiralty——
§ Mr. Callaghan
—for failing to make the proper arrangements for this examination. That, I think, is the reason the numbers have fallen short. The Admiralty has not sold its wares sufficiently and has led the public to believe that it does not really want these boys. I do not wish to go into that any further—I would rather pass that point—but that is the whole gravamen of my charge on this section of the Report.
My case and my attitude is that the 16-plus entry has never been given a fair chance. When I got to the Admiralty after the scheme had been running for two years, I found the admirals sucking their teeth about it. There are a lot of people—[Interruption.] I beg pardon. I withdraw that expression if it offends the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn)
I was explaining it to one of my right hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I feel that a number of senior officers in the Admiralty are 881 more concerned with getting the preparatory school boy and the public school boy at the age of 13½ than with judging this scheme fairly. It has never been wholly accepted by a number of senior officers at the Admiralty.
It is interesting to note, in connection with the proposal to restore the examination for the 13-year-olds, that five out of 11 members of the Committee express the view in paragraph 307 that if the administrative arrangements are improved and confidence is restored, there will be sufficient candidates coming forward. In paragraph 306 the Report says:At this point the signatories of this Majority Report are almost evenly divided. Six of us, including our two naval members, consider that the present deficiencies … are so great that it is doubtful whether they can ever be remedied …but five, as the Report says in paragraph 307,… are confident that the necessary numbers would become available as a result of our recommendations.I hope the First Lord will not mind if I repeat what I saw in an educational journal the other day—this would not have occurred to me if I had not seen it elsewhere—that in fact six had a direct allegiance to the Admiralty and five had not.
There is no doubt that there has been considerable pressure from the top of the Admiralty to the bottom to restore the 13-year-old entry. I am sure the First Lord will not dissent from that. I regret very much that this scheme has been condemned by senior officers in the Navy before it has had a fair trial and before a single 16-year-old entry has become a sub-lieutenant. When they finish in the college they go to a training cruiser as midshipmen, and the condemnation has come out before they qualify as sublieutenants. That is why I am not surprised that secondary grammar schools have lost confidence in the desire of the Admiralty to secure the best candidates, no matter from where they come.
Mr. Frederick Cough (Horsham)
The hon. Member spoke about the loss of confidence by secondary grammar schools before. I ask him to turn to page 7 of the Report, which says that the total number of candidates in the first three competitions from the maintained grammar schools was 679. That, I 882 assume, was the "flood" to which the hon. Member referred earlier. Then the Report states that the total number from the three most recent competitions is 651. I take it that the latter number is "the trickle" to which he referred. I wonder if he would explain it.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I think the reason lies largely in the substantial increase in the last of the three examinations. I do not carry the figures with me, but it certainly was so when I was at the Admiralty. The number of candidates coming forward was rapidly diminishing very much indeed, as could be ascertained if the First Lord were asked for the figures. I think that the age grouping may have made a difference and this, taken with the publicity which has attended the affairs of the board, may have made a substantial difference to the number of candidates coming forward. I did not realise that the difference was so small as the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) has pointed out, but this is not my criticism; it is stated in the Report that the numbers have been less.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Would the hon. Member agree that, in addition to the reasons he has cited from paragraph 165 of the Report, other reasons were also given which would not arise from the examining body?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I would not be surprised; I do not carry all these reasons in my head. I am sure that is so, but I was picking out the major reasons and these seem to be concerned withunwillingness to enter a career or an unusual social milieu. …I am not presenting the whole Report; that is not my job, thank goodness, but is the task of the First Lord.
The Majority Report has come forward in the last analysis with a proposal for what the Committee calls a new scheme under which there will not be an entry to the Navy at 13½ but an entry to Dartmouth at 13½. Boys will not be committed to entering the Navy until they reach the age of 18, but it is confidently expected that those who go to Dartmouth at 13½ will enter the Navy at 18. That seems to be a distinction without a difference.
The Committee also recommends a quota of 60 per cent. for secondary grammar school boys. I will not comment on that because I am opposed to age 883 13½ entry. It is wrong and it reverses the tide to fix the age at 13½, which is not a natural change-point for the secondary school boy, although it may be for a preparatory school boy going to a public school. The secondary grammar school boy will have been in the school 18 months or two years, and will be well up in the school, moving ahead and established in his career. One feels that any examination at 13½ would be bound to create either an indifferent number of entries at that age from secondary grammar school boys because it is not a natural change-point, with the result that the vacancies would not be filled; or, alternatively, would lead to the quota for preparatory school boys being increased very soon because the First Lord would find he has not sufficient candidates. I hope he will reject the proposal.
Paragraph 360 continues on the need for public opinion to be associated with the change by saying:We cannot, however, emphasise too strongly that the crux of the entire problem is whether there can be created in the educational world, and among the public generally, a greater confidence that the Navy is determined to recruit its future officers from the nation at large.Public educationists are against it. Dr. Alexander has written a most scathing commentary on the decision in the "Teacher's World" and the magazine "Education" has an editorial condemning the proposal. I think it is clear that when the First Lord meets the educationists he will find a hostile reception among them, except of course from Mr. Birley, who is very much in favour of the proposal, as are all the Headmasters' Conference and the preparatory schools. They want to go back to the old system but their interests are not the interests of the First Lord and not necessarily the interests of the Navy.
The right hon. Gentleman will find that educationists associated with the secondary grammar schools of the country are opposed to this system of examination. In those circumstances, the Committee envisages what ought to be the reaction of the First Lord and it says in the concluding paragraph of the Report:if, contrary to our hopes, the considered reaction. …884 these are the people who recommended the examination—…. of informed opinion is adverse, we believe that it might do the Navy more harm than good to adopt a revised scheme of entry, however good it may be in itself, in the teeth of public and educational opinion.That is the view of the Committee which recommended this new examination. I say to the First Lord that, if he gets this examination, in my view he will get it at the cost of sacrificing public confidence. He will not have the confidence of headmasters and will not have the confidence of educationists generally. They will believe, as they believe now—and in my view rightly believe—that a number of senior officers in the Navy are extremely anxious to preserve the right of entry to the Navy for the public school product and the preparatory school product.
The First Lord may find—he is so far uncommitted—that he will get the examination at 13½ at the cost of a large number of candidates on whom at a later stage the Navy might want to rely. They hanker after the public school entry. I do not mind the public schoolboy having a fair show in the Navy, but I do mind him having more than a fair show. What I want to see in the Navy is the best product, no matter from where he may come. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am sure that is shared on both sides of the Committee. I do not see how we can possibly do that if we fail to secure the confidence of secondary grammar school masters and educationists generally, as we shall not do if they believe that there is still this hankering after the preparatory and public school product. For those reasons, I hope that when the First Lord has considered this matter further he will turn it down. He is uncommitted at the present time.
We all wish to do our best for the Navy in this field. The Parliamentary Secretary is not particularly interested in the 13-year-old entry. I see a number of naval officers here and I single out two of them who happen to suit my purpose. Two of the brightest luminaries among them are the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) and the Parliamentary Secretary. Neither of them is a Dartmouth product. Both of them entered by special entry and both of them are great credits to the Navy. [Interruption.] I think that everybody 885 on this side of the Committee, on the whole, has come up from the lower deck. That seems to me the best way, but that is outside our terms of reference this afternoon.
I say to the First Lord, in conclusion, that the long-term interest of the Navy demands that we shall get the best boys. We can do so by going where the largest number of them are leaving school, which is at the ages of 16, 17 and 18. That is where they are to be found. Do not let us have any jiggery-pokery about trying to get a number of preparatory schoolboys in at an early age just because a number of senior naval officers, rightly or wrongly, think that we have got to "catch 'em young." They have been saying that for years and they will go on saying it for years to come—that if we put up the age for going to sea the Navy will go to pieces. I have heard that argument so often, but having seen what happened, it makes very little impression on me.
The First Lord is being asked to take a most important decision. He is being asked to ensure, with equality of opportunity, that the Navy gets the best men. We say to him, with all the firmness that we can, that we believe that he should stick to the present system and give it a proper trial, making the administrative reforms which he should make in the light of the Report; and after another five years we shall be in a position to see whether the falling-off of recruitment to the Navy is a transient phase or whether it is more permanent. I do not believe that it is permanent. I believe that if we go about it in the right way we can get all the men we need to do the job for us.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas)
It may be useful if I intervene at this stage and tell the House how the Report stands at present so far as the Admiralty is concerned. I am most grateful to the Opposition for giving us this opportunity to debate the subject today. By doing so they have allowed hon. Members an opportunity, which is otherwise unlikely to arise owing to the crowded nature of our programme up to the Recess, of giving their views on the Report on the cadet entry to the Royal Navy.
As has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the Committee recommended 886 that their Report, and especially their new scheme of entry, should be laid before the bar of public opinion. I gladly accepted that recommendation. One of my reasons for doing so was that I was anxious to hear the opinions of this House before the Admiralty made its decisions. But precisely because the Admiralty has agreed to test public opinion in this way, I should warn the Committee that I have really little to add today to what the Parliamentary Secretary said to the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) last month, when he said that I was arranging to hear the views of the educational interests of the country and that until I had done so I should not be able to make a statement on the Report as a whole.
I am having my first conference with the teaching profession and the organisations representing local authorities and education committees tomorrow afternoon. This first meeting is bound to be exploratory, and I am certain that they will ask for more time before they give their considered judgment, and I fear it is unlikely that I shall be able to make a final statement to the House until after we reassemble again following the Parliamentary Recess. I doubt whether hon. Members would wish the Admiralty to hurry over this whole question.
The very length of the Report shows how very thorough and careful the Committee's examination has been, for which the Admiralty is most grateful to the Members of the Committee. I will certainly see that the withdrawal by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East of his objection to the Committee is conveyed to them. I agree with him that they have made, whether we agree with its recommendations or not, an excellent analysis.
This Report does not merit snap decisions by the Admiralty, and to those who suggested in the Press that we should get on with the job and not wait any longer, I would say that this whole subject of cadet entry into the Royal Navy has been living in a very uncertain atmosphere for a considerable time and that both my immediate predecessor and I were anxious to produce at least a more settled climate, with the one object, which we all share, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East mentioned, of doing what is best for the Navy.
As I told the House when I announced that I was setting up a Committee, and 887 as is apparent from the figures given in Chapter I of the Committee's Report, the present methods have for some lime been unsuccessful in giving us all the boys of the quality which we need, and we have been taking too many boys who have passed only by a narrow margin and have been only just good enough. It was for that reason that, after consulting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, I decided to set up this Committee to report on the best means and methods which would fit in with the modern organisation and curricula of the schools and at the same time satisfy the Navy's need to get the best possible officers.
From some of the comments on the Report which I have read in the Press, and also from one or two of the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, I have got the feeling that there is an impression abroad that this is a battle ground between the admirals and the schoolmasters, that there is a perpetual state of war between the wishes of the Navy and the convenience of the educational profession. That is not the case, and I for one do not despair of finding a solution which will give the Navy the best officers and at the same time will fit in with the present educational structure in the country.
The Committee's Report falls into two main parts. First, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said, there are the recommendations for improving the existing methods of entry; and, second, the scheme which the Committee put forward for a new kind of entry at the age of 13. I wish I could announce today the decisions on all the recommendations in the first part of the Report, but we have not had the Report for very long at the Admiralty, and some of the recommendations are pretty complicated and also involve a good many technical problems from the administrative point of view. I can assure the Committee however that the Admiralty is wasting no time in examining all the recommendations in Part I of the Report, and I shall announce the decisions as soon as they are reached.
I can, however, answer the question asked of me by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East. We have decided to accept in principle what is perhaps the most significant of the recommendations in the first part of the Report, that relating to granting exemption from the 888 written examination both for the Special Entry and for the entry at the age of 16, on the strength of specified performances in the examinations for the General Certificate of Education in England and Wales, and in the corresponding examinations in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East and myself that this will make things considerably easier for a boy who wishes to enter the Navy but at the same time naturally wishes to safeguard his prospects for any other career that he may wish to take up if he should fail to get into the Navy. The criticism has been that our examinations were inclined to be out of step with the normal school courses and needed a certain amount of special preparation for the Navy. I believe that the acceptance of the recommendation of the Dartmouth Committee will remedy this trouble.
The Board of Admiralty have also accepted the recommendation relating to setting up a standing liaison committee on which the schools and local education authorities would be represented and which would bring the Admiralty into closer relationship with the educational world. That will do nothing but good.
While I am on this subject I would say how impressed I was with the emphasis laid by the Committee on the need to maintain public interest in the career of an officer in the Royal Navy and to win the confidence of the public, and in particular of people directly concerned with education, in the Admiralty's method of cadet recruitment, and above all, in the sincerity of the Admiralty's wish to obtain the best boys in the Navy, whatever their background or wherever they may come from.
The hon. Member mentioned the Admiralty interview board's procedure in this respect, and the Committee may be interested to know that before the publication of this Report the Admiralty Interview Board had modified their procedure in ways designed to bring about the reform recommended by the Committee. Reports by headmasters are now taken much more fully into account when candidates are being interviewed than was the case in the past. Final assessment of individual candidates is now postponed until the end of the whole 889 sequence of interviews. I have impressed upon the Board that they must look well below the surface in regard to the boys who have come from the non-preparatory school.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Are the Admiralty accepting the recommendation that headmasters' reports should be available to members of the interview board before they see the men?
§ Mr. Thomas
That is also the case. The hon. Member mentioned the lack of confidence that is felt by headmasters in the procedure for the age-16 entry. The Admiralty had already decided that only serving or recently retired headmasters should be part of the interview board. Accordingly, the age-16 board last May had on it a headmaster with a direct grant school background, from King Edward's School, Birmingham. The next age-16 board will have on it the headmaster from St. Clement Dane's School, London, a maintained grammar school. Recommendation 31, that headmasters should be allowed to watch the board at work, has already been implemented. The headmaster of King's School, Macclesfield, is to be present at a meeting of the next age-16 board as an observer and I am sure that others will follow his example. If they saw the board at work it would go some way to re-establish their confidence, if they have lost it, in the examination for the age-16 entry.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the age band. That is a question that the Admiralty are on now, and I cannot give a final decision. We are tackling that problem very urgently. The last chapter of the Committee's Report dealing with the new entry scheme and the minority Report have attracted most attention inside the House and in the country. The debate has largely concentrated, as it should, on this subject. This is the chapter which the Committee wanted, as they said, brought before the bar of public opinion. Hon. Members probably realise my position in this debate. We do not want to take any decisions on these very important recommendations until we have heard the views of this House, of educational bodies and of members of the public, who are rightly airing their views in the Press at the moment. I cannot do more this afternoon than assure hon. Members that we shall give the most careful consideration to all the points that 890 they have raised in all quarters of the House, and if it is possible to answer some of these points they will be answered at the end of the debate. I repeat that I hope to be in a position to announce a decision soon after the House comes back from the Parliamentary Recess.
Once again, I would repeat my gratitude, and that of the Admiralty, for the Opposition's making it possible for us to have an opportunity to debate this matter at this early stage, so that the Admiralty might hear the views expressed from all quarters of the House.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I think the Committee will all be agreed on one thing, and that is the importance of the subject which we are discussing. It is one sector of the general question of the selection of officers for the Armed Forces, and it is a matter for which Parliament should show the greatest solicitude. After all, we are dealing with the most precious human material that one can imagine.
The selection of officers is unquestionably an absolutely crucial and decisive factor in the Forces' efficiency. If this overwhelmingly naval audience will forgive an example from the War Office, I would relate that when I was at the War Office I remember asking Sir William Slim the then C.I.G.S. about the disasters suffered by the Italians against which he had fought during much of the War. He at once replied that the Italian troops were just as brave as the troops of any other country and that the failure was in their selection of officers. They had never succeeded in recruiting an effective officer corps. We can never expect an army to be any better than its officers. That is one of the absolute limiting factors in the efficiency of an armed Service.
There is no doubt that we have before us, in the Navy, an essential part of our Armed Forces, and that this is a subject of the utmost importance because on it depends how the naval officers of the future are to be chosen. Without pretending to any special knowledge of this subject, but with a deep interest in defence questions, one reads the Report before us, and the first feature that strikes one is the small dimensions of the problem. The numbers needed are very small. There is only a 14 per cent. 891 deficiency. Of course, that can be fatal. I do not suggest that it is not vitally important, but the numbers needed are small.
How is that deficiency to be made good? As far as one can see there are two alternatives. One is to try to make the present system work better. The Report largely concentrates, for the first part of it, on doing that. The whole Committee has been delighted to hear the remarks of the First Lord to the effect that a good many of the most important recommendations in that sphere, which sound to be excellent commonsense, have actually been adopted by the Admiralty already. I think that they will go far to remedy many of the difficulties. That is in effect what the Minority Report recommends, but the Majority Report goes on from that and recommends that the 13-year-old entry shall be reintroduced.
There are two ways of doing that. We could go back to the pre-war 13-year-old entry in its old form. The Report does not recommend that. The First Lord has not even suggested it and I do not think that it is effectively before the Committee, though judging from some of the communications to the Press it is in the minds of some people. But nobody really suggests that we can go back to that system. Therefore, the Majority Report makes a gallant attempt to revamp the 13-year-old entry in a very different form.
It proposes not an entry to the Navy at 13 but an entry to Dartmouth at 13. It abolishes the commitment to join the Navy which used to be a feature of the 13-year-old entry. Is that a practical proposition? If we abolish that commitment we make Dartmouth in effect one of the public schools, and the report actually recommends that the curriculum for Dartmouth, in the new form of the 13-year-old entry, should be adapted considerably to that of the public schools——
§ Mr. Strachey
There is something to be said for it, but then Dartmouth would become in effect either a free or, at any rate, an exceedingly cheap public school. The Committee recommend a somewhat elaborate system of what are in effect 892 means tests for the potential Dartmouth man. We quite understand it—it is very natural, and I do not resent it—that naval officers would like very much to have a free public school to provide, to a very considerable extent, for the children of naval officers.
It would be a very great asset, but is there really a case for it? I am looking at the position from the point of view of the other two Services—the Army and the Royal Air Force. Is there really a case for a public school largely borne on the Navy Estimates? We might make out a case for putting Eton on the Army Estimates; but it is not really a very easy case to sustain. Therefore, the Majority Report begins to get into serious difficulties when it commends this modified 13-plus entry. It has to abolish the commitment and to begin to make Dartmouth into one of the public schools largely maintained out of Navy Estimates.
Then it has to make a somewhat elaborate system of means tests, which I should have thought would be most difficult to administer; next there is a proposal of a quota, by which 60 per cent. of the entry at 13 is to be reserved for grammar school and grant-aided school boys. I should think that that would be extremely invidious and most difficult to work. Thus the gallant attempt of the Committee to make a new form of 13 entry breaks down under the difficulties. It seems to me that even the majority of the Committee half-thought that themselves. This is a most half-hearted recommendation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East has already read out their conclusions from page 90 of the Report. Nothing could be more hesitant than the way in which they are put forward. My hon. Friend read one passage. I read another where the majority of the Committee say:If, in spite of this, our scheme, after consideration, should prove altogether unacceptable, it would be prudent to sacrifice this important source of recruits of good quality rather than to risk a dangerous shortfall in officer-recruitment as a whole through a continuing lack of public confidence.So they are half-expecting that their attempt to make an acceptable 13-year-old entry cannot really hold water.
Why is it that there is a great deal of naval opinion of the older sort which 893 is so desperately keen to reintroduce the 13-year-old entry? It is not purely because of numbers—because it will help in meeting the deficiency. I thought that Mr. Barraclough in his Minority Report dealt with that conclusively. The recommendation is for only half the number at 13 years of age and half at 16 years of age. There is no reason to suppose that opening the gate at 13 will increase the total number. That is a pure supposition which it is difficult to support.
Surely, the reason is that there is a view that the best sort of naval officer can only be made if he is caught young—caught at the age of 13. To the layman the answer to that seems to be that for a good many years now half the regular naval officers have gone in at the age of 18 and that nobody is able to detect that they are inferior to those who went in at 13. Then there is the argument which strikes the layman, and anyone who has had any association with the other Services, that nobody dreams of saying that one cannot make an Army or a Royal Air Force officer unless he is caught at 13.
We are told that the Navy is a highly technical Service. So it is, but the other two Services are highly technical also. I do not know whether commanding a squadron of Centurion tanks in the Army or a squadron of Canberras in the Royal Air Force is less or more technical than the work of a naval officer. It would be very difficult to say. The argument that there is something quite peculiar about the naval service as against the other two is now very hard to sustain.
Again, with great deference, I call the attention of this naval audience to the experience of the Army in this matter. I do not say that the Army of today has solved the problem, but it has approached the question of the recruitment of its officers and the adaptation of its system to present-day requirements with flexibility and imagination. It is not the case that today Sandhurst is the exclusive reserve of the public school boy. I have not seen the recent figures, but, in general, I think that the War Office's use of the material from the grant-aided schools and the grammar schools—the overwhelming majority of the young men of our country who receive the requisite secondary education—and their selection for Army officers is being rather well done today, 894 and would be worthy of the attention of the naval authorities.
I remember watching the procedure of an Army selection board, in this case, the selection of National Service officers. I remember seeing one young man who was obviously magnificent Army officer material. He had been captain of the rugger XV at his school, commander of the school corps, captain of the cricket eleven—all the things which I was not, but wished I had been—and was obviously splendid material for an Army officer, and he was going to be turned into one. I looked through his papers which were before the selection officer, and I noticed that he came from a grant-aided school, and was, as a matter of fact, the son of a London retail tradesman. Therefore, we see the Army using this material from the grant-aided schools in an effective and imaginative way. I am not saying that the Admiralty do not do so, but they have not always given the impression that they are doing so; and that is the issue today.
What do we, on this side of the Committee, think the Admiralty ought to do about it? It is, surely, to make the present system work. The majority of the Committee did not think that 16 is the ideal age. They think that, when there are plenty of boys coming forward, as there probably will be, 18 may be the right age for entry. I do not pretend to know whether that is right or not, but, either the present system or some adaptation of it like that should be used.
I ask the First Lord to think very carefully indeed before he reintroduces the 13-year-old entry in any form, because, even with all the adaptations—and I have pointed out the obvious difficulties involved in them—the impression which would inevitably be given, if the 13-year-old entry is reintroduced, is that what the Royal Navy really wants are public school boys and only public school boys. The 13-year-old entry is very ill-suited to anyone else. It is very ill-suited to the whole of the State educational system of the country, and, therefore, inevitably a return to the 13-year-old entry must give that impression. It is bound, I should say, to do the very thing which the majority Report says is fatal—that is, to destroy the confidence of the vast State-aided secondary education system in the desire of the Admiralty to make use of their material.
895 This is only one part of this very big question on the selection of officers for the Armed Forces today, and I do not think that any of the Armed Forces have reached finality in the matter of selecting their officer material. It has been well said that the Armed Forces of the country cannot be more democratic than the country they mean to defend. But they must not be less democratic. They must reflect the social structure of the country, and the changes in that social structure. We are far from having yet become a classless society in this country today—I am under no illusions about that—but, nevertheless, the boundaries and divisions between classes have become less; the gaps have become and are still becoming narrower, and then changing in character. The Armed Forces, in every way, but above all in this vital and sensitive matter of the selection of officers, must keep in step with these social changes.
I think that the change which was introduced by my right hon. Friends and colleagues at the Admiralty did do that. It was not a final step, but the reintroduction of the 13-year-old entry would unquestionably be felt by the country to be regressive, and would, undoubtedly although unwittingly, do the naval service much harm and no good.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
In these debates it is customary for hon. Members who take part to declare a financial interest. I have no financial interest in this matter whatever, nor, I imagine, has any other hon. Member, but, in case suspicions should rise in the mind of anyone, may I say frankly that I do happen to hold the honorary position of President of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, a position which I have hitherto found a pleasant sinecure. I hope the Committee will accept my statement that I have not consulted that body since the Report was published, nor have I an idea what their reasoned opinion about it may be.
I am venturing to take part in this debate as one who has never served in the Royal Navy, and has never been a schoolmaster, but who, at the age of about 12, would have loved to go into the Navy, and who is old-fashioned 896 enough—if it is old-fashioned—to hold the deep conviction that, if the Royal Navy fails to obtain the quality of officers which it needs, the security of our country will be imperilled.
The problem here is to attract and select the right 250 or 300 boys each year as officer material. The magnitude of this problem is tiny. Its difficulty and importance are immense. That is why this debate is welcomed on both sides of the Committee. Speaking for myself, I should be happy if all could be brought in at the age of 18, and I have no great love for entry at 16 or even at 13. If we place any confidence at all in our schools, whether independent or maintained, we should grant that the schools are as well equipped as anybody to sift and develop the qualities of leadership, by the time boys reach the age of 18. Seamanship is, obviously, not a subject for me, but we see around us hon. and gallant Members who did enter the Navy by the special entry, and who were able to make excellent use of it in serving the nation well.
The age of 18 is favoured very considerably by the naval witnesses who gave evidence before this Committee, and virtually unanimously by the educationalists. Indeed, Mr. Barraclough's Minority Report agrees on that point, and advocates continuance of the 16-year-old entry mainly because the age of 18 is not for a long time to come likely to produce enough candidates, and not because he thinks there is intrinsic value in entry at 16. So it is beyond dispute that educational opinion says that 18 is the best age of entry. At the same time, one must recognise that, looking at the special entry results, the age of 18 appears to operate more favourably towards independent schools than does the age of 16.
At the age of 18, under special entry, 65 per cent. of the acceptances were from independent schools, as against 52 per cent. at the age of 16. But, as the Report says, special entry has been producing barely 100 successful candidates a year for some time, and, therefore, everybody agrees that we cannot possible rely upon it and it alone to produce 300. It will be another eight or nine years before the number of 18-year-olds increases steeply, as a result of the high birthrate from 1945 onwards.
897 I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) is leaving the Chamber. I was just about to refer to him. Everybody criticises the age of 16 as a suitable age for entry except, it seems to me, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, who, in his speech, was heavily attacking those who had said that the 16-year-old entry system was a failure.
The fact remains that if we are to abide by the evidence given before this Committee—and, surely, having set up the Committee and having agreed that it was a good thing to have it, we must pay some attention to its findings—we cannot set aside what the Committee itself says in paragraph 37 of the Report:The overwhelming opinion of the educational bodies and the naval witnesses we have consulted is that 16 is not a good age for recruiting future naval officers.That may not be exactly the same as saying that the 16-year-old system is a failure, but there definitely is severe condemnation of it as a suitable age for entry.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East argued that it was well worth persisting with, because time had not yet been given to show whether the view of the Government of which he was a member could be justified, that without the 16-year-old entry the Navy would lose a large number of boys who left their secondary schools at 16 plus. Clearly, that is an important question to be tested out, but if the Committee will look at paragraph 39 of the Report they will see that it says:We doubt if boys who are suitable for the Navy form more than a small proportion of the total number leaving grammar schools at 16.I could quote more extensively from paragraphs 38 and 39. There, I think, the fact is substantially established by the Committee that there is not a very big field at the age of 16 which is insufficiently cultivated at the present time.
I agree with the suggestions in the Report about the various changes and improvements that might be made in methods. But it seems to me to be going altogether too far to suggest that by those changes a vast new field of potential entrants could be reached. The hon. Gentleman further criticised what had been happening and sought to suggest 898 that many more grammar school boys could have been brought in had it not been for the adverse action of the Interviewing Board. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) very effectively pointed out that it really is unfair for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East to talk about a stream in 1948 and a trickle in 1953, when, in fact, the numbers concerned have been 679 in 1948 and 651 in the most recent year.
I hope that if the Parliamentary Secretary is winding-up this debate he will answer the question which the hon. Gentleman raised as to whether there has been a big dip in those figures in the interval. Seeing that we are still getting 651 applications in 1953 as against 679 five years ago, it is not fair to say that the grammar schools are turning away from the Navy. What may well be true is that individual grammar schools have lost interest because promising boys of theirs have at some time seemed to be unjustly turned down.
Frankly, I think that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East went too far in stating that the Committee which produced this Report heavily criticised the Admiralty interviewing board. What it did was to make a number of suggestions. I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the final sentence in paragraph 130, which the hon. Gentleman did not quote. It says:There are bound to be errors in any interview procedure: a few of the boys who have been accepted have not justified their selection; and, so far as we can judge, if any suitable boys have been lost to the Navy as a result of the defects in the Admiralty Interview Board procedure their number has been small.We regret that any should have been lost, but if we are to reach, and if we are to help the First Lord to reach, an objective decision in this matter, do not let us magnify that word "small" and suggest that grave injustice has been done in all sorts of directions.
The 16-year-old entry, as I have said, receives very little support from any quarter. The Majority Report recommends that 25 per cent. of the total annual entry should continue to come in at 16, say, 65 out of a total of 260 a year. The signatory of the Minority Report recommends 50 per cent. But the 899 logic of the Report is that ideally the percentage should not be 50 or 25, but that it should be nil.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said that the age of 13 was wrong and that it would be reversing the tide. That all depends on whether it is a good tide or a bad tide. I fully agree that 18 is a better age than 16 or 13. Quite clearly, however, we cannot have the ideal world at this moment, if, indeed, it is agreed that in an ideal world entry would be at 18 and at no other time. So we have got to look at practical alternatives.
I am sure that the future naval officer who does not enter at 18 will do better if he is educated continuously at one place from the age of 13 to the age of 18, than if he remains in one school up to the age of 16 and is then put through a two-year course at Dartmouth, from 16 to 18, as in the present system. That surely must be unsatisfactory on educational grounds and—though here I speak with diffidence—I should have thought that it had shortcomings from the naval point of view.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I think that the hon. Member is, like a great many others, looking at this matter purely from the point of view of the preparatory school and the public school. There are a great many people who are ready to look after those interests. I am interested in the secondary grammar schoolboys of whom 25,000, as is said, leave school at the age of 16. It is for them that I wish to make provision. It is for them that this examination was designed. In the very paragraph 39 which the hon. Member has mentioned it states:… the total leaving school at 16 is itself so great that it is possible that there would be a greater flow of suitable candidates from this source if the suggestions we make … were adopted.
§ Mr. Brooke
I would beg the hon. Member to accept it from me that I am not speaking on behalf of the preparatory or the public schools, or anybody else. I am seeking to speak on behalf of the Navy. When the hon. Member quotes the figure of 25,000 I must remind him that I have already quoted a subsequent statement by the Committee casting doubt on the question whether boys suitable for 900 the Navy form more than a small proportion of that 25,000.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am not seeking to go-behind the Committee and insert personal judgments of my own.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East wishes to guard against boys of a certain type of education obtaining a sort of priority right of entry into the Navy. I would ask him to be quite sure that he steers clear of the alternative extreme, that of seeking some priority right of entry for a number of boys just because-they have been at a secondary grammar school, even if they would not be able to compete on equal terms at the age in question with boys who have been educated at some other school.
The hon. Member appears to be under the impression that the system here recommended by the majority of the Committee, for new entry at the age of 13, would be specially favourable and suited to the preparatory schools. Of course, that is not the case on the educational side. This Committee recommends a compulsory paper in science, with no paper in Latin. If the hon. Member studied the normal preparatory school organisation, he would realise that preparatory schools have no science masters, and there are none to spare for them, whereas the vast majority of their boys, they will have to continue to educate for schools where Latin is compulsory as an entrance examination subject.
I am not greatly enamoured of the 13-year-old entry, but I see one enormous, advantage in the new proposal over the old system, in that the examiners and the interviewing board will be able to exercise a much wider discretion in making their choice. I would put to those opposed to the suggestion that such wider discretion could be exercised in favour of many boys who have spent two years at a maintained grammar school. They could be given the benefit of the doubt when the board was accepting them, not as naval officers, but simply as new boys coming to Dartmouth. That benefit of doubt could not have been extended in the old days when the interviewing board had to perform the unenviable task of deciding whether boys of 13 should be 901 selected not simply for Dartmouth, but to become future naval officers.
I would add one fresh point which has not been touched upon in this debate, and is hardly mentioned in the Report. If this problem was examined by someone who knew nothing about its past history, or the previous debates both here and in the educational papers or elsewhere, I think they would ask whether there is a substantial connection between the value of boarding school education and the qualifications required for entry to the Navy. My guess is that the advantage which a number of boys from independent schools are able to show before the interviewing board does not derive from the fact that they have been to a fee-paying school, but from the fact that they have been to a boarding school. Whatever its faults may be, a boarding school education develops self-reliance in a boy, and I feel that it is that quality of self-reliance which the interviewing board is seeking.
I fully realise there cannot be complete agreement among us yet on this whole matter. But what we all want is that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty shall make an absolutely unbiased decision in due course, after examining not only this Report but the point of view of everyone.
On one point at least I hope we can all be in agreement, that the Committee has done a splendid piece of work, first in sifting all the facts, and, secondly, in recommending the establishment of a standing liaison committee which, henceforward, will keep the Admiralty in touch always with educational development and feeling throughout the country. My hope is that through the continuing work of that Committee, if future adjustments have to be made in the system of officer entry, it will be possible to make them with less strong feelings and with greater educational unanimity than, unfortunately, has been the case in these last few years.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Hull, East)
In accordance with the traditions of this House, I must declare an interest in this subject. I was commissioned from the lower deck, so there should be no doubt, from the start, where I stand regarding the suggestion for a new scheme of entry at 13. Like the Irishman, I am "agin it."
902 At present, the problem of the naval cadet entry, stripped of all the verbiage about the national interest and the good of the Navy, is two-fold: First, there is the failure of the Admiralty to attract sufficient entries—a failure which the Report shows should not have occurred. Secondly, and more controversial, there is the interest of the present reactionary Tory Government to put the clock back by halving the new and democratic 16-year-old entry and reintroducing the old class preserve 13-year "prep" school entry for a quarter of the entries.
The object is to take away half the chances for the poorer 16-year old boys from the national schools in order to give them to more fortunate boys who attend expensive "prep" schools simply because their parents can afford to pay high fees for their education. The parental income is to be the deciding factor with payment for certain things, such as board and lodging. Yet these favoured seraphins and cherubims already have all the chances of every other boy, if they can make the grade, namely, the 16-year entry, the 18-year entry and, if they miss the boat on those two occasions, entry from the lower deck, obtaining a commission in a free-for-all.
If this new entry is introduced the result will be to make the cadet entry a political issue and a shuttlecock of party politics, as it was made by the Tory Party in the Liberal Government before the First World War. There is no real reason for the present shortage of officer entries, as is shown in the Montagu Report. In fact, boys of 13 in 1948 and since, who may have been entries under the now abolished early entry scheme, are today five years older, and, therefore, should be additional 18-year entries from now onwards.
Moreover, as stated in the Report, the number of available boys is likely to increase. Another factor is that the number of cadet entries is likely to decrease. The number will not remain at the present high level, so both these factors help to solve the problem. Furthermore, as Mr. Barraclough, a member of the Committee, has pointed out in an admirable Minority Report which is worthy of serious consideration, more cadets should have been obtained from the 16-year entry, if the Admiralty had so desired, and there is no reason 903 for a further third entry at the "prep" school age.
Two major breaches were made in the "prep" school class preserve before the First World War. First, there were commissions from the lower deck and, secondly, there was the 18-year entry. The result is that for 40 years, in other words practically the whole of our lifetime, we have had late entry officers who have passed through all grades, commanded ships and risen to flag rank. Another important point to note is that the first 18-year entries, and also those who came in after the First World War, went straight from their various schools, direct to the sea-going training cruiser.
Those two facts completely demolish the argument that it is essential to "catch 'em young" and train the little darlings for four years in a monastic institution at Dartmouth, isolated like Trappist monks, instead of rubbing shoulders with their future contemporaries in the Army, the R.A.F. and other careers, in the nation's service. The Report claims that there is an advantage in enabling the 13-year-olds to mingle with the later entries. If that is so, why not make the establishment co-educational and send the Wrens there as well?
Nevertheless, in spite of these overwhelming factors, the Admiralty and the Government, whom I blame as much as the Admiralty, again wish to throw the whole question of cadet entry into the volcano of public controversy, the only result of which will be a further reduction in the number of all entries. The main recommendation of the proposed new scheme is this further entry at 13, mainly for "prep" schools again, but with a fictional quota of 60 per cent. for grant-aided schools.
I say "fictional" because, obviously, if the grant-aided school quota is not filled, the balance, if not all, will go to the "prep" schools. The entries suggested, three times a year, are 13 from grant-aided schools and nine from preparatory schools. These figures are so small as to add to the farce of the proposal especially since, as I have said, the numbers are likely to decrease with a reduction of entries.
The Report states, moreover, that the scales must be heavily weighted in favour of the preparatory schools. What greater 904 condemnation is required? Stripped of all the camouflage in the Report, which attempts to produce an old carthorse as a Derby winner, this proposal is merely a barefaced attempt to return to the old class preserve system of half a century ago. The result would be to revive the suggested notice of 1910 for recruiting offices, but this time for 16-year and 18-year-old entries.Only second-rate boys required. First-class boys apply for the 13-year entry at 'prep' schools.The proportion recommended for this new entry is one quarter of the total, which is then to be split into two parts, as stated previously. The 18-year entry is to remain at one-half. It is also to be the main entry, which is the right policy. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) support that. The 16-year entry, however, is to be reduced from one-half to one-quarter to provide for the "prep" school entries. This process is far too naive even for the Tory Party and the Admiralty, because the next step is far too obvious, particularly for those of us who remember the debates before the First World War, when the Tory Party argued for the retention of the "prep" school entry and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the barriers were broken down.
If the reduced 16-year-old entry still does not attract sufficient numbers—and the Admiralty, obviously, do not wish it to do so, judging from the First Lord's statement—the 16-year-old entry will eventually be abolished. The death-knell will be delayed for two steps instead of one today, simply to camouflage the intentions of the present Government and Admiralty.
The position then will be a 50–50 one for the 13-year "prep" school entries and the 18-year entries, but hon. Members should mark that it would be only for the time being. The next obvious step, if the Admiralty and the Tory Government have their way, is that the 13-year entry will again become the main one and the 18-year entry simply a supplementary one. The 18-year entry number for all branches has been as low as 15 in 1920, and I believe there were years when it was even lower.
The reactionary wheel will have turned full circle and the Navy will again be back where it was 40 years ago. Little 905 wonder that the Committee state, in their concluding paragraph:… we hesitate to recommend our new scheme unreservedly.In fact, it is doubtful whether any other committee on a career entry or education, or any other subject for that matter, has ever hedged their main recommendation with so many qualifications and "ifs" and "buts."
In spite of a certain amount of repetition in the debate I must make some further quotations to develop my theme. The Committee state: They said—[Interruption.] If any hon. Member opposite would like to butt in I shall be glad to give way. I can assure hon. Members that after listening to the nonsense that we have heard from hon. Members opposite I have no intention of allowing this debate to pass off like a pleasant Sunday afternoon, especially in view of the attitude and the record of the Tory Party in opposing democratisation in the Navy and the widening of cadet entry. Let us have no misunderstanding about that.
The Report says:The crux of the entire problem is whether there can be created among the public generally a greater confidence that the Navy is determined to recruit its future officers from the nation at large.Where should the officers be recruited from except from the nation at large? Why should there be a close preserve for one national State Service? This talk about taking people from restricted circles is nonsense. They have the same opportunities as anybody else; let them get on with it. My answer is a very emphatic, No.
The Committee, moreover, frankly admit that there is a preponderance of educational opinion against an early entry. Later, they state:If … our scheme should prove altogether unacceptable, it would be prudent to sacrifice this important source … rather than to risk a dangerous shortfall in officer recruitment as a whole through a continuing lack of public confidence.I can guarantee the Admiralty a dangerous shortfall in all entries if they adopt this proposed scheme; so do not let us have any mistake about that either.
Another of the many "ifs" in the Report is this:If … the considered reaction of informed opinion is adverse, we believe it might do the Navy more harm than good to adopt a revised scheme of entry … in the teeth of public and educational opinion.906 The Report goes on to give numerous arguments against the 13-year-old entry, some of which have been referred to today and others which I need not repeat in the limited time at our disposal.
Two questions arise however, which the Admiralty spokesman should answer. First, why should the Navy be the only National Service in this country or in any other country to hanker after a 13-years-old entry? Secondly, why should such an entry be claimed for executive officers—because that is how it will again work out—when this is the easiest branch to supplement from other sources when necessary? In any case, if the Admiralty wish to catch them, they can get them equally well at 18 as they can at 13.
I have no wish to belittle my own Service, in which I served for 30 years, but this question is so important that I must be quite frank with the Committee, the Navy and the country. There is no black magic in a naval officer's career, and certainly there is no black magic in an executive officer's career. We do not want every entry to become an admiral. There are many outlets from the Navy even one into politics, as we see from hon. Members opposite, and from others, who on these benches were largely in the Navy for short periods, whereas on the benches opposite they were career officers. I hope that those who speak after me will declare their interest and state whether they were "prep" school or public school entries.
Large numbers of Royal Naval Reserve officers have been entered from the Merchant Service, and large numbers even from the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the Navy's "Territorials"—I say this with no disrespect—and numbers have been commissioned from the lower decks. A number commanded ships, even submarines, and piloted aircraft in the last war. In fact, at the Armistice I believe it is true to say that there was, a far larger number of late entries into the Navy than early entries. What better criterion than the test of six years of war? Surely the Admiralty cannot expect those of us who know the facts to treat this 13-year entry suggestion seriously, even though they may be serious about introducing it. If it were not so ludicrous it might be farcical.
The shortage of officers is due not to lack of entry schemes but to lack of 907 Admiralty effort successfully to work existing schemes. The trouble about this inquiry, however, is that it was made by the wrong type of committee, and a packed committee at that, with the wrong object in view—not the question of cadet entry but what to do with Dartmouth College. Anybody who knows the previous arguments about it can read that theme going right through the Report.
The Committee consisted of five educational representatives and five naval officers and Admiralty civil servants combined.
§ Commander Pursey
If the First Lord and others will only contain themselves, I guarantee that I shall deal only with the facts of the Report. If I go wrong in my facts I am quite prepared to give way and be corrected, but please wait and let the dog see the rabbit.
The Committee consisted of five educational representatives and five naval officers and Admiralty civil servants combined, with the Judge Advocate of the Fleet as Chairman, to make a total of 11. It was too big in the first place and the dice were loaded from the start in favour of the Admiralty view, which has been canvassed for over five years. In 1948, however, the Admiralty argument was that if the 13-year entry was to be abolished, they wanted no truck with a democratic 16-year entry and that there should be only the 18-year entry to ensure getting the majority from the "posh" schools.
The Navy decided last year to investigate this cadet entry and training system, in particular in Dartmouth college. But no organisation anywhere else in the world, except the Admiralty, could have had the bright idea of placing on the Committee the three officials mainly responsible for the subjects under investigation. These were the Director of Naval Training, an Admiral; the Director of the Naval Educational Service, an Instructor Rear Admiral; and, most remarkable of all, the Headmaster of Dartmouth College—the very man whose job was the crux of the inquiry.
The only equivalent that I can think of is a Ministry of Food inquiry today into whether ewe mutton is ewe mutton or not, with five representatives from the 908 Master Butchers' Association, who would argue yes, and five from the Ministry of Food, who would argue no, with a lawyer who could equally well argue the case either way according to his brief, and so select one with a Ministry of Food instead of an Admiralty connection—because he is the Deputy-Judge Advocate of the Fleet—give him the official brief and thus ensure a majority argument of six to five before the whistle blew.
These three officials and the two Admiralty officials should never have been members of the Committee, investigating their own Departments and subjects. They should have been called as chief witnesses by an independent committee, and subjected to the most serious and rigorous cross-examination. The Committee should have been of a type similar to that of 1930, which had only five members, with a Member of Parliament as an independent chairman, with two Admirals and two educational representatives, one from the Board of Education and the other a headmaster. We might then have had a sensible, progressive Report.
Instead of that, we have such nonsense as the suggestion that Dartmouth College should be a public school, to provide a four years' course for a few "prep" school seraphins and cherubims, which suggestion was supported by hon. Members opposite. The Admiralty tried to start this false running hare 20 years ago. Why should the State provide special facilities for a secondary education and a few naval officers for one Service alone? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) said, if it is essential for the Navy, why not for the Army, the Royal Air Force, and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all?
Let us have no more nonsense about cadet entry, after the arguments which have gone on, to my knowledge, for over 50 years. Naval cadets, like every other entry into the several State Services, should obtain their secondary education in the schools of the country, rubbing shoulders with their future contemporaries in high posts, wherever they may be. There should be a common entry at 18, with special branches later. Dartmouth should be the university of the Navy for the majority of entries and branches. There is no reason why the Navy should provide a public school. 909 They should take public school and other entries at the age of 18 and use Dartmouth College as a university. All this "hoo-hah" from the other side about the Navy providing a public school is absolute nonsense and bunkum.
As far as I can see, not a word is said in the Report about the increasing standard of national education. There is no suggestion that we should make further use of it. The question of commissions from the lower deck were not dealt with by the Committee, and all I shall say about it is that the Admiralty have larger numbers under Vote A on the active list than at any other time in their history, and also their highest standard of lower deck entries. Consequently, there should be no shortage of candidates but, if there is, it should be made good by commissions from the ranks, in the executive, engineering and supply and secretariat branches, and also from the Royal Marines.
The Navy should be thrown open more widely to its own ranks than it is today. Stripped of all nonsense, that is the obvious solution in a nutshell to the problem of naval entry. Moreover, it is the only one which will obtain full support from education authorities and also attract entries.
In the past, the Admiralty have made many attempts to sell the dummy to the education authorities and to obtain the cream of the entries from the other Services. The direct entry into the advanced class in 1928 was one example, when the Admiralty's wishful thinking tried to entice higher standard boys into the Service as ratings instead of officers. Needless to say, the scheme failed miserably, as the proposed new one is likely to do.
So far, I have not engaged in controversy in the Press and elsewhere on the subject of the cadet entry. Had I done so—and I have some knowledge of national campaigns against the Admiralty—it may have had an adverse effect upon all naval entries, and candidates may have gone to other Services and other careers. But I warn the contestants that if I start to unfold the record of the Tory Party, and the statements of the Nelsonic admirals, they will be in a jam.
There is a large volume of written evidence in support of the abolition of the 13-year-old entry and in favour of the entry at 18 years. There is no question 910 but that an overwhelming number of people will oppose this 13-year entry and support the 18-year one. The Tory Party have no mandate or majority in the House of Commons to justify such a half-baked scheme as this. I warn the Admiralty and, in particular, the Government—because they are responsible—that if this 13-year-old entry scheme is forced through in the teeth of opposition in this House and the country I shall oppose it, lock, stock and ruddy barrel—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]—wait for it, because there is something else coming—in whatever field is open to me. What a grand subject this will make for me when the Government introduce sponsored television.
I hope my hon. Friends on this side will use every legitimate means in their power to strangle the scheme at birth if there is any question of it going into conception. We can create such a furore throughout the country that, as foreshadowed in the Report, it will be… bound to lead to a further loss of faith in the Admiralty's desire to throw wide the net of officer recruitment, with a consequent disastrous effect on the numbers who would come forward from the grammar schools at 16 and 18——
§ Commander Pursey
These is no reason to give the "unquote." What is required is "quotes."
My final word to the Government and the Admiralty is this: Do not say "We have not been warned." You have, and you will get it, chums.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
I am very grateful for the opportunity of speaking in this debate, because I am a very undistinguished end-product of the subject we are discussing today. I shall do my best to speak about it with that unconscious bias which we heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan), who introduced the subject in an extremely fair and pleasant way. It is a very difficult problem.
I must admit that when the late Government introduced their 16-year-old entry my immediate reaction was that I could not quite understand the need for a change when conditions in the past had 911 been at least fairly satisfactory. I have not heard very much criticism of naval officers as such. Since I left the Navy, I have had the opportunity to meet a great many other people and, except perhaps in politics—I think the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) was a little unkind about that—I think naval officers can hold their own in any part of the community. They are about as fine a product as we find anywhere, with, of course, the exception of those who have become politicians.
It seemed curious, then, that when there was so much wrong in the world which could have been made better, the Government took something which was working pretty well and "mucked it about." I think they must take some responsibility for the fact that entry into the Navy has fallen off. There has been a great doubt in the minds of parents about what is going to happen. The matter became a political issue, and that is a great pity. Many parents today are uncertain about when to put their boys forward for the Navy. That has been one of the causes of the fall in the number of entries.
I want to take up one or two small points in the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East. The first concerns the successes of the public schools and the "prep" schools in the examinations. He suggested that it was unconscious bias and that we should leave it at that. I think there is another reason. If he will look at his own policy pamphlet "Challenge to Britain," he will see that the first objective in the educational field is, very rightly, the improvement of the quality of education by reducing the size of classes. That happens at a "prep" school and it also happens at a public school; and that is why many of his hon. Friends who can afford it send their boys to "prep" schools and public schools. Classes are smaller and because they are smaller, the education tends to be better. It is only fair to say that one of the reasons boys from that type of school did so well may well have been because their classes were smaller.
Another reason has already been mentioned—the effect of boarding schools. Boarding schools tend to make boys more 912 self-reliant and more able to deal with emergencies, and I think it gives them what may be regarded as an unfair advantage in such an interview.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East when he says the net should be opened as wide as possible. There is only one criterion in this matter. It is that we should get the best we can as officers in the Navy. I am sure the hon. Member will acquit me of any other wish than that. If at the present time the best boys come from the public schools, then they should be given their opportunity. For myself, I consider that it would be the right thing to restore lock, stock and barrel the 13½ year-old entry and to give those boys an unfair advantage; but if it is to become a political pawn, then for heaven's sake do not let us do it, because it is far more important that the future recruitment of officers for the Navy should be outside any conceivable party political antagonism.
I think the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East quibbled a little when he dealt with the vital paragraph 37, which reads:The overwhelming opinion of the educational bodies and the naval witnesses we have consulted is that 16 is not a good age for recruiting future naval officers.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
As this has been quoted twice, and as the hon. and gallant Member, like the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), is praying it in aid of the Report, is it not also a fact that in paragraph 315 the Report says that the majority of the educational bodies in the country are unanimously against 13-plus? If they think 16-plus is bad, they believe that 13-plus is worse.
§ Commander Maitland
I do not think the latter argument applies, but at the moment I am not arguing for the 13-year old. I had more or less finished that argument when I said I thought it was the right thing only as long as it was not allowed to become a political issue. Perhaps I may add this for clarification: it has been assumed that 13 is an impossible age, but no one knows better than the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) that 13 is the chosen age for a further exchange between modern schools and grammar schools, where that is possible. We all know that often we cannot make the exchange because of shortages and the various other difficulties which we face in education today, but, 913 nevertheless, 13 is another re-thinking point in a child's life, and it was intended to be so in the Education Act. There is nothing frightfully illogical about adopting the age of 13. I do not want to go too far into this matter, because although I believe it is a good thing, and believe it would be good for the Navy to do it, I still think it would be wrong to make it a political pawn.
Before I was interrupted, I was referring to the widening of the net, which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East had mentioned. I agree with what the hon. Member said, but I should add this: a little too much has been made by educationists, and perhaps by himself in his speech, about the Navy as a career. I do not think we shall ever sell the Navy as a career comparable with other industrial careers or professions. In the past those are not the sort of boys who have gone into the Navy.
In those sheltered days when people went to Dartmouth it was the rich boys and, equally, the poor boys who entered the Navy. When I was at Dartmouth it was possible to get there without having to pay anything at all, and it was parsons' sons and retired naval officers' sons who formed a large proportion of the boys there; and many boys who have now risen to the highest ranks entered Dartmouth like that. They could have made far more money if they had entered other professions, because they had the brains, but they entered the Navy because they wanted the Navy. They saw something in it; they saw a first-class opportunity of serving their country. It is a service, not a career. In fact, we all refer to it as "the Service."
I think the hon. Gentleman and the Government should put that across to the boys. They will then get a response. In these days careers must be borne in mind; these boys must be able to look forward to a living salary throughout their lives and to a good pension—that is very important—but nevertheless the appeal of a vocation is still very strong. We have only to look at the nursing profession for an example. All over the country highly educated girls, who could earn far more elsewhere and get far more leisure, enter nursing and stick to the job because they like it and have a vocation for it. Those boys like the Navy and want the Navy; and those 914 are the boys we want to get. It is not just a platitude to say that we are a great naval country. We have a tradition in the Navy. We believe in it. It is a good life. The boys will come forward, but we should not try to sell it in terms of £ s. d.
I will go a stage further and give my ideas on the subject. First of all, as I have indicated, I do not think very much of the compromise. Compromises are not much good anyway, and this one is a particularly feeble one. It is introduced by these words:… we hesitate to recommend our new scheme unreservedly …That is not a very good selling point for any scheme. The Committee should have done better than that. Do not let us think about it any more, because I do not think it will work, and I do not think the Navy or anyone else wants it. After all, the Navy has a vested interest in this—and we should not forget that. Those of us who have been in the Service must never think we can represent the Navy. Let the Navy represent themselves, if they can. The greatest mistake I have heard in debates on naval subjects in the House has been made by elderly naval officers talking about the Navy of their youth—which is one thing no naval officer ought to do. I probably do it myself, but perhaps I may be allowed one little slip.
Let me give my personal view. I give it with reserve because I am not in the Navy now and things may be different, but I think there is something in it. I think we ought to regard cadet entry into the Navy as a whole. Time spent at Dartmouth has been in the past only one part of that process. It used to work out like this. One spent four years at Dartmouth, six months in a training cruiser, two and a half years as a midshipman at sea, and 18 months at Greenwich, and then one was an officer. One could not say that one part in that course was more important than another. However, speaking from my own experience, I think that by far the most important part in my case was my time at sea as a midshipman, because then one had a chance of responsibility, and, anyway in the old days, one had a pretty tough time, and one learned far more then than at Dartmouth or in a training cruiser.
915 A midshipman's training was largely dependent on big ships. We are not a big ship Navy any longer. Time was when midshipman training was almost exclusively in cruisers and battleships. Now we cannot have that. I do not believe we can possibly train midshipmen as well in aircraft carriers as in cruisers because the training in such ships, and in small ships, is far too specialised. Therefore, we are reaching a time in our naval history when the whole question of the development of training is under review.
In my opinion, we cannot take any of these methods of entry into the Navy and say, "We will alter that one and consider this one," entirely irrespective of all the rest. We must consider them all as a whole. So I would ask the First Lord to consider this point. Have we not now reached the moment in the Navy's history when it may be necessary to make a big change and, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull, East said, make 18 the real entry age?
I think the Report emphasises too much the difficulties. I want to see the standards of naval officers kept up at all costs. I would rather we were short of naval officers than reduce the standard. I do not mind where a chap comes from so long as he is up to the highest standards, but I think that now the moment has come when we ought to consider the whole thing again, and consider the 18-year-old. The age of 18 is a decisive one now. Nowadays a boy of 18 has to go into the Forces, one way or another. It is a crucial moment in his life. I believe we ought now to take that age, and introduce an entirely different form of training. We need ships at sea. It may be a good way of keeping them at sea by giving these boys a good long period of training in them, a training of a sort half-way betwixt that of a training cruiser and the two-and-a-half-year course of a midshipman's training at sea.
I think that that would attract boys far more than the present rather doubtful and rather-difficult-to-explain methods of entry into the Royal Navy. I think it would attract parents, too. Those are my ideas. I expect they are out of date, though I hope not. I am quite prepared to the in the last ditch for the Navy, but I do not want to the in die last ditch for something the Navy does not want.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
I speak not as a naval man but as one interested in boys whether they go into the Navy or anywhere else. Anyone who studies the Report will agree that it is a careful and painstaking Report. Anyone who knows the chairman of the Montagu Committee would have expected that Committee to produce a fair and objective and just Report, and I believe that those expectations have come true. That does not mean we can accept all the recommendations or all the findings of the Committee.
If some of us do not accept all the findings, nevertheless we by no means identify the Committee with the worst reactionary and most prejudiced views of those who really think that there was nothing wrong in recruiting the officers of the Royal Navy from one social class, that the Labour Government did something shocking when they interfered with Dartmouth, and that the sooner we make Britain safe again for the public school boy and the prep, school boy the better.
I think that this Report, in spite of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) said, is far from expressing such a diehard and reactionary point of view. The First Lord himself, whenever we have referred to this subject here, has constantly said that he, like the Members of the Opposition, wants to see the best boys, no matter to what social class they belong, recruited into cadetships for the Navy. We shall judge him, and we shall judge the professions he has made, by his reactions and by the policy he produces in response to the Montagu Committee's Report.
First, let me underline how far the Report confirms what some of us have been saying for some time. At present, and since 1948, there are two ways of getting into Dartmouth. One is by examination at the age of 16 for roughly a two-year course; the other is by examination between 17 and 18 for a shorter course. Boys who win places are educated and maintained at the public expense. Dartmouth is a State school. Parents pay nothing for tuition or boarding, but may be asked to pay up to £90—according to their income—towards the cost of uniform and travelling.
917 Let me emphasise again that Dartmouth is a State school. It is a public public school, costing about £250,000 each year of the taxpayers' money. Before the war Dartmouth was not that kind of school. Before the war it was an exclusive public school, with parents paying fees which, as in most public schools, met part of the cost; fees which were, however, enough to exclude all but the sons of the middle-class and upper-class people of this country. A boy started there at the age of 13-plus, after leaving "prep" school, and Dartmouth was, like Eton and Harrow and Winchester, a class school which was part of the stratification of society which some wish to perpetuate but which the Opposition wish to transform.
When the new scheme of entry at the age of 16-plus started in 1948, the State grammar schools eagerly rushed forward to take advantage of this new democratic method of entry into the Royal Navy. The only disagreement with the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that I would express would be on a minor detail—his reference to the decline in the number of grammar school boys who are entering. The numbers have remained remarkably firm, in spite of what, for us, is the real discouragement in the results of the last three or four years.
Candidates sit for a written examination. Since 1948, of 2,500 grammar school boys, 585 have passed the written examination, about 25 per cent. Of 1,100 public school boys 352 passed the written examination, about 30 per cent. I would say this result reflects great credit on the grammar school boys of the country. After all, the grammar school boys are educated, as compared with public school boys, under comparatively disadvantageous conditions, with a staffing ratio at most half of that which is enjoyed by the public schools.
So far as the written examination is concerned, this experiment in democracy—this move towards democratising Dartmouth—has been remarkably successful. Now comes the grave and disturbing feature. The written examination is followed by an interview. Of 585 successful grammar school boys only 165 got through the interview, under 30 per cent.—whereas of the 352 public school boys, 240 were accepted, or nearly 70 per cent.
918 What is much more serious is that the favoured position of the public school boys, so far as the interview is concerned, has improved year by year as the examination has gone on. Concerning the examination and the interview, I quoted in the House in March, 1950, that seven out of 50 grammar school boys who passed the written examination were accepted, but 22 out of 44 public school boys were accepted. In the first three examinations at the beginning of this system, 40 grammar school boys were accepted into Dartmouth compared with 27 public school boys, and in the last three examinations 30 grammar school boys as compared with 62 public school boys.
These are the facts. I suggest that it is no wonder, with these figures before us, that grammar school masters, and the parents of able, lower-class children, and these young ambitious lads themselves, imbued with the spirit of vocation and service to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has just referred—and the boys of England still have the passion for and love of the Navy and the sea in them—feel some disquiet about these interviews. In the days when I was a headmaster, my job was to discourage 99 per cent. of Southampton boys who wanted to become captains of merchant ships or battleships. It is, therefore, no wonder, with these figures before them, that the public, the House of Commons itself, and the Montagu Committee are troubled about the accuracy of the interview as a means of choosing cadets.
I have always been fair—if not generous—to the interviewing board, dominated as it is by the Navy—mathematically dominated by the Navy—and haying on it a preponderance of old public school boys. I am willing to acquit the interviewing board of any conscious class bias or of favouring officers' sons, or boys belonging to what are still quaintly called in this class structure of ours "good families."
I admit that mere success in a written examination should not automtically get a boy into the Royal Navy, and that when a brilliant grammar school boy is rejected by the interviewing board it does not automatically mean that he is rejected because he has come from a grammar school. But the Montagu Committee's Report itself was unanimous in expressing its appreciation of the difficulty under 919 which the day-school boy labours compared with the public school boy at these interviews. It is true that the Report holds an opinion, which I do not share, that public school boys will always provide a high proportion of the Navy's officers. That may be because even the Committee's structure contained a high percentage of ex-public school boys. But the Report also says:We consider it possible that some grammar school boys have been excluded who might well have been included.It also states that a former member of an Admiralty interviewing board, giving evidence, admitted the disadvantages, and the sense of inferiority under which grammar school boys laboured as compared with public school boys at the interview.
As one who went from a village and from an old secondary school to my own interview for a university scholarship, I can say from my own experience that a sense of inferiority on such occasions certainly exists in the minds of grammar school boys. I am not as sure, therefore, as the Montagu Committee is that the Press has distorted either the error and the injustice or the profound importance of putting the whole matter right and avoiding any such errors in the future.
This is not the occasion to debate the complete reform of our class system of education—a reform which has hardly yet started. But so far as Dartmouth is concerned, and inside the present set-up, we have somehow to secure a fairer chance for the boys of ability whose accent is wrong, or whose fathers are working men, or whose bearing lacks the confidence given by a secure home and a public school training. The primary school is not as good as the "prep" school by almost any criterion, and the boy who has a grammar school education often labours under many disadvantages compared with the public school boy.
Somehow, we have in selecting cadets to learn to probe beneath the surface—to spot character and ability and initiative even when obscured by the mask of social inferiority. So I welcome all the reforms suggested in the first part of the Committee's Report so far as the conduct of examination and interview or the 16-plus entry goes, and I was glad to 920 know that the First Lord has already stepped forward and accepted some of them—the integration of the Dartmouth examination with the certificate of education, the acceptance of the certificate of education as a substitute, where necessary, for the Dartmouth written examination—reforms which integrate Dartmouth into the pattern of the national educational system—and the cutting down of the preponderance of the Navy on the selection board, because the Report at least cuts one member of the Navy off the selection board.
§ Dr. King
I am sorry if I appeared to suggest that the First Lord has accepted all the reforms in the Report. I also welcome the equating of the written examination and the interviewing marks—I am not so sure about the abolition of numerical marks—and the greater weight to be given to the headmaster's reports on the candidates concerned. After all, the headmaster of a school who has had a boy under his wind for a number of years knows him much more intimately than the most skilful examiners in the world relying on a set of questions and the chance reactions to what they believe to be scientifically designed oral questions in an interview of two or three hours, and more intimately than even the testing officer who spends 24 hours with the boy and of whose excellent work everyone speaks highly.
The difficulty about taking the candidate's headmaster as the final judge is that of weighting his opinion against that of another headmaster of another boy. But I would go further than the Report in this matter. I see no reason why the interviewing panel should not consist equally of educationalists and of the Navy and if one were alarmed from either point of view—if the educationists did not trust the Navy or the Navy trust the educationalists—there might be some kind of veto if necessary, in the hands of each group.
I think that the Minority Report of Mr. Barraclough, an eminent educationist, was right when it advocated a standing committee of educationalists to advise the Admiralty on this important matter of selection and modern education. I think 921 that Mr. Barraclough was also right when he said that it was fantastically unfair—"fantastically" is my word—to condemn this scheme, which has hardly yet begun, before the first little experimental group of cadets has really emerged, and that we ought to allow the 16-plus entry to run for five or 10 years to give it a chance of justifying itself.
I also agree that the Admiralty, if it is sincere in its desire to get the best boys, must come down from its ivory castle and take steps to restore public confidence in the method of selection, which it has lost, must establish liaison between the Navy and the State system of education and must get it into its head that society is changing and that every decent person in the country believes in the 1944 Education Act and desires the equality of opportunity there enshrined to become a fact.
I now come to the most contentious part of the Report, that dealing with the proposed 13-plus entry. Preparatory and public school masters—or at least their associations—have a vested interest in the old method of recruitment for Dartmouth, which was abolished in 1948. Take away from the preparatory schools their powers of providing a sure way into the professions and we have taken away almost the sole reason for their existence.
One of the preparatory or public school year books listed last year boys who had passed the examination to Dartmouth. But it did not list all of them; it selected from the Dartmouth entry only the boys educated by preparatory schools. We talk of sponsored television. The preparatory schools almost give sponsored education. A standard work on the English preparatory schools in 1928 contained the statement that the preparatory school was the only way into Dartmouth. We have abolished that, and we believe that the preparatory schools are wrong in wanting to bring it back again.
The public and preparatory school associations want to return to the old régime, reintroduce the 13-plus entry, reinstate fee paying and return to where we were before the Labour Government transformed Dartmouth. I wish their evidence had been published, and I wish that the whole of the evidence given before the Committee had been published, so that we might know the reasons 922 on which they base the opinions that they gave to the Committee.
Many officers of the Royal Navy want to return to the old system. I can understand that, and I say that sympathetically. They would not be human if they were not loyal to the school that they loved so much and to the system which produced themselves. Moreover, the Navy wants to "get them young." I believe that it almost required legislation to stop the Navy taking boys at the age of 11 100 years ago. Sixteen is thought to be too old by the Navy, but West Point is content to take cadets at 17 or 18. Both these groups see education in a preparatory school and then an examination and transfer to Dartmouth as the natural order of things. They did not like the 1948 change. In his Minority Report, Mr. Barraclough, with considered understatement, tells how:… the new scheme was not received with enthusiasm, to say the least, in the Service.By "Service" Mr. Barraclough means the officers of the Navy. Admiral Fisher, who was a little less delicate in his utterances in similar circumstances when staking a claim for parity of esteem between engineer officers and other officers in the Navy, talked about naval Rip van Winkles.
State educationists, on the other hand, as distinct from the Navy and the vested interests of the preparatory and public schools, were almost unanimously against a return to the 13-plus entry. The State educationists include the Association of Education Committees, the County Councils Association, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Incorporated Association of Head Masters, the London County Council and the National Union of Teachers. These bodies have no interest but an educational one. Their political complexion is not red. The L.C.C. apart, most of them would be predominantly Conservative bodies.
Their objections to the return to the 13-plus system are very simple, and I shall attempt to give them briefly. First, they say—most of my hon. Friends would agree—that 13 is far too soon to fix a boy's career and to select a potential officer. In view of the difficulties which the Report and all who have spoken today agree exist in the selecting of boys even at 16-plus, the difficulty of choosing 923 at 13-plus would appear to be a truth as self-evident as the great truths of the American Magna Carta.
Secondly, the break at the age of 13 fits only the preparatory-public school apparatus and cuts right across the State's division into primary and secondary education. Preparatory school boys want handicapping instead of being given a few yard's start. Moreover, many of the difficulties of the 16-plus selection and entry will disappear as we improve the methods of selection as a result of the reforms suggested in the Report. Above all, children want education as well as naval education. It is wrong to segregate a vocational group at the age of 13. I hope that hon. Members will not misunderstand me. I concede that education at Dartmouth, even in the old days, was by no means merely naval instruction, but the group of boys was a specialised group withdrawn from the general pattern of childhood far too soon. The educational witnesses outside the preparatory-public school group were also unanimously of the opinion that 17 or 18 is the ideal age at which to select cadets and regarded the 13-plus proposal as a movement away from that idea.
The Montagu Committee has attempted a compromise on 13-plus, and like all compromises, it is attacked from both camps, from diehards on the one hand and democrats on the other. It proposes to go back to 13-plus for half the entrants. If this proposal is carried out, there will be side by side two schools at Dartmouth, a junior school and a senior school, and the senior school will be recruited half from the junior school and half from outside at 16-plus. While this is not impossible, it will not make one school; it will make two schools. It will not be one organism; it will be two organisms. Ultimately it may lead to the elimination of the 16-plus entry.
The Report also proposes to reintroduce fee paying, not for tuition but for board and lodging, subject to a means test. I believe this to be a retrogressive proposal. If a boy is fit to be educated as an officer, the country ought to educate him. If he is not, the country should not. Fee paying fogs the issue and starts us on the way back from Dartmouth as it is to Sandhurst as it was and Eton as it still is.
924 The Montagu Committee admits that the old naked class selection must never come back. It admits that there is inequality of opportunity between the preparatory school child and the State school child, so much so that it attempts to meet the difficulty by earmarking 60 per cent. of the places for State school boys. Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I find this an attractive suggestion. On the other hand, I find the figure chosen a fascinating one. The authors of the Report assume that 40 per cent. of our future admirals are, and ought to be, found in the upper income groups.
This is a welcome advance on the reactionaries who imagine that 100 per cent. of our admirals will always be found in the upper income groups. So the Report is an honest attempt to meet the democrat's objection, the political objection, to a return to the old system, and, as such, deserves careful consideration. But if such earmarking is good, why not apply it to the 16-plus entry and to the special entry at 17, as I once suggested to the House? In both of these entries I interpret the figures as revealing the influence of privilege and I would ask, why not use this safeguard there?
But I believe that although the 13-plus proposal, with this safeguard, loses much of its reactionary sting, it still ought to be scrapped. My objections are educational rather than political. I share the views of the educationalists which I have just given to the Committee and which Mr. Barraclough has given in the Minority Report. The Majority Report thinks that it will be possible to select bright-eyed, alert lads at 13 and make officers of them. I think that is a gross oversimplification of a very complex problem.
§ Brigadier Ralph Rayner (Totnes)
Surely over a long term of years that is what they did most successfully. This Report admits it rather shamefacedly, and suggests that the results achieved at Dartmouth were really very good.
§ Commander Pursey
The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to have been asleep for 40 years, and has only now come to.
§ Dr. King
No one on this side of the Committee would fail to pay tribute to the naval officers up to the present moment. Where we on this side differ from the hon. and gallant Gentleman is 925 that we believe that the type of officer can be still further improved if we recruit from the whole of British boyhood instead of from one section.
§ Dr. King
Ultimately I believe we will select them later than 16. I hope that the Admiralty and the headmaster will make no bones about rejecting any young successful candidate who thinks that because he has got into Dartmouth he is safe for life and that he can rest on his laurels, for Dartmouth and the Navy will look after him, instead of realising that this is only the bottom rung and that the Navy wants young men who will give and not merely take.
But it will be much more difficult to reject the 13-year-old entrant if he is found to be unsuitable. I know it is proposed to weed them out at 16. "Failed at Dartmouth" is going to be a stigma, often wrongfully imposed, merely because we selected the wrong boy at the age of 13. Boys are unpredictable, and I would remind the Committee that neither the Prime Minister nor Julius Caesar would have been selected for Dartmouth at 13-plus. Both were late developers.
Again, it will be a waste of public money to give a Dartmouth type of education to candidates who turn out to be unsuitable. Moreover, once a boy is in by this special way at 13-plus, he is going to have a much better opportunity of getting on in the senior school than the senior group of entrants who come in at 16 years of age. The senior school itself is going to be split into two strongly marked groups.
We speak different languages in the House and in the country in more ways than one. We all talk about equality of opportunity. I admire the Navy. I was very proud when I had the opportunity of being a spectator at the glorious Spit-head Naval Review. I was impressed as much as anything else by the officers and men who stood so long and so precariously on the top of their submarines during the afternoon of that Review. I understand that inside submarines officers and men are just men together. I should like to think that every man who stood so long in a position which made a landsman shudder to look at could be certain that his son has the same chance as any other sailor's son of becoming a 926 young cadet at Dartmouth if he has the ability and the character. I should like to think that the miner's son and the farm worker's son has equal opportunity with the son of the steel owner or the son of the squire. In so far as this Report moves towards that goal, I welcome it. I think it does so in the proposed reforms for the 16-plus entry.
But its main proposal, the reintroduction of the 13-plus entry, will, if carried out, widen a breach which we are seeking to narrow. The Montagu Committee suggests scrapping the proposal if it antagonises the country and creates those party divisions to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Horncastle referred. I hope the First Lord will scrap it. The Navy is short of young officers. We have the whole of British youth to choose from. I believe that if the net is cast wide enough we shall find that the youth of this generation will not let the Navy down.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
There is not very much time so I do not propose to cover a great deal of the ground to which reference has already been made as to the various ages at which it is desirable that there should be entry into the Royal Navy.
The comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooks), express almost without qualification my views on that particular aspect of the subject. What I want to bring out and what has not been mentioned yet is that the evidence in this Report appears to me to bring out, quite conclusively, that the requirements of the Navy seem to be found more satisfactorily from among those who have had a boarding school education—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense"]—with the opportunities which it gives for the development of character compared with the other types of education.
An hon. Member opposite says "Nonsense," but what I am saying is shown by the evidence in this Report, and if he turns to page 8—and I will not go into details now—he will see quite conclusively that the view of the interviewing board up to now is to that effect. I can well understand the reason why, hitherto, the State-aided schools have not got as big a proportion of the entries as it was hoped the 1948 scheme would make possible.
§ Mr. Summers
I am not going to give way. I have waited from the start of this debate in the hope of getting in, and I do not propose to be delayed in my remarks in view of the short time left.
§ Mr. Summers
I am not giving way.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite say that it is a pity that the State schools are not used more effectively for the bringing into the Navy of those who will make good officers, and steps are suggested in this Report to weight the method of selection in favour of these boys and make sure that a greater proportion of them enter the Navy. What I want to bring out is the need for improving the chances of boys from the State-aided school being selected for the Navy by improving the facilities for education in those schools. Now that Dartmouth is to be a place where selection for the Navy will not arise until the end of the stay at the College, it would improve the chances of those boys proposing to go into the Navy if my suggestion is followed.
I hope I may be permitted to mention a personal association. As some of my hon. Friends know, I am associated with the Outward Bound Trust, and we seek to give monthly character training courses for boys of all sorts and conditions of life, the overwhelming number of whom come from State-aided schools. From the experience of over 10,000 boys who have taken such a course, I am quite convinced that it would immensely enhance the chances of the boys who have not had a boarding school education if they were given an opportunity of a residential monthly course under the particular circumstances provided at an Outward Bound course. Time, however, does not permit me to enlarge upon that.
There is also the point that at Dartmouth there should be opportunities not only to bring the boy in contact almost exclusively with his future nautical contemporaries but also with the civilian world, with boys from industry sponsored by individual firms. Without doubt, such courses would provide a valuable assessment of leadership, self-reliance, integrity, and so on, in the course of even one 928 month, which would afford valuable evidence for the selectors to weigh with the other evidence available to them.
In many respects it might be described as a miniature public school with special characteristics. There is no doubt that those who are asked to assess the qualities of an individual are far more likely to discern what he is made of if they can see him on a residential basis. I hope, therefore, that we shall not lose sight of the fact that the fresh fields of recruitment might well be enlarged if the facilities are improved, and I believe that the way I have described would be a most valuable addition.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Commander Allan Noble)
I have delayed rising as long as possible because I felt that as many hon. Members should speak in this debate as possible, but it may be convenient to the Committee if I wind up the debate with a few remarks. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that this has been a good debate which, if I may say so, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) opened in a comprehensive and helpful way. As one would expect, there have been varied opinions, which is right in a debate of this kind, but perhaps I may be allowed to bring it back to its true perspective. Some hon. Members, and especially the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey)——
§ Commander Noble
—seemed to think that the Government were producing a revolutionary change. The history of this is that in 1948 the party opposite, who were in power, changed the entry from 13 to 16. On that occasion there was no committee like this, there was no debate. All that happened was that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) came to the House one day and announced the new entry in answer to a Question. That was the first intimation the House had.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that there was not only assent but agreement amongst the Board of Admiralty at the time.
§ Commander Noble
That would not be for me to say. I am saying that the 929 first the House of Commons knew about the change to the 16 entry was when one of my predecessors came to the House and told us.
This is no new problem. It has been going on for two or three years, and when this Government came into office my right hon. Friend set up a Committee to go into the problem. Tonight we are discussing its recommendations. We are glad to have all the opinions which have been expressed and, as my right hon. Friend said, he is discussing this matter with other authorities, and all opinions will be taken into account.
There is one thing this debate has done, if it has done nothing else, and that is to lay the bogy of the Admiralty interview board to some extent—if one does lay a bogy. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to this, as did my hon. Friends behind me. He was a little unfair because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) said, the Report indicates that the error has been small although there may have been some unwitting bias. I was sorry the hon. Gentleman did not quote from the Minority Report, because the writer of it had been on four interview boards and knew what he was talking about. He said on page 109:I am satisfied that many boys from maintained grammar schools have entered for the examination and have succeeded at the written test, without having any approximation to the potential personal qualities of a future naval officer.I remember answering a Question from the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, (Dr. King) who asked why it was that so many had failed. Perhaps here I may answer the only point of fact which I have been asked in this examination—[Laughter.] I mean debate, though I agree it has been an examination. [HON. MEMBERS: "Failed."] The only point of fact raised in this debate has been why those figures for the first three years and the last three years seem so much the same. The answer is that in the last three years the age band was extended and boys were able to have two shots at the examination.
I think we have always made it quite clear that the best boys from the grammar schools were absolutely first-class. I remember answering a Question once and perhaps the Committee will excuse me if I give the answer again. 930 It is about the examination for entry in May, 1953. Of the first five successful candidates for the executive branch, three—the first, fourth and fifth—were grammar school boys. Of the candidates who were successful both in the written examination and at the interview, the four with the highest interview marks were grammar school boys. So it is the case really that grammar schools do provide some of the best boys, but there are not enough of them coming forward.
I have spent a day with one of these interview boards, as no doubt did my predecessor, and I found that my opinions largely agreed with theirs at the end of the day. Going back to Dartmouth since, it has been interesting to see those boys in uniform and to see what they are making of the life there. I hope this debate will give more confidence in the interview boards, and I should like to read an unsolicited testimonial to these boards in the form of a letter received from a boy in March, 1953, as follows:I read with annoyance the report in the papers of complaints in the House of Commons about the Dartmouth interview board. A Member appears to have stated that would-be cadets are only interviewed for a few minutes. I was a candidate last February and spent 45 minutes to an hour on three interviews. The board was most affable and helpful. The interviewing officers also had us under observation for a day, so I think the Member has his facts wrong. I think it was also hinted that social origin influenced selection, and there has been much talk previously of public school preference. I should like to say that I have been educated at State schools all my life and I don't personally believe the interviewing officers are influenced one way or the other. I was unlucky and did not come up to the eyesight standard but I should like to say that as far as I am concerned the tests were perfectly fair and all the officers I met were extremely friendly. I apologise for wasting your time with this letter but I felt I should write.In conclusion, it has been emphasised by many hon. Members that we should do what is best for the Navy. In doing that we want to recruit our officers from the widest possible field. I agree with that implicitly, but I am sure that it would not be the best for the Navy if we introduced any measures so clearly contentious that they would stand no chance of survival. I should like to emphasise what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) said, that we do not want the officer entry to become a pawn in party politics. On the other hand, 931 the Committee will, I am certain, agree that it would be manifestly unfair if naval opinion were not given its proper weight in arriving at what is best for the Royal Navy.
I hope that the fact that the Admiralty have set up the Committee, have published the Report, which is not usual, and have listened to all points of view, not only here today, but outside, will be taken as an earnest that we are approaching this matter without prejudice and with as detached a view as possible. When we do take our decision, I hope that all those concerned will give it their full support, so that the Navy can be given every opportunity of a wide selection of the best possible material.
Whereupon Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"—[Mr. Oakshott]—put, and agreed to. Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.