HC Deb 22 July 1953 vol 518 cc350-3
6 Mr. Callaghan

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty (1) if he is aware that candidate No. 435 in the May, 1952, competition for entry into Dartmouth Royal Naval College was shown in the list of results of the written examination as having failed to reach the qualifying standard for interview because he did not secure the minimum pass mark of 45 out of 100 in two out of the four compulsory subjects, namely, elementary mathematics and elementary physics; and why this candidate was nevertheless called for interview and, as a result, subsequently appointed to the Royal Navy;

(2) why, in the May, 1952, competition for entry into Dartmouth Royal Naval College, the same privilege of an interview was not given to other candidates who had higher marks in the written examination than candidate No. 435, but who, like him, were declared to have failed; and why this candidate was given an interview in preference to other candidates who reached the pass mark in mathematics and physics but were declared to have failed;

(3) what representations were made on behalf of candidate No. 435 in the May, 1952, competition for entry into the Dartmouth Royal Naval College; what was their nature; by whom and to whom they were made; what rank in the Royal Navy is held by the person who made the representations; why no statement was made at the time of the interview to other unsuccessful candidates who were aggrieved; and what explanation he can give of a procedure that has been noted with disapproval in schools entering candidates for this examination, and which points to the conclusion that favouritism and not merit secured a cadetship for this candidate.

Commander Noble

I must apologise for a rather long reply to the hon. Member's three long Questions, which I will, with permission, answer together.

This Special Entry candidate with three other candidates was declared to have qualified in the written examination as a result of a general concession agreed between the Civil Service Commission and the three Service Departments. This has since been embodied in the Conspectus for the Navy, Army and Air Force Entrance Examination in the following terms: A candidate who fails by a narrow margin to reach the qualifying standard in elementary mathematics A or B and/or elementary physics may be regarded as qualified if, in the opinion of the Commissioners, he reaches a satisfactory standard in the corresponding mathematics and/or physics papers in Part II. All other candidates for the Navy, Army and Air Force similarly placed in this competition were accorded the same treatment. This decision was taken by the Civil Service Commission following representations received by them and the Admiralty from the headmaster of the school to which this candidate belonged.

No other representations of any kind were received on behalf of this candidate. Neither the Commission nor the Admiralty are aware that any other candidates were aggrieved and they could not in any event accept that there is the slightest justification for complaint or for the suggestion that there was favouritism. Candidates who reached the pass mark in elementary mathematics and elementary physics, but who were declared failed, were those who did not attain the overall pass mark, and thus did not display the degree of all-round ability considered necessary.

Mr. Callaghan

I hope that I shall be entitled to three long supplementaries to that long answer. The first question I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary is this: Why did he not call candidates 375, 240, 267 and 236 who qualified in these compulsory subjects but were not called for interview; who actually got the pass marks in elementary mathematics and elementary physics? Secondly, why was this decision taken to change the terms under which a boy could be successful in between the time in which this particular candidate was declared unsuccessful and the time when the interviews took place?

Thirdly, if he is not aware that candidates are aggrieved, perhaps he would like to examine some of the letters I have had about this, which I will gladly show to him, from masters in these schools who have had no explanation of this change of conditions in between two parts of the examination, and who themselves have submitted boys for the written examination. They have had no explanation at all from the Admiralty about this change.

Commander Noble

I cannot check in the House the numbers of the candidates to which the hon. Member referred, but I will certainly go into that if he will send me the particulars. I would say that these candidates, although they passed in these two subjects, did not obtain the overall pass marks in the whole examination.

Mr. Callaghan

Nor did the other fellow.

Commander Noble

This candidate did obtain the overall pass mark, and I am really surprised that the hon. Member should raise that point which is the basis of the whole of his argument. With regard to the time, this was the first occasion this had been raised. One has to make a change sometimes and it has been incorporated since. It did not apply only to this boy; it applied to three others. It has been incorporated since in the regulations for this examination. I shall be only too pleased to study the letters to which the hon. Member has referred. I must say that I am really very surprised that the hon. Member, with his Ministerial experience, should have loaded his Questions with imputations, which have received wide publicity, without having taken the trouble to find out the facts.

Mr. Marlowe

As there appears to be considerable conflict between the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and my hon. and gallant Friend, can my hon. and gallant Friend say whether the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East made any inquiry of the Admiralty to check the facts before putting these allegations on the Order Paper?

Commander Noble

No, Sir, but he warned me about his Questions over the weekend.

Mr. Callaghan

Might I ask a simple question? Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman deny any of the facts contained in my three Questions? If he does, I will gladly withdraw them. But I should like a specific answer to one question which is causing considerable concern and which has been put in allegations, namely, whether the one boy is the relative of an officer in the Navy. Is this so?

Commander Noble

I do not really see what that has got to do with it. The boy's father was a naval officer and was killed in the war.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

On a point of order. As there are the usual number of Questions on the Order Paper today which cannot be answered, as this subject has recently been debated in the House and as there was presented to Parliament not long ago the Report of the Select Committee which recommended that only two Questions should be allowed to any one hon. Member at a time, would you in future, Mr. Speaker, be good enough to examine Questions of this kind, which are clearly extremely lengthy and clearly designed to extract a very lengthy answer, with a view to their being disallowed?

Mr. Speaker

I always examine Questions and I do my best to discourage any which involve a long reply. I had in mind all the considerations mentioned by the noble Lord when I called the next Question.