HC Deb 25 November 1953 vol 521 cc357-60

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

95. Mr. H. BROOKE

To ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will make a statement about Cadet Entry to the Royal Navy.

At the end of Questions

The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to answer Question No. 95.

The House will recall that the Report on Cadet Entry into the Royal Navy which was published as a Command Paper and debated on 6th July dealt especially with the age at which boys should enter as cadets. I have considered it with great care in the light of advice I have received from the naval authorities concerned and from representatives of educational opinion.

The overriding need is to establish a system of cadet entry into the Royal Navy which not only gives the Navy adequate numbers of cadets of the required standard but also conforms beyond dispute with the general trend of educational policy and is entirely outside the field of controversy. I have accordingly decided that all cadets of the permanent entry should join the Royal Navy in one age group at about 18. The first open written examination under this scheme will be held in October, 1954, for entry in May, 1955. The last open written examination for entry at 16 will be in June, 1954, for entry in January, 1955.

An immediate review is being undertaken of officer training as a whole to meet the new conditions and the scientific and technical advances of our day. Whatever conclusions may emerge from this review, I have no personal doubts that the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, will have an important place in naval training as it has had since its inception 50 years ago.

Mr. Brooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this plan will be judged by one thing—whether it does, in fact, produce the requisite number of first rate officers for the Navy, and that everybody will hope that his announcement will put a stop to this unhappy period when this very important question has become mingled with party politics? Could he tell the House what arrangements he is making for the present admirable staff at the Royal Naval College?

Mr. Thomas

I can assure my hon. Friend that this decision will give the Royal Navy the adequate supply of first class candidates which it needs. This has obviously been my prime consideration throughout, but if, at the same time, it raises the matter above political controversy, it would be of inestimable benefit to the Royal Navy, and I believe to the country as a whole. In reply to my hon. Friend's question about the staff at Dartmouth, I should like to place on record how grateful we feel to all the staff, and above all the civilian masters, many of whom have devoted most of their lives to the education of naval cadets. I am not, of course, able to speak about their prospects of further employment after the Royal Naval College has ceased to be a college for naval cadets of school age, but I can assure the House that this question is one which will receive the most careful and sympathetic attention.

Mr. Callaghan

May I ask the First Lord if he agrees with his hon. Friend that this has been a question of party politics—[Hon. Members: "Yes."]—or whether it has not been a question of finding the best solution for the Royal Navy? May I further ask him if he would take note that, in our view, he is approaching a solution if he feels it necessary to abolish the 16-year-old entry, which will remove this question from the sphere of political controversy—which is a quite different matter from party politics—and will lay a foundation for long-term permanent recruitment to the Royal Navy? Finally, may I ask him whether, in view of the scheme announced by the R.A.F. last week for giving free entry scholarships to young men between 16 and 18 to enter the R.A.F. at the age of 18, he has in mind giving the same sort of opportunities to young men who desire to enter the Royal Navy?

Mr. Thomas

I said in my original answer that I think this Question has been one of controversy—not party political controversy—but controversy in all quarters, both in the political and educational worlds, and I hope and believe that this decision will raise it above that controversy. I quite realise that there will be certain boys who will wish to join the Navy at 16 and who now have to wait until 18. It may be difficult for their parents to keep them at school during that period, and I have that very much in mind. Amongst other proposals, I shall consider in due course what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air has done as far as air cadets are concerned.

Captain Ryder

In welcoming the statement by my right hon. Friend, which appears to hold out a prospect of a permanent solution as far as the best age of entry is concerned, may I ask him if he can consider the question of a system of scholarships similar to that announced by the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Thomas

I have just said that that is definitely one of the proposals which I shall take into consideration when I come to look at the question of boys of 16 whose parents are not able to keep them at school until they are 18.

Mr. W. J. Edwards

While I am very glad that the First Lord has resisted the pressure to re-introduce the 13-year-old entry, may I ask him whether this is going to interfere with the age at which cadets are able to become midshipmen, and with their further progress as far as the Royal Navy is concerned?

Mr. Thomas

As I said in my original answer, there is a review being held into cadet training at the present time to bring it up to date with the scientific changes that are happening in the world at the moment, and that will be one of the questions to be considered by this committee, which is going into the matter immediately.

Sir H. Williams

On a point of order. As we have taken nine minutes on the answer to one Question, and as a lot of other Questions have not been answered, is it not time that we stopped these Ministerial statements at the end of Questions?

Mr. Speaker

I think we had better stop now.

Brigadier Rayner

On a point of order. In view of the fact that Dartmouth is in my constituency, may I be allowed to put a supplementary question?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has a point which interests his constituency, he can take it up with the Minister by correspondence.