HC Deb 31 July 1974 vol 878 cc888-97
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

I would ask the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) to finish at 4.35 p.m.

4.9 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I shall try to keep within that time limit, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am grateful for having the opportunity to air this matter and to raise it on the Floor of the House. In doing so I am honouring an undertaking that was given to Mr. B. J. Moody by my predecessor.

Mr. Moody is now headmaster of San-down High School, Isle of Wight, and one of my constituents. On 9th March 1971 he was headmaster of Maidstone Grammar School. He was then aged 44. He received a personal letter from Mr. K. Ellender, of the Ministry of Defence, drawing his attention to a vacancy for the post of Director of Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. It was suggested that he might be a suitable candidate. The details of the post were enclosed and he was invited to apply, although it was, quite correctly, made clear that no undertaking was given that he would be successful.

I quote initially from the form, reference No. 212463/A/SL which is relevant to the case. This was the curriculum for the Director of Studies in February-March 1971. It says: The Director of Studies is responsible to the Commandant for the organisation of all academic work done by Cadets at the Academy. His staff consists of an Assistant Director, five Heads of Departments (Principal Lecturers) an Academic Registrar, and about 68 Senior Lecturers and Lecturers. About 700 cadets, some of whom are from Commonwealth and foreign countries, are at present receiving their academic and professional instruction at Sandhurst, the 2-year course is so arranged that the 1st, 5th and 6th terms are almost entirely military and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th terms are academic. Cadets enter the Academy between the ages of 18 and 20 years, and between one-third and a half go on to university degree training after commissioning. Work done in the academic field embraces war studies, mathematics, physics and chemistry, modern languages, and political and social studies … Candidates should preferably be under 50 years of age. They must have a degree, preferably with first or second-class honours. Teaching experience at a boys' boarding school, or teaching or administrative experience in a university is desirable. The post was carrying a salary of £5,500. Later we find that the appointment was for an initial trial period of a year before confirmation. There are other various bits and pieces of information about the job.

On 8th June 1971 Mr. Moody was formally offered the appointment in a letter from the Ministry of Defence signed by Dr. J. F. Alder. This was a considerable achievement because, as I understand it, there were 150 applicants interviewed over a two-day period, which was some going. Mr. Moody made arrangements to leave Maidstone and was due to take up his new post on 1st January 1972.

On 2nd December 1971, long after he had given in his notice at Maidstone and burnt his boats he was extremely sur- prised to receive the following letter from Major-General Philip Tower, at that time Commandant at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. I will quote from that letter and one enclosed with it.

The letter from Major-General Tower said: My dear Bernard, I don't know how much, if anything, you have heard about the progress of the Review of Officer Cadet Training sponsored by the Director of Army Training. I forward a copy of it and the covering letter I have received from the Director of Army Training. I feel both embarrassed and unhappy in doing so, as you will see when you read the Report, but these matters are well above my sphere of responsibility. Enclosed was a letter from Major-General Patterson, Director of Army Training. It draws attention to the fact that the review of officer cadet training had been completed and that: Michael Howard is calling an Extraordinary General Meeting of the RMAS Academic Advisory Council on 13th January 1972,"— at least a fortnight after Mr. Moody had taken up his position— to discuss the implications of the Working Party's Report. By that date of course Mr. Moody will have assumed his appointment … No doubt you will emphasise that the Report remains a privileged document distributed on a personal and in confidence basis and that it is still under consideration. No decision concerning the implementation of these proposals has yet been taken by the Army Board. From this correspondence it came to light that a review of the general duties and the whole nature of the post which Mr. Moody had accepted had been under way when the position had been offered and accepted, but no mention of the likely impending changes in the curriculum had been conveyed to him or, for that matter, to any of the other candidates. The position was substantially changed from being largely an educational post to one connected more with training. From being an open-ended task it became one of supervising a 17½ weeks' crash course with much greater emphasis on the military side.

A prospectus published in 1973, when Mr. Moody left Sandhurst and a successor was appointed, illustrates some of the points I have been trying to make. It states: As at present planned, there are three types of courses involving academic work:

  1. (a) A Regular Career Course for all young officers wishing to gain a Regular Commission; it includes 17½ Weeks of academic work.
  2. 891
  3. (b) The equivalent of four weeks' academic work in each of the shorter courses for graduate entries.
  4. (c) Preparation of up to 130 candidates annually far places at universities and at the Royal Military College of Science.
In the Regular Career Course and the Graduates Course, the subjects studied are War Studies, Military Technology, Contemporary Affairs, and Communications and Comprehension. That was a distinct change from the curriculum published when Mr. Moody took the job.

My constituent's grievance is that the post, which comes within the general responsibility of the Director of Army Training, was already being reviewed at the time that interviews for the job were taking place. Indeed, the review body had already met. This body was chaired by the Deputy Director of Army Training and had terms of reference which made it clear that at that time there was every intention of changing the scope and nature of the job. This should have been communicated to my constituent, but it was not. The fact that the commanding officer was embarrassed, to say the least, is made clear from the letter which I quoted earlier.

The upshot was that Mr. Moody became frustrated because the job was very different from what he was entitled to expect. He almost did not take up the post and it was only after being persuaded to do so that he went ahead. He left in 1973 and took over the headship of Sandown High School and received an ex gratia payment of £380. Although that payment was a tacit admission and acknowledgment, it in no way compensates him for the substantial loss of income and capital he has suffered. He has also lost important opportunities to further his career. He had to withdraw from the short list for the principal post at St. Luke's College of Education, Exeter. He had a good chance of getting that job. He has suffered a great deal of worry, his wife has had to give up her teaching appointment and his four children's academic careers have undergone abrupt changes because he had to make several moves within a short period.

But, more important, he was forced to purchase a property. There was a house with the job at Sandhurst. He had to look for a house in the Isle of Wight at a time of high prices in housing, and as a consequence his whole standard of living has suffered.

Attempts to compensate Mr. Moody with a more equitable payment have been made by a number of people, among them Lord Beeching, as well as my predecessor and myself, and even the Parliamentary Commissioner has been approached. I believe that the facts of the case should be publicised, and I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will agree that Mr. Moody has received harsh treatment and that he should be compensated in a far more magnanimous way.

Surely it is not yet too late for second thoughts. It is well known how people holding senior posts in industry and local government have been rewarded for loss of office in cases in which the terms or conditions of the office have been changed and they have been unable to take on the new work. Clearly, Mr. Moody is deserving of similar consideration.

4.20 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Frank Judd)

It is appropriate, at the end of a very taxing and long summer Session, that we should find time in the House to discuss an issue of such importance to the individual concerned. This seems to me to be a reassuring dimension of our parliamentary affairs.

I am sure that we all congratulate the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) on having put the case so firmly, expressing his anxiety that justice should be done. I assure him that I have carefully noted what he has to say and that it will be conveyed to my hon. Friend, who, by virtue of his membership of another place, is unable to answer the debate himself. I should also emphasise that this all happened under a previous administration, but, of course, we have been at pains in the present Government to go into the case in detail to see exactly what the story is as recognised from the standpoint of the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Moody's complaint relates to his appointment as Director of Studies at Sandhurst in 1971. The first point which needs to be made is that the Director of Studies has a very responsible job in Army education. He has charge of a staff of between 70 and 80 lecturers, who teach a very wide range of subjects. The students range from young men who have recently left the sixth form at school to young graduates—all highly intelligent and all highly motivated. This is the situation as it is today.

It was equally the situation when Mr. Moody was appointed. I make this point now to emphasise that we are talking about a very important post indeed. I should also make the point firmly at the outset that nothing which has happened between the Ministry of Defence and Mr. Moody alters the view in the Department that he is an extremely able man whose services it was sorry to lose. The fact that he and the Department were unable to agree on what was the best form of training for the cadets at Sandhurst does not alter this fact one iota.

The Civil Service Commission advertised the post of Director of Studies at Sandhurst in 1971 in readiness for the retirement of the previous holder of the post. In addition to the normal public advertisement, a number of teachers of distinction, of whom Mr. Moody was one, were suggested by the Department of Education and Science as likely to be suitable. In this sense, Mr. Moody was invited to apply, but his application was considered by the commission on all fours with the other 145—not 150—applications. In due course, Mr. Moody received an offer of appointment for a period of five years in the first instance, with the possibility of an extension at the end of that time.

While all this was going on, a working party was studying officer cadet training at Sandhurst. This is something that the Department has found that it has had to do from time to time if Service training is to match both the needs of the Service and the needs of the potential officers it recruits. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that point.

It is the burden of Mr. Moody's complaint that he was not told that this review was in progress at the time he was interviewed for the post, or for some time after he had accepted it. I want to make it plain that I believe that he certainly should have been told that the review was in progress, but, in fairness to those making the appointment, he could not have been told at that stage precisely what changes were likely to result from the working party's deliberations.

Mr. Moody accepted the appointment in June 1971. The working party did not report until October of that year, and its conclusions, after considerable modification in the light of advice from the Academic Advisory Council and others, were not finally accepted by the Army Board until May 1972. Mr. Moody was both given a copy of the report in December 1971 and seen by the then Adjutant-General and the then Permanent Under-Secretary of State (Administration), who, I gather, mentioned it to him, shortly before he actually took up his appointment. He immediately made it clear that he disagreed strongly with what was being recommended. But by this time he had resigned from his previous post and had no option but to take up the post of Director of Studies in a situation with which he felt in strong disagreement.

I repeat that everyone with whom I have spoken now agrees that it would have been better had Mr. Moody been warned that the scheme of education at Sandhurst was under review. He would at least have then been able to decline the offer in the light of the uncertainty about precisely what would have been expected of him. Once he understood the new situation. Mr. Moody decided to look for an alternative post, and he eventually secured his present appointment in the Isle of Wight and left Sandhurst in July 1973.

Mr. Moody feels very strongly that he was appointed by the Ministry of Defence under false pretences. He has since been arguing with great force a claim for compensation for the financial loss he has suffered through a double move. The Department has certainly not felt able to meet this claim.

There seem to be two salient points to be considered. First, the scheme of education eventually introduced was certainly different from what Mr. Moody had been expecting or felt able to agree with. We accept that. But the post still involved the responsibility for taking 400 to 500 young men through an academic course of four to five months' duration. It involved responsibility for a large teaching staff, who, in addition to class work, are expected to play a more general rôle in the functioning of Sandhurst. No employers when appointing a man to a post can guarantee that, whatever happens, the functions will remain the same for all time. Anyone occupying a position of responsibility must be prepared to accommodate himself to change, though in the last resort he obviously has the right to resign if he disapproves too strongly of what has been done.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman's kind words about Mr. Moody. Sandhurst's loss is the Isle of Wight's gain. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's sympathetic treatment of the matter. But educationists have high standards and it is understandable that a man with certain standards, having such a change as this thrust upon him, should stick to his guns. It is not fair to say that one should automatically accept such changes. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is so, particularly in the case of educational changes?

Mr. Judd

I am not accepting that someone of Mr. Moody's eminence and ability should automatically accept changes. It is for him to decide whether he should accept them and to take whatever course is appropriate. I shall deal in a moment with some of the other points implied in the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Mr. Moody felt—and no one in the Ministry of Defence has doubted his sincerity in this matter—that he had no option but to resign because he found the changes unacceptable. However, I emphasise what I have already said, that from our standpoint the post is still of the highest order, demanding the highest ability of the person who fills it and carrying a great deal of responsibility for the quality of training and education at Sandhurst.

When Mr. Moody told the Department that he was going to resign the post was readvertised. The Department asked for the same qualifications and offered the same salary. This advertisement attracted some 70 applications, from which a further appointment was made.

Secondly, in submitting his claim for reimbursement, Mr. Moody is asking for special treatment which goes quite outside normal Civil Service regulations. The present regulations permit no financial assistance to anyone joining the Civil Service for the first time, nor to anyone moving on resignation from the service. Mr. Moody, therefore, has no right to any reimbursement from public funds. Nevertheless, in recognition of the fact that he was not put fully in the picture when he was first appointed, he has been given a special ex-gratia payment of £380.

The figure is calculated assuming that Mr. Moody was a civil servant before his appointment to Sandhurst, and amounts to the normal transfer grants and allowances which civil servants would receive on making a move of this nature. This is as far as the Department felt the matter could go in the circumstances—remembering that Mr. Moody resigned of his own choice from what is by any standard a satisfying and responsible educational post. It has not been possible to agree that he should be reimbursed for such items as school fees, travel expenses, loss of his wife's salary, and loss of value of such items as carpets and curtains from his previous house which were of no use in the official house allocated to him at Sandhurst.

I appreciate Mr. Moody's feeling that he should have been taken more into the Department's confidence when he was first appointed. I emphatically agree that it would have been better had this been done. But it was his decision to resign. He has already had an ex-gratia payment outside normal Civil Service practice in recognition of the situation. It does not appear possible to go any further than that, but, naturally, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will represent fully to my ministerial colleagues the points that he has made so lucidly and firmly this afternoon.

In giving these assurances I should like to take the opportunity of wishing the hon. Gentleman a good and refreshing recess in preparation for any political trials that may lie ahead.

Mr. Stephen Ross

May I return the hon. Gentleman's wishes. I would point out to him that £380 will just about cover Mr. Moody's conveyancing costs in respect of the new house.

Mr. Judd

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that under existing regulations it was not a payment which Mr. Moody had any right to receive. It was made in recognition of the special circumstances.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the good wishes apply to all.