HL Deb 28 January 1948 vol 153 cc675-81

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the question of which I have given private Notice—namely, whether a statement can now be made giving details of the new scheme of entry of cadets into the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.


My Lords, with your permission I will make the following statement on the broad features of the scheme and will circulate fuller details in the Official Report. I would like to say at once that the decision to change the present system of entry into the Royal Navy through Dartmouth is no reflection whatever upon the success of that system. The Board of Admiralty endorse the just claim that the officers of the Royal Navy have stood the supreme tests required of them, particularly in two world wars, and have served their country with great distinction. But, in the changed circumstances of to-day, particularly with national education, it is time to review the system with intent that the system of officer entry into the Royal Navy shall be founded on the broadest possible basis.

I emphasize that the new system of entry and its examination have been designed to ensure that no boy is prevented from competing by reason of his social status, school, or financial standing. I also stress the point that the Navy must have officers with high academic attainments and high qualities of character and leadership. The Admiralty are offering prospects of a life-long career and must look for the best candidates. In determining the details of the scheme, the Admiralty have had full discussion with the Ministry of Education and other responsible educational authorities and associations and have taken the opinion of eminent naval officers.

The new system will apply to the Executive, Engineering and Supply branches. There will be three entries of cadets in each year and the new age at entry will be 16 to 16 years 4 months. Examination will be held in or near the candidates' own schools. The interview part of the competitive examination will be widened in scope. The first entry under the new system will be in September of this year. The examination for this entry will be held in March next. Cadets will spend six terms at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, followed by a period of eight months training in a training cruiser before they go to the Fleet as midshipmen. Tuition and maintenance will be free. The Admiralty will make actual provision of uniform and replacements during the cadet period. Parents will be expected to pay for the cost of uniform and the cadet's personal expenses, according to their means; under this arrangement some will not pay anything.

Your Lordships will understand that this is only one of the three sources from which the Royal Navy obtains its officers. The Special Entry at age 18 will be continued and, as previously announced, the present aim of the Admiralty is to recruit up to 25 per cent. of their commissioned officers by promotion from the lower deck. We intend that half the remainder will ultimately be obtained from the age 16 entry and the other half from the Special Entry. In initiating this new scheme, the Board of Admiralty and I are confident that it will achieve the important objectives in mind: that is, to maintain the high standard and long tradition of service in the Royal Navy while affording full opportunity to the best and brightest boys from all walks of life, whatever schools they may be attending. We are already assured of the closest co-operation of the Ministry of Education and of the Scottish Education Department, and are confident that we can similarly rely upon the willing help of all public schools and State secondary and grammar schools.

Following are the fuller details referred to:

The principal features of the new arrangements are as follows—

  1. (1) Whereas the present system of entry into Dartmouth has been primarily an entry for the Executive Branch of the Navy, the 677 new system of entry at age 16 will apply to the Executive, Engineering and Supply Branches.
  2. (2) The age limits for entry will be 16 years to 16 years 4 months on the date of entry, with entries in January, May and September in each year. These age limits mean that candidates will sit for the examination between the ages of 15½ and 15¾. The Admiralty will conduct the examination which will be held in or near candidates' own schools.
  3. (3) Selection will be on a competitive basis on the combined results of an educational test and tests of personal qualities.
  4. (4) The syllabus for the written examination has been devised broadly to ensure that a candidate from any type of school may be able to choose subjects that will best suit his particular talents. Candidates will be required to take as compulsory subjects papers in English Language, Elementary Mathematics and Science. They will also be required to offer three optional subjects from the following list, of which at least one must be taken from those marked with a star:—
    • French*
    • German*
    • Spanish*
    • Russian*
    • Geography*
    • History*
    • Latin.
    • Greek.
    • English Literature.
    • Mechanics.
    • Additional Mathematics.
    • Geometrical and Mechanical Drawing.
  5. (5) Candidates will be required to undergo tests of intelligence, aptitude, character and personality before a board consisting of naval officers, a psychologist, a representative of the public (State) system of education, and a serving headmaster. The headmaster will be chosen in rotation from the various types of schools.
  6. (6) The first entry under the new system will be in September, 1948, the examination for which will be in March.
  7. (7) As previously announced, tuition and maintenance will be free.
  8. (8) The Admiralty will make the actual provision of uniforms during the cadet period. Parents will be expected to pay for the cost of uniform and for cadets' personal expenses, according to their means. The total maximum cost to the parent for uniform, replacements and personal expenses will be £240, and repayments will be spread over eight terms at £30 a term. Remission of these charges, either wholly or in part, will be related to the net income of the parent; for example, a parent with a net income of less than £300 a year will not be called upon to make any contribution whatever. The net income will be assessed on a generous basis and will make allowance for income tax, insurances, mortgages, educational and maintenance expenses of other children, etc.
  9. 678
  10. (9) The educational programme at the Royal Naval College will cover two years (i.e. six terms) following which cadets will serve for eight months in the training cruiser before proceeding to the Fleet as midshipmen.
  11. (10) The intention is to recruit about 25 per cent. of commissioned naval officers by promotion from the lower deck, as previously announced. The ultimate aim is to obtain half the remainder from the age 16 entry and the other half from the Special Entry at age 18. Officers of the Warrant Officer classes are additional to these numbers.
  12. (11) Cadets in the training cruiser perform the normal functions of a ship's company working under senior ratings and share the usual special duties with seamen under the boatswain, gunner and so forth. The Admiralty believe that the present balance of training between cadets and ratings is the most satisfactory that can be achieved and no change is contemplated.
  13. (12) The present system of entry is terminated with notice of two years from the first promulgation of the new scheme. Thus the last entry at age 13½ will be in May, 1949. Reduced numbers will be entered in September, 1948, January, 1949, and May, 1949]


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for the most important and interesting statement which he has made. I should like also to thank him for the tribute that he has paid, and rightly paid, to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. As the noble Viscount said, the College has turned out the officers that the country needed. Moreover, it has inspired them with naval traditions in their early years which have been as valuable to them in their naval careers as is the giving of the right moral ideas to our children in their early years. I am not allowed to discuss this matter to-day, but, arising out of the First Lord's answer, I should like to ask him two questions: first, whether he believes that this scheme can be carried out fully; and, secondly, whether he is sure that it will meet the needs of the time.

I know that the noble Viscount has behind him the Board of Admiralty. To explain my questions, I should say that it is fully realized that the changing conditions of social life, the nationalization of wealth and the general outlook on things, necessitate changes in our educational system for the Navy. With regard to the three systems that he has mentioned, and particularly the system by which 25 per cent. of the men are to be promoted from the lower deck if they can be obtained, I would say that nobody can yield to me greater belief and faith in the men of the lower deck of the Royal Navy. The young men that we get are magnificent. and they can be made into anything. But, when they become officers, they have to lean on something, and that means that they have to lean on the other officers who ought to take them under their wing. Therefore, it is most important that these other two schemes of entry—the age 18 entry scheme from the public schools and the age 16 entry scheme—shall be efficient and shall produce the type of officers that Dartmouth has produced in the past.

Is the noble Viscount quite sure that the public school age 18 entry scheme will produce the 37½ per cent. of naval officers that he requires? The great public schools have failed notoriously to provide the boys for the Navy that we have asked of them. Eighty per cent. of the boys who join the Navy from the Special Entry scheme come from very good public schools that one has never heard of. Can the noble Viscount be sure, as regards the age 16 entry scheme, that headmasters will take boys at thirteen and let them go at sixteen? If that scheme fails, then the whole plan fails. If it succeeds, it should be a great success. Therefore, I feel that I am justified in asking whether the noble Viscount really has confidence that the age 16 entry scheme will succeed and will be practicable. If it is not, then we shall be doing away with something which we have which is very good and shall be letting the pendulum swing so far the other way that there will be a breakdown.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, arising out of the statement which has been made by the First Lord, can he give an assurance that the new peace-time entry system into the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, will be considered on its merits and regarded rather as an experiment? Further, if it is found to be unsatisfactory, will the whole matter be given further consideration and, if necessary, the longer period of training restored? I think that the noble Viscount will agree that the present system of training naval officers has been found quite satisfactory, and very careful consideration ought to be given before any permanent change is made. The number of cadets who under the new system will be accepted into the Royal Naval College will be reduced from 600 to approximately one-half that number, and this will mean that the educational staff will have to be reduced in proportion. I should like to remind the noble Viscount that in these days it would be extremely difficult to replace a good educational staff, once they had been reduced, if the new scheme proved to be unworkable. I should like to know whether the Headmasters' Association have agreed to co-operate with the Admiralty in this scheme for entry into Dartmouth. Otherwise, I think it will be difficult to persuade boys of sixteen to leave other establishments and enter the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth.


My Lords, I want to assure you that very careful consideration has been given to every aspect of this scheme. The Board of Admiralty do not undertake the making of a change of entry into Dartmouth without giving adequate consideration to the matter. As I said in the statement which I have just made, we have consulted not only the Minister of Education but also the Headmasters' Conference and representatives of the State scheme of education. We have been assured of their full support, and we are satisfied that the type of cadet which we require will be forthcoming as a result of this scheme. In the event of it failing, the Board of Admiralty will have to consider some other system in its place. I am confident, however, that given a trial this scheme will succeed.


I am grateful for the noble Viscount's assurance on that.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the First Lord one question on this matter. I understood him to say that the first entry will be in September and that the examination for that entry is to be in March of this year. Does he not consider that that is very short time in which to ask parents to make up their minds, when the whole future of their sons' lives is affected? They may have to make up their minds and give notice, probably, within the next week or two. If I am right in my assumption, perhaps the noble Viscount would consider that and possibly postpone the scheme.


My Lards, intimation was given almost a year ago, that such a scheme was possible, and the educational authorities have also received some intimation. Applications for the examination will be received at the Admiralty until February 23, and we are assured that that will give ample time for applications to be made, and for preparations to be made for the examination.


My Lords, can the noble Viscount say whether any other alteration in Dartmouth, apart from that which he has indicated, is contemplated; or whether there is to be no other change in the routine and organization of Dartmouth?


Of course, there will be a tailing off of those entering at age 13½, but we shall still take the entry up to May of next year. That will mean that we shall have those boys for almost three years, until they reach the age of the entry of boys of 16 years. So Dartmouth will be continued as it is for some time.


The noble Viscount has told us that the Headmasters' Conference has been consulted, and I fully appreciate that. But has the noble Viscount considered the attitude of the boy himself? Will not the best type of boy, who at the age of about 16 or 16½ is just beginning to feel his feet in his public school and love the life there, have a feeling of reluctance about going into the Navy and perhaps rather wish to stay at his school?


I have no apprehension in regard to that matter, because after all a boy at the age of 16 has really reached the educational stage which fits him for so many professions in life. About 80 per cent. of the secondary school boys, and quite a large proportion of those in the public school, leave at 16. The boy is in a much better position at the age of 16 to make up his mind than he is at 13½.

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