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Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (Entry)

Volume 446: debated on Wednesday 28 January 1948

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I wish, Mr. Speaker, with permission, to make a statement on the new system of entry of cadets into the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, which was first announced on 6th May, 1947. Also, with permission, I will circulate fuller details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

I should 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. My noble Friend, the First Lord, and 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 today, particularly in 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 emphasise 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 is offering prospects of a life-long career and must look for the best candidates. In determining the details of the scheme, the Admiralty has had full discussion with the Ministry of Education and other responsible educational authorities and associations and has 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 age at entry will be 16 to 16 years four months. Examinations 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, 1948. 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 cadets personal expenses, according to their means; under this arrangement some will not pay anything.

Hon. Members 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 its 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, my noble Friend and the Board of Admiralty 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. They are already assured of the closest co-operation of the Ministry of Education and of the Scottish Education Department, and they feel confident that they can similarly rely upon the willing help of all public and State secondary and grammar schools.

Is the Civil Lord aware that we on these benches are in entire agreement with his tribute to the success of the present system of entry at 13½ and question strongly the wisdom of making this change; and is he also aware that we therefore sought, and received, an assurance from the First Lord that the proposals will be regarded as experimental, and that if the quality of officers produced failed in any way to come up to the same high standard, consideration would be given to restoring the longer period of training?

As I said, the Board of Admiralty have taken the advice of many eminent naval officers. I may tell the House that there is a very strong body of responsible naval officers who favour this change from 13½ to 16. As to it being of an experimental nature, I think most things in life—particularly in regard to Governments—are of an experimental nature. If it is found at any time that a change is necessary in this method of entry of officers, quite obviously the Board of Admiralty, and any party, would go into the question.

Has the Government's primary consideration in this change been social equality or Service efficiency? If the second is an important consideration, does the hon. Gentleman consider that a fixed percentage of promotion, without regard to what prove to be the principles of ability, experience and character, is a wise method?

The short answer is that the main reason for this new system is because the Admiralty consider that every boy in this country should have a fair opportunity of being able to reach the high standard demanded.

In view of the fact that the school-leaving age is now 15, would it not be better to make the age of entry 15, instead of 16, in order that the pupils may proceed directly into the scheme, where they are eligible, without a year's gap?

We consider that 16 is the lowest age at which we can expect a lad to have the education which will be required of him for entry into the Service. He may not have it at 15, and I am certain that 16 is of benefit to the poorer type of person.

Why, if this scheme was announced last May, are we now told at the end of January that there is to be an examination in March for entry in September? Could not the examination be in May, or June, as is normal? How long is the present 13 year old Dartmouth entry to go on?

The reason we have only just been able to announce this is because we realise that it is a very important matter so far as the country is concerned, and it is necessary to give the very fullest possible consideration to the details of the scheme. I feel confident that in March, if we can have the fullest co-operation of hon. Members of this House, and of the public outside, we shall have no shortage of applicants for entry in September. In regard to the last part of the supplementary question the last entry under the present system is announced in the details to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find that it is May, 1949.

The oral examination of these lads will be conducted in the future, as in the past, by an interviewing board.

Are we to understand that these boys start their career in the Service on a substantial reduction in rations?

In view of the statement of the Civil Lord that it is intended to recruit these young people from every social category, will the interviewing board also be composed of people of different sections of society, and not from one particular class?

I am sure it would assist my hon. Friend if I read what is to appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT in regard to the interviewing Board. It comprises naval officers, a psychologist—[An HON. MEMBER: "What?"]—a representative of the State educational system, and serving headmasters taken in rotation from all types of schools.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what is meant by saying that the interview is to be widened in scope? Does that mean that it is to be given greater comparative weight, or what does it mean? Secondly, could he tell us, not by referring to some document, what are to be the compulsory subjects, as the question of what are to be the compulsory subjects of the 16 year-olds is what the whole thing will turn on?

The answer to the second part of the supplementary question is fully set out in the details to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. In regard to the first part, the system in the past only allowed for a 20 minutes' interview of the boys. In future, we propose to make it far more extensive by making the interview occupy a full day.

Is the Civil Lord aware that this long overdue scheme will give great satisfaction to the Navy, and to the country as a whole, and that just as good, if not better, naval officers will be produced as hitherto by throwing open entry into the Navy more broadly to the nation as a whole, as advocated by the present Leader of the Opposition nearly 40 years ago, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty?

In view of the fact that the examination is to take place in March and the fathers and mothers of these boys have only a month in which to change their ideas about their sons' future, would it not be better, in view of the feeling of the House, to postpone the whole thing for a term, and to debate it on the Naval Estimates? Secondly, can the Civil Lord say whether science is, or is not, to be a compulsory subject in the examination?

There is no intention of postponing it for a term because of the feeling of the House, as I am quite certain that the feeling of the vast majority of the House is in favour of it. Therefore, I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member.

In view of the fact that the system of young entry, and four years training at Dartmouth, has withstood the test of two great wars, is the Civil Lord able to say anything to justify the reduction of the period of training to two years?

With the young entry at 13, and four years' training, there were two years' education, from 13 to 15, or three years to the age of 16. The entries under the new system will still be receiving a very good education up to the age of 16, and can come up to the standard of the others.

Will the Minister not treat this as experimental, but as the established method of getting officers for the British Navy, in contrast to obtaining them from a restricted and decaying circle of society?

In view of the fact that this scheme has been brought in to obtain officers from among the boys who show sufficient ability, will the Civil Lord say why it is necessary to maintain promotion from the lower deck to officer rank at 25 per cent.?

The question of lower deck promotion to commissioned rank is one which has been in the Service for quite a long time. There are many lads who join the Service, perhaps at 15½ to 16, who have not had quite so good an education and experience as they would have got when they reached 18 or 19 as ordinary seamen. It would be wrong to prevent that seaman-boy having the opportunity of commissioned rank, because we have widened the scope of officers at the beginning.

There is an important point which up to the present has been entirely overlooked. The broader scope of entry into the Navy will certainly be welcome to all the Navy. All we want are the best officers. As regards the 25 per cent. from the lower deck, the Civil Lord does not say that is whether they are efficient or not, but let that pass. Does he allow for any percentage from the public school entry, which has gone on for so long? Secondly, has he allowed any percentage for entry from the Royal Naval Reserve and the Mercantile Marine.

So far as the 25 per cent. from the lower deck is concerned, it has always been understood that for the time being at least that is the maximum, and that can only be reached as and when there are suitable people on the lower deck who are able to undertake these commissions.

Following are Me details:

The principal features of the new arrangements are as follow:

(1) Whereas the present system of entry into Dartmouth has been primarily an entry for the executive branch of the Navy, the new system of entry at age 16 will apply to the executive, engineering and supply branches.

(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) Selection will be on a competitive basis on the combined results of an educational test, and tests of personal qualities.

(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) 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) The first entry under the new system will be in September, 1948, the examination for which will be in March.

(7) As previously announced, tuition and maintenance will be free.

(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) 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.

(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.

(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.

(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 131 will be in May, 1949. Reduced numbers will be entered in September, 1948, January, 1949, and May, 1949.