2018 11 – Parliament And World War One – June 1918

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry

Sir Henry Dalziel, Bt, (24/4/1868-15/7/1935) was a British newspaper proprietor and Liberal politician. He was first elected in 1892 for Kircaldy Burghs. Dalziel was an outspoken advocate of home rule for Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Ronald McNeill (30/4/1861-12/10/1934) was born in Ulster. He was a Conservative MP, first elected in 1892 as a Unionist member for St Augustine’s division of Kent. From 1910 he resided at Glenmona House in Cushenden, County Antrim. He was burnt out of the house in 1922.


Sir H. DALZIEL I do not propose to refer to the larger issues that have been raised in the Debate to-day, although I hold very definite opinions in regard to them, and I hope to get another opportunity on which to express my views. I rise now, in pursuance of notice I gave to the Chief Secretary this afternoon, to ask him a definite question with regard to a matter closely associated with the subject debated to-day, to which the last speaker in the Debate alluded indirectly—that is, how long the Government are going to allow the scandal of young men going to Ireland to escape military service? I raised this question eighteen months ago, and I raised it nine months ago. From the late Chief Secretary I got no satisfaction whatever. I made personal investigation, and found that between the Home Office and the Irish Office continual correspondence was going on, but nothing was done. I call this one of the greatest scandals of the War, that, with the connivance of the Government, young men of eighteen, twenty, and up to thirty years of age have been allowed up to this moment, this very week, this very day, to go to Ireland and carry on business there. Some of them, I know, are spending thousands of pounds a year, which I can prove, in telegrams in order to carry on their business in Dublin, with their head centre in London. The Chief Secretary is just new to his office, but I want him to give us a definite pledge on this point. The Government are trying the patience of some of their supporters because they are taking men fifty years of age and ruining their business prospects, while they sit still and look on at these young men going to Ireland.

They introduced a short time ago a so-called passport system for Ireland. There was never a greater fraud introduced so far as this matter is concerned. What is the position to-day? If the Chief Secretary goes over to Ireland to-morrow, he will find, if there is room on the boat, plenty of young men. I do not know why they are not stopped by the Government. All the Passport Department does is to keep a black book. If the names of the men are not in that black book, they can go to Ireland at the present moment. That is a scandal. If you go to any of the cinemas in Ireland you will find they are full of young men from England. [An HON. MEMBER: “And from Scotland!”] Probably some of them come from Scotland. They are simply defying the authorities. If you go to any race meetings in Ireland you find that the greater proportion of the people there are not Irishmen. They are men who have gone from this country—bookmakers, with all their paraphernalia. Is the Government sincere in this matter of trying to get men, when they allow these men to cross on the very boats on which members of the Government themselves are crossing? They have all gone to Ireland to escape military service. I want the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that he is going to deal with this matter at once. The Government are trying the patience of many people in this country in regard to this and other matters. I will not detain the House by going into the scandal in London, where you see thousands of young men who are escaping military service at this moment. I will take another occasion to deal with that, and give my impressions. I ask the right hon. Gentleman is he aware of these things; does he admit them, and is he prepared to take immediate action to put a stop to them?

Mr. SHORTT I quite agree that this scandal, to which my right hon. Friend has alluded, exists. It has existed for some time. But there are very considerable difficulties in the way. In the first place, most of these people who go over to Ireland change their names. They are very difficult to identify, and, unless they can be shown to be absentees, there is no means by which they can be arrested and brought back to this country. This matter has been engaging the attention of the Irish Government for some little time, and the Attorney-General, with the representative of the Ministry of National Service, has gone into the subject very carefully. They have now arranged that these men can all be called up by Proclamation, and the Proclamation is actually prepared, and will be published in the course of a day or two, and all these men will become Reservists and will be, therefore, absentees, and can be taken and handed over, under military escort, to this country. If my right hon. Friend can help us with names, because identity is one of the greatest difficulties the Irish police meet with, it will be of the greatest possible assistance; but I can assure him that the so-called scandal is fully realised, and steps have been taken to meet it and defeat it, and I think when the Proclamation is issued, and these men become, in fact, absentees, they can be dealt with and brought back to this country.

General McCALMONT Is sufficient attention paid to the fact that anyone who crosses to Ireland in uniform is practically allowed to pass without any question at all, and anyone wearing the uniform of an officer has only to go to the gangway of a ship, give a name, and say where he is going, and, as far as I have seen, he is allowed to pass without question? Is it not possible that people are making use of that means of going to Ireland?

Mr. BOOTH Thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his sympathetic reply, I would ask the Whips when we may hope to find a copy of Mr. Justice Atkins’ Committee’s Report upon emergency legislation? It is now three weeks since I stopped this Motion going through. It was called after Eleven o’clock and I objected. We had not yet got a copy of the Report on the subject which this Committee was appointed to consider. We have patiently waited. Surely it cannot be the fault of the printers any longer. Is there any explanation?

Mr. JAMES HOPE (Lord of the Treasury) I can only say, as my Noble Friend said last night. The hon. Member cannot be more solicitous in regard to this matter than we are. The Report is not yet printed. All we can do is to urge the printers.

Question put, and agreed to.


Mr RONALD McNEILL asked the Chief Secretary whether he has any information as to the nationality and antecedents of one M’Sweeney, commonly known as Count M’Sweeney, who resides in Fitzwilliam Square, in Dublin; if he can say whether he is the same M’Sweeney who, being the son of an Irish butcher, but having married a Brazilian heiress named Cavaleranti de Albuquerque, went to Rome in 1894, and in the following year was appointed to a post in the secret service of the Vatican, his name appearing as Petruzio MacSweeney, of Washington, in the Papal Calendar for 1896, about which time he received the title of Marchese from the Pope, and who, after obtaining a divorce from his first wife, was married in 1910 in the chapel of the castle of Schlitz, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, to Her Highness the Countess  Anna von Schlitz, a relative of the German Emperor, and was afterwards employed in the German secret service; whether M’Sweeney purchased an estate near the South Coast of Ireland in 1914 from the Estates Commissioners; whether, after the outbreak of war, the Government was warned several times by the late Mr. Commissioner Bailey that M’Sweeney’s movements and conduct were suspicious; whether M’Sweeney’s house in Dublin is a rendezvous for Sinn Feiners; and whether, having regard to M’Sweeney’s German relations and to the fact that he has been employed in the secret service both of the Pope and the Kaiser, the Government is satisfied that his present activities are directed to the national advantage?

Sir STUART COATS Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, is he aware that the Vatican has no secret service, and also that Patrizio M’Sweeney, who was at one time a Private Chamberlain to Pope Pius X, had all the papal honours of which he had been the recipient annulled by Pope Pius X several years before the death of that Pontiff, and that his name has not for many years appeared in the Annuario Pontificio which is the official year book of the Vatican?

Mr. SAMUELS The Marquess M’Sweeney is, as I am informed, the son of a British subject, and was born in France. He held the position of Vice-Chamberlain at the Vatican, but I have no information that he was in the German secret service. His present wife is a daughter of the late Count von Schlitz, and is related to the Kaiser. He purchased some small property in the neighbourhood of Macroom, county Cork, shortly before the War, and was living at Killarney. He was associated with the National Volunteers. He was afterwards regarded with suspicion, chiefly, as I am informed, owing to his wife’s German origin. Having obtained permission for his wife to reside in Dublin, the Marquess M’Sweeney took a house in Dublin some time ago. His house has been kept under observation from time to time, but no suspicious persons have been observed to visit there or to associate with the Marquess or Marchioness M’Sweeney.

Mr. McNEILL Will the right hon. Gentleman answer that part of the question referring to the warnings given by the late Commissioner Bailey?

Mr. SAMUELS I have no information about Mr. Commissioner Bailey.

Mr. McNEILL Can the right hon. Gentleman not inquire whether warnings were not given before he and his friends came into office by Mr. Commissioner Bailey?

Mr. SAMUELS I will make inquiries, and I will communicate with my hon. Friend on the subject.

Mr. McKEAN Is it right for a Member of this House to put upon the Paper a series of charges in the shape of questions reflecting most seriously on the character of an honourable man without there being any opportunity afforded on the same occasion for a reply being made to those charges. I know the Marchese M’Sweeney——

Mr. SPEAKER I have frequently pointed out, especially to the hon. Member’s colleagues in the past, that it was very undesirable indeed to make charges against persons who had no representatives here, and who had no means of answering. If an hon. Member places a question of this character on the Paper, it must be assumed that he has himself made some attempt at investigation, and that primâ facie he believes the statements he makes.

Mr. McKEAN He may be wrong, but if he is wrong what opportunity is there for the party defamed to justify himself——

Mr. SPEAKER The proper course for any person who feels himself aggrieved by a question on the Paper is to communicate with the Minister who has to reply, and the Minister will, no doubt, use his judgment and discretion as to the information which he gives to the House, and will probably state that the information came from the person who was aggrieved.

Mr. McNEILL As the question which I put on the Paper has now been answered by a Member of the Government, as far as I have been able to follow it, substantially in the affirmative as regards the statement of facts in the question, I wish to ask whether, at a time like the present, a Member of Parliament is not only allowed, but it is his duty when information reaches him, provided he takes care to substantiate it to the best of his ability in the interests of the country, to ask for information from the Government as to whether suspicious characters are or are not sufficiently safeguarded?

Mr. McKEAN Arising out of the answer in which you, Mr. Speaker, gave to me, I wish to put this further question. You suggested in your reply that the proper course for a person about whose character certain statements are made is to communicate with the Minister who will answer the question. Is it the position that a Minister will accept from a person about whom such charges were made such information as authentic and give it here in this House? I do not think he would.

Mr. SPEAKER If he did his duty properly he would say he had received information to a contrary effect or to this effect or the other.

Mr. McKEAN I cannot——

Mr. SPEAKER The time for questions is limited——

Mr. McKEAN This is a very serious question.

HON. MEMBERS “Order, order.”

Mr. SPEAKER I cannot allow any further discussion at the present time upon this matter.


Colonel W. THORNE (by Private, Notice) asked the Minister of Munitions if his attention has been drawn to a leaderette in to-day’s “Chronicle” in connection with the threatened strike of munition workers, which alleges that a certain firm at Coventry posted a notice worded in such a way as to create an impression that the district rate of wages was to be destroyed; if he is aware that Mr. John Hill, the General Secretary of the Boilermakers’. Society, has stated that the action taken by the Ministry of Munitions in restricting the powers of certain firms to freely engage workmen is a considerable extension of the proposals made by the Ministry in June last which the Trade Union Advisory Committee could not accept; and if he will make a statement on the whole position?

The MINISTER of MUNITIONS (Mr. Churchill) My attention has been drawn to the terms of the notice referred to by my hon. Friend. The notice is not official, and the Ministry of Munitions is not responsible for its wording. It appears to be an inaccurate summary of instructions issued by the Ministry of Munitions, and only to have been posted, according to my present information, in the works of a single firm in Coventry. There is, of course, no question of any reduction in the district rates of wages. Steps have been taken to make this clear.

I may mention that there is at the present time an unsatisfied demand for skilled men to the extent of between 50,000 and 60,000 for whom war work could immediately be found. Skilled men, therefore, have an enormous choice of employment open to them, and this is not appreciably affected by the fact that, in the present scarcity of skilled labour, we cannot allow firms who already have more than their proper share to add to their staffs.

With regard to the second part of my hon. Friend’s question, I have seen the statement referred to by Mr. John Hill, the general secretary of the Boilermakers’ Society. The action taken by the Ministry of Munitions is no extension of the proposals made in June last. On the contrary, it was clearly foreshadowed by me as one of the safeguards contingent upon the abolition of the leaving certificate as far back as 15th August last year. Perhaps I may read to the House the actual words I used: What is called poaching, or potential poaching, by employers of any fluid labour can be prevented by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, and I shall hold myself free to utilise that. I do not wish to say that what has taken place in the firms upon which we placed the embargo constitutes poaching. Poaching should properly be defined as bribing men away from other firms. I do not make that accusation at all, but over-staffing and the readiness to exaggerate over-staffing belongs rather to the realm of potential poaching, and is, therefore, entirely covered by the statement I made nearly a year ago.

All these proposals, both for engaging additional war munitions volunteers, and for restricting over-staffing by certain firms, were fully explained to the Trade Union Advisory Committee at several meetings in April last. The Trade Union Advisory Committee were not asked to take responsibility which properly belongs to the Government, and I have never sought to throw an unfair burden upon them. At the same time, it is right to say that the result of those conferences led all who were present to the conviction that trade unionists and the workmen generally throughout the country were resolute to repair the damage which the military disasters of March last had caused, and to support the national cause by every means in their power, and especially by liberating men and making munitions. To that conviction we still adhere with the utmost confidence.

Colonel THORNE What efforts are being made to avoid this awful calamity? Does the right hon. Gentleman know that, so far as the executive of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers are concerned, they have deprecated the action taken?

Mr. CHURCHILL I know that every effort has been made by responsible trade union leaders to remove the misunderstanding, and I am in close touch and consultation with them.

Sir H. DALZIEL Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps for the immediate removal of all persons of German origin from any Department of the Ministry?

Mr. CHURCHILL I really do not think that has anything to do with the question.

Sir H. DALZIEL I am sorry you do not.

Mr. CHURCHILL I hope that matter will not be mixed up with this entirely different, complicated, and delicate question.

Sir H. DALZIEL Is it true that there are persons of German origin in important positions in the Labour Department of the Ministry?

Mr. CHURCHILL I must adhere to what I said, that it has nothing to do with this. I understand that a Committee is about to be set up for the purpose of examining this very question, and I will not in any circumstances prejudice the status of individuals whose cases can be reviewed by a properly constituted and competent tribunal.

Mr. PRINGLE Cannot the Ministry deal with individual cases of alleged over-staffing with skilled men without issuing a general declaration likely to cause unrest all over the country?

Mr. CHURCHILL I do not think we have issued a general declaration. A letter has been sent to certain firms telling them that they have got enough, and must not engage more skilled men.

Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT Why is it that these Labour questions are not dealt with by the Labour Ministry, especially constituted for the purpose?

Mr. CHURCHILL That is a very large question, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will realise that there is no more anxious or thankless task than this work of the Ministry of Munitions. It would be much easier and a less thankless task if we could transfer all these difficulties en bloc to another Department and simply criticise any difficulties they get—and which are largely inherited—in the present situation. But at the present time I am responsible for the welfare of the great mass of munition workers, on whom we depend for our output, and I do not think, looking back over the year, that we have any reason to be dissatisfied.

Colonel THORNE Does the right hon. Gentleman’s answer mean that men wanting to leave any particular firm are free to choose any employment they like, with the exception of a certain number of firms who have more skilled men than they require, while there is a shortage in other parts of the country?

Mr. CHURCHILL That is the exact position. It is hardly possible to sum it up more cogently than my hon. Friend has done. Only he might have added that the number of firms which are subject to the embargo are an infinitesimal part of the number of firms open for free engagement.