HL Deb 12 June 1923 vol 54 cc461-8

LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE had given Notice to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the damage to the contents of the mansion "Woodstock," Co. Kilkenny, whilst in the occupation of the R.I.C. Auxiliary Forces between 26th August, 1920, and 14th February, 1921, and to the amount of compensation offered by the Lands Department of the War Office to the owner. And to ask whether such compensation was not based on a Marching-in Report made six months after the occupation by the R.I.C. Forces; and whether in these circumstances the Lands Department is prepared to make a reasonable increase in the offer.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my Question is concerned with a claim against the Imperial Government for destruction and damage to furniture and effects at a mansion known as "Woodstock," in the County of Kilkenny, caused by the Royal Irish Constabulary Auxiliary Forces knows as the "Black and Tans." I wish your Lordships to understand that the mansion of Woodstock is the property of the trustees of the late Captain Tighe's settled estate, and that any remark which I may make this afternoon is not concerned with any damage to the mansion itself, though I may say at this stage that the mansion, together with its entire contents, was destroyed by the Republicans in July, 1922.

The Question in regard to which I have to ask for the good offices of His Majesty's Government is that of the articles of furniture, many of them valuable, which were the personal property of Mrs. Tighe. When this mansion was taken over by the Auxiliary Forces all the valuable articles of furniture and effects belonging to Mrs. Tighe were removed by her and locked in certain rooms of the mansion which were not required for the occupation of the Auxiliary Forces. The point upon which the whole of this claim turns, and to which I particularly wish to call the attention of His Majesty's Government, is that that which is known as the Marching-in Report, which is a kind of inventory of the furniture and valuables in any given mansion, was not compiled by the officer who commanded the "Black and Tans" until six months after the occupation actually took place, so that there is a complete period of six months which is not accounted for in the Report. It must be obvious to your Lordships that in order to be fair to the owner of the mansion that Marching-in Report, which, as I have said, is in the nature of an inventory, should have been made immediately the occupation took place. The occupation was arranged forcibly without the permission of the owners of the mansion, but I will let that pass. The facts are that the mansion was occupied and that no Marching-in Report was made until after the house had been occupied by the "Black and Tans" for six months.

Your Lordships will easily understand that I am not overstating the case when I say that during the occupation by the "Black and Tans" a considerable amount of damage took place. I am not bringing any particular charge against the officers and men who occupied this house. However well trained and well disciplined a force may be, when a country is in a state of war damage to articles of furniture—valuable articles, as they were in this case—is certain to take place. Even if an army were entirely composed of such well disciplined gentlemen as the eldest sons of Peers I have not the slightest doubt that in the course of six months the furniture and effects of any given mansion would undergo a certain amount of deterioration. As a matter of fact considerable damage was done to furniture and effects during this occupation. The locked rooms in which Mrs. Tighe had placed all her most cherished possessions and heirlooms were forcibly broken into, and many articles were wilfully burnt and totally destroyed.

To make a long story short, Mrs. Tighe estimated the damage at a sum of £1,300. I do not wish to overstate her case. I have taken very great pains to arrive at the facts of this case and not to exaggerate the claim in any way whatever. I may tell His Majesty's Government that since the claim was lodged articles to the value of £165 have, in fact, been found, though Mrs. Tighe thought that they were lost, so that this amount comes off her claim of £1,300. This claim is based upon vouchers which she has in her possession and which will tell His Majesty's Government the value of the articles which were destroyed and damaged. The other basis upon which the claim rests is the valuation of a competent and reputable valuer in Ireland. Up to date she has received two offers. The first offer was made in October, 1922, by a certain Captain Taylor, the War Department Land Officer of Munster, in respect of the articles comprised in the Marching-in Report, that Report having been made, as I have said, six months after the occupation, and instead of paying her the £1,300—I admit that some sort of compromise might have been arrived at—the original offer was only £62 17s. 6d. in respect of articles which she had estimated at £1,300. I should add that this mansion, the property of the Tighe family, and its entire contents, were totally destroyed by the Republicans in July, 1922.

After that she preferred her claim again, and Captain Brennan called, and declined to consider any question of loss or damage on any article which was not included in this Marching-in Report. Again I must call attention to the fact that this Report was not filed until after six months' occupation by the "Black and Tans." After a considerable discussion the offer to Mrs. Tighe was increased from £62 17s. 6d. to £200. This case was brought to my attention, and I considered it my duty, with great respect, to lay it before His Majesty's Government, not with any hostile intent towards His Majesty's Government, but because it is our duty in this House to consider cases of this kind. I beg to be allowed to recommend the case of Mrs. Tighe to the favourable consideration of His Majesty's Government, and if they will at least show some sympathy towards her claim, Mrs. Tighe and her representatives will be prepared to lay before them the fullest information, the authenticity of which I have been myself at some pains to probe. I can assure His Majesty's Government that her case is very well founded, and I trust that, as a result of any inquiry which the Government may choose to make, she will have some reasonable increase granted to her on the very small sum that has been offered, in respect of damage which, after all, cannot be entirely assessed at a money value.


My Lords, the War Department is not really concerned in this case, but as the case has been handled, on behalf of the Treasury, by an officer of the War Office Lands Department, I hope my noble friend will allow me to answer. My noble friend made a great point of the fact that there was no Marching-in Report made until after six months, and he based a great deal of his claim upon that fact. Your Lordships, however, I think will see that that is not a very substantial point on which to base a claim when I tell you the facts. I agree that no Marching-in Report was made until after six months, but the lady's agent's own inventory, made I presume in consultation with her, of what was in the house at the time of entry, was accepted as the basis on which to found a valuation. Therefore the fact of there not being a Marching-in Report until six months after the occupation began does not seem to be a very substantial factor in the case.

The original inventory upon which the basis of compensation was founded was an inventory handed in, as being correct, by the lady's own agent, at the moment when the R.I.C. went in. I am sure that my noble friend will not ask or expect me to canvass in detail, over the floor of the House, the technical merits of a controversy as to a particular valuation. This valuation, I can assure him, has been most carefully examined by a qualified and responsible officer, in whom I have every confidence. He and his assistants have seen the owner's representatives personally, and have also corresponded with them at great length, and they have made every effort to arrive at agreement.

The noble Lord is perfectly correct when he says that the sum of £200 was offered in compensation. It is a great deal less than the sum demanded, but those connected with the valuation have assured me personally that, as a matter of fact, it is really a generous construction to place upon the amount of damage done. Certainly it is much less than the sum claimed, but I would like to point out to the noble Lord that the claims made in this case may be somewhat excessive. For instance, it was claimed by the owners that the damage to the house itself was £1,806, but as a matter of fact that claim, after negotiations, was reduced to £447, and this was accepted in full discharge on the recommendation of the agent of the estate. Having gone into the matter, I am convinced that the amount now offered is full compensation for the amount of damage done, but if the lady in question is not satisfied there is, I may say, a much better course for her to pursue than to have these, items debated over the floor of this House. There is the War Compensation Court, set up under the Indemnity Act of 1920, which is presided over by the Lord Chief Justice of England. That Court is competent, and is formed for the purpose of dealing with such claims when they cannot be settled by private agreement, as I hope this case may be. If, however, the lady in question is dissatisfied with the valuation put upon her property on behalf of the Treasury by the War Office land officer, then I hope she will go to that Court. So far as my own feelings are concerned I am convinced that the amount now offered does give full compensation for the damage done.


My Lords, as I have some acquaintance with this case perhaps you will allow me to say a very few words, in reply to what has been said by the noble Earl. I was not aware that the valuation was based upon an inventory which was prepared by the agent of the estate, and perhaps the noble Earl will therefore forgive me if I do not reply to that point, before going further into the matter. I know the house "Woodstock" very well. It is a very handsome Georgian house, filled with very good Chippendale furniture. The "Black and Tans" were no doubt very gallant men but not in the habit of using furniture of that kind, and they perhaps thought it more useful to employ as firewood than for sitting upon. It is probable, too, that the gentleman referred to who acted as valuer may not be aware of the value of old Chippendale chairs. The house was extremely well furnished with eighteenth century furniture, and one can easily understand that it does not take a great deal to make up £200 when that furniture is destroyed.

The noble Earl said that the lady in question, instead of having the matter discussed on the floor of the House, might have had recourse to the War Compensation Court. May I say that before this case was brought to the notice of my noble friend this lady particularly asked whether there was any further measure which she could take, short of bringing the matter before Parliament. She was specially anxious that this should not be done, and I happen to know that her solicitor communicated with the Lands Department, and the suggestion was made that a Departmental Committee was now being set up, consisting of representatives of the Treasury and the War Office, to consider such matters, and that she might possibly be allowed to appear as a witness before it. She applied to be so allowed to appear, and was told that it was perfectly impossible, and that no further consideration could be given to her case.

It was only when she heard that that she determined to ask my noble friend to bring the matter to the attention of your Lordships and of His Majesty's Government. I still hope that the War Office may consider that the sum of £200 offered is very small in the circumstances, and may be willing to increase it. But, if that is impossible, I am glad to hear that the lady to whom the furniture belonged has a remedy by applying to the War Compensation Court.


I should like to correct one misapprehension. The War Office has nothing whatever to do with this. I am only answering the Question on behalf of the Treasury because the Treasury employed a War Office valuer. I am informed that this lady has a perfect right, if she so wishes, to appeal against this valuation to the Court set up under the Indemnity Act.


My Lords, Mrs. Tighe is the widow of one of my oldest friends, and I should like to say something about what happened at this house. I know the house very well, I have often stayed there; and I also know the furniture very well. When the "Black and Tans" occupied it certain articles of furniture of great value were locked up. As a rule, in such circumstances as these, even when one lets one's house, there are certain household gods that one locks up and puts away. To speak the truth quite plainly, the first lot of "Black and Tans" sent over to Ireland were, without exception, some of the greatest blackguards I have ever seen. I have had experience of them, and very serious experience, too. There was a member of White's, a friend of mine, who thought it his duty to go over and join in order to help to put down the rebellion in Ireland. He was put in charge of the "Black and Tans" at "Woodstock," and he told me himself in the club that he stopped the sort of blackguardism that was going on in the neighbourhood—going into houses, and pulling the peasants out of their beds, and so on. In some cases that may have been necessary, but, at any rate, that is what this gentleman told me at the time.

With regard to the Government answer to-day, nothing was said about the rooms being broken into. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby do Broke, said the rooms were broken into, and that is perfectly true. The rooms were broken into, the furniture destroyed, and some of it burnt. Surely, when something of that kind occurs as the result of the conduct of men who are employed by His Majesty's Government, the damage should be paid for. Lord Oranmore and Browne mentioned that this was Chippendale furniture. You do not light a fire with Chippendale furniture. Mention was made of a Commission, but once this has been settled by a valuer appointed by the Government I do not see what status one has if one goes before this Commission.


You can appeal.


To whom do you appeal?


You appeal to this Commission against the valuation.


Supposing I put myself in the position of Mrs. Tighe and go before the Commission, this valuation having been made, what status have I before that Commission? I hope the Government will reconsider this case. I know the whole of the inner facts, and I think that it is a very bad case indeed.