HC Deb 09 July 1888 vol 328 cc712-3
DR. R. MACDONALD (Ross and Cromarty)

asked the Lord Advocate, If his attention has been called to the statements of Alexander Mackinnon, crofter, and others resident in the Island of Coll, who were convicted of being concerned in a breach of the peace at the Sheriff Court in Tobermory on the 13th ultimo; whether such breach of the peace arose from these crofters refusing to allow a Committee of the School Board to examine their lands in order to determine a position for the site of a board school; whether the said Committee refused to produce any authority from the landlord to inspect the proposed site, and whether any intimation whatever had been given to the men who were convicted that their lands were proposed to be taken for this purpose; whether the Procurator Fiscal, who prosecuted these prisoners on behalf of the Crown Authorities, is land agent, factor, and rent-collector for the landlord on whose estate this alleged breach of the peace took place; and, whether Her Majesty's Government propose to prevent similar prosecutions in future by means of their own officials, while these officers in their private capacity are interested in the acquittal or conviction of prisoners according as their own private interests are affected?

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

I am aware that certain crofters were summarily convicted of breach of the peace in connection with this matter. A new school being required, a site was granted by the proprietor, and a Committee of the Board appointed to choose a suitable site. On the day the Committee made the visit for this purpose, they were met on the high road by a crowd of about 20 persons armed with sticks, and one with a grape, and before they could explain their object they were ordered to turn back. A line was drawn up, and threats were made that if anyone passed he would be knocked down. One of the crowd asked if they had a warrant, and was told that they had come to look for a site, and to consult with the people as to a suitable one. They were even- tually allowed to look over the ground, and fixed on a site near the present school, without further hindrance. There is no evidence to show that the Committee were asked to produce authority from the landlord, and no attempt was made at the trial to give this as an excuse for the misconduct of the people. For about 20 years the Procurator Fiscal or his partner have collected the rents on this small property; and during this time the relationship between the Procurator Fiscal and the tenants has been of the most friendly character. Only one of the tenants was engaged in this disturbance; and I am informed that the tenants on the estate knew perfectly well the object and date of the visit, and were not opposed to it, with the one exception I have mentioned. I am unable to see that the Procurator Fiscal was in any way interested in his private capacity in the conviction or acquittal of these offenders; and the persons implicated were ordered to be tried, not by the Procurator Fiscal, but by me.


asked, whether the Committee had any authority from the landlord to inspect the proposed site; and, if so, did they produce it?


said, he did not know whether there was any written authority; but he thought reasonable people would have allowed them to look about for a site for school, and would not have attacked them.