HC Deb 23 July 1987 vol 120 cc477-8
Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if there are any plans to end the use of plastic bullets in the Province.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Stanley)

No, Sir.

Mr. Parry

As 383 people have been injured, some seriously, by the use of plastic bullets, and that 15 people, mainly innocent civilians, have been killed, will the Minister reconsider his decision? Will he state the position for compensation for victims who have been killed or maimed?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that over the years Northern Ireland has seen serious street disturbances. It is necessary to have an adequate deterrent to meet such disturbances. As to the figures that he gave on injuries, he should also bear in mind that in the two years ending in November last year about 1,000 RUC officers had been injured in street disturbances. It is important that we take that into account. Compensation is a matter for the normal processes of civil litigation. I do not believe that there is any extension of the statutory schemes.

Mr. Adley

Everybody obviously regrets any injury or fatality, but does my right hon. Friend agree that if he was a Minister standing at the Dispatch Box being asked to answer such questions in almost any other country he would probably have said, "Yes, Sir. They will be replaced by live rounds."? Is it not a compliment to the security services and to the tolerance that we show in this country towards such murderous activity that we still use plastic rounds?

Mr. Stanley

I take my hon. Friend's point. He is entirely right. We have always followed a policy of absolute minimum effective deterrence in trying to deal with the serious problem of street disturbances. The series of marches in the Province during the past few days have been conducted in a much more peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. That is a significant development that reflects extremely well on the Royal Ulster Constabulary and on both communities in the Province.

Mr. McGrady

Does the Minister agree that in many circumstances the use of plastic bullets is, in fact, the use of live ammunition, and that the circumstances surrounding their use often lead to confusion and to fatalities? Does he not also agree that, politically speaking, the use of plastic bullets is probably one of the most emotive and defeatist things that could be done when quelling a random disturbance in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind the nature of the problems that the RUC has had to face in the past in Northern Ireland. I certainly cannot agree with him when he says that plastic bullets are the equivalent to using live rounds. I draw his attention to the fact that although, regrettably, 15 people have been killed by the use of plastic bullets since 1970, about 100,000 plastic bullets have been fired during that period.

Ms. Short

Does the Minister not understand that families in Northern Ireland are still grieving because innocent children have been killed by plastic bullets? People have been maimed. Indeed, a woman that I have met was standing in her kitchen doing the washing up when she was blinded by a plastic bullet. When the Minister stands at the Dispatch Box to defend the use of plastic bullets, does he not think that he should at least express some regret for those totally innocent people who have been hurt, maimed and killed by the use of plastic bullets?

Mr. Stanley

I am very ready to express regret for the small minority of cases in which innocent bystanders have become casualties as a result of the firing of plastic bullets. I hope that, for her part, the hon. Lady will be ready to condemn those who have indulged in the throwing of petrol bombs and in all sorts of other extreme forms of violence in street disturbances in the Province.

Back to