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Plastic Bullets

Volume 32: debated on Thursday 25 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many rounds of plastic bullets were fired in Northern Ireland in the last six months; how many injuries resulted; how serious the injuries were; and how many deaths resulted.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what complaints he has received about the use of plastic bullets in Northern Ireland.

Since 1 June 1982, 370 plastic baton rounds have been fired by the security forces in Northern Ireland and three people are believed to have been injured by them. There have been no deaths caused by baton rounds during that period.

Since the beginning of this year I or my Ministers have answered 19 questions in this House or in another place on the subject of baton rounds. In addition, I or members of my Department have replied to 35 letters; not all were complaints.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether any and, if so, how many members of the security forces have been prosecuted or disciplined for breaching the regulations on firing plastic bullets? The regulations say that plastic bullets should not be aimed above the waist. The 11 deaths from plastic bullets were all the result of injuries to the head and chest.

I cannot give the hon. Lady precise figures. In a recent case two soldiers were prosecuted, tried and acquitted. That case is now closed. I assure the hon. Lady that, for a whole range of reasons, the tightest control is now exercised over the use of plastic baton rounds.

As 14 people, half of them children, have been killed and hundreds more seriously injured by rubber or plastic bullets over the past decade, why has not one single soldier or policeman responsible been convicted of murder, manslaughter or even improper use of these lethal weapons? Instead of turning a blind eye to the murder of little children, is it not time that the Secretary of State imposed a complete ban on plastic bullets, along the lines of the recent Labour Party conference decision?

The hon. Gentleman should take on board the fact that if young children are used by others to form a riot or to give protection for others in a riot, they are bound at times to get hurt—

The right thing to do is to keep young children away from a riot. The security forces have an extremely difficult job. They do not enjoy the task that is set them. They are there to protect all the people of Northern Ireland.

They do their job to the best of their ability. They need to have additional protection at this time.

How many rounds of high velocity lead bullets have been fired at the security forces in the past six months? How many injuries have those bullets caused? How serious were those injuries, and how many resulted in death?

I cannot give the answer now. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a question on the matter he has raised, I shall try to answer it. I am not certain whether he is talking about high velocity lead bullets or 45-grain plastic baton rounds. I can perhaps reply to the hon. Gentleman in a separate answer.

Would it not be better if the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), whose voice has been heard so often since she entered the House, gave her support to the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland in the same way as we presume she supports them in her constituency.