HC Deb 09 April 1981 vol 2 cc1097-8
1. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will take further measures to control the number of firearms in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Alison)

No, Sir. I am satisfied that adequate control is being exercised under the existing law by the Chief Constable.

Mr. Canavan

Is there not something wrong when in Northern Ireland—the most violent part of the United Kingdom—the number of firearm certificates per head of population is 1 in 18, while the ratio in England is 1 to 54, in Scotland, 1 o 42 and in Wales 1 to 32? Is it not time that the Government took steps to stop licensed gunmen taking part in Carson-type intimidation exercises led by the dog-collared hooligan, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We can refer to one another in more polite terms.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman's statistics are misleading. The reason for the high ratio of firearms or gun certificates per head of population in Northern Ireland is due almost exclusively to the fact that in Northern Ireland, unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, air weapons need a firearms certificate. In practice, licensed firearms are rarely used in the commission of crime.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is it not correct to say that most of the 2,300 people murdered by the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland were murdered with illegally held guns or explosives, and that firearms are needed by individuals for their own defence?

Mr. Alison

I am happy to confirm the hon. Gentleman's fact and observation.

Mr. Bradford

Will the Minister confirm that, rather than a reduction, there should be an increase in the number of legally held weapons because many members of the part-time security forces are under threat from terrorists and require personal weapons for their own protection?

Mr. Alison

I cannot confirm such a sweeping generalisation, but members of the security forces have ready access to personal protection weapons on application, either to the Chief Constable or to the relevant Army commander in the case of people in the UDR.

Mr. Peter Robinson

As the vast majority of murders in Northern Ireland are carried out using illegally held weapons, what steps have the Government taken to stop weapons coming in from Communist countries?

Mr. Allison

We take every means to prevent the illegal import of any weapons.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Will the Minister review whether it is necessary to carry on licensing airguns, because they produce confusing statistics and the result is not always to the advantage of the Province? Will he also standardise the side arms that are issued to the security forces and make them all of the one calibre?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman's second question is a matter for more technical appraisal by the Chief Constable or by the Army personnel who are responsible for the issue of such arms. On the first point, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to the effect that the overwhelming majority of weapons are not used illegally. The Chief Constable has a power of revocation, so it is possible to withdraw an air rifle or an airgun if it is used improperly or illegally.