§ Mr. Prior
The Chief Constable and the GOC have issued clear instructions which ensure that baton rounds are used only when other means of controlling disturbances are ineffective and the risks are justified. I have reviewed the situation in the light of the recent inquest and I do not consider that the present instructions require amendment, but we continue to look for acceptable alternatives.
§ Mr. Dubs
Does the Minister accept that the evidence given at the inquest on this young boy showed that the plastic bullet gun was defective and that this defect contributed to, if not caused, the boy's death? Is not the conclusion, in the light of 14 deaths so far through the use of plastic and rubber bullets in Northern Ireland, that these are dangerous weapons and, unless they are banned, further deaths will follow?
§ Mr. Prior
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the defective weapon was one of the factors considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions, who decided that no prosecution should take place. I can give the House an example of the problems with which the police have to deal. Last Saturday, the police in Londonderry were attacked with 350 petrol bombs and in one night in May they were attacked by 500 petrol bombs and nine live shots. These are the problems that we ask our people in Northern Ireland to deal with, and they must have the weapons that they feel are necessary to protect themselves.
Everything will be done to keep tight control on any use of plastic baton rounds. As hon. Members will know, the number that has been used in the past year is a fraction of 558 those used in previous years, and I am delighted that that is the case. The way to stop the use of plastic baton rounds is for young hooligans to be encouraged not to use petrol bombs.
§ Mr. Adley
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will be grateful to him for reminding us why the security forces have to use baton rounds—because of the terror and intimidation? Is it not a great credit to the security forces that they can carry out their duties when any other country's security forces, faced with this problem, would use not baton rounds but live bullets?
§ Mr. Prior
It is a constant source of wonderment and admiration that, in the light of enormous provocation, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and our forces in Northern Ireland behave in the manner they do. We should not underestimate what would happen if our forces in Northern Ireland were not as efficient, professional and impartial as they now are.