Immunity for Soldiers — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:54 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 4:54 pm, 20th May 2019

My right hon. Friend is right: it was taken a long time ago. We must remember that most of our young men were 18 or 19 years old. They were kids. My soldiers looked so young that they could have been in year 9 or 10 at school.

Firearms were used as a last resort. On the yellow card it says, in capitals:

“FIREARMS MUST ONLY BE USED AS A LAST RESORT”.

That was drilled into us. A challenge had to be given before someone could open fire, unless doing so, it says on the yellow card, would increase the risk of injury or death to others or oneself. That challenge was clear: “Army. Stop or I fire.” Again the yellow card is specific: opening fire was allowed only if lives were endangered by someone firing a weapon at a soldier or someone they were protecting, or if someone was planting or throwing an explosive device—the card specifically mentions petrol bombs. One third of my platoon were injured by petrol bombs in 1970 on the streets of Londonderry, at the Rossville Street/William Street junction—one third burned, and we had not opened fire at all. And nor did we. If someone is driving at a soldier, that soldier is allowed to open fire. Finally, if a terrorist has killed someone or is in the act of killing someone, a soldier can open fire if they cannot make an arrest in any other way.

We could only open fire with aimed shots, not with machine gun fire; we did not do it automatic. We had to use “the minimum force”—that, again, is on the yellow card—and we had to be careful that we did not hit innocent people. That little phrase stopped so many British soldiers from firing, particularly in Belfast on the Falls Road.