The allure of a mine-hunting drone flying in Parliament was too much for MPs Peers and their staff – despite being the Queen’s Birthday and the day the US President arrived, a record number of parliamentarians came to see the latest in UK technology and techniques in clearing explosive weapons – including the innovative drone – and to try for themselves some of the equipment under the shadow of Big Ben.
The focus of the event, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Explosive Weapons, was a serious one – explosive weapons are still being used indiscriminately around the world – incidents such as Ankara, Brussels and Paris hit the headlines, but every other day innocent people in countries like Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Libya face the horror of IEDs. The event had to highlight the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons and the UK’s leading role in mitigating this impact.
Bringing the danger to life for the parliamentarians were two of the UK’s leading IED mitigation companies – Optima Group and Blaythorne Group, the drone is the result of a collaboration between Drone-ops ltd and Cobham Technical Services.
Optima’s Jim Scott and Taff Parnell spent the day describing to the parliamentarians their experiences of dealing with IEDs and training local people in Iraq, while the Blaythorne team and Steve Wisbey from NIC had fun dressing them up in bomb suits and letting them drive the remote disrupter. Sadly even the Minister was not allowed to try and fly the drone.
The approach of the APPG is that the problem of explosive weapon usage needs an holistic approach and so the world of research was represented by Kings College London centre for informatics, who are pioneering a way to detect the explosive content of a device, the Royal British Legion Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College whose ground breaking research on blast victims directly led to the survival of many of the Paris and Brussels victims, and Action on Armed Violence publishers of the hard hitting report ‘Unacceptable Harm’, and finally, the APPG’s media partner the Counter IED Report.
Many people will remember the iconic photograph from 1997 of Princess Diana on an International Red Cross visit to Angola where she visited a mine-field – so HALO Trust came along to the Green to demonstrate the traditional methods of digging up legacy landmines.
Roger Mullin MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Explosive Weapons, who hosted the event on Speaker’s Green said:
The demonstration event was designed to bring home to my political colleagues some of the horror that explosive weapons cause to innocent people and to those whose job it is to deal with the weapons and the aftermath of their use.
It is my personal belief that if politicians around the world can work together on this appalling issue, we can make a huge impact in saving people’s lives and helping lift many people out of poverty and deprivation.
Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP, is a staunch supporter of the work of the APPG – he stressed the UK’s commitment as a two prong approach:
Our approach has been two-fold; one has been to support organisations to remove those explosive weapons, those landmines, those IEDs, to make the land safe; and the second is education – making people aware of the dangers they might face.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn MP congratulated the APPG on organising the event:
It is wonderful to see all the organisations taking part today, some using very, very old techniques, and some really modern, cutting edge technology.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, has been a fervent advocate on the issues since the creation of the APPG:
It seems now that every other day we hear about some atrocious event involving a suicide bomber or IED. The incidents in Paris and Brussels are very close to home, but for people living in places like Syria, Iraq or Northern Nigeria, they are a part of daily life.
The UK is at the forefront of the global effort to combat the threat of these weapons, and coping with the dreadful aftermath when these weapons do find their target.
I am delighted to be able to add my support to this effort and to see my colleagues in both Houses come and learn about this valuable work.
Sadly Mr Bercow could not attend the event but the Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP, Deputy Speaker came in his stead, along with the Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Dear.