Medicines and Medical Devices Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 2nd September 2020.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 3:10 pm, 2nd September 2020

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath mentioned the China Tribunal’s final report and its conclusions about forced organ harvesting in China. Despite the overwhelming evidence, China denies the claims, relying on the fact that the WHO cleared it of wrongdoing.

In June this year, I reminded the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, that 12 months earlier he had shared my concern that the evidence on which the WHO had cleared China was based on self-assessment by the Chinese authorities. At that time, I asked about the Government’s response to the China Tribunal and what the result had been of representations to the WHO and the Chinese authorities. The Minister replied that the Government’s position remained that the practice of systematic state-sponsored organ harvesting would constitute a serious violation of human rights. He assured this House that the UK regularly raised these concerns with China. He also confirmed that the UK had consulted the WHO, which had restated its view that China’s system was ethical. The WHO does not have an independent expert compliance assessment mechanism; it merely has a reporting requirement. So why has the UK not argued for change within the WHO? We should all, including the UK, be ensuring that there is independent verification.

UK legislation requires prior consent and traceability for human tissue for medical research and use in medicines when sourced from the UK, but if human tissue has been imported then the consent requirements do not apply. We have seen exhibitions in New York and Birmingham, in 2008 and 2018 respectively, both of which used plastinated bodies from Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique in Dalian in China. They were classified as unclaimed bodies with no relatives to identify them. In 2008, the New York state attorney-general required a disclaimer that included the words that the organisers

“cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.”

The UK has arguably some of the most ethical and comprehensive consent requirements for human tissue in the world, yet imported human tissue slips through the net. It has also been reported that two UK companies supply organ-preserving devices to mainland China, which could explain how they are being transported around China.

I hope the Minister will heed the words of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and other noble Lords and ensure that the Government have the means to ensure that the UK is no longer complicit in the harvesting of human organs from living victims.