Medicines and Medical Devices Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 2nd September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:12 pm, 2nd September 2020

My Lords, I want to address two areas. The first is the future of life sciences research and the pharmaceutical industry and the other, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Hunt, is the use of human tissue.

As we have seen so clearly during the pandemic, life sciences in our universities, working closely with the pharmaceutical industry—for example, the Jenner Institute with AstraZeneca—have been a key UK strength. However, our life sciences are already threatened by the Government’s decision to leave the single market and end the free movement of people, as well as by their losing access to EU funding. The pharmaceutical industry is affected by our pulling out of EU regulation, damaging its ability to access that market. Our standards must therefore be at least as high as those in the EU, and I ask for the Minister’s reassurance on that.

As my noble friend Lady Barker noted, the ABPI cogently argues that the UK should apply for full membership of the ICH and the ISO. Previously, as she said, the UK represented the EU at meetings, but since Brexit the EU has had no status here at all. We must urgently rectify that. We were global leaders because of the NHS and our history in the development of clinical trials and comprehensive data registries, such as that which demonstrated the link between smoking and cancer. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has flagged, we are risking that. We must not damage our life sciences sector further.

Consistent with the need to maintain standards, I come to my second area, where I fully endorse what the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Collins, have said about imported human tissue and biological medicines. We simply cannot allow human tissue from victims of forced organ harvesting to enter the UK. We have become more aware in recent times of the treatment in China of the Falun Gong and the Uighurs. The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, released its full report in March. Has the Minister read the report? Forwarding the letter from the WHO to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he must know the current constraints on the WHO, is, frankly, astonishing. If the Minister has read the report, he will know the tribunal concludes that crimes against humanity have been committed against these groups beyond reasonable doubt.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, noted:

“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one – and probably the main – source of organ supply.”

With regard to the Uighurs, the tribunal says it has

“evidence of medical testing on a scale that could allow them, amongst other uses, to become an ‘organ bank’.”

We now hear that they are being used for unapproved Covid vaccines.

The Human Tissue Act 2004 has strict requirements for tissue sourced within the UK, but it does not restrict imported tissue in this way. That gap must now be filled if we are to maintain that the UK has the highest standards in this area. The Minister will be hearing the signs of cross-party support, and I trust that the forthcoming amendment will be immediately accepted by the Government. That is clearly right, but it is also vital if the UK is to remain a leader in the life sciences field. There are many challenges that this field now faces.