Minister receives 87 page report on companies linked to forced organ harvesting in China and Parliament told that the Government has refused to reveal the contents of a letter to the World Health Organisation
2.52 pm Monday November 2020: Grand Committee of the House of Lords
My Lords, in thanking the Minister for introducing these statutory instruments, I am conscious of two things. First, they are procedurally necessary because of the decision to leave the European Union, but inter alia, honour a commitment not to use such transitional arrangements to dilute our commitment to uphold the highest possible standards in relation to the use of organs, tissues, blood and cells. I think that the Government have honoured that commitment. Secondly, I am conscious that it is only a few days since we had a full-blown debate on an amendment to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, which is currently in Committee, relating to human organs. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, referred to this earlier. Like him, I would like further clarity on the one notable change in the regulations—also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, a moment ago. It relates to Northern Ireland, where European Union law will continue to apply while not doing so in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The opportunity for confusion and inconsistency is therefore written into the very DNA of the statutory instruments. It reminds us of what is one of the most troubling and unresolved aspects of the withdrawal agreement. I would be interested to know who within the Northern Ireland Executive has been the point man or woman in discussing the implications of the SI; who has been consulted within the Northern Ireland Assembly and what response has been received; and whether these arrangements have been signed off by the Commission in Brussels and the relevant health authorities in Dublin.
When he comes to reply, I would also be grateful to the Minister if he would return to the questions that I put to him last week concerning the trade and exhibition of body parts. Given that the Human Tissue Act does not require traceability, how is that to be resolved in the context of these statutory instruments or in the legislation being taken through the House? Will that principle now be treated differently in Northern Ireland and Great Britain?
Yesterday I sent the Minister an 87-page report, with 270 footnotes, The Economics of Organ Harvesting in China, published by the Institute to Research the Crimes of Communism. It describes forced organ harvesting as
“one of the most inhumane crimes in the entire history of humanity”.
In harrowing detail, it describes what it calls “the business offer” and details an international spider’s web of companies—including some from the United Kingdom—which have aided and abetted what it describes as primitive barbaric practices. I am grateful to the Minister, whom I had a chance to speak to just before we came into this Committee, for already having had a glance at the report. I hope that he will commit to looking at the report further and say how he intends to take forward an investigation into the companies referred to in it.
Will he agree to refer it to the World Health Organization for its consideration?
In that context, and further to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I might add that only today the information rights unit at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has written to me in response to the freedom of information request to which I referred during our debate last week, asking for the correspondence between it and the WHO to be made public. In its response, the unit says:
“Some of the information has been withheld using section 27(1)(b) on International Relations. Section 27 is a qualified exemption and is subject to a public interest test. The application of section 27(1)(b) requires us to consider the public interest test arguments in favour of releasing and withholding information.”
The letter also says:
“The disclosure of information could potentially damage the bilateral relationship between the UK and the World Health Organization. This would reduce the UK Government’s ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with the WHO, which would not be in the public interest.”
I would obviously contest that strongly, not least because of the vast amounts of public money that pour from the United Kingdom into the WHO. This sits very uncomfortably with our belief in transparency and open government.
Elsewhere, the letter says:
“The disclosure of information detailing our relationship with China could potentially damage the bilateral relationship between the UK and China.”
Why should information pertaining to the forced harvesting of organs and their use in organ tourism be damaging to our relations with China?
Let me conclude. I would be grateful if the Minister could say how in further legislation, whether brought through SIs or within the current Bill, we can demonstrate our determination to stamp out organ tourism that relies on the killing of non-consenting victims, and which then trades in their remains in ways which the United Kingdom should demonstrate to the rest of the world that it will not tolerate.