I beg to move,
That this House has considered forced organ removal in China.
This is a very difficult subject to talk about, but there are those of us who have followed this issue in China and listened to people who have come to the House to present petitions and speak to us about it. We have watched the film on the issue and had a briefing in the House as well. Many Members of the House have been vociferous and outspoken on the issue. I commend the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for the hard work that she has done on it in the House. We admire her courage, tenacity and commitment to the issue. The rest of us will add our contribution. I know that her contribution will be as important as everyone else’s. I thank every hon. Member who has come today to participate. The abstract nature of the debate may have precluded many from attending. I am grateful to those who are here for acknowledging that the issue is worthy of time and attention from Members of the House.
My boys like to watch crime dramas, as many of us do. Some of them are so far-fetched that I scoff along with them. However, others are too chillingly real. The idea of someone having organs cut out of them and waking up in a bath of ice has long been an urban legend. However, today’s debate is not based on a horror story as we approach Halloween; it is not make-believe. It is a horror that is all too real in China. As it has been brought to our attention, I feel that we have a role to play in returning this scenario to the realms of urban legend. That is why the debate is so important.
This story, which is almost too dreadful to believe, was first revealed in March 2006, when a woman stated that as many as 4,000 Falun Gong had been killed for their organs at the hospital in which she had worked. I had the privilege of meeting some of the families of those people in this House, and a charitable organisation was also involved, so we know some of the stories at first hand. That lady said that her husband, a surgeon at the same hospital outside the north-eastern city of Shenyang, had disclosed to her that he had removed corneas from the living bodies of 2,000 Falun Gong adherents. A week later, a Chinese military doctor not only corroborated the woman’s account but claimed that such atrocities were taking place in 36 different concentration camps throughout the country. He said that he had also witnessed Falun Gong being transported in massive numbers across the country in cattle trains, at night and under the cover of tight security. People may think that that is something from the history of the second world war, but the transportation of people in cattle trains is all too real. As I said, it happens at night and under the cover of tight security.
In 2006, two prominent Canadians—David Kilgour, a former MP, and David Matas, a human rights lawyer—published a report for the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China, in which they gave credibility to claims that the Chinese authorities were harvesting organs from executed members of the group. Victims were held in concentration camps prior to dissection, after which the remains were immediately cremated, as if the authorities could get rid of the evidence of their ill deeds by cremating them so quickly.
It was in July 2006 that Kilgour and Matas published their 140-page report. It drew
“the regrettable conclusion that these allegations are true.”
The investigation uncovered the on-demand nature of organ transplants in China; there is an abundance of organs despite the lack of a functional donation system. Ten years later, on 22 June 2016, they published an update to their report. It shows the continued expansion of transplantation capacity—organ harvesting first came to light in 2006—the driving factors behind the industry’s growth, and the role of the ruling party, Government agencies and individual officials in implementing and perpetuating the systematic killing of prisoners of conscience for their organs. We are talking about those of the Falun Gong belief, those of Christian beliefs, who have been persecuted, people serving time in jail and those from other ethnic groups.
The harvesting is done on an industrial scale, as some of the figures illustrate very well. Although Chinese officials typically say that China transplants about 10,000 organs a year, the update to the report shows that that figure is surpassed by just a few hospitals alone. We can say, based on Government-imposed minimum capacity requirements for transplant centres, that the total system-wide capacity since 2000 would have easily reached more than 1 million transplants. Given that the vast majority of those hospitals far exceed the minimum requirements, the number of transplants performed in China is staggering. As I said, it is on an industrial scale.
The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission heard from at least two witnesses on the harrowing practice of forced organ harvesting. Notably, it heard from Ethan Gutmann, who has spent several years investigating this appalling practice—the forced removal of internal organs from live individuals for transplant. It also notes the information provided on behalf of UK Falun Gong practitioners in the written submission. Ms Lin stated:
“There have been persistent allegations that large numbers of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience have been killed to supply China’s lucrative trade in vital organs. Uyghurs and other prisoners of conscience may have been victimised in a similar way.”
Former Falun Gong prisoners report being subjected to targeted medical examinations and blood tests in custody that appear designed to assess the health and compatibility for potential transplant of their organs, Ms Lin claimed. She told the commission:
“Concern stems in part from the significant discrepancy between the number of organ transplants performed and the known sources of organs: even when we include death row inmates, the number of transplants performed in China is far too high. The short wait times achieved by transplant hospitals suggest that people are killed on demand for their organs.”
That is the horror of what is taking place in China. The House must today illustrate the issues clearly and ensure that we speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves—those with no voice.
Ethan Gutmann has stated, based on meticulous research into individual hospital accommodations for transplant recipients, occupancy rates and a full accounting of the overall number of hospitals in China carrying out organ transplants, that the claims by the Chinese of performing 10,000 organ transplants a year are intentionally low; they are keeping them low on purpose. The new report estimates that a minimum of 56,000 and perhaps as many as 110,000 organ transplants are being conducted a year, leading to an estimated overall total of 1.8 million organ transplants since 2001. Previous speculation that approximately 40,000 to 65,000 organs were extracted from prisoners of conscience is now seen as a serious underestimate, particularly as the number of Chinese hospitals that have informally confirmed the use of Falun Gong prisoners as a primary organ source continues to grow.
I am very concerned and I have tabled questions in the House, as other hon. Members have, on the issue. Organ tourism to China takes place. People in western countries find out about an organ that may be available in China at short notice. Given how quickly these things happen, there has to be an organised, established method of harvesting the organs so that those who come from the west can come across and get the transplant that they need so much. I urge the Government to take action on that issue as well. I know that that is not exactly in the portfolio of the Minister who is here to respond, but I am very pleased to see him. I know that all hon. Members will get a positive response from him.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on putting the case and raising this important issue in so eloquent a manner. Does he agree that nations should not allow their citizens to travel to China for organs until we know that China meets the World Health Organisation guiding principles on transplantation and ethical standards?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and for wisely putting the thoughts of everyone in this Chamber today on record. I totally agree with her—I think we all do—and that is one of the things we hope the Minister will respond to, because those going to China cannot close their eyes or ears to what is happening and to the question of whom the organ is coming from. The recipient cannot say, “I don’t know, but I need the organ transplant.” I am not taking away from the fact that they need the organ transplant, but there must be rules in place and China must be part of that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, congratulate him on securing this debate and apologise that I cannot stay for the whole thing. Many of the issues he has raised are of concern to lots of our constituents; a number have contacted me about the issue and I have also lodged questions on the back of contact from constituents. Does he share my disappointment at the Government’s slight lack of engagement on the issue? We understand they have to engage positively and sensitively with the Chinese Government, but an issue of concern to so many constituents ought to be taken seriously.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for clearly stating what we feel. I am going to comment on questions other people have tabled and the response from Government until now. Perhaps, until now, we have seen inaction; today we are hoping for action that will clearly take this issue on, and we implore our Minister and the Department to respond positively.
In 2014, the Chinese medical establishment pledged that it would stop all organ harvesting from prisoners, yet the velocity of China’s organ harvesting industry does not suggest a retraction. Indeed it suggests the opposite; it suggests further acceleration of the practice. According to Ethan Gutmann, in a testimony to the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China on 18 September 2015—just over a year ago—the practice began in 1994 when
“the first live organ harvests of death-row prisoners were performed on the execution grounds of Xinjiang”. In 1997, Uyghur political prisoners were the target for organs to be forcefully donated to high-ranking Chinese Communist party officials. This disgusting and disgraceful forced organ transplantation goes to the very highest level of Chinese government and those involved need to be accountable for their actions. By 2001, Chinese military hospitals were
“unambiguously targeting select Falun Gong prisoners for harvesting”,
and by 2003 the first Tibetans were being targeted as well. There is systematic forced organ transplantation taking place of Falun Gong followers, of Christians and other ethnic groups and of those who are in prison, sometimes for minor charges. Then China goes to Tibet, where it has some control, and it targets people there as well; its horrific targeting for forced organ transplantation goes far beyond China.
Gutmann’s testimony continues:
“By the end of 2005, China’s transplant apparatus had increased so dramatically that a tissue-matched organ"—
the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) will be listening to this—
“could be located within two weeks for any foreign organ tourist with cash.”
If a person has cash, they have got the organs. There is something morally wrong with that, there is something physically and emotionally wrong with that, and action has to be taken to stop it.
At this stage I must admit I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am not someone who excels in piecing together facts to create theories, but I can clearly see that the figures do not add up. There is something horrifically wrong in the system and it needs to be addressed by the international community and our Government, who we look to for leadership at this time. Those two Canadians began the process. The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China conducted investigations, and now we are raising it in this place. We have a duty to do all that is in our power to apply diplomatically any pressure that we can to say the practice must stop. For moral decency and human rights, it cannot continue in any way, shape or form.
We have to put this into perspective and I understand the pain of those who wait for transplants every year. My own nephew, Peter, had a kidney transplant when he was just a teenager as he was so unwell. Only after he had been given the transplant did he progress and start to grow and live the life he could. I well remember the stress of the family as we waited for the call to hear that help was on the way for the child. I understand the pain that so many people face waiting for an organ transplant. In Northern Ireland the transplant list is long as well; we had a waiting list last year of 177 people waiting for an organ transplant, and 135 transplants were available. We have a shortfall, so we need to address that issue. These are not just numbers; these are people waiting on life and death changes, which is why I urge people to ensure they carry a donor card—I have done so for many years and we have a very progressive donor donation and transplant system in Northern Ireland, which we believe we should take forward—and let their families know of their preferences should anything happen to them, so that they can save a life in their own death.
However, to take blood tests and to kill for the purpose of organ removal is murder and nothing less—it could be nothing else. Those carrying out that practice must be made to understand that it can never be acceptable, no matter what the circumstances may be. I have two granddaughters and should their lives depend on an organ transplant, I, or anyone in the close family, would very quickly give one of our organs to them for a transplant. I do not say that boastfully in any way; I say that honestly as a grandfather who loves his children and grandchildren. However, I could never take an organ from someone else by murder, and that is what is happening here. For the Chinese Government to claim that they only take from those convicts who give consent can be nothing other than an exaggeration of epic proportions, and it must be addressed by all political means possible.
It is no good burying our heads in the sand. We have the information, evidence and knowledge—we have two inquiries from Canada and the United States—and they all indicate that rightness dictates we do something with that information. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) raised the issue in 2013 with the then Minister, only to be told that this was being phased out by the Chinese Government. Well, it has not been phased out. Three years later it is still going strong and it is getting larger and stronger each time, so that is blatantly not the case. In July this year I asked what the plans were to discuss how to deal with the issue with the UN. I was told, just this year:
“The Government has no plans to make representations to the UN on organ harvesting in China. We pay close attention to the human rights situation in China, including allegations of organ harvesting and encourage China to implement its public commitment to stop the use of organs from prisoners.”
Words are not enough, Mr Gapes.
“Our current assessment of the human rights situation in China can be found in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy.”
We need to do more. We need to implore our Government and the western world to take this matter on board and to act quickly.
Today, Minister, I am asking for more. I am asking that direct and effective steps are taken. Today, I am asking that meetings are arranged at international level to ensure that, rather than washing our hands of the matter, we do all we can to address it. Today, I am asking this House to stand and to say that the forced removal of organs from any person in any place in the world can never be acceptable, and that this Government will be known as one that speaks out for those with no voice—many of whom, in this case, are imprisoned owing to their religion. I speak out for religious freedom—it is something I am interested in and I am known for doing so. Again, I ask this House and this Government to take action and to do all in their power to see the end of this horror story practice taking place in our so-called modern age. The forced organ transplantation on an industrial scale is unabated and uncontrolled, and we in this House must take a stand today. I believe that we will and that this House is clearly united to make sure that it stops.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate and his powerful speech.
Let us be clear about what we are speaking of here, because if what we are discussing is indeed the case it virtually defies credibility. But increasingly research and evidence is pointing towards what is being alleged, which is that the Chinese Government actively condone—indeed, are involved in—the murder of potentially thousands of their own citizens every year for the purpose of forcibly extracting vital organs including livers, kidneys, hearts and corneas, sometimes while those people are still alive, and without anaesthetic. Many of those people are in prison, mainly—we are told—for their beliefs or ethnicity. Often their families are told that they have died. They are young people in reasonable health, and their families are simply handed an urn of ashes.
Credible research findings strongly suggest that many thousands of people are being killed for their organs, particularly people in minority groups, most notably practitioners of Falun Gong—a peaceful, meditative practice—although Tibetans, Uighurs and, potentially, house Christians have also been targeted for political reasons.
The allegations that Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Uighurs have been victims of that horrific practice are well documented and strong, as I shall recount. The suggestion that house church Christians may be affected requires further research. Either way, all the allegations of which we are now aware are sufficiently strong to require investigation by the international community.
It is of the highest necessity that the UK raises the issue with the Chinese directly, and calls for an international inquiry into the matter, ideally led by the United Nations. Even if the UN will not conduct a commission of inquiry, our Government should investigate the allegations and look at alternative mechanisms to bring to account those involved in those horrific alleged practices. If Britain as a nation is to maintain its status as a people concerned about grievous violations of human rights, it is imperative that the issue is addressed loudly and fearlessly, in co-operation with the other international organisations and leading parliamentarians across the world who are increasingly expressing concerns about the issue.
The Conservative party human rights commission, which I am privileged to chair, has recently conducted an inquiry into forced organ harvesting in China. During the course of the inquiry, I have been privileged to hear, in this House, first-hand testimony of those who have conducted research into the nature of the crime, and first-hand testimony by way of a powerful statement from a former Chinese doctor, Dr Enver Tohti, who has been required to perform an organ operation on an executed prisoner—for transplant, he believes.
The House has been privileged to host the UK premiere of the film “The Bleeding Edge”, a fictional film based on the testimony of witnesses to illegal organ harvesting. It was harrowing. I am deeply grateful to Mr Speaker for hosting the film, and to the actress, Anastasia Lin, who starred in the film and gave evidence at one of the hearings of the Conservative party human rights commission. I am aware of other films on the subject, notably “Human Harvest” and “Hard to Believe”.
As I speak, the Conservative party human rights commission is releasing a report of the inquiry, which can be found on the website www.conservativehumanrights.com. It contains more information than I can relay in this debate, but I will refer to some evidence received by the inquiry. The report was written by the vice-chair of the commission, Ben Rogers, who is an expert on human rights in China and elsewhere. I pay tribute to him for his dedicated work in this field and to the work of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the organisation for which he works.
Written evidence submitted to the inquiry included a statement from a former prisoner, Yu Xinhui, who wrote:
“Everyone in the prison knows about this”—
by which he means the removal of prisoners for organ harvesting.
“Usually in the prison, regardless of whether the person is deceased, if he is sent to the prison hospital, he faces the reality of having his organs removed at any moment. Everyone in prison knows that there exists a list of names. People…taken away, and no one will return.”
That list of names includes blood types and the health of patients’ organs so that the information is ready and available if a transplant request is made.
Yu Xinhui continued:
“I once asked a prison doctor, because this particular doctor was very sympathetic to us Falun Gong practitioners. He was especially sympathetic towards me, because we were from the same hometown. Once he told me secretly, saying, ‘Don’t go against the Communist Party. Don’t resist them. Whatever they tell you to do, just do it. Don’t go against them forcefully. If you do, then when the time comes, you won’t even know how you will have died. When it happens, where your heart, liver, spleen, and lungs will be taken, you won’t even know either.’”
Yu Xinhui had three physical examinations while in prison, the last of which was in March 2005. Many former prisoners of conscience have testified to having been subjected to physical examinations while in prison that went beyond normal medical check-ups and were clearly aimed at assessing the health of their organs.
The timing of this debate is apt, given new evidence that the scale of organ harvesting in China may now be far higher than previously estimated. The evidence has built to a point where ignoring it is not an option. There is now strong, academically well-researched information that between 50,000 to 90,000 organ transplants may occur in China every year and are, effectively, concealed by the Government. That is in a country where there is no tradition of organ donation. Indeed, Chinese official figures put the number of voluntary donations at a total of 120 for the entire 30-year period between 1980 and 2009.
Let me quote further from the Conservative party human rights commission’s report:
“Although there are a variety of sources of evidence, there are three key reports which provide detailed research into the practice of forced organ harvesting in China”—
the hon. Member for Strangford referred to those reports. Our report continues:
“The first, published on the Internet in 2006 and in print in 2009, was a report researched and written by the former Canadian Member of Parliament and former Government Minister David Kilgour and a respected human rights lawyer, David Matas, called Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for their organs. The second was Ethan Gutmann’s book The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to its Dissident Problem, published in 2014.”
Both David Matas and Ethan Gutmann have given evidence to our commission. The third report, which was published this year, runs to 700 pages. It updates forensically those two pieces of research, is co-authored by David Kilgour, David Matas and Ethan Gutmann, and is entitled, “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update.” I have heard Ethan Gutmann publicly invite from anyone, particularly from the Chinese, any evidence or comments that contradict the research in the report, but as of September 2016 none have been received.
The most important point made by the report, and indeed by David Matas and Ethan Gutmann in their evidence to the Conservative party human rights commission, is that the scale of forced organ harvesting in China is significantly underestimated. Their new research is forensic—they have inquired into the public records of no fewer than 712 hospitals in China that carry out liver and kidney transplants. Their detailed research leads them to conclude that potentially between 60,000 and 100,000 organs are transplanted each year in Chinese hospitals, which almost defies credibility. If those figures are correct, organs are being transplanted on an industrial scale, as the hon. Member for Strangford said. One hospital alone, the Orient organ transplant centre at the Tianjin first central hospital, is performing thousands of transplants a year according to its own bed occupancy data. Chinese official claims state that 10,000 organ transplants are carried out each year, but the authors of the report contend that that is
“easily surpassed by just a few hospitals.”
By way of background, according to Ethan the practice of forced organ harvesting began in China as long ago as 1994, when the first live organs were removed from death row prisoners on the execution grounds of Xinjiang. Dr Enver Tohti came to London to give evidence to us, and he told us about the process. He was a cancer surgeon in Ürümqi, Xinjiang province. In 1995, while he was simply doing his job, he was instructed by two of his hospital’s chief surgeons to prepare mobile surgery equipment—in other words, an ambulance—and to wait for them the next day at a hospital gate with the ambulance, the equipment and three other assistants. The following morning, at 9 am, the two chief surgeons arrived in a car and he was told to follow them. He did not know where he was going but, about half an hour later, they arrived at Western Mountain—Xishan—an execution ground where prisoners were taken to be executed. He described what happened:
“We had been told to wait behind a hill, and come into the field as soon as we’d hear the gun shot. So we waited. A moment later there were gun shots. Not one, but many. We rushed into the field. An armed police officer approached us and told me where to go. He led us closer, then pointed to a corpse saying ‘this is the one’.”
A few prisoners had been executed. He continued:
“By then our chief surgeon appeared from nowhere and told me to remove the liver and two kidneys. He urged me to hurry up, so we took the body into the van and removed his liver and kidneys…our chief surgeons put those organs in a special box, and got into the car. They told me to take my team back to the hospital and left. I have no idea where they went… That was the end of that. Nobody has ever talked about what we did that day. It is something I wish hadn’t happened.”
Not only is the scale of the numbers a concern; the speed at which Chinese hospitals can obtain organs is also highly suspect. Doctors will tell us that the time they have to get an organ from a donor to a recipient varies but that it is very short for sensitive vital organs. A heart or a liver cannot simply be saved in a freezer until it is needed, which is why the NHS states that in this country the average wait for a suitable transplant for an adult is 145 days—of course, we are in a country with a tradition of donation. Compare that with the many statements in Chinese medical publications that they can find an emergency liver donor within 24 hours. I understand there is even a medical journal that boasts of taking only four hours to find a donor. I am informed that the Chinese Government claim that the organs come from death row prisoners who have been executed locally to the hospital that is providing the transplant, but the coincidence of that number of prisoners happening to have, say, a healthy liver, happening to match the blood type of the recipient and happening to have been executed locally is simply too much for credibility given the numbers involved. An alternative interpretation, and sadly the one that is more credible, is that people are being killed on demand to supply their organs.
In the other place, Lord Alton has been assured by the Government that the issue has been raised with the Chinese Government as part of the annual UK-China human rights dialogue and will be raised again, for which I thank the Government. However, evidence suggests that the Chinese Government have repeatedly committed themselves to denial, obfuscation and misdirection on this issue. It is therefore appropriate that we increase our activity in light of the new evidence I have highlighted. Indeed, there is growing international pressure on this matter.
The UN special rapporteurs on torture and on freedom of religion or belief have both requested that the Chinese Government explain the sources of these organs and that they allow them to investigate. There has been no response. The European Parliament adopted a written declaration in July 2016 on stopping organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China that, among other clauses, states:
“There have been persistent credible reports on systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience in the People’s Republic of China, primarily from practitioners of Falun Gong peaceful meditation and exercises but also from Uighurs, Tibetans and Christians.
The international community has strongly condemned organ harvesting in China and actions should be taken to end it.
Owing to the severity of underlying abuse there is a clear need to organise without delay an independent investigation into ongoing organ harvesting in the People’s Republic of China.”
Similarly, the United States Congress unanimously passed a resolution in June 2016 condemning the practice of state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting in the People’s Republic of China. The resolution calls for visas to be denied to those involved in coerced organ or tissue transplantation. It expresses
“concern regarding persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience in the People’s Republic of China, including from large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.”
The concerns in America are coming from leading Congressmen and Senators. I was privileged to meet Congressman Chris Smith in Washington DC last week. He is the fourth longest-serving member of Congress and is a remarkable campaigner for human rights across the world. He spoke at a joint sub-committee of the US committee on foreign affairs on 21 June. I will quote him at more length at the end of my speech if I have time, but he told the House of Representatives:
“Twenty years ago, I chaired a human rights hearing in my subcommittee with a Chinese security official who testified that he and his other security agents were executing prisoners—with doctors…there and ambulances—in order to steal their organs for transplant. Since then, this horrific practice has skyrocketed.”
The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China published its annual report less than two weeks ago; I was privileged to meet the group of young people who work for the commission and who produced the report. The commission’s chairman said:
“The Chinese government’s human rights record is utterly deplorable, continuing a downward trend over the past three years.”
That, of course, includes organ harvesting.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and for setting the scene. Clearly the world is awakening to what is happening in China; she is as aware of that as I am. Will the awakening that we seem to see in Canada, in the States and now in the United Kingdom precipitate a need for our Government to contact the Chinese authorities to ensure that they can respond now to stop this practice? The weight of evidence is growing every day.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The growing international concern about organ harvesting means it is vital that this country joins in and does not lag behind the international community in condemning these practices and challenging the Chinese Government accordingly.
I have two more things to say. First, as well as politicians acting, the international medical community must do detailed analysis of the claims made by these respected researchers. It is helpful to note that the president of the Transplantation Society, Dr Philip O’Connell, said at the society’s international conference in Hong Kong this year, addressing his comments to China, that
“there remains, in many sectors, a deep sense of mistrust of your transplant programs…It is important that you understand that the global community”—
I believe he was referring to the global medical community—
“is appalled by the practices”.
My hon. Friend makes several important points. Does she agree that it would be helpful if the Minister confirmed, first, whether there is a date for the next annual human rights dialogue, and if so when it is; secondly, when the next UK Government report on human rights to the UN in Geneva is due; and thirdly whether there has been any response to the request by the Foreign Office Minister in the Lords for more information from the Chinese authorities about their response to the various accusations?
I am grateful for that intervention, particularly as it comes from the chair of the all-party group on China, whose views are very much respected in this House. His questions to the Minister today are very well placed.
Yesterday evening I tabled early-day motion 502, “Forced organ harvesting in China”. I ask colleagues to be good enough to sign and support the motion. I shall read it out in full for the record, because it contains my request to the Minister today:
“That this House notes with grave concern allegations of forced organ harvesting in China; further notes that victims said to be targeted for forced organ extraction are prisoners of conscience; acknowledges evidence detailed in Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update, by former Canadian Member of Parliament David Kilgour, lawyer David Matas and researcher Ethan Gutmann, along with other reports; notes the recent United States House of Representatives resolution 343 on forced organ harvesting in China and European Parliament written declaration 2016/WD48; calls on China to immediately end any forced organ harvesting; urges the Government to condemn forced organ harvesting and to seek a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate this practice, or conduct an inquiry through other international mechanisms, to ensure accountability and to assess whether this practice could amount to a crime against humanity; further urges the Government to release statistics on the numbers of UK citizens travelling to China for organ transplants and prohibit British citizens from travelling to China for the purpose of receiving organ transplants; urges the Government to introduce a travel ban prohibiting medical personnel and officials who may be engaged in forced organ harvesting from travelling to the UK; and calls on the Government to give urgent consideration to other measures it could take to hold China to account for this practice and demand an end to it.”
I will finish by quoting the senior US Congressman Chris Smith:
“What adjectives do we use to describe what Chinese doctors and hospitals have been doing these past decades? Ordinary words like concerned, disturbed or shocking just seem inadequate. We tend to reserve words like ‘barbaric’ for truly horrible crimes—and…we must call organ harvesting…barbaric.”
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. It is a privilege to be able to speak in this serious and important debate. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing it; he is a committed human rights activist in this place, and I thank him for giving us the opportunity to consider forced organ removal in China.
I hope it goes without saying that I condemn this reported practice in the strongest possible terms. I am certainly not the first Scottish National party politician to do so; my party colleague Bob Doris MSP is a long-standing campaigner on the issue. He has done a great deal to raise awareness, both over the previous parliamentary term and since the influx of new Members of the Scottish Parliament. Bob’s work has ensured that the Scottish Government continue to raise these human rights concerns when engaging with China. I put on record my gratitude to him for that. He is one of a number of politicians from all parties who have worked to raise awareness and encourage action. Many in this place, including the hon. Member for Strangford and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), also deserve recognition for their work.
The European Parliament and the US House of Representatives have both passed resolutions expressing concern over
“persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience”.
Those concerns are echoed by organisations such as Amnesty International and Tibet Truth. The conclusions reached in the report “Bloody Harvest”, updated and republished in June this year, make it clear why they deserve to be treated with the utmost seriousness. The report found:
“Organ transplantation volume in China is far larger than official Chinese government statistics indicate…The source for most of the massive volume of organs for transplants is the killing of innocents: Uyghurs, Tibetans, House Christians and”—
as we have heard today—
“primarily Falun Gong”.
It also called on all nations not to
“allow their citizens to go to China for organs until China has allowed a full investigation into organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience, both past and present.”
In a written answer to a parliamentary question recently tabled by the hon. Member for Strangford, the Foreign Office acknowledged that, although few British people are thought to travel overseas for such transplants,
“it is very difficult to prevent UK citizens travelling to less well-regulated countries”
to do so. When the Minister responds to the debate, perhaps he would care to elaborate on that, as well as on the various difficulties faced. What assessment has been made of any potential methods to restrict travel of that kind? I am sure he will also explain the diplomatic efforts to end the practice of forced organ removal in China. I would like to hear today an undertaking that such efforts will be stepped up. There are signs that the matter has fallen off the radar at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I am pleased that this debate is taking place. It is not only interesting but informative. I pay tribute not only to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), but to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for her fantastic report, which I have read.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the UK Government’s policy of speaking to the Chinese behind closed doors—or behind their hands, so to speak—has not worked? We now need to speak publicly about the human rights abuses that are occurring in China to make them seek to change how they treat their citizens.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is interesting that we hear about conversations going on behind closed doors not only with China but with other countries, because of certain difficulties. We have to be careful how we deal with countries such as China. We do a lot of trade with China and with some countries in the middle east that unfortunately have poor human rights records. If talking behind closed doors is not working, it is time to bring things into the public domain. I hope the Minister will take that on board.
Although the FCO’s 2014 corporate report into human rights in China noted that the country
“announced in December that it would cease harvesting organs from executed prisoners by 1 January 2015”,
there is simply no mention whatever of the practice in the 2016 report. Will the Minister commit to taking action to demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to tackling organ harvesting? Will he give an undertaking that the UK will make representations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on efforts to investigate forced organ removal in China?
As we have heard, thousands of religious prisoners in China have had their livers, kidneys and corneas ripped out while they were still alive. It is absolutely horrific to think of that. Will the UK use its position to push at EU level for high-level European action to address the practice? Forced organ donation is abhorrent. It is a practice that makes a mockery of even the most fundamental and basic universal human rights. As journalist Ethan Gutmann stated:
“We acknowledge a terrible atrocity only after it’s over.”
We have to change that and always speak out against what we know in our hearts is fundamentally wrong.
In closing, I shall quote Dr Martin Luther King, who said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr King’s words ring as true today as when first spoken. If human rights are truly universal, we must uphold them everywhere, and challenge violations wherever they occur.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing such an interesting and informative debate. We may not have heard from many speakers, but the quality of information that has been imparted has been superb. The hon. Gentleman said two things that I will repeat, because they sum up the entirety of the debate for me. He said that what is happening in China is “almost too dreadful to believe”, and he underlined the stark reality that the message that has to go out is that people are being killed on demand for their organs.
I must admit that, prior to the conference recess, I was one of those people who saw this issue as almost an urban myth. My research for this debate made me incredibly uncomfortable, but it brought home clearly the horror of forced organ removal. I found a number of well researched documentaries and reports, which only magnified the horror by showing the enormity of the scale of the practice. Unlike the hon. Member for Strangford, I am not going to use the term “industrial”, because I think it dehumanises the experience, but it is hard to come up with an expression that quantifies the sheer scale of this practice.
The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) made one of the most informed speeches I have heard on this subject, after all the research I have done. She summarised wonderfully some horrific cases that really bring the message home. I commend her for the work she has done on the issue and for highlighting it clearly and succinctly. I spent hours over the conference recess watching documentaries and trying to read the 2016 report by David Matas and David Kilgour, and the best way I can describe it is “spine-chilling”. I started by watching their documentary; I probably should not have done so, because every time I read the documents it brought back some of the images I saw. We are discussing definitely some of world’s worst crimes against humanity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) highlighted her own condemnation of the practice and that of our Scottish National party colleagues. I reiterate that point: we totally condemn the practice of forced organ donation—although “donation” is probably not the best term to use. My hon. Friend also highlighted the good cross-party work done by our colleague in the Scottish Parliament, Bob Doris. I am pleased to say that the Scottish Parliament made organ trafficking illegal in Scotland through the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006. That legislation is based on the principle of people freely indicating their wish to donate organs after their death. It prohibits the trafficking of organs and provides for severe penalties for anyone found guilty of doing so. That is an example of good practice from the Scottish Parliament.
The SNP calls on the UK Government to step up their diplomatic efforts to end this practice in China. Forced organ donation, or removal, is absolutely abhorrent, and it flies in the face of basic human rights. I know that successive UK Governments have expressed concerns about claims of organ harvesting, often in the context of the ongoing UK-China human rights dialogue and the UK-China strategic dialogue. The issue is not mentioned in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s latest human rights update on China, published in July, which is part of its annual human rights and democracy report. However, it was mentioned in the 2014 report, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said, stated:
“In a positive development, China announced in December that it would cease harvesting organs from executed prisoners by 1 January 2015.”
The updated report from earlier this year proves that, woefully, that is not the case. With 60,000 to 100,000 organs being forcibly transplanted each year, we need to take drastic action.
We call on the UK Government to step up their diplomatic efforts to end this practice in China. The UK should make representations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on efforts to investigate forced organ removal and use its position in the EU to push for high-level European action to address the practice. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that we should isolate China, but we should engage in a constructive dialogue and deepen relationships in order to get a result.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate. He is right to say that this is an increasingly worrying international issue, so well done to him for bringing it to our attention.
The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that this matter is not new to the House of Commons. A number of parliamentary questions have been asked about it. I read through the questions that Ministers have answered over the years, and there appears to be a contradiction: although the Chinese Government sometimes give assurances that organs from executed prisoners will be used for transplantation only with their consent, on other occasions there is a complete, flat denial that any of this is going on. There seem to be two levels of dialogue, which are curious when read all at once as a sort of transcript from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. When the Minister responds, will he clarify whether he believes that that is an issue? If so, what are the Government doing about it?
I want to highlight some of the excellent points that have been made in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) commented, correctly, on the demand side of the problem and on the fact that many foreign people are travelling to China for what is called in the literature “transplant tourism”. She was right to ask what the Government are doing to educate people who may wish to travel from this country to China to receive medical treatment. I would be grateful if the Minister could let me know whether, for example, the NHS has any background information about patients who may be particularly tempted to consider having this kind of operation. Also, can he say what cross-referencing there is between the NHS and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in that regard?
The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) is well known for her concern about human rights across the globe. She made some important points today. She was right to say that the United Nations should be carrying out a full investigation and that our Government should play a crucial role in that. She was also correct to say that Mr Speaker held an excellent event, the screening of “The Bleeding Edge” film, to highlight the issue of the forced removal of organs in China. Sadly, owing to pressures on my diary in the summer, I was not able to attend, but I believe that the film is compelling and I will certainly put it on my list to watch at Christmas.
I just inform the hon. Lady and other Members that so much interest has been expressed in that film that our commission is proposing to put on a further screening in this place shortly. I hope that she will be able to attend that.
I thank the hon. Lady for that information. I will indeed try to attend the second screening of “The Bleeding Edge”.
May I recommend to those people who have not seen that film that they do so? However, if anyone does come to watch it, they should come prepared for some horrific viewing; many people seeing the film have felt unable to continue watching it and have had to close their eyes. It is a very effective film but it is also very hard to watch. I urge those who have not seen it to go and see it, but they should prepare themselves.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I think it was the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) who suggested that this issue is just so horrific to think about. We are talking about it in the cold light of day now, but I think that people will need quite a strong constitution to watch the film.
The hon. Member for Congleton talked about Dr Enver Tohti’s time working as a surgeon in China. I will be interested to follow up on his personal testimonies about the executions and subsequent organ harvesting. I am sure that the Foreign Office is looking carefully at those reports in order to come to a judgment on how to substantiate those claims and on what action to take as a result. Any suggestion of “on-demand killing” for organs is too terrible even to contemplate.
I press the Minister on the issue of a travel ban. Does he believe that that strategy could work? Furthermore, the hon. Member for Congleton talked, in the light of the allegations, about the increased activity in recent years. I note that in the briefing prepared for today’s debate there is quite a lot of fresh information from 2015 and 2016. We do not feel reassured that this activity is being reduced. We need to ask further questions.
I will briefly put on the record my appreciation of the comments by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and of his forensic questioning about exactly where we are in relation to the human rights dialogue. He is right to remind the House that we already have a vehicle in place to examine human rights in all countries about which we have concerns, particularly in relation to the groups that are highlighted in the reports.
In the context of the alleged organ harvesting, the Uyghurs, the Tibetans, the House Christians and Falun Gong tend to be the groups that come up again and again in the human rights legislation, in the recordings and in other evidence. Therefore, could the Minister respond to the questions put by the hon. Member for Gloucester—what is the existing framework and what are the dates for ongoing dialogue and challenge? Also, can he explain why there is no mention of this issue, which is clearly of concern to so many people, in the July 2016 FCO report?
I thank all Members for being here today and for putting on the record their concerns and questions. May I press the Minister on the question of an independent investigation by the British Government and of the Government working closely with the UN on the issue? What are the levers we can use around some of our relationships in the wider sense? We meet regularly to talk about trade. We meet regularly to talk about ongoing concerns and ongoing positive elements of our relationship. How can we develop the balance that we so desperately need in relation to countries that are so important to us in the post-Brexit climate? The European Union has, I think, taken a lot of responsibility for human rights work over the years. How can we again make that part of a more balanced approach to relationships with China?
Can the Minister clarify the question of allowing citizens to go to China for organs? How can we look at whether there are practical ways to establish a travel ban until we are absolutely sure that this is not happening? Also, can he explain how we can monitor any ongoing allegations, so that we can be absolutely sure that we are dealing with the facts?
Thank you, Mr Gapes, for calling me to speak; I am very pleased to respond to this important debate. Of course, normally it would be the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), who would reply, but he is in Indonesia. So I am very pleased to take his place, in order to respond to the concerns about this issue that have been so graphically expressed in this debate.
I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing the debate, and let us be very clear from the outset that any form of involuntary organ removal violates established medical and legal principles. However, the concerns that Members have expressed today relate to the most disturbing form of involuntary organ removal— “organ harvesting”. Organ harvesting is the notion that members of minority groups and religious groups in China are held in detention, are unable to communicate with the outside world, and are killed specifically for their organs, virtually “to order”. To hon. Members—and indeed the citizens of this country—the notion of organs being “harvested” and used for transplant, virtually “to order”, is particularly abhorrent. There is also the separate ethical and moral question of involuntary organ removal from executed prisoners, with or without their alleged consent.
As we have heard, recent publications, including some that have been referred to in this debate today, have brought the issue of alleged “organ harvesting” into the spotlight. The authors of such reports believe that this practice is happening in China today and that the victims are mostly innocent people who just wish to practice their religion peacefully.
My officials consider the Kilgour, Gutmann and Matas report to be a very important source of information about China’s organ transplant system. It highlights how difficult it is to verify the number of organ transplants conducted in China each year, and states that it is almost impossible to identify the source of those organs.
The report rightly questions the lack of transparency in China’s organ transplant system. However, the authors of that report make it clear that they have no definitive evidence to justify their allegations. They are necessarily forced to rely on assumptions, and sometimes on research techniques that are less than rigorous. Although I do not doubt the need to maintain close scrutiny of organ transplant practices in China, we believe that the evidence base is not sufficiently strong to substantiate claims about the systematic harvesting of organs from minority groups. Indeed, based on all the evidence available to us, we cannot conclude that this practice of “organ harvesting” is definitely happening in China.
The information coming from the US congressional commission is that it has such evidence in its possession. Also, I understand that the Canadian Government have initiated some evidence taking, which shows that there is what they refer to as systematic forced organ transplantation. If that is the case, and the evidence exists—I believe that it clearly does—will the Minister look at that evidence, that information, and on the back of it take the action we all wish him to take?
My understanding of the congressional report is that although it is broadly very critical of human rights in China, the report mentions organ harvesting only once. However, I will undertake to ask officials to write to the hon. Gentleman and expand further on the exact details of that point, in the hope that such comments will satisfy him about what I am saying.
By necessity, there are no witnesses to the removal of the organs—the people involved are dead—but does the Minister not agree that, although we have talked about huge numbers, even one transgression of human rights caused by the involuntary removal of an organ is grossly wrong? Despite the fact that the authors of the report have challenged—indeed asked—the Chinese Government to reject their assertions, to come out and say that they are incorrect, there has been complete silence. There has been no rejection of the research or the information, or indeed of the authors’ conclusions.
At the outset, I stated the principles by which we ought to look at the entire issue, and in that sense I totally agree with my hon. Friend. She is right to say that the difficulty of the issue is that, by its very nature, if it goes on it is hidden. Therefore, to establish the evidence is a very difficult exercise, but in respect of engagement with the Chinese Government I hope that in a moment I will be able to offer my hon. Friend a bit of reassurance about some progress we have been making.
The Government have serious concerns about restrictions on the freedom of religion or belief in China, including for Falun Gong practitioners. The freedom to practise, change or share one’s faith or belief without discrimination or violent opposition is a fundamental right that all people should enjoy, yet we have solid evidence, from multiple sources, of the persecution of religious minorities. Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, as well as Falun Gong practitioners, are persecuted through different means, with reports of their being detained incommunicado, being tortured and receiving inhuman treatment, and also being subjected to interference in their places of worship and in their religious teaching and customs. Everyone should be free to practise their religion according to their beliefs, in accordance with the international frameworks to which both the UK and China are party.
I assure the House that the Government pay close attention to the human rights situation in China. Indeed, no fewer than three British Ministers have raised individual cases with their Chinese counterparts in the past few months. As the former Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), stated to the House on 12 July, we have raised concerns about reports of organ harvesting, as well as of the torture and mistreatment of detainees, during our annual human rights dialogue with China, and I can let my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) know that the next such exchange will be on 27 and 28 October, here in London. At that exchange, we will raise our human rights concerns, including the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners and the lack of transparency in China’s organ transplant system. So the debate is timely, and I will ensure that hon. Members’ concerns are raised at that dialogue.
The use of the death penalty in China is also a subject of great concern, with the number of prisoners being executed a closely guarded secret and, therefore, difficult to estimate. We oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and campaign actively worldwide for its abolition. In the past, organs were taken from executed prisoners without prior consent. China committed to end the practice of involuntary organ removal from January 2015. Although that was an important and positive step, the degree to which it has been implemented is not clear. There are also complex ethical questions about the ability of condemned prisoners to give free and valid consent.
Following representations to the Chinese authorities, we received information on their organ donation policy yesterday. Although we have only just received the information—officials are scrutinising it—I would like to share it with the House. The information states that all organ donations in China are handled within a clear legal framework that meets international standards, including those of the World Health Organisation. There is a registration centre for managing information about the origins of organs used for donations, and statistics are shared with the WHO. The Chinese authorities provided statistics for 2015, which stated that 7,785 organs were donated from 2,766 donors. We intend to contact the WHO to try to validate that information. We have, however, received no detailed information about the treatment of prisoners’ organs. We therefore believe that, based on the evidence we have, it is likely that executed prisoners remain a key source of organs for transplant in China.
The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who is no longer in her seat, and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), raised the issue of people travelling to China for medical treatment, including what might be described as organ tourism. We do not collect data on that, but we believe that few people in the UK choose to travel to China for that purpose. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green asked if we would ban such travel, but the British Government cannot prevent individuals from travelling. We can, however, flag the risks and ensure that individuals are aware that other countries might have poorer medical and ethical safeguards than the UK does. Travelling abroad for any treatment, including organ transplant, carries risks. Medical staff have a responsibility to inform patients who are considering that route of the risks and of the fact that organs might not have been donated freely.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) mentioned the Conservative party human rights commission report. Although the Government were not asked to give evidence to the commission, and as such the report does not entirely reflect Government policy, there is much in it with which we agree. We are already pursuing an approach that is consistent with many of the report’s recommendations but parts of the report require further investigation to substantiate some of the claims made. Officials have offered to meet the authors, and as there is—I think—a plan to produce a separate report on organ harvesting, they have tried, but so far without success, to engage with the process of compiling that report.
With respect, I believe that the Minister is referring to the wider report on human rights in China, which was produced by the commission some three months ago. Indeed, the commission said that it would produce a supplementary report on organ harvesting, and it is that report, published today, to which I referred and at which I hope officials will look. The commissioners, Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords would, I know, welcome the opportunity to meet Foreign Office officials to discuss both reports further.
In the spirit in which my hon. Friend is entering into this, I can confirm that we would be pleased for her to come and speak to officials to discuss all the details and the evidence to see whether we can share information in order to understand exactly what the facts are, and therefore what the policy should be.
There was also a reference to a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in September. We vigorously raise all human rights concerns on such occasions, although on this occasion not specifically organ harvesting.
I just want to recap on the organ tourism issue that the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) talked about. Have the Government had an opportunity to raise the subject with other western countries? For instance, are the Government aware of what other countries do about it? Is there a chance we could work together to address the issues of organ tourism and those who go abroad specifically to get an organ? It is forced organ transplantation, so we have concerns. It would be better if the western countries could work together on that. Is there an opportunity to do that?
It is probably true to say that there has not been much discussion with other countries on this particular issue. The hon. Gentleman, of course, has a point: when countries work together they can be more effective. Again, I will ask officials to write to him about such an initiative.
May I intervene one final time?
Will the officials ascertain which countries have already banned travel for organ tourism? I believe that Israel and possibly others have done so.
It may not be practical to police it, but I can assure the House that the UK works with like-minded partners to strengthen the rules surrounding organ transplantation worldwide. This includes the development of the World Health Organisation guiding principles to ensure that organ removal for transplant takes place only according to agreed guidelines. We also support the declaration of Istanbul, which encourages all countries to draw up legal and professional frameworks to govern organ donation and transplantation activities. In the past eight years, more than 100 countries, including China, have endorsed the principles of the declaration and subsequently strengthened their laws against the commercial organ trade.
Contrary to some reports, our trading relationship with China does not prevent us from having frank discussions with the Chinese authorities on issues of concern such as this. We will continue to engage with them on the full range of issues, including organ transplants and the wider human rights agenda. We will continue to promote the universal values of freedom and respect for human rights and the importance of international co-operation.
I thank everyone who came along to support and participate in the debate and who made valuable contributions. I thank everyone who made speeches, particularly the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) who has worked hard on this issue. I did not say this earlier, but I will say it now. Some children of those of the Falun Gong religious belief came to a presentation in the House, and Becky James took part in a Ride to Freedom event to highlight the issue. The children were able to portray clearly what the issues were. I urge the Government to work hard to internationalise the issue to bring us all together to ensure that we can effectively persuade China to stop forced organ transplantation. If we can do that, this House will be working in unison with those in the rest of the world who want to see this disgraceful and awful transplant of organs stopped.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered forced organ removal in China.