The campaign to prioritize human rights over expediency is pushing forward in the UK with a Lords victory over the government.
by Ruth Ingram
Ridding the UK of Communist Party-sponsored surveillance equipment and supply chains tainted with the scourge of organ harvesting has inched closer following a passionate Lords’ debate swinging the vote narrowly in their favor.
Post Brexit trade negotiations have become mired in the morality of blighted supply chains and China’s human rights’ record. Civil liberties champions Lord David Alton and Lord Philip Hunt, urging the government to tread carefully over new procurement policies, pressed the House to a vote over ridding the UK of Chinese government-underwritten mass surveillance and the blight of forced organ harvesting on its shores.
The government has hit back citing inconvenience, impracticality and complexity over their proposals concerning organ harvesting and beyond the remit of the Bill when making a bid for a timeline to rid infrastructure from Chinese surveillance technology.
Calling a halt to the killing of people for their organs was at the heart of Lord Hunt’s amendment that would prevent suppliers that had participated in forced organ harvesting, or unethical activities relating to human tissue, from being awarded a public contract.
He urged the British government to wipe its hands of association with the trade and treat it as a practice worth singling out. Targeting primarily Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, and likely Tibetans, and House Church Christians, the “appalling” Chinese state-sanctioned and widespread practice, should be highlighted for censure, he insisted. “Both Uyghurs and Falun Gong practitioners are arbitrarily arrested, detained in camps, tortured, face sexual violence, disappear while in detention, and are murdered on a vast scale for their organs,” he reminded the House.
Citing the Matthew Robertson and Jacob Lavee study in April this year, entitled “Execution by Organ Procurement: Breaching the Dead Donor Rule in China,” he quoted their conclusion that “the act of execution was joined with the act of heart removal, and was carried out by surgeons on the operating table,” without establishing donor brain death.
Lord Alton urged peers to “think very seriously” about what more they could do to stop the scandal in China where, according to the British Medical Association, there is “evidence of medical involvement in the Chinese state’s genocide against Uyghur people.”
In spite of government opposition claiming the clause would be unnecessary and the scrutiny of thousands of contracts every year for signs of the practice, unworkable, peers pushed the amendment through by 191 votes to 169.
Lord David Alton’s own amendment 94, to impose a timetable for the removal and eradication of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance cameras from government departments and to block their sale in the country, would strengthen the government’s hand following its recent decision to ban Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua altogether.
Simply banning the companies did not go far enough, he said. He lamented the hangover from the so-called “Golden Era” of Chinese-UK co-operation whereby Britain’s surveillance and technology supply chain “became dominated by Chinese surveillance companies with credible links to the genocide taking place in the Uyghur region.” They had to go, he said.
Hikvision and Dahua, companies embroiled in the unlawful detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and currently researching not only facial, but also mood recognition software, are deeply entrenched in U.K. public sector supply chains.
“Local councils, NHS trusts, schools, prisons, job centers and our railway network all have Hikvision and Dahua cameras in their supply chain and their physical infrastructure,” he warned.
“Do we really want the prying eyes of an authoritarian state that has been accused of genocide, and which, as the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said just last month, is the “biggest state-based threat to our economic security,” in our schools, hospitals, and local council buildings? he asked. “Similarly, how can the Government justify public contracts and taxpayers’ money going into companies where there are credible links of complicity in genocide and the internment camps in Xinjiang?”
Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, had told Lord Alton that the cameras were built on “digital asbestos.” “We need a serious government-led plan for their removal,” he said.
Bearing in mind the process could take several years, he advocated developing technology to mitigate the risks posed by these cameras in the meantime. Delays notwithstanding, the government was well aware of myriad security and ethical concerns, he said, concluding, “we need an urgent timetable and a plan to remove Hikvision and Dahua from the UK supply chain in its entirety.”
Supporting the amendment, Lord Blencathra advocated “dramatically improving our national resilience and economic security.” In his view the so-called Golden Era never in fact existed for the UK. “But, of course, China had one,” he added. “a massive trade surplus, infiltration and theft of our commercial secrets on a massive scale, our political and business elites kowtowing to any Chinese demands and our universities grubbing for Chinese money at the expense of freedom for their students.”
Criticizing the government’s light hand over China and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to treat competitors with “robust pragmatism,” he ridiculed the concept. “What on earth does that ‘weaselly phrase mean?’”
“The pragmatic part is that we will continue buying billions of pounds-worth of goods from China because it is cheaper, more convenient and easier than starting to onshore them. The robust bit is that we will criticize them a bit when we hand over the cheque: ‘Naughty, naughty Communist Party of China. We deplore some of the things you are doing in parts of China.’ Of course, we will not mention what is really happening—slavery and genocide—because that would be too robust,” he said.
His own take on “robust and pragmatic,” was to “pass this new clause, and start with a commitment from the Government to remove Hikvision and Dahua cameras from the whole of the UK procurement supply chain.” This would be more in line with the Prime Minister’s new approach to dealings with China, he said.
Lord Coaker suggested that the government had a chance to “stand up for what it regards as the international values that are important to us.” “What kind of community was it hoping to build through the £300 billion bill for procurement?” he asked. Neither “killing people for their organs,” perpetuating modern slavery, nor subjecting the UK to invasive and intrusive surveillance were part of a future the government espoused, he suggested. UK procurement policies going into the future should reflect British values and “set an example for other countries to do the same,” he urged.
Despite a plea from Minister of State, Baroness Neville-Rolfe that imposing a timeline for the removal of the offending technology was beyond the remit of the Procurement Bill, when put to the vote it scraped through with a decisive margin of twenty. The government lost by 178 votes to its 158.
The Bill and the Lords’ recommendations would now move onto the House of Commons for consideration.