4 minute read
We have tabled a cross-party amendment which will soon be considered at report stage of the Health and Care Bill. Our proposal is designed to ensure that future NHS procurement policies take account of the origin of the vast quantities of goods which are purchased at huge public expense and some of which come from states accused by our Foreign Secretary and the House of Commons of committing genocide.
Although our amendment does not name the People’s Republic of China, we clearly have it in our sights. Last summer, the UK bought a billion lateral flow tests from China and the gravy of Covid-related public procurement has been gathering pace. In total, we purchased an impressive 24.1 billion PPE items from China, including 10.7 million gloves.
When we ask the government what it all cost, we get wavering answers that the sum is “commercially sensitive”. Nonsense. As billions soar, taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.
But it goes beyond the cost to the public purse and the importance of accountability and transparency. We both spoke constantly about the gutting of our manufacturing capacity in the UK, our overreliance on trade with China and the inability to develop our self-reliance. We have regularly pointed out that if a country uses slave labor to produce its wares, it will always undermine and outcompete local manufacturers – often putting UK manufacturers out of business.
Our modest amendment can’t fix all of that, but at least it can draw a line by insisting that where there are credible reports of genocide, we don’t have to oil the wheels of the gravy boat. The UK boasts of being the champion of the 1948 Convention on the crime of genocide and of being the world leader in the fight against modern slavery. But hundreds of millions of pounds of public money are pouring into the pockets of companies that profit from Uyghur forced labor in Xinjiang. We note that in January the United States enacted bipartisan legislation, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, banning all imports from Xinjiang Province unless proven to be free from slavery.
Our amendment is modest by comparison, but it would be illegal for the government to procure health service equipment from any area of the world where it believes there is “a serious risk of genocide.” It’s a very high bar. But the products we buy must not be tainted with genocide. If companies like Marks & Spencer can do it for their apparel supply chain, so can we.
The amendment leaves the assessment of “serious risk of genocide” to the government and leaves wide latitude to the government to define a process surrounding such risk assessments through regulations. In short, it is a very reasonable amendment.
Under the Genocide Convention, our duty to act arises “the instant” we become aware of a “serious risk” of genocide. This was determined in the Bosnia v. Serbia judgment of the International Court of Justice in 2007. These obligations come at the time when we learn of a grave risk of genocide – and in the case of the Uighurs, we are at grave risk of defaulting on our obligations. .
Just before Christmas, the independent Uyghur tribunal concluded that genocide was underway in Xinjiang. She concluded “beyond reasonable doubt that the People’s Republic of China… is guilty of genocide.” The Tribunal determined that biological genocide occurs through the restriction of births through forced sterilization and abortion, gender segregation in detention centers, and forced marriage and childbearing between Uyghur women and men han. In addition, mutilations and biological experiments take place in detention centers.
The link to NHS purchases has been known for some time. The Daily Telegraph reported: “Ministers have handed over almost £150million to Chinese companies linked to alleged human rights abuses in Xingang in a race for PPE after the Covid hit. “
Our duty is to fight, not collaborate with, genocide, and our duty is also to protect the NHS from exploitation and profiteering. We know that about one in five cotton garments sold globally contains cotton or yarn from Xinjiang, and the region also manufactures a significant amount of global polysilicon to make solar panels and smartphones.
Our amendment is proportionate. He challenges lobbyists who seek to subvert Parliament’s intent; he places power in the hands of Parliament and the Secretary of State; it ensures the integrity of our procurement policies; it protects the NHS from the taint of association with genocide or slave labor; and it creates a framework and a timetable for taking action.
For many reasons, the Covid pandemic has been a sad time for many reasons, but making the UK taxpayer complicit in the persecution of Uyghurs through the purchase of PPE has to be one of the saddest. Rescue should not depend on the taking of life.
Find out what MPs and peers are talking about. Sign up for The House’s morning email for the latest news and feedback from parliamentarians, policymakers and organisations.