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International Development


The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Three weeks have now passed since an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 struck Haiti. The Government of Haiti have confirmed 112,000 bodies recovered from the rubble in and around the capital Port-au-Prince. Estimates of the final death toll are close to 170,000.

Following my written statement to the House on 25 January 2010, Official Report, column 42WS, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have confirmed that a second British citizen, Ann Barnes, has lost her life in Haiti. Like Frederick Wooldridge who also died in the earthquake, Ms. Barnes worked for the UN mission in Haiti. We pay tribute to the work of Ms. Barnes and Mr. Wooldridge and more than 80 members of the United Nations mission in Haiti now confirmed to have lost their lives.

I would also like to pay tribute to the British public for their continued generosity in responding to Haiti's plight. The Disaster Emergency Committee appeal has now raised £70 million. This is a remarkable achievement.

Effective co-ordination of the relief effort remains vital. The Department for International Development is working hard to improve the situation on the ground and overcome the logistical bottlenecks that are hampering relief efforts. Our assessment is that co-ordination of the relief effort is improving. Systems are now in place to deliver clean drinking water to those who need it, with 500,000 people able to receive five litres per person per day. The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that operations on the ground continue to expand. In addition to the £1 million we have already provided to assist the United Nations with aid co-ordination, we have also taken the decision to provide a second secondee to OCHA in Haiti.

Shelter and sanitation for 900,000 people in Port-au-Prince and a further 200,000 in rural areas made homeless by the earthquake are now the top priority. Our field team reports that co-ordination of water and sanitation relief efforts continues to improve despite the scope and complexity of needs. There are still problems, but donors, cluster leads and OCHA are working to identify solutions.

The Department for International Development has also purchased 5,700 sheets of corrugated iron roofing materials that are vital for constructing durable shelters for about 2,000 families to bridge the gap until permanent homes can be rebuilt. Working closely with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, these materials weighing over 55 tons are being transported to Haiti by ship, on Royal Fleet Auxiliary Largs Bay.

RFA Largs Bay departed from Marchwood, Southampton yesterday, Wednesday 3 February, carrying these shelter materials as well as critically needed port handling equipment and vehicles for use by Save the Children, the International Federation of the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies. The port handling equipment will help unblock critical supply bottlenecks at Haiti's ports.

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Weather permitting, we expect the ship to arrive off Cap Haitien on or around the 18 February. Once there, RFA Largs Bay is expected to stay in the region for a number of weeks to help the United Nations transport supplies around Haiti.

In addition to the materials sent on the RFA Largs Bay, three aircraft sent by the Department for International Development have also delivered plastic sheeting and other shelter materials for temporary shelters. We have also provided £1 million to Oxfam and £400,000 to the Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development (ACTED) to provide clean drinking water, shelter materials, hygiene kits and water tanks for the construction of latrines and bathing spaces. On 2 February, we made a further £1.12 million available to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to support their work in providing temporary shelter, including two secondees from CARE International to support temporary settlement management. We have also provided a seconded specialist in transitional shelter to IOM, and all three secondees are now working on the ground, with exemplary support from the British embassy in Santo Domingo.

We have also deployed three civilian experts from the joint DFID, MOD and FCO stabilisation unit to help restore vital Government functions-specifically to get the prison service working again. We are liaising closely with the European Union, Canada and the United Nations and the unit stands ready to provide further civilian support to help the Haitian Government get back on their feet.

The British Government are mindful of the risks to the safety and protection of children in the aftermath of the earthquake, and their well-being is our primary concern. Priority must be given to efforts to reunite children with their birth families. Advice has been issued by the Hague bureau, Children and Families across Borders and the Disaster and Emergency Committee and the Prime Minister of Haiti has stated that the Government share the deep concern of the international community to avoid any trafficking of Haitian children. We welcome his commitment to sign personally all adoption authorisations so that no children will be allowed to leave the country without legal adoption documentation.

In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy and for the foreseeable future, we will continue to work with the international community to support recovery in Haiti. The Department for International Development has provided funding for development work through multilateral channels, such as the United Nations agencies, the European Commission and World Bank. The World Bank is allocating $100 million from the current IDA 15 replenishment, to which UK was biggest contributor. The United Kingdom's contribution to European Union humanitarian assistance for Haiti totals £42 million.

The Government of Haiti have asked the World Bank and United Nations to be the joint international leads with respect to longer-term rehabilitation, and we expect the other international financial institutions, the European Commission and Haiti's major bilateral donors also to have a strong role. A World Bank team is already in Port-au-Prince working with the Government to identify priority areas for their assistance and preparing for the joint needs assessment due on 8 February. The international community needs to continue its efforts to
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address the terrible plight of Haitians, and we will play our part through our very substantial support to the multilaterals involved, and the continuation of the humanitarian operation now under way.


Private Hire Vehicle Contract Exemption

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): The exemption from private hire vehicle licensing for vehicles working on long-term contracts was repealed in 2008 by virtue of the Road Safety Act 2006. A similar change was made to the PHV legislation in London.

The Government decided to repeal the exemption at short notice during the passage of the Bill, which meant that a formal consultation exercise was not possible.

The Department undertook to review the impact of the repeal of the PHV contract exemption and today has published the report. The report has been published on the Department's website and a copy has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

In compiling their report, the consultants asked a range of stakeholders-including licensing authorities, conventional PHV operators, operators of services where there were doubts about their position in relation to PHV law and consumers-about their views and their experiences since the repeal of the contract exemption.

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It is apparent from the report that the impact of the repeal has been mixed; it has brought within the licensing regime many thousands of operators and drivers who had previously been working under the exemption, which is a desirable outcome in terms of enhancing safety. However, it has also generated questions about the position of a number of operators who would not regard themselves as conventional private hire but who carry passengers in a car as part of their wider jobs and who do not know whether they must be licensed.

The report concludes that licensing authorities and operators would like to see a more robust message from central Government about the extent to which a range of operators at the margins of the definition of private hire vehicle do, or do not, fall to be licensed as PHVs.

The Department recognises that although Parliament has delegated responsibility for the licensing function to individual local authorities, there is a role for the Department in terms of offering guidance with the objective of achieving a degree of uniformity of approach throughout the country.

Accordingly, the Department will undertake to revise the guidance note which it produced in November 2007 in such a way as to offer a more robust view about which categories of operators should be licensed.

The review also showed that the other main taxi provision contained in the Road Safety Act 2006-allowing licensing authorities to suspend or revoke a driver's licence with immediate effect in certain circumstances rather than allowing them to continue working pending appeal-has been welcomed by licensing authorities as a useful additional tool in undertaking their licensing responsibilities.

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