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Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the governments of (a) India and (b) Pakistan on the situation in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps the Government is taking to assist South American governments in (a) combating the production of and (b) tackling the international trade in narcotics. 
In FY 200203, the FCO's Drugs and Crime Fund (DCF) provided over £5 million in counter-narcotics related assistance to priority countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where illegal drugs are produced or trafficked. This has led to the seizure of over 11 tonnes of cocaine, worth over £662 million, throughout the region so far this year.
UK counter-drugs assistance focuses on improving local law enforcement capabilities primarily by providing law enforcement training and drug detection equipment. The UK also has 23 Drug Liaison Officers (DLOs) and three Crime Liaison Officers (CLOs) stationed in the region.
DCF has also supported several UNODC projects in the region, such as training in precursor chemicals in Colombia and illicit coca crop monitoring surveys in Colombia and Peru, which will lead to improved understanding of the nature and scale of the drug problem.
Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his colleagues in the EU concerning the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. 
Mr. Rammell: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed continuing settlement expansion with his EU counterparts at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Luxembourg on 13 October. The European Council Declarations of 17 October called on Israel to reverse its settlement policy and dismantle settlement outposts.
We fully support the roadmap's requirement that Israel should immediately freeze all settlement activity, including "natural growth" and dismantle the outposts erected since March 2001. The continuing expansion of settlements in the Occupied Territories threatens the basis for a viable Palestinian state and makes a negotiated settlement more difficult to reach.
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Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the US Administration concerning Israeli activity to expand settlements in the occupied territories. 
Mr. Rammell: My noble Friend the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean expressed our concerns about Israeli settlement activity to the US Assistant Secretary of State, William Burns, on 24 September. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development also raised the matter with Elliott Abrams, Senior Director of the US National Security Council on 8 October. Our embassy in Washington continues to discuss Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as part of regular discussions with the US Administration on the Middle East Peace Process.
Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Israeli Government concerning its efforts to expand settlements and encourage new outposts in the occupied territories. 
Mr. Rammell: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary expressed our concerns about settlement expansion to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, when he visited London on 14 July, and the Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, on 18 July. My noble Friend the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean reiterated these representations when she met Mr. Shalom in Jerusalem on 30 September. She also raised settlements and Israeli authorisation of settlement outposts with Yosef Paritzky, the Israel Minister for National Infrastructure on 29 October.
Mr. Spring: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what applications the Government has made to the European Commission to ensure that the United Kingdom benefits from the Commission's Regions of Knowledge initiative; what the Government's assessment is of whether this is a productive use of EU funds; and if he will make a statement. 
Regions of Knowledge is a pilot initiative of the European Parliament which is being administered by the Commission. It invited regional consortia to bid for funds, and consequently it was not appropriate for Her Majesty's Government to apply directly. We are aware that several bids including UK participants were prepared, but those submitted are currently confidential.
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Mr. Mike O'Brien: We are concerned about reports of discrimination against religious minorities (including Christians) in Sri Lanka and regularly raise this, and other human rights issues, with the Sri Lankan Government. Our High Commission monitors the situation closely, and is in regular contact with religious leaders. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in the Sri Lankan Constitution, and there are dedicated ministries for Christian as well as Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim affairs.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had discussions with both Indian Foreign Minister Sinha and Pakistani Foreign Minister Kasuri in the last week. Both the Foreign Secretary and I met Foreign Minister Kasuri on 4 November in London during which we discussed the measures proposed by India and Pakistan to further improve relations between the two countries. He urged both sides to implement quickly the steps on which they agreed and work together to close the gap on those where there is less common ground. In particular, he urged both governments to find a way forward on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus route, a proposal that was welcomed by Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control. The Foreign Secretary also encouraged both governments to continue to work together towards normalising their relations and resolving their differences, including over Kashmir.
Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the Pakistani Foreign Minister's comments on 29 October concerning the proposed confidence building measures initiated by India; what impact those comments have had on the dialogue between the two countries; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with Mr. Kofi Annan on the Western Sahara, with particular reference to Moroccan engagement with the latest Baker Plan. 
Mr. Rammell: Officials have been in contact with their United Nations counterparts over this issue, particularly in the lead up to the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1513 on 28 October 2003 which extended the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 January 2004.
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Dr. Jack Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will reply to the letters of 10 March and 5 September of the right hon. Member for Copeland concerning a constituent awaiting release from prison. 
Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how long on average it took to process an application for screening for criminal records of care home workers in (a) July 2002, (b) October 2002, (c) January 2003, (d) April 2003 and (e) July 2003. 
Paul Goggins: The information is not available in the form requested, as there are currently no IT procedures to extract this information from the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) database. It is expected that, as systems develop, this information will become available at some point in the future.
The turnaround times for January are higher than usual because of lost production days between Christmas and New Year due to staff holidays, and a training and consolidation exercise of new PNC procedures.
The CRB has been steadily improving its performance since October 2002. The increase in July can be attributed to a surge in applications during the last two weeks in June in advance of the increase in fees which came into effect on 1 July. Approximately 50,000
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extra applications were received in addition to the Bureau's normal intake at that time of about 43,000 applications per week. While these extra applications temporarily increased the turnaround times for applications, the CRB nevertheless continued to meet its service standard targets.
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