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Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate he has made of the size of the adult population of Iraq; and how many (a) men and (b) women have registered for the forthcoming elections. 
Mr. Rammell: The population of Iraq is estimated to be 27 million. The voter register for the forthcoming elections has been drawn from the food rationing database and includes 13.9 million names. It is not possible to say how many people are registered to vote since the process for registration is essentially a passive exercise. This means that voters need only contact their registration centre if they need to amend or make an addition to the register.
Mr. MacShane: This Government have discussed a number of human rights issues with the Israeli Government. These include the restrictions that were placed on Mordechai Vanunu following his release from detention; the terms of the Citizenship and Family Unification Law; the conditions in Israeli prisons; and the plight of the Bedouin community in the Negev desert. Along with our EU partners, we will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Israel, and we will raise our concerns where appropriate.
Mr. Rammell: We have had frequent discussions with both sides regarding the Israeli disengagement plan. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed this with Israeli Vice Prime Minister Olmert and Minister for Foreign Affairs Shalom during his visit to Israel on 24 November. The Foreign Secretary urged Israel to co-ordinate both implementation and arrangements for the period following disengagement with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon has since stated that he will make every effort to co-ordinate disengagement with the new Palestinian Government.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions have taken place between the Government and the Governments of (a) Nepal and (b) India regarding Maoist insurgency; what assessment has been made of the impact of the insurgency on the stability of the
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wider region; and what steps the Government are taking to assist (i) India and (ii) Nepal in combating this threat. 
Mr. Alexander: We are in regular touch with the Governments of both Nepal and India about the Maoist insurgency, both at ministerial and senior official levels. I visited Nepal in November and held discussions with both the King and Prime Minister about the current situation. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also raised the issue with his Indian counterpart, most recently on 4 December, and the UK Special representative to Nepal, Sir Jeffrey James, has been visiting Nepal and India regularly for talks with ministers and officials.
We have considered the actual and potential impact of the insurgency on stability in the wider region with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development (DFID). Large numbers of refugees from the conflict have already moved to India. We remain concerned about possible links between Nepalese Maoists and far-left groups in north eastern India, which threaten stability there.
To help to minimise the risks these threats pose, the UK has been working closely with international partners. Our efforts are intended to help Nepal to move on from the current conflict as a democratic, stable country, with multi-party democracy, a constitutional monarchy, sustainable economic and social reform, good governance and a high level of respect for human rights.
For several years we have been giving considerable assistance to Nepal through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP) to help the state counter the insurgency in a manner in accordance with internationally accepted norms and also to assist Nepal to tackle the root causes of the conflict. DFID has committed £35 million this year to an extensive programme aimed at reducing poverty and social inequality, and accelerating economic growth and improving quality of life and good governance. In all of our efforts we work closely with our international partners to ensure a unified approach. We welcome the close cooperation we enjoy with India in our efforts to help Nepal resolve the problems it faces.
Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he has taken following the beating up of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Presidential Candidate in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, by Israeli soldiers. 
During his visit to Israel on 24 November, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pressed the Israeli Government to do all they can to facilitate the Palestinian presidential elections. Prime Minister Sharon has committed to do so. We were extremely concerned to hear of the treatment of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) at an Israeli checkpoint. We shall continue to raise our
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concerns about IDF behaviour and about the need for freedom of movement for Palestinian candidates and voters in the upcoming presidential elections.
Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he will make to the Israeli Government concerning the release of Marwan Barghouti from prison in order that he can take part in the Palestinian Authority presidential elections. 
Mr. MacShane: We have no plans to make representations to the Israeli Government concerning Marwan Barghouti's release from prison. Mr. Barghouti withdrew his candidature for the Palestinian Authority presidential elections on 13 December.
Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Israeli Government concerning road networks in the Occupied Territories which can be used only by Israelis. 
Mr. MacShane: We regularly raise our concerns with the Israeli Government on the imposition of restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods (the closures). My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised this issue during his visit to Israel on 24 November. These restrictions contribute to the Palestinians' sense of frustration and helplessness, and make a comprehensive settlement more difficult to achieve. We will continue to urge the Israeli Government to facilitate maximum freedom of movement for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he made to the President of Pakistan during his visit to the UK on the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, with particular regard to (a) Ahmadiyya Muslims and (b) the use of the Law of Blasphemy in that country; and if he will make a statement. 
The British Government takes a serious view of any persecution of minorities and of other religious intolerance and discrimination in Pakistan. We raise our concerns with the Pakistani authorities together with our EU partners, and did so most recently in May this year in a demarche which specifically mentioned the case of a Christian charged under the Blasphemy laws.
Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many days sick leave were taken by civil servants in the Department in each year since 1997; and what the sickness absence rate was in each year. 
|Average annual sick days per officer||Sickness absence rate (percentage)|
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