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Mrs. Dorries: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) whether there is a shortage of magistrates to administer justice within the County of Bedfordshire; and if she will make a statement; 
Ms Harman: There are currently 307 magistrates serving in the two benches; Bedfordshire and Mid Bedfordshire and Luton and South Bedfordshire. Although there is a shortfall of 47 magistrates on the Luton and South Bedfordshire Bench, there are sufficient numbers of magistrates on the bench to administer justice in the area.
The Government introduced the Magistrates National Recruitment Strategy (MNRS) on 7 October 2003 as part of a wider Supporting Magistrates to Provide Justice Programme. It's three main objectives are:
The MNRS complements the Magistrates Shadowing Scheme, which is aimed at encouraging more people from ethnic minorities to apply to become magistrates and to gain valuable insight into the roles and
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responsibilities of a magistrate. The Bedfordshire Advisory Committee area has been selected to participate in the Magistrates Shadowing Scheme.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate he has made of the average opium production in Afghanistan on 1 January (a) 1997, (b) 2000 and (c) 2005. 
Dr. Howells: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducts an annual survey into the level of opium poppy cultivation and production in Afghanistan. Full details can be found on their website http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/crop_monitoring.html.
On 29 August, the executive director of the UNODC Costa announced provisional cultivation and production figures for 200405 from their annual poppy survey. They estimated that opium production was around 4,100 metric tonnes (mt), a decrease of only 100 tonnes (2.4 per cent.) compared to 2004. Good weather and an absence of crop disease were responsible for a significant increase in yield since last year. UNODC will publish their final report in October, but these figures are unlikely to change. The yield figures are disappointing, but the cultivation figures give a better picture of farmers' intentions (a 21 per cent. reduction in poppy cultivation from 131,000 hectares (ha) in 200304 to 104,000 ha in 200405).
Dr. Howells: In July 2000, the Taliban imposed a ban on opium poppy cultivation. By July 2001, the tactics they employed had led to a 91 per cent. reduction. This ban was enforced with a combination of fear and bribery, and led to a rise in the price of opium so that those with opium stockpiles profited, many of whom colluded with the Taliban Government.
The lack of a viable central state and war-damaged infrastructure in Afghanistan created conditions in which opium cultivation could thrive once again. Opium is highly profitable for those controlling land, and for the warlords and Governors controlling peripheral parts of this mountainous country. There has been little incentive for them to engage with the embryonic central state and, until recently, government institutions have been unable to impact on the trade. President Karzai, with support from the international community, is working hard to change this and is increasing central government presence in the
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provinces. The President has made clear that eliminating opium is vital for Afghanistan's future and is key to stability.
Progress has been made. The provisional cultivation and production figures for 200405 announced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in August show an estimated 21 per cent. reduction in poppy cultivation over the previous year. Production and yield, however, are expected to be down since last year by only 2.4 per cent. as good weather and an absence of crop disease brought about a significant increase in yield. It is going to take a long time to uproot something so deeply entrenched in Afghanistan's culture and economy. But like the Afghans, the UK has always maintained that we are in this for the long term.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions the Government have had with their international partners on the co-ordination of the fight against the Afghan drug trade. 
Dr. Howells: The international community is providing assistance across all strands of the Government of Afghanistan's 2005 counter narcotics (CN) implementation plan. We are working with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other international partners, including the US, who have significant resources to bring to this issue and are very engaged. However, to date, levels of international assistance to the Afghanistan CN effort have struggled to match the scale of the problem. The UK Government are using their G8 lead nation status for Afghanistan CN to press for increased commitments, particularly in G8 and EU fora. We welcome in this respect the G8 Foreign and Home Ministers' recognition of the need for increased finance and capacity-building for CN, when they met in June this year. We are engaged bilaterally with a range of countries who have expressed an interest in providing specific support. We are encouraging them to channel funding through the Government of Afghanistan's CN Trust Fund (CNTF), and to provide mentors for the CN Criminal Justice Task Force and CN Police of Afghanistan.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how the funding allocated by the UK Government to combat the drugs trade in Afghanistan over the last three years has been spent. 
Dr. Howells: The UK has provided some £300 million in development assistance to Afghanistan over the last three years which includes humanitarian assistance and support for security sector reform and counter-narcotics (CN). I refer to the reply I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York regarding financial assistance provided to Afghanistan on 7 June 2005, Official Report, column 546W.
The UK, as lead nation on CN, remains committed to supporting the Afghan Government in the implementation of their comprehensive 2005 CN Implementation Plan and in updating their national drug control strategy. We continue to work with the Afghan Government and others to increase activity in all areas of their strategy. As well as co-ordinating the
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activity of international partners, we are providing substantial financial and practical supportspending more than £100 million over the period 200306.
I refer to the reply I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) on the counter narcotics programme in Afghanistan on 6 June 2005, Official Report, column 235W. On 5 September, I announced new UK funding for Afghan CN in a joint press conference with Afghan CN Minister Qaderi. The UK is to provide more than £270 million over the next three years. £130 million of the funding will be provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) with the rest coming from other Government Departments including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Ministry of Defence (MOD). I intend to make a further statement to the House in the next month.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Defence Secretary on the deployment of troops to Afghanistan during 2005 to tackle the opium trade. 
Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid) on a range of issues regarding Afghanistan, including both our military commitments in the country and our counter narcotics initiatives. Beneath this, there are the monthly Afghan strategy group meetings, attended by senior officials including representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence, and a cross Government ministerial level meeting, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, which meets fortnightly and addresses the four key Afghan strands of governance, security, counter narcotics and reconstruction.
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