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Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: There are no authoritative statistics, but media reporting suggests that 18 aid, construction and election workers died in 2003; and 42 died in the first six months of 2004. These totals include both foreign nationals and Afghan citizens working for the United Nations and non-govermental organisations.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We welcome the emphasis on a long-term plan for security in the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit's June briefing paper, "Minimal Investments, Minimal Results: The Failure of Security Policy in Afghanistan". We continually review our own, and partners', efforts in this area, but we believe that a
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long-term plan already exists and is being implemented.

In the short term, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led coalition are assisting the Afghan authorities to build a secure environment. NATO is currently implementing plans for expanding ISAF.

In the longer term, sustainable improvement in security can only come through developing the capabilities of Afghanistan's own security and law enforcement institutions. The international community has made a long-term commitment to Security Sector Reform (SSR). The UK has been very active in this. We have committed £70 million over three years from 2003–04 to assist the Afghan authorities in their efforts to combat the production and trafficking of illegal narcotics. The UK is also active in police reconstruction; reform of the Afghan National Army; the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process; and the justice sector. As the paper points out, provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) provide both short and long-term support, helping the Afghan authorities create a more secure and stable environment and thereby facilitating SSR. We fully support the PRT "stabilisation" model promoted in the paper, and the UK PRTs in northern Afghanistan have demonstrated what it can achieve.

European Economic Area

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The European economic area (EEA) agreement establishes rules to facilitate the movement of goods, services, capital and persons between EU and EEA member states in an open and competitive environment. It binds EEA members into most EU single market rules.

Broadly the EEA agreement does not cover the following EU policy areas:

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EEA European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states have no formal access to the EU decision-making process. Only EU membership can give such access. The EEA agreement contains provision for input from EEA EFTA states at various stages of the preparation of EEA-relevant EU legislation but this is not the same as joint decision-making. EEA EFTA experts are consulted informally by the Commission when drawing up legislation and experts also have access to Commission comitology and programme committees but they do not have a vote. Again, only EU membership provides for this.

Once relevant EC legislation has been formally adopted by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, or by the European Commission, the EEA Joint Committee takes a decision concerning any appropriate amendment of the EEA agreement with a view to permitting a simultaneous application of legislation in the EU and the EEA EFTA states. The EEA Joint Committee is assisted by four sub-committees and various working groups. The EEA council provides political impetus for the development of the EEA agreement and guidelines for the Joint Committee.

Further information about the EEA can be found on the website of the EFTA Secretariat:

Iran: Political Dissidents

Lord Chan asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We continue to raise the case of Ebrahim Khodabandeh and Jamil Bassam with the Iranian Government. We have urged the Iranian authorities to respect the human rights of the two men and ensure that they are treated in accordance with the law, held in humane conditions and given a fair trial.
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Smallpox Vaccination: Medical Staff

Lord Jopling asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): At 13 July 2004, a total of 294 people in England have been vaccinated against smallpox as part of our contingency planning. Of these people: 141 are doctors, 126 are nurses, 19 are scientists, six are ambulance staff, and two are from other occupations. The vaccination programme is on-going.

NHS: Treatment Overseas

Lord Chadlington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Warner: Patients are referred for overseas treatment by their acute trust with the agreement of the commissioning primary care trust or directly by their primary care trust. Acute trusts and primary care trusts use the services of the National Health Service overseas commissioning team at Guys and St Thomas' NHS Trust which sources suitable overseas providers, and procures treatment in Europe for the NHS. The overseas commissioning team also holds the contracts for treatment overseas on behalf of the NHS. The number of patients referred overseas directly by their primary care trusts has not been recorded by central monitoring. In total, however, 879 patients have been referred overseas for treatment since January 2002.

Water Fluoridation

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Warner: The report by the School of Dental Sciences at Newcastle University concludes that "There was no statistically significant difference [in absorption of fluoride] between artificially and naturally fluoridated water, or between soft and hard water". For the subjects in the study, there were small differences in indices of bioavailability between the trials of the various types of water, but the results were compatible with the conclusion that the source of fluoride and the hardness of the water had no important influence on the bioavailability of fluoride. This conclusion agrees with the findings of the earlier study quoted in the report, Chemistry and bioavailability aspects of fluoride in drinking water, which concluded "In terms of chemistry and bioavailability there is absolutely no difference between added and natural fluoride". Much of the evidence bearing on the safety of fluoridation of drinking water consists of epidemiological studies in populations exposed to fluoride occurring naturally in water supplies. The Newcastle study adds further confirmation that there is no evidence that the epidemiological findings relating to natural fluoride are inapplicable to artificial fluoridation.

Studies in England have found no relationship between fluoride naturally present in drinking-water and any of the non-dental health outcomes considered, including mortality from all causes, tuberculosis, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis, peptic ulcer, nephritis, nephrosis, congenital malformations, mortality from accidents/poisonings/violence, stillbirths, infant mortality, osteochondritis juvenalis of the spine, goitre, excessive accumulation of fluoride in bone, and hip fracture.

We commissioned the bioavailability project as part of the programme of research with which we are strengthening the evidence base on fluoridation in accordance with the recommendations of the systematic review of fluoridation undertaken by the University of York.
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