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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we have regularly raised with the Indonesian Government the matter of the deaths of the British journalists at Balibo in East Timor in 1975. We welcome the decision by the UN administration in East Timor to reopen the investigation into this case.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Naturally I welcome the recent United Nations initiatives and wish them well. However, will the Minister accept that it has simply not been good enough for successive British governments to have left the investigation of the murder of two British citizens to the Australian Government for the past 25 years--a government which many recent revelations from many sources show was implicated in this atrocity through the negligence of some of its officials? Is the Minister therefore able to assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will take a more proactive role and leave no stone unturned until the murderers of the two British journalists and many others in East Timor are brought to justice?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I say straight away that of course I acknowledge the concern that the noble Baroness expresses in relation to this matter and join with her in that. However, successive British governments have been involved in this issue although they have not taken the primary role. There were no plans for a British inquiry because the five journalists killed were all based in Australia and worked for the Australian TV station. For that reason it was the Australian Government which led on this issue. It commissioned the comprehensive investigation by a former solicitor general, Tom Sherman, in 1995 and this remains the bench-mark. I should reassure the House that there was no reason to suppose that that investigation was not carried out vigorously and fully. We were kept informed about it; and it is a matter which we were content to accept.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is clear that documents were available to the Australian foreign ministry which were not disclosed to the Sherman inquiry. How do we know that similar documents are not in the possession of the Foreign Office? Will the Minister give an undertaking that whatever documents the Foreign Office may have will not be withheld because of the 30-year rule but made available to any inquiry undertaken by the authorities in East Timor?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can assure your Lordships that all documents which can properly be disclosed will be disclosed in accordance with the normal rules. But no noble Lord should be left in any doubt that Her Majesty's Government are very keen indeed for the perpetrators of these heinous offences to be found and that we have every hope and aspiration that all of those involved in this process have a similar good intent.
Lord Rea: My Lords, since we have a little Question Time available, perhaps I may ask the Minister a slightly peripheral question. Can my noble friend report on the current situation of the forced refugees of East Timorese who are now in West Timor, in particular after the United Nations group which was looking after them was withdrawn when some of its members were killed? Is there any chance of that team returning to West Timor?
However, it is right to say that we were appalled by the brutal murder of the UNHCR staff on 6th September. We have consistently pressed the Indonesian Government to comply with the terms of UN Security Resolution 1319, to disarm and disband the militia in West Timor and to arrest those responsible for the murders. We are encouraging the UN Security Council mission. It will visit East Timor, West Timor and Indonesia from 9th to 18th November. It will look at the progress in compliance with Resolution 1319 and at encouraging the Indonesians to bring those responsible for the murders to account. Six suspects are currently in detention.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Burlison will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on Far East prisoners of war compensation.
These amendments and new clauses together deliver our commitment expressed in Committee to bring forward new provisions to give a statutory status to local access forums. In response to amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, I indicated that we would bring forward such amendments. I believe that these amendments meet the objectives sought at that stage.
The amendments will place a duty on access authorities--that is, local highway authorities and national park authorities--to establish local access forums in their area. Forums will need to include a balanced representation of both users of the right of access under Part I and rights of way in general, and of landowners, managers and occupiers of land.
The intention is that in the implementation and management of the right of access and improvement of rights of way the advice of local access forums will be sought and due weight given to that advice. The amendments will require relevant decision-making authorities to have proper regard to forums' views in reaching decisions, for example in relation to draft maps, the imposition of by-laws, proposals for long-term closures of access land as well as on wider access issues contained in new rights of way improvement plans. In providing their views, local access forums will need to take into account relevant guidance issued by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly. The amendments demonstrate the central role which we intend that forums will play in advising on the operation and implementation of the new right of access.
Subsequent amendments deal with how that right will be dealt with. Amendments Nos. 253 and 255 are new clauses to be inserted in Part V of the Bill. They contain substantive provisions about local access forums. They press a duty on highways authorities and national park authorities to establish them. Amendment No. 253 provides for the new clauses on local access forums to come into force two months after Royal Assent. Amendment No. 255 introduces a general definition of local access forum into Part V for the purposes of interpretation.
Amendments 254 and 256 are tabled as amendments to Amendments Nos. 253 and 255. I shall listen to what is said on those amendments to my amendment. It might help the House if I were to indicate that in general terms I am not inclined to accept Amendment No. 254 but I am favourably disposed to Amendment No. 256. I beg to move.
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