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Restorative Justice Pilot Schemes

Volume 516: debated on Tuesday 19 October 2010

I am providing good value for the taxpayer this afternoon. [Interruption.] Buy one answer, get one free.

Pre-sentence restorative justice for adults was trialled as part of a Home Office crime reduction programme that ran between 2001 and 2004. A youth restorative disposal has also been piloted, allowing police officers to resolve minor first-time offences by young people using restorative techniques. We are currently ensuring that the pilot is independently evaluated.

The community payback scheme in Downham Market was initiated by volunteers and has proved very effective in both showing justice being done locally and delivering key community projects such as improvements to paths and car parks. What plans does the Minister have to give local communities the power to make it easier to deliver similar schemes?

I am aware of the Downham Market scheme. If sentencers and the public are to have confidence in community payback, we need to make it tougher. We need to ensure that the work done is meaningful and challenging, and that there is rigorous enforcement of community payback orders. We are also keen on ensuring that as much as possible is done, like in Downham Market, to encourage members of the community to nominate projects and therefore take an interest in them.

In view of the Minister’s comments earlier about embedding best practice in the mainstream, what will he do to ensure that judges and magistrates have a full understanding of the outcome of restorative justice projects and make full use of them?

The right hon. Gentleman probably knows that we will announce a set of proposals on sentencing later this year, and restorative justice will form an important component of that. It is a coalition agreement to seek to promote restorative justice programmes, and the evaluation of them that has been carried out is encouraging, showing high levels of victim satisfaction and reduced rates of reoffending.

My right hon. Friend referred to the community payback scheme. I recently spent a day with the community payback team in my constituency, helping to cut back branches in a local area of woodland. I saw the benefits of such work to both offenders and the community. Does he agree that such schemes play an important part in the justice system?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I assume that he was taking part in the scheme as an observer, not as somebody who was required to pay back to the community. It was not a Whips-run scheme.

It is important that community sentences are effective, and that there is confidence on the part of members of the public and sentencers that the schemes are rigorous. At their best they can be, but there is a great deal more work to be done to ensure that they are supervised and enforced properly.

Last year alone, offenders carried out more than 11 million hours of unpaid work through the community payback scheme, which is a model of restorative justice. Across the country, offenders have cleaned graffiti, repaired community centres and worked on environmental projects, including helping to repair flood damage in Cumbria. The scheme was established by the previous Labour Government in the face of Conservative opposition—indeed, at the time, the current Attorney-General dismissed it as a gimmick. Will the Minister confirm that that excellent Labour programme is in fact now being expanded by his Government because it provides an important role in punishing and rehabilitating offenders?

May I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new position as Opposition spokesperson? He does not seem to recognise that there are public confidence issues with community payback as it is currently run. He did not refer, for instance, to the ITV documentary that was broadcast recently that showed offenders abusing community payback and problems with supervision. It is the Government’s intention to considerably improve and toughen up community payback so that there is confidence in it.