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House of Lords

Tuesday, 17 July 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Restorative Justice

Lord Harries of Pentregarth asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the report examined victim and offender satisfaction with restorative justice. It shows general victim satisfaction and supports the Government's strategy of encouraging the use of adult restorative justice as a service to victims. A further report, on the impact on reoffending and cost-effectiveness, is expected later this year.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I strongly agree that we need to develop policy on the basis of sound evidence and we look forward to the second report. Does he agree that there is already significant evidence of the motivational power of restorative justice for offenders and that there is already compelling evidence that victims are helped by and need it? Would it not therefore be sensible already to develop policy further, which is essential for the whole criminal justice system, at least for victims?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I certainly accept that very positive signals are coming from the research. The Government have already encouraged local criminal justice boards to develop restorative justice processes. However, the research project consists of four pieces of work; the final piece of work, as I have already mentioned, concerns cost-effectiveness and outcomes. It is important for the Government to await that before taking further action.

Lord Elton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the work of Sherman and Strang, which was also recently published? It bears out the expectation that restorative justice is effective in reducing reoffending, particularly in serious crime, violence and burglary. When that is confirmed, as we hope it will be, later this year, will he pay attention to their suggestion of having a restorative justice board to foster the spreading of this cost-effective and welcome development across the country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware of the research to which the noble Lord refers. I think that it is fair to say that it was a fairly small-scale study; none the less, we are looking at it with very great interest. I assure the noble Lord that, in conjunction with research that my department has commissioned, we will certainly look at his suggestion.

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Baroness Sharples: My Lords, can the Minister please tell us what restorative justice is?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can certainly send a very long definition to the noble Baroness. Essentially, it is an opportunity for victims to explain the impact of the crime to the offender and for the offender to acknowledge the harm caused; it also provides the chance to ask questions. It is not to be seen as a soft option. The research that has just been published shows, for instance, that where direct conferencing has taken place between the offender and the victim, more than half of victims said that the process provided a sense of closure and 90 per cent of victims in conferencing said that offenders had apologised; there is no question about that. Just under four-fifths of offenders thought that it would lessen the likelihood of reoffending. I would not claim that it is a perfect approach but the figures are none the less pretty encouraging.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, is the Minister aware that only two places in the country use that provision of the 2003 Act to make restorative justice a requirement of a community sentence? They are the Thames Valley and the Liverpool Community Justice Centre. Given the Government’s commitment to developing community sentences as an alternative to custody, which we heartily endorse, and the powerful benefits that restorative justice delivers to victims, to offenders and, therefore, to the country as a whole, what specific plans do the Government have to encourage and to develop a much more widespread take-up of that provision?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to draw attention to the potential of community sentencing. Certainly, restorative justice can be a part of that process. My understanding is that 13 of the 42 local criminal justice boards report some adult restorative justice delivery. Of course, more can be done. The Government’s approach has been to encourage those boards to invest and to develop those services. We shall come back to this issue in the light of the fourth research study, which, as I have said, we hope will become available towards the end of the year.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, it seems to me that the emphasis on restorative justice is one of the best features of the Government's legislation in the field of crime. Is it not, therefore, a matter of regret that the restorative justice policy team at the Home Office has now been virtually disbanded?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course, restorative justice is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. It is not so much about what teams we have, but whether we have sufficient support within the ministry to ensure that programmes can be developed. I believe we have that. We are looking at the research with a great deal of interest. As I said, it shows considerable promise; none the less, it will be very important to see the outcome of the study on cost-effectiveness. When that comes out, the Government will make further decisions. In the light of those

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decisions, we shall ensure that the ministry has the people to assist implementation of any future policy that has been agreed.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, glancing at the report, we learn on page 18 that 55 per cent of offenders admitted that a very important reason for taking part in the scheme was to aid their forthcoming case. In view of that, what measures does the Minister propose to prevent the exploitation of the restorative justice system?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is very important that restorative justice should not be seen as a soft option. The cases are risk assessed and we shall look at the matter in the light of the research that has been published. The research shows that the face-to-face meetings can be a particular challenge for offenders; nor are they easy for the victims. That is why the risk assessment is done so carefully. I can assure the noble Lord that the last thing I, or my department, would wish is for this to be some kind of soft option, ensuring that an offender is somehow treated more leniently by the courts. It has to be seen as part of a rigorous approach to dealing with justice and helping victims. That is the context in which we shall take it forward.

Lord Dear: My Lords, noble Lords might be interested to know, for example, that the Chard and Ilminster community justice scheme for the whole of 2005 dealt with 107 cases. Since that time, only 2.8 per cent recidivism has been recorded and there was very high victim satisfaction. I mention that because there are, in effect, two forms of restorative justice in play: one is conditional cautioning and the other is diversionary restorative justice. The reason for mentioning Chard—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Dear: My Lords, if noble Lords will bear with me, I shall come to the question. The reason for mentioning this is that such disposals by the police do not register as sanctioned disposals. Therefore, will the Minister draw that disparity to the notice of officials and try to tidy up that area in the future?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware and yes.

Olympic Games 2012: Gypsies and Travellers

2.45 pm

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the London Development Agency has been working closely with the Clays Lane Travellers to provide alternative suitable accommodation as part of its work to obtain vacant possession of the Olympic Park site. Work is now under way to build a Travellers’ site at Major Road, which was considered the most appropriate to be delivered on time.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that a previous acceptable site was offered at Chobham Farm, which was well received but then withdrawn? What representations were made or pressure exerted by the property developers, in view of the potential value of this site after the Olympics are over, to have Chobham Farm withdrawn?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the London Development Agency has to secure the Olympic site this month. There was no guarantee that it would be able to conclude the negotiations over Chobham Farm. That is why the Major Road site, which has become available this month and is very close to the site which the Travellers currently occupy, was chosen. Work is going ahead on that, and all the Travellers’ families can be accommodated on the one site.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is it not shameful that while the Government and the Olympic Delivery Authority are trumpeting the regenerative benefits of the Olympic Games, some of the most deprived people in the area have been forced to live in intolerable conditions in the middle of a building site with smoke and dirt, while awaiting a decision on an alternative? Finally, a site that they were offered has been taken away from them, and they are being forced on to one which neither they nor the neighbours wanted.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will recognise the crowded nature of the London Borough of Newham. There were no sites available for options within Newham. A site has been identified which is close to those which the families currently occupy. It is not ideal, and the families do not want to move. That is the case with Travellers’ families, many businesses and the allotment holders whom we discussed the other week. All of them are somewhat disadvantaged by the necessary compulsory purchase of the site. Of course, such a large site was bound to occasion some difficulties, but they are marginal.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, is there a proposal to resituate the Travellers on the site once the Games are over, as with the allotment holders? If not, is this partly due to the realisation of maximum property values on the site following the deal with the National Lottery?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I cannot give that guarantee. The site identified is a new site provided for Travellers. It will meet their needs. Returning to the original position is not an option.

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The London Development Agency and the Olympic Delivery Authority cannot in every case guarantee that everybody who has been moved can go back to their original location. That is in the nature of such a substantial development.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, have the Government assessed the impact on the education and schooling of the Gypsy children as a result of, first, the eviction and, secondly, at least two future relocations? Does this not need to be handled with great care?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it certainly does. The noble Lord will recognise that the one virtue of this site, which I have already stressed, is that it is close to the existing site, so the dislocation is limited. However, he is correct that Travellers have their rights and the local authority is obliged to respond to them. The London Borough of Newham intends to do so.

Millennium Dome

2.50 pm

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is a matter of record that this large public project was completed on time, that the final cost was just 4 per cent over budget and that it was by far the most visited paying attraction in the UK with more than 80 per cent visitor satisfaction. It also helped to regenerate a wide area. However, the main lesson from the project concerns the importance of ensuring that forecasts of income from visitors and sponsors are realistic.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, bearing in mind the reported overspend of £23 billion in the past 10 years on just a handful of projects, including the huge amounts that were wasted on failed IT projects and the recent chaos in the allocation of places for doctors, will the Government, who have been described as not being able to manage huge projects, in future consult those with a proven commercial track record instead of wasting so much on consultants?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we had a debate about IT projects in which I was able to identify the many successes that the Government recorded as well as some weaknesses. The only common factors between those and the Millennium Dome are that they are large and public. The Dome was a unique development. We all know that there were lessons to be learnt from it. As I have indicated, not only have we learnt the lessons, but we intend to implement them with regard to the Olympic development.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords—

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, for how long was the Dome mothballed before its recent purchase and what was the total cost of mothballing it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the cost was significant and the number of years was several. However, the noble Lord will recognise that the Dome has been

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sold and is now flourishing as an entertainment centre. Greenwich is benefiting enormously from the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula. We have learnt lessons from the Dome and are implementing them.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords—

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, while we are learning lessons from history and from the mismanagement of public projects, I exhort the Minister to have a look at what has happened with Battersea power station, which has recently been sold for £400 million. Acres of prime land in central London have remained unused for nearly 20 years when we have a grave shortage of housing, particularly for public service workers. Will my noble friend have a look at the history of that to see what happened with the management and who was responsible?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I must confess that I concentrated on the Millennium Dome as it was the subject of the Question. However, my noble friend is being inordinately helpful in drawing my attention to another site where we may learn lessons. I have no doubt that for all noble Lords the main project that we have in hand at present with regard to site development is the Olympic site and we are getting plaudits from the Olympic authorities for the way in which we are structuring our development of that site.

Lord Addington: My Lords—

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I am terribly sorry, but it is the Lib Dems’ turn.

Lord Addington: My Lords, do the Government recognise that the three things that will be remembered about the Millennium Dome are that it was built on time, looked wonderful and was filled with what was generally regarded as being fairly tacky? Will the Government give an assurance that all future projects—for instance, the Olympic project—will have somebody looking at how to run them? Furthermore, if you are going to have a big celebration, admit you are having a celebration, and do not try to get in some private money for some form of publicity dressing.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful that it was the Liberal Democrats’ turn because I can give the noble Lord that assurance. There will not be a need for any specific celebration with regard to the development of the Olympic Games site; the opening ceremony will provide that.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the Minister may not be aware that I agree with every single word that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, said about Battersea power station. “Hear, hear” to him. With hindsight, and with the figures the Minister gave, would it not have been more economic and done more for the good of England to have kept the royal yacht or built a successor?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am not sure that the royal yacht had quite the seating capacity of the Millennium Dome. I recognise that comparisons are always made on public expenditure with regard to which from time to time the Government may be thought to have made a mistake. I merely identify to the House the obvious fact that the concept of the Millennium Dome was established under the previous Administration.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that one of the lessons to be learnt from the management of the Millennium Dome is that should the circumstances ever arise again that we have a Conservative Government starting a project, when we knock them out of office we should never inherit it from them?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend may be rubbing salt into wounds as far as that is concerned. The incoming Labour Administration in 1997 inherited a project which was substantially under way. In retrospect, we all regret the huge losses made on the Dome, but we should recognise that the location of the Dome was an intelligent choice of site for the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula, and future generations will at least benefit from the sacrifices that we made in terms of public expenditure at that time.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, in fact when the new Labour Government came in they asked for, and were given, three months to decide whether to take on the Dome. Had they refused at that time, which in hindsight might have been the wise decision, the total cost of breaking the contracts would have been £50 million.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for that fact. The noble Lord will also be aware that there were one or two voices from the previous Conservative Administration who were really rather keen that we should continue the project.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, is my noble friend worried about this latest outbreak of repetitive dome syndrome? Since the Dome is now a very successful entertainment venue, will the Government try to find a cure for this debilitating illness?

My Lords, the best cure is the increasing confidence that we will manage a project vastly greater than the Dome; we are going to manage with great success the development of the Olympic Games.

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