My Lords, we are all extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, not only for today’s debate and the manner in which he introduced it, but for all he has done over so many years to bring this to the notice of your Lordships’ House.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, reminded us of the Churchill test. We should be collectively ashamed that we have failed it. We should constantly remind ourselves that punishment is sending somebody to prison, and the purpose of prison is rehabilitation. That has been neglected and forgotten for so long. One of the reasons, I fear, is the commercialisation of prisons. I really feel that incarcerating people is the role of the state and I do not believe that private prisons should have any part of it.
Many things can be done to avoid custodial sentences. I saw at first hand in Northern Ireland the very effective community restorative justice scheme. We could do much more on that front. We should set ourselves a target that by 2025 no prisoner should have to share a cell. Every prisoner should have an individual lavatory in his or her cell. No prisoner should ever be locked up for more than 12 hours in 24—and preferably for less than that—and should be given reasonable and challenging things to do while in prison. Every prisoner who remains clean of drugs and mobile phones and does not partake in violence should qualify at a very early stage for remission. Those who do not should have their conduct drawn to their attention by not being eligible.
We have to try to reduce the prison population. If we do not, we will continue to connive at perpetuating a blemish on our society. We are collectively indicting our own civilisation on our civilised values. I hope that the Secretary of State for Justice will heed my call for a target date and will set about achieving it.