My Lords, I join those who have thanked most warmly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, for having made this debate possible. I would also like to say how much I admire the fact that this is not just a debate he has secured; he provides consistent and impressive advocacy on the need for change, not least in the prison system.
It is quite clear from what we have been hearing today that the penal system has failed in its prisons. We see violence, suicides, self-harm, bullying and reoffending. These issues are brought into already dislocated women’s lives and, above all, we have the issue of broken homes. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, prisons are full of people who should not be there. This is never truer than in the case of prisoners will mental health issues. These prisoners require specific, carefully designed places in which their mental illnesses and difficulties can be tackled constructively.
I emphasise the importance of what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said. There is an urgent need for a review of our whole penal system—of what it is we are really trying to respond to. We are constantly tackling this with a piecemeal approach. I suggest that, whatever comes out of that review, one thing will remain true. Above all, it will be about rehabilitation. If our system is not rehabilitating people, it is a total failure. There needs to be a culture and a professional commitment at all times to rehabilitation. Rehabilitation means recognising that prisoners are individuals. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, spoke very powerfully, as usual, about his experiences in this sphere. It is true that, if we are going to be successful in rehabilitation, we have to see how we work together with individuals to rebuild their lives constructively.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was also right. We all have a heavy responsibility to resist the cynical populism of the press and too many of our political colleagues when it comes to the challenge of prison reform. What we have now is generating crisis, not overcoming it.