Hurd takes on prison reform trust

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Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, is to become the chairman of the Prison Reform Trust, campaigning for prisoners' rights. Mr Hurd, a former Home Secretary, who is retiring from the Commons at the election, is to take up the post in November, which will spare him clashes with Michael Howard, the Home Secretary.

Mr Hurd has been critical of Mr Howard's sentencing policy, which has also upset the judiciary. A respected liberal, Mr Hurd may prove a thorn in the Government's side if the Tories win the election.

The trust has been conspicuous in its criticism of Mr Howard's hard-line penal policy and scathing of his attempts to win "middle England" votes with right-wing prison policies imported from the US.

Mr Hurd has made thinly veiled criticisms of these policies which have been trumpeted loudly by the Government as the election draws nearer. "The immediate electoral pre-occupation is probably not the best way of producing good measures," he said.

Although he accepts that Mr Howard has allowed for exceptions to minimum sentencing, the former Home Secretary says he is waiting to hear how that will operate in practice.

Mr Hurd's time in the Home Office saw an emphasis on non-custodial sentencing, a policy diametrically opposed to that of Mr Howard who is on record as saying that "prison works".

While he accepts that increasing the prison population has a short-term gain for public safety, Mr Hurd says that in the long term, it could well become "an expensive way of making bad people worse".

Since stepping down last summer from John Major's Cabinet, Mr Hurd has taken a post as a director with the Natwest Bank for which he is paid a reputed pounds 200,000. This is only pounds 50,000 shy of the Prison Reform Trust's total annual budget.

But Mr Hurd will be an incalculable asset to the organisation in its dealings with whoever becomes Home Secretary after the election.