Ken Clarke: No row about criminal rehabilitation plans

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Indy Politics

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke today denied there was any Cabinet rift over his sentencing proposals which could see thousands fewer offenders jailed.

Mr Clarke said he was "used to tough times" and has "never had a popular policy to implement in my life".

But he insisted there were no conflicts between him and Prime Minister David Cameron or Home Secretary Theresa May over the plans, which focus on rehabilitation as a way to cut reoffending rates, saying he had "totally cross-Cabinet support".

Mrs May echoed the mantra of her predecessor Lord Howard, who has described the proposals as "fatally flawed", yesterday as she told MPs: "Prison works but it must be made to work better."

But today Mr Clarke said: "I looked at what she said and she said exactly the same things.

"Prison is the right punishment for serious criminals. Prison does give some relief from crime whilst they're inside.

"Prison at the moment is not succeeding in getting reoffending rates down from where they are, which is why we have rehabilitation.

"There isn't actually any disagreement."

Giving evidence to the Commons justice select committee, Mr Clarke went on: "The Government is run on particularly collective lines.

"All the policy, including the documents I'm consulting on, including the announcements I've made on the court system, on legal aid and on sentencing, have been cleared by all my colleagues.

"Discussed in Cabinet meetings, discussed with the Prime Minister, all of them.

"I have not been producing this from isolation in the Ministry of Justice."

He added that the "mainstream of the policy" was not attracting "any great resistance" and he was not aware of "any great criticism" on the focus on cutting reoffending

"Of course there's criticism of some parts," he said.

It "tends to be rather theoretical criticism", he added, that "the gist of this, which we estimate will lead to a reduction in the prison population, is somehow flawed because it will lead to a reduction in the prison population".

Yesterday, Lord Howard said the focus on reoffending was "like solving only one side of a Rubik's Cube".

Writing in The Times, he said the Green Paper makes only "a couple of cursory nods" to the idea that a prison sentence "protects the public and provides peace of mind".

But he said: "This is totally inconsistent with Mr Clarke's persistent denial that the rise in the prison population that has taken place since 1993 has anything to do with the near-halving in crime that has taken place over the same period.

"It is a pity that so many worthy proposals in the Green Paper should be marred by what can only be described as a flawed ideology that has led to the wrong prescription for the future of our criminal justice system."

Under the proposals, judges would be given more discretion over sentences, foreign nationals could escape jail as long as they leave the UK forever, young offenders could have their slates wiped clean when they reach 18 so they are not hindered by a criminal record and those who plead guilty early could have their sentences halved.

The Government's plans immediately came under fire from Tory backbenchers worried criminals would avoid being sent to prison.