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Sentence cuts 'create more victims'

Government plans to cut prison sentences in half for offenders who plead guilty risk creating more victims, Labour leader Ed Miliband warned today.

Mr Miliband - who this week called for Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke to be sacked - said that the Government's prison and police policies were driven by the need to cut costs, not the need to make the streets safer.

His warning came after Mr Clarke admitted he had "upset a lot of people" with his comments on the effect of the sentencing proposals on sex offenders.

Speaking on BBC1's Question Time last night, the veteran minister said he was wrong to describe some rapes as "proper" and "serious", leaving the impression that he regarded others as not being serious.

But Mr Clarke stopped short of offering a full apology and insisted the Government was still considering plans to halve sentences for all criminals who admit their guilt at their first chance to enter a plea after being charged.

"I obviously upset a lot of people by what I said and I'm sorry if I did, by the way I put it," said Mr Clarke.

"All rape is serious. It's one of the gravest crimes."

Mr Clarke said his sentencing proposals, which would see the maximum possible "discount" for an early guilty plea increased from 33% to 50%, would apply to every crime.

He insisted: "My reform proposals don't affect the sentencing framework for rape or any other crime."

Downing Street has raised doubts over whether the plea-bargaining reforms will go ahead as planned by the Justice Secretary, telling reporters that ministers are "still listening" to critics, and have not finalised their proposals.

Mr Miliband today used an article in The Independent to warn against the change.

"Halving sentences for violent criminals including rapists who plead guilty will do nothing to increase safety on our streets and it gives prison reform a bad name," said the Labour leader.

Mr Miliband accused Mr Clarke and Prime Minister David Cameron of being "woefully out of touch with the real world".

"Their prison policy is based not on the need for reform or increased rehabilitation for offenders. It is based on the need to cut costs," he wrote.

"Their police policy isn't based on what will make the streets safer, but how to quickly find a 20% cut in the police budget.

"By reducing the number of police on our streets, by halving sentences for violent offenders, the Government are risking creating more victims.

"They are failing a very simple test. They are not making our communities safer now or for the future."