Reid and Brown ‘split on prisons’

John Reid may see his plans for tougher sentencing guidelines blocked by chancellor Gordon Brown, according to a leaked letter.

The note, drafted by deputy prime minister John Prescott and circulated among the cabinet, reveals that the Treasury is worried about the burden and potential cost of the home secretary’s plans to create additional prison places.

Written to Home Office minister Baroness Scotland on November 8th and leaked to the Sunday Times, the letter was aimed at brokering a compromise between Mr Reid and Mr Brown.

But it is being seen as a sign of rivalry between the two men – the home secretary is the most likely senior Labour figure to challenge the chancellor’s bid to lead the party when Tony Blair resigns as prime minister.

The letter apparently details concerns outlined by the chief secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Timms, in response to a government review of sentencing policy.

It was launched this summer after Mr Reid accused senior judges of handing out “unduly lenient” sentences, following the conviction of a paedophile who was jailed for life but told that he could be considered for parole after just five years.

In the leaked letter, Mr Timms points out that the home secretary’s proposals for tougher sentencing rules will create “substantial new pressures” on prison and probation services.

Mr Prescott wrote that Mr Timms had expressed concern that plans to extend the supervision of persistent offenders could require 450 more prison places.

He also revealed that the Treasury minister “could not agree to the inclusion of this proposal, given the current pressures on custodial capacity and the probation service”.

Mr Prescott’s letter indicates the Treasury wants Mr Reid to consider alternative steps to “stabilise sentencing and manage the prison population”, such as suspended sentences, fines, community orders and electronic tags.

Neither the Treasury nor the Home Office have commented on the new sentencing proposals, which are due to be made public before Christmas.