LONDON Labour accused Prime Minister David Cameron of making a "total mess" of government policy on justice and health Wednesday after he was reported to have scrapped plans to halve sentences for offenders pleading guilty.
Cameron ordered Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to drop the proposals after public opposition to them threatened to undermine his Conservative party's reputation for being tough on crime, the Times newspaper reported.
Government spokesmen insisted no decisions had been made, but the move would represent another reversal of policy after the substantial changes already promised to unpopular plans to reform the National Health Service.
It would also show Cameron tightening the reins on his ministers, abandoning the light touch regime he employed when he came to power 12 months ago.
He was forced to take over the presentation of policy on the National Health Service after Health Secretary Andrew Lansley failed to present a convincing case to the public for his radical reform plans.
Clarke, seen as a liberal on criminal justice, had proposed increasing the sentencing discount to offenders pleading guilty to 50 percent from 33 percent as part of plans to reduce spending on prisons to help reduce Britain's budget deficit.
But the plans have run into stiff public opposition and allowed Labour to outflank the Conservatives and accuse the party of being soft on crime.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said Cameron was in a "total mess" on sentencing policy and was also in a "complete mess" on the NHS.
Asked by Miliband whether he had "torn up" Clarke's sentencing plans, Cameron told parliament: "What we want is tough sentences for serious offenders."
He said the government would publish its legislation on sentencing in the coming weeks following the completion of a public consultation that had received "widespread support for many of the proposals that it made."
Tuesday Cameron promised that reforms to the NHS would not result in a U.S.-style private system, in a speech designed to win over a wary public and restore his image as friend of publicly-funded healthcare.
(Editing by Keith Weir)