LONDON The Labour party called for Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to be sacked on Wednesday after he drew a distinction between "serious" rape and sex attacks committed on a date.
Clarke, a former lawyer and senior Conservative who has served as a minister under three different party leaders, made the comments during a radio interview on government plans to increase the use of plea-bargaining in criminal cases.
"Serious rape, I don't think many judges give five years for a forcible rape -- frankly, the tariff is longer than that. A serious rape with violence and an unwilling woman -- the tariff is longer than that," he told BBC radio.
When the interviewer interjected, saying "Rape is rape, with respect," he said: "No, it's not."
He went on to say that "date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes but date rapes ... in my very old experience of being in trials ... they do vary extraordinarily one from another, and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances."
Sentencing guidelines for rape in Britain range between four and 19 years, depending on the nature of the crime.
"The justice secretary cannot speak for the women of this country when he makes comments like that," Labour leader Ed Miliband told Prime Minister David Cameron in parliament. "(He) should not be in his post at the end of today."
A spokesman for Cameron told reporters it was "clearly regrettable" if Clarke's comments had caused any offence. Clarke later clarified his comments but stopped short of an apology.
"If I have given offence, I don't quite understand how I've done it, but obviously I don't intend to give the impression -- and did not intend to choose words that gave the impression -- that all rape is not serious," he told Sky News.
"I'll make sure I give my views more clearly in the future."
The government is looking into how it deals with plea-bargaining, potentially offering lesser sentences to those who plead guilty early in an effort to boost conviction rates for crimes such as rape.
"The real disgrace in our country is that only six percent of rapes that are reported to a police station end in conviction -- that is what we have to sort out," Cameron said.
(Reporting by Matt Falloon, Olesya Dmitracova and Avril Ormsby; Editing by Steve Addison)