Kenneth Clarke has denied being politically isolated over plans to reduce prisoner numbers, insisting his stance has the full support of David Cameron and Cabinet colleagues.
The Justice Secretary has come under fire from many quarters for advocating a "soft" stance focused on shorter sentences, more community-based punishments and rehabilitation.
Last week some of the country's top judges criticised proposals to halve the length of prison sentences for defendants who plead guilty early.
And the veteran minister has been hit by controversies over sentencing for knife crime and drugs.
It is expected a total of 6,450 prison places will be saved under the proposals, to be published next month, leading to a prison population in England and Wales that is about 3,000 lower than today's near-record levels of more than 85,000.
In a defiant interview with The Times, Mr Clarke said: "I have never said anything on crime and punishment which is not the collective policy of the entire Government from top to bottom."
He said he accepts the need for community sentences to be tougher if they are to work as an alternative.
"I want them to be more punitive, effective and organised. Unpaid work should require offenders to work at a proper pace in a disciplined manner rather than youths just hanging around doing odd bits tidying up derelict sites," he said.