7 senior Tories admit using drugs

 

The Conservative Party is under pressure to rethink its tough policy on drugs after seven members of the Shadow Cabinet admitted having tried cannabis in their youth.

Insisting his experiences as a student - when he "very, very occasionally" smoked cannabis and tried amyl nitrate - were a world away from the image of serious drug users and dealers selling to children, the shadow culture secretary, Mr Peter Ainsworth, yesterday said the party's "zero tolerance" approach to drugs should be reviewed.

The revelations came after the shadow home secretary, Ms Ann Widdecombe, proposed tough policies on drugs at the party's annual conference in Bournemouth last week, including a fixed penalty of £100 for a first offence of possessing drugs, regardless of the quantity.

The party's tough conference stance on drugs angered some Conservatives and senior police officers said the policy would be unworkable, but yesterday Ms Widdecombe said in response to her colleagues' youthful indiscretions that she was "not interested in the past".

However, it seems honesty is not always the best policy and the Tory backbencher, Sir Teddy Taylor, said the seven should be sacked.

The seven members of the shadow cabinet who admitted to experimenting with cannabis in an article published in the Mail on Sunday were Mr Ainsworth, the shadow foreign secretary, Mr Francis Maude, the Tory leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, the Tory transport spokesman, Mr Bernard Jenkin, the shadow social security secretary, Mr David Willetts, the shadow environment secretary, Mr Archie Norman and the shadow chief secretary to the treasury, Mr Oliver Letwin.

The newspaper said the Conservative leader, Mr William Hague, and Ms Widdecombe were among nine shadow frontbenchers who denied ever having experimented with drugs. Three senior figures, including the shadow chancellor, Mr Michael Portillo, declined to answer.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Mr Ainsworth suggested that Ms Widdecombe had not discussed the proposals before making the announcement at the party conference:

"The policy needs to be looked at again and it needs to be discussed, and that would be a help, frankly, when making policy."

Joining the debate, the Liberal Democrat leader, Mr Charles Kennedy, became the first mainstream political leader in Britain to call for the decriminalisation of cannabis.

In an interview with ITV's Dimbleby programme, Mr Kennedy said in government the party would take advice from a Royal Commission before changing the law but recreational cannabis use should, at the least, be a civil rather than a criminal offence.

Cannabis should also be a prescribable drug for people suffering from debilitating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, he suggested.