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The BBC's John Pienaar
"What started out as firm policy has ended up as a basis for consultation"
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Peter Ainsworth, Shadow Culture spokesman
"I've clearly made a mistake quarter of a century ago"
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Keith Hellawell
"Zero tolerance just would not work"
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Malcolm Fowler, Criminal Law Committee
"It would be laughed out of the Commons"
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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 03:19 GMT 04:19 UK
Eighth Tory admits cannabis use
Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo: Reportedly enjoyed smoking cannabis
The Conservatives face fresh questioning over their policy on drugs after an eighth shadow cabinet minister admitted using cannabis.

Agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said he had used cannabis infrequently "a long way in the past".

"I was offered it on occasion and enjoyed it," he said in The Times newspaper: "I think it can be a much pleasanter experience than having too much to drink."

On Monday, Tory leader William Hague backed away from shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe's plans of introducing 100 fines for people caught possessing even the smallest amount of cannabis.

Mr Yeo's revelations follow those of his party colleagues Peter Ainsworth, Francis Maude, Lord Strathclyde Bernard Jenkin, David Willets, Archie Norman and Oliver Letwin.

Mr Hague said his party remained committed to waging a "new offensive" on drugs if they won the next election and that the proposals were "still on the table".

However, he admitted that the plans needed "further consultation, discussion and debate".

Owning up to cannabis
Tim Yeo
Peter Ainsworth,
Francis Maude,
Lord Strathclyde
Bernard Jenkin
David Willets
Archie Norman
Oliver Letwin

He said: "We realise there are concerns about some of the proposals we have made and so we are going to go to the police, to the medical profession, to drug rehabilitation workers, to teachers and to parents around the country and have this honest debate about drugs."

But Mr Hague insisted he still supported his beleaguered shadow home secretary, saying: "I have 150% confidence in Ann Widdecombe - she will be a great crime fighting home secretary."

The zero tolerance policy has come under a barrage of criticism from senior police officers and drugs czar Keith Hellawell described it as "unrealistic and impractical".

Cannabis seven backed

Mr Hague's comments came in a series of TV interviews following the admission by seven members of the shadow cabinet that they had smoked cannabis in their youth.

This led to claims that the confessions were part of a plot to undermine Miss Widdecombe.

Mr Hague backed the seven - who included shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude - saying he had told them to give honest answers to a newspaper survey and they had been right to do so.

"I would have been appalled if they had done anything else," Mr Hague said.

Reports in The Times suggested that Tory chief whip James Arbuthnot had been behind a co-ordinated "outing" of shadow cabinet members as former cannabis smokers.

Ann Widdecombe
The speech went down well - at first
The report suggested that Mr Arbuthnot contacted each of the seven, telling them to respond "honestly" to the questions of the Mail on Sunday.

When asked whether he could deny the newspaper's claims Mr Arbuthnot made no response.

Even before Mr Hague's intervention, Miss Widdecombe appeared to be trying to soften her line.

She was quoted in The Guardian as saying the use of the phrase with reference to drugs was "unfortunate".

"I should have made it clear that zero tolerance does not mean you come down on every single instance of possession.

"It means you challenge every instance, but the police have got to have the right to decide whether they do go forward."

Labour stance unchanged

Home Office Minister Paul Boateng said: "On this issue William Hague's opportunism isn't much help to him since he can't decide which direction the bandwagon is heading.

"His opportunism and weakness in the face of a shadow cabinet revolt is clear to see. They are still unable to agree a joint policy days after Widdecombe's announcement."

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See also:

09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Zero tolerance 'would not work'
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory admission sparks dope debate
09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Hague dumps Widdecombe drugs plan
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory drug confessors join growing club
05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Widdecombe stands by drugs policy
04 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Tories get tough on drugs
24 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Senior Lib Dem tried cannabis
16 Jan 00 | UK Politics
I smoked cannabis, admits Mowlam
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