MPs shoud come clean about their past experiments with drugs, William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, declared. Politicians who decided to be open about drug use were "doing the right thing", he said.
The Tory leader David Cameron has repeatedly refused to say whether he has taken drugs, insisting he is "entitled to a private past". But yesterday Mr Hague told a Sunday newspaper: "If a young Conservative MP came to me, admitted taking cocaine during his student years and was thinking of going to the press ... I'd say he was doing the right thing."
Mr Hague, who once admitted drinking 14 pints in a night as a teenager, told The Mail On Sunday: "There are many leaders of countries who have been into some kind of drugs. I think openness is 90 per cent of the answer with anything you've done wrong. However, politicians are entitled to a private life before they enter politics and it is up to the individual to decide how they approach the situation."
The issue of drugs dogged Mr Cameron's campaign for the leadership after he was asked at a party conference fringe meeting if he had ever taken drugs, replying that he had had a typical student experience. Asked at the time whether he had used cannabis, he said: "I'm human enough to have done lots of things I shouldn't have done. But even after five years in Parliament, I'm too much of a politician to tell you what they all are."
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Mr Cameron said he was "very relaxed" about Mr Hague's remarks, adding: "It's not a major parting of the ways. David's position has not changed."
It has become increasingly common for senior politicians to speak about past experimentation with drugs. In 2007, seven members of the Cabinet admitted to smoking cannabis in their youth, including Jacqui Smith, now Home Secretary, and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling.
*A Government adviser on welfare reform has quit to become a frontbench spokesman for the Tories. Sir David Freud, who drew up Labour's plans to shake up the benefits system, will become an economic adviser to David Cameron and the party's welfare spokesman in the Lords.