The Prince of Wales' decision to take his younger son to meet addicts at a drug rehabilitation clinic after learning he had smoked cannabis and drunk to excess was widely praised yesterday.
Tony Blair, whose eldest son was caught in the West End of London after drinking while underage, acknowledged the situation was difficult, saying: "I know this myself." Euan Blair, then 16, was found to be drunk and incapable in Leicester Square in July 2000.
"I think the way that Prince Charles and the Royal Family have handled it is absolutely right and they have done it in a very responsible and, as you would expect, in a very sensitive way for their child," the Prime Minister told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost.
Prince Harry, who is now 17, visited the rehabilitation centre last summer in response to the discovery that he had taken drugs at his father's Highgrove home and at private parties.
Press reports alleged he drank alcohol at the nearby Rattlebone Inn, Sherston, Wiltshire. It was also claimed that he verbally abused a French employee and was ordered to leave the premises after a late-night session playing pool.
A spokesman for St James's Palace confirmed that Prince Harry had attended the clinic, in Peckham, south London, adding: "This is a serious matter which was resolved within the family, and is now in the past and closed."
According to the News of the World, which broke the story yesterday, Prince Charles told aides when he learnt what had been happening: "There is no point in hiding the truth. These are the facts – let people make their own judgement."
Levels of drinking and drug abuse among British teenagers have risen alarmingly, according to research by the Department of Health. Half of all 15-year-olds regularly drink alcohol and their average weekly consumption is 10 units, or almost six pints of beer, which is double the intake of teen-agers a decade ago.
Surveys have also shown that 28 per cent of 15-year-olds have used cannabis and 4 per cent have tried ecstasy, cocaine or crack.
Among those aged 16 to 19, more than 15 per cent use cannabis each month.
Dr Claire Gerada, spokes-woman on drugs at the Royal College of General Practitioners', said: "Prince Charles needs to be congratulated for what he has done. He is very, very brave to have come out like this. It has started a national debate about what parents should do rather than society turning a blind eye."
A spokesman for Turning Point, a charity that runs drug and alcohol crisis centres, also welcomed the response of Prince Charles.
"It may have been a bit of an over-reaction," he said, "but it was by no means a ridiculous thing for Prince Charles to have done."
Bill Puddicombe, chief executive of Phoenix House Treatment Service For Drug Dependency, confirmed Prince Harry's attendance at Featherstone Lodge.
Mr Puddicombe said: "The visit was at the request of the Prince of Wales, who is our patron. As we understood, it was an opportunity for the Prince of Wales to teach Prince Harry about our work and the consequences of taking drugs.
"He came for a couple of hours on a day in late summer and talked to several people in recovery – heroin and cocaine addicts mostly. They told him what had happened in their lives, which must have been quite harrowing for him."
Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he hoped the case could help to promote a sensible debate on cannabis laws. "Clearly there is a case to be looked at on decriminalisation when you now have so many judicial figures, senior police figures and politicians saying there is."