Michael Gove was challenged over his own history of cocaine use as he revealed plans to ban laughing gas on the streets of Britain.
The levelling up secretary said Rishi Sunak’s government would ban the sale of nitrous oxide, alos known as “hippy crack” to stop public places being turned into drug-taking “arenas”.
But Mr Gove – who admitted to taking cocaine on several occasions in the past – was challenged on his own drug use on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
Asked if he was being “hypocritical”, Mr Gove said: “No – It’s because I’ve learned, that’s it’s a mistake – worse than a mistake – to regard drug taking as somehow acceptable.”
He added: “We can’t have a situation where our parks, our public spaces become drug taking arenas… these laughing gas cannisters are an increasing scourge.”
Mr Gove said use of laughing gas was “despoiling public spaces” but also “can have a psychological and neurological affect and one that contributes to anti-social behaviour overall”.
The levelling up secretary said ministers had not yet decided at what drug classification level laughing gas would be set at. The ban comes despite the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommending against making it illegal.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said the party also wants to see laughing gas banned. “I think it does cause a huge amount of littering, of disruption and of anti-social behaviour challenges as well,” she said.
It follows Sir Keir Starmer’s attack on drug taking as part of his pledge to get tough on anti-social behaviour. The Labour leader said cannabis smell wafting through the windows of people’s homes in is “ruining lives”.
Asked if he thought cannabis was low-level crime, Mr Gove said: “I don’t believe it’s a low-level crime”, saying it ruined community pride to see a “free for all” on casual drug use.
Mr Gove also said he believed Mr Johnson’s Partygate inquiry defence. Asked on BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme whether he accepted the former PM’s evidence, said: “Yes, I did.”
Asked whether Mr Johnson had always told the truth, Mr Gove replied: “I think that all of us will at some point have told a white lie or an untruth.”
Mr Gove said: “But I think the fundamental thing here … what was Boris’ argument? He was working incredibly hard, every hour that the Lord sent in order to try and do the right thing.”
He added: “I am inclined to give him not just the benefit of the doubt but to believe that when he places his hand on his heart and he said he did not think he was breaking the rules, I do believe him.”
Michael Gove backtracks on Boris comments insisting he’s ‘man of integrity’
It comes as Mr Sunak prepares to announce that offenders blighting their communities will be put to work in jumpsuits or hi-viz jackets cleaning up graffiti and other vandalism within 48 hours of being handed punishments.
The PM said his plan, due to be announced on Monday, would “crack down” on anti-social behaviour “once and for all”. Other punishments could include picking up litter, washing police cars or doing unpaid work in shops, according to No 10.
Mr Sunak will announce an approach known as “immediate justice” to be piloted in 10 areas before a rollout across England and Wales next year. The plan is set to include new funding for police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to ensure offenders are punished as soon as possible.
Along with clean-up schemes, the Mail On Sunday reported that Mr Sunak’s crackdown is set to include doubling on-the-spot fines from £400 to £1,000 for those caught fly-tipping.
Those littering or spraying graffiti could be hit with £500 fines, rising from the current £150 maximum, the newspaper said.
Asked if anti-social behaviour was the right priority for the government in the face of “terrible rates” of prosecution for rapes and violent crimes, Mr Gove told BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “I think you have to do both, you have to walk and chew gum.”
Mr Gove also claimed police needed to do more to “prioritise these offences” – telling Times Radio “some police forces have been more anxious to virtue signal than to punish vice”.
Asked on Sky News whether the public could trust police with more power – Mr Gove said “visible change” was need from the police, but added that the “overwhelming majority of police officers are people with a sense of vocation”.
Labour frontbencher Ms Powell said the Tory government’s anti-social behaviour plan “amounts to nothing”.
The shadow culture secretary told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We’ve heard it all before from this government and I think we have to judge them by their record and community sentencing over the last thirteen years is down not just by a third, but by two thirds.”