Downing Street and senior ministers have intervened to hold up a ban on smoking at work over fears that it will create red tape and cost businesses millions of pounds.

Downing Street and senior ministers have intervened to hold up a ban on smoking at work over fears that it will create red tape and cost businesses millions of pounds.

The Government will face accusations from MPs of deliberately delaying implementation of the ban to protect the interests of pubs, clubs and the hospitality industry.

Ministers and officials are understood to have acted behind the scenes to prevent the enforcement of a code, published in September by the Government's health and safety watchdog, which would prevent workers smoking at their desks. The Government has taken the unusual step of delaying the ban, despite protests from the Department of Health, which wants to protect workers from passive smoking.

MPs and health groups are furious at the delay in introducing the code, which came after a consultation by the Health and Safety Commission that showed wide public support for action on smoking at work.

MPs hope to publish a parliamentary motion when the Commons returns in the new year calling on the Government to implement the ban. Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley, plans to table the motion. "We can't understand why the Government has not implemented this," he said.

David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, was also concerned at the delay and said his committee may look into it.

The code would force employers to ban smoking in offices with no ventilation systems and to provide special smoking rooms. Bars, restaurants and casinos would be given two years to comply and to impose no-smoking policies at the bars. The code would be legally enforceable and employers would face criminal penalties and fines if it was proved in court that they did not meet its minimum standards.

Representatives of the hospitality industry have protested to the Government about the proposed ban.

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