Blair backs down on smoking ban to end feud

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Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, will announce today that the Health Bill will revert to the formula for a smoking ban promised in Labour's election manifesto which she wanted to change because it was so flawed.

Smoking will be banned in enclosed public spaces, including restaurants and pubs that serve food. However, smoking will still be allowed in pubs that serve no food and in clubs. The Bill will also promise better protection for bar staff, in a clear signal that the battle over the details has been put off until later, rather than settled. "When you can't agree, you have to resort to the manifesto," said one senior minister.

The retreat to the manifesto marked a victory for John Reid, the Defence Secretary, a former health secretary, and a reformed chain smoker, who insisted on clubs being exempted from the smoking ban.

However, ministers privately warned last night they intended to keep up the pressure for the Bill to be changed as it went through Parliament to impose a tougher ban on smoking.

Ms Hewitt, who has the job of unveiling the legislation, had privately warned colleagues that the formula now being promoted by her department was unworkable because pubs could stop selling food to get round a ban on smoking.

She argued inside the Cabinet for sealed smoking rooms - known as "smoking carriages" - in pubs, where staff could be protected from smokers. She was supported by Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, and a former health minister.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was given the task of chairing the Cabinet DA (domestic affairs) committee at a meeting on Monday in the absence of John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is away on a European tour. It ended without agreement.

The Independent has learnt that, on Tuesday, Mr Blair was so alarmed at the failure to reach a deal, and weekend reports of the Cabinet at war over the issue that he called on Ms Hewitt to broker a compromise. The Health Secretary held a series of bilateral meetings with cabinet colleagues to reach a deal. She was unable to do so.

However, on Tuesday night, Mr Straw, who has stopped smoking but uses anti-smoking chewing gum, was enraged by a report on the BBC PM programme that a deal had been reached in favour of a wider ban. Ms Jowell's allies were accused of briefing the media and Mr Straw angrily wrote a letter to the two factions in the Cabinet telling them that his understanding of the consensus was that the DA committee recommended a return to the manifesto formula.

Labour MPs were also dismayed by the disarray in the Cabinet. Kevin Barron, an anti-smoking campaigner and Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Health, was furious with Mr Reid for insisting on clubs being exempt from the ban, which he warned would put workers at risk.

"I am very concerned we are going to be looking at legislation that should be there to protect the public and it is going to end up protecting the egos of a few politicians," he said.

The TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "This is missed opportunity that is very disappointing. The Government is now going ahead with proposals that were overwhelmingly rejected in a public consultation as unworkable. If ministers cannot agree among themselves, then they should give MPs a free vote.

The shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: "The Government's current approach is a U-turn on previous policy and its application is riddled with flaws."

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