Ecclestone may lose special deal on tobacco sponsorship

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair may drop Formula One's controversial exemption from a ban on tobacco sponsorship in a Bill to be rushed through the House of Commons in the next few months.

Tony Blair may drop Formula One's controversial exemption from a ban on tobacco sponsorship in a Bill to be rushed through the House of Commons in the next few months.

Ministers are considering putting Bernie Ecclestone, who gave a £1 million donation to Labour, on the same footing as other sports, in a Bill banning tobacco advertising.

The Government is under pressure from senior Labour MPs and health organisations to clear up lingering allegations that Mr Ecclestone's £1 million donation secured him a three-year extension - to 2006 - from a tobacco sponsorship ban.

Ministers are considering using a Bill in the Queen's Speech in November, outlawing advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies the UK, to remove Mr Ecclestone's special three-year extension.

Last night government sources confirmed that the issue was "being reviewed" and that Mr Ecclestone's exemption was "on the agenda". But the matter was being closely guarded by Downing Street, and Whitehall chiefs have instructed officials and ministers not to discuss the issue.

Earlier this week the Ecclestone controversy was revived when Gordon Brown faced accusations that he lied about his knowledge of the Formula One chief's £1 million donation.

An influential House of Commons committee concluded that the Government's backing of an exemption to Formula One was "pusillanimous". The House of Commons Select Committee, whose report ministers will respond to early next month, said that the move was "at odds with government policy on cutting smoking". "We took evidence from Bernie Ecclestone. What really surprised us was that the Formula One exemption was inconsistent with every other government policy on smoking," said David Hinchliffe, the Labour chairman of the health select committee.

According to a new book by Andrew Rawnsley, Mr Brown appeared to deny all knowledge of Mr Ecclestone's donation in a radio interview despite having discussed the issue with the Prime Minister. Mr Brown last night denied that he had lied about his knowledge of a donation by the Formula One chief. In an interview with Channel 4 the Chancellor admitted he had the discussed "a sizeable donation" with Mr Blair in a car journey before the interview but said he "did not talk about the details."

"I did not lie and I would not lie," Mr Brown said.

"I have never met Ecclestone. I have never talked to him about donations."

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