Labour backbenchers have served notice that they would attempt to outlaw all smoking in public places as they queued up to criticise government plans to stop short of a complete ban.
Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, faced a barrage of criticism over plans to allow smoking to continue in private clubs and pubs that do not serve food. Paul Holmes, the former Liberal Democrat health spokesman, warned that government research showed that 200 people a year could die from passive smoking in bars and clubs not covered by the proposed ban.
But Ms Hewitt insisted the Health Bill represented a "landmark" in public health and would outlaw smoking in 99 per cent of workplaces and other public places. She urged critics to back the Bill, insisting that it would be "a simple matter" to remove exemptions to the ban when the effects of the new law were assessed in three years' time. Ministers backed the compromise after an embarrassing Cabinet row over plans for a full ban.
The Bill also includes measures to combat infections such as MRSA and improve management of controlled drugs.
But 50 Labour MPs have already signed a motion criticising the Government-backed compromise and yesterday backbenchers attacked Ms Hewitt for failing to protect all workers from "second-hand smoke".
Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, revealed that he considered resigning over the failure to implement a full ban.
Ministers face the prospect of a major revolt when the Bill enters its later stages in the Commons, with campaigners demanding a free vote on the issue.
Des Turner, Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, said: "I'm sure everyone on these benches would wish to protect workers from being exposed to smoke in their workplaces ... It is fatally undermined by exemptions for private members' clubs or pubs which do not serve food where people will still have to work in the presence of smokers."
Frank Dobson, the former health secretary, warned that pubs that did not serve food were predominantly in working-class areas. He said: "This partial ban will widen the health gap between the social classes."
Jim Devine, Labour MP for Livingston, urged the Government to follow the smoking bans in Scotland and the Irish Republic.
Kevin Barron, Labour chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: "One of the conclusions I come to ... is that the Government doesn't want to do this because it's unpopular. I think they are wrong."
Ms Hewitt said: "We are striking a balance between two extremes: an over-prescriptive state... and an irresponsibly laissez-faire government."Reuse content