MPs to relight cabinet row over partial smoking ban

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Indy Politics

The fudged ban on smoking in public places - the subject of a new cabinet row - will run into further trouble this week when a Commons committee says it is unfair and unworkable.

Ministers are split over how to head off a revolt over a compromise that allows smoking in pubs that don't serve food. Labour MPs are pressing for a free vote on the issue when it comes before the Commons in the middle of next month. But Jack Straw is leading cabinet opposition to allowing MPs to vote with their consciences, insisting that it sets a bad precedent.

He is being backed by John Reid and Hilary Armstrong in a battle with ministers, such as Tessa Jowell, who believe the Government faces defeat unless it gives ground.

The rebellion will grow this week after a report by the Commons Health Committee that says the fudged ban will widen the health gap between rich and poor. Pubs in poorer areas are more likely than others not to serve food, say MPs.

The report, to be published on Tuesday, draws heavily on the evidence of the Government's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, who considered quitting over the compromise. It will reject claims that a total ban on smoking in public places would not be supported by the public.

The anti-smoking group Ash estimates that up to 60 Labour MPs are ready to vote against the Government. David Cameron, the new Tory leader, has promised his MPs a free vote but is expected to do what he can to maximise the Government's difficulties.

An attempt to toughen the ban, by limiting smoking to so-called smoking carriages in pubs, was defeated last month after a furious internal battle in the Cabinet.