Smoking ban splits Cabinet and forces delay

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Senior ministers were forced to delay publication of a Bill to ban smoking as they remained locked in a dispute over concessions to allow sealed smoking rooms in pubs that do not serve food and to exempt private clubs from the ban.

The compromises were ordered by Tony Blair to end infighting over the issue, but Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, was still arguing over the detail of the proposals last night to resolve the split.

The legislation had been due to be published today to signal the end of smoking in enclosed public places, such as restaurants and pubs, in England. But last night the Department of Health confirmed discussions on the measures relating to smoking in public places were continuing.

A spokesman said: "The Bill definitely won't be published tomorrow."

The Cabinet battle revolves around how far a ban on smoking will extend. Labour's election manifesto said clubs and pubs that did not serve food would be excluded, sparking an outcry from unions and anti-smoking campaigners who warned pubs would stop serving food to avoid the ban. Ms Hewitt responded by proposing a compromise which would allow smoking rooms in pubs providing bar staff were not required to serve drinks.

David Blunkett, the Pensions Secretary, and Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, led a cabinet charge in favour of tough legislation to ban all smoking from clubs and pubs in England.

Mr Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, warned proposed compromises would be difficult to police, and could leave some workers open to health risks.

But the amendments were supported by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor. John Reid, the Defence Secretary, also succeeded in persuading Downing Street that it was essential to exempt working men's clubs and veteran servicemen's clubs from the full ban.

Anti-smoking campaigners have estimated that a ban will protect 12 million workers from inhaling other people's tobacco smoke. Government officials said it would lead to one of the biggest changes in social habits since the war.

Anti-smoking campaigners and pub trade leaders condemned compromise plans as "unworkable" while the first indications emerged last night that MPs are certain to fight over amendments to tighten the ban.

Last night anti-smoking campaigner, Kevin Barron, the Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Health, wrote to Mr Blair calling for a meeting with a handful of senior Labour MPs over the "Government's apparent indecision on this matter".

Andrew Lansley, the Tory health spokesman, said ministers had performed a humiliating U-turn.