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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006, 12:18 GMT
Free vote on total pub smoke ban
Man smoking
A partial ban would widen health inequalities, opponents say
A total ban on smoking in pubs and clubs in England will be an option put to MPs in a free vote later this month, the government has promised.

The Health Bill will also propose giving ministers powers to raise the minimum cigarette-buying age from 16 to 18, the Department of Health said.

The offers follow a Cabinet split on whether to ban smoking in all pubs.

Current government policy is to allow it to continue in private clubs and pubs which do not serve food.

Three choices

The DoH is also offering this as one of its three choices for MPs, who are due to vote on 14 February.

Another proposal is to ban it from all pubs but leave private clubs exempt.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt is expected to vote for a total ban in licensed premises - against her department's official policy.

Another clause in the bill would give the government powers to increase the minimum smoking age from 16 to 18 without the need for further backing by Parliament.

A consultation on this proposal was announced last year.

Many Labour backbenchers are calling for the government to take a stronger line on smoking, saying the bill's partial ban plan would widen health inequalities.

In a recent report, the Commons health select committee said a total ban was the "only effective means" of protecting public health and that a partial ban would "widen health inequalities" and "be disputed in the courts".

Health Minister Caroline Flint said the three options offered a "clear choice".

She added: "The Health Bill is a huge step forward for public health and will save thousands of lives by preventing smoking related diseases.

"It is important that MPs have a clear choice to convey their views around this controversial issue."

The ban on smoking in food-serving pubs, but not in other pubs or in private clubs, was a commitment laid out in Labour's election manifesto.

Some Cabinet ministers had wanted to propose outlawing smoking in all pubs, but others said this would restrict personal freedoms.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "This part of the bill has been an utter shambles. For over a year the government pursued a proposal, which we and many others told them was unworkable and unacceptable.

"Patricia Hewitt will be voting for the case she argued against only two months ago."

Some Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs oppose a total ban for fear it could undermine civil liberties.

Tony Blair has promised to "listen to the debate with interest".

The government has agreed to stop smoking in all pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Executive has ordered a ban.

The Health Bill gives the Welsh Assembly the right to decide for itself whether to implement a ban it has already twice approved in principle.

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