The British government said Tuesday it would seek a ban on smoking in most public places, including restaurants and any pub or bar that serves food.

The proposed ban would be phased in gradually if it is approved by Parliament, Health Secretary John Reid announced.

It would first apply on government premises and eventually in offices, restaurants and any pub or bar where substantial food is available, he said.

Bars and pubs that serve no food — about 20 percent of England's drinking establishments, Reid said — would not be affected by the ban.

"This is a sensible solution, I believe, which balances the protection of the majority with the personal freedom of the minority in England," the health secretary said in announcing the proposal to the House of Commons.

"Our starting point is informed choice, that means an approach that respects the freedom of individual choice," he said.

The ban would apply only in England, which along with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland makes up Great Britain. Scotland's government announced last week that it would seek to ban smoking in all enclosed public places by 2006.

Ireland's implementation earlier this year of a ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces helped bring the smoking issue to the forefront in Britain.