David Cameron has signalled he is prepared to water down his plans to allow nursery staff and child-minders to look after more toddlers in an attempt to end the Coalition deadlock over the controversial policy.
Senior Conservatives were livid when Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, threatened to block moves to increase the number of children each adult could look after. He intervened after a majority of mothers' groups and childcare providers objected to the scheme in a Government consultation. His stance provoked accusations of bad faith, with Tories claiming he had previously backed the proposals.
Under the plans, the ratio for children aged under two would rise from three per adult to four, while each adult would be able to care for six two-year-olds instead of the current limit of four. The Conservatives say the moves would cut costs for parents and help to raise the qualifications required to become a child-minder.
Mr Cameron said he would launch fresh negotiations with the Liberal Democrats in an effort to find a compromise on the issue.
“There now needs to be a discussion in the Coalition about how best to go forward and respond to the consultation,” he told reporters.
“But I'm confident, as with all these things, we will find a way forward. There's no point getting too frustrated about these things. We'll find a way forward that I hope will be good for people who want affordable childcare, which is a very, very major priority for people.”
He insisted the proposals had a “lot of merit”, saying: “Trying to get quality affordable childcare is a very important priority for the Government.”
Labour has claimed the Coalition is “in chaos” on the issue and is planning to exploit Coalition divisions by calling a Commons debate on childcare.
The Liberal Democrats strongly deny the Tory charges, insisting Mr Clegg had agreed only to a consultation exercise and that it would be foolish to press ahead with a policy when there were serious doubts over its effectiveness.
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