John Prescott yesterday brushed off Tory claims that he could not cope with running the country if Tony Blair took paternity leave.
The Tories have sought to stir up Mr Blair's indecision over the issue, claiming that he could not make up his mind because he does not want Mr Prescott to be left in charge. But the Deputy Prime Minister insisted: "That is silly nonsense."
Mr Blair has prompted a national debate over paternal leave after dithering over the question of whether to take a break from his prime ministerial duties after the birth of his fourth child, due on 24 May.
Cherie Blair has made it clear that she expects her husband to set an example by taking time off from running the country to help look after their baby. Under a European Union directive brought in by the Department of Trade and Industry last year, both men and women are entitled to up to three months' parental leave.There has been growing pressure on ministers to introduce paid parental leave and the matter is currently being reviewed by Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary.
One minister said yesterday: "We expect that there will be some form of paid leave very soon. There is a lot of pressure on us over the issue at the moment because we are trying to appeal to the female vote."