Page last updated at 00:42 GMT, Sunday, 21 September 2008 01:42 UK

Brown reveals free childcare plan

By Brian Wheeler
BBC News, Labour conference, Manchester

Prime Minister Gordon Brown meets children at Old Moat Sure Start Children's Centre in Withington, south Manchester, on the first day of the Labour Party annual conference
Gordon Brown visited a Sure Start centre ahead of the conference

Every two-year-old would get a free nursery place under a proposal for a major expansion of childcare over 10 years announced by Gordon Brown.

Up to 600,000 children could benefit as ministers seek to build on existing provision for three and four-year-olds.

Mr Brown announced the plan in a Sunday Telegraph interview as Labour's annual conference got under way.

It comes as an internet survey suggests Labour could be left with as few as 160 MPs at the next general election.

Aides were stressing that the extra childcare places were an aspiration rather than a firm policy commitment.

Boosting achievement

Mr Brown told The Sunday Telegraph: "I think more choice for women and for families is one of themes of the next stage of our policy reforms.

"What I want us to do is to create thousands more nursery places, not just for three and four-year-olds but also for two-year-olds.

"This is not a government that walks away but a government that's on the side of hard-working families, helping them to climb the ladder."

The plans go further than an already-announced scheme to help 20,000 low income parents with two-year-olds.

They will feature in Mr Brown's make-or-break speech to the Labour Party conference in Manchester on Tuesday, when he will promise a "new wave of social mobility - upward mobility - people being able to do better than their parents".

At present, parents get up to 15 hours of free childcare a week when their children are three and four.

Ministers believe that exposure to learning environments at an earlier age will boost achievements at primary school.

Mr Brown opened the conference on Saturday with a pledge to do "whatever it takes" to sort out Britain's financial system.

Gordon Brown
That PoliticsHome poll will not make happy bedtime reading for Mr Brown. Perhaps he could try a Harry Potter...

The PM hailed the action his government has taken to help stabilise the money markets in the past week.

But he said he would now push for reforms to the global finance system.

Meanwhile three different opinion polls have suggested a mixed picture for the Labour Party. An internet survey for questioned almost 35,000 voters from 238 marginal seats, over three months up to the eve of the conference. The results project a landslide victory for Conservative leader David Cameron at the next general election.

What is Labour going to do to help people with negative equity and who are suffering under the present situation with the housing market?
Sharon Solomons, Ruislip, UK

The survey's findings are that the number of Labour MPs could be reduced to 160, lower than after the 1983 election. Eight cabinet ministers will lose their seat, the projections based on the survey suggests.

And a ComRes survey of 1,014 adults for the Independent on Sunday suggested Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's offer to cut taxes had boosted his party at the expense of the Conservatives. The survey showed the Lib Dems closing the gap on both their rivals - up to 21%, with Labour on 27% and the Tories on 39%.

Meanwhile a YouGov survey of 1,200 Labour members for the Sunday Times suggested 53% thought Mr Brown was "indecisive and dithering" and just 34% thought he had an exciting vision for the future.

Brown pledges action on economy
20 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
PM hits back over leadership talk
19 Sep 08 |  UK Politics

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