Labour offers three months of paid leave for fathers

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Fathers will be allowed up to three months' paid paternity leave under a key pledge to be included in the Labour Party's general election manifesto.

Fathers will be allowed up to three months' paid paternity leave under a key pledge to be included in the Labour Party's general election manifesto.

Gordon Brown will promise an extension of maternity and paternity benefits to help families with children in his pre-Budget report tomorrow. He will also promise a major expansion of child care over the next 10 years.

The Chancellor wants to double the six-month period of paid leave, now worth £102.80 a week, available to the mother, who can also take six months' unpaid leave. To give parents more flexibility, the year off work could be divided between them to suit their circumstances.

Under the scheme, to be phased in over several years, fathers could take up to three months of the 12-month break allocated to each couple. At present, fathers get two weeks' paid leave at £102.80 a week.

The package may alarm some employers, who will be worried about the disruption as well as the cost of fathers taking such long spells off. But ministers believe that business attitudes are changing, with some firms already offering fathers generous time off.

Mr Brown will stress that the Government will allow couples maximum choice, not impose a top-down blueprint. The number of children's centres will be expanded, primary schools will offer "wrap- around" care from 8am till 6pm but the state will also help people who stay at home or employ au pairs.

Child care is expected to become a central election battleground. Last month, the Tories unveiled plans for parents to claim up to £150 a week in maternity or paternity benefits for six months.

The Chancellor said his pre-Budget report would spell out "a patriotic vision of Britain's future as a country of ambition and aspiration - how we make Britain the best place to grow up in, the best place to study, the best place to start a business and to work - as we build a Britain that makes us even more proud to be British".

Mr Brown said yesterday his theme tomorrow would be that the next decade can be "a British decade". But he will say success and destiny depend upon understanding and building upon Britain's historic strengths, stability, openness to the world, scientific creativity, world-class universities, then addressing its weaknesses, such as the need to invest long term in science, enterprise, education and in the potential of every young person and adult.

Calling for a national debate on "Britishness", he added: "The nations that will succeed in the modern world will be those that have a stronger sense of who they are, what they strive to achieve and, in the face of terrorism, what they are defending." Mr Brown is expected to confound City analysts predicting he is on course to break his "golden rule", under which government borrowing must not exceed public investment over the economic cycle.

Treasury sources say Mr Brown will address the long-term challenges and not opt for short-term gimmicks. He will say that Britain is experiencing unprecedented, sustained growth, record levels of employment, historically low inflation and low interest rates, but that this stability can be sustained only by fiscal discipline.

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