Parents on low incomes should be offered free childcare from when a mother's maternity leave runs out, the Liberal Democrat conference has heard.
Lib Dem councillor Chris Lucas said it would benefit the British economy to pay for parents on low and middle incomes to access free nursery places until their children reach school age.
The father-of-three, who works at home as a marketing consultant, said it made political sense for the Lib Dems to propose the move as many parents could not return to work because of unaffordable nursery fees.
The 42-year-old, who looks after two young boys aged one and three at his family home in Bath, told the party's conference in Glasgow he had recently been discussing the issue with his wife Celina.
Speaking out in favour of a motion, which would introduce "stepped" free nursery care for children aged one to five, Mr Lucas said he also supported four weeks paternity leave for new fathers, telling members the current fortnight off was "nowhere near enough".
He said: " It wasn't that long ago that my wife and I were sitting around the kitchen table enacting something that is probably played out at many kitchen tables around the country, asking the question - what do we do about childcare once the maternity leave runs out?
"I found we were left with pretty much two choices. Normally it's the woman who has to give up her work and take care of the kids or they are fortunate enough to be able to pay for someone to take care of the kids for them.
"In a civilised society in the 21st century, are we seriously saying that those are our only two options? I don't believe that is the case.
"We must be able to find practical, affordable childcare for low to middle income parents, which would at a stroke enable and empower a whole generation of workers, not all of them women, to seek paid employment and carry on with their careers."
S ome 130,000 two-year-olds - about 20% - are currently eligible for free childcare, based on whether their family qualifies for free school meals or they are cared for by a local authority.
And the Government has promised to extend the handout to 40% of low income parents with two-year-olds next year. It will be available to 260,000 toddlers and families earning less than £16,190 per year who receive working tax credits.
The motion, which was approved by members after a vote in the main conference hall, would see the Lib Dem policy changed to extend free child care for low and middle income families.
As part of the "stepped" introduction of care designed to bridge the gap between a mother's maternity leave ending and a child reaching school age, low and middle income parents of babies aged between one and two would be eligible to 10 hours' free care each week.
Parents of all two to three-year-olds, not just the most deprived 40%, would receive 15 hours of free care. And parents of three to four-year-olds would be give 20 hours of free care, up five hours. Those with four to five-year-olds would be given 25 hours a week.
The changes, likely to cost millions of pounds if implemented, will not be included in current Government policy.
But they could help form part of the Lib Dem manifesto going in to the 2015 General Election.