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Grandparents (Rights of Access)

Volume 465: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2007

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give grandparents rights of access to their grandchildren in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.

There are 13.5 million grandparents in the UK, including your good self, Mr. Speaker. They make a vast contribution to family life and nowadays, when most parents work, grandparents are probably more involved with the care of their grandchildren then ever before.

Let us consider some of the facts. Eighty-two per cent. of children receive some care from their grandparents, and 60 per cent. of child care is provided by grandparents. Nearly 5 million grandparents spend the equivalent of three days a week caring for their grandchildren and nearly half of grandparents make financial contributions towards expensive items for the family. More than 90 per cent. of first-time mothers have help from their mother, so close bonds are established at an early stage that become important for the child’s development.

If all that is true, why do we have a family legal system that recognises none of it and gives grandparents no rights of access in law? It is a sad fact that this year 150,000 children will be affected by the break-up of their parents. Even in cases where the split is handled as amicably as possible, it is a traumatic experience for the children. In cases where the break-up is difficult access can be a big issue, with the absent parent having limited contact with their children and the grandparents on that side of the family having no contact at all.

Given the increased role played by grandparents these days, withdrawal of access can be devastating for both children and grandparents, who can go from spending hours together to no contact at all. How bewildering and upsetting that must be for children already struggling to come to terms with what is happening to their family.

The law gives no rights to grandparents, which is not to say that grandparents cannot apply to the courts for access, but the process is difficult and expensive, with no guarantee of success, and thus limited to grandparents who are lucky enough to have the means to pursue it—a limitation that must be unacceptable to Members. As a result of that situation, it is estimated that 1 million children are denied contact with their grandparents. How sad that so many children cannot spend time with their grandparents, with all they bring to the family. My Bill would address that.

I pay tribute to my constituent, Dorothy Fagge, who brought all this to my attention at one of the summer shows in my constituency that I attend with my touring surgery caravan. She told me about her problems of access to her grandchildren, some of the tragic circumstances involved and her long legal battle to change things. She finally had some success in court, but it cost her more than £20,000 and, as she is only too aware, that is beyond the means of many families. When I asked her what she thought the law should be, she said that grandparents should have the same rights in law as absent parents, which is not to say that there will be access in every case. We can all accept that sometimes it would be inappropriate and not in the best interests of the child, but there should be a presumption that, all things being equal, access is normally granted for grandparents to see their grandchildren.

When the well-being of children is being considered, the role of grandparents should be part of the process. At a time when parents may be struggling with the stress of a break-up and difficulties in their relationship, grandparents can play an important stabilising role for the children: visits to their grandparents’ home can feel normal and safe when the rest of their world seems to be turned upside-down.

Such access is a simple request, which would require only simple legislation, yet it could make a huge difference to family life in this country. I am sure that the Bill, if successful, will not create heaven on earth; there will still be issues to overcome. Every Member deals with constituents who are struggling just for parental access—let alone access for grandparents—and we see how devastating that is for those involved. Family breakdowns can be complex and difficult and the courts are not perfect, but I believe that it is our duty to create a framework that gives hope and equity to all grandparents so that access is in the interests of the child and the family, and not something open only to those who can afford it.

One million children are denied access to their grandparents; today we can begin the journey to putting that right. I hope that the House will support this motion so that we do.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ian Cawsey, Nick Ainger, John Bercow, Jeff Ennis, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. John Heppell, Shona McIsaac, Mr. Eric Martlew, Mr. Elliot Morley, Laura Moffatt, Kali Mountford and Mrs. Linda Riordan.

Grandparents (Rights of Access)

Mr. Ian Cawsey accordingly presented a Bill to give grandparents rights of access to their grandchildren in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed [Bill 166].

LEGAL SERVICES BILL [LORDS] (PROGRAMME) (NO. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programming of Bills),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Legal Services Bill [Lords] for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 4th June and 15th October 2007 (Legal Services Bill [Lords] (Programme) and Legal Services Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2))—

Consideration of Lords Message

1. Any message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

2. Proceedings on that Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at this day’s sitting.

Subsequent stages

3. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

4. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—[Mr. Khan.]

Question agreed to.