Hi everyone and welcome to Bristol Grandparents Support Group blog. Although we are Bristol based we have grandparents from all over the UK and beyond as members.

It is estimated that over one million children in the UK are denied contact with their grandparents due to family breakdown which may have been caused by divorce/separation, alcohol/drug dependency,domestic violence,bereavement or family feud.
Every child has the right to have contact with their grandparents
if they wish and unless proven unsafe for them to do so. To deny contact from a parent or grandparent has to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
I hope to keep you up to date with what is going on in BGSG and I shall continue to campaign for the rights of children to have a loving and meaningful relationship with both parents and their extended family. So please join in as good to hear your views, not just mine!
I also will support via Skype.
There is no membership fee to be part of Bristol Grandparents Support Group.
Esther Rantzen says, " To every grandparent, links of love can never be broken in our hearts."

Please contact during office hours.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Commons Motion

Grandparents (Access Rights)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

4.33 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): 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.

Although this might be entitled the Grandparents (Access Rights) Bill, it could just as easily be renamed the Grandchildren's Rights Bill. If the Bill progresses, it will increase the rights of grandchildren to access their grandparents.

I want to thank many of the campaigners who were involved in this campaign, which has gone on for some time, including my predecessor as MP for Brigg and Goole, Mr Ian Cawsey, who moved a similar Bill a couple of years ago that was sponsored by you, Mr Speaker. A number of organisations are involved, including the Grandparents Association and I also want to draw on some of the work undertaken by the Centre for Social Justice. Above all, I want to pay tribute to my constituent, Dorothy Fagge, who has been a dedicated campaigner on this issue for a number of years, having twice been to court to access two different sets of her grandchildren. I shall talk about Dorothy's experience in a moment.

Some 1.3 million families in England use grandparents as the primary source of care for about 1.8 million children, offering a saving to the taxpayer of about £4.8 billion a year given the average cost of child care. That would equate to a cost of about £92 million a week to the public purse.

The Grandparents Association estimates that about 1 million children do not see their grandparents because families have separated or lost touch. For me, the role that my grandparents played in my childhood and until they passed away was incredibly significant, and its value cannot be quantified. There is strong evidence regarding the value of grandparental involvement, particularly in the lives of adolescents, in reducing adjustment difficulties when marriages or partnerships fail. That was reported a few years ago in a national study, "Involved Grandparenting and Child Well-being".

That view is shared not only by those who have an interest in this area and have campaigned in it, but by young people. A study that was quoted in the Centre for Social Justice's family law and children report showed that 75% of young people said that a grandparent was the most important person, or one of the most important people, in their life. A sample of 1,500 young people showed that grandparental involvement in schooling and education is linked to lower maladjustment scores and fewer contact problems and that being able to talk to a grandparent is linked to their having fewer emotional and behavioural problems.

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, before I came to the House I was a schoolteacher. I taught in a number of very deprived communities in Yorkshire and we sometimes found that grandparents were the sole point of contact in a child's life, acting as an anchor or rock. Often, when all else around was failing, the grandparents were the only people left standing for
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that young person. Sadly, grandfathers are sometimes the only male role model whom many young people encounter.

The value of grandparents can never be underestimated. I cannot put that point better than Pam Wilson of the Grandparents Action Group UK, who has stated:

    "Grandparents are a link to the past and a bridge to the future, for family history and medical details. To give a child a sense of belonging from the roots of their family."

Similarly, Peter Harris who was formerly the Official Solicitor and is now with the Grandparents Association, has said:

    "Grandparents are known to provide care for grandchildren more extensively than other relatives, and we believe that this puts them in a special category."

I believe that grandparents should be placed in that special category.

Grandparents can face a number of legal problems, particularly when they have been denied access to their grandchildren as a result of bereavement or divorce. With bereavement, the surviving parent might find a new partner, which might involve the grandchildren being introduced to a new family. Over time, the family might move and grow ever more distant from the bereaved grandparents. With divorce and separation, the grandparents are often forced to take sides and it is human nature for them to side with their own child. That can lead to children being used as a weapon in particularly acrimonious divorces or separations. Access is often denied or, even worse, traded for financial reasons.

All that places grandparents in an incredibly difficult position. Currently, the law is not necessarily on their side. There is no automatic right for a grandparent to go to court to seek contact with their grandchild. In fact, they must seek the court's permission to seek access through it. The process can be long winded and very expensive. This morning, I spoke to Lynn Chesterman of the Grandparents Association, who told me that the average cost of such a process is about £20,000. That option might be accessible for better-off grandparents, but there would be no possibility of those from more deprived or poorer backgrounds pursuing it.

My constituent, Dorothy Fagge, whom I mentioned earlier, was able to go to court and use substantial amounts of her own finances to gain access to her grandchildren, which had been denied to her in two different circumstances, one of which was incredibly tragic. Despite all her resources and her ability to pay for legal representation, it took her more than a year to gain access.

This is not an easy situation to address. I understand that, and there will always be cases in which contact with grandparents is not desirable, but the courts must determine that. However, I seek through the Bill some changes to the law to protect grandchildren in gaining access to their grandparents. I would like to see an automatic right for grandparents to seek contact through the courts so that they do not have to go through the double process of having to seek leave first. I hope that, through the review undertaken by the coalition Government, there will be moves to establish some form of early mediation to sort out contact issues, which happens through the Australian family mediation centres.

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It has also been suggested that there should be a presumption in law that children have a right to their grandparents, subject to the appropriate protections I mentioned earlier. One recent proposal, which is worthy of further investigation, is that children should have, at the very least, an automatic right to letterbox contact with their grandparents while proceedings in the courts are progressing. In the case of a bereaved grandparent, there is a strong argument that the grandparent, who is often the child's only link to that side of the family, should inherit the right that previously existed for the parent.

I know that this is not an easy issue, and that the Government are already examining it through the family law review, which is due to report next year. As I said at the beginning of my speech, my own grandparents were incredibly important to me. I know that for many people the role that their grandparents play in their lives is one that they value for the rest of their lives. It is appalling when grandchildren are used as a tool in divorce or in separation. That is why I would like to see implemented the changes that I have outlined, so that we can better protect the rights of grandparents and of grandchildren.

Question put and agreed to.


That Andrew Percy, Tracey Crouch, Justin Tomlinson, Tom Blenkinsop, Mr Gregory Campbell, Karen Bradley, James Wharton, Greg Mulholland, Chris Skidmore, Martin Vickers, Mr Brian Binley and Craig Whittaker present the Bill.

Andrew Percy accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June , and to be printed (Bill 110).

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