HC Deb 07 September 2004 vol 424 cc1051-2W
Mr. Edwards

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what plans he has to take steps to give grandparents a legal presumption of contact with grandchildren that can be enforced by the courts, save where a child's safety would be at risk. [187009]

Margaret Hodge

I have been asked to reply.

The Government have no plans to give grandparents a legal presumption of contact. The Children Act 1989 makes clear that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration in any proceedings relating to the upbringing of a child.. The Government believe that this principle should be sustained, without qualification, in order that there continues to be the clearest possible focus on the needs of children.

The Government recognise and value the important role which grandparents can play in children's lives. Many grandparents are already involved with the care of their grandchildren and most children see their grandparents as important figures in their lives. However, the primary responsibility for bringing up children in most families lies with their parents and there may be cases where parents prefer to limit contact with grandparents.

Under the Children Act 1989, grandparents may, provided that the permission of the court is obtained, apply to the court for an order granting contact with a grandchild. The requirement for the court's permission is not designed to be an obstacle to grandparents but to act as an initial filter to sift out prejudiced applications that are unlikely to succeed. Experience suggests that grandparents would not usually experience difficulty in obtaining permission where their application is motivated by a genuine concern for the child.

The Government are aware there is considerable concern about how court ordered contact arrangements can be supported more effectively. Our consultation document, "Parental separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities", published in July, outlines how the Government propose better to support families who are going through separation. It details a range of measures, including better information for parents, parenting plans to help parents make good arrangements, in-court conciliation and mediation for those parents who do go to court, active judicial management and stronger powers for judges to enforce court orders.

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