Dame Caroline Dinenage has once again asked for better rights for children to see their grandparents following parental separation in Questions to the Justice Secretary – she also pushed the Minister, Mike Freer MP, for the Government to appoint an Older Person’s Commissioner.
The Gosport MP and former Justice Minister, stated that England should be following the lead of other UK Nations – Scotland who have an Older Person’s Minister and Northern Ireland and Wales who both have an Older Person’s Commissioner, in order that the issue of grandparental alienation, and a range of other vital matters affecting older people, can be better represented.
Caroline asked Justice Minister Mike Freer:“We know that the bond with a grandparent can be one of the most precious relationships in a child’s life, and yet so often in the adult wars of family breakdown, children are a weapon and actions by grandparents through the family court are incredibly expensive and quite frequently fruitless.
What more can the Department do to give grandchildren that right to see their grandparents? And isn’t it about time that we followed the example of Scotland, who have an Older Person’s Minister and Northern Ireland & Wales, who have an Older Person’s Commissioner, to take up issues just like this one?”
Whilst the Minister responded advising that an Older Person’s Commissioner would be a matter for the Prime Minister he did add that legal aid eligibility extensions could help grandparents in guaranteeing their rights to access to grandchildren. He said:“If I could take the last point first, in terms of an Older Person’s Commissioner my Rt Hon. Friend may wish to take this up with the Prime Minister as I suspect that’s well above my pay grade.
In terms of addressing the issue of access for grandparents it’s well recognised that we recently extended the ability of legal aid for special guardianship orders which may well be accessible for grandparents to ensure that they get SGO’s to guarantee their rights of access.”
Commenting, Caroline said: “This is something I intend to take up with Number Ten. There are 11 million people aged over 65 in England alone – we have an aging population, but no single voice to champion their interests, which often end up slipping through the net due to their cross-departmental nature.
There is a Children’s Commissioner – but no one with the same legal powers to stand up for Older People.
The issue of intergenerational relationships is a case in point. The grand-parent – grand-child bond can be so precious and formative, and cause such distress on both parts when it becomes the collateral damage of a parental split.
Other UK Nations have an Older Person’s Minister or Commissioner – we need an Older People and Ageing Commissioner in England, to act as an independent champion, to take on these issues and ensure that policy making across Government consider the needs of our older population.”
Caroline has previously raised the issue of Grandchildren’s rights after a meeting with former Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab in the Ministry of Justice to explore the suggestion further. She has also raised this with the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Tom Pursglove, in March 2022 who said: “The Government understands the important role that grandparents often play in children’s lives – something that I can very much relate to through my own experiences growing up – and the stability they can provide particularly during times of divorce, separation or bereavement.
I know she had a productive meeting with my Rt Hon Friend, The Deputy Prime Minister recently. This is a matter that is under active consideration at the moment, at pace, and we will revert to her as quickly as possible.”