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Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): May I be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson) on his maiden speech? As he rightly said, his predecessor was regarded with great respect and affection in the House and outside. He is and will continue to be sadly missed. Having heard the hon. Gentleman's comments, I am sure that he will be listened to with interest and respect whenever he is fortunate enough to catch the Speaker's eye.
My constituency surgery last Friday began with a lady to whom I will refer as Mrs. A. She expressed concern that her young son, who is 14, had been walking home from school in October when he had been set upon by two youths, one aged 14 and the other 15, and for no apparent reason beaten up. She said that what was particularly horrifying about the attack was that the assailants had deliberately sought to cause the maximum injury to her young son's head--to cause the maximum pain, but with the minimum visible bruising.
Mrs. A went to the police. Her son was seen by a surgeon and was photographed. Statements were taken. The assailant was well known: her son knew who it was and the police knew who it was. That was October. In the middle of December, she does not know what has happened in that case, whether the youth has been charged or whether he has been taken to court. She has heard no more from the police.
A little later in my surgery, a couple came to see me. I shall refer to them as Mr. and Mrs. B. They live on the same housing estate in Banbury. They are public-spirited people who act as foster parents. They had bought their foster child a bicycle. That foster child, who is also 14, had been riding on the estate when he had been attacked suddenly by the same youth. He had been beaten up and his new bicycle had been damaged.
Mr. and Mrs. B told me that the youth was well known to them, too. He was frequently seen driving around the estate in a motor car, or riding speed bicycles around the estate. He had vandalised their garden and broken down their fence. He was well known to the police and had caused much difficulty to a lot of people.
Mr. and Mrs. B had come to see me because they were particularly upset. They had just heard from the police that the Crown Prosecution Service had advised that no proceedings should be taken against that youth as, ultimately, it had been decided that it was their foster child's word against the youth's word.
It was the same assailant in both cases. The attacks happened on one housing estate in Banbury, which could not be more middle England. What was particularly disconcerting was that Oxfordshire social services, which had placed the foster child with the foster parents, advised that it would be inappropriate to place any other foster children with them for the time being because they could not provide a safe environment. If a safe environment in which to bring up children cannot be provided in housing estates in Banbury, something serious is happening.
Currently, the vacancies are being held at the centre . . . but it is only a short time before these vacancies will be felt on police areas--especially those in the south east of the force where I have most difficulty with retention.
There are many more applications
I, too, share the view that it is pointless ping-ponging statistics across the Dispatch Box, but we have a problem on the ground in the Thames valley. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will listen to the case that has been put by the chief constable for a housing allowance for officers in the Thames valley. Otherwise, we will have a serious situation.
My other concern is in relation to anti-social behaviour orders. One would have thought that the youth who appears to have brutally attacked two young people on the Ruscote housing estate and to have created considerably more mayhem on the estate was an ideal candidate for an anti-social behaviour order. However, for whatever reason, I have been told by Superintendent Reeve and Grahame Handley, chief executive of Cherwell district council, that when they sought the advice of the clerk to the justices of North Oxfordshire magistrates they were told that his advice to magistrates would be that, unless it was a persistent offender, an anti-social behaviour order should not be granted.
Corroboration for that came to me today in a letter from the chief executive of Banbury Homes, which has much of the social housing in Banbury. He wrote about some evictions that it had succeeded in obtaining against some anti-social tenants on another housing estate in Banbury. His letter states:
The House has a duty to those communities to ensure that there are sufficient police numbers and that the courts have sufficient powers to deal with those young people. Unless the Government are prepared to do that, all the measures in the Queen's Speech on law and order are simply posturing.