This Government’s reforms have freed forces from a top-down approach and placed more power in the hands of local people through police and crime commissioners, who can set local priorities and decide how to respond to emergency calls.
We said that the 20% cut to police budgets would affect front-line services, but the Secretary of State disagreed. Does she accept that the increase in police response times could be the difference between catching the criminal in the act or someone getting away—and in extreme cases, the difference between life and death?
Coming from a blue-line emergency service background, I probably know more about response times than most people in this House. That is not being patronising; it is being absolutely honest. I think there are ways in which we can improve response times, particularly if we get more of the police cars out of the stations where they tend to spend more time—that is, getting police officers away from bureaucracy—but crime has fallen under this Government, and that is something Opposition Members cannot get away from.
When he did not turn up for work on Friday 22 August, my late constituent Mr Joseph McIntosh’s employers alerted Merseyside police, as they were concerned about his well-being. The police called at his home and, finding him to be in need of medical attention, called an ambulance. When no ambulance had turned up after an hour, the police took Mr McIntosh to the local hospital themselves. Sadly, he later passed away. I have raised this matter with the Health Secretary, who accepts that North West Ambulance Service’s response did not meet the required standard. The chief constable of Merseyside police has referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. As the Merseyside police and crime commissioner, Jane Kennedy, has said, the only body being held to account for Mr McIntosh’s sad death so far is Merseyside police. Will the Minister make it clear that the police are neither trained nor equipped to act as a substitute for the ambulance service?
The police are no substitute for the ambulance service or for any other emergency service. The Health Secretary has explained exactly what the situation is, and the matter will be looked into. However, I was out on patrol in Holborn in north London recently when someone with a mental health illness was reported to the police. The police could have arrested that gentleman for a public order offence, or taken him to the hospital where he could receive the care that he needed. He went to the hospital with the police.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens, but with the Home Secretary having imposed the biggest cuts to the police service of any country in Europe, including a cut of 8,000 from response alone, the police are taking up to 30% longer to respond to calls for help. Does the Home Secretary accept that she is failing in her duty and that, as a result of her swingeing cuts to our police service, sometimes desperate citizens dial 999 only to be let down in their hour of need?
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, and outside the Chamber we are actually quite good friends. I am sure he would agree that the police service do an absolutely fantastic job. There has been a reduction in police officers, and there has been a reduction in crime. Two thousand police officers who were in back-office roles are now in front-line roles, and that is what we want to see, along with crime coming down.