[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Second Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2015-16, Greyhound Welfare, HC 478, and the Government response, HC 133.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. There are around 15,000 active racing greyhounds in the UK today. Although there has been a sustained decline in the popularity of greyhound racing in recent decades, the sport continues to draw crowds and in 2014 it supported a £1.3 billion off-course turnover for bookmakers. I will concentrate a little later on the amount of money being made from the betting on greyhounds and ask whether enough of it is getting back to support greyhound welfare and retirement.
Animal welfare standards expected by the public today are higher than at any time in the past. However, within the greyhound industry, there are sometimes two conflicting priorities—the welfare and integrity standards during a dog’s racing career; and the view of a greyhound as a commercial betting asset. The Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010 introduced minimum standards for all greyhound tracks in the country.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published its report on greyhound welfare in February. It focused on the effectiveness of the 2010 regulations and their success in safeguarding racing greyhound welfare standards. It was timely, as it fed into the Government’s overdue review of the 2010 regulations, which was published in September.
I will focus today on three of the Committee’s recommendations: the need for greater transparency; kennelling standards away from the track, as well as on the track; and the financing of the industry. Greyhound racing tracks operate within a hybrid or two-tier system. The majority of racing tracks—24—are licensed by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, or GBGB. That means that they operate under the GBGB’s rules of racing and are subject to inspection by the organisation. The standards that the GBGB sets at tracks are also independently accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, and supported by the work of track veterinarians. Any track that meets the required standards may apply to be licensed by the GBGB.
In England, there are also a small number of independent tracks that are not licensed by the GBGB but regulated and inspected by local authorities. These tracks mostly cater for local hobbyists, who keep racing greyhounds mainly as a hobby.
Although different licensing arrangements exist, tracks under both systems must comply with the 2010 regulations. I accept that those regulations have succeeded in improving the welfare of greyhounds at tracks, but there is still much to be done. More transparency is definitely needed in the industry. There are currently no sources of reliable data on greyhound welfare in the public domain. It is therefore difficult to assess accurately the current level of welfare provision or to gauge improvements or deterioration over time.
The Dogs Trust believes that approximately 3,500 greyhounds are unaccounted for every year in the UK. However, as statistics are not published, the true scale of the problem is difficult to assess. The regulations must be amended to require the publication of essential welfare data relating to injury, euthanasia and rehoming. DEFRA’s approach is to rely on a non-regulatory agreement with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain to publish statistics from 2018.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw the “Panorama” documentary that showed a continuing problem with doping in the industry. I know that the board carries out some random drug testing, but doping is still very much being used by unscrupulous owners to speed up or in some cases slow down the dogs. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that we need much more information about the extent to which doping is a problem and that we need action to tackle it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The Committee visited a GBGB track and we also went to an independent track. While we were at the GBGB track we saw the doping testing taking place. We saw the vets checking the welfare of the greyhound and its ability to race. On the day we went I do not think we could fault the amount of testing and inspection that was going on, but we want to be absolutely certain that on the days when we do not attend the track, the same process is taking place. When it comes to doping, welfare and how many greyhounds are racing, the transparency of the data will tell us where the greyhounds are and how many there are so that if there is a problem we can have the greyhounds tested afterwards as well. There is a real issue.
After what we saw, we believe that the industry is in some ways moving in the right direction and is perhaps not as prone to as much doping as has taken place in the past, but we want to be absolutely certain that it does not take place. It is not only the welfare of the greyhound that is at stake. Doping is an attempt to distort genuine greyhound racing and the result of the race.
I call on the Minister to explain why statistics will not be published until 2018 when the data are already available. In addition, the Government’s latest regulation review did not take the opportunity to extend transparency of reporting to the independent tracks in England. From the industry’s point of view and for the welfare of the greyhound it would be so good to have those figures. If there is nothing to hide, why on earth can we not have the figures sooner? I know that the Minister is very keen on animal welfare. If we had transparency, many of us would feel happier about the situation.
Kennelling is important not only at the track but at the trainers’ kennels. Greyhounds spend approximately 95% of their time at trainers’ kennels. There are pressing welfare issues facing the industry away from the track, and kennelling arrangements differ substantially between the two systems. Although the Government have a non-regulatory agreement with the industry to develop a standard for trainers’ kennels, we are extremely concerned that there is no requirement for this to be used by the independent greyhound sector. Independent trainers’ kennels do not require licensing or inspection. We have concerns that the 2010 regulations do not go beyond racing tracks.
In our report, we urge the Government to extend the 2010 regulations beyond racetracks to cover standards at all trainers’ kennels—both GBGB and independent trainers’ kennels. We recommend that common welfare standards be developed for all kennels and that an independent body verify those standards. The Government are not treating this issue with the severity it deserves. We are disappointed that DEFRA has not recommended extending kennelling standards to the independent greyhound sector as part of its post-implementation review.
I now turn to the financing of greyhound welfare and the role of bookmakers. Greyhounds are bred for the sole purpose of racing—in other words, to provide a betting product. In our eyes, this means that bookmakers have some responsibility to support post-racing welfare, particularly in the area of rehoming. The bookmaking industry made a net profit of some £230 million from greyhound racing in 2014 with a margin of 18%—a margin that is significantly higher and less volatile than a number of other sports. It paid back around £33 million to the greyhound industry in fees for the rights to televise races, and a voluntary contribution for greyhound welfare was paid by some bookmakers.
There has been a decline in the voluntary levy in the past 10 years. In 2015 contributions were £6.9 million, down from £14 million in real terms almost a decade ago. This income stream is threatened by the growth of online and overseas betting operations, which do not tend to make the voluntary contributions. Greyhound racing is currently at the whim of bookmakers who may choose to contribute or not. The voluntary system allows bookmakers to walk away from their responsibility to the industry if the industry tries to increase the levy.
High welfare standards require financing. The onus should be on bookmakers who profit from greyhound racing to contribute financially to improving standards. I understand that discussions between the industry and bookmakers regarding the voluntary levy have now broken down. The Committee calls on the Government to introduce a statutory levy of 1% of gross turnover. This would provide a more stable income stream for animal welfare activities and create an even playing field between contributing bookmakers.
I would go as far as to say that we ought to name the bookmakers who make a contribution to greyhound welfare and those who do not. The bookies who do the right thing are contributing and ought to get some credit for it. The names of those who do not contribute should be made public. In the end, we have to make sure that there is enough money for rehoming. We have very good greyhound rehoming charities that do great work, but they need support, especially from the industry.
We went greyhound racing and we saw the race run in a reasonable way. We saw the greyhounds being checked, including when they came off the track, and we could see very little problem with the race. However, lots and lots of money is being made in online gambling. Therefore it is essential that online gambling should pay a contribution; if the race did not take place, it would not make its money. It should help with rehoming and looking after greyhounds when they finish racing. That is the biggest problem with greyhound racing: they are bred and reared for racing, but what happens to them when they finish? Are they to be discarded or euthanized, or rehomed? We need accurate figures, and enough money for the animal welfare and rehoming organisations to be able to take the greyhounds.
I have been looking at my notes and I notice that in paragraph 79 of the report we named Betfair as one of the organisations that are shirking their responsibility. I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point that we should congratulate contributors and name and shame those who do not contribute.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who if I may say so is a great member of the Select Committee, for that point. We want to be able to publish the names of those such as Betfair that do not contribute; let us also name the organisations that do, and see what happens. I think there would be a public outcry, and those that do not contribute would be more likely to do so. We want to be assured that when the greyhounds have finished their racing career, they will be properly retired and rehomed, and there will be money to help with that. That is essential.
If greyhounds are injured in their racing career, there should be enough money to pay veterinary expenses, so that those that are able to can have a fulfilling life in retirement, and will not be euthanized just because that is the easiest thing to do. We did not conclude that we wanted to ban all greyhound racing, but we felt that there was more to be done with respect to breeding, retirement and making sure that greyhounds that have finished racing have a decent life. It is therefore essential that all parts of the betting industry should contribute.
The Committee expects the greyhound industry and its regulator to make progress on the publication of injury, traceability, retirement and euthanasia data, as I have said. Trainers’ kennels should also be inspected to a new transparent public standard. A two-year period to deliver those changes is reasonable. However, the EFRA Committee would expect an update from the GBGB within that timescale. Independent tracks are regulated by local authorities, not by the GBGB. Therefore, there is a gap in accountability and regulation. Local authorities should look to using DEFRA’s imminent consultation on updating animal establishment licensing as an opportunity to raise standards in the independent sector.
The Committee believes that the betting industry must increase its contributions. Bookmakers profiting from greyhound racing have a clear responsibility to support greyhound welfare. If a voluntary agreement cannot be struck with bookmakers, we recommend that the Government introduce a statutory levy of 1% across the industry. That would work in a similar way to the horserace betting levy.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Rosindell, particularly as, if my memory serves me well, you take a personal interest in these matters. I am sure that apart from the usual general interest, the report will contain things of specific interest to you and your constituents.
It is good to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), the Select Committee Chairman. As he did in the previous debate, he covered the vast majority of the points that the Committee wanted to make, so I shall not waste time repeating what he said. He made an excellent job of representing the Committee’s views, as he always does. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks; I am not sure that he was the architect of the Government response, but he will speak on behalf of the Department so it is none the less his. I look forward, also, to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), the shadow Minister, and those of my fellow member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan), who is the Front-Bench spokesman for the Scottish National party on these matters.
The Select Committee Chairman made reference on page 3 of the report to a commitment to producing injury data. When the Minister was responsible for the issue he pressed GBGB to produce that, and it has said that it will do so. However, as the Chairman said, 2018 seems a long way off for data that are available now; they could be anonymised, made available and published now. On the matter of the number of dogs euthanised, I understand that animal welfare charities calculate that at the moment between 3,000 and 4,000 dogs disappear each year. When I introduced my first ten-minute rule Bill on the issue, in 1998, the figure was much higher, so there has been significant progress; but thousands of dogs still disappear, which is a cause of huge concern to those interested in animal welfare.
I must confess that I stumbled over the word “trainer’s” under recommendation 4; it looked to me as if it meant a single trainer’s kennel, whereas we are talking about all trainers’ kennels. I thought that the apostrophe should have been at the end. It could be argued that it is in the right place, but that does not suit the way I was taught English at Holyrood secondary school in Glasgow. The question of trainers’ kennels is a key issue. As the Chairman of the Select Committee outlined, the dogs are estimated to spend 90% to 95% of their time in the kennels. The Dogs Trust has produced recommendations on the welfare needs of dogs—a suitable environment and diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns and be housed with or apart from other animals as appropriate, and that they should be protected from pain and suffering. Given that most of the dogs’ time is spent in kennels, the fact that the regulations published in 2010 do not address the issue of trainers’ kennels is a huge omission. The Government should move on that as quickly as possible.
The second paragraph of the Government’s response to the same recommendation states:
“As previously mentioned, Defra are currently considering all the evidence gathered as part of its review before considering whether any changes are needed to the 2010 Regulations.”
That reinforces the concern articulated by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton about the time within which they are responding to the issues raised by the Committee.
The question of rehoming is mentioned at the top of page 5. GBGB has already agreed to the Minister’s request to publish data on injuries, and that is welcome. However, the information is available and we would accept anonymised data for bona fide research and academic purposes, so 2018 seems a bit of a way off. My hon. Friend the Chairman—I call him my hon. Friend for the purposes of Select Committee solidarity—made some points about the betting levy and how much it is worth. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond specifically to this point. As the Select Committee Chairman outlined, £200 million is generated and £33 million goes back to the industry, so I am not sure how significant half a million pounds is. What is the Minister‘s perspective on that? The third paragraph on page 6 of the Government’s response says:
“The remote betting industry estimates that this will add about £2m to the overall transfer of value from the online betting industry to the greyhound industry.”
Is the half a million pounds coming from that £2 million, or is it additional money? I was not clear how the figures relate to each other.
In conclusion, there is widespread concern among animal welfare charities. I am sure we all received representations from the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Dogs Trust, Blue Cross and others. When this issue was part of the Minister’s portfolio, he took it seriously and was heavily involved. The Department’s response refers to 2017 and 2018 and having another look at things in due course, once we have a better assessment of whether the 2010 regulations have worked or not, but they clearly have worked. The vast majority of people and certainly the Select Committee believe that the regulations should be extended. They certainly should be extended to the kennels of trainers. They should be extended to bring forward data on injuries and closer scrutiny of how many dogs are disappearing, so that we can eventually get that number down to zero.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Rosindell. I thank the EFRA Committee and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) for leading the debate today. I start by thanking the great many organisations that work for greyhound welfare across the UK, including Scotland’s Greyhound Rescue, the League Against Cruel Sports, Blue Cross, the RSPCA, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Scottish Greyhound Sanctuary, Give a Greyhound a Home, the Dogs Trust, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and West of Scotland Greyhound Welfare, which looks after greyhounds in foster homes and kennels across my area.
Greyhounds are raced until they are three to four years old. Then, many will be put down. Greyhounds are described as being very clever. They are generally very gentle, and they are fantastic with children. Two 20-minute walks a day is all they need, as they are built for speed, not stamina. They should be rehomed, not disposed of.
My first contact with greyhound racing was extremely distressing, and it has never left me. I was working as a psychologist in the NHS, and my colleague was married to a local vet. He was just starting in his career, and he was doing evening sessions at the greyhound track at Shawfield stadium in Glasgow. I believe it is a regulated stadium. At unregulated stadiums, veterinary cover may not be in place at all. My colleague routinely came into work upset, stating that there had been another dead dog in a bag in her garage that morning before she left for work. She described the terrible circumstances in which her husband worked in the evenings, where he was placed in a double-bind. He had to put down dogs that were injured or judged not to be good enough, otherwise they would be killed in inhumane ways—hit over the head with bricks, with their bodies discarded in the countryside and their ears cut off to prevent detection. They were left on motorways or in mass graves elsewhere. The dogs were simply treated as commodities by individuals whose sole goal was to make money at their expense. He often had to euthanise dogs that could have been treated medically and recovered; otherwise, in his words, they would simply have met a much worse fate. As a young vet, that must have truly depressed him, and it still upsets me to this day to think of it.
The second time I came into contact with greyhound welfare issues was slightly different. I was working in forensic mental health services. I often had to risk-assess violent offenders and provide recommendations for their management. I had to assess an offender who had been extremely violent towards his partner and children. He owned two greyhounds, and assessment revealed that he went hare coursing illegally with the dogs. As with many violent individuals, he had a history of violence towards animals, including his dogs. They were regularly kicked and beaten by a man, six foot tall, who used them to kill hares in the middle of the night. It was his favourite pastime, alongside violence towards humans.
Since that time, many of my colleagues and friends have rehomed greyhounds. They speak of the unspeakable lives that greyhounds live today, both within and outwith the industry. Some greyhounds are engaged in illegal hare coursing. Few prosecutions occur, so things have not got better. It makes me sick to the stomach to think of the suffering and distressing lives that thousands of greyhounds have today.
I would like to see change from the Minister. The industry needs radical reform. There should be one system of regulation covering all tracks. Local authority officers are not resourced properly or trained adequately to be able to assess tracks. They are not required to inspect tracks regularly, and that needs to be addressed. We need to address data on retiring greyhounds, the number of dogs euthanised unnecessarily and the accidents and injuries that occur at trackside. As we have heard, thousands of dogs go unaccounted for each year, and that simply is not good enough. There need to be regular inspections of breeders and training kennels, and not just tracks. We need to ensure the welfare of the dogs where they spend most of their lives.
The problem of doping needs to be addressed. Dogs are drugged to speed up or slow down their progress. That further undermines the integrity of greyhound racing and has serious effects on dog welfare. Mandatory testing should be required at tracks. Those found to be using drugs should face punishment including fines, bans, imprisonment or rehabilitation, or many of the above. We need to increase the number of dogs tested.
Ultimately, I do not wish to see self-regulation continue in the industry, as I feel it prolongs the time it takes for change. I have little faith in the industry regulating or reforming independently. The UK is already behind many international standards. Repeated attempts at reform have failed, so we need Government action now. There should be greyhound passports or tracking and a moratorium on new tracks opening. Bookmakers should take responsibility and contribute to improvements in standards. The public simply will not stand for inaction in this realm. We must address the scourge of greyhound cruelty that permeates the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, in this important debate. I rise to speak as someone who has a forthcoming private Member’s Bill to increase the sentencing for animal cruelty, but it behoves all of us with an interest in the welfare of our animals to be here today to speak out and ensure that our system protects those who cannot speak for themselves about abuse and cruelty. That is especially important for animals involved in a working environment where the nature of the industry can put them under unusual pressure and strain.
Greyhound racing is a long-established leisure activity, but its success must be built on fair treatment, from cradle to grave, of the animals involved. There are real concerns about how far the Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010 have led to sufficient protections for racing greyhounds. DEFRA’s review into the success of the regulations does not adequately take those concerns into account. Self-regulation of the industry through the Greyhound Board of Great Britain is not open or accountable, and the GBGB has lost the confidence of many stakeholders and greyhound welfare organisations. It is not being sufficiently transparent to demonstrate that greyhound racing is a welfare-friendly activity.
One of the biggest issues is the lack of openly published data on the welfare of racing greyhounds. Baseline data on injury, euthanasia and homing after retirement from racing should be published by GBGB-licensed tracks and by independent tracks monitored by local authorities. Without those data, accurate comparisons simply cannot be made. Indeed, the RSPCA has called for greater transparency and the collection and publication of data throughout the life of every greyhound. In a submission to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, it said:
“The best way of doing this would be to adopt a joined up approach to track dogs, born in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, utilising one centralised database which could be used to capture information on racing status, injuries, drugs, retirement etc and could be used for rolling analysis and to identify patterns and allow remedial action to be taken for example should there be found to be an issue at a particular track.”
It could be argued that the Government are themselves encouraging the industry to be opaque by failing to ensure that the baseline statistics are published so that the industry’s performance can be evaluated. In 2007, the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare recommended that the industry should be required by law to publish annual statistics.
I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene, as my hon. Friend is making the same point that was raised by the Chair of the Select Committee, by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and by me: that the statistics for injured animals are very important. The Minister has a great track record—excuse the pun—on this matter. He was pushing the industry all the way down the line; he got them to make the agreement. With all due respect, in my view there has been a bit of slippage, in that the deadline is now 2017-18. The figures do exist. They ought to be available and hopefully, as a result of this debate and decisions elsewhere, they will be published.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We cannot continue to just push this into the long grass. Action must be taken.
Ten years on, DEFRA’s position to simply encourage the regulator is clearly not working. In fact, the lack of data undermines DEFRA’s review of the success of the 2010 regulations, because full data are not publicly available. The Committee’s report of February 2016 stated:
“The absence of baseline data regarding issues such as injuries, euthanasia or rehoming makes it difficult to accurately assess the impact of the 2010 Regulations on key welfare issues.”
The Government acknowledged that difficulty in their response when they said,
“the absence of such data has made assessing the effectiveness of the 2010 Regulations difficult”.
Another issue that goes unaddressed by DEFRA’s review is the two-tier system of welfare standards between GBGB tracks and those licensed by local authorities. The 2010 regulations do not establish a minimum set of welfare standards for all tracks and there are discrepancies in the way in which the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is applied and enforced at different tracks. On enforcement, greyhounds racing on self-regulated GBGB tracks are not protected under the Act. On tracks licensed by local authorities, there is no mandate for the local authority to adopt and enforce the Act, and most do not because of the financial cost of doing so and a lack of resources, which is even more of an issue in the current financial climate.
To give an example of the two-tier system, in 2011 an independent trainer was banned from keeping animals for life and received an 18-week suspended sentence for giving his dog Viagra and cannabis. In comparison, in 2014 a trainer licensed through GBGB gave his greyhound amphetamine, following two previous incidents of administering illegal drugs, and the disciplinary committee gave him only a six-month disqualification suspended for two years and a fine. That is a stark example of the absence of minimum welfare standards, which the 2010 regulations have done nothing to rectify.
In its submission to the Committee’s inquiry, the Association of Track Veterinarians, who are directly employed by the GBGB, stated:
“We are unanimously concerned that without appropriate changes, the current regulations will not improve greyhound welfare to acceptable standards, indeed even current welfare standards are likely to deteriorate with time.”
It is clear that there are significant issues with self-regulation in its current form. I am minded to support calls by various stakeholders—including the campaigning organisation Greyt Exploitations, which campaigns for a ban—for an independent regulator to ensure standards are adhered to and the process is publicly transparent. I would also urge the Government to compel, through legislation, the collection and publication of baseline data so that the industry is more transparent and welfare standards can be monitored. If the public’s concern for greyhound welfare continues to be ignored, that will only exacerbate the situation and escalate calls for a ban. We cannot allow poor treatment of racing greyhounds, or of animals in general, to go unaddressed.
It is good to see you in your place again, Mr Rosindell. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate.
The inquiry was conducted by a Sub-Committee of the Select Committee, which was led by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—I will call him my honourable friend, in support of the solidarity of the Committee. I was very pleased to participate as a member of that Sub-Committee. We published our report on 10 February 2016, following detailed scrutiny of 65 items of published evidence, four evidence-gathering sessions and two site visits. We framed a number of recommendations, offered the UK Government additional advice and made formal comment on a number of vital matters.
Greyhound racing has been relatively common in the UK since the 1920s. In recent years there has been a sustained decline in the popularity of such racing, but it continues to draw substantial interest, to the extent that in 2014 it supported a £1.3 billion off-course turnover for bookmakers. It is big business.
The Sub-Committee heard very distressing stories of animal abuse and mistreatment. We heard about animals being discarded or destroyed when no longer fit to race. Examples included dogs being thrown out of the back of vans on motorways on the return journey home from a lost race and microchips being transferred from dog to dog to evade scrutiny and legitimate checking processes. There were also allegations of doping. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) rightly highlighted examples of cruelty identified by those animal charities that care so well for many of these animals.
As we have heard, the report considers carefully the often conflicting interests of enthusiasts and those concerned with animal welfare. However, there is a third interested party: bookmakers, specifically those responsible for the Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Service, which in 2014 paid £26 million to dog tracks for the rights to televise and broadcast some 29,000 races each year. In 2007, the Donoghue report into the industry—and it is an industry—found:
“If it were not for BAGS, there would no longer be a sustainable licensed greyhound racing industry”.
The Committee found no reason to disagree with that statement. We found that the all-day racing schedules of BAGS require large numbers of dogs and put enormous pressure on trainers, owners, handlers, tracks and the animals to meet the broadcasting schedule of the large bookmakers that control BAGS.
The Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010, which the report assessed, governs the tracks. Greyhound welfare is also covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which requires recognition of conditions away from the track, including trainers’ kennels, and makes it an offence to be cruel to a greyhound or not provide for its needs. The 2010 regulations were made under that Act and specifically cover conditions at the racing track. The enforcement of the 2006 Act was beyond the scope of the inquiry, but it has been considered subsequently by a second Sub-Committee. The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, EU Council Regulation 1/2005 and the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 are also relevant to the inquiry.
Greyhound racing tracks operate within a hybrid or two-tier system. The majority of racing tracks—24 at the moment in England—are licensed by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, which means they operate under GBGB’s rules of racing and are subject to inspections by the organisation. The standards that GBGB sets at tracks are independently accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service and are supported at the tracks by the work of track veterinarians.
In England, there are also around five independent or “flapper” tracks that are not licensed by GBGB, but which are regulated and inspected by local authorities. Independent tracks have seen a notable decline in recent years. There were nine when the 2010 regulations were introduced and there are now just five. We found those tracks mostly cater for local hobbyist racing, as opposed to GBGB tracks, which are large-scale, commercially focused and often televised. Although different licensing arrangements exist, tracks under both systems must comply with the 2010 regulations. Askern Greyhound Stadium in Doncaster is one such flapper track, and it was visited by the Sub-Committee. I was pleasantly surprised by the care and attention that is given to animals at that independent track. I found that, in some respects, the standards of care and the attitude towards the animals were better than the standards at the Ladbrokes-owned GBGB track in Crayford, which we visited.
The Sub-Committee was concerned about a number of welfare issues that do not appear to have been fully addressed by the 2010 regulations. First, the regulations do not cover trainers’ kennels, where, as we have heard, racing greyhounds spend approximately 95% of their time. We found that a broad consensus agree that extending the regulations to include those kennels and incorporate them into the UKAS inspection regime is necessary.
Secondly, the fate of retired dogs that are unable to be rehomed at the end of their careers was unclear to the Sub-Committee. We heard from the Greyhound Forum that between 1,000 and 3,700 dogs are unaccounted for each year. I was personally unconvinced that the introduction of microchipping would address that issue, improve traceability or remove the uncertainty about the dogs’ fate. Finally, we were concerned about the inconsistency in the enforcement of greyhound welfare standards across England. For example, Dr Hazel Bentall told us:
“I have seen no evidence that the regulatory framework is consistent and moderated.”
The hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) rightly highlighted the absence and importance of baseline data on issues such as injuries, euthanasia and rehoming, which made it difficult to accurately assess the impact of the 2010 regulations on key welfare issues. Nevertheless, we identified two key questions relating to the effectiveness of the 2010 regulations. First, are adequate standards of greyhound welfare upheld under the current regulatory framework? Secondly, would a self-regulated industry see statutory guidelines as a minimum standard to be proactively built on, or is meeting the minimum requirement the full extent of its ambition?
We argue in our report that DEFRA must amend the 2010 regulations to require the publication of essential welfare data, utilising a database containing microchip data. We also argue that bookmakers profiting from greyhound racing have a responsibility to support greyhound welfare. Members of the Sub-Committee considered a statutory levy of 1% of gross turnover to be the most effective mechanism for achieving that. That recommendation addresses the finding that the existing, voluntary levy is ineffective and, as we heard earlier, not paid at all by Betfair, which is a major online betting exchange. Personally, I consider Betfair’s approach to be an abrogation of its responsibility to an industry that it profits from very significantly. I hope its customers and racing enthusiasts consider that abrogation when choosing where to take their custom in the future. We also argue that the 2010 regulations should extend beyond racetracks to cover standards at trainers’ kennels and include independent verification of those standards.
DEFRA’s response to the Select Committee’s report was published in June 2016. I was disappointed by the UK Government’s failure to support the sustainability of the industry. DEFRA noted its commitment to publishing statistics on injury and euthanasia, but did not require the GBGB to act until 2018. That point was well made by the hon. Member—my hon. Friend, perhaps—for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). It is deeply regrettable that the UK Government made no commitment to extend the regulations to cover trainers’ kennels. However, in September they published “Welfare of racing greyhounds: post implementation review”. That report is sadly an essay in procrastination. That, too, is regrettable.
The EFRA Committee’s report is a significant advance that highlights many of the greyhound racing industry’s failings. The UK Government’s response is not. I recognise the Minister’s personal interest in animal welfare, but the continued lack of commitment from the industry—particularly the large bookmaker-owned tracks—and the UK Government should shock the public.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to hear of your particular interest in this serious subject.
I congratulate the Chair of the EFRA Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and all members of the Committee on their excellent and, I think we all agree, thorough report. I thank them for the detailed work they undertook to produce it, and for the time they spent visiting racetracks in London and Doncaster. The report sets out the concerns not just of the Committee but of animal charities, veterinary professionals and others who gave evidence that helped the Committee to reach its conclusions and make recommendations to the Government. I share the frustration of Members who have spoken today and the Committee. I am concerned that the Department’s response to date has not been more robust.
The sport of greyhound racing has declined in recent years. It has been enjoyed in this country for more than 90 years, and I hope it will continue to be part of our sporting life for many years to come, but only if the welfare of the animals that make the sport such a pleasure is a paramount concern for all those responsible for looking after their wellbeing.
The EFRA Committee’s report focused on the welfare of the 15,000 active racing greyhounds and the effectiveness of the existing regulatory framework. It looked at the broader welfare situation, and made a number of practical and achievable recommendations, to which DEFRA must give more detailed consideration in its review of the 2010 regulations.
The EFRA Committee report acknowledges that the 2010 regulations have led to some improvements, but it is concerning that the report also states that it is possible to make only a subjective judgment about the effectiveness of the regulations because of the lack of data on key welfare indicators. That was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) and others, including the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). The Committee is right to ask that the regulations be amended to require the publication of essential welfare data relating to injury, euthanasia and rehoming numbers. As vets have stated, epidemiological analysis could improve greyhound welfare, so that has to be taken into account. Rehoming charities have said that the publication of data would allow them to make forecasts and plan their business, and owners and trainers believe it would reduce some of the criticism of the sport.
It is the aspects of the sport that the regulations do not cover that have proved to be of particular concern, as highlighted my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the Chair of the Select Committee and others. As has been said so many times this afternoon, the fact that trainers’ kennels, where racing dogs spend 95% of their time, are not covered is of concern to all stakeholders. It is generally felt that kennels should be included in the UKAS inspection scheme. I hope the Minister will comment on that. There is also the fact that kennelling arrangements differ between the two systems that have been described today.
The independent tracks that come under local authority inspection do not have the same level of inspection as those that come within GBGB’s remit. It is particularly important to raise the issue of the responsibility that the Department is happy to place on local authorities, because this very morning the Government announced harsh cuts to local government funding, yet in their response to the Committee the Government encouraged the LAs to make full use of their investigatory powers under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It is quite rich that we have had the announcement of harsh cuts today.
I agree with the EFRA Committee that the Department should consider encompassing the independent sector within the codes of practice being constructed with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, in particular with regard to what alternative would be considered if self-regulation and transparency fail to improve welfare standards for racing dogs at tracks operated inside and outside the board’s system. Also, the Greyhound Forum has said that up to 3,700 dogs are unaccounted for each year. Statutory microchipping will go some way to highlight this issue, but compatibility between the GBGB and other pet databases is needed to accurately track the whole life of a racing greyhound.
Perhaps most important, as highlighted by the Chair of the Committee, is the area of finance, which needs to be addressed in legislation. The EFRA Committee welcomed the Government’s assurances that pressure has been brought to bear on the betting industry with regard to its voluntary contributions towards greyhound welfare. Are the Government sure, however, that the industry will respond to a call for greater welfare contributions to avoid the imposition of a statutory levy? This has been said time and time again this afternoon. A levy seems much more preferable to waiting for a further voluntary response from the betting industry. After all, the voluntary scheme has seen a fall of 50% in the past decade. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the Committee’s call for a statutory levy—I am sorry to repeat that, but it is important to have one.
Overall, the Government appear to be paying lip service to the excellent recommendations made by the EFRA Committee. In the words of Paula Boyden, director of the Dogs Trust:
“The Government are not treating this issue with the severity it deserves—their proposed changes are minimal and lack the urgency needed to improve the industry. We have long campaigned and will continue to campaign tirelessly to ensure that these much needed changes to improve and regulate greyhound welfare are implemented.”
The evidence in the report gives the Government the opportunity to improve the welfare of racing greyhounds throughout their lives. I hope that the Minister will respond more fully today and will clarify for the Committee exactly when the outcomes of the review will be published.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, in particular because I know you have knowledge of and interest in the subject of the debate. I welcome this debate and the interest that the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and all the other members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have shown in prioritising this and other animal welfare issues for inquiry by their Committee.
I am also conscious that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) is something of an expert on the Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010, because I think he was the Minister when they were passed. The Committee clearly benefited from his experience. It is unusual for Ministers to be able to review their own regulations some years after introducing them. I am sure he enjoyed that experience.
As hon. Members might know, earlier this summer we had a rearrangement of portfolios in DEFRA. My noble Friend Lord Gardiner now takes responsibility for the issues we are discussing and will be taking them forward. However, I retain a passionate interest in the companion animal brief, and I am delighted to be able to represent it still in the House of Commons when we have debates such as this. I was also pleased to be involved in the early work of reviewing the regulations and, indeed, in giving evidence to the Select Committee.
The EFRA Committee report into greyhound welfare has made a significant contribution to our post-implementation review of the 2010 regulations. Before I come to the individual questions asked by hon. Members, it might be helpful if I briefly set out the areas in which the Government are in agreement with the Committee and what the Government said in our post-implementation review of the regulations, which was published in September, after our June response to the Committee.
For us, one of the EFRA Committee’s most important findings was that the introduction of the 2010 regulations appears to have improved the welfare of greyhounds at racetracks. That was one of the key objectives of the regulations when they were introduced. DEFRA’s own post-implementation review found that, when judged against their original objectives, the regulations have been broadly effective, especially in ensuring higher standards at independent tracks. I recall looking at the detail of that, and something as simple as ensuring a veterinary presence at all the tracks has clearly been instrumental in changing the culture. It is probably the single most important requirement of the regulations.
A key recommendation of the Select Committee report was that the industry self-regulatory body, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, or GBGB, should be given a two-year probationary period to prove that it can be an open and transparent regulator of the sport “without legislative compulsion”. The Government fully agree with the Committee that GBGB could and should have done more since the introduction of the 2010 regulations to prove itself to be open and transparent. However—again, we are in agreement with the Committee—we have seen no evidence of significant failings on the part of the board to suggest that it cannot fulfil that role or that another independent regulator is required.
With regard to standards at the track, the board’s ability to self-regulate is legislated for by its continued accreditation for track standards by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, or UKAS. UKAS provides independent, external oversight of GBGB’s performance as a regulator of standards at GBGB tracks. Should GBGB lose its UKAS accreditation, it will automatically lose its ability to self-regulate track standards, responsibility for which would then fall to a track’s local authority. One of the key findings of DEFRA’s review is that the system of enforcement of the standards in the greyhound regulations, taking account of the GBGB’s UKAS accreditation, appeared to be satisfactory in maintaining track standards. Indeed, we want to see that type of model replicated for the board’s enforcement of standards at trainers’ kennels, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members.
As part of DEFRA’s review, the board agreed to sponsor a British Standards Institution publically available specification for trainers’ kennels, which the board will adopt as the standard for its trainers’ kennels licensing scheme. The board will then seek to extend its UKAS accreditation to cover the kennel licensing work. I believe that proposal goes a long way towards addressing the concerns expressed by many hon. Members about standards at kennels away from tracks.
The Select Committee recommended that we extend the 2010 regulations to cover trainers’ kennels. Our review did not rule that out. The Government want to see how the greyhound board delivers on its commitments before we consider what further regulations might be needed. Given that we have an undertaking to introduce a new BSI standard for trainers’ kennels and to make that part of the UKAS accredited scheme—which the existing system predominantly is—it makes sense to see how that works before making any decision to regulate. We have been clear that if necessary, we will regulate, because it is important to keep the board’s feet to the fire and to make it understand the stakes.
I am sorry if I missed this, but did the Minister say what the timescale was for introducing the new BSI standard?
We do not have a timescale, but I believe that the board is developing the standard now. We expect to see it developed, certainly during the course of 2018. Indeed, we have decided to delay the introduction of some of the small legislative requirements necessary until we have had an opportunity to review how the BSI standard is working.
The Government also want the board to deliver on the other commitments it has given to Ministers, which tie in closely with the Select Committee’s recommendations and its proposed two-year probationary period. The board has agreed to begin publishing annually from 2018 figures for the number of dogs injured and euthanised at GBGB tracks and the number of dogs that leave GBGB racing, including an explanation of what “leave” means.
I thank the Minister for going into so much detail about our report and how the Government are implementing quite a lot of what we recommended. I just question why it is necessary to wait until 2018 for those figures. Either GBGB has them or it does not. Why can it not bring them about now?
I will move on to that point, which my hon. Friend raised in his speech. I had that conversation with GBGB. The 2010 regulations required tracks to record those data as part of the local authority licensing regime and the UKAS regime run by GBGB, but those data were never actually collated centrally by GBGB. When I had that conversation with GBGB to secure its commitment to publish those anonymised data, it undertook to begin collating them forthwith. That happened to be earlier this year, so a full set of annual data will be available at the end of 2017. That is what lies behind GBGB’s commitment to publish the data from 2018. I reassure my hon. Friend that I pressed GBGB to see whether the data could be published earlier, but it explained that it had not yet collated them and they were simply recorded by individual tracks. I took that at face value, and I understand what the board says. If we can get those data published from 2018, that seems an important step forward and will probably achieve things far faster than any regulatory device might.
My hon. Friend also mentioned kennels away from tracks, which I have dealt with already. GBGB is planning to add that to the UKAS accreditation scheme and is developing a BSI standard for it.
My hon. Friend made the good suggestion that it is important that we recognise and give credit to gaming companies that contribute to the voluntary levy. As part of its annual report, the British Greyhound Racing Fund publishes a list of all the bookmakers that contribute to that fund. I do not have a copy of that report with me, but I am reliably informed that it already lists and gives credit to everyone who contributes to the fund. It is open to the industry to name and shame those who do not contribute. Indeed, the industry would probably gain some kudos if it were willing to do that, because I have not heard any Member here express sympathy with people who freeload and do not pay their share. The industry and the racetracks may want to consider that.
In their response to the Committee’s report, the Government mention encouraging payment of the voluntary levy and naming and shaming, but would it not be a lot easier just to make that a statutory requirement so that everyone has to abide by the same rules and pay their way?
The hon. Lady makes a point that several hon. Members have raised. As she will be aware, this area of legislation is a matter for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. There is already a statutory horse-racing levy, which has issues of its own. To extend the remit in the way that she and others have suggested would require primary legislation—I do not think we could do that through secondary legislation—and I am told that there may also be EU state aid and competition law issues. Clearly, those types of obstacles will shortly be removed, and in that context the Government may want to revisit and reconsider the issue in the future. I simply say that it would not be as simple as she says to amend the legislation. I am sure that DCMS Ministers will look at this debate, since they are looking closely at these issues in the context of the horse-racing levy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton mentioned rehoming, which is a very important issue. There are estimates—they are only estimates—that around 8,000 greyhounds leave the industry, the sport, tracks and racing each year. The Retired Greyhound Trust and other animal welfare charities do incredibly good work. The Retired Greyhound Trust rehomes between 3,500 and 4,000 dogs, and we think that other welfare groups rehome around 1,500 dogs. Some people say there are therefore between 1,000 and 1,500 missing dogs.
We have got the GBGB to commit to publishing clearer data about dogs that leave the sport, in terms of what happens to them and what leaving means. I think we all agree that we should aim at all costs to avoid the euthanasia of perfectly healthy dogs. Wherever possible, we should try to rehome these wonderful, kind, loving dogs. I met two of them when a constituent brought two greyhounds that had been involved in racing to see me.
The EFRA Committee’s report made it clear in paragraph 60, on page 16, that the
“introduction of microchipping should significantly improve the tracking of greyhounds bred for racing from birth to death.”
Let us hope we get some progress on that.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse raised the issues of trainers’ kennels, which I have dealt with, and of disappearing dogs, which I believe we can make some progress on. He referred to the £0.5 million welfare initiatives fund that we mentioned in our response to the Select Committee, which I understand was the result of better than expected fund income and an underspend. That is obviously a welcome boost at a time when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, funds for this sort of work have generally been declining.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) highlighted some appalling cases of animal cruelty. I am as horrified by her examples and anecdotes as any other hon. Member or member of the public would be. I simply point out that every single case she cited is a clear breach of existing animal cruelty laws. Those cases breach the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and would have breached animal welfare legislation predating the 2006 Act.
The hon. Lady also said that we should have a moratorium on the opening of new tracks. I am not sure that that is the challenge we face. We have some 28 tracks in total, 24 of which are under a scheme with the GBGB. Only four are regulated by local authorities, and they are small independent tracks. I am not sure that the challenge we have is dozens and dozens of new tracks opening up and causing new problems. This sport does not seem to be expanding; if anything, it might be losing popularity. I therefore do not believe that we need the type of moratorium she suggests.
The hon. Lady and several other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), raised doping. That is already an offence under the Gambling Act 2005, and people can be prosecuted for it. Depending on what is used, it is also potentially an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow may take the view that there has been insufficient enforcement or that inadequate penalties have been applied in some cases, but the legal remedy for those issues exists.
I thank the Minister for clarifying those issues. Is there scope to put more resources into prosecution and ensuring that regulation goes much further?
There may be opportunities to review enforcement. Indeed, in DEFRA at the moment we have concluded another review of animal licensing establishments, where we are looking at getting more consistent enforcement across the piece on animal welfare. I am sure that I can look forward to another debate in this place because the EFRA Committee has also undertaken an inquiry into some of those proposals, which we are considering at the moment.
I may have misunderstood the hon. Member for Redcar, but she appeared to suggest that the Animal Welfare Act does not apply to the independent tracks or all tracks. That is not true. Whether a racing track is covered by the UKAS accreditation scheme or indeed by a licence from a local authority, all tracks and everyone at all times are covered by the Act—there is no exemption. The 2010 regulations supplement our animal welfare legislation; they are not an alternative to it.
The shadow Minister, in that vein, raised the level of inspection of those small independent tracks. That is ultimately an issue for the local authority. There are only four such tracks and only three local authorities are involved in licensing them, so the local authorities tend to be very familiar with the tracks they license and are in a good place to judge the level of inspection that is required. It is often the case that the smaller tracks tend to be for hobby racers rather than the professional industry, and we often have fewer issues with them. Therefore, in some circumstances a local authority may deem that an annual inspection is unnecessary.
I am grateful to the EFRA Committee for both its scrutiny of this matter and its report. The report’s findings support DEFRA’s own review of the 2010 greyhound regulations. Both the EFRA Committee’s report and DEFRA’s review found that there had been a number of successes in the past six years, as well as areas in which the industry could and should have done more. The GBGB is beginning to address those concerns, and we have agreements with it to do so by 2018—a two-year probationary period. Should the board fail, the Government will consider other approaches, including regulation.
I thank the Minister for his full reply and for endorsing much of what we put in our report. Including me, there are four Members who sit on the Select Committee in the Chamber—my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) has just left—and the beauty of a Select Committee is that we can look in great depth at what is happening, so we can visit the tracks. I congratulate the Minister on meeting the industry, seeing what is happening and drilling down on that.
First, the greyhound is bred. We then have to ensure that the greyhound is microchipped and that all microchipped greyhounds are registered. Once those greyhounds are registered, we will know what happens to those who have been used for racing when they finish their careers. That is essential. We have got the necessary components together and, as the Minister said, if GBGB can deliver that—it must be delivered by 2018—we will have the data, and then the Retired Greyhound Trust and other greyhound charities will be able to rehome these greyhounds so that they can have a good, decent life.
We also referred to kennelling not only at the tracks but at the trainers’ premises, which is essential. When we went to the tracks, we found that they were reasonably well managed: there was veterinary supervision on the tracks and the greyhounds were inspected. It is what happens to them when they leave the track and when they are at the trainers’ kennels—we must be certain that they are being well looked-after. A greyhound cannot be just a commodity that is used as a racing machine and then discarded at the end of its working life. It has to be looked after properly, and all those who can be rehomed must be rehomed. We must know where they all are. There cannot be a number who are euthanised. From an animal welfare point of view, perhaps some—unfortunately, due to injury—may have to be euthanised, but euthanasia cannot be used as a way of discarding the dog at the end of its working life. Because they are brought in to do a job, they create a great deal of resource for the industry.
I cannot emphasise enough that the gaming industry must step up to the plate. Let us praise to the hilt those who are making a contribution to the retirement of greyhounds, but let us name and shame those who are not. If the betting industry in greyhound racing does not step up to the plate and make a contribution, I urge the Minister, as he said he would at the end of his speech, please to consider some form of legislation. In the meantime, let us name and shame. Let us shout that from the rooftops in this House and beyond, and let us hope that the press coverage we get covers this, which is one of the key points. People who are interested in greyhound racing and want to lay their bets on a race should, please, look at those bookies and see whether they are making that contribution to the retirement of greyhounds.
We can all work together across the parties. What showed today was that, whether we are Members from Scotland, from the Opposition or from whichever party, we all want to see better greyhound racing and better welfare for greyhounds, particularly retired greyhounds. I thank very much the charities who take on the work of rehoming all the greyhounds that it is possible to rehome.
This has been an excellent debate, and I thank the Minister again for his direct input into animal welfare. My final point is that the EFRA Committee must be a good training ground for both Ministers and shadow Ministers, because both the Minister and the shadow Minister were members of the Committee in the previous Parliament. May I wish everybody a very happy Christmas?
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Second Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2015-16, Greyhound Welfare, HC 478, and the Government response, HC 133.