Thursday 15 December 2016
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
[Relevant document: Oral evidence taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 13 December 2016 on Air Quality.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Fourth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2015-16, Air Quality, HC 479, and the Government response, HC 665.
Thank you for chairing this sitting, Mr Betts. It is lovely to see so many members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee here today to support our work on tackling air quality and our recent report. We took evidence again two days ago on air quality, so this debate is timely. It is good to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport in her place.
Tackling Britain’s air quality problem must be at the top of the Government’s agenda. Poor air quality contributes to around 40,000 to 50,000 early deaths every year in the UK. This is 20 to 30 times the number of people who die on our roads in traffic accidents every year. Poor air quality is a silent killer. In any other area of policy, the Government would be moving heaven and earth to get it sorted out as quickly as possible, and that is what we now need to do. The Government have been in court twice, and twice they have lost their case. This is a matter of urgency for the quality of life of all people in this country, but especially for those who live in our inner cities in hotspots of air pollution.
The Committee’s report in April 2016 said that poor air quality is a public health emergency and called for strong measures to tackle the problem, including an overarching Government strategy to tackle it in all sectors, with flexibility for councils to implement their own clean air zones with higher charges for the most polluting vehicles in those areas, a scrappage scheme for the oldest and most polluting vehicles and proper incentives in the low-emission vehicle market. We have an able Minister here today from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but she is not answerable directly to the Department for Transport or the Department for Communities and Local Government. Everybody—the whole Government, including the Treasury, which deals with vehicle taxation, and others—must work together to deliver a good and urgent response. We want action, not just words.
The Government are in the dock. Having lost their case in the Supreme Court in April 2015 for failing to meet the legal air quality limit, they then lost again on 2 November 2016. The High Court case was brought by the campaign group ClientEarth. The judgment was that the Government had not fully complied with the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling and that their old air quality plan was not up to scratch. DEFRA must now release a new draft plan for air quality by 24 April 2017 and a final report on 31 July 2017—four months away and seven months away.
Given that the Government have twice been pulled kicking and screaming into court to lose cases for breaching EU air quality limits, does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that post-Brexit we will not have that regime to ensure mandatory, legally enforceable air quality limits?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. Provided the Government do not tamper with the great repeal Act and that EU legislation automatically becomes UK legislation, there should not be a problem. I do not think the Government would do that for the simple reason that not only would it be wrong, but people in this country expect decent air quality. I think it will rise up the political agenda more and more, and I suspect that trying to water down environmental control on air quality would not be popular with anyone.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that 40,000 people are already dying prematurely, so there is no reason to think the Government are treating the matter seriously or that post-Brexit they will fulfil the legal obligations they are being dragged into court to fulfil?
We have two years at the very least before we leave the European Union. The case is being made that the Government must be answerable with a proper plan by July 2017, so I think much of this will be driven before we leave the EU. I still believe they would be very unwise and careless to try to water down legislation on air quality when people are becoming much more aware of the situation. It is reducing life expectancy and all Governments of whatever colour will be asked to commit to policies to improve air quality dramatically.
The High Court case was brought by ClientEarth. To lose once in the Court could be seen as careless; to lose twice is negligent. The Under-Secretary told the EFRA Committee that the High Court case was a wake-up call. How many more wake-up calls do the Government need? Urgent action is needed now to address the problem once and for all.
On Tuesday, the EFRA Committee held a fresh evidence session on air quality with the Under-Secretary who is here today and the Minister of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). The Under-Secretary said that air quality is a top priority for her and the Transport Minister. We need evidence, but in this case I am afraid the Committee was unconvinced by the evidence we heard on Tuesday that there is enough urgency in the Government’s policy. The Minister repeatedly emphasised the role of local government in tackling air pollution and that is absolutely correct, but we must make sure the Government give the necessary powers and in some cases the necessary resources for that to happen. The Committee fears that, as happens under all Governments of all persuasions, it is easy to say, “It’s all in the hands of local government; it’s not in our hands.” Then local government turns round to central Government and says, “The Government haven’t done enough. We don’t have enough resource or the necessary legislation.”
We cannot keep arguing about whose problem it is, because it is the Government—it is DEFRA—that is in the dock, and in the end we have to answer for it. I do sympathise with this Minister, because she has to, and I am sure will, work with all other Departments, but getting all Departments to work together is a challenge in itself. However, we must do that, because in the end people will die prematurely if we do not sort it.
We talk in the recommendations about a diesel scrappage scheme. That is for older diesel cars in particular. The Government should consider a scrappage scheme. We had evidence on Tuesday from witnesses who talked about that. I do not want to make it too complicated, but perhaps it could be targeted slightly at income as well, because what often happens with a scrappage scheme if we are not careful is this. The professional middle-class people think, “Well, this is a very good time to change our car. We have a car or two that are older and we can have a new car.” The problem is that many people in our inner cities who are driving older cars may not necessarily have the income, even with a scrappage scheme, to go out and buy a new car. Perhaps if we could target a scrappage scheme not only at diesel cars but at those who can least afford a new car, we could do something about the problem.
In addition, it is now possible to convert many diesel cars to liquid petroleum gas. That cuts their emissions by about 70%, but again, is it really wise to spend a lot of money on an older diesel car?
The current—illegal—Government plan provides for only five compulsory clean air zones, but we know that pollution in dozens of areas elsewhere in England exceeds EU limits. That is why the Government must look at the whole country when considering hotspots, which is where the high levels of pollution are. The answer to a written question that I tabled to DEFRA is that a full 40% of councils in the UK breached nitrogen dioxide limits in the last year. The problem is widespread in our country; it is not just in our biggest towns. All local authorities should have the power, and the funding, to implement clean air zones if they wish to. In October, the Government provided a £3 million fund for local authorities to bid from to improve air quality. That is a start, but it is a very small amount of money, considering the number of areas that will need clean air zones.
As I said, we had the Transport Minister before us on Tuesday. The interesting thing that the Government have not yet accepted totally is that, not quite for a generation but probably for 15 years or more, there has been a push towards diesel cars. It has been advantageous to have “cleaner” diesel: people pay less road tax, and diesel cars emit less carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and are much more fuel-efficient than many petrol cars. Previously, the issue was carbon dioxide; now, it is very much nitric dioxide, so we have to start moving the taxation system away from supporting the diesel engine and towards hybrids, clean petrols and electric cars. A grant system is in place—I will talk about that in a minute—but we also need to use a bit of a stick in order to move people away from diesel cars. I understand the position because I have diesel cars; indeed, many of us in this Chamber will have. It is a fairly clean diesel, but we have to start to say to people, “You have to try to change your philosophy from diesel to petrol to hybrid to electric.”
Since the Volkswagen scandal, we know that many emission figures were completely fictional. We have only to pick up a new car magazine. There are various ones out there, and they will give us a list of the manufacturer’s claims. They will say, “This car will do 68 miles to the gallon,” and then they will say, “True figure: 45—Government figure.”
There is no doubt that we have to get away from that. It is not just Volkswagen making such claims; all sorts of people are making the claims. It is just that Volkswagen is the one that got caught. In the end, we have to have a true figure, so that when people go to buy a car, they know what the pollution levels are and how many miles to the gallon it will do. This applies to anything else that is bought and sold in life. Surely it is against the Trade Descriptions Act that we are buying something when the claim about it is not actually true. We need to do much more on that. The Government must ensure that vehicle companies’ marketing claims are fully accurate and reflect real-world conditions. When devising the new plan, the Government must take into account the most accurate figures on vehicle emissions. If the new figures show an even greater need for additional clean air zones, the Government must act accordingly.
On the VW scandal, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Department of Justice in the US took VW to court on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and is suing it for $12 billion, but I think that in Britain the figure is £1.1 million. Does he not think that through the British Government and, indeed, across Europe we should be taking firmer action against VW, given that we know the emissions are 40 times the EU limits because of the removal of the defeat devices, and that is literally killing thousands and thousands of people across Britain and Europe?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I suspect that the Americans took the case for various reasons—not just because of the pollution from the vehicles, but because they wanted to ensure that European vehicles did not get so much into the American market. However, we have missed an opportunity to drill down on Volkswagen. As I said, on Tuesday we had the Transport Minister before us, who said that the Government are now looking to sue Volkswagen. It is good if they are, but we should have got on to that more quickly. Look at the congestion charges that people have paid. If their vehicle was more polluting than was suggested by the band that the vehicle was in, surely Transport for London has missed out on extra charges that should have been paid.
To go back to my previous point, I believe that if an individual has been sold a car that has not met the standards, they should be compensated also. This is not just about the Government; there is a case for the individual, too. I have some sympathy for Volkswagen because it is the one having to face the music, but if we take action against Volkswagen, that will perhaps ensure that the other manufacturers also perform better and do not go down the route of misleading people and putting out the wrong figures for their cars’ pollution levels. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) makes a very good point.
We call in our report for incentives for a low-emissions vehicle market. The Government have made considerable progress in that area. It was very encouraging to hear my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announce £390 million of extra funding for electric vehicles, including £80 million for charging points and £150 million for low-emission buses and taxis. If we look at our inner cities, where the hotspots are, there is no doubt that the issue is the buses and the taxis, but there are also a lot of delivery vans now. With the new style of life, in which many of us will order goods online, more vans and small delivery vehicles are driving right into our inner cities. In the short run we need to look at whether some of those diesel vehicles can be changed to LPG and others moved to electric. Lorries are even more of a challenge. There is no doubt that the diesel engine pulls a heavy load so much better than an electric or petrol vehicle would. Again, we have to look at that.
In October, the Government launched a consultation on measures to support electric vehicles. It included bold proposals such as a national roll-out of electric charge points and better mapping and information for consumers. It was heartening to hear the Minister of State for Transport state on Tuesday that the modern transport Bill in 2017 will “specifically address” electric charging points. This issue is cross-Departmental. I urge the Minister here today to continue to work closely with her counterparts in joint ministerial groups to give ultra-low emission vehicles the priority they deserve, to tackle air pollution and air quality. This is not only about having electric charging points; it is about making sure that people can charge quickly. If we are going to get people to use electric cars over a bigger area, they have to be able to charge those cars quickly.
I will move on to agriculture emissions—of course, transport emissions dominate press coverage, but other sectors also cause air pollution, including agriculture. Before I do, I must mention that there are also building sites where we have generators and many of the dumper trucks—all those things people use on a building site—that are all diesel; some are gas-converted, but many are not. I am sure that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) will talk about cruise ships and the need for electric to be attached to these ships so that they do not need to have their engines running while in port and here in London.
Turning to agriculture, the report recommended that farmers adopt practices that cut emissions of greenhouse gases and local air pollutants including ammonia. DEFRA needs to target support for farmers to improve manure and nutrient management and cut methane emissions through improved feeding for livestock. This is not just about the storage of manures; it is also about the spreading of them. It is about making sure that they are spread at the right time and, if someone uses artificial fertilisers, that those are put on so that they do not evaporate into the atmosphere.
One of the problems—being a practical farmer, I understand this—is that if ammonium fertiliser is applied and it does not rain, quite a lot of that fertiliser is released into the atmosphere. It is about trying to make sure that fertiliser is applied when it does actually rain. Believe it or not, even now, although the weather forecast is nearly perfect, it is not always 100% perfect—it does not always rain. Sometimes we can make sure that the fertiliser is injected into the crop. If we can get this right, not only would having less ammonia going up into the atmosphere be an advantage to the environment, but it would be a huge advantage to the farmer because he would be applying less nitrogen and making better use of it. It is the same with our fertilisers.
The New Zealanders have done quite a lot of work on making sure that grasses grown are more digestible. Believe it or not, that reduces the amount of methane gas that comes from the livestock sector. I declare an interest as a farmer—I do not want to see the end of the livestock sector in order to see less methane gas. We have to work out a smart way of using that ruminant—a wonderful animal that digests lower-grade proteins and produces a high-grade protein—to make it emit less methane gas. It is not just nitrogen dioxide, but gases such as methane and ammonia, that contribute to these air quality problems.
In conclusion, clean air should be a right, not a privilege. This matter is not going to go away and it is inconceivable, in my view and that of the Committee, that the Government should lose in the courts on this issue for a third time. The first air quality plan was illegally poor. The Government cannot make that mistake again. It is time for a comprehensive strategy to tackle this problem once and for all. We need to have some real practical measures out there that reduce the amount of nitric oxide, in particular, that is in our inner cities. I can assure Members that the EFRA Committee will continue to scrutinise the plans that are published by the Government next year. We intend, only metaphorically, to hold the Minister’s feet to the fire and to ensure that we make good very good progress in the future.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Betts. I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee so well and with such authority. As he said, there is a degree of curiosity about the fact that we are speaking to the Minister today, having had some robust exchanges with her only two days ago in the Committee. I am sure that we will come back to that.
I will be brief because in his opening comments the Select Committee Chairman effectively detailed the Committee’s main recommendations, and I am sure that the Minister will focus on the responses, so I do not see any need to repeat what the hon. Gentleman said. The one comment I will make before focusing on ship emissions on the Thames, is that were 150 people dying prematurely from any other cause in Britain, there would be a massive public outcry and a demand for immediate action from the public and the media. However, this silent killer escapes the scrutiny that it warrants except, occasionally, from the media and the Evening Standard in particular. That is clearly an exception because of the impact on London; it carried the report of the Select Committee’s exchanges on Tuesday in its columns yesterday, and the issue even made it into its editorial column because the issue is so important in London.
I want to focus briefly on shipping emissions from the Thames. To put this in perspective, on Tuesday, in response to questions during a discussion on the European directive on air quality, the Minister correctly said that poor air recognises no national boundaries. Obviously she is absolutely right, but neither does it recognise city boundaries or borough boundaries. On Tuesday, the Minister’s response to our exchange on the prospective emissions from the proposed cruise terminal at Enderby Wharf on the Thames was that, on the question of ship to shore power, the Royal Borough of Greenwich had carried out an impact assessment in its planning committee so it was job done. I am sorry to say that for many of us that was just not adequate. It is not adequate not only for residents in east London, such as Ralph Hardwick from my side of the river, who has been campaigning vigorously on this issue, but for residents on both sides of the river and in many parts of London.
It is not just residents, constituents, the Chair of the Select Committee and myself who are unhappy; the EFRA Committee collectively articulated unhappiness about this, as have the Mayor of London, the European Commission and the UK courts on two occasions, as the Select Committee Chair outlined. In his letter to the Minister on 14 December, he said:
“The Committee was disappointed with the information Ministers provided. We are extremely concerned that, despite the courts twice rejecting its plans, the Government has failed to grasp the serious impacts of poor air quality on British people.”
However, in the Minister’s defence, her position was qualified in two elements of the Government response to the Committee’s report. On page seven, in response to recommendation 8, the Government said:
“There will be no ‘one size fits all’ approach…However, it is important Clean Air Zones are co-ordinated from a national perspective”,
recognising that this is not a local borough issue or even a city issue. On page 15, in response to recommendation 22, the Government said that they
“recognise through the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Ports, that local air pollution may be abated through the provision of shore-side fixed electrical power to replace ships’ generators while in port. The NPS encourages developers including ports and shipping companies to examine the opportunities available for shore-side electricity connection, particularly in areas identified as having poor air quality. All proposals should either include reasonable advance provisions to allow the possibility of future provision of appropriate infrastructure, or give reasons as to why it would not be economically and environmentally worthwhile to make such provision.”
I am not sure that the Royal Borough of Greenwich council’s decision addressed either of those issues. The discussion we had in Committee on Tuesday—and have had for some months now—was that it was not down to the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s planning committee to decide on the matter, because it is a pan-London matter. In fact, it goes even wider than that. The Mayor of London has no locus and could not call in the planning decision. The Department for Transport has no locus either, and nor does the Port of London Authority. The Minister, who has responsibility for air quality, to whom we look to be our champion in Government, also does not have the power. Therefore, the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s decision is heavily undermined, and fatally flawed and compromised.
As I said, the Minister’s position was qualified by the two responses from the Government to the recommendations that I mentioned. Further, in response to question 93 in the oral evidence session, her senior colleague, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), said:
“We have both said publicly that we are going to bring a further report, because we have to, given the decision of the court that the Chairman mentioned at the outset, and I would be surprised if there was not an expectation that we addressed this issue. It would be very odd if we left this issue out. I will certainly take away what you have said and we will discuss it in the inter-ministerial group. I would certainly want to address this before the date you suggest.”
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister can confirm that her joint ministerial committee will address the issue of emissions from the Thames. It would be really helpful if she set out in her winding-up speech the frequency of the joint ministerial meetings and the timetable for its final report. This is a very important issue, particularly for London but to the whole country as well, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
I am probably something of an interloper today, given that I am not a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. However, I am a member of the Select Committee on Health, and this issue is equally important to members of that Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said, this is an urgent and important issue. The fact that there are 40,000 to 50,000 additional deaths in the UK each year shows how significant it is, and we are right to pay real attention to it. However, we need to realise that this is also a global issue. The American Association for the Advancement of Science calculated that in 2013 there were 5.5 million deaths as a result of air pollution worldwide; 1.6 million were in China and 1.4 million were in India. That does not make the issue in our country any less urgent, but it is important to put the debate in a global context.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that 10% of deaths in the UK are linked to air pollution compared with 17% in China? Let us not pretend that we are not appalling and that they are worse.
I would not be speaking in this debate if I did not think this was an important issue. We all have a shared purpose, wherever we sit in the House, in wanting to take serious action on this issue.
Going from the global level to a local one, the constituency I represent has three market towns. One of them, Dunstable, has an air-quality management area in the town centre and in the Luton Road area. There are 37 different monitoring points for air quality in that area. I remember many years ago, not long after I was first elected, my excellent GP in the centre of Dunstable telling me that many more children who live in central Dunstable—close to the A5 trunk road, which goes through the middle of the town—suffered from asthma than the children who lived in Dunstable’s suburbs or the villages around the town. That is replicated up and down our country, not just in town centres. People who live next to busy roads are affected, which is something that we absolutely need to bear in mind in future planning decisions.
I completely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton said about making sure that we transition from dirty energy in road transport to cleaner energy in an affordable way for our constituents. We all want clean air, but people have cars to get to work, to take the children to school and to go about their daily lives. Cars are a necessity for very many of our constituents. We need to think about who the people are who drive older diesels. They will mainly be constituents who are perhaps less well-off, which is why they are driving an older car that is a bit more economical. It is really important that we provide mechanisms to help constituents on lower incomes transition to cleaner vehicles, and I very much hope that we will.
In May 2011, I held a Westminster Hall debate on ultra-low emission vehicles. The then Transport Minister replied to the debate by saying that the Department had “two objectives”, which were
“to create growth and to cut carbon.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 382WH.]
Those objectives are both excellent. I hope that today the Minister, who I know really cares about this issue and is determined to make progress on it, will perhaps let us know about a third objective to go alongside the Department’s former second objective of cutting carbon—namely, to improve air quality. That would be very helpful.
I want to press the Minister on the scale of our country’s ambition and policy on ultra-low emission vehicles. When I held that Westminster Hall debate some five-and-a-half years ago, I noted that the Committee on Climate Change had said that the United Kingdom should aim to have 1.7 million ultra-low emission electric vehicles on our roads by 2020. At the time there were only 57,000, and I said that the total of 57,000 was a pretty small share of the then 28.4 million cars on our roads. I also noted that Japan had the much higher goal that 20% of all its vehicles would be electric or plug-in hybrids by 2020. It is important that we have world-leading ambition in this area so that, first, we get clean air, and secondly, absolutely critically, the United Kingdom is right at the forefront of benefiting—to ensure that we have good jobs, economic prosperity and growth—from this industry, which is taking off around the world.
Staying with the far east, China’s goal is to have 5 million all-electric and plug-in vehicles on its roads by 2020, and a number of Chinese companies are already working actively in that area. Zhejiang Geely has bought the London Taxi Company and is making the electric TX4 Euro 5 London taxi cabs, which will be launched in the middle of next year.
China Daily has referred to Norway and the Netherlands as
“leading electric vehicle growth in Europe”.
I am disappointed that China does not believe that the United Kingdom is in that position and I look forward, with interest, to what my hon. Friend the Minister will say on that when she winds up. Norway and the Netherlands plan to phase out diesel vehicles entirely by 2025, as do, at the city level, Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City.
On the bus front, it is good to see that the Chinese battery company, BYD Company or Build Your Dreams, has teamed up with Alexander Dennis, the British bus company, to bring electric buses to London, Liverpool and Nottingham. I echo what the Chair of the Select Committee said about the need for joined-up, cross-Government action within this area, but I am most concerned about how we are tracking whether the United Kingdom is on target to meet our 2020 objectives. I would like reassurance that there is a real mechanism to look at that, and that, where we are falling short, Ministers are getting their heads together to take the appropriate action to ensure that we are a world leader in this area not just for our constituents’ health but for the benefit of the United Kingdom’s economy.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to see you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I was not a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee when it prepared this report, although I have subsequently joined and was there for the evidence session on Tuesday, when the Minister once again reassured us that air pollution was a top priority for her Department and, indeed, for the Government. Some of us remain to be convinced, including the courts, as we have seen with the recent ClientEarth proceedings and with the news that the European Commission is taking the UK Government to court for their failures in dealing with the Volkswagen scandal.
In its response to the report, DEFRA described its air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide as “an ambitious plan”, which rather begs the question why it was snuck out on the last day of Parliament before last year’s Christmas recess, hidden in a flurry of written ministerial statements. We will, no doubt, get a similar flurry next week. In its response, DEFRA also rejected the Committee’s call for a comprehensive strategy on the grounds that:
“The national air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide already sets out a comprehensive plan”.
But, as we discovered on Tuesday, it only covers NOx. It was disappointing that the Minister did not seem to appreciate, when we spoke on Tuesday, that it was time to update the 2007 plan, which covers all air pollutants. It was more reassuring that the Minister of State, Department for Transport seemed to accept that it was time to do so.
It was also worrying how many times the Government’s response to the report was simply to repeat:
“£2 billion has been committed since 2011”,
with little mention of future plans and funding. DEFRA’s contribution, the air quality grant scheme to support local authority action, went down from £3.1 million in 2012-13 to just £0.5 million last year—a funding cut of 84%.
The Select Committee report expressed concerns about weak national leadership and evidence from the ClientEarth court case suggests that it is the Treasury that has been leading on air quality policy, not DEFRA, by blocking measures to reduce pollution levels. If the Treasury is not prepared to listen to the public health arguments and the moral arguments that we are facing a real emergency, perhaps it needs reminding of the £20 billion that air pollution costs the UK economy every year —10 times the amount that the Government boast they have spent on improving air quality in five years.
Ministers should not need to be dragged through the courts twice to realise that their air quality plan is just not good enough. Ministers’ optimism has little basis in reality. Last year, DEFRA decided that just eight of the 43 air quality zones would still exceed legal limits for NOx in 2020, yet just one year earlier, 28 zones were still expected to be non-compliant. The reason for their belief in this rapid improvement was due to new modelling. Ministers were warned that if real-world emissions were much higher than expected, 22 additional zones would exceed the legal limit, and we now know that diesel emissions are up to 12 times the legal limit.
Why did Ministers choose to base their plans on such optimistic assumptions? Why did they try to block European Union legislation on random inspections of vehicles’ real-world emissions? Why did they support loopholes that give car companies permission to pollute well above legal limits into the next decade? Why are Ministers still ignoring passenger cars, even though they are responsible for 29% of NOx emissions in the UK? The answer, as we learnt from the ClientEarth court case, is that Ministers were not trying to reduce air pollution levels to safer levels, to limit the damage to people’s health, or to prevent premature deaths. For the Government, this was simply a bureaucratic exercise to avoid EU fines and further court action. My constituents and all our constituents are paying the price because Ministers decided that, to meet this technical requirement, they only had to worry about five cities: Southampton, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Birmingham.
Yet, as every Bristolian knows, we are never far from the top of the list of most congested cities. Parts of Bristol regularly exceed nitrogen dioxide limits and the World Health Organisation lists Bristol as one of the most polluted cities in the UK for particulate matter. Only this month, the city was warned that it was facing its worst air pollution levels in a decade, with the Government’s index scoring us a worrying nine out of 10. The consequences are clear. According to the British Lung Foundation, people in Bristol are 16% more likely to die of lung cancer than the national average, 12% more likely to be admitted to hospital with asthma and 40% more likely to be admitted to hospital with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A recent study indicated that nitrogen dioxide and particulates are responsible for 300 premature deaths in Bristol annually—8.5% of all deaths in Bristol each year. Perhaps the Minister would highlight to her Treasury colleagues the fact that air pollution costs Bristol £84 million a year.
The British Lung Foundation has expressed to me that only two schools in Bristol have air pollution monitors within 10 metres. There are three schools in my constituency alone in areas where nitrogen dioxide levels are illegally high. Thankfully, we now have a Mayor, Marvin Rees, who is committed to tackling our air quality crisis and has cross-party support across Bristol City Council for a clean air zone. Bristol has responded to the clean air zone framework consultation, has applied for air quality grants and is working with Core Cities on a comprehensive list of recommendations, although it is worth noting that the Mayor has written to me saying that it is a shame that core cities are required to compete against each other for air quality grants.
Bristol’s cabinet member for transport has recently announced with First Bus that routes along Fishponds Road, one of the busiest streets in my constituency, would benefit from a new fleet of low-carbon buses, so the council does understand the need to work with transport providers and taxi fleets. However, the Mayor, like the experts who gave evidence to the Committee, has made it clear that the council needs support from national Government to strengthen legal powers, fund investment, work with vehicle manufacturers and help with real-world data if we are to design effective clean air zones.
To conclude, I welcome the new joint air quality unit between DEFRA and the Department for Transport, and the recognition from Ministers that we need a cross-departmental approach. It was disappointing, however, that DEFRA refused to answer my written parliamentary questions on the work of the clean growth committee, in order to
“protect the integrity of the policymaking process”.
The public have a right to know whether Ministers are suggesting solutions to a problem that is killing tens of thousands of people every year. Is not such a complex problem that affects so many of us best addressed through open engagement, rather than through such cloak and dagger secrecy?
The Government’s response to the Committee’s report assured us that:
“Specific actions have been developed over the course of these meetings”.
So I do hope that we can hear more from the Minister about exactly what those specific actions are.
There is common agreement now that air pollution is an issue that we absolutely must tackle. Perhaps it is now time for a new clean air Act to be passed, some 50 years after the last one. I urge DEFRA to come back to Parliament with a comprehensive, forward-looking plan that includes detailed actions and specific timeframes. It really is time for an end to the complacency.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on a comprehensive and valuable report on the air quality crisis that we face in this country. I am pleased that the Committee is continuing to take evidence on DEFRA’s plans following the High Court ruling that the Government have comprehensively failed to address the issue.
There is a lot in the report, and I will briefly address a couple of its recommendations on vehicle emissions. The deterioration in the quality and safety of the air we breathe, particularly in cities such as Manchester, is increasingly acknowledged as a public health crisis. We know that air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths a year, that air pollution is linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease, and that 3,000 of our schools are on sites with dangerous levels of air pollution.
The report is particularly timely in light of the EU referendum result. There is no doubt that the EU has helped us to address air quality. EU regulations such as the 2008 ambient air quality directive have been important tools for campaigners to hold the Government to account. Just this week, EU Environment Ministers approved a new directive on air pollution that revises targets for member states in line with the Gothenburg protocol. The directive is predicted to halve premature deaths in the EU due to air pollution by 2030, so the EU has a strong track record of action on this issue. Working closely with our EU partners will be critical in the coming years, which is why there is such concern that, following the referendum, we are now at a crossroads. The scale of the challenge is huge.
From speaking to people such as Manchester Friends of the Earth and the British Lung Foundation, I know there is a real fear that leaving the EU could see us return to being the dirty man of Europe, notwithstanding what was said earlier about the repeal Bill. I agree with the Labour environment campaign and ClientEarth that the prospect of leaving the EU reinforces the need for a new clean air Act to bring the EU and World Health Organisation guidelines into UK law to ensure that we do not lose those safeguards in the long term.
The report raises a couple of issues that relate to Manchester. First, I welcome recommendation 9, which calls on the Government to extend new powers and support to councils that are ready to address air quality. Restricting the provision of clean air zones to five cities outside London limits the scope for supporting urban centres such as Manchester to play our part in reducing air pollution.
We are not restricting it. The difference is that the Government are requiring it of those five cities. Any part of the country can introduce a clean air zone if it wishes.
What we do not get in Manchester is the support and resource to do it, as the other five cities do.
I was told in July 2016 that Greater Manchester was denied funding and support for a clean air zone because of predictions that the city region would not break the EU directive limit. However, it emerged during the recent High Court case that DEFRA originally included Greater Manchester in the list of clean air zones, only to be told by the Treasury that we cannot afford it. Also, DEFRA’s air quality projections for Manchester have been widely discredited because they are based on static car usage and no population growth—in fact, Greater Manchester’s population has grown at double the UK average over the past decade. Despite our fantastic progress on public transport, particularly our Metrolink, 58% of journeys within Greater Manchester are still made by car. Now that DEFRA is having to revisit its air quality strategy, I urge the Minister to think again and support Manchester in implementing a clean air zone.
Secondly, we all got it wrong on diesel vehicles, and the Government now need to take stronger and faster action. The direction of travel across the world is away from diesel cars and towards low-emission vehicles. As has been mentioned, just last week Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens joined Tokyo in moving to ban diesel vehicles from their city centres.
Recommendation 19 calls for a national diesel scrappage scheme, paired with grants for purchasing low-emission vehicles. Funding for new refuelling infrastructure for low-carbon vehicles is welcome, but it is clearly not enough on its own to get high-polluting diesel cars off the road. In Manchester we have taken promising steps to modernise our bus fleet and increase the number of charging locations for electric cars, but we need the Government to show more leadership. It is time for the Government to follow our international partners and take serious action. A scrappage scheme for diesel cars would demonstrate such action, so I repeat the calls made by other Members to reconsider that proposal.
I will not speak for long, but I return to the High Court case brought by the lawyers at ClientEarth. The case exposes the Government’s lack of ambition to address our air pollution crisis. The verdict shows that the Government are committed to scraping by but, following the EU referendum result, that approach will not be enough.
Recommendation 7 sums it up perfectly:
“the Government must accord poor air quality a priority commensurate with the toll on the nation’s health and environment.”
That is absolutely what we need now.
I welcome the report. I serve on the Environmental Audit Committee, and I have proposed the Clean Air Bill that, in essence, calls for the development of sustainable public, private and commercial transport by road, rail, air and sea. Obviously, the background is diesel pollution. The Clean Air Act 1956 was passed to confront the 12,000 deaths in London in one year, 1952. Now we are seeing 9,400 deaths in London, and 40,000 across Britain, every year. We are looking at a silent killer on an industrial scale. At best, the Government’s position is complacent and negligent. They have been dragged into court and forced to abide by EU standards. The strategy is minimalist, rather than an holistic approach that confronts the real problem. We know that people are dying, be it through heart attacks, lung disease or strokes. Unborn babies are being exposed through the placental wall.
The Select Committee Chair mentioned VW, and it is appalling that VW’s NOx sensors were allowing 40 times the EU pollution limit. As I mentioned earlier, the US has taken firm legal action and sued VW for $12 billion, but the EU and the UK are doing virtually nothing vis-à-vis VW. We know that we need to take action.
I have been working in conjunction with the Health Alliance UK on Climate Change, which includes the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, The Lancet, The BMJ, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of General Practitioners. We have seen the huge protests by doctors against diesel deaths. People are getting wise to the fact that they are driving around inside silent killers, and that politicians of various hues have overseen an increase in diesel cars from a market share of some 10% in 2000 to 50% of new cars now. Nearly 40% of the stock is diesel. Of course politicians are frightened of doing anything, but they must do something to save people’s lives and to save future generations. Poorer people and children disproportionately live near highly congested areas.
I completely agree with the Select Committee’s recommendations, and I want local government to be empowered to provide more infrastructure, such as modern electric trams. I want local government to be able to restrict diesel and heavy-polluting cars and vehicles from entering areas where there is particular vulnerability. I want the Government to introduce complete infrastructure for electric and hydrogen vehicles. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, electricity must be provided for ships that are coming into port and polluting local areas. There is another debate to be had about ships. Ships in the North sea create more pollution, diesel and otherwise, than the totality of transport in Britain.
We need to think about the wider picture. The Chair of the Committee mentioned agriculture and methane from cows; we must think about how to manage that as well, by promoting vegetarianism and encouraging best practice. We need to reduce the massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and the production of methane through agriculture. I know that people have been reconsidering Heathrow airport. A lot of the testing for the airport was based on old-fashioned modelling that underestimated the amount of emissions from cars roughly fourfold, did not even factor in emissions from the planes themselves, which will increase in number from 480,000 to 700,000 a year.
It really is not good enough. We have seen some action elsewhere: Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens are seeking to ban diesel within the next decade. There has been talk in Germany; a motion was passed in the Bundestag to stop the sale of new diesel cars altogether across the EU from 2030. There are calls, whether caused by Brexit or otherwise, for the Government to support investment in hydrogen electric cars. In Swansea, we welcome the electrification of the railways, but it will not happen until 2024, and the trains will be diesel and electrified. Meanwhile, in Germany, they are developing the first hydrogen trains. We are absolutely miles behind and pretending to be at the front of the game.
The basic point that needs to be made is that we need a new, comprehensive fiscal strategy that encourages a clean and healthy future in terms of consumption and production and discourages bad, unhealthy and deadly behaviour. Since 1992, there has been basically no difference in fuel tariff between diesel and petrol, and despite inflation there has been no growth in either of them since 2010, so the real cost of diesel—the cost of promoting death—has been cut. We need differentials to emerge between diesel and petrol, and particularly in order to encourage electric and hydrogen.
I know that time is pressing for the Front-Bench speeches, so I will bring my comments to a close. I completely support what has been said in the report, and I think that much more must be done. I will circulate my detailed Clean Air Bill for comments and contributions, to help push forward on this growing problem for people not just in London but across Britain who want to protect themselves and their children from unnecessary death.
We now move to the Front-Bench speeches. We are not restricted to concluding this debate by 3 o’clock; the two debates together may take three hours. There are 10 minutes for each of the Front-Bench speeches on this report, and the Chair of the Select Committee has the right to make a brief response at the end.
This inquiry was conducted by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, led by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). As a member of the Committee, I was pleased to participate. We published our report on 20 April 2016, after close scrutiny of 56 items of published evidence and four evidence-gathering sessions.
The Committee framed a number of recommendations, offered the UK Government additional advice and commented formally on a number of vital matters. We also endorsed the UK Government’s approach to certain aspects of new road transport technologies. In developing our recommendations, the Select Committee considered 12 important themes relating to UK Government policy and air quality in England. The themes included: the integration and reinvigoration of UK Government actions and policy; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs air quality strategy and analysis of cost relative to benefit; DEFRA nitrogen dioxide plans; how best to fund local action; EU emissions tests and the impact of test inaccuracies on DEFRA plans; the use of so-called defeat devices in software by Volkswagen; new road transport technologies; and emissions from ships, agricultural and greenhouse gases.
Despite mounting evidence of the health and environmental impacts of air pollution, the Committee found little evidence of a cohesive cross-Government plan to tackle emissions and improve the quality of the air that people breathe in England. In part, the Government’s narrow focus appeared to relate to a failure by the Cabinet Office to establish clear duties and policy responsibilities for each Department. Furthermore, we observed that Ministers must begin to develop more open and transparent communication strategies in order to engage with the public. In that regard, we were unimpressed by the Cabinet Office’s role in co-ordinating policy development and found the work of the inter-ministerial group on clean growth to be opaque.
Disappointingly, DEFRA policies aim to cut air pollution to the legal limits, although it is known that actual threats to health and the environment are evident at much lower levels. DEFRA policies therefore lack ambition, making little attempt to calculate whether cost-effective means can be developed to meet real-life demands representing much tougher targets. Such calculations could be based on robust evidence about the benefits of cleaner air against the costs of policies needed to achieve it, such as imposing constraints on polluting industries.
The Committee demonstrated that enhanced information flows are required within DEFRA if the contribution and value of clean air to society is to be identified and acted on. We also identified that DEFRA policies must begin to incentivise voluntary action rather than regulation. Mandating lower pollution is clearly not the most cost-effective method of encouraging a general focus, and it typically results in a compliance-focused approach by industry in relation to specific activities, rather than the development of a more generalised approach that seeks to accrue benefits associated with a more positive state of affairs. The Committee found DEFRA’s overall approach to reducing pollution likely to result in a compliance culture.
Emission reduction targets should be based on scientific evidence and strategies for pollution reduction based on effective cost-benefit analyses. Ministers must set out with absolute clarity the actions required across Government if the public are to be reassured that the Government are committed to improving air quality substantially. It is worth noting that parts of London, such as Oxford Street, now represent the most polluted environments in the world. The scale of the challenge facing the UK Government in England on emissions is immense, but the public will be interested to know that the UK Government are largely not addressing it.
In particular, the Committee was told that DEFRA’s plans for clean air zones will impose a one-size-fits-all category D model on cities from Southampton to Leeds. In London, there are also plans for an ultra-low emission zone, but our evidence demonstrated that few in power appear to understand what that means. We also heard evidence suggesting that the UK Government must give local authorities greater control to implement policy flexibly, in order to tailor measures better to local circumstances. For example, we took evidence suggesting that cities would find it more effective to limit vehicle access at certain times of day or target specific bus routes rather than to implement less considered blanket bans on access.
It was therefore remarkable for us to find that the UK Government have planning powers to levy charges discouraging the use of vehicles in specific areas only for the five cities with the highest levels of pollution, although it is known that dozens of identifiable areas breach current EU pollution limits. That finding sits at odds with many developing nations, and indeed with policies being implemented now to address pollution in cities such as Athens, Paris, Rome and Madrid. If the UK Government are to avoid having their air quality policies left in tatters, DEFRA and the Department for Communities and Local Government must fund wider programmes such as those supported by the local sustainable transport fund, which has demonstrated that it delivers benefits cost-effectively.
We also looked at specific measures to reduce emissions from shipping, agriculture, the building industry, public transport and cars. We endorsed the UK Government’s support for a wide range of technologies, including the provision of fiscal incentives such as lower fuel duty rates for cleaner fuels. We viewed positively new technologies such as gas-powered or hybrid vehicles and fully electric vehicles that can offer solutions for different transport needs. Sadly, however, the UK Government appear to be taking a technologically passive approach that is inhibiting support for the necessary research, development and implementation of low-emission technologies.
Indeed, the UK Government’s response to our inquiry has been disappointing, if not lamentable. Not only have they failed to address the Committee’s recommendations, but they recently lost two cases in the High Court in respect of their failures to implement appropriate measures to limit pollution. On 8 December, the European Union initiated legal proceedings against the UK Government for their failure to apply penalties against Volkswagen and, more worryingly, for failing to disclose full information to the EU Commission. Those failures and omissions are instructive. They are also a damming indictment of ineffectiveness—all the more so since the Minister herself told the Committee only this week that air quality was her “top priority”.
We have found that DEFRA’s approach is based on predictive assumptions that are too cautious. A history of failure to translate theoretical standards into cleaner air means that it must keep its assumptions under review. At the current rate of change, it will be many, many years before ultra-low emission vehicles replace all the types of vehicles and heavy plant currently causing pollution. Faster progress could be made if further measures were introduced to encourage people to buy newer, perhaps unfamiliar and in many cases more costly, technologies. The UK Government must rise to that challenge or face the prospect of losing further credibility in the courts.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Betts.
While the High Court judgment on 2 November has subsequently reinforced the points made in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report, the Committee must be commended for the seriousness with which it has looked into air quality and not least for taking further evidence on Tuesday. I know that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and the Committee have made a number of recommendations, all of which the Opposition would support or even go further on under our plan for action. I note that the Government have failed to take the advice in the Committee’s recommendations and plan, despite having had 239 days since the report was published to put a plan in place.
The Government’s buzz-phrase about leaving the environment better than they found it is already wearing very thin, as they have had six years to make significant changes in this area and have now been told to do so on three occasions by the courts—the European Court too, we must remember. The Government have been minimalistic in their response and have been told by the judiciary to think again. They have been exposed, not only in their lack of progress on improving our air quality, but in their deliberate attempts to water down improved standards for the 2030 EU directive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) mentioned. The Government sought, through their MEPs, to adjust the ceiling on emissions to give Britain “flexibility” and allowed them to “adjust their inventory” if the country looked likely to breach targets. That is a scandal, and the Government must be held to account for it.
In the light of the Brexit discussions currently taking place, the question of exactly what form of regulation we will have over our air quality in the future is extremely worrying. While we are talking about leaving the EU, we must also be cognisant of what we have heard this afternoon about China’s air quality. If we are signing up to trade deals that will pollute elsewhere around the globe, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned, we should be incredibly concerned. We must ensure that environmental measures are written into all trade deals to improve international standards.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the case of CETA—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the EU—it is imperative that we build in air quality standards and compliance with the Paris standards, so that investor powers do not simply trump environmental imperatives?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. It is really important that we demonstrate in all our international agreements and dialogue that we can lead on this agenda. I want the UK to be at the forefront, but tragically we are lagging behind.
It is remarkable that, in addition to what has happened, the Government have failed to recognise the weakness in their own plan, despite warnings from the courts to take action over poor air quality. As we have heard, they had to be dragged to the High Court again this year to defend the indefensible: a plan that sought to limit air quality improvements in just five areas outside London, when levels of nitrogen oxides in 37 out of 43 zones are exceeding European standards. We also need plans in other areas to address particulates and ammonia, as we have heard today.
The Government have consistently lacked ambition and tried to avoid their obligations to address this serious health concern. The cost is early mortality. We have heard about the 52,500 premature deaths and about the global scale of respiratory and cardiac disease, which kill 30 times the number of people killed in traffic accidents. The number of people who endure respiratory disease from air pollution has not been calculated, but that is a serious issue too. People are gasping for breath day by day. A young person with asthma, an older person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—the suffering of those individuals cannot be overstated. I worked in respiratory medicine for 20 years and I can tell hon. Members how life-limiting such illnesses can be. We have also heard about the cost to the NHS of up to £20 billion—ten times what the Government are prepared to put into mitigation processes. The Government’s approach does not really recognise the scale of the crisis. Every life matters, and we need them to use every tool at their disposal to bring about fundamental change on their watch.
Let me welcome the Committee’s work and set out what a Labour Government would do. We would introduce a clean air Act, because we understand the urgency of the matter. We would mainstream environmental standards, not just in transport but across all Departments, and ensure that they are integrated into our industrial strategy. We heard from the Prime Minister this week that, remarkably, after six and a half years the Government have not got an industrial strategy. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the future of the car industry? As we have heard this afternoon, so many countries, including Norway, the Netherlands and Germany, are making radical changes to clean up their transport systems. They will be decades ahead of us, so it is important that we take urgent measures now. Why did the Government not intervene on their own plans when they learned about the fourfold shortfall between laboratory testing levels and real emissions, and revise their targets? DEFRA should publish the data on real-world emissions and should take seriously the Volkswagen issue, to ensure that those issues do not occur again.
A Labour Government would go further than just talking about scrappage schemes. We know that those schemes provide an economic boost and are very important, but we would also look at a retrofitting programme to give vehicles more access to opportunities to clean up their emissions, and we would put the right financial drivers in the system to achieve that. We would have clean air zones, as many of my hon. Friends have said today—not just in five areas, but right across the 43 areas. We would empower local communities, to ensure that the risk of failure is taken out of the system. We need a “can do” attitude from the Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington said, not a “can’t do” attitude.
I was taken by the Select Committee’s astute comment about the “polluter pays” principle. When that principle, which is one of the core strands of the Government’s strategy, applies to buses, it is the passenger who pays, so passengers will opt to use alternative vehicles. Avoiding unintended consequences and closing loopholes is so important. That is the responsibility of the Government, but it has clearly not worked so far.
There are so many things that Labour would want to do to improve the wider strategies. We need proper investment into moving people into walk-cycle strategies, and we need to reform the public transport system, as we have heard from other colleagues. At the centre of all this is economics, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) highlighted. What discussions has the Minister had with the Treasury to ensure that the whole process of cleaning up our air is properly supported, and what was the result of those discussions?
I could talk about agriculture, but the Chair of the Select Committee has made such a good case already. The fact that our air is so polluted affects our whole biodiversity system. Will the Minister say when we will see the long-overdue food and farming plan? It was promised before Christmas; I hope we will see it by then.
Finally, I wish to highlight the issue of measurement. In its response to the report, the Government said:
“Access to data and information is essential to enabling informed choices to be made on the best approaches to tackling the sources of, and reducing exposure to, pollution.”
Why was the air quality monitoring budget in 2011-12 twice what it is now? Why has the number of projects dropped from 42 to 12? It is so important to monitor air pollution, especially around schools, where young people’s lungs are developing and susceptible to pollutants. We have to measure what is in our air, so I want to see that budget restored to ensure that we are taking the right measures in the right places.
Tough action could be taken to clean up our air, and would be taken under Labour. The World Health Organisation describes air pollution as a “public health emergency”. The Select Committee said that the Government have failed to take a coherent, cross-Government approach. The High Court judge said that
“the Secretary of State fell into error”.
We say to the Government: clean up your act and clean up our air. I have been so encouraged by the ambition demonstrated in the debate thus far. I trust that the Minister will build confidence with clear direction today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank the Liaison Committee for granting this debate to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish).
Improving air quality is my top priority and I welcome the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s interest in this matter. Such interest is not unique to the Select Committee. Air quality has improved significantly over recent decades, through the regulatory frameworks put in place by successive Governments, starting with the Clean Air Act 1956 and continuing as we signed up to the international protocols that have been continually revised, usually brought into place by EU regulations. We have supported them. The standards have got tougher and I am determined that we will improve air quality further.
We are showing leadership in driving improved air-quality standards internationally through the Gothenburg protocol. As a result, in common with the rest of Europe, we now have legally binding targets to reduce UK air pollutant emissions by 2020, and to reduce them even further by 2030. The targets will be incorporated into our legislation by the end of June 2018. I will set out further actions in due course, including publishing the UK Government’s air pollution action plan, which includes all pollutants, and we must do that by no later than March 2019.
The Government’s ambition is that ours will be the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than we found it, which is why we are developing a 25-year environment plan that will include a strong focus on clean air. Our most immediate challenge, though, is to reduce the number of local pollutant hotspots caused by vehicle emissions. That is why the UK led the development of the real driving emissions test. From next year, vehicles will have to meet emissions limits in real driving conditions across a wide range of typical operating conditions. We have also committed more than £2 billion to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and to support greener transport schemes. In addition, in the autumn statement we announced a further £290 million to support electric vehicles, low-emission buses and taxis, and alternative fuels. As has already been mentioned, earlier this year we set up the joint air quality unit with the Department for Transport. The unit is focusing on reducing local concentrations of air pollutants from vehicles.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), we are absolutely determined to maintain international leadership on the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles. I recognise the figures he cites for Japan, but we have certainly been the largest market in the European Union this year, and the Government are increasing their support. In answer to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee, the UK already has the largest rapid-charging network in Europe. Alongside the comprehensive package of measures from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, we intend to introduce in the modern transport Bill powers to regulate technical standards of infrastructure to ensure the easy compatibility of vehicles, and to require provision at motorway service areas and fuel retailers.
Following the outcome of the judicial review, the Government are developing a new and more ambitious national plan for reducing local concentrations of air pollutants. We are working at pace to update our modelling, in the light of the latest evidence, to inform our plan. Many options are being worked up for us to consider, including fiscal matters. We have established a cross-Whitehall approach, and I have personally arranged to meet Ministers from the Department of Health, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Communities and Local Government. After those meetings and encouragement from DEFRA, the inter-ministerial group for clean growth was reconvened. We have started to meet monthly and are meeting again next month.
Officials from all the relevant Departments are working to consider what policies and funding will be needed to achieve our goals. Members should realise that the focus will be on carbon and air quality; I recognise that, as Members have said, carbon has been the focus in the past, without consideration of other matters. Meanwhile, DEFRA will continue to influence other strategies and policies as they develop. For example, we recently proposed a consultation on the impact of generators, which I suggest may have influenced a significant drop in the number of contracts being awarded for diesel generation in a recent capacity market. We will consult on the revised plan by 24 April, at which point I am sure the Select Committee will want to discuss matters further. The final plan will be in place by the end of July.
Clean air zones are a key element in our approach to reducing local concentrations of air pollutants, and local authorities already have the power to introduce them. I am pleased to say that Manchester is already considering introducing such a zone, without the Government having mandated it to do so. To support local authorities in creating them, and to ensure a degree of national consistency, we have published a draft framework for clean air zones. The consultation on the framework recently closed, and we received more than 200 responses, which we are now considering.
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) said that we would end up with a one-size-fits-all category D model, but that is not the case. Clean air zone standards will be varied by need: some will be category B, some category C and some category D. We will be requiring five cities—Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton—to implement clean air zones, and as part of our updates to the national plan we will look at whether we need to mandate more zones. As I said to the Select Committee, our indicative modelling suggests that that will be the case, but I need to discuss matters with the relevant local authorities before announcing anything to the House.
My hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee mentioned some other elements. Birmingham City Council is trialling the conversion of diesel to liquefied petroleum gas with taxis, but I am led to believe that it does not work technically for most cars. I know that costings have been done in the past for income-based scrappage, or a scrappage scheme more generally, but the Transport for London proposal about which my hon. Friend heard would not really work because it was talking about the exchange being for an Oyster card.
Alongside national Government action, I am encouraging local councils to do all they can to use existing powers to improve air quality and deliver real change, tailored to their local communities. Local authorities have opportunities to think about local land use and their decisions on planning, roads and, indeed, the local air quality management areas they themselves declare.
Alongside giving that opportunity to local authorities, what resourcing is the Minister providing for them to take that work forward?
The hon. Lady will be aware that elements of funding are available as part of the air quality grant programme. The sum has increased at least sixfold since the previous grant last year. If we have good enough bids, we hope to work with the Treasury to consider how we can develop that funding further.
I recently sent letters to 230 local authorities with air quality management areas, seeking updates on their plans, and on their plans to move to compliance. From the number and quality of responses that I have already received, I have been pleased to note that positive action is being taken in many places. Mid Devon District Council has taken a lead role in the region’s low emissions partnership; Rushcliffe Borough Council is taking forward a number of transport and educational initiatives, while also reducing the council’s own impacts; and Norwich City Council has recorded a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide after improving traffic flow and introducing a new fleet of Euro 6 buses. The Public Health Minister and I have written jointly to all directors of public health to encourage them to show their influence on air quality at a local level. The Mayor of Bristol replied to my letter and I am pleased to say I will meet him next month, alongside MPs from Bristol.
There are other matters to consider, such as reducing emissions of particulate matter, which is also an important priority for me. The largest source of those emissions now is domestic solid fuel, such as wood and coal burned in open fires and stoves, the use of which has increased significantly in recent years. I am considering a range of options to address this issue, and as a first step I plan to engage with stove manufacturers and retailers to understand the issues and identify where improvements could be made, through industry-led action on cleaner appliances and fuel. In particular, one of the messages that I would like to give out before the Christmas holidays is for people to think about the choice of wood that they use when they have open fires, and to use wood with the lowest moisture possible, to reduce the production of soot and dust.
With regard to farming, our target is to reduce ammonia emissions, which have already decreased significantly over many years. However, we know there is more to do. As a first step, DEFRA recently launched a farming ammonia reduction grant, to encourage the agriculture sector to help drive reductions in ammonia emissions.
I note the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton raised on the use of fertiliser and grass feeds. DEFRA is also looking at greenhouse gas emissions, working with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to drive forward efficiency gains in the beef sector via the beef genetic improvement network.
My hon. Friend also referred to construction, with regard to non-road mobile machinery. We have worked closely with the European Union and the legislation on that area was published in September 2016.
I recognise that the decision made by Greenwich Council was unpopular with the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). According to the Mayor of Greenwich’s website, the decision was considered for call-in by the Mayor but he decided not to. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton will be aware that our right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport, has committed to look further at what can be done on shipping emissions, which I am sure is good news for air quality, not only on the Thames but around the country.
My approach on this issue is not to play the blame game or pass the buck. As was pointed out, a previous Government incentivised diesel vehicles, to cut carbon. I could casually blame them, but I just do not see the point of doing so. I do not blame local councils for this matter, but alongside our national strategy we need to take local action. As I have said before, improving air quality is my top priority and a top priority for DEFRA. We are committed to improving air quality across all levels of Government, to deliver the improvements that are needed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton has pointed out, co-ordinated action is absolutely needed, and I can assure him that that work is under way.
In that work, we have the backing of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who just last month said to the House:
“We have taken action, but there is more to do and we will do it.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2016; Vol. 616, c. 887.]
I call the Chair of the Select Committee to wind up.
I thank the Minister; the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell); and the “shadow Minister” from Caithness, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan)—I have elevated him, but he is a very good member of the Select Committee. I also thank the four other members of the Select Committee who are present today; I very much welcomed their support.
I also very much welcomed what the Minister said, because we do not want there to be a third court case that the Government lose, so that we perhaps end up being fined by the European Union for not meeting air quality targets. Nobody benefits from that—not our population, not anyone.
In our inner cities especially, there is a real problem. We will really have to work across Government together, we will have to work with local authorities, and we will have to address the situation in our inner cities. The problem is that although the number of electric vehicles is going up, they still make up only about 1% of our vehicles. In Norway, about 25% of vehicles are electric. There are lots and lots of ways to go. We talked about buses and taxis. But we must make sure that we all work together, because in the end when a man, woman or child is walking down our streets in London or across the inner cities of this country, they do not try to work out, “Is it local government, or is it the Government? Who is responsible?” All they want to have is clean air.
We can get there—I am certain we can—but we will have to put more resources in place. We will probably have to use a little more taxation in order to change people’s views on what vehicles they drive. I accept that, as the Minister said, diesel vehicles were promoted by the last Government, as well as this one; but I think we have got to start to put that into reverse—literally. I look forward to seeing the Government come forward with plans in that regard, because when they present their plans, first in April and then finally in July, we will need some real plans to tackle air quality, so that we are not back in this room, or elsewhere in this Parliament, debating this issue year in, year out, while too many people’s health continues to be affected by very poor air quality.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Fourth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2015-16, Air Quality, HC 479, and the Government response, HC 665.
[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.