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Animal Welfare: Greyhounds

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they propose to take to ensure that retired racing greyhounds are dealt with humanely.

My Lords, the Animal Welfare Bill, currently before your Lordships’ House, will introduce an offence of failing to provide for the welfare needs of an animal. That will apply to owners and keepers of all animals, including racing and retired greyhounds. In addition, we are considering making specific regulationsunder the Bill in relation to the welfare of racing greyhounds.

My Lords, the House will be encouraged by the Minister’s comments, but I fancy that the public outside may need a little more persuasion, particularly in view of the fact that this week there was some emotive and rather misleading publicity about putting down dogs—that is why I asked my Question. Is not the reality that there are about 3,000 fine racing greyhounds in existence at any one time that are bred exclusively for racing and for the enjoyment of their owners and the public? They have a very short racing life and little expectation of an existence after it. At the moment, the public perceive, probably accurately, that, at the lower levels of the sport of greyhound racing, dogs are not put down humanely but are often abandoned in appalling circumstances. Will the legislation be complete and thorough enough to catch those who operate in less well regulated areas than the major greyhound racing organisations?

My Lords, the answer to the final part of the noble Viscount’s question is in the hands of the House. We have completed Committee, and Report is due in the overspill. Those issues were raised at Second Reading and in Grand Committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, like others, raised the point. There will be plenty of opportunity to raisethe issue.

The noble Viscount said that there had been an erroneous press report, but I do not know whether it was erroneous. An investigation is going on. Wehave asked the National Greyhound Racing Clubto investigate. Other appropriate investigating authorities are looking at the issue, because it involves waste disposal, planning permission, animal welfare, the landfill directive and the income tax authorities. Plenty of regulatory authorities are able to look at those allegations.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board. Is my noble friend aware, despite what he has just said, that this abhorrent practice is not definitely illegalat the moment but is contrary to the rules of the National Greyhound Racing Club which, I am confident, will deal with the utmost severity with any licensed trainer who is proven to have been involved? Is the Minister further aware of greyhound racing's strong support for action under the Animal Welfare Bill regulations that would make the sanctions available to the NGRC, so far as the official industry is concerned, also available to be used against trainers at tracks not run by the NGRC?

My Lords, my noble friend is perfectly right: there are about 50 tracks, 32 of which are governed by the National Greyhound Racing Club, and there are about 18 independent tracks. Of course, one of the issues is to ensure that all animals, whether they are racing at the regulated tracks or the independent tracks or are retired, are properly looked after and that their welfare is considered.

This is an emotive situation, and we need to get the facts of the case. I understand that the National Greyhound Racing Club releases about 11,000 greyhounds a year into racing and that there are about 30,000 active dogs. The Retired Greyhound Trust has rehoused 35,000 dogs since 1974. It is clear when one looks at the sums—I do not know the exact number of dogs involved—that many dogs go missing.

My Lords, the latest worries that have been brought to light are but the tip of the iceberg. This problem has been going on for a very long time. Can we fully expect the Animal Welfare Bill to return quickly in the overspill? I am disappointed that it is to be left to the overspill.

My Lords, given that the overspill is quite a short period, it is reasonable to suppose that the Bill will come back quite quickly. It is in the hands of the House. The Bill will have its Report and Third Reading. We shall have plenty of opportunity to debate amendments to the Bill and to raise issues related to this point, and maybe we shall have a few more facts relating to this case—at the moment they are only allegations. As I said, plenty of regulatory authorities are able to look into the allegations.

My Lords, the Minister is answering questions about greyhounds. Does he agree that the problem does not solely affect spent greyhounds and that other sports animals may be treated in a not dissimilar way to what has been reported in the Daily Mail? One hopes that the Animal Welfare Bill will consider them as well as what has been in the news.

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says. Racehorses are sporting animals, andif they are slaughtered it is in a regulated slaughterhouse. There are rules for that, and the pet food industry probably receives the proceeds. I understand that about 1,000 greyhounds weigh about 20 tonnes, and greyhounds going to landfill that may or may not be regulated is slightly different. I hope that by Report we shall have many more facts about the situation.

My Lords, the Minister rightly says that the Animal Welfare Bill is the way to do this. Throughout the stages of that Bill, however, he has said that it is regulatory and that the detail is for the Government to bring in through regulation. Is that how he intends to deal with the greyhound issue?

Yes, my Lords. We have a working party set up to look at this with the industry. We have agreed to bring in some of the regulations earlier if necessary, in 2009 rather than 2010. I am not saying there is an instant solution. It may be that anything that has happened is quite legal. We must have the allegations looked into and not jump to judgment.

My Lords, why did the Government vote against the amendment tabled by my honourable friend Mr Hollobone, which would have brought in registration of all licensed tracks? That would have led to better overall welfare for all greyhounds in the end.

My Lords, it was for the reason that I have stated. A working party is looking at this. There are two sets of tracks. We want to ensure that the welfare of animals should not be differentiated according to whether they are at regulated or independent tracks. We need vets and welfare personnel to look at that. Also, we were in Grand Committee, so we did not have any votes.