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Animal Welfare Bill debate - Greyhounds – no grey areas

The welfare of racing Greyhounds was mentioned by a few MPs, some of whom were critical of the Government’s intention under the Bill to allow the Greyhound Racing industry to ‘police itself’. All agreed that there must be greater protection for racing Greyhounds, although most felt that this could only be achieved by an independent body that could inspect and assess welfare issues.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): "As many hon. Members will know, particularly those who are members of the all-party greyhound group, we have in my constituency a first-class greyhound stadium, and many Romford residents regularly enjoy a night out at the dogs. Last year, I was honoured to accompany Lady Thatcher on her visit to the stadium, where the noble Baroness watched the lunchtime races and was introduced to two of the winning greyhounds.

"Nevertheless, there is grave concern over the plight of many greyhounds once their racing career is over. About 35,000 greyhounds are at racing strength at any given time, beginning their racing life at 16 months, but usually finishing before the age of three. As a result, 9,000 greyhounds cease to race every year. Despite valiant efforts by the Retired Greyhound Trust, which re-homes about 3,000 dogs, and locally based groups such as the Romford Greyhound Owners Association, little information is available about what happens to the remaining animals. The industry is self-regulating. It wishes to sustain that arrangement because of the huge income that is generated, but the system has proved open to abuse, and in the absence of consistent monitoring of any dog's whereabouts, animals can end up being disposed of ruthlessly.

"Although virtually all those involved in the greyhound industry are animal lovers, there are exceptions, and I am sure that most of the industry will appreciate the extended protection that the Bill provides to dogs. It will legally enforce many of the practices undertaken by those within the industry. It will ensure that those owning greyhounds provide a safe home for them; if they do not, the consequences will be severe. With increased power, the RSPCA will be able to intervene earlier, and potentially save the lives of thousands of greyhounds."

Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) (Lab): "Two Members mentioned the 9,000 greyhounds that go out of service each year. Many excellent organisations try to rehouse them, and they do a good job, but it does not always work. Let us not forget that greyhounds are working animals and that a lot of money is involved in the greyhound industry. It seems to me not unreasonable for every greyhound owner to be required to register his dog, and for greyhounds that are to be disposed of to be found homes or humanely or properly destroyed by vets. There should be no more of the business of dogs being weighed down and thrown into rivers, because it is barbaric.
"Unfortunately, the tail end—excuse the pun—of the dog track organisations is not particularly well thought of in that regard. We hear a great deal of anecdotal evidence about cruelty to greyhounds. If a greyhound cannot run, if it cannot make money, if it is not a winner, many people decide that it must be disposed of because it is worth nothing. We do not do such things in a civilised society; we look for a better way of going about matters. There should be a proper registration system, and proper obligations. I know that the greyhound industry has some good systems in place, and I understand that in 2008 the Government will introduce regulations involving the industry. I hope that they will subject every dog track to statutory legislation. Self-regulation is possible, but if it is to work there must be a proper code of practice. The Government have an important task to perform in that respect."

James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East, Con): "My contention is that although greyhound racing is a fine sport, when one considers it in the context of animal welfare, it is essentially the use of vulnerable animals by the gambling industry for profit. The Government are not taking greyhound welfare seriously enough. They are too influenced by the British Greyhound Racing Board in their approach to the issue. As animal welfare Bills come round only once every 100 years, we have a wonderful opportunity to make a real effort to save greyhounds from unnecessary suffering and—ultimately and sadly—death.

"I wish to expand on the brief remarks that have been made about the greyhound industry. There are 30,000 active racing greyhounds on tracks that are owned by members of the National Greyhound Racing Club. There are also about 20 independent tracks that are not controlled by the NGRC. I know that the Minister has taken a close interest in greyhound welfare and that he responded to an Adjournment debate on the matter on 7 June 2004. However, it might be for the benefit of other hon. Members if I point out that the typical racing life of a greyhound is just two to three years. Some 10,000 of the 30,000 active greyhounds retire each year, but only about 2,500 are re-homed. No one really knows where the other 7,500 go. Some 5,500 greyhounds are bred for racing each year, but 2,000 of those greyhounds never make it to a racing track, and no one really knows where they go, either.

"The greyhound racing industry makes huge amounts of money. It is mainly the bookmaking part of the industry that is reaping the rewards. Some £2 billion is bet on greyhound racing each year, which represents almost a quarter of the total amount of off-course betting in this country. The Government receive a staggering £350 million in betting duty from greyhound racing. The British greyhound racing fund receives 0.6 per cent. of the turnover on greyhound betting. That voluntary contribution goes towards improving the infrastructure of greyhound racing tracks. Only a fraction of the money raised, which is somewhere between £7 million and £16 million, goes towards the welfare of the greyhounds themselves. Sadly, none of the money goes to independent tracks, which do not have the same standards as NGRC tracks.

"Many of the greyhounds that disappear suffer an unfortunate demise. It is suspected that most are put down inhumanely. Some are injected with antifreeze. Some are dumped on the side of motorways and left to wander off, or to be run over. Those with registration marks on their ears often have their ears cut off and others are shot. In an especially cruel case in 1994, 19 greyhounds were left in an empty quarry to starve.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the Government to impose statutory requirements on an industry which, although it has said that it will introduce voluntary improvements, is, sadly, not doing nearly enough or acting quickly enough. There needs to be a compulsory levy on all bookmakers because 20 per cent. of them do not take part in the voluntary scheme. We need strict statutory standards of welfare, not just a voluntary code; a mandatory provision of vets at all track meets; and a proper registration system and microchipping of greyhounds. All retired greyhounds need to be re-homed, and those bred for racing but which do not make it to the racing tracks also need to be sent to proper homes. All track and trainer kennelling needs to be to a minimum statutory standard. It is not just me saying this.

The EFRA Committee said:

"We are unconvinced by the argument that the greyhound racing industry should be allowed until 2010 to regulate itself and improve its own welfare standards."

"The Secretary of State started the debate by saying that many of the Select Committee's recommendations are included in the Bill. Sadly, for Britain's 30,000 greyhounds, that particular recommendation is not included.

"The Government need to ensure that independent scrutineers—vets who are independent of the promoters of events—are at all greyhound racing tracks. The greyhounds cannot blow the whistle if their welfare is not being safeguarded, so we need an independent inspection agency that does.

"The Government have set up a greyhound welfare working group, which has already set about its business. The problem is that there are eight industry representatives on the group and only three representatives from animal welfare charities. I suggest that that balance is wrong. I also suggest that the industry could all too easily stand of being accused of trying to bully animal welfare charities that are legitimately challenging the standards of care set by the industry.
"In the gambling legislation that the Government have put through the House, they have emphasised the strength and the importance of an independent regulator for the casino industry. Yet greyhound racing is in effect the use of vulnerable animals by an arm of the gambling industry. Therefore, there should be strong, independent statutory regulation. I very much hope that with this welcome Animal Welfare Bill, which has come along for the first time in the best part of 100 years, the opportunity to look after Britain's greyhounds is not lost. "

Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw: "We also want to ensure good provision of welfare for all racing greyhounds, whether they race under the National Greyhound Club racing rules or at independent tracks. We believe that that can be achieved through good regulation and, as several hon. Members have said, considerable progress has been made. However, we do not rule out regulation if we become convinced that self-regulation will not be effective. We should not forget that greyhounds, and all the other animals about which Members have expressed concern, will be immediately subject to the welfare provisions when the Bill is passed. The welfare of animals will not have to wait until the secondary legislation is made: animals will benefit immediately from the introduction of the welfare offence."