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The House divided: Ayes 136, Noes 1.
That the Standing Orders be amended as follows
(1) In Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business), line 18, leave out from 'committees' to 'which' in line 20 and insert 'to which that paragraph applies'.
(2) In Standing Order No. 121 (Nomination of select committees), line 10, leave out from 'under' to ', or' in line 13 and insert 'the Standing Orders of this House (with the exception of the Liaison Committee, the Committee of Selection, the Committee on Standards and Privileges and any Committee established under a temporary Standing Order)'.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, may I say at the outset that it is a privilege for us, at such a late stage in the evening, to see you here, having made your way from your chambers to listen to an Adjournment debate? I just wish that some of our colleagues in this place would follow your example, because tonight we are debating an important subjectthe welfare problems in and around the sport of greyhound racing.
As many hon. Members are aware, I have taken an interest in this subject over a very long period. I attempted to argue the case for a greyhound levy as far back as the 1980s, and I was a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs that held an inquiry into that subject and came out in favour of that. Regrettably, that idea has not made much progress and there has been no improvement in the years since I have become interested in the sport. Even though much has been attempted in greyhound racingsecond only to football as the most popular spectator sport in the United Kingdomit is still far from satisfactory from a welfare point of view.
My speech today is not intended to harm the industry in any way. I accept that there are those who want to ban the sport, but that is not my aim. I simply feel that something must be done to improve greyhound welfare for the sport to move forward and prosperindeed, for its very survival. It is particularly galling to me that there is a lack of funds to provide for proper retirement provision for greyhounds when the industry is not short of money.
Mr. Meale: Frankly, it would be peanuts in relation to the amount of money in gaming. For instance, the bookmakers make an incredible sum from the industry: more than £2 billion was bet on greyhound racing in the past year alone. The comparison with the amount that is given in horse racing, even under the new proposals for greyhounds, shows a stark contrast. Perhaps £6 million will be given in greyhound racing, compared with about £80 million.
I welcome the increase in funding that Lord Lipsey, a colleague and friend, negotiated with the bookmakers: a rise to 0.6 per cent. of turnover on greyhound betting by 2006. I note that it remains voluntary and I am sure that the British Greyhound Racing Board will work hard to persuade all bookmakers to collect all the money, but there will remain quite a fewat the present level, about 20 per cent. of the bookmakers that make money from greyhound racingwho will not pay and will do everything in their power to avoid paying. Nevertheless, the money will move the debate forward, although it does not provide the full solution for all the tracks and the greyhounds that race on them.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism deserves credit and the thanks of the House for his part in gaining the agreement, but his Department
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has now passed the issue to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in particular in the form of responsibility for the proposed animal welfare Bill. The only way of guaranteeing that the extra money is put to the best possible welfare use is to ensure that the Bill sets out strict standards of welfare that greyhound tracks and owners must abide by, and that must be on a statutory, not a voluntary basis.
While I welcome the recent increase in funding that the British Greyhound Racing Board has managed to secure, as the Minister no doubt does, it is important to remember that none of the money is proposed to go to independent greyhound racing tracks that are not within the BGRB's remit. That is, I firmly believe, the single most important reason why further delay is unacceptable. The greyhounds racing on the 21 independent tracks need Government intervention now and it cannot be left to the industry and internal reform. That will not be enough. We have had no satisfactory guarantee so far on how much of the money will be spent of welfare. Worse still, there is no guarantee that everyone will pay.
We are all aware that there are welfare problems before, during and after a greyhound's racing career. The League Against Cruel Sports, for one, has recently recognised that and has launched a worthy campaign to improve greyhound welfare, which I urge hon. Members to support. There is clearly strength of feeling in the House for welfare improvements in the sport, as shown by my recent early-day motion, which has so far received 249 signatures from hon. Members of all political parties.
My first concern is about the breeding of greyhounds. Recent figures show that every year in the United Kingdom about 5,500 greyhounds are bred for racing, yet around 2,000 dogs across the UK and Ireland vanish before even being registered as racing dogs. It is believed that most are killed because they are surplus to requirements. At the very least, we can all agree that if that is true it is very wrong. Indeed, it is disgraceful to over-breed greyhounds simply for sport, and it must be stopped. We need a proper statutory licensing system for all greyhound breeders that would involve registration and the full publication of statistics. Breeders would have to accept full responsibility for all puppies born. Those who overproduced and subsequently abandoned puppies would be dealt with and, if convicted, their licences would be removed.
All too often, greyhounds are seen by the unscrupulous in the sport simply as commodities. For that reason, insufficient consideration is given to their welfare needs during their careers. As with their human athletic counterparts, racing dogs often have very short careers, not least due to the stress caused by repeated minor injuries. Those who, like me, take an interest in greyhound racing are aware that the majority of serious injuries to greyhounds happen on bends. The smaller the bend the greater the centrifugal force exerted on the dog's joints as it runs, which in turn leads to joint problems and injuries. Mr. Paddy Sweeney, MRCVS
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the father of a former Conservative Member of Parliament and Britain's best-known greyhound racing vethas recognised that factor. He argues that the only way to guard against such injuries is for tracks to have a much larger radiusat least 80 mto enable greyhounds to run upright round bends. As I hope the Minister will appreciate, the really sad part is that despite that simple logic, money for such research and help in establishing such tracks is almost non-existent.
Of course, that is not the only factor that causes injuries: track and kennel standards must also be good. Indeed, there have been several cases of poor track or kennel standards leading to greyhounds dying or being seriously injured. One example is the truly scandalous death from heat exhaustion of the dog "Football Focus" at Catford stadium in August 2002.
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