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Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the work being done to improve the lot of greyhounds? One example is Monmore Green greyhound stadium in Wolverhampton, which has just built state-of-the-art, 21st-century kennels with air conditioning and all the facilities necessary to give greyhounds the best opportunities to succeed in their racing careers and to enjoy their subsequent retirement.

Mr. Meale: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and I congratulate him and his local track. That is a shining example of what should happen, but unfortunately much more needs to be done. As I said, the welfare situation at the 21 independent tracks throughout the country leaves much to be desired.

Worse still, the lack of attention to injuries and the inability to cope with the associated problems is illustrated by the fact that some greyhound stadiums do not even have vets at the trackside. The Government must take up this issue as a priority, and the greyhound industry must change its approach. Needless to say, I would welcome the Minister's commitment today to ensuring that a veterinary presence be guaranteed at all tracks, but before he deals with that point, I should inform him that many existing track vets are employed by promoters, which in some instances can lead to conflicts of interest. I hope that he agrees that it would be scandalous if dogs with suspected injuries were forced to race. Perhaps he could ponder that point and respond to it, and take it into account when considering the structure of the proposed animal welfare Bill. Of course, one cannot generalise about the standard of vets employed in the industry, and I am sure that they do their best, but the fact is that, faced with a strong betting market, they could come under pressure to take such decisions. They should therefore be independently employed, so that such conflicts cannot arise.

There is another point that the Minister might want to consider. One reason why I am arguing that vets should be independent and not subject to such influence is that the betting on any single greyhound race totals well over £1 million. We are not talking about peanuts; that is real seven-figure money.

Specialised mandatory training provisions for greyhound vets may also be appropriate. I am sure that the Society of Greyhound Veterinarians would welcome that, or at the very least the monitoring of tracks and the
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greyhounds that are raced upon them. Vets sometimes have little time to examine racing dogs, which makes it difficult for them to spot minor injuries, and their job is made more difficult by the numbers racing at any one greyhound meeting. Twelve races with six or even eight dogs in each race, plus the reserve dogs, mean that at any one track during the day or night there could be between 90 and 120 dogs.

As with horseracing trainers, trainers should have the right to withdraw any injured dog in their charge, subject to veterinary certification, or at the very least, in appropriate circumstances vets should be able to prevent dogs from racing.

When we examine the problems that occur after racing, the figures become truly shocking. For example, although statistics show that thousands of greyhounds retire from British greyhound racing every year, little more than 2,000 a year are known to be re-homed by greyhound welfare groups. Every year, we simply do not know what happens to thousands of others. That is unacceptable.

Sadder still is the fact the many retiring greyhounds die because they no longer race. Some are put down inhumanely, dumped on the side of motorways, mutilated or otherwise horrendously injured. One of the most notorious cases occurred in Scotland in 1994, when 19 greyhounds were found dumped in an empty quarry. More recently, many hon. Members will have read of the mutilated greyhound found alive in the Rhymney valley in south Wales, with its ears cut off and a hole in its head. That greyhound had run predominantly at independent tracks in Wales, most recently under three different names—Last Hope, Rusty and Charlie. Its ears had been cut off to remove its registered marks, and the hole in its head had been caused by a Hilti gun, which had been fired into its brain. When the dog was taken to the vet to be humanely put down, it was found that the bolt had gone right through and broken its jaw.

Radio Five Live reported that case, and also that of a man in west Yorkshire who was arrested by police in connection with a dubious scheme of accepting money to take greyhounds to retirement homes. No trace has been found of any of those dogs ever reaching any retirement home. Greyhound retirement charities throughout the country all have stories of dogs that have been injected with some substance or other—sometimes antifreeze—to kill them, or simply tied up and abandoned without food and left to die.

Mr. Dennis Turner: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's case that the ill-treatment of greyhounds is unacceptable and deplorable, but can he give me one example of the wicked ill-treatment of greyhounds that race on registered tracks? All his examples have related to what we used to call pirate tracks, which are not registered under the greyhound rules.

Mr. Meale: I understand what my hon. Friend is getting at, and it is right to say that the BGRB is much more active in trying to ensure that that does not happen in the sport. I pay tribute to the board for that, but the problem is that many dogs that start racing under the BGRB end up on the independent tracks. For instance,
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the dog with the three names that was found in Wales was initially registered at Nottingham greyhound track, a registered track in my area. Many of the dogs move from area to area and are dispersed and abandoned by their original owners when they are no longer of the top rank. They have to make way for new dogs, and they do not fall into the best hands.

I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Retired Greyhound Trust, which does a magnificent job in finding homes. Frankly, however, it cannot cope, because money is required and it is not coming through. Perhaps it cannot be that everyone can have a greyhound at home, but it is important to set up homes for the dogs. I recently read a report by the all-party group on animal welfare of the National Assembly for Wales, which concluded that approximately 140 greyhounds are abandoned and taken to local authority dog pounds every year in Wales. In reality, that certainly means that thousands more dogs are treated the same elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

The report details concern about independent tracks, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) was right to point out that they are the major bugbear. No matter how much money the BRGB gets under the new arrangements to pay out to official tracks, it will not be able to do anything about the independent tracks. We cannot simply have a situation in which only the BRGB is covered; we must cover all tracks.

Greyhounds are currently identified by ear tattoos that are supposed to identify owners or trainers who mistreat or abandon their dogs. However, as in the recent south Wales case, that has led to some dogs having their ears cut off before they are killed or dumped. Surely a better solution would be to place a microchip in all dogs from birth and back that up with a DNA register. All dogs could then be readily identified, and the register should be available so that owners and trainers who mistreat greyhounds can be found and prosecuted. There are no scientific barriers to prevent that in today's world.

There are myths about keeping greyhounds as pets. Some people say it is cruel and that they cannot adapt. I can assure the House that the dogs make excellent pets. Their exercise requirements are not large. Annette Crosbie, president of the League Against Cruel Sports, owns four greyhounds, and she says that they are wonderfully placid, loving animals, and that once someone has one in their home, they will never want another kind of dog. Indeed, an ex-Member of this House, the late Peter Hardy, who represented Wentworth, spent most of his retirement looking after a retired greyhound, whose company he and his wife Margaret enjoyed for many happy years.

Not all racing greyhounds can be found homes. For that reason, the industry should provide properly regulated greyhound sanctuaries to provide accommodation until a home can be found or so that the greyhounds live out their lives.

The problems that I have outlined and the solutions I propose will all cost money, but animal welfare does not come free, whether it is in homes, on farms or at racing tracks. Some money has been found, but more will be needed. If we can find money to put into farmers' hands
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and pockets, surely we can do the same for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals or the Retired Greyhound Trust.

I hope that the Minister will agree that, in addition to the animal welfare Bill, the Gambling Bill, on the scrutiny Committee for which I have served, provides an ideal opportunity to address the question of a financial levy for the sport. After all, it already suggests provision for one in relation to gambling problems. Such an idea is not outrageous. I was privileged to be a member of the Home Affairs Committee some years ago when it examined the question of a greyhound levy, and it supported the idea, principally to address greyhound welfare. I am not suggesting that the bookmakers should bear the full brunt of welfare; clearly, owners and promoters must do more. The reality is, however, that the real money in the industry lies with the bookmakers. To insist, as some industry representatives do, that all responsibility for retirement provision lies with greyhound owners is callously to condemn too many dogs to institutional euthanasia.

The Government have also introduced a Bill this Session enabling them to abolish the horse race betting levy. The situation in greyhound racing differs greatly. As the Minister knows, the Government feel that they can abolish the horse race levy because they are confident that bookmakers and the industry have come to financial agreements without the need for Government intervention.

The House will recall that the Home Affairs Committee, on which I sat, produced a report in 1991 on the financing of greyhound racing. The report looked into the financing of the industry, but it also examined welfare issues. The Minister will know that the Committee recommended that more money should be provided for welfare concerns, and especially for re-homing. It also recommended that track owners and bookmakers be required to donate a part of their profits to the Retired Greyhound Trust. Sadly, 13 years on, that has not happened to any acceptable level.

As I said earlier, the greyhound industry is an extremely lucrative business. For example, Walthamstow track in London has an annual turnover in excess of £8 million, and with many greyhound stadiums set to apply for casino status under the draft Gambling Bill, things can only get more profitable for them. What is more, bookmaker turnover on greyhound racing in each of the last five years was substantial: £1.5 billion in 1998, £1.2 billion in 1999, £1.6 billion in 2000, £1.8 billion in 2001 and £2.1 billion in 2002. Even on conservative estimates, it accounted for at least 23 per cent. of all off-course betting shop business.

The industry is clearly profitable. Indeed, the chief executive of William Hill, David Harding, confirmed that in September 2003, when he said:

I have already said that I sincerely hope that more bookmakers pay the increased contributions. Indeed, my own experience in pursuing that objective was not a lone furrow. We should remember that the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont—now Lord Lamont—threatened the bookmakers on several occasions for not paying up. Sadly, I say to the Minister, they did not even listen to the Chancellor at that time, even though he threatened them with increased taxes.
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What they did, instead, was to play for time and not pay up at all. That is not good enough. The welfare of thousands of greyhounds needs Government intervention—and the sooner the better. Greyhounds have been waiting too long.

I admit that the position is slowly improving, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East pointed out. However, the danger now is that the industry will point to the recent increase as the answer to all evils. As we have heard, the bookmakers have made it absolutely clear that the sum will not rise in the future—not in the foreseeable future, not in the future at all.

I have high expectations of the Minister. I believe that the proposed animal welfare Bill must guarantee a number of things for racing greyhounds. I am sure that the Minister would see them as desirable. For instance, the Government must legislate for the mandatory provision of vets, preferably independently employed, at all greyhound tracks. They should state that all retired greyhounds must be re-homed, including those that are bred for racing but never make it to the track. Records must be kept to monitor greyhounds and particularly their treatment and the levels of care provided by owners and trainers. The proposed animal welfare Bill must also introduce minimum standards across the industry. It must make greyhounds safe from unnecessary death and suffering.

Finally, I urge the Minister to recognise that he and his Department need to be actively engaged with the industry. To wait and see how or if Lord Lipsey is able to shift the industry in the direction of improved welfare, including retirement provision, is equivalent to abandoning the issue to those who for years have spent levy money on restaurants, toilets and prize money, while welfare has largely been ignored. If the Minister really wants to improve the standards of greyhound welfare, to bring an end to the unnecessary killing of healthy greyhounds and to see decent welfare at independent tracks, he must act. I say to my hon. Friend that dog lovers throughout the country are relying on him to deliver, and I urge him to act—and to act soon.

9.58 pm

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