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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) for securing this debate and for providing us with the opportunity to debate an issue that I know is of great concern to many right hon. and hon. Members—and, indeed, to Members in the other place. I pay tribute to the excellent work that my hon. Friend has done—not just for greyhounds, but across animal welfare. He has taken significant strides forward.

It is not surprising that greyhound welfare is of such concern. Greyhounds are one of the oldest breeds of dog known to humans, and I fully agree that we have a strong duty to act where there is a need to protect their welfare. As my hon. Friend acknowledged in his speech, more money is now being made available to improve the welfare of greyhounds. On 6 April this year it was announced that an agreement had been reached between the Association of British Bookmakers and the British Greyhound Racing Board, which will see an incremental increase in the voluntary contribution paid
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by bookmakers to the sport from 0.4 per cent. of betting turnover to 0.6 per cent. in 2006. That could see payments to the British Greyhound Racing Fund—the body set up to distribute that levy—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

Mr. Bradshaw: Payments could rise from £8 million to some £16 million by 2006—

Mr. Meale: The problem is that whether the figure is £8 million or £16 million, none of it is guaranteed to go to welfare. It is spent on prize money, stadiums and a range of other things. If history is any guide, very little of it will go on welfare issues.

Mr. Bradshaw: Our hope and expectation is that a substantial proportion of that extra money will be used to pay for improvements in greyhound welfare. It is an extremely encouraging development that shows that the two industries are capable of working together better than they have in the past. I would like to take this opportunity—as did my hon. Friend—to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism for helping to broker that agreement.

My hon. Friend raised a concern also raised by many Members of both Houses about the welfare of retired greyhounds. Some of the new funding received from the bookmakers will go to help the Retired Greyhound Trust, which has been re-homing greyhounds for nearly 30 years. The organisation re-homed 2,608 greyhounds in 2003, compared with 2,030 in 2002. The trust re-homes dogs from the tracks registered by the National Greyhound Racing Club, and we all hope that increased funding will add extra impetus to its efforts. As my hon. Friend acknowledged, there are many other organisations that work tirelessly to re-home greyhounds, whether they be large canine charities such as the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs Home, or smaller organisations such as the greyhound rescue charities in Wales and the west of England.

Even before the extra funding was agreed, the industry had demonstrated a growing commitment to retired greyhound welfare. That was illustrated by the steady increase in payments to the Retired Greyhound Trust, culminating in a payment last year from the British Greyhound Racing Fund of £600,000. It must also be remembered that there are many responsible greyhound owners who make provision for their animals during retirement, either paying for them to live in kennels or taking them into their own home as pets. I hope that the debate this evening will help to give those charities that do re-home retired greyhounds some well-deserved publicity. As my hon. Friend remarked, a retired greyhound is something of a friendly couch potato and therefore an ideal pet for a wide spectrum of dog lovers.

Mr. Dennis Turner: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the charities that support the care and welfare of greyhounds in retirement, to which we all
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subscribe. As chairman of the all-party group on greyhounds, I speak for all those Members of the House of Commons who are committed to working for the welfare of greyhounds. We have already had a successful meeting with the League Against Cruel Sports at which we talked about its programme. I assure the Minister that we are committed, together with the BGRB, to advancing the cause of greyhound welfare.

Mr. Bradshaw: That intervention reflects the spirit of co-operation and constructive engagement between the two sides that will result, I hope, in further improvements in the months and years to come.

Over the last decade, a number of welfare organisations have tirelessly campaigned for the racing industry to do more to raise standards. We are now seeing tangible evidence of that, including an increase in funding for welfare and the excellent work done by Clarissa Baldwin, the chairperson of the Greyhound Forum, in getting the industry and welfare groups to work together to produce the charter for the racing greyhound. The charter, which has now been in place for two years, represents a solid commitment to higher welfare standards. Building on the charter, there are now some exciting initiatives under way that should lead to further significant improvements.

Briefly, I would like to mention the research that is going on in Poole to establish the best way to prepare and lay a track from the welfare point of view—something to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield referred in his speech. The initial cost to the industry for that research is £75,000.

In addition, the British Greyhound Racing Fund has spent £600,000 on grants to tracks so that their kennelling facilities could be upgraded. That work is almost complete. It has enabled air management systems to be installed, which will, I hope, avoid incidents such as the death of the greyhound Football Focus at Catford in 2002 and others of the sort mentioned by my hon. Friend. All other track maintenance grants were refused until that work had been carried out. Those initiatives are in addition to the core funding that the fund provides to enable tracks to implement welfare provisions.

My hon. Friend also reminded the House that the Government hope soon to publish their draft animal welfare Bill, which will impose a duty of care on all animal owners and will allow action to be taken before an animal is actually suffering. That provision will of course extend to the owners of racing greyhounds, and will lead to further improvements in greyhound welfare. The Bill will also allow the Government to introduce secondary legislation to regulate certain activities, and the welfare of racing greyhounds is an area where those powers could be used.

Provisions are already in place on which the industry could build; for example, a vet must be in attendance at all NGRC race meetings and all track and trainer kennelling must meet a minimum standard. There is also a responsibility on the owner to ensure that any change of ownership, including at the time of retirement, is sent to the NGRC. The tracks are also inspected by local authorities under the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, and for public safety reasons.
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This is an extremely exciting time for the greyhound racing industry.

Mr. Meale: Would it be possible for the Minister, via one of his friends in the local government section of the Government, to provide advice that local authorities dealing with planning permission for independent tracks should lay down a 106 planning condition that a registered vet is in attendance at all race meetings?

Mr. Bradshaw: That is a very interesting suggestion. Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to give it some consideration and to discuss with my officials whether it would be practicable; it certainly sounds desirable.

With the new leadership to which my hon. Friend referred and the renewed vision in that leadership, there is the possibility of a sea change in attitudes over the next two or three years.

As my hon. Friend also acknowledged, Members are aware that the draft Gambling Bill has recently undergone pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill is primarily concerned with ensuring that the gambling industry is regulated in the most appropriate form, but it is also
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concerned with safeguarding the integrity of the product. That means that measures with an impact on welfare may appear in the Bill.

I realise, however, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that 20 tracks in Great Britain fall outside the auspices of the NGRC. They are not entitled to any of the funding from the British Greyhound Racing Fund, as off-course bookmakers do not operate at them. I must stress that all greyhounds will enjoy protection under the proposed animal welfare Bill, and that will include those that run at independent tracks, so those tracks will need to start thinking extremely carefully about welfare improvements. In the future they cannot expect to operate at a lower welfare threshold than other tracks.

In July 2001, an Adjournment debate on greyhound welfare was held in another place. During that debate, my colleague Lord Whitty said that the racing industry had to get its house in order. There are now very clear signs that we are starting to see that reordering, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield that we must not be complacent and that much remains to be done.

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