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We do not think it is necessary to say anything about the matter in Clause 10 specifically. If a notice is issued that does not specify the right steps necessary to comply with the welfare duty, there is nothing in the legislation to prevent the inspector issuing a new corrected notice. I am advised that if the
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There is an incredibly short time between Report and Third Reading, but, bearing in mind what has been said from both sides of the House, I will make sure that we have this matter locked down before Third Reading. So if there is any doubt whatever, we will have a look at this again. The advice I have is that this amendment is not necessary. The inspector can issue a new notice with which the owner will be required to comply or face prosecution. Obviously, it is right that inspectors take care to ensure that the first notice that they issue covers all the points, but, if not, they can issue another notice. There is nothing to stop them doing that.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and to noble Lords who have supported the amendment. This matter has arisen in the past and is perhaps not of concern now, but it was raised with me not just by the International League for the Protection of Horses but by the RSPCA, which has said that it has put forward some cases in which the improvement notice has then been found not to be sufficient for the matter to go to court. I am grateful for the Minister's offer to look at the matter again. I do not have the details in black and white in front of me here, but it was raised by two representatives who I think have a very good record in these matters.
Having taken into consideration what the Minister has had to say, I highlight the question of how one knows when one notice ends and another begins. Presumably, one would be trying to improve on notice A. How will the person know when notice A is no longer applicable, because notice B has come along and altered it? There is a three-month period in the Bill to improve on the notice before any court action can take place.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will include that question in the advice that I receive but, as I said, there is nothing stopping an inspector issuing a new corrected notice on a different dateor, if, for some reason, they are issued on the same day, the inspector would time the second notice. The latest notice would be the one to which the person would have had to operate or be subject to prosecution. I will check that out and also write to the noble Baroness on the McCluskey case, concerning horses, that she mentioned.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is perhaps the weightiest of all the amendments with which I have to deal today. I am very grateful to the many people who have written to me directly or made comments about the present and future care of greyhounds. If I may, I shall start by thanking all of thosethe lobby groups and the professional tracksfor coming back to me. I apologise for the fact that I shall be slightly lengthy, because we need to set the scene.
Under the amendment, we return to a subject of great concern to me and many other noble Lords. The amendment represents a departure from our position in Committee, where we sought to allow self-regulation of the greyhound tracks to continue but to eliminate non-regulation in the industry by ensuring that the independent tracks signed up to the industry's regulation. The new amendment would ensure that the national regulations were rolled out within two years.
There have been many developments in the field since Committee, not least the shocking exposé in the Sunday Times last August, in which it was estimated that one man alone had during the past 15 years killed 10,000 retired greyhounds, not letting the owners know what was happening to their houndssome thinking that they were being rehoused when in fact they were being destroyed. It is not necessary for me to repeat that story; I am sure that many noble Lords have read it. It is one that horrified me and must have horrified other noble Lords.
In the light of that evidence, and in the light of the Minister's words in Committee, I have revised my position. However, there are serious flaws in the operation of the current system. Where a trainer does not abide by the industry rules as set out by the National Greyhound Racing Club, his licence is revoked. However, there is nothing to prevent that trainer from continuing to train dogs or entering those dogs on independent tracks.
The self-regulating greyhound industry is beset by conflicting priorities. The built-in conflict between welfare and profit has clearly resulted in the under funding and under-management of the greyhounds welfare. I accept that the NGRC has acted with the very best of intentions, and that the regulations that it has tried to bring in have helped, but there is still a long way to go. That conflict of interests and, I am sorry to say, the disgraceful lack of co-operation shown
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I understand that the NGRCs rules of racing do not include a section on minimum welfare standards. Although elements of its rule book cover small welfare issues, there is no written code on the welfare of greyhounds. What is more, although betting points and entry fees are well represented, there is no official entry on track surface or layout. The amendment calls for national standards to help to reduce the number of dogs that are bred for racing, thereby reducing so-called wastage from the breeding of unsuitable dogs. It would ensure that veterinary attendance at meetings was mandatory, that there would be an effective and audited identification scheme for greyhounds, that greyhound kennels were licensed and that tracks were kept up to suitable standards for racing.
That is right, and that is still my view. Great attempts at improving welfare have indeed been made, but the greyhound industry has clearly come far from its starting point. That starting point, however, was far below a reasonable standard of welfare.
I hope the Minister recognises that my amendment would allow for the continued work of the Defra greyhound welfare working group, as it would allow for regulations to be made, highlight the essential areas for improvement, and allow for a two-year rollout. I was disappointed by the timescale for the work on greyhound welfare, as I was by the entire timeframe for the codes of practice that will come to this House for approval after the Bill has been passed. I also remain far from satisfied that the next instalment will be next April.
The RSPCAs contribution to us accepts that the Government intend to introduce regulations that will address these concerns, but it would welcome the Ministers confirmation that the regulations will provide scope for inspectors of tracks and trainers kennels, that the Government will make a commitment to ensuring that the regulation of the industry is open and transparent, and that the public can have faith in it. Self-regulation is not acceptable to the RSPCAs organisations or to the public if the industry fails to do so. The RSPCA also believes that the inspection process should be audited to ensure compliance with procedures and the competency of the inspectors.
It would be enormously helpful for all of us if, in addition to providing that clarification, the Minister
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It is the neglect by the NGRC and the lack of action to address the concerns of main-stream animal welfare organisations, which forms the basis of arguments against their continued self regulation and demonstrates the need for statutory regulation to be included on the face of the Bill.
It is also concerned about the re-homing of retired greyhounds. It says that the Retired Greyhound Trust, which is largely funded by the industry, re-homes 3,500 dogs each year. I understand that other welfare charities re-home a further 1,500 dogs. Naturally, some owners and trainers retain dogs as pets when their careers are over, but that number is not known because of the lack of data on registration and independent tracks. The trust believes that the figure is unlikely to be in excess of 3,000, although that is speculative and based on poor funding at the level of trainers. Therefore, when taking the figures together, it seems that the fate of some 5,000 to 8,000 greyhounds annually is unknown.
With that in view, our amendment proposes, under Clause 10, to introduce licensing of allI repeat, allgreyhound racing tracks through the appropriate national authority within two years of the passing of the Act. I beg to move.
As chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board, I have such an interest. As I have slept, eaten and breathed greyhound welfarewhat a sad fellow I amsince I first raised the subject in the House in 2001, before I held my present position, I will do what I did in Committee: I will give the House my best advice, although I shall not vote on any amendment. I have taken the view of the House authorities, who say that that is appropriate.
This will not be a party political speech. Indeed, if I were to take a party political position I should fervently hope that this amendment would be carried, so that the 3.5 million people who go greyhound racing each year could be told not to vote for the Tories because they want to do something that will ruin their sport. But I feel quite the opposite, and I hope that they will not. I will not be party political, but I cannot help teasing the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, whom I like and admire, on her decision to table the amendment. She did not mention that the briefing on this comes from the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) and that all noble Lords have seen it. LACS is the great campaigner for banning hunting with dogs, which noble Lords oppositeI totally agreed with themwere against. Now LACS is tally-ho against greyhound racing, so I am a little surprised that the noble Baroness has chosen to take up its cause, although I am delighted that we have the opportunity to debate it today. Although I have been teasing, I believe not only that this amendment would be bad for greyhound racing, but that it would also be totally ineffective and could spell deathI choose my words carefullyfor thousands of greyhounds.
We would not be debating this issue today if it had not been for Seaham and the Sunday Times. What happened there was disgustingI and everyone in greyhound racing said sobut a few points should be put into proportion. The Sunday Times produced no evidence whatever for its allegation that 10,000 greyhounds had been destroyed over 15 years at Seaham. Even if there were such evidence, 15 years ago this was normally how a dog at the end of its life was destroyed. Even the RSPCA, we find out from local inquiries, is believed to use the Seaham facility to get rid of surplus dogs. Things have moved on, and it is great that they have, but we should not view the situation today with the benefit of hindsight. What was done was not illegal and, despite the best efforts of the press, no further Seaham has been found.
This bears directly on the question before us. Those few people involved at Seaham who belonged to official greyhound racing have been fined four-figure sums and banned for life by the NGRC. Those who mock the NGRC as rather feeble might ponder those sentences. Indeed, if I may venture a guess, had a statutory national authority such as the amendment calls for imposed such sentences, they could well have been challenged in the courts as disproportionateand perhaps successfully so. If your house is burgled, it would not be normal to call instantly for the abolition of the police, especially if the police later successfully identify the culprits and punish them severely, but that is what those who want self-regulation to be ended are effectively doing.
The LACS brief to all Peers about progress refers to small improvements in welfare in recent years. Having been involved in the process, I cannot agree that they are small. Let me give three examples. The number of dogs re-homed by the Retired Greyhound Trust has doubled in five years. There was talk of a conflict between money and welfare but there is not one in practice because the trusts budget has gone up six times over that period. The NGRC is now enforcing, as it never did before, Rule 18, tracking
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In one sense, the Seaham case is an opportunity to accelerate those changes and to get on with it. My organisation, the BGRB, has produced a radical document called Options for Change, which tackles head-on the problem at the essence of this: how to balance better the number of dogs coming into racing with the number that can be re-homed, That is what it mostly comes down to. We have an overall committee, which I chair, with sub-committeesthe NGRC, the BGRB and the track promotersworking on the proposals that most affect them. I cannot prejudge the conclusions of these committees but I believe that we will come out with a programme that will impressperhaps even amazeour critics.
I think that the mechanics of who regulates are less important than the substance of the regulations. I thought the noble Baroness was a little confused in the sense that I have no problem with saying that we should have regulations in place by 2008we are discussing with Defra even now what they should bebut her amendment provides for a state regulator. If we must have the argument about state regulators, let me go through a few bullet points. It will run totally contrary, as Defra has told us, to the Governments policy on better regulation generally. It will create a new state bureaucracy. It will drive greyhound racing backI warn noble Lords of this from great knowledgeto its former secretive and defensive culture, from which I have been trying to get it to emerge. As greyhound racing will not own externally imposed welfare initiatives, it will resist them. In any case, the thought that some government inspectorate will get to the bottom of what is, in essence, a cottage industry beggars belief.
Even if your Lordships were disposed to favour a new regulatory authority, would it be more sensible to put it on the face of the Bill or to use the powers in the Bill to establish it later? My view is that it would not be sensible to put it in the Bill.
First, a great deal is going on which has a bearing on the shape of future regulation. There is Defras greyhound welfare working group, of which I am a member, which includes both greyhound racing and welfarist representatives. There is the extremely important inquiry by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, chaired by Eric Martlew MP, to whom I pay great tribute for his hard work. The inquiry is due to report early in 2007. There is the sports own Options for Change programme, to which I have already referred. It would surely be very odd to prejudge that huge body of work driving things forward by determining, as the amendment would, a remedy now.
Secondly, there is absolutely no agreement between the welfarists on what kind of regulatory authority they are proposing. The LACS amendmentgood luck to itwants a national regulatory authority. However, there is a separate submission from welfare
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Thirdlyand I speak personally herelet us think of the practical impact of the amendment. I have described the process which the greyhound racing industry has put in hand to tackle the problems. But suppose the House decides today to set up a new national authority. How am I to advise greyhound racing to proceed? To go ahead with our own programme of reform, which will entail considerable difficulty and expense, only for a new regulatory authority to pop up in a couple of years, no doubt to make its mark under a chairman who wants to show that he can sort out what I could not, and with its own programme of change? That could also entail considerable trouble and expense, incurred by people who did not know what they were doing.
The amendment would not accelerate progress, which is what all of us want; it would stall progress for two years while the great bureaucracy was set up. If this amendment is accepted, impetus for change, which is sweeping through greyhound racingit is about time, toowill be lost. A more sensible course, in outline, is surely this: the Bill gives Ministers the power to move to impose regulation. In those circumstances, let us allow the inquiries to go ahead and the changes that I am trying to get through to proceed. Then, and only then, in a couple of years time, we can take stock and decide whether the case for a national authority stands.
Of course, it is open to Ministers to say at any time, not just 2008, Sorry, greyhound racing industry, youre messing this up, we are not satisfied, and we are going to put in a regulator. That hangs over us and will no doubt help to concentrate some minds. But to go ahead now and set up a new bureaucracy to do the job that we are trying very hard to do ourselves, without giving self-regulation and the impetus behind it a chance, would do a grave disservice to the welfare lobby and those the noble Baroness wishes to helpthe greyhounds. I beg the House not to accept the amendment.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, whatever we do, I hope that the Government will build in to the system a continued incentive for the greyhound industry to improve. My favourite proposal would be to ensure that the vets employed at courses were independent and that they were not selected or paid byor, at least, could not have their payment withheld bya body other than the greyhound industry association. You need somebody in the middle of the industry who sees what is going on and pushes continually for change. If that were done in a reasoned way, it would provide the kind of impetus that the greyhound industry could live with.
There are some substantial changes we might hope for over the next 10 years. Our tracks were designed
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