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5.15 pm

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. She is right to raise the issue today. She is correct also in suggesting that this clause should be in the Bill. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, it is clear that self-regulation is not working. From what I hear in the street and among groups with which I associate, it is felt that an audited, national regulatory authority is necessary.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I am minded to support my noble friend Lady Byford, because, despite the points eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, I would have been more impressed had the improvements been made several years ago and not now. It seems that they are being made as a result of the impetus towards change that is provided by the Animal Welfare Bill and pressure from a number of sources. If this is not the right move, I expect the Minister to make today a workable suggestion in lieu of my noble friend’s amendment.

Although an official body looks at regulated tracks, I am not clear—perhaps I will be enlightened—whether any of the changes and improvements to be made through the regulatory body and self-regulation will extend to unregulated tracks, of which I understand there are very many. I remain extremely concerned about that. Unless the Minister comes up with a proposal here and now which satisfies me that this matter can be dealt with, I intend to support my noble friend Lady Byford.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the measures he has taken since his appointment and on the progress made. However, I am concerned about unregulated tracks. Would they fall into line with what is being proposed by the regulated tracks, particularly on the attendance of veterinary surgeons? We know that this is the difficult side of the sport.

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One wants to see the sport continue. We want to see increased safety for the animals, and we certainly want to see a lot more of them rehoused. However, I am extremely concerned about tracks that will go their own way—I do not think that the Minister will be able to speak about them today. I serve on the committee chaired by Eric Martlew, and we will bring forward our proposals, but we should do all we can to protect the welfare of the animals. As far as I can see, this amendment can only strengthen the industry. I hope that the Minister will tell us what effect the changes will have on unregulated tracks, which are of great concern to us all.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I believe that a very large percentage of greyhounds are bred in Ireland—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, will nod and say whether that is right. How would our regulation overlap in that sense? It is obviously a problem, when one is being asked to judge whether we should do this by self-regulation and ensure that the self-regulation is properly done or by government regulation. I am always inclined to go for self-regulation, but I am open to persuasion either way.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, I am particularly interested in subsection (2)(c) of my noble friend’s amendment, on the,

One reason why I was eased out from running the Greyhound Racing Fund was that I wanted to be absolutely certain that the dogs could be properly identified. At the moment, dogs are identified only by an earmarking scheme. I see from the fund’s annual report that the amount of money spent on the earmarking scheme over the past 10 years has hardly varied. It is not a very satisfactory situation putting a mark in a dog’s ear. It is very easy to adjust it at certain times. The proper way to do it would have been to chip all the greyhounds. When a greyhound goes to race it is weighed immediately as it has to come within a certain weight limit, so it would be perfectly possible to put something that could read its chip above the place where it is weighed. That could be done at the same time. It is very interesting that all dogs from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home are chipped, and I do not believe that those chips can have done anything but good, as they enable dogs to be properly identified. We must make a move in that direction.

I turn to the other interesting thing about the amendment. If you look at the things on which the Greyhound Racing Board spends money, you can see that it is doing absolutely everything that the amendment asks for, including drug testing. Every dog is tested for drugs before it goes on to the track, so that is already there. All the veterinary surgeons are independent and attend the meetings. The licensing of kennels is very difficult to enforce, but the other real problem is the maintenance of tracks. In Ireland, there was a big programme to get all the tracks up to a certain standard. In this country, the existing 30 tracks have a very restricted standard. Then there are the 17 flapping tracks. What are we going to do about the tracks in Wisbech and other places that do not come under the National Greyhound Racing Club?

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So although the amendment may be desirable, a great deal of the work is already being done, and I would rather see it being done by the greyhound people rather than have something inflicted on them by the Government.

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I should like to set the noble Lord’s mind at rest on the matter of independent tracks. They will be covered by regulation under the Bill. My own strong belief is that within two or three years, the remaining dying tracks will either have gone or one or two of them will have joined the NGRC.

Lord Bilston: My Lords, I should like to make a couple of comments on a very important issue. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on raising the issue. The welfare issues for greyhounds are of great concern to people involved in greyhound racing. I can declare that I have owned greyhounds for more than 40 years and am a former chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Greyhound Group. I have had great involvement with greyhounds over many years. I pay special tribute to my noble friend Lord Lipsey for the stewardship and leadership he has provided over the past three years in his capacity as chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board. He has done an excellent job.

In essence what we are doing today is taking stock. I say on behalf of the greyhound group that we constantly monitor, observe and comment on issues affecting our national greyhound sport. I assure your Lordships that all the members of that group are happy and satisfied. We recognise that there are many issues, which have been raised today, that still need to be addressed—but they are being addressed. Progress is being made in every aspect, as was evidenced by the noble Lord who spoke just before me about what is being achieved.

At this stage, I urge the House to recognise and value what progress has been made. Outside the isolated incident that took place in County Durham, which we all abhor and find totally disgusting, good progress is being made on the welfare of greyhounds. There is greater care by the owners of greyhounds, and the Retired Greyhound Trust is rehoming many more greyhounds. I assure your Lordships that in every registered greyhound stadium there is a greater awareness of, and interest in, the welfare of greyhounds and their rehoming after they have retired than I have ever known in the time I have been involved in greyhound racing. As your Lordships know, the sport gives a great deal of pleasure to many thousands of people, but at the base of it we need to make sure, as noble Lords have said today, that our greyhounds are happy and well treated and that, at the end of their racing life, they have a proper retirement and a proper home.

I hope that we will allow my noble friend Lord Lipsey and his board, along with the National Greyhound Racing Club, to continue to do the work they are doing. If, as has been said, the Minister here or Ministers in the other place feel that there is a need for certain tightening up, I hope they will bring forward that kind of measure at the appropriate time.

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All I want to do today is assure your Lordships that things are not in any way as bad as they have been portrayed in that dreadful case recently, and that we have good reason to be thankful that progress is being made. I hope that your Lordships will all, at some stage in the next few months, go and take part in a lovely night out in greyhound racing, and see how well the animals are looked after. If I am there and I can find you a winner, I will do my very best to oblige.

5.30 pm

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, we have heard of the good will of the noble Lord and all those involved with greyhound racing, along with their aspirations for the welfare of greyhounds, but neither he nor the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, have said anything to us about the scale of what we are looking at.

The article in the Sunday Times drew to our attention the scale of redundant superfluous greyhounds. Unlike racehorses, dogs have litters, which adds to the problem. It seems to me that the public are alerted to the fact that large numbers of dogs are bred uniquely for racing and that those that do not reach the appropriate standard will become redundant. The intention is to rehome them. Some people take them and they often make good pets, but the sheer number of dogs is huge. That has not yet been mentioned. There is no way in which any body, no matter how well disposed, will farm out the number of dogs which are no longer valuable as racing animals. A balance needs to be drawn here, as in everything. These dogs are bred to race. People gamble on those races. The same applies to horse racing. We have to accept that animals which no longer race and cannot be found homes will be destroyed. That is unacceptable to many people. We have to find a balance. I do not take a moral view on the issue. Nobody is suggesting that we should consider banning dog racing because of the horror of all these animals having to be destroyed because they are no longer of any use—far from it.

What we have to decide today is whether the way of dealing with the matter suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, or that of the noble Baroness is right. I tend to go towards that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, because I believe that it would be less bureaucratic, but can his method deal with unlicensed tracks, as many noble Lords have said? Like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this. What he says will determine the way in which I shall vote, if there should be a vote.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that she tabled her amendment as a reaction to the article in the Sunday Times. I am sure that the House is grateful to her for doing that and enabling this debate to take place, which has brought out serious welfare issues and has enabled us to hear from people who know a lot about the industry. I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Falkland refer to certain parallels that the debate brought out for him.

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I appreciate the ironic smile of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, with regard to the issues mentioned in this debate and our debates on hunting. As regards wastage of dogs, what happens to hounds when they have finished drag hunting? Your Lordships debated at length what happened at the end of hounds’ working lives. No doubt the same issues that we have debated apply in that case. My noble friend said that horseracing does not have to deal with certain issues because race horses do not breed to the same extent as dogs. We have to decide whether we should include this new clause in the Bill or whether we regard the Bill as being adequate to address greyhound racing and other animal issues.

I understand the frustration that it may take slightly longer to go down the route proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, but I am sure that the noble Baroness is not promoting regulation in the Bill for every industry involving animals and entertainment. We are trying to draw up a broad framework. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will draw up a broad framework which encompasses not only greyhound racing but all those other sports that involve animals on which betting takes place.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on tabling the amendment, and I apologise to her, because it was my intention to add my name to it and I completely overlooked doing so. I find myself very much in the same situation as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. I would be more impressed with self-regulation if we had seen it working; whereas demonstrably it has not been working. My noble friend refers to an isolated incident, but rather like the pheasants that the noble Earl referred to, we simply do not know whether it was an isolated incident. Indeed, there was a further report, about which I have read nothing since, of a not dissimilar case somewhere up in the north-west. There may well be others, and the untraceable gap between the numbers of greyhounds that are used for racing and what happens at the end of the day is not capable of explanation. If I share anything with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on this, it is simply that we should have some data on what is happening.

I looked back quite a long time, but I cannot recall any occasion when any profession, industry or trade has been facing the possibility of statutory regulation as against self-regulation when it has not protested as volubly as it possibly could. My noble friend Lord Lipsey certainly did that this afternoon. But it seems to me that what will have to be done in this area at the end of the day will be so costly that there is no real chance of the greyhound industry finding the money to do it. There will be slippage, and there will be poor quality. Something of the sort will happen. I accept what my noble friend said about this boiling down to the point that the noble Viscount on the Liberal Benches made about supply and demand in terms of the number of greyhounds required for racing. That may well be insoluble as far as it goes, but if that is what people do we should be saying to them that they must face up to the economic consequences.

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It is not acceptable to British public opinion that thousands of dogs annually are simply put down. If the Sunday Times article achieved anything at all, apart perhaps from alerting us, it is that public opinion will now expect this House and the one down the road to say clearly that something is going to happen about this. The public will not understand all the complexities of secondary legislation or anything else. That is not what they will understand. They will want to see that we are doing something positive. This amendment does that. I hope that whatever the noble Baroness decides to do this afternoon she will not let this go at the final stage.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate with 12 speakers. This is another issue—and I do not say this lightly—on which progress has been made. There was no commitment originally in the Bill, but there is a commitment now, which I shall come to in some detail.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked me five specific questions about how the system would work on random inspections, drug testing, audit of enforcement, openness and transparency and quality assurance and inspection. The answer to all five is “Yes”. Obviously, we have to look at the relationship between regulations and codes, so that we can address the issues through whatever the best route is. But whatever route is chosen, the answer to those five points is “Yes”. The industry has to get its act in order; like a lot of others, by the way. I do not know the full history of all this. The Sunday Times piece was important, but in terms of the time span and what has happened in the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Christopher, said, clearly something does not add up with the numbers. There is no doubt about that. Therefore, it is the last chance for the industry to get its act together. Self-regulation is a preferable route in many areas, because it is quicker than the statutory route, but in this case, this is the last chance and the Bill gives us the facility to take action. The public are rightly concerned about this issue in light of the press stories in the summer.

The regulated sector is making advances in welfare. My noble friend Lord Lipsey has highlighted the action taken by the National Greyhound Racing Club against trainers known to have used the yard at Seaham to dispose of unwanted greyhounds. I reiterate that there is little reliable, statistical evidence of systematic mistreatment of greyhounds on retirement. It is true that the figures do not add up in terms of the numbers retiring and what allegedly happens to them, but we do not have facts that would be reliable evidence. However, the industry should be doing a lot more to ensure that comprehensive records are maintained. The industry must be accountable for what happens to these dogs and there must be a better system for identifying dogs. The lack of comprehensive accurate records kept by the industry is bound to make people suspicious and not trust it—and rightly so. It is the industry’s problem and the onus is on it.

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We are still keen for self-regulation, but only if all concerned can be satisfied that open and auditable self-regulation is possible. This the last chance; there must be self-regulation under the circumstances I have described, otherwise a statutory route will be taken. More needs to be done and I understand that the NGRC is having discussions with the United Kingdom Accreditation Service concerning the way its activities should be evaluated.

I plead guilty to not having been greyhound racing since I was probably too young to go—maybe eight or nine years old, when I was taken by my father, who was selling newspapers from a stall at Perry Barr greyhound stadium. I am sure that I went under a barrier. However, we at Defra believe that the NGRC has an image problem. I do not know why it is called a club; that gives the wrong impression. It suggests a closed shop, a private members’ club where no one is admitted unless they are a member. That does not give a good impression. It suggests some kind of exclusive closed shop and is not the sort of image that we or Parliament would want from a body responsible for winning the hearts and minds of those who do not consider the NGRC to be a suitable welfare regulator. We start from the premise that it has not been suitable and we want to give it a chance to become suitable. The public does not trust it and the body has one last chance—it has been seen to be making a move and that is important.

It is also evident that the British Greyhound Racing Board needs to look carefully at marshalling its resources to boost the funding it has already allocated to deal with welfare matters. We are fully aware that many welfare groups are very sceptical that the NGRC can ever be a fully effective regulator. I have been on the receiving end, as have noble colleagues, of representations from the third sector—welfare groups.

Defra’s greyhound welfare working group has achieved much in opening up a dialogue between the racing industry and welfare organisations. We must acknowledge that much remains to be sorted out. The industry and welfare organisations were able to work successfully together in drawing up a greyhound charter and, with give and take on both sides, there is no reason why we cannot produce regulations and a code of practice that is broadly acceptable; but it must fill proper criteria.

The Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare has also set up an inquiry into the welfare implications of greyhound racing. We welcome that initiative. The inquiry will report in April next year and we shall consider its recommendations and how they fit in with what we believe can be achieved.

The amendment seeks to force the Government into introducing a licensing scheme within two years of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. However, it would have the effect of ensuring that any provision on greyhounds that had not been made within two years of Royal Assent could not be made at all. I am not praying in aid a technical defect, because we could put that right at Third Reading. If we are going to legislate, however, we have to do it with precision and not look as though we did not understand the full

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consequences of the legislation. The amendment would force the Government into an unprecedented situation of being required to produce regulations by a certain deadline, without any obvious sanction if we failed to do so. That would be a problem, as we could lose our power to regulate greyhounds—that would be the consequence of the amendment as it is. I am not resting my case on that; I am just pointing it out in case there is a desire to come back on the issue at Third Reading, as noble colleagues are fully entitled to do.

5.45 pm

Concerns over the timetable for introducing regulations on greyhounds have been expressed by many Members. If the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment—notwithstanding the fact that she could come back with something—I will commit on behalf of the Government and Ben Bradshaw, the Minister with day-to-day responsibility for these matters, to bringing forward regulations and a code to ensure standards at greyhound racing, to be introduced by the end of 2008 and to come into force by April 2009.

I repeat this, because it has to be the case. We cannot do everything at once. The resources are not there in the department. We have had to set priorities on how we bring the various parts of the legislation into force. Indeed, in some areas, we have not yet made commitments or have said that we will introduce codes and regulations as soon as possible. In other areas, we have been able to make commitments and bring them forward earlier than we originally promised. This is an area that was not on the radar, but, as I said, we will get something into force by April 2009 and provide a commitment that any proposals will involve regulation backed up by a code of practice.

This is the last chance. If the industry wants statutory regulation—so that, in effect, it is taken out of the hands of the people who are doing it now—it should do nothing, in which case it will succeed. I wish the industry well—and I wish my noble friend well—but it has some serious image problems, which we must make abundantly clear to it. Parliament requires action. If the action is not there, Parliament will take the action.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, which I thought was very measured. I totally agree that the industry has the wrong impression and that there is a lot to be done. I felt that this would be a worthwhile debate at this stage; indeed, I think that, whether people have agreed or disagreed with me, important points have been made. Before I decide what I will do, let me just thank everyone who has contributed.

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